Monthly Archives: March 2013

Gymnastics Competition

Last Sunday, Isabelle competed in her first gymnastics competition.  She has only been doing it since January so this was a big deal.  She was in the second round of 7-8 year olds and so we had to be at school by 11.00 for the start of this.  Each group had 3 rounds of competition: the floor, the beam and the vault (horse).  Isabelle’s first routine was on the beam and she did a great job.  Apparently all the girls decided what they wanted to do so they were showcasing their best skills.

Then she moved onto the Vault.  She got to have 2 attempts at this.  This was her least favorite and her confidence was much lower on this one.  Her final round was on the floor.  She has been practicing hand stands for hours every day so I was very proud when she did an excellent one in her routine!

All the medals and cups!

All the medals and cups!

It was a very professionally arranged event.  Isabelle attends Gymnastic classes every Monday after school as an ECA (Extra Curricular Activity).  The competition was against girls from all over Shanghai in her age group.  There were girls of all ages competing all day.  The cups were for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

Coach giving a pep talk!

Coach giving a pep talk!

Isabelle's floor routine.

Isabelle’s floor routine.

After the victory parade around the gym.

After the victory parade around the gym.

Receiving her medal!

Receiving her medal!

All the competitors received a medal for competing.  The organisers made a big deal out of stating that gymnastics is a solo sport and it takes courage to perform.  They were impressed with all the competitors who tried their very best.  I was delighted that Isabelle wanted to take part, as it was optional, and I was thrilled that she had the confidence to get out there and “just do it”!

Showing off her medal!

Showing off her medal!

St Patrick’s Charity Ball

Saturday night was the St Patrick’s Day Ball at the Kerry Parkside Hotel.  This ball is supposed to be the event of the year, so we were very excited to get tickets. Our group of friends was split across 3 tables of 10.  It was certainly a busy night – there must have been over 1000 people there – all ex-pats of course!

Menu, champers and hat

Menu, champers and hat

The ballroom was packed full of tables  that were laden with glasses and goodies.

The decorated table

The decorated table

The tables all had opened (with no lids!) bottles of Baileys and Whiskey.  There were hats, feather boas and masks.  The glitter from the green hat got everywhere!  You can also see the “goody bags” on each chair.  These were filled with a strange mix of crisps/chips, umbrella, eco water bottle, flash drive, miniature bottle of Jamiesons, bottle of milk tea and a baseball hat.

Feather Boas, Mask and Glitter hat

Feather Boas, Mask and Glitter hat

Because this was a fancy ball with everyone dressing up, my friends and I all went to the fabric market to have dresses made.  I had seen a dress that I really liked – Jodie Foster wore it to an Award Ceremony in USA.  Here is her dress:

The Jodie Foster dress that I really liked and wanted copied!

The Jodie Foster dress that I really liked and wanted copied!

And, here is my fabulous copy:

The front

The front

and the back:

I love this dress!

I love this dress!

I was absolutely thrilled with the end result.  It fits like a glove, is a great copy and cost me about £60/$100!  This took a week to make.  It was the same people who had made Isabelle’s beautiful dress for the Daddy/Daughter ball.

All of the ladies looked lovely in their dresses.  All the men were very smart in their Dinner Jackets!

Owen's broken arm

Owen’s broken arm

As you can see from this photo, Owen could not get his jacket on due to the fact that his arm is in a cast.  He broke it last Wednesday.  Oliver and Owen were riding their bikes and Oliver got a little distracted – Owen went over the handle bars and BAM, CRASH, CRACK – 1 broken arm (bruised ribs and arms too).  He has been assured that in 4 weeks time it should be mended. 😦

We tried another photo later that evening:

I stood the other side this time.......

I stood the other side this time…….

It was a fun night with our friends.  There was plenty of entertainment – alot of it Irish, but some Chinese too.  Later in the evening, a band played so that everyone could dance.  The Chinese dancers were fantastic.

