I love family holidays, and the family holiday, which we have recently been on, must be up there as one of the best of my lifetime.
Our eldest son Brad and his lovely partner Denise tied the knot in London on August 13th and he gave us the choice of going to London for the wedding, which he said, would be a low-key affair or meet with the rest of the family in Koh Samui in Thailand. After some thought and discussion with the rest of the family, we decided to choose the latter.
With Evan studying in China it was logical to meet him there and do some touring, his knowledge of Mandarin, made Evan a perfect tour guide and we had an amazing time in China.
We visited Shanghai, Hangzhou (where Evan attends the Zhejiang University) and Beijing, all of which we found to be not only fascinating but beautiful too. Each city has its own unique fascination. We did the usual tourist visits like the Riverbanks and French concession in Shanghai, as well as the Propaganda museum and enjoyed the ballroom and Chinese line dancing on street corners in the evenings. Westlake with its beautiful “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island”, the Botanical Gardens in Hangzhou, as well as Evan’s Uni (Zhejiang University). We also stayed in the Student hostel where Evan lives. We partook in a sample of Hangzhou’s nightlife but at our age, we didn’t do much of that.
The bullet train trip from Hangzhou to Beijing was quite remarkable; the distance between the two cities is 1320 km. The trip including a few stops on the way took us just under six hours, which is an average of over 200 km per hour; at times, it reached speeds of 360kph.
As expected, our stay in Beijing was fantastic. Beijing is an amazing city not only very modern but in many ways it is still very traditional. It is a very busy city with a population of nearly 20 million. We travelled extensively on the underground, which is very efficient and surprisingly easy to understand even for foreigners. Since the Olympics all street signs, Subway stations and shops have English signage.
We stayed at a hostel/guest house in an old traditional “Hutong” (are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences.) The place was beautiful, very quaint, all the rooms surrounding an enclosed courtyard. Our room was lovely and clean, with comfortable beds and our own ensuite bathroom. The staff was very friendly and helpful. All in all a very enjoyable experience.
For me the highlight of our stay in Beijing must be, without exception, our visit to the Great Wall of China. It was so awe inspiring that it was humbling. Another awesome experience was strolling around Tiananmen Square, the huge and infamous square in front of the Forbidden City. (Infamous because of the protests of April 1989 when a large number of people were shot dead for protesting against the Communist Government)
The only complaint I had about our Chinese experience was the air pollution and the oppressive heat it brought on. As an African I thought that the heat would not worry me, well I was wrong, I have never felt heat like that in my life, draining to say the least.
China is a fascinating place, which we enjoyed immensely, the food was incredible and the nice thing about touring China is that it is so cheap. We absolutely loved it!
We thought China was cheap until we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam. Now that place is cheap.
We met Darren and Amanda there; they were staying with an old school friend of Darren’s, Remy Jauffret and his lovely partner Sabrina and their beautiful daughter Yukiko who live and work in Saigon. It was great seeing Remy and Family again. They showed us a good time in HCMC. Darren, Amanda, Remy, Sabrina and Yukiko all went to Cambodia for a few days and we, Irene, Evan and I stayed on and explored Saigon, the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mui Ne Beach.
Vietnam is poor, run down, hot and sticky, dirty, but an incredibly beautiful country. HCMC (Saigon) has traffic like I’ve never seen in my life before. There are over 4 million motor cycles in Saigon, which has a population of just over 9 million people. The city is an extremely busy hub, with motorbikes and taxis whizzing around every which way. The roads are in disrepair as are most of the sidewalks and old buildings. Yet there is no air of doom and gloom, the people are optimistic and friendly. I must admit that I fell head over heels in love with the place especially Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) I will definitely be visiting there again.
On Darren and Amanda’s return from Cambodia, we sadly had to say farewell to Remy, Sabrina, Kiko and Saigon, my favourite city, and head off to meet Brad, Denise and the kids and Denise’ family in Koh Samui Thailand.
Koh Samui, simply Samui as it is referred to by locals, is an island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, close to the mainland Surat Thani town. It is Thailand’s second largest island, with an area of 228.7 km2 and a population of over 50,000. It is rich with natural resources, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees, and tourist. It is an absolute tropical paradise.
Brad booked us into a huge villa, right on the beach near the village of Lamai. The villa had six luxury bedrooms each with their own bathrooms. There was also a fully equipped kitchen a lovely dining room and lounge/TV room. The Villa had its own infinity swimming pool right on the beach. Absolute luxury!
Apart from the obvious pleasure of seeing Brad, Denise and the grand kids again, we got to meet Denise’s lovely family. Briege (Mom), Siobhan (Sister), Dermot (Brother-in-law).
The weather could not have been better, beautiful sunshine and nice and hot, but if it were snowing it would not have dampened our joy at being together. I cannot describe the joy of having the whole family together albeit just for a short time. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, Darren and Amanda could only spend four days with all of us as they had used up their leave and had to get back to work. However, we still all had a great time together.
There was an incident, which unfortunately put a bit of damper on the holiday. Brad had hired three mopeds and a little Suzuki Jeep for the duration of our stay; these were to be our transport around the Island. The very first day we were all going to travel in convoy around the Island. Brad and Denise on one bike, Siobhan and Dermot on another and Irene and Evan on the third, and I was to drive the little Jeep with the kids and Briege. Both Irene and Evan had never been on a bike before and this inexperience proved disastrous, as we pulled off Evan, with Irene on the back lost control of the bike and they both came off, hurting themselves quite badly. We had to get them to the local hospital where Irene received eight stitches in her head and Evan badly grazed on his arms and legs. That put an end to the third moped. From then on they both travelled in the jeep with Briege, the kids and me.
All too soon, the day arrived for all of us to pack and return to our respective homes, Auckland, London, Belfast and Hangzhou. The farewells were heartbreaking and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby. The older I get the more and more sentimental and emotional I get. I only wish that we could all live in the same city, oh hell I’ll just settle for the same country.
We are already saving and planning for the next family holiday. Where will that be? Life is… a holiday with all the family.