Category Archives: Vietnam

Road safety Sue (General)

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A former boyfriend from my early twenties gave me the nickname ‘road safety Sue’ due to the fact that it didn’t matter how drunk I was, or my fellow party-goers, I was always insistent that every passenger wore their seatbelt on the taxi journey home.

On occasion my husband still uses the nickname, usually if I’m midway giving him annoying (according to him) tips on choosing the safest seat on an aeroplane, or the fact that in a head on collision you’re better off sitting in a backward facing seat on a train rather than a forward facing one.  In fact, before we’d made the decision to come travelling to SE Asia, I’d been busy researching the safest car seat to buy for ‘the boy’ and after some thorough investigation had decided that it was safest to keep him in a rear facing seat until the age of four.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A local bus in Borneo, Malaysia. One of the first of many buses on our trip.

And then we decided that we would backpack around SE Asia.  SE Asia, where seeing five family members balanced upon one motorbike is ‘normal’, where crash helmets are a rarity and seatbelts, well what are they?

As you can imagine this was a huge problem for me. When you’re travelling and make a decision to get on a battered old bus or into a taxi then you’re making your own choices. When you have a baby with you, you’re making a decision on their behalf and you feel very responsible for every journey and every mode of transport that you choose.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A sedate horse and cart ride in Yogyakarta, Java

Initially, getting into a taxi and holding ‘the boy’ on my lap felt very alien, but over the last five months it’s become less strange, but of course, ‘Road Safety Sue’ still has some travel rules including:

  • No standing up on our lap in cars or taxis
  • In local minibuses we wear the wriggle band to keep ‘the boy’ secure and allow us to be hands free
  • We never sit on the front or back rows of seats on buses / coaches preferring to sit in the middle.
  • We try and sit on the opposite side to the driver on buses / coaches
  • No motorbikes! (We’ve been offered many rides, but refuse every time)
  • For longer distance taxi journeys we try to choose a driver aged 35-55.

The last rule may sound like a strange one, but we’ve found that younger drivers tend to drive faster, more erratically and are a bit more daring with their overtaking. And after our experience of a few older drivers in Borneo, who either couldn’t remember which side of the road they should have been on after overtaking (slightly worrying), or had no idea how to use the controls properly, we plump for the ‘mid range’ every time.  Drivers between the ages of 35 and 55 often have a family of their own and therefore, (well most of the time) tend to be more careful when driving.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' asleep on my lap in a local minibus in Vietnam

Although certain vehicles and journeys still make me nervous, I realise that if you don’t embrace Asia and its travel differences, then we could never have experienced what we have.

To date we’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles on the following modes of transport:

11 planes, 59 taxis, 9 cars, 22 buses, 16 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 journeys on the MRT, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 2 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 12 journeys on the sky train, 5 journeys on the underground, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 USA jeep, 2 tug boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 sontows and 1 elephant…

… And we’ve survived to tell the tale.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' relaxes on the deck of a small boat on the Mekong river

Top tip of the day:
Don’t be afraid to tell your driver to take it slowly if they’re driving faster than you’re comfortable with. Although this isn’t feasible on all modes of transport, such as a bus, we always requested that the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, who often drive at high speed, take it steady as we had a baby on board.
On occasion we’ve had to instruct the taxi driver to stop so that we can try and communicate that he needs to slow down. As Road Safety Sue would say, ‘better safe than sorry’.

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Roll up, roll up (Can Tho, Vietnam)

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Our journey from Chau Doc to Can Tho was an interesting one. With very few details in our guidebook of onward travel, we booked a local bus through our hotel and were surprised when it was a small minivan, rather than a larger bus.

After many unsuccessful attempts to buy a bottle of water at a sensible price in the bus station, which seems to be a common theme in Vietnam, we eventually succeeded and set off on the three-hour journey.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Our fellow passengers on the local minibus from Chau doc to Can Tho.

The minibus was reasonably full, but the ticket collector who sat on a small stool by the passenger door whistled, shouted and waved frantically from the open window to try and sell further seats. Fellow passengers included local ladies who were wearing the traditional Vietnamese hats, an elderly lady who ate seeds and spat the husks onto the floor for the entire journey and a monk. I particularly liked the moped driver who sat in the front passenger seat and kept his helmet on for the entire journey.  Although he must have been a very hot, I don’t actually blame him, as the driving in Vietnam is very erratic and can be harassing with drivers taking what I consider to be unnecessary risks when overtaking.

Luckily our journey coincided with ‘the boy’s’ morning nap, so he lay down across our laps and we held onto him tightly as he slept for two hours of the journey, waking only for the last hour when we were pleased, or should I say relieved, to arrived safely and in one piece.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

An early morning start on the river at the floating markets, Can Tho. Surprisingly, this was also one of the first time 'the boy' had been offered a baby size life jacket.