Chinese dancing

Dancers from Thailand

With acrobatics too.

With acrobatics too.

It was quite the mix of music and displays.

A traditional Irish band

A traditional Irish band

The St Patricks Ball is a charity event which meant that not only were the tickets very expensive, but we also got “persuaded” to buy some raffle tickets.  I would have liked to be the lucky winner as it was a fabulous trip to Ireland – all expenses paid!  We were not lucky that night……

As the tickets were so expensive, we were a little disappointed that some of the drinks ran out early in the evening.  However, I was impressed with the food – for mass catering it was a very good meal.

John & Jenny.  Jenny had just returned back to China on Saturday morning and was doing really well to stay awake!

John & Jenny. Jenny had just returned back to China on the Saturday morning and was doing really well to stay awake!

Marie & Tim

Marie & Tim

Jane & Kevin

Jane & Kevin

Jane & JC

Jane & JC

Brian & Suzanne

Brien & Suzanne

Katrina & David

Katrina & David

Oh, how I laughed.....

It is so nice to be with people who make me laugh until my sides hurt.  It really does make a difference to life 🙂

Right before the bell struck for us to turn into pumpkins

Fun & Giggles

It was a lovely night out.  I love an excuse to get dressed up!  We will not be going back next year, so it was nice to have it done it this year.

BISS Art in Action Auction

Year 3E Art.  The Queen's head is made up of photos of the entire class.  The 10p is a clever play on the theme of 10 for BISS's anniversary.

Year 3E Art. The Queen’s head is made up of photos of the entire class. The 10p is a clever play on the theme of 10 for BISS’s anniversary.

BISS is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year.  BISS is also very proud of the impact that they provide to the local community in Shanghai.  Every year the school, parents, students and friends raise over £60,000 for several charities that are chosen each year.  This year, the 10th Anniversary event was in the aid of Shining Star.  It is very exciting to know that the Art in Action event last Friday evening raised an incredible 85,100RMB (approximately £8,500) for the selected charity, Shining Star.  Their Operations Manager has confirmed that this amount is enough to provide the operations required to restore a childs sight!

Back of the 10p

Back of the 10p

The back of the 10p had the entire class signature’s – students and teachers.  We also bid on Oliver’s class art work.  They had created bi-lingual glass jars with English numbers on 1 side and mandarin on the other.  We also won this although we will be sharing the glass jars with other parents of his class.

Oliver's class - Reception Alder Glass Jars

Oliver’s class – Reception Alder Glass Jars

During dinner there was a live bid.  The school had selected 10 pieces for this and Owen was very excited because there was 1 other piece that he really liked.  After a couple of to-ing and fro-ing across the room with the bids getting dangerously close to our upper limit, suddenly the others dropped out and Owen won.

Our other winning bid.  What do you see when you look at this?

Our winning bid during the live auction. What do you see when you look at this?

It was a lovely evening.

Sara and Owen

Sara and Owen

The art work was phenomenal.  There were several pieces that I really liked.  All the students are so talented and so creative.

A bid going on display at the live auction during dinner.

A bid going on display at the live auction during dinner.

This was my very favorite piece of art – I think it is a great representation of China and would spark memories for me years after our time here.  Obviously I was not the only person to think so as this piece generated a fierce bidding war!

We also bid on this piece which we both liked very much.  However, it went for way more than we could afford!

We also bid on this piece which we both liked very much. However, it went for way more than we could afford!

After the dinner, there was a fabulous band playing great music.  We danced into the wee hours!

Suzanne, Emma, Sara, Owen and John.  Towards the end of the evening!!

Suzanne, Emma, Sara, Owen and John. Towards the end of the evening!!

World Book Day – Miss Trunchbull and Kipper

Friday March 9th was World Book Day.  The Junior School at BISS events included a week long book fair.  Isabelle spent some of her own pocket money on some books.  She also participated in the World Education Games, competing with students all over the world in maths, science and literary competitions and quizzes.  The end of the week the students could dress up as characters from a favorite book.  (Instructions came home to say that they really did not want to see super hero costumes!)

