With 10 days of autumn annual leave pencilled in, it was decided that a family holiday was long overdue. 5 years overdue to be precise. But this time with a twist – it was to be Pumpkin’s first time accompanying us and the outcome would be dichotomous – either a huge success and the start of many a great trip or (and this was my apprehension), a complete and utter disaster culminating in everyone arguing with everyone else.
Selecting a destination mutually agreeable to 5 (very different) adults is never an easy feat. Mumsie is always keen to see new countries and see sights, Dad prefers relaxing and unwinding, of the philosophy that a holiday should not be more exhausting from the life you are escaping but has a passionate interest in history. Cuba was high on my differentials with my confidence it would suit all our needs but then sibling threw a spanner in the works by reminding us she had already been. After much time spent at the drawing board, Vietnam came up as a clear winner.
Once again, we stayed true to form and contacted a well reviewed local tour company by the name of Tonkin Travel to create a 10 day trip for us comprising Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An, a UNESCO world heritage city in central, coastal Vietnam. The threat of possible typhoon season only transiently threw us off and the thorough professionalism of Tonkin Travel in responding to emails, booking internal flights, sending invoices, arranging payments etc made it an absolute breeze to book this trip.
I would be doing an injustice by not accrediting Cathay Pacific, an airline I had never previously traveled with and who we selected merely because it offered the most time-efficient and cost-effective option. What class! The airline was spotlessly clean, had ample leg room, even meeting the seal of approval of Pumpkin’s long and usually squished legs. The food quality was far above expectations for airline food, I would go so far as to say the pasta Pumpkin and I had was better than many restaurant preparations I had tried. With an excellent choice of in-flight entertainment, I should have packed my book in my check in luggage as a couple of films and a Sex and the City marathon (I know I’m a stereotype) meant that 12 hours went alarmingly quickly. Oh and they even had a contingency plan for those gaps between meals where you convince yourself you’re peckish and really you’re just eating out of boredom by offering free noodle soup. It isn’t difficult to see why this airline gets its 5* reputation.
We landed in muggy Hanoi bright and early but very jet-lagged. We headed straight to our hotel in the heart of the Old Quarter within a few yards of shops, cafes, street food vendors. It took little more than a few seconds in Hanoi to realise what my greatest challenge would be on this holiday – it was not to keep my gob shut long enough to avoid any huge domestics; it was not to teach Mum and Dad how to use chopsticks; it was not even to try and remember to lie to everyone about meeting times in the morning to prevent us always being late (incidentally, it doesn’t work when everyone knows you’re lying). No. The biggest challenge by a mile on this trip would be to learn how to cross a road. Learning that actually there is no way to cross the roads and that on the roads of Vietnam, it’s do or die but it frequently felt like you would do – and then die. And if you didn’t do, then you’d be standing there till your next holiday because for those of you haven’t been, in Vietnam, traffic does not stop. Not ever and not for anyone. So you learn pretty quickly how to make a dash for it even if Mum, sister and I did look like lemons, all linking arms as we crossed the roads, while the boys sailed through, as if their Y-chromosomes rendered them immune…