Chapter Eight
After touring the Cu Chi tunnels for several hours we caught a taxi to return to the airport to board our afternoon flight for Siem Reap, Cambodia, a forty-five minute flight. We were hungry and after clearing security we had time to eat before our flight. We stopped at an airport Japanese restaurant and had sushi, which was a nice change from Vietnamese food. On arrival in Siem Reap we took a taxi to our five-star Tara Angkor Hotel, pre-booked on the internet. Mya immediately headed for the hotel pool to swim. It had been a long day and we were tired so we all relaxed poolside in loungers then ordered food and drinks from the pool attendants’ station. Cambodia seemed hotter than Hoi Chi Ming and the cooling pool waters were just what we needed. Siem Reap has grown in popularity with wall to wall resort-style hotels and restaurants. We spent two nights and two full days here visiting the ancient sites.
Nose to Nose in Cambodia
Siem Reap has become a tourist mecca, reflected in the high costs but it is a “must see” if one is interested in ancient temples of the Khmer Empire. There are beautiful five-star hotels lining the streets all the way from the airport into Siem Reap and there are an abundance of restaurants, but everything costs more than in Vietnam. We were glad we only booked two nights as that’s all you really need. Mya enjoyed going through Angkor Wat as much as we did even though we had to walk for hours in the heat to see all of the buildings and different sites. It’s amazing to observe her curiosity about different cultures and new environments. She never seemed to be bored. We rode elephants, which Mya especially enjoyed as a fun and different mode of transportation and we
fed roadside monkeys. Mya fed bananas to the elephants and also to the monkeys which was a harder task because some of the monkeys were very aggressive.
Do you want this banana?
Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, is considered one of the seven-wonders-of-the-world and if you visit it you will know why! We stayed around the main site the first day and our tickets were checked regularly as we wandered from one part of the huge complex to another. The tickets cost us $20 each and they were good for one 24 hour period so we were able to leave the site in early afternoon and then return after a needed lunch break. One of the benefits of travelling with Mya was that if she got tired and needed a rest, it gave us an excuse to rest!
We took lots of photos around the ancient site using the panoramic view of the structures as a backdrop for our photos, especially Bayon, which has a small lake in front of it so we could get the reflection of the temple. The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all, sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. We visited the site on December 21st which happened to be a holy day so we were not able to climb up to the top of the temple. We also visited two more temple sites close to Angkor Wat. One is Angkor Thom, which we enjoyed because it had many gnarled trees entangled in the stonework. The trees appeared like reptiles with their twisted roots being pushed around the strong rocks. The other site, Ta Som, had even more contorted trees entrapped in the stone work which made for fascinating black and white photos. There are so many temples and ruins located in this area but the most important are Angkor Wat and Bayon. A history student would want to spend several days exploring the whole complex but it was enough for us to see three sites.
Twisted Trees at Angkor Thom
On the second day to Angkor we were allowed to enter the grounds without paying as we asked the day before if it would be possible to go in and ride the elephants. Mya loved riding the elephant, especially since both Mom and Dad would be riding with her. She was so small compared to this huge animal and we watched her bouncing along in the wooden chair behind the mahout, as John and I followed on another elephant. The workers had the rides well organized and it looked like the animals were well cared for. After that we searched out our tuk-tuks, our unique two-wheeled wagons attached to a motorcycle, and asked the drivers to stop so we could feed the monkeys. Since it was still early in the day the hungry monkeys were grabbing food from people, with or without permission. It was quite funny as we watched a lady who was riding a bicycle; lose her plastic bag from her handle bars to an inquisitive primate.
After three days in Cambodia we hired tuk-tuks to take us to the airport as we had enjoyed the experience of riding them around the ancient site. It took longer than a taxi but was great fun weaving in and around the traffic with our luggage stacked high. We arrived at the airport with all our backpacks and suitcases to depart for Hoi Chi Minh City in late afternoon.
Chapter Nine
Rhonda with Elephant Fish
Jason with Python
On arrival in HCMC we piled into our taxi van, which had been pre-arranged earlier in the week, to drive to My Tho. Although our flight had been delayed, our driver patiently waited for us and took us to My Tho, a two-hour drive, where we found a hotel of choice and were soon asleep in comfortable beds. We opted to stop at My Tho and drive to Can Tho the next day to enjoy two aspects of the Mekong Delta. The next morning we took a two-hour boat ride moving along canals and under bridges and stopped for an elephant fish lunch along the river bank. The fish was so large that you can understand where they got the name. After this we went to see pythons which John and Jason “bravely”placed around their necks. While in this riverside forest we enjoyed local honey drinks while the bees buzzed around the honey pot and later we visited a local candy factory where young women stood to a long table wrapping small white square candies.