Isabelle dressed up as Miss Trunchbull from Matilda by Roald Dahl and Oliver dressed up as Kipper from The Magic Key book series.

Miss Trunchbull and Kipper

Miss Trunchbull and Kipper

At first glance, it might appear that Isabelle is really acting like Miss Trunchbull, but she is sulking because she really did not want to have the mole on her face!  We had to convince her to keep it long enough so that the teachers could see at school and then she could wipe it off!

Oliver’s teachers were very impressed with his outfit.  So, were we because he picked this character himself without any prompting.  Amazing how a big aluminium covered cardboard key can transform a little boy into Kipper……

Vietnam for CNY – Tunnels and Beach

Getting off the plane in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, I was very nervous again, especially when I saw a sign with my name on once we got off the plane. The man took my passport and paperwork and told me to take a seat. The rest of our group went off to get their visas processed.  This was a very worrying time for me as I thought I was about to be put on a plane back!  It was a long process of waiting for the officials to get all the paperwork done.  Eventually we made it through and our driver with our minibus was waiting to take us to the hotel.  We stayed at the Renaissance in down town Ho Chi Minh City which has a fabulous pool on its rooftop!

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

View from the rooftop pool area - across down town HCMC!

View from the rooftop pool area – across down town HCMC!

And looking the opposite way - down the Saigon River.

And looking the opposite way – down the Saigon River.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

"Happy New Year" in Vietnamese

“Happy New Year” in Vietnamese – Year of the Snake

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby.  With 2 beautiful children!

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby. With 2 beautiful children!

We all enjoyed a delicious lunch at the hotel – I love Vietnamese Pho, which is a noodle/bean sprout/beef soup that is divine.  I think I will be living on that for the week!   The best thing about Pho is that you can have it in so many different ways and you control the flavor.  It is usually served quite simply with the rice noodles submerged in special meat broth with your choice of meat on top.  A separate side plate allows you to add as many or as little of the bean sprouts, onions, basil leaves, lemon, chilli and coriander to your liking.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Off to explore the city in the afternoon – we walked from the hotel around alot of the streets and into the main Lunar New Year display (can’t call it Chinese New Year in Vietnam!!).  Of course, many places were closed because of this celebration, but everywhere had beautiful flower displays and therefore, good photo opportunities.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Kids by the flowers

Kids by the flowers

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display.  This is how rice grows!!

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display. This is how rice grows!!

A boat!!

A boat!!  We had many tourists behind us taking photos of these lovely children!

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself!  Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself! Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

So colourful.

So colourful.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares.  She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy.  No wonder she is sitting.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares. She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy. No wonder she is sitting.

Balloon Man.

Balloon Man.

New year decorations are just like our christmas lights but with flowers, corn, and other symbols to highlight the start of spring.  It was wonderful to see everything lit up – it really does extend the holiday season!  It is very hot in Vietnam and the kids had had enough after 2 hours so it was back to the hotel to take advantage of the roof top swimming pool.  All 4 children had plenty of fun here – they are all water babies.  The hotel recommended a restaurant for dinner for us and it was very good.  We ordered a lot of dishes that we could all share and everything was delicious.  Isabelle and Oliver were adventurous and tried some new things too!  We were even entertained by a local playing on a musical instrument.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Night time lights.

Night time lights.  Check out all those scooters.

The following morning, our driver picked us up to start our 90 minute drive to the north of HCMC to visit the tunnels at Cu Chi.  It was a bumpy ride as the roads are terrible!  One of my over-whelming memories of Vietnam will definitely be the scooters and motorcycles.  They outnumber any other vehicle by at least 20-1 and they crowd the roads loaded with everything from huge packages of toilet paper, plants to live animals to families of four with joyful toddlers and sleeping babies who manage to stay on these 2 wheeled vehicles with apparent ease.   I was very happy to see that 95% of all riders were wearing helmets.  Many of these were also wearing masks or had wrapped their heads in towels or sheets too!

