Tag Archives: vacation

Snorkeling, Surfing and Swimming

While in Beautiful Bali we packed so many activities in to our week there.  Another first for the children was snorkeling.

Kadek drove us to a great beach where there were many water sports available.  We decided to start with snorkeling and then see what else the kids would be up for!  We got suited up with life jackets, masks and snorkels.  My first time snorkeling is a very vivid memory of quick, panic short breaths breathing through the tube.  I found it difficult to remember that I could actually keep my face in the water (something I was not keen on when I was younger) and still breathe.  The ability to see so many wonderful fish is what kept me going back then and now I love it!  Even considering getting dive qualified once the kids are old enough to do it with me and Owen.

So, out onto the boat – just the 4 of us with the captain.  We had to go very slowly over the shallow water which was filled with fishermen!  Once we past them, we sped up and 5 minutes later we arrived at a lovely spot, attached to the buoy and then over the side we went.

We are not that far from land, despite the view from here!  Isabelle and Oliver loved it!

We are not that far from land, despite the view from here! Isabelle and Oliver loved it!

Following a little apprehension about jumping off the side of the boat into the ocean, the kids were soon bobbing about on the ocean.  It took a little more persuasion to mask up and look down, but once they got the hang of it, they both loved it!  We saw a couple of fish that looked like fish from “Finding Nemo” and both children took great delight in pointing these out to us!  They loved the fish that swam slightly higher, the optical illusion of light in the water made it seem like we could touch them.  It was not the best snorkeling that Owen and I have done, but it was a good first for Isabelle and Oliver.

Chilling on the boat after the ocean swim and snorkel!

Chilling on the boat after the ocean swim and snorkel!

Lovely shot of Owen and Isabelle xx

Lovely shot of Owen and Isabelle xx

It was a lovely few hours trying something new again!  Once back at the beach we enjoyed a leisurely time watching the fishermen and other water sport activity.

The kids loved the surf at the beach by our villa.  They spent many hours wave jumping and getting knocked over by the huge waves!

Pure joy on these faces!

Pure joy on these faces!

 

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Beautiful Bali

Owen and the kids returned from UK on August 9th (just in time to celebrate Isabelle’s birthday!), then on August 13th we all flew from Shanghai to Bali for a week of family relaxation before the new school year starts.

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Owen had found us a beautiful villa on the beach with its own pool and it was paradise.  Because of the flight times, we decided to fly in 1 day early and stay at a hotel near the airport.  We checked into Baliwood Property to find a lovely 2 bedroom hotel room.  It had a great pool that the kids enjoyed for the morning before it was time to pack up and wait for our driver to take us to Villa Nova at Seminyak.

Kadek arrived on time and was a very entertaining driver.  He is very proud of his Country, heritage, traditions and culture and was very eager to share all of that with us.  It was fascinating listening to him – a wonderful story telling style with lots of facts and view points.  1 hour later we arrived at the villa =  paradise.

Welcome to Villa Nova, Seminyak, Bali

Welcome to Villa Nova, Seminyak, Bali

This is the view of our beautiful villa from the pool.

This is the view of our beautiful villa from the pool.

The villa had 4 koi fish ponds, a lovely outdoor dining and sitting area, a pool and a private walkway to the beach.  It had an open-plan layout, 3 en-suite bedrooms and a very modern kitchen.  Best of all, it came with Kadek (our driver) and a wonderful married couple called Ketut and Nyoman who looked after the property and cooked for us.  It was truly a treat to be looked after so well.

Isabelle and Oliver enjoying the pool.

Isabelle and Oliver enjoying the pool.

How lovely to laze in the cabana, hear the ocean waves crashing on the beach, read a book or play on iPads!!

How lovely to laze in the cabana, hear the ocean waves crashing on the beach, read a book or play on iPads!!

It was so relaxing to fall asleep listening to the waves rolling in every night.  Our beach was a surfers paradise so the ocean was loud enough!  It was therapeutic to laze on the cabana, read, watch the kids play in the pool and just let the day float by.

Deserted beach at sunset.  Spectacular colours - the photo does not do it justice!

Deserted beach at sunset. Spectacular colours – the photo does not do it justice!

Playing in the waves.

Playing in the waves.

How our garden was lit up at night.

How our garden was lit up at night.