Ha cutting pineapple in Mekong Delta
We departed My Tho and travelled by taxi to Can Tho arriving by three in the afternoon and settled into a hotel near the river’s edge and close to the market. This was probably not one of our favorite hotels but a great river view! After an early-to-bed evening, we were ready for another tour of the Mekong Delta the next morning before boarding our flight to Phu Quoc Island where we would spend Christmas, basking in the sun of the South China Sea. We had a pleasant , 37 year old English speaking guide named Ha. She made us earrings from drinking straws which we put on our ears including Jason and John. Our boat maneuvered alongside other boats which had samples of their merchandise hanging from flag poles in the floating market. We saw sweet potatoes, watermelons, pineapples, pumpkins and sometimes a combination of produce, swinging in the breeze as well as other products like cooking utensils or bottled drinks. We purchased a watermelon and a pineapple from a vendor whereupon Ha trimmed them into beautiful shapes, dropping the peelings into the Mekong, before presenting the delicious fruit to us.
John and Doreen (Mya's Grandparents)
After tipping our guide we returned to our hotel and then John, Mya, and I took off to find Christmas decorations. Mya had her own money to purchase decorations and she had her heart set on garlands, which weren’t easy to find. However, after much perseverance in the hot sun and walking on many streets inquiring where to buy Christmas ornaments, we finally found what we were looking for, at which point we purchased a small Christmas tree and Mya bought her colourful garlands of red, blue and green. As we walked toward our hotel in the heat of the day we spotted Ha riding her motorbike. She stopped and offered me a ride when she realized I wasn’t feeling well. I hopped on the bike while John and Mya continued their walk. We met in a pre-arranged restaurant for something to eat, joining Jason and Rhonda. We then returned to our hotel for quick showers and the drive to the airport.
Chapter Ten
We arrived at the brand new airport which had only been opened a few days. Our plane was delayed for Phu Quoc Island but it was only a 45 minute flight and we arrived mid afternoon. Since our shuttle for our hotel was not there we took two taxis, on the drivers’ recommendations, costing us more and arriving at Kim Hoa Resort to a cranky receptionist when we asked for compensation for the cost of the taxis. The drivers had said that the hotel would cover the cost, but that was not the case. Mya couldn’t wait to swim so her mother gave her permission to swim in her clothes until we could unpack. She loved the cool water in the hotel pool and swam from one side to the other while the adults arranged the rooms. After a rocky start we were given two lovely bungalows a few feet from the warm water of the South China Sea. Mya decorated the rooms immediately so I helped her string the garlands onto the mosquito netting supports in both cabins. She flipped the garlands around and around until they covered the string, putting four in our cabin and four in her cabin. Then we sat on the front porch and cut out white paper snowflakes and pasted them around the front windows of each bungalow fastening the snowflakes with scotch tape and soon the cabins looked very festive. We were ready for Christmas the next day!
Christmas Morning arrived on the shores of Phu Quoc Island
Santa arrived at both cabins for Mya. He left a note in her cabin to say that Santa had left most of her gifts in Powell River, and when Mya came to our cabin she had gifts to open too. They were on the spare bed in colourful tissue paper, brought from home for the occasion, and encircling the little Christmas tree. The first gift she unwrapped was a Vietnamese doll about fourteen inches tall and dressed in pretty fuchsia colors. Next were two little items and lastly a colourful ball that shone colours when one bounced it on the floor. We took photos of Mya in her sleepy appearance with the ball colours reflecting on her face, as she stretched out on the bed. Later she took all the streamers down and took them to the sandy beach to make patterns around the small Christmas tree in the sand. We took more photos. It was a Christmas morning to remember! Mya’s parents were even able to enjoy a sleep-in after probably being wakened at the first sign of daybreak!
While on Phu Quoc Island we went swimming daily, enjoying the warm and inviting water with its clean beach. It was easy to get into the sea because it was so warm, in fact, warmer than the waters off the Pacific Coast north of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico where we stay for three months every year from January through March. We also had a swimming pool behind our bungalows where we could take a refreshing swim.
Mya loved her massages
The women resort employees gave inexpensive massages to guests. We took advantage of the massages and enjoyed the attention and relaxation we received, sometimes getting two or three massages a day since it was so inexpensive, costing two to three dollars each for over an hour! However, the champion massage client was Mya. She loved getting them but told her mother she wanted the masseuse to press harder. I guess they didn’t want to hurt this little child. After they got used to Mya returning for more massages, at least twice a day, they gave her the complete treatment.
