Travels with my Mother

8 Aug
During one of our more 'swanky' evenings

During one of our more ‘swanky’ evenings

When my Mum told me she was booking flights to come and visit me in Vietnam, my first reaction was one of sheer elation. I literally did a dance. I have always been extremely close to my Mum and Sister and the thought of not seeing them for a whole year was one of the main contributing factors towards the tears streaming down my face as I traipsed through security in Glasgow airport, with the demeanor of someone being sent off for a jail sentence, rather than the trip of a lifetime.

After my initial excitement at the prospect of a visit from my Mum, the secondary feeling was one of worry. This may sound strange but after first settling in Hanoi, it had taken me some time to get over the feeling of intense homesickness I experienced most days.

In the beginning, while traveling round SE Asia, every day was so action packed and full of new experiences that I had no time to worry about what I was missing at home. Upon our return to Hanoi, it really hit me that we were going to be away for a long time. Trying to find an apartment and a job, in this crazy city, was difficult and I started to wonder whether the experience was right for me. It took time but upon finding a nice room and a job that I gradually felt decreasingly nervous about with every lesson, I managed to stop missing home every day and really began to enjoy living in Vietnam.

However, this control over my homesickness was a fairly recent development with my emotions generally seeming to teeter on a tightrope, easily tipping over and falling back in to remission if missing a particularly exciting event or occasion at home. I worried that this small slice of home, in the form of my beloved Mum, would set me back a few stages in the homesickness chart (FYI. There are five official stages). Despite this worry, I was obviously completely thrilled to have her come and visit me and started planning what we should do during her 14 days in Vietnam. How exciting!

Alas… this planning led me to my second set of trepidation. I began to question whether she would enjoy the country and its strange ways. It’s a very long distance to come for a two week holiday and the flights were by no means cheap. What if she didn’t like it? Although she assured me that she was primarily coming to visit me and would be happy sitting drinking cups of tea in my kitchen every day, I couldn’t help but feel responsible for her enjoyment of the trip.

One of the quieter crossings we had to navigate together!

One of the quieter crossings we had to navigate together!

The whole time I have been travelling and living in Vietnam, I have kept in regular contact with my friends and family (particularly my Mum, speaking regularly on Skype and daily on whatsapp and email). She has been kept informed of my impressions, descriptions and feelings towards this country, the food, the people and the scenery. After building up an image in her mind, based purely on my experiences, it became a concern to me that perhaps it wouldn’t quite live up to her expectations. In no way is my Mum a fussy or judgmental person, but living here has been something so separate from anything or anyone back home that the thought of someone from ‘real life’ sampling it for themselves made me start to analyse everything. What if she hated the local food stalls that we eat lunch at? What if it isn’t quite as hot as I had made it out to be? Does it rain more than I’ve articulated? Is it as charming as I have described it as being? Maybe the traffic will be too much for her to handle? Or perhaps, I have built it up to be worse than it actually is? Is it really THAT bad crossing the road in Hanoi?

Living in Vietnam, and this whole journey, has always been a completely separate world from my life back home. And now the two were about to meet. I desperately hoped they would get on.

Enjoying beers in the 'gutter' in Saigon - getting on just fine!

Enjoying beers in the ‘gutter’ in Saigon – getting on just fine!

Arriving off the plane, my Mum looked surprisingly fresh and awake after her impressive 30 hour journey. It was wonderful to see her and it felt completely surreal as we took the taxi ride from Noi Bai airport to Tay Ho, where we live in Hanoi. After lots of hugging, the first night was spent catching up and showing her around our local area. We went for some food nearby and then disaster struck – her Wontons were BELOW ROOM TEMPERATURE. And CHEWY. Oh god, I was getting nervous. Maybe the food in Vietnam is rubbish? Why did I tell her it was good!? Have I just gotten used to it? (Of course, she wasn’t bothered about this in the slightest but I was so focused on showing her the best of Vietnam that I genuinely felt distraught at the substandard wontons.)