Family of 4 travelling around.

Family of 4 travelling around.  I love the high heels on the Mum, matching outfits and helmets for the girls, plus all the masks.  I was quite pleased with this photo as it was taken from our moving car!!

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam!  They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam! They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

The tunnels of Cu Chi are a network of connecting underground tunnels located in a district to the north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that span across the country.  It is rumoured that the tunnel network is over 250KM.  The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of many military campaigns during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War) and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.  The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.  The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success.  For the Viet Cong and Vietnamese locals, life in the tunnels was difficult.  Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin.  Most of the time, Vietnamese soldiers and fighters would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and only come out at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle.  Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time.  Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds.

This was an incredibly moving experience.  I could not believe the engineering, architectural miracle that was created over many years.  In some places, the tunnels are 4 levels deep and include deep fresh water wells, cooking, sleeping, and even hospital set ups.   The secret tunnels, which joined village to village and often passed beneath American bases, were not only fortifications for Viet Cong guerillas, but were also the center of community life. Hidden beneath the destroyed villages were underground schools and public spaces where couples were married and private places where lovers met.  There were even theaters inside the tunnels where performers entertained with song and dance and traditional stories.   Having previously held the belief that these tunnels were created during the Vietnam War, it was eye opening to discover that the network was actually started decades earlier during the French occupation of Vietnam.  The tunnels were extended and built out during the conflict in the 1960’s.  Even more amazing to me was the fact that this complex system was built with bare hands and bamboo shovels.

An example of the tunnel network.  4 levels with ingenious ways to get fresh water, cook and live.

An example of the tunnel network. 4 levels with ingenious ways to get air into the system, fresh water, cook and live.

It was horrendous to see the traps that were set for the enemy – so evil with lots of bamboo sticks, covered pits and nasty ways of trapping people.  Having lived in America for so long and interacted with many US Vets of this war, it was also interesting to hear the other side.  As in any situation there are always 3 versions – his story, her story and the truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.  In summary (in my humble opinion), this was a horrific period in time with no real winners, a tremendous loss of life and has left a lasting impression on both sides of the world.  Even in times of peace, the tunnels continue to serve as an enduring tribute to the sheer human will to live and Vietnamese peasants’ wartime ingenuity.

One of the trap doors into the tunnel system.  You can see the size of the opening compared with Isabelle’s shoes.

Going into the tunnels.  Oliver is behind me to go next......

Going into the tunnels. Oliver is behind me to go next……

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill.  Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill. Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Coming out from the "banquet" tunnel.  We were so close to many bats - the kids thought that was really cool!

Coming out from the “banquet” tunnel. We were so close to many bats – the kids thought that was really cool!

The experience of crawling through these tunnels was unforgettable.  Even though the tunnels at Cu Chi have been “westernized” – made larger for western people to get through and with low level lights installed, it was still a heart thumping, stomach churning adventure.  Oliver did one tunnel run and then did not want to go back down.  Isabelle and I (along with Jenny, Dan and Luke) went down as many as our guide showed us.  Some of them were long, dark and required getting on hands and knees.  It was claustrophobic, dirty, dark, dusty and muddy.  I highly recommend it!

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

Displays of bombs and missiles!

Displays of bombs and missiles!

I hope they all un-armed!

I hope they are all un-armed!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Engaging with the

Having fun with the kids by pretending to “chat” to the Vietnamese

The "souvenirs" that are available for the tourists to buy.

The “souvenirs” that are available for the tourists to buy.

One of the nasty traps that is on display.  It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

One of the nasty traps that is on display. It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks.  If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks. If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

A bombed out cave.

A bombed out cave.