The sunsets in Bali were wonderful

The sunsets in Bali were wonderful

Just one of the stone carvings by one of the fish ponds.  The children enjoyed feeding them every day.

Just one of the stone
carvings by one of the fish ponds. The children enjoyed feeding them every day.  Check out the lizard on the cheek!

Me and my gorgeous girl with local flowers in our hair.

Me and my gorgeous girl with local flowers in our hair.

We decided to alternate days at the pool/beach with full activity days.  I have already written about our White Water Rafting and Elephant Safari (Bucket List Day) and the Tree Top Adventures.  Another day was to Ubud to the many villages that specialise in wood carving, silver work, stone work and painting.  These traditions get handed down through generations.  One gallery we visited had 15 family members all doing amazing art work in many different mediums.  We were so fortunate to have Kadek, such a knowledgeable local, giving us a running commentary as we were driving through this beautiful, amazing Island.  They are a very spiritual culture, there are shrines and temples everywhere.  Every day, offerings are made to the spirits and Gods in the form of flowers that are specially grown along side rice and other crops.  These are presented in woven baskets.

One of the hundreds of offerings that we saw around Bali.

One of the hundreds of offerings that we saw around Bali.

Our visit coincided with Bali Independence festival and there were many flags along the roadside displaying the red and white of Bali colours.  There are many festivals in Bali – in fact, Kadek joked that business and schools were shut more than they were open because of all the festivals!  Bali is the largest and most popular Island in Indonesia and tourism is the main form of economy.  It is classed as a third world environment and in talking with Kadek, this came through in many discussions.  For example, Kadek’s wife has to shop every day because not only do they not have a refrigerator, but there is not one in their village.  Cock fighting is a popular form of passing the time and a social event for whole villages.  Many times we were diverted because roads were closed due to cremation events.  These are expensive for Balinese families, but follow a very traditional process.  Carved animals and elaborate structures are lovingly created by family members and the entire village.  There is a long and loud procession through the streets before the final ceremonial burning.  If a family cannot afford to perform this ceremony, they will bury their loved ones, but dig them up later when they can afford to do it.

The Balinese believe that special spirits associated with the Earth live in some of the larger trees on the Island.  They will protect these spirits by wrapping the trees in a black and white cloth.  We saw these cloths wrapped around some of the shrines too.

This large tree is wrapped in the black and white cloth to protect the Gods and Spirits that live within.

This large tree is wrapped in the black and white cloth to protect the Gods and Spirits that live within.

This local lady is bringing an offering to this shrine.  You can see that this is also protected with the black and white cloth.

This local lady is bringing an offering to this shrine. You can see that this is also protected with the black and white cloth.

Colourful flags to keep the birds away from the rice fields.

Colourful flags to keep the birds away from the rice fields.

Locals harvesting the rice.

Locals harvesting the rice.

As the climate is so temperate there is no set time for planting or reaping.  The rice fields are a wonderful site throughout the Island.

A wonderful view of the rice fields.

A wonderful view of the rice fields.

More rice fields

More rice fields

This gallery has 15 family members working in it.  We bought some artwork here!  Wonderful, talented family.

This gallery has 15 family members working in it. We bought some artwork here! Wonderful, talented family.

Our day to Ubud included a visit to a Jewellery gallery.  They make all the silver (and a little gold) on the premises.

This exquisite piece is made from silver by the talented artists in this village.

This exquisite piece is made from silver by the talented artists in this village.

Oliver and Isabelle at the Silver shop.  The gallery is surrounded by fish ponds and they had great fun looking at all the different fish.

Oliver and Isabelle at the Silver shop. The gallery is surrounded by fish ponds and they had great fun looking at all the different fish.

Kadek took us to a lovely restaurant on this day trip out.  One of the highlights was a pizza oven shaped like a turtle.

The turtle pizza oven.

The turtle pizza oven.

Oliver posing by some artwork in the restaurant.

Oliver posing by some artwork in the restaurant.

Me and my little chicks at lunch.  We ate on the upper level and had a fantastic view across the fields.

Me and my little chicks at lunch. We ate on the upper level and had a fantastic view across the fields.

Our last stop on this day was to a wood carving gallery.  This place had a bird that was a perfect mimic.  He was “chatting” away to the kids and even copied Owen’s laugh!

