Vietnam II: Dancing dragons – and I’m not talking about my mother-in-law

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I tried to get Paul to write this edition of the blog – but he informs me “you won’t like it – I’ll just talk about what I’ve eaten, and the weather”. If his teenage diaries are anything to go by this is certainly the case, so I’d better do it instead.

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When I last wrote, we were heading on a Vietnamese night train from Saigon to Da Nang – which didn’t prove quite the relaxing experience we’d hoped for. Let’s be clear. We love night trains and we’re not picky. Second class AC on the Indian trains was scarcely private and comfortable, and the Thai trains had their moments too (not least the guard who positively revelled in shouting “you wake up NOW at 5am). So what was wrong with the Vietnamese trains? First problem – they don’t appear to change the sheets. This is disgusting. Thai and Indian trains launder everything to pristine whiteness, so it was a bit of a shock. And we were too dazed to realise at first, otherwise our handy silk sleeping bags would have come into play. Problem two, although everyone is supposed to have a bunk or a seat, there also appeared to be a large contingent of people who have paid to sit on a small plastic stool anywhere they can find a place. This turned out, in one case, to be our small compartment, where a lady spent some quality time alternatively trying to stroke the children, admire our laptops and set up camp on the narrow strip of floor between the bunks.

Personal space is a constant issue when we’re travelling. Not Paul and mine particularly, but the girls’. While it is fair enough that many countries are not quite so ‘touch me not’ with other people’s children as the British, how much leeway should we allow? How can we make sure the girls are still comfortable?

In India, we allowed old ladies to poke and prod them a little – but drew the line at the man who pulled Daisy onto his knee and started rocking her like a baby. I wasn’t too keen on this Vietnamese lady, either? Paranoid, perhaps? But I don’t want the girls to feel that we didn’t protect them from being pushed around. It’s a fine line to tread.

Vietnamese lady ejected from our compartment – and only feeling slightly guilty – we slumbered grubbily on the way to Da Nang. At around 6am a revolutionary song began blaring out of a speaker that we’d not noticed. Fortunately we were rescued by Clover who nonchalantly mentioned she’d turn it down and then promptly did so, somehow. The train got in just past noon, giving us, and Mum and Dad plenty of time to hang around reading books until it arrived. We were grateful for the pick up arranged by Jolie, the eponymous owner of Jolie Homestay, to take us to our next destination, Hoi An.

What can I say about Hoi An? Pretty – and pretty much on everyone’s tourist itinerary, it has lanterns, old buildings, tailors and the beach. After the bustle of Ho Chi Minh city it is a seriously good place for R&R. We’d rushed to get down there to meet Paul’s Mum, who is staying in Hoi An with her friend Phil, partly on holiday and partly visiting students from the educational charity he runs.

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What we hadn’t realised is that we’d arrived just in time for full moon, and the annual dragon festival. The town was packed in the evening with dancing ‘dragons and unicorns’ such as you might expect to see at Chinese new year. This made it a little tricky to get around, but very entertaining.

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We were grateful to be staying a little way out, where the only dragons we saw were of the very junior variety – young children practising their dancing in return for a few coins – a little like carolsinging at home.

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What else did we do in Hoi An? Well I’m afraid to admit we didn’t go to a single historic building. We had some clothes made – great fun – and I now have the first pair of black trousers to ever fit me perfectly. We went to the beach – once at Madeleine and Phil’s very chichi five-star resort, and once at the slightly more shabby (but very charming) An Bang beach – where we hung out until the full moon rose and ate very fine fish.

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In fact, we ate very well in general. Hoi An is truly relaxing (apart from in the evenings at a dragon dance festival). Got to hope those newly tailored clothes will still fit after some wonderful meals.

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