After the tunnel adventure it was time to wander back through the jungle to meet our driver.  Along the way we had the opportunity to see a local making flip flops out of discarded tyres!  We could also try some of the simple food that was eaten during the War.  All of the kids loved the fresh coconuts here!

Next stop was at the Firing Range (a very short drive from the tunnels).  We wanted to have a go at firing AK47’s.  It costs about $1 per bullet to fire and so we bought 8 bullets to share among us.  Oliver was too small to reach and John did not want to go.  That left the ladies, Dan, Luke and Owen.  As Owen had fired many of these when he was in the Army, he was very helpful in setting everything up for us.  It was very loud!!

At the firing range.

At the firing range.  Putting ear plugs in to wear underneath the defenders.  Even so, the shots were very loud!

Fire!

Fire!

Our hotel had recommended and booked a restaurant for us to have lunch at.  This was about 30 minutes from the tunnels on the way back to the hotel in HCMC.  Our van pulled up into an idyllic place and we were very excited about more local food.  Especially me, as I cannot get enough Pho!!  We were a little suspicious that there were no cars or people around.  True enough, once we walked over the bridge to the restaurant, a man came out and told us he was shut because of Lunar New Year.  Our driver tried to explain that we had a reservation that had just been made that morning, but it was obvious that we were not going to eat there that day!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

We decided to go back to the hotel for a very late lunch and more pool time to relax.

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

A New Year money tree.  You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time.  I am sure that most of Asia  that celebrates this new year does the same thing.

A New Year money tree. You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time. I am sure that most of Asia that celebrates this new year does the same thing.  Red is a lucky colour in this part of the world.

The next morning was the start of our relaxing break at the beach.  The only thing that stood between us and that was the long, boring 5 hour car journey.  It is only 114 miles (according to Google Maps) but because the roads are so bad, the entire trip was done at about 35 MPH at top speed!  We had considered taking the train, but colleagues of mine who have travelled extensively in ASIA, advised against this in Vietnam.  Apparently, the local kids all throw stones and rocks at the passing trains so all the windows are boarded up.  You cannot see out and you are stuck for an equal length of time to a car journey with many other people.  At least, when we had a driver we could stop at our request and also see some of the beautiful scenery of this lovely Country.

There are rest areas set up at regular intervals along the road.  Each of these has a shady hammock sleeping area.

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping.  Another photo taken from our moving car!

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping. Another photo taken from our moving car!

Our driver was constantly on the horn – beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, every time we overtook a scooter/motorcycle.  As I already said that these outnumber cars by 20 to 1, the horn feels non-stop and became quite irritating.  We stopped for lunch where I had …….. Pho!!

Eventually we got closer to the ocean and passed through some lovely little villages.  There is much evidence of a land trying to re-invent itself and compete in the 21st century.  It is obviously still a very poor nation and it is hard to see so much of that on the sides of the roads.  But, the Vietnamese people are wonderful – very friendly, always smiling and a warm, welcoming race.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere.  You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere. You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

The things you see on the road are amazing!  This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

The things you see on the road are amazing! This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

We arrived in Mui Ne on the coast in the late afternoon and met the owner of “Villa Panda” who showed us all the facilities of this lovely Villa on a golf course by the ocean.  This would be our home for the next 5 days.  He also took John and I shopping to buy some staples to keep us going.  He kept a running commentary going with restaurant and bar recommendations, shopping and beach access.  Once back at the Villa we quickly unpacked and settled in.  Time to explore!

Tourism has transformed Mui Ne into a resort destination since 1995, when many visited to view the total solar eclipse in 1995.  It has many resorts on the beach, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes.  Mui Ne is a popular destination for Russian tourists, and many of the restaurants and resorts are Russian-owned.  The strong sea breezes make this the kite surfing capital of the world.  None of the beaches are crowded and I love that feeling of space when you are relaxing.