Looking down from the upper level of the restaurant to a pool.

Looking down from the upper level of the restaurant to a pool.

After we completed the Tree Top Adventure we went to the Floating Temple.  The lake that the Temple floats on is in the belly of a Volcanic mountain.  This made for some great photos as we were so high in the mountains and the clouds were so low.

The lake that the Floating Temple is on.

The lake that the Floating Temple is on.  The clouds are so low here and it is much cooler than everywhere else we visited on the Island.

The Floating Temple

The Floating Temple

This photo shows a mosque in the middle of the Temple towers.

This photo shows a mosque in the middle of the Temple towers.

The top of the driveway into the Botanical Gardens where we did the Tree Top Adventure.  The mountains behind this statue are a fabulous back drop.

The top of the driveway into the Botanical Gardens where we did the Tree Top Adventure. The mountains behind this statue are a fabulous back drop.

The bottom of the driveway to the Botanical Gardens.  Look at the flags to celebrate Independence Day.

The bottom of the driveway to the Botanical Gardens. Look at the flags to celebrate Independence Day.

Isabelle by one of the displays floating by the Temple.

Isabelle by one of the displays floating by the Temple.

The roof of the temple is made from palm tree husks/silks.  There are very few on each palm tree so it takes a long time and huge effort to make this.

The roof of the temple is made from palm tree husks/silks. There are very few on each palm tree so it takes a long time and huge effort to make this.

Amazing structure

Amazing structure

A huge tree on the walk down to the Temple.  Again, it is covered in the black and white cloth to keep spirits in.

A huge tree on the walk down to the Temple. Again, it is covered in the black and white cloth to keep spirits in.

Most of the Temples in Bali have an inner and outer area.  We could walk around the outer area, but were not allowed inside.  Here we are on the steps.

Most of the Temples in Bali have an inner and outer area. We could walk around the outer area, but were not allowed inside. Here we are on the steps.

Isabelle and Oliver posing on the steps.

Isabelle and Oliver posing on the steps.

There are lovely gardens surrounding the Temple with many animal statues.  Isabelle and Oliver loved posing with all these:

Riding the giant goldfish!

Riding the giant goldfish!

Roaring with the Tiger

Roaring with the Tiger

Getting eaten by the bear

Getting eaten by the bear

Flying with the Eagle

Flying with the Eagle

With Dad on the lizard

With Dad on the lizard

By the deer

By the deer

Owen and I have always said that the world is too large and that there is so much to see, that we would not go back to anywhere that we have previously visited.  However, we loved Bali so much, that we have had to revise our thoughts!  The people are so friendly and welcoming – always smiling.  The land is a mix of mountains, fields, rivers, jungle, beaches, villages and tourist cities.  This was a fantastic week away and we will be returning soon.

Beautiful Temples all over the Island.

Beautiful Temples all over the Island.

Treetop Adventures in Bali

The Treetop Adventure Park in the Botanical Gardens in Bali gave us several hours of thrills and excitement.  There are 7 adventure circuits within the trees from between 2 – 20 meters high.  In total there are 72 challenges including Suspended Bridges, Spider Nets, Tarzan Jumps, Flying-Fox, Flying Swings, and many more fun challenges.  All of the circuit platforms are held in place using an innovative compression system to protect trees from any damage and all of the cables are protected from cutting into the trees.

Once we arrived, we were kitted up in the safety harnesses with pulley and carabiners.  We then completed the training circuit where all of us learned how to  work the safety harness (1 of the 2 carabiners must always be attached to the guide wires) and how to work the pulleys for the flying fox zip lines.

The different circuit levels for ages 4 - 74!

The different circuit levels for ages 4 – 74!

The 4 of us having fun on the wires in the treetops!

The 4 of us having fun on the wires in the treetops!

We started on the Squirrel Yellow Circuit and Isabelle was straight up and taking the lead.  She was so confident and having so much fun doing it!  She was a little scared at some points but managed to keep going.  Oliver, who always wants to do everything that Isabelle does, kept up with us all on everything!

Isabelle high in the trees!

Isabelle high in the trees!

Oliver climbing like a monkey!

Oliver climbing like a monkey!

Smiling in the tunnels!

Smiling in the tunnels!

Owen on the Flying Fox Zip Line

Owen on the Flying Fox Zip Line

Me getting confident on the Flying Fox Zip line - look, no hands!!