One thing that soon became apparent was that I needn’t have worried that I had built the insanity of the traffic up too much – she was terrified every time we crossed the road. In the beginning, I was quite seriously concerned that she might have a nervous breakdown every time I had to physically drag her across the road, in front of oncoming cars, motorbikes and lorries. I tried not to get frustrated, after all we have been in Asia for 7 months now and it really takes some time to get used to the differences in day to day life.

After the first day exploring the Old Quarter and surrounding areas, it was clear that I perhaps needed to rethink some of the activities I had lined up for us. It turns out that, what I hadn’t accounted for, was what a ‘swanker’* ( see definition below) my Mum is! Here was me, visualizing things to do each day that involved drinking 5 pence beers at the side of the road (or the gutter, as she jokingly (?) liked to refer to it as) and eating food sloppily served to child size plastic chairs and tables, when all she really wanted was to frequent swanky roof top bars for cocktails! Living in Vietnam has really skewed my perception of what is expensive. On her first day, we sat down at the Metropole hotel in the French Quarter and looked at the cocktail menu. I almost vomited upon looking at the prices of drinks and reassured her that we could just make a break for it if she wanted (even though we had already used their freshly steamed white face towels, presented upon arrival). My Mum looked at me as though I was insane and reminded me how much the drinks actually cost in pounds.

More 'swanky' cocktails in the roof top bar of the Sofitel Hanoi - magnificent view

More cocktails in the roof top bar of the Sofitel Hanoi – magnificent view

When you are used to living here, eating local food and drinking local beer, you can’t help but compare everything to these ridiculously low prices. In comparison to local bia hoi, yes the cocktails were expensive. In comparison to what you would pay in the UK for a cocktail in a five star hotel, it was nothing short of a bargain.

As well as seeing the sights of Hanoi and nearby Halong Bay, we traveled to centrally located Hoi An, and Saigon in the south. This was the second time I had made these journeys south of Hanoi but the experience was a very different one. The thought of getting on a Vietnamese night bus with my Mum did actually enter my head at one point. I quickly (and wisely) dismissed it at an early stage. The experience of flying around the country was such a massive improvement to the hideous night buses that we had to endure when we were backpacking through the country. I felt like a real person, as opposed to an unwashed and sleep deprived traveler. And it felt good.

Mum enjoying the sights for Halong Bay

Mum enjoying the sights for Halong Bay

What is key here is that holidaying and traveling are two separate entities. As a backpacker, great joy is found in spending as little as possible on beer and street side food. The joy of coming on holiday here is perhaps different. Don’t get me wrong, we did our fair share of street food and cheap beer but, understandably, when coming to the country for two weeks it is desirable to live a bit of the high life in rooftop five star bars and stay at hotels that would be out of your price range back home. By paying a little more, you can have some fantastic experiences at a fraction of the price in more developed countries. Another factor I often overlook is that my Mum is actually a ‘Mum’. As well as being a great friend she is a parent, with a good few years on me and differing priorities. As we are so close, it is easy to forget this and assume that she wants to go to full moon parties and drink buckets with the best of them. Enjoying cocktails with a nice view is generally more appealing to a parent than the satisfied feeling of only paying 7pence for your beer. (It should be noted that said beer usually comes in a glass of questionable origin and one of the perks is having to stand up and move your chair off of the road every ten minutes, when the police patrol past. Inconvenient? Slightly. All part of the charm? Absolutely.)

View from the Sheraton, Saigon

View from the Sheraton, Saigon

Anyway, after managing to get my head around this I was able to embrace it fully, believe me. I was perfectly happy to be hanging out at five star bars, drinking cocktails and going for massages and manicures. (I think I must be the only female to travel SE Asia and not have a single spa treatment done, up until now – thanks Mum!) Oh, and taking taxis. What previously had seemed like an expensive luxury, was put firmly in to perspective for me and we started getting taxis everywhere. As much as I love a ride on the back of a scooter, or even a walk along the death-trap roads, there is nothing like good aircon and leather seats. The initial idea that myself, my Mum and John would all navigate our way around Hanoi on the back of our Yamaha Nouvo was a ridiculous one and it is a blessing for our safety that this didn’t go ahead.