Kite surfers galore

Kite surfers galore

Tranquil beach.  So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

Tranquil beach. So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

The town has a Florida feel to my mind.  It is very casual and relaxed.  Our villa is lovely – 4 double bedrooms, so perfect for our 2 families of 4.  The kitchen and living room are spacious and open.  We could walk to the beach but it would be a long uphill return and it is only a 5 minute car journey.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The golf course has a 5 star hotel which has a luxury recreational area with a pool system of 5 interconnecting pools.  Our next few days were spent alternating between the beach and these pools.  It was very relaxing.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck!  And, he loved it!

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck! And, he loved it!

Fun in the sand

Fun in the sand

Jenny and I bought some boogie boards for the kids.  These were a big hit and not only with the children.  All the adults couldn’t resist either.  The waves were perfect for this – large enough for fun for all, without being too rough for our littlest man!

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Luke, Isabelle, Dan and Owen catching a wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Owen riding a wave.

Owen riding a wave.

My turn to drink the ocean!

My turn to drink the ocean!

My 3 favourite people - watch the wave behind them......

My 3 favourite people – watch the wave behind them……

.....And Splash!

…..And Splash!

Love this one!

Love this one!

And this one!

And this one!

The hammocks were all over the resort - not just at rest stops along the road.

The hammocks were all over the resort – not just at rest stops along the road.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

The slides were fun for everyone.

The slides were fun for everyone.

Good sharing of the hammock.

Good sharing of the hammock.

When Mr John was "checking the fishes" Oliver pushed him in.  He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

When Mr John was “checking the fishes” Oliver pushed him in. He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

"I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!"

“I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!”

Oliver,  Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara.  Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Oliver, Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara. Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant.  All the boys here.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant. All the boys here.

All the girls.

All the girls.

After a very relaxing stay in Villa Panda in Mui Ne, it was time to return back to HCMC for our flight to Hong Kong.  John & Jenny and their kids were an absolute delight to be away with and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

It was another horrendous 5 hour trip in the car, but this time we started it at 4.30am to make our flight time.  It was lovely to watch the sun come up and see so many people going to church at 5:00am – they were packed.  I was very surprised to see so many Christian churches – I guess that is the consequence of prolonged European influence.  The French baguettes in Vietnam were also some of the best I have tasted!  We passed field after field of dragon fruit growing.  I thought this was marijuana as all the plants had lights around them!  In stopping for the toilet on the way back, it also is apparent that squat toilets are not unique to China!

A fantastic Chinese New Year for all us!

Hong Kong for CNY

With my passport woes behind me and Owen back from the UK, it was time to get excited about our trip to Hong Kong and Vietnam.

As Owen had just arrived back from the UK early morning on Saturday feb 9th, it was a mad rush to get him unpacked and repacked for our CNY (Chinese New Year) break away.  We made it to the airport for a relaxing check in and drink before taking off to Hong Kong.  We did this trip with John and Jenny Horsfield and their 2 boys, Dan who is 13 and Luke who is 9.

We actually took off on time (rare for China Eastern!) and landed in HK at around 8.30.  I made it through immigration here (I was nervous because of the emergency passport situation). We dumped bags in our room and immediately went to the hotel restaurant to enjoy the buffet selection.  It was very late by the time we all got to bed, but we needed to get up early in the morning so we could take advantage of our only full day in HK.  The Horsfields headed off to a theme park, while we decided to do a junk boat tour of the harbour.  Except, it is CNY and everything is closed!  So, we had to come up with a plan B really quickly.  We decided to do a tram ride and got on a west bound tram to the Western Market.  After 30-40  mins on this we had reached the end.