Me getting confident on the Flying Fox Zip line – look, no hands!!

Once we had finished the Yellow Circuit, we went on to do the Green and Orange Circuits.  My heart was thumping on the Orange Circuit, and I was not sure that I was going to be able to finish……  (I used to be such a dare devil, but the older I get, the more I do not like heights).  However, seeing that Isabelle and Oliver had both finished this round, I could not let them see me wimp out!

Super nervous on this one.  Owen had to talk me through it!  I was so happy to finish this circuit!

Super nervous on this one. Owen had to talk me through it! I was so happy to finish this circuit!

Walking high and confident!

Walking high and confident!

Isabelle loving 1 of the Flying Fox Zip Wires

Isabelle loving 1 of the Flying Fox Zip Wires

Oliver on 1 of the Flying Fox Zip Wires

Oliver on 1 of the Flying Fox Zip Wires

After we had completed the 3 circuits that the kids could do, they wanted to start all over again!  So, we went round again, but this time Oliver went first.

Owen and Isabelle on round 2!

Owen and Isabelle on round 2!

Oliver in the lead!

Oliver in the lead!

So much fun!

So much fun!

Wheeee - we love Bali!!!!

Wheeee – we love Bali!!!!

 

A Bucket List Day

In 2009, after watching the movie “The Bucket List” and after going through a full physical for the first time in my life(!!), I wrote my own Bucket List.  Number 1 on my list is: “African Safari – ride an Elephant, see Gorilla’s in the wild, see Victoria Falls (between Zambia and Zimbabwe).”  There are 78 items on my Bucket List and vary from the very simple (Number 12 – See a spectacular sunrise. This one is complete – it was the sunrise from top of Mount Haleakalā on Maui Island in Hawaii) to the hard-to-achieve (Number 77 – take off and land in a plane on an aircraft carrier in the ocean).  Number 25 on my list is “Go White Water Rafting”.

On Thursday August 15th in Bali, I managed to do 1.5 items off my Bucket List!  After a 45 minute drive from our villa in Seminyak to the Bali Adventure Tour center, we were shown to the locker room.  After stowing our change of clothes, we then went to get kitted out in helmets, life jackets and collect our paddles!

Ready to go!  Oliver & Isabelle with Wayan, our fantastic guide.  Life vest - check; helmet - check; paddle - check!

Ready to go! Oliver & Isabelle with Wayan, our fantastic guide. Life vest – check; helmet – check; paddle – check!

As you can see, they are used to children as young as Isabelle and Oliver as all their gear was sized for them.  There were about 500 steps down from the reception center to the River Ayung.  These are well built, with solid handrails and are wide enough to accommodate a couple of people.  It is just a long walk down – Owen and the kids had jelly legs at the bottom!

The view from half way down the 500+ steps

The view from half way down the 500+ steps

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

Isabelle and Oliver were a little bit scared at this point.  Time for a Family Jones Motto" Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway!"

Isabelle and Oliver were a little bit scared at this point. Time for a Family Jones Motto: “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway!”

Once in the raft, the action started.  It was just us 4 plus Wayan in our raft, so a very personalized and fun experience.  The rafts had safety ropes and foot holes and none of us fell out!!  We spent about 2.5 hours going down a 9.6km stretch of river, navigating through 33 class II and III rapids.  Superb unspoiled rainforest, rice paddy fields, waterfalls that seem to drop from heaven and the most spectacular 500 meter stone carving were our views for the entire ride.

Posing by a part of the stone carving.

Posing by a part of the stone carving.

Along several parts of our journey, Wayan stopped the raft so that we could get out and take photos and stand underneath ice cold waterfalls!  The picture above is just one small section of the 500 meter long carving in the rock.

Rock Carving

Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

Posing with another part of the Rock Carving

Posing with another part of the Rock Carving

Time to move on :-)

Time to move on 🙂

This ice cold waterfall appeared to fall out of the trees.  It was very powerful and none of us could stand under for more than a couple of seconds.

This ice cold waterfall appeared to fall out of the trees. It was very powerful and none of us could stand under for more than a couple of seconds.

Photo opportunity!

Photo opportunity!

Brrrr - this is cold Mum!

Brrrr – this is cold Mum!

