This is my fifth visit to Vietnam. I had the good fortune to spend five weeks travelling through Vietnam over 14 years ago and have also been to the South East Asian country to play rugby and for work on a number of occasions. I have always enjoyed my time in Vietnam and been in awe of the people and fascinated by the culture and history of the country. This most recent visit is extra special though as it is the first time we have been able to come as a family and to meet family members that I thought we may never get the chance to meet (my wife was born in Vietnam). We have taken the opportunity to bring our three children to Vietnam and to allow them to discover and understand an important part of their cultural heritage hoping that in the future they too will want to return and visit by themselves or with their own young families.
We spent our first two days in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. As soon as we had checked into our hotel we followed mum on a crusade to find the yummiest Pho noodles in the district, she had already quizzed the taxi driver and the reception staff at the hotel on where to find the best place. I do wonder how they can decide the best though when you see the sign for ‘Pho’ everywhere in the city. We love our Pho and are treated to it at home usually once a week and of course when we visit Oanh’s family back in Australia but there is nothing like eating steaming hot beef noodles on the street in Saigon – we had been thinking about it all the way over on the plane, and yes, they were delicious. The little shop also had a couple of guinea pigs outside on the street which was a bonus as they kept the two youngest entertained whilst waiting for their Pho to cool down.
Saigon is an intriguing city with plenty going on and to observe. Negotiating the traffic as a pedestrian is something to get used to, especially when walking with three young children. The mass swarm of motorbikes that flow around the city streets seem to do so without any rules or regulations, it amazes me that there are not more accidents but they seem to have this understanding of where they are going and how to avoid each other – a bit like birds or fish in motion – but using their horns a lot! When you cross the road you have to be confident and go for it (making sure you have everyone with you) – any slight hesitation and you could be in big trouble. Of course on longer trips around the city it is a lot easier and safer to take a taxi and my kids loved the fact that the taxis had extra seats in the very back where they could sit by themselves.
Other than eating yummy Vietnamese food, which we are very good at, we also visited some good friends who are living and working in Vietnam. It is always good to catch up with people you know well but haven’t seen for a long time and find out what they have been up to. Especially when they have a lovely apartment with a swimming pool on the roof and a great view over the city and the Saigon River. Jonah kept asking me if it was the Mekong River, which was good that he made the connection with Laos, but I had to point out that the Mekong would be much bigger as it came to the end of its journey at the coast of Vietnam.
We have a very early start the next day as we have to catch the train to Phan Thiet, a coastal city where Oanh’s family live and come from. We are all very excited and are not sure what to expect – it is over 10 years since Oanh visited by herself. We know we are coming back to Saigon at the end of the week for a couple more days and Jonah and I are keen to do some historical tours and the girls some shopping. Sam wants to go and see the guinea pigs again!