Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Travelling Vietnam with kids

There's no more demanding time than when a toddler is 15 months old. They can't really talk, so can't tell you what's wrong. They are fully mobile, but balance is problematic. They have a propensity for climbing on to whatever they can, which when combined with a lack of balance and awareness, is a recipe for disaster. Kimi is all over the place. He is a very social little creature and so will run around visiting whoever is nearby. If we are in a  restaurant, he will wander over other diners, climb up on a chair at their table and sit there examining them as they eat. If the door of the restaurant is open, he will potentially try and escape out to the street, not really caring too much for the dangers of motor bikes whizzing around outside. If there are stairs, he will want to climb them. He now has the ability to push a chair across a room to use as a ladder to climb on to a pool table. He needs to be watched by somebody almost constantly and even then, there are perils. With us all in our hotel room one evening, lounging around on the bed watching TV, Kimi decided to stand up at the foot of the bed only slightly out of our reach. He stumbled, did a forward flip and landed head first with a thump on the relatively hard floor. A large egg with carpet grazing appeared almost instantaneously on his forehead, but with baby resilience, was almost gone within a day. The very next day on arriving at Phong Nha Farmhouse, he decided to roll head first down the brick stairs in front of a sizeable crowd of stunned spectators, who were sitting out on the patio sipping their afternoon drinks. It was a spectacular manoeuvre from which he somehow survived completely unscathed. Not even a scratch or bump from that one. It is a constant battle to try and keep him from hurting himself. Our ambition for the trip is to bring him (and everyone else) home alive and uninjured. While still in Hanoi, about to leave for Sapa, Kimi came down with a fever, clocking in at around 39.6 degrees (just over 103 fahrenheit). We couldn't really determine any symptoms other than a fever. No runny nose or dribbling or red cheeks that you usually associate with teething. No flu like symptoms. No signs of ear infection. And of course he couldn't tell us what was actually hurting, if anything. Some good quality drugs brought the fever down and he seemed fine for a few hours until he started to bake again. Seeing your baby cooking like that is a concern for any parent, even more so when you are in a foreign tropical land. We questioned whether we should cancel the trip to Sapa and just stay in Hanoi, perhaps even take him to a hospital. We decided instead to soldier on and spend a stressful night on the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai; the five of us couped up in a four berth cabin, with Kimi waking periodically in a feverish sweat, at which time we would sponge him down and give him some more medicine. The fever hung around for about 36 hours in total and then thankfully disappeared without trace. The coolness of the mountain air of Sapa perhaps assisting in the process. A nice change from the polluted humidity of Hanoi that we'd left behind. In the Sapa market we purchased a brightly coloured Hmong child carrier so that we could strap him on to our backs or fronts, as the Hmong mothers do. After a day of rest, the little fella was back in action, running around with all the locals once again fawning over him.

Kimi hasn't been the only one to be sick. We've all had bouts of traveller's diarrhoea. With the exception of Jazz, who instead had a bout of fear of getting traveller's diarrhoea and went through a few days of being frightened to eat anything or go anywhere near water. Finn had it the worst. During our three day cruise through Halong Bay, Finn was firing from both ends and could keep nothing down. Not even water. In one dramatic burst he succeeded on making it to the bathroom in time, but failed to quite get the toilet lid up before spewing forth a great torrent and decorating the entire tiny room with his breakfast. The tour leader of our boat provided him with some local herbal based pills that kill off the dodgy bacteria that cause this stomach sickness. It was like a miracle cure and Finn's recovery was amazingly swift. He and I sat out of the Cat Ba island excursion after that and instead had a relaxing day hanging around the boat. By the evening he was completely fine. Since then, we've stocked up on bottles of these little yellow pills. Just in case.

The Vietnamese people have loved Kimi wherever we have gone. Random strangers in the street will come over and try to pick him up. His blonde hair and blue eyes have been like a magnet for the locals. In one park we were confronted by a gaggle of young girls who squealed when they saw him, picked him up and started excitedly taking photos of themselves with him, like he was a slightly younger but more tasteful version of Justin Bieber. In restaurants the staff have often just whisked him off to other parts of the establishment to play with him while we have eaten our meal. That is always a godsend. A few moments of respite where we can eat in peace, without getting up every two minutes to chase him somewhere. On a boat trip to the Phong Nha cave, the old grandma Vietnamese woman who was skippering our craft saw Kimi and spontaneously grabbed him, unbuckled his pants and had a look inside before I could say or do anything. I guess she was trying to work out whether he was a boy or girl. All very strange. But nothing quite gets the locals going than when Kimi is strapped on to either Tori's or my backs in the Hmong child carrier. Especially if we are riding a bicycle with him strapped to one of our backs. In a village where nobody bats an eyelid when a whole family of five whiz by on the one scooter, or a group of buffalo wander on to the road, or a guy rides down the street with a large pig bound up lying across a plank at the back of a motorbike as an unwilling pillion passenger, every single person we pass screams with laughter and points our way as we ride by. Clearly it's something quite new around here.

It hasn't only been Kimi that has come in for extra attention. Jazzy also has had her fair share. Whilst walking around the markets of Dong Hoi, every single person turned to stare at her. Not a lot of tourists come through that town and it would certainly appear that they are not used to seeing a white skinned, blue eyed, freckle face beauty like my Jazzy. She was slightly unnerved but doesn't really mind being the centre of attention, so took it well within her stride. It is quite strange being a tourist in a land when you find that you are actually as much of a tourist attraction for the locals as anything around there is for you. Even in Hanoi she would occasionally be mobbed by squealing girls who wanted their picture taken with her.

The trip so far has been a balancing act. One where we have needed to try and balance Tori's and my desire to take in the sights of Vietnam such as temples, historical war sites or caves, with Jazz and Finn's need to run around doing kid stuff, while factoring in Kimi's safety. It's a day by day proposition, but finally now at Phong Nha Farmstay, a relaxing hotel cum hostel surrounded by rice paddies and rolling hills, in the central Vietnamese countryside, everyone has relaxed into full holiday stride.

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