Tag Archives: travel

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

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The scream (General)

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The title of this blog does not have any relation to the painting by Edvard Munch, but to the noise we have to endure everyday from ‘the boy’.

After almost six months on the road ‘the boy’ is taking a stand. He no longer welcomes the attention he receives from complete strangers, and after months of accepting the constant cheek pinching, touching, kissing and hugging, he’s finally had enough and boy do we know about it.

How do we know he’s not happy? Easy. His reaction to any unwanted attention is simple. Scream as loudly as possible in the direction of the perpetrator and if that fails, kick! He may look cute, but once the scream is released, the cheek pinching soon stops.

Alf-o-rama is no longer welcome, unless of course it’s on his terms.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

I may look sweet, but I've got a scary scream!

 

 

 

Sun, sea and lots of sand (Mui Ne, Vietnam)

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After five hours sitting on a busy bus we were exited to finally see the sea. The journey should have taken four hours, but because of increased traffic on the road for the Tet holiday (Vietnamese new year), we joined thousands of others who were heading out of Ho Chi Minh to visit family and take their annual breaks.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Mui Ne beach - the kitesurfer's paradise

Mui Ne is becoming SE Asia’s Mecca for windsurfing and kite boarding because it has Asia’s strongest and most consistent onshore winds.  This meant two things for us:

1) We would have plenty to look at with hundreds of kite surfers hitting the water everyday.

2) ‘The boy’ would sadly be unable to paddle and enjoy the beach, as he would normally do, due to strong currents and big waves.

Our accommodation overlooked the sea and had a superb garden.  If the beach wasn’t ideal as a playing ground, the garden certainly was.  At the top of the steps leading up from the sea was a small pool for washing the sand off your feet. This became ‘the boy’s’ new baby beach and he spent hours sitting in it surrounded by his toys. It seemed to distract him from the fact that the real beach, which was only ten feet away, was out of bounds.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' enjoys playing in the foot washing pool - his new beach!

Mui ne is also famous for its huge sand dunes. Having never experienced dunes on this scale I was excited about seeing them and watching ‘the boy’ play in the ultimate sand pit.

The dunes are impressive and looked beautiful in the afternoon light. We hiked up to the top of the highest dune,  ‘the boy’ on my back, before releasing him for a run around with a difference. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. Walking had never been this hard before.  With each step, his foot sank down to his knees, making every move an effort. I was secretly hoping that this meant he would tire himself out and we would be blessed with a thirteen-hour marathon sleep later that night. Unfortunately he didn’t!

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' tries the dune buggy out for size

Although Mi Ne isn’t the ideal beach for babies, the atmosphere is very laid back; making it was a welcome break after the hectic atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh.

Top tip of the day:
Although our bus was delayed due to the Tet holiday traffic, we’ve found that 80% of the bus journeys we’ve taken over the last five months have taken considerably longer than the advertised times. We’ve got used to adding sixty – ninety minutes to every journey time (which is usually more accurate than the time we have been given) and we plan ahead and take extra food so that we can feed our baby on the go.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The beautiful dunes

“Bike, bike, bike” (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)

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We’ve already mastered the art of crossing the road with ‘the boy’ in the sling, now we were going to have to master crossing the road with the buggy. This was not a task I was looking forward to.

Ho Chi Minh is a manic city and in a city of just over 9 million, there are over 5.6 million motorbikes on the road.  Our visit to Ho Chi Minh also coincided with ‘the boy’ finally differentiating between moving vehicles, until now everything was a car.  We’re normally over the moon when a new word is used correctly, but when you’re in a city with one of the highest concentration of motorbikes in the world, and the word ‘bike’ is shouted every time he sees one, let’s just say that by the end of day one we were a little tired of the word!

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Emerging from the Chu Ci tunnels

Top of our list in Ho Chi Minh was to visit the Chu Ci tunnels, an underground maze of over 121 km of tiny winding dark passageways, which were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet offensive in 1968. We were shown many types of booby trap used by the Viet Cong to entrap both men and sniffer dogs and were given the chance to crawl into the tunnels, which although still small, have been widened to accommodate the Western build. A few people within our group didn’t want to experience the tunnels, so a nice German lady took ‘the boy’ under her wing whilst my hubby and I crawled a few hundred yards underground in the darkness.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' takes us on a tour at the War Museum to show us the 'cars'

Another place on our list was the War museum.  My hubby has written a blog entry about our visit (click here to read), but the highlight for me was finding a children’s playroom on the third floor.  If you’re on a two week holiday with kids then finding a playroom probably isn’t going to be the highlight of your day (or week), but when you’ve been on the road for 5 ½ months and you find a secure, clean, friendly playroom, well, it’s truly exciting.

‘The boy’ wasn’t quite sure what to do at first, surrounded by books, balls, building blocks and cuddly toys.  To my surprise, after surveying his options, he chose to pick out the cylindrical building blocks and roll them around the playmat, something he normally does with our water bottles.  One hour later and fully settled in this new environment he was running around throwing plastic balls around the room having a great time.  It was lovely to watch.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' having a ball with lots of balls!

Ho Chi Minh was also the point in our Vietnam experience when we began to tire of the constant hassle and scamming. Unlike other Asian countries where a taxi driver or local shop might try to increase their prices to the tourist market, in Vietnam, the scale at which it is done means you’re always on your guard. In one week we’d had to deal with taxis with faulty metres charging over four times the rate it should be, inflated bus tickets, numerous occasions where no change was given or the wrong change, menus showing one price outside the cafe and a completely different higher price on the menus you order from, ridiculous prices for water or basic items and the constant hassle of people trying to sell you something you’re not interested in.  It can become very tiring, particularly when you’re travelling with a baby and you’re already more tired than the average backpacker.

Our next stop is the beach, so hopefully we can re-charge our batteries and view Vietnam in a more positive light.

Top tip of the day:
Even if you’re not interested in visiting the war museum, the playroom is certainly worth a visit. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and with an entry cost of only $1.50 (circa a £1) per adult (free for babies) it’s very good value.

War Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, 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’.

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.