At one point, at a particularly good rapid drop off, Bali Adventure Tour photographers took photos of us.  I love this set of 5 because you can see the surprise in the kids faces as we come over the rapids…..

Woo hoo - this is SOOOOO much fun!

Woo hoo – this is SOOOOO much fun!

Fun, fun, fun

Fun, fun, fun

Over we go.....

Over we go…..

Kids faces are a picture.

Kids faces are a picture.

And, repeat for 32 more times.  Awesome!

And, repeat for 32 more times. Awesome!

Once we reached the end of the rapids, we had to climb back up more stairs.  Another 500 steps and this time all our legs were jelly!!  Oliver, the charmer, was carried some of the way by Wayan.

Wish I had been carried too!

Wish I had been carried too!

When will we get to the top??

When will we get to the top??

The facilities were excellent with good showers (including shampoo and soap!) plus hairdryers.  Once we were all clean, it was up to the top of the building for a buffet meal and rehydration.  Great views over the rain forest and rice fields from here.  This was a very short turnaround as we needed to get in the bus to go to the Elephant Safari park, Taro, Ubud.  This park is an official member of the World Zoo Association and meets International Standards for animal care.  It is set in more than 2 hectares of eco tourism landscaped botanical gardens, surrounded by national forest.  Acclaimed as the World’s Best Elephant Park, the facilities include a full Reception and Information Centre, a comprehensive Museum, with a large collection of elephant memorabilia and the only Mammoth Skeleton in South East Asia.

For people who know me well, this chance to get up close and personal with these incredible animals is a dream.  I have collected elephants in all forms (except for ivory, of course) since I was little.  I have supported specific campaigns through Ele-Friends and the WWF to protect these magnificent creatures.  All of us had the opportunity to hand feed them, touch them, take photos with them, and then – best of all – ride on them in a night time safari.

Arriving, and I am so excited.  This is a dream come true for me.

Arriving, and I am so excited. This is a dream come true for me.

Oliver posing with a lovely statue outside the park.  Little did he know that he was just about to do the same thing with a real one!

Oliver posing with a lovely statue outside the park. Little did he know that he was just about to do the same thing with a real one!

This lovely gentle giant is 30 years old.  I fed him for about 20 minutes!

This lovely gentle giant is 30 years old. I fed him for about 20 minutes!

Owen feeding the Big Daddy!

Owen feeding the Big Daddy!

Oliver and Isabelle being presented with a garland.

Oliver and Isabelle being presented with a garland.

This elephant is resting her trunk on my shoulder and breathing down my back.  It was very ticklish.

This elephant is resting her trunk on my shoulder and breathing down my back. It was very ticklish.

This elephant was our favourite.

This elephant was our favourite.

There are 3 baby elephants in this Safari park and successful breeding is a sure sign of animal wellness.  The elephants in this park are the Sumatran elephant and is the smallest in the world, up to five times smaller than its African cousin (which are actually my favourites).  While they can be gentle and playful, they have strong and unique personalities and get bored and despondent if they are just hanging around.  They also need to exercise, so their rides through the jungle is a key to their happiness and health.  (The weight of two people is easily borne by an 800 kilo creature).  After we had fed a few of the elephants we walked over to the Mother and Baby.

So fuzzy, so cute!

So fuzzy, so cute!

The Mummy's poop contains partially digested food that their babies love and are full of nutrients.  YUCK!

The Mummy’s poop contains partially digested food that their babies love and are full of nutrients. YUCK!

Quite amazing to see these animals sitting down!

Quite amazing to see these animals sitting down!

There was a brief “talent show”.  3 elephants played football, basketball and walked along the beam that these 2 are sitting on above.  While an elephant skillfully kicking a soccer ball or wielding a paint brush may seem a little gimmicky (and made me a little uncomfortable), I have learned that in the wild they will often kick around coconuts, or use sticks, pebbles and leaves to make pictures in the earth.

Isabelle and Owen enjoying their elephant night time ride.

Isabelle and Owen enjoying their elephant night time ride.

WOW - that was BRILLIANT!

WOW – that was BRILLIANT!

BRILLIANT!

AWESOME!

End of the day and the kids could not resist a cuddle with 1 or 2 more statues

End of the day and the kids could not resist a cuddle with 1 or 2 more statues

Feeling sorry for the wounded, bandaged ele.