Family Jones on the Cable Car

Family Jones on the Cable Car

We took the MTR train from Western Market to City Gate.  We then decided to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain.    Ngong Ping 360 is a stunning 5.7km cable car journey with a cultural themed village and easy access to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, the world’s largest, seated, outdoor, bronze Buddha statue.  We made the wise decision to buy the “crystal” car tickets – glass bottom!  I say wise, because when we got to the cable car station the queue for the normal cars was very long compared to our 10 minute wait for the crystal car.  In between buying tickets and our travel time we took a walk around the shopping mall and grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch.  The cable car ride was fantastic!  Much longer than we thought it would be with a couple of 90 degree turns and climbs over water.  We all loved being able to see below us!

Family Jones feet!  Looking through the bottom of our cable car to the ocean below.

Family Jones feet! Looking through the bottom of our cable car to the ocean below.

When we got off, we saw that there was about to be a show of some sort, so we waited a few minutes.  It was a spectacular dragon dance to both traditional Chinese music (with drums) and modern – gangnam style!!  Unfortunately, it was an overcast day so the views were not as good as I expect they are on a clear day. Still, much warmer than Shanghai!  We had a walk around the village at the top – and admired the huge Buddha on the top. And bought a Starbucks!  (Is there a place left on the planet where there is no Starbucks!)  And, of course, had to buy our obligatory fridge magnets…..

The Big Buddha on the top of the mountain.

The Big Buddha on the top of the mountain.

Big Buddha in the background!

Big Buddha in the background!

One of the photo option displays at the top of the mountain!

One of the photo option displays at the top of the mountain!  “Gateway to Lantau Island”

The fantastic Chinese show with a mix of traditional songs and the most up-to-date - Gangnam style!

The fantastic Chinese show with a mix of traditional songs and the most up-to-date – Gangnam style!

Isabelle and Oliver trying out the local mode of transport!

Isabelle and Oliver trying out the local mode of transport!

Being silly with Starbucks holders......

Being silly with Starbucks holders……

Beautiful flowers everywhere.

Beautiful flowers everywhere.

There was a display of cable cars representing different Countries.

There was a display of cable cars representing different Countries.  This is the Chinese one.

Posing by the wishing tree.

Posing by the wishing tree.

Fantastic cable car experience - even with the stops and backwards ride!

Fantastic cable car experience – even with the stops and backwards ride!

The cable car ride back down was interesting with several stops and even a backwards stint.  We took the MTR all the way back to hotel and as we had got back so late, we decided to eat in the restaurant again (we had planned to try one of HK fabulous eateries….).

I was so proud of my 2 children who tried all sorts of different food at the buffet – very adventurous.  Oliver even tried octopus:

"Look Mum - I just ate octopus!"

“Look Mum – I just ate octopus!”

Up very early the next morning to our flight to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam.  (Separate post on Vietnam portion!)

After our fantastic Vietnam holiday, we spent another 24 hours in Hong Kong.  We arrived early afternoon at the Mini Hotel at Causeway Bay.  Owen had found this lovely boutique hotel on line.  It described itself as a family hotel and indeed, the room had 3 proper beds – so absolutely perfect for a family of 4!  The bathroom was small – bit of a squeeze, but the rest of the room was spacious, clean and nicely decorated.  I wish more hotel rooms were set up like this.  It was ideal for a family on vacation.  Owen had also booked us a table at Nobu at the Intercontinental Hotel across the bay in Kowloon.

This was a fantastic ending to a brilliant holiday.  Nobu is located in a fabulous place with spectacular views.  The food was delicious, pricy, expensive, but delicious!  We enjoyed a variety of dishes of this Japanese fusion menu and nothing disappointed!  The chef uses fresh ingredients in innovative combinations and all the dishes complimented each other.

Fantastic delicious meal at Nobu

Fantastic delicious meal at Nobu

The views from Nobu restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong

The views from Nobu restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong

More spectacular views!

More spectacular views!

The end of a wonderful family Chinese New Year.

The end of a wonderful family Chinese New Year.

Me with my little chicks!!

Me with my little chicks!!

Beautiful Hong Kong skyline

Beautiful Hong Kong skyline

The next day we flew back to Shanghai and back to the real world!  More memories locked away.