One day, after Mya had had a massage she said to me, “Grandma I’ll give you a massage.” I said, “Okay”, thinking she would gently massage my back, but her little hands pushed thoroughly on my back and across my neck. I was surprised at her strength. After doing this for a few minutes she said, “Turn over on your stomach,” which I did then she said, ”Take off your top.” I said, “No, Mya.” Then she said, “Everyone does Grandma.” Well I wasn’t about to take off my tankini bathing suit top. I started to laugh and called John and as I did Mya said, “Oh, never mind,” as she continued to rub my shoulders. I guess she figured she was in trouble if I called Grandpa. Much later I had my first real massage and discovered that I needed to wear a bra-type top so I could undo it for my back massage. What you don’t learn from your granddaughter!
I am writing about Mya as though through rose-coloured glasses, and perhaps I am, but Mya’s disposition was superb throughout the whole holiday. She began the day early, bright eyed and ready to experience the day’s adventures until late in the evening without a break and definitely with more physical activity than most of us. She swam every day where it was possible and she would often play by herself on the beach or with other children if they were in the vicinity. She interacted with four adults constantly as well as any other visitors we might meet along the way. She was very tolerant. While dining, she would put her little head right down on the table if there was no other place to lay her weary head. We tried to provide a bench or soft area for her to lie down, sometimes putting her head on her mother’s lap and when we were through dining, Jason would pick her up and carry her to our unit or catch a cab if it was too far to walk. This happened frequently to end our busy Vietnam days. She often fell asleep at a restaurant in the evening after she had eaten some of her supper.
On December 26th we decided to celebrate Christmas by going to a fancy restaurant that Jason and Rhonda had reconnoitered earlier in the day. We dressed in our fancy clothes and caught a cab to take us to this beautiful resort, about ten minutes away. We had set up a bench for Mya, against the wall, before we started our meal as we knew she wouldn’t last long and sure enough, she had only a couple of bites of her favorite meal, a “cheese only” pizza, before it was “lights out” for Mya. We spent a lovely evening together enjoying the best meal of our island holiday, while Mya slept on her bench, which was probably one of her more comfortable early evening sleeping spots!
The next morning we stayed on the beach as long as possible and then packed our bags to be ready for the two o’clock airport shuttle for our flight to HCMC.
Chapter Eleven
We had a hotel booked from the internet for HCMC. We wanted a central hotel but also a little upscale which suited our needs with our family. We were delighted once again with our rooms and the service. We were pleasantly amazed at the quality of accommodation for the price. Vietnam is still cheap enough to travel even though the quality has improved exceedingly in the last ten years, as more tourists discover this gem. John thinks Vietnam will become more expensive in the next few years. We felt lucky to experience it before it becomes costly and too crowded.
Our Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Near our hotel we found the excellent Zanzibar Restaurant. We enjoyed the ambience and relaxed while Mya ate her cheese pizza and then immediately fell asleep with her head on Rhonda’s lap. We ate in the same restaurant again the next night before our flight which didn’t leave until nearly midnight. Vietnamese restaurants are in abundance on every street so we had many choices but having experienced a delicious meal at the Zanzibar Restaurant with a euphoric atmosphere, why not repeat the experience!
Vietnam is beautiful with fields of rice paddies, green valleys, warm ocean waters, mountains and forests. The people are friendly and helpful and many speak English, especially in the larger centers.
After dinner we went back to our hotel passing all the beautiful hanging Christmas garlands that filled our street. It was a sight to behold and continued to keep us in awe each time we ventured from our hotel. That’s one benefit of traveling at Christmas, being able to see all the beautiful Christmas decorations! On arrival at the hotel we immediately collected our luggage and brought it to the reception. We ordered a taxi to take us to the airport, about a forty-minute drive from the hotel. We got to the Asiana Air check-in counter at the International Terminal and soon had our bags checked for Seattle, USA, via Seoul, Korea. It was late in the evening and we were all tired before our 23:50 flight. I can’t say enough about the good service we received from Asiana Air.
Chapter Twelve
On arrival at 6:55 am in Seoul we were taken by shuttle to a hotel owned by the airline and given a room each and a meal since our flight did not leave until 18:40 in late afternoon. That meant we had twelve hours in which to rest, shower, eat and relax. John and I found ourselves asleep for the first few hours in a beautifully decorated ultra-modern room. John said that the toilet operation needed a course in “Bidet 101” as it was so complex with all the buttons and whistles along the side of the toilet seat. At 11:30 a.m. we received a call from the reception that lunch was served in the restaurant on the bottom floor. As we were gathering ourselves together, Mya arrived at the door and planned to go to the restaurant with us. Rhonda and Jason told her she could not disturb us in the morning but it was okay now. We took the elevator down to the main floor with Mya. We had no idea we were about to learn a difficult lesson.