Feeling sorry for the wounded, bandaged ele.

The elephants are beautiful!  They certainly looked healthy and happy.  I believe that the wild is the best place for all animals, but due to human devastation, most of the Elephant land in Sumatra is now unavailable to them.  If you would like to see the elephants that we fed and rode on, then check out this link:

http://earthcam.com/indonesia/bali/?cam=bali1

Oh – I have now completed 19 of the 78 items on my bucket!  Number 25 – complete!  Number 1 – partially complete!

Summer Vacation Fun – Germany & UK

The summer arrived in Shanghai, school finished and that means – time to leave Shanghai!!  The kids last day of school was June 27th and on the 28th we were all on a plane heading back to the UK.  Both children had EXCELLENT school reports – which obviously made us very proud.  They are happy, excelling and trying their best at whatever they do – I cannot ask for more.

We arrived to glorious weather in the UK.  Blue skies, brilliant sunshine and heat!  We spent several days with family: my parents had celebrated their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary earlier in June so we had a family meal out to celebrate.  It was wonderful to see Isabelle and Oliver re-connecting with their cousins – they picked up as though it was only yesterday that they had seen them!

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

I love this family photo: Back - Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara Front - Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

I love this family photo: Back – Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara
Front – Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

We also had a brilliant day with my favourite Uncle and Auntie who live in a lovely village next to a Country Park that the kids loved.

Then it was off to Germany!  We flew into Munich and drove 1.5 hours to Steinberg am See in Bavaria, passing lots of hops growing on the way – it is beer country, after all!  What a wonderful reunion with Steffi!  Steffi was our first Au Pair in America and quickly became a part of our family.  She has visited us many times since she returned to Germany and we keep in close contact.  It was our turn to visit her, especially to celebrate the occasion of her wedding!  Even though we had not met her Fiancé, Heiko, before this trip, he and his family welcomed us although we were family members.  Both sides of our “German family” treated us so well and we felt like we were at home.

We had a couple of days to settle in, re-connect with Steffi’s friends and family, before all the festivities started.  First was the “official” wedding.  This event was in Regensburg at the Rat House (Town Hall) and was just for immediate family.  We were shocked and stunned to find that we were also invited to this celebration.  After a short ceremony, with Steffi and Heiko in traditional Bavarian costume, it was off to a lunch celebration.

Just Married (first time!)  In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Just Married (first time!) In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony.  On our way to lunch!

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony. On our way to lunch!  It was a lovely walk through the town and many people commented on the new bride and groom.

We were lucky with the weather here too, as they have had so much rain that many areas had been flooded.  But, it was sunny and hot with beautiful blue skies for our whole week in Germany.  The town hall wedding was on Thursday, with the church service on Saturday.  So, Friday we went to the “Moving Ground” which is a large play area by the huge lake.  There was so much for us to do there and we had a lot of fun on water slides, trampoline bungie jumping, normal trampolines and a giant inflatable bouncy dome.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the "Am See" part of Steinberg!  Fantastic things to do for the kids - big and small.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the “Am See” part of Steinberg! Fantastic things to do for the kids – big and small.

We woke to another beautiful day for the wedding.  Rushed off to get Isabelle’s done – as flower girl/bridesmaid she had to look perfect!  Oliver also got his hair cut so he would look super smart in his new suit!

Gorgeous children!

Gorgeous children!

Posing by the wedding car.  The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

Posing by the wedding car. The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

The wedding was so much fun.  Even though it was all in German and I could only follow bits of what was going on, the atmosphere was terrific.  All of Steffi and Heiko’s friends and family were so open and friendly.  Steffi, of course, looked absolutely gorgeous – Isabelle thought she looked like a Princess.  After the church service, we went to a local cafe for cold cuts and beer.  This is when Steffi and Heiko were off at the lake having photos taken.  Meanwhile we were all socialising and enjoying the sunshine.  Once they returned we then drove in a long convoy to the reception hotel about 10 minutes away.  Even this was fun as all the cars were honking their horns and driving in a wavy crocodile fashion.

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi's nephew).

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi’s nephew).

