Long Ashton, Bristol
07818 281413

Vietnam – north to south

We arrived in Hanoi, north Vietnam, where the streets of the old town were lined with low-rise buildings, big old trees stuffed with incense sticks and sinewy black electricity cables draped and tangled between poles.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Pavement preparation and enterprise – this lady is smashing crabs
Indonesia had done a good job of preparing us for Vietnam

The rivers of scooters didn’t seem so impossible to cross. Just wait for a brief gap, step out and keep walking. Imagine you’re a mobile boulder and let the scooters wash around you.

Street-eating is the way to go. The pavements are crowded with women tending tiny kitchens. Some squat down and cook meat on small barbecues, some carry shoulder poles with vats of broth dangling from one side and everything but the kitchen sink piled high on the other side.

We found ourselves a sweet alleyway eatery between the old town and the church, where our super-tasty chips were cooked in a big wok of fat over a single gas burner set on the ground. This was a popular place with young people, all finding their spot on tiny plastic stools, eating meat on sticks and drinking beer in the gloom.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Alleyway eatery in Hanoi
Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
A bamboo street game – the poles were open and closed in a pattern and people had to dance their way through
In Vietnam, it’s not cool to lose your temper

Saving face is important. Building someone else’s face is even more important. But when we were duped by shoe-menders in the street, I lost my rag.

They were pointing at Robert as if something was wrong. Of course I stopped, concerned. They then whipped his trainers off and covered the heels using rubber tyre and glue. A second man whipped off Thomas’s trainers and began stitching them with thread. A woman shoved her basket of banana fritters at us as we stood there, completely useless and unable to leave because the boys had no shoes!

If anyone knows Robert well, they’ll know that he can take a long time to get his shoes and socks on. He has autism socks with no seams and his shoelaces have to be tied to the exact tightness.

When you muck with my kids, you muck with me

I was petrified that his shoes had been ruined. So I raised my voice, lost face, didn’t pay and didn’t give a fuck.

Afterwards, we spent a lot of time answering the boys’ questions about how and why we trade in goods and services and explained about relative wealth. Luckily, once the bad feelings had passed, the boys wore their shoes again.

I was annoyed at being scammed, especially after a couple of taxi drivers had demanded more money than the meter showed. It left a sour taste in my mouth and I found it hard to warm to the Vietnamese. My detachment was compounded during our tour of Ha Long Bay where I felt herded along with hundreds of other tourists, constantly being told where to stand, where to sit, when to eat.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Ha Long Bay in morning light – another of Fraser’s great photos
Kayak attack

During the tour, our first ever kayak trip was hilarious. On the way out to the (not-so) secret cave, I had Thomas. He expected the kayak to steer instantaneously and got increasingly frustrated at our kayaking crapness. Whilst the guide headed out in a nice straight line ahead of us, we were zigzagging across the water like drunks. I exclaimed that I had forgotten how to steer. He shouted back ‘It’s physics woman! It’s just physics woman!’

On the return trip with Robert, he got so annoyed at our inefficient trajectory that he tried to whack me around the head with his oar. ‘JUST CALM YOURSELF DOWN’ was, no doubt, heard for miles across the bay.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
The cave was filled with my hoots of laughter
Rain, rain go away!

In Hue and Hoi An, central Vietnam, it was non-stop rain. The picture-postcard beach at An Bang was grey and the sea was rough. Still, the boys had fun body-boarding under our nervous watch and we made repeat visits to a great vegetarian restaurant and drank fresh beer, made daily, that cost just 20p a glass.

We met another travelling family from Belgium who were coming to the end of their 6-month trip. The mother and I shared understanding looks as we talked about the challenges of travelling with kids. I’d like to say we shared the same rollercoaster car, soaring between massive ups and downs. But they had a two-year-old in tow and were strictly home-schooling their two older boys. Was I just on the tea-cup ride after all?

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Jumping on a grey day in Hue
Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Clothes hang to dry in our Hue room and I take comfort whilst writing my blog
Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
The river flooded Hoi An after days of rain

After days of non-stop rain, we flew down to Ho Chi Minh City in the south where the skies were blue again.

I should mention here…

that Thomas and I had an almighty fight on the first day. After some kicking, scratching and biting, Fraser had to separate us. Thomas shouted that I’d made him unhappy. Later, he confided to his dad that some comments at school before leaving had left him feeling wobbly. He felt different from his friends and he was lonely.

Thomas is a wee boy on the very cusp of turning into a young man and time with other kids is incredibly important for his self-esteem. Making it happen whilst travelling is hard. Thanks to Lady Luck we met a American mum travelling with her two kids, spent the afternoon at a swimming pool and gave them an impromptu dinner at our Airbnb so the kids could be kids.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Our Ho Chi Minh City flat with a huge picture window overlooking the street
Cosmopolitan Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is cosmopolitan in comparison to Hanoi. The avenues are wide, with great parks and some grand architecture. We explored the alleyways, couldn’t believe all the coffee shops, felt saddened by the Vietnam War Remnants Museum and its gruesome pictorial documentation of death and damage by Agent Orange, splashed out on a £9 box of muesli and a £3.50 packet of Digestive Biscuits.

Every week, when wifi allows, we squash onto a bed, prop the laptop on a pillow, turn off the light and watch a Planet Earth programme. Comfort comes in small ways.

Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Whilst exploring the alleyways in Ho Chi Minh City we were invited inside a family home and laden with food and drink
Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
Bin Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam - north to south - by Ruth McAllister Kemp
A high-rise accommodation block in Ho Chi Minh City converted into boho shops and cafes


December 20, 2016


So informative, sometimes very amusing (the kayak bit – trying to imagine you tacking across the water!!) and so scary (the boys shoes). Gawd you’re seeing & experiencing it all, aren’t you! Great blog Ruth.

I had a similar kayaking experience at Slimbridge, my worst nightmare being stuck in a boat with a boy who was convinced he could steer by rowing in the opposite direction to whatever I was doing. Never been so cross in public and no way of escaping from the boat to get away from the annoyance. We hated each other after an hour of that, and Dave in the other boat thought it was hilarious…

he he kayaking always stressful , big hug for mum

I love the kayaking story – we had a good go at it with the boys in France last summer. Obviously I was determined not to be the “short straw” – and luckily with Luke as my partner he was equally determined to keep ahead of Adam! I also particularly love all the descriptions of the food and eating cultures you are encountering – keep it coming Ruth!

Leave a reply