The main attraction in Can Tho is the floating market. Many people have visited the floating markets in Thailand, but the market in Can Tau is the original floating market in Asia. A morning market visit meant an early start the following morning, leaving the dock in a small boat at 6am. Well we should have left at 6am, but for some strange reason our alarm didn’t go off. Instead I woke up naturally, checked the time and it was 5.55am! Unbelievably, after a manic scramble to get ready, we were out the door and by the waterfront by 6.15am. Not a bad result for two adults and a baby.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Market sellers trade from boat to boat on the Mekong river

Surprisingly, and for the first time on our trip we were presented with a baby size life jacket. With ‘the boy’ dressed in his safety-floating device we set off on the one-hour journey up the river to where the market was already in full swing.

The atmosphere was brilliant. Each boat sold one type of produce, be it pineapples, mangoes, green beans, eggs or sweet potatoes and they moved slowly up and down the river, selling produce to other boats and the floating cafes.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A man selling fruit trades from the top of his boat

As we meandered through the market, locals shouting out their prices, other smaller boats selling coffee, soft drinks and even steaming hot bowls of Pho (noodle soup) sidled up to us to try and sell their wares.  Forget Starbucks, this is the ultimate coffee on the go!

Our three-hour trip ended with a detour around the canals. We watched local folk preparing vegetables and washing their clothes on the edge of the riverbank before heading back to dock for a late breakfast.

Top tip of the day:
During our time in Vietnam we’ve realised that some boats/tours have baby life jackets available. Make this one of your criteria when choosing and negotiating a tour and price.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

An early morning start for the market traders

Just keep walking (Chau doc, Vietnam)

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After many days sitting in a tuk tuk and on coaches, and our most recent long journey being from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to visit the Killing Fields (click here to read about our experience), the decision to take a coach or boat to Vietnam was easy, by boat. We decided that after many days of ‘the boy’ having to sit still on our lap for long durations, the boat would be fairest on him as he could walk around and move freely (within reason of course).

The six-hour journey down the Mekong River was very pleasant and well organised and the border crossing was the easiest to date. ‘The boy’ was happy running up and down the boat with his toy cars and we took it in turns to sit out on the deck.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' has a snooze on the boat to Vietnam

We arrived at Chau doc in the early afternoon and as we set upon dry land we were bombarded by a huge number of locals touting for business for their cycle rickshaws.

After some negotiation we secured two rickshaws and headed off into the town centre to find some accommodation. The rickshaws were different to the ones I’d previously seen in Asia. The cycle was at the front with a very small shallow carriage on the back. It’s hardly big enough for two adults, but the locals manage to stack them high with goods for the market and entire families who perch precariously on the edges of the seat. ‘The boy’ loved this new mode of transport and spent the entire journey waving to the huge number of motorcyclists who drove past at speed.

Accommodation was easy to find, so after dumping our rucksacks we put ‘the boy’ in the sling and headed out to explore.

I’ve been intrigued to find out if the traffic in Vietnam is really as bad as people have warned us. It is. 95% of the vehicles here are motorbikes, so the streets are a manic mess of bikes weaving in and out of each other, pedestrians and the odd car. This takes me to the art of crossing the road in Vietnam. Unlike India where you walk out, stick your hand in the air to make a stop motion and the traffic slows to allow you to cross, the traffic in Vietnam does not stop. We had been advised by a couple of backpackers that in order to cross safely you shouldn’t falter, just walk confidently from one side to the other. Apparently this is what the locals do, so when a bike sees you step out into the road they anticipate where you will be when they reach you and either nip in front or drive around the back of you. If you stop or hesitate this confuses them and that’s when accident can occur. Simple hey!?

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Walking around the busy local market. Even here you can't escape the motorbikes!

I have to admit that this strategy goes against everything you’ve ever been taught about crossing the road in the UK, so feeling very responsible for ‘the boy’ we decided to see what would work best for us.  After many attempts to cross the busy streets I can confirm that the advice we were given was indeed correct.   It’s a bit nerve wracking to start with, but after checking that there’s nothing in your direct vicinity you just walk and the bikes weave effortlessly around you.

Not so bad when you’re wearing your baby in a sling but I’m nervous about how we’ll manage doing the same thing with the buggy….

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Chau doc riverfront

Tomorrow we’re heading to Can Tho to visit the famous floating markets.

Top tip of the day:
If your baby suffers from travel/boat sickness keep a nappy bag within easy reach. They are watertight, tie securely at the top and are scented which makes the environment more pleasant for your fellow passengers.