There was traditional Bavarian music playing as we arrived and it was time for coffee and cake.  Heiko’s mum and Steffi’s mum had spent several days making the most gorgeous range of cakes for this part of the day.  We all ate several!  While everyone was enjoying the cake, the music kept playing and the dancing started.  Then it was time for the “Bride Stealing”!!  One of their friends stole Steffi to another location and Heiko now had to win her back.  We all walked to another restaurant to the bride’s secret location  and enjoyed some games while waiting for the Groom to come and rescue Steffi.  This was very different from any other wedding we have attended and we all enjoyed this part.  After several humiliations on Heiko’s behalf, he won her back and we returned to the restaurant for dinner and more dancing.

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame - it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame – it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

After more food, much dancing (I enjoyed learning some bavarian dances!) we had to leave as the kids were fading fast.  As it had been such a full, fabulous day, I was surprised that they made it to 10:30pm!  The party was still going strong as we left – such a brilliant event.  🙂

We spent the next couple of days enjoying the Moving Ground at the Lake, site seeing in Schwandorf and the Pony Hof in Steinberg.  Steffi and Heiko have delayed their honeymoon until later in the year, so we spent these days catching up with them and relaxing after all the lead up to the wedding.

We took some boats out on the lake – one even had a slide on it that the kids loved.  I had a go at water ski-ing which I had not done since living in America.  I had also never water skied on a cable system before so it took a couple of attempts to master the corners of that!  (I ached soooooo much the next few days after!)  Both children mastered the paddle boats while I was water ski-ing – displaying great balancing skills.  They had plenty of fun in Germany!

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko's boat.

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko’s boat.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Water ski-ing!

Water ski-ing!

All too quickly our time was up and we had to return to the UK.  It was a fantastic visit and so wonderful to be able to see our lovely Steffi get married.

Back in the UK and time to catch up with other family members and friends.  It is always a whirlwind visit and impossible to see everyone.  Mum and Dad babysat a couple of times so that Owen and I could enjoy adult nights out with Laurence and Mark & Sandra.  We also arranged for Isabelle and Oliver to see special friends from the UK.  It was a joyous reunion and Isabelle was especially thrilled to see her best friend again.  The 2 of them were thick as thieves, just like they had never been apart.

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Sam and Oliver - 2 buddies back together!

Sam and Oliver – 2 buddies back together!

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

Happy chappies!

Happy chappies!

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.  He also got a little wet from their water pistols!

We had 1 scare with Oliver – a severe allergic reaction to something (probably peanuts) meant a visit to the A&E / ER to reduce the swelling and rash.  He is now going for an Allergy panel test to let us know exactly what we need to avoid.  He gave us all a scare though.

The weather really makes a difference to a British Summer.  When it is sunny and warm, it is so easy to fill many hours at the park, with the hose or at the pool.  That is all Isabelle and Oliver wanted to do, anyway!  The time seemed to fly by too fast.  Not enough time spent with my Mum & Dad or with Sandra (my BFF), never mind so many other people that I really wanted to see.  The downside of the Ex-pat life 😦

I returned to Shanghai after 3 short weeks away, leaving my 3 loves in UK.  It is heart-breaking to be apart and I miss them all dreadfully.  But, they would all be so bored in China as no-one is here.  So, I am busy working, working, working and trying to stay out of the blistering heat and humidity that is Shanghai in July and August.  It is countdown mode for me until they return.

A Naked Retreat Weekend

A lovely weekend at The Naked Retreat at Moganshan, outside of Shanghai. Owen had just returned from one of his UK medical trips and the kids were on Easter/Spring break.  We packed the car and then spent 2.5 hours driving for a lovely long weekend break.

The naked Stables Private Reserve is an exclusive resort in a protected nature reserve.  It is luxury accommodation in spacious Tree Top Villas or single bedroom Earth Huts, spread across a broad, secluded valley in the foothills of Moganshan. No motor vehicles are permitted inside naked Stables Private Reserve but you can get around the extensive estate by electric golf cart or by foot.

We had reserved a Tree Top Villa, “Owl 4” – a 2 bedroom villa with spectacular views across mountain tops.  The deck had a jacuzzi on and a barbecue grill.  We all loved the hot tub and were in it at least twice every day!

Our Tree Top Villa - Owl 4

Our Tree Top Villa – Owl 4.  That is Owen waving down to us.

Owl 4 - all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

Owl 4 – all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

Now, this is the life!

Now, this is the life!