Now every time I enter an elevator I think about the elevator in Seoul, Korea, with Mya. John was standing near the operating panel and I was off to one side while Mya stood at the back of the elevator. As we arrived at the first floor and we started to leave the elevator, Mya cried out, “My arm is stuck!” She had dropped her little elbow behind a metal round bar and couldn’t get it out. I told John to lift her up, but Mya cried louder as it hurt too much. We realized we needed help. John stayed with Mya to reassure her as she tried not to panic. I got out and told the reception that we had an emergency. They didn’t understand until they heard Mya crying, as the elevator returned to the reception floor. Someone on Floor #3 had pushed the button and John and Mya ascended to #3 and John said, “Push # 1 please, we have an emergency.” In the meantime I took the second elevator and got to the 6th floor for Jason and Rhonda. Jason was boarding the elevator as I arrived and I told him that Mya was stuck and he needed to come now. We rode the elevator down together and Jason immediately went to Mya. By this time the crew had the door locked open so the elevator didn’t move from the first floor. Jason tried to lift Mya up and he got the same reaction as John. In the meantime the managerial staff arrived with a drill to remove the screws out of the bar. However, the bar wouldn’t budge, even with all three men trying to pull on it. This all happened within minutes. I asked Jason where Rhonda was and he said, “She’s in the restaurant”,so I dashed down the stairs and looked into the restaurant and saw Rhonda holding a glass of juice in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I signaled her to come quickly. She dropped everything and came hurrying across the floor. As we entered the stairwell I told her it was Mya, but that she was all right. As we ascended the stairs, Rhonda heard, “911.” She knew I had said, “Mya is all right” but she caught the words, “911.” On arrival to the first floor Rhonda immediately went to Mya to reassure her and saw that she was caught in the bar. By this time three men arrived from a fire unit and one returned to the truck to get a “jaws of life” tool. He didn’t cut the bar, but used it as leverage to move the bar with the help of his two buddies. In the meantime I stood behind a pillar and bawled my eyes out and I kept thinking of Mya stuck behind that bar and I felt so badly that my heart ached. Finally, which seemed like a life-time but in reality was only a few minutes, I could hear a sigh of relief from behind the pillar as Mya was set free. I came around the pillar with tears in my eyes and Mya saw me and immediately came and gave me a hug. She must have known how sorry I felt for her and wanted to console me. After a moment she went to her daddy who picked her up and held her to him. The staff offered to take her to the hospital but Rhonda and Jason both said, “She’ll be fine.” Mya said her arm hurt, but we knew it would only be temporary. We were so thankful for the maturity that Mya had shown in such a stress-filled event. We went down to eat our lunch but I couldn’t eat for awhile as I was still filled with sorrow. John, Jason and Rhonda handled it much better than I did. Later when we got on a people-mover bus at the airport and Mya was sitting with John and I, Mya said to me, “I’m not going to stand over near that bar.” I think that was the understatement of our holiday!
Chapter Thirteen
Our flight from Seoul, Korea to Seattle was without incident. It only took nine and a half hours compared to twelve hours in the opposite direction so we were pleasantly surprised. We had excellent service once again and we even obtained one extra seat for Mya to lie down and sleep.
We arrived in Seattle at 11:30 in the morning and we immediately called a taxi to take us to Sleep Inn Hotel to pick up our truck. The receptionist was on the phone at the hotel so we just took our bags through the reception area into the parking area off the main floor. Jason had the truck backed up and ready as we loaded our five large bags, five small backpacks, and two picture tubes into the box, covered it with our roll top and climbed into our vehicle and headed north on Interstate-5 for Vancouver. Jason drove and we had no glitches, except hail and snow, but none of it lasted. Jason and Rhonda were hoping to get to Powell River today, the 29th of December. It meant we needed to make good time through the border and down the main streets of Vancouver to Ann and Frank’s place in Burnaby, where John and I would be dropped off while Jason, Rhonda and Mya continued home to Powell River. Talk about timing! We arrived at the Nadalini’s at 16:45, dropped our luggage on the lawn, and quickly said our goodbyes as John reminded Jay to drive safely as they sprinted for the 17:30 ferry. We gathered our belongings and entered the Nadalini house where we were greeted warmly. Jason phoned at exactly 17:30 and said they were on the ferry. It couldn’t have been better timing!
Our Vietnamese holiday surpassed all our expectations! We all have fond memories, flash backs and “remember when” comments from Mya of our holiday in Vietnam. We all agreed it was a wonderful journey of interesting experiences, delicious healthy food and grand sites, but especially family built memories to last a lifetime. Relationships are built on trust and love and both were expressed so many times over and over again during our family holiday. For me, the beauty and pleasure of this travel experience, was seeing Vietnam with our seven-year-old granddaughter, Mya!