Relax, get active and get well.  Get ‘naked’.  Lounge on a sundeck beside your private jacuzzi, admire the mountains above the forest and watch the wild deer below, or take advantage of a range of activities from mountain biking, horse riding and hiking.  Cool off in one of our three swimming pools.  Get involved in cultural and culinary events in the evenings.  Children can be let loose in the supervised Little Shoots Kids Club.  For the restoration of mind, body and spirit, the naked Leaf Wellness Center, hidden in the forest, offers personal consultations and a range of treatments, holistic therapies, yoga and meditation, diet and exercise regimes that incorporate all sides of the resort.  It’s pure, private, naked luxury.

Owen and I spent a couple of hours in the spa while the kids played in the Little Shoots Club – it was a fabulous pampering experience.

We had booked both children in for Horse Riding.  Prior to this, Oliver was sure that he did not want to do it.  We persuaded him to try something new and once he was on the horse, he absolutely loved it!  We were so proud of him trying something new….

All suited up and ready to go!

All suited up and ready to go!

Loving the trotting!

Loving the trotting!  He could not keep the smile off his face the whole time!

Isabelle on her horse.

Isabelle on her horse.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The horses at the Retreat are from all over China.  Many of them have had traumatic lives prior to arriving, but they are well looked after here.  One of the horses had given birth to her foal 6 weeks ago.  It was a wonderful creature:

Mummy and Baby

Mummy and Baby

There is quite a bit to do at the Naked Retreat.  I took photos of a tea picking activity:

Tea picking in the mountains.

Tea picking in the mountains.  Can you see them in the fields?

Isabelle and Oliver loved the hot tub.  They were in it at every opportunity!

Night time hot tubbing!

Night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

The Kids club was

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Isabelle and Oliver enjoyed spending some time at the Kids Club.  They came back with beautiful paper flowers and stories of falling off the hammock!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf.  The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf. The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The restaurant served “free” afternoon tea with lots of delicious delicacies.  It also had a lovely buffet breakfast and lots of yummy evening menu items.  The ceiling had an unusual design…..

Ceiling design

Ceiling design at Kikaboni restaurant

The story behind “The Naked Retreat”:   South African Grant Horsfield, the founder of naked Retreats, came to China in 2005.  He wanted to identify a product that he could import and sell to the infamous ‘China market’, the untapped maker of fortunes that has attracted so many speculators for so many years.  Grant is selling an idea, and he has found a vast market for it – while he was working in the bustling city of Shanghai, Grant missed the open spaces of his home country.  He was brought up on a farm, the Veldt and mountains were his playground.  Much like anyone, he found the pace of city life, the pollution, the stress, debilitating. He started looking for an escape, a rural retreat.

After several scouting trips by car and bicycle into the hinterland west of Shanghai, Grant came upon Moganshan, a bamboo clad mountain that was a popular heat retreat in the days of Shanghai’s foreign concessions.  Just below the mountain’s peak and its surviving foreign-built villas, he discovered a farming hamlet called Shanjiuwu, also known as ‘395’.  The houses were old, rundown, and mostly abandoned. A small, aging community grew tea and vegetables on smallholdings and harvested bamboo.  Grant had found his idea – with immense difficulty he tracked down the owners of the neglected farmhouses, he roused the village chief and approached the local township authorities.  His proposal was equally difficult for them to understand, let alone approve and enact.  Grant wanted to rent some underused farmhouses and convert them into guesthouses. He prevailed, and naked Retreats Home Village was born. The year was 2007. The eight guesthouses have been all but fully booked ever since.  Grant, with partners Gabriela Lo and Evan Lai, and his wife Delphine Yip, has built naked Retreats into a well known, successful company and brand.  In October 2011 they opened naked Stables Private Reserve, a purpose built collection of Tree Top Villas and Earth Huts at the foot of the valley below 395. naked Retreats are now looking further afield, yet always within a few hours of a major city, for places to create their unique retreats for the vast, untapped market of urban China.

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant.  These chairs are fabulous!

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant. These chairs are fabulous!

The cabins are tucked in the mountains.....

The cabins are tucked in the mountains…..  You can barely see them when walking around.

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver.  The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver. The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

A lovely relaxing, peaceful weekend.  We all enjoyed this wonderful place and will try to get back again before we leave China.

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!