Strolling in Hanoi

Strolling in Hanoi

It was interesting to hear someone else’s comments and first hand views on a country that is very full on. From talking to many travelers and people passing though, it is a country that many either love or hate. Vietnam tends to evoke strong reactions from people. During my time here, it must have grown on me more than I realized because I could feel myself becoming defensive in response of the smallest criticisms from my Mum. Of course, this was absolutely ridiculous as they were the exact same criticisms as I myself had made when we first arrived. There is no doubt about it, the toilets ARE disgusting.

My Mum loved her time here, particularly our trips to Halong Bay and Hoi An, which is just impossible not to love. My initial worries were completely unnecessary and overall, I think we managed to find a nice balance of sampling the local street food and beer that Vietnam is famous for, while allowing ourselves to enjoy several luxurious drinks and views over the bright lights of the city. And, my Mum helped me regain my love for shopping! (Something that she was later to regret when packing her case to go home…)

Shopping in Saigon

Shopping in Saigon

It was amazing having her here, it really was. I was worried it might cause a regression in to feelings of homesickness but, in the end, I was so grateful that she made the tiring journey all the way out to see me and felt nothing but happiness that I had been able to see her during my year away from home. Most people aren’t given that opportunity when on a trip like this.

I had to give myself a stern talking to after waving her off at the airport. I allowed myself to have a small cry and then pulled myself together as I walked past the throngs of tourist taxis and made my way to take the local bus back in to Hanoi.

Thank you for a lovely holiday Mum.

* Swanker (def): ‘Hilarious’ term that we coined for my Mum when it transpired that she was apparently only interested in visiting the bars of 5 star hotels, as opposed to the ‘gutter’ joints I had lined up for us. Oh, how we laughed.

Halong Bay cruise - fantastic!

Halong Bay cruise – fantastic!

Kayaking in Halong - in the POURING rain. Amazing.

Kayaking in Halong – in the POURING rain. Amazing.

Pagoda at Truc Bach Lake, Hanoi

Pagoda at Truc Bach Lake, Hanoi

Mum's photo of speeding motorcycle and grafitti in Sigon - love it

Mum’s photo of speeding motorcycle and grafitti in Saigon – love it

Hectic Hanoi

Hectic Hanoi

608 (2)

At the 'Hanoi Hilton' aka Ho Lo Prison

At the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ aka Ho Lo Prison

Views over Hanoi from the Sofitel Rooftop

Views over Hanoi from the Sofitel Rooftop

Hoi An wet market

Hoi An wet market

Beautiful lanterns of Hoi An

Beautiful lanterns of Hoi An

A little bit of luxury, Hoi An

A little bit of luxury, Hoi An

...finely balanced with dirt cheap beer, Saigon!

…finely balanced with dirt cheap beer, Saigon!

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6 Responses to “Travels with my Mother”

  1. hcyip August 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Wow, your photos in this post are really great, especially those shots from high up. Your mom was right to want to go to 5-star rooftop hotel bars, haha. And you’re right to take the plane; it’s fast and it’s actually not much more expensive than taking the sleeper train.

    30 hours to get from Scotland to Vietnam? That’s really crazy.

    • siobhanambersmith August 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      Thank you! Haha, yes she was right. I took a little bit of convincing but didn’t look back once I got into the swing of it! And yes, the flights weren’t too expensive at all! Vietjet is a great airline with lots of bargains!

      Yeah, it was an unfortunate journey! She had two stopovers which was what made it so long.

  2. Every Day Adventures in Asia August 9, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    So happy both you and your mom had a chance to experience Vietnam together! I loved seeing India through the eyes of my aunt n uncle who came to visit a few years ago… And Asian ‘swank’ can be such fun and not so hard on the wallet – worth the occassional indulgence especially reserved to enjoy together with extra special visitors. 😉 Thanks for sharing – am sure it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for you both!

    • overdueadventure August 9, 2013 at 4:38 am #

      Thank you for the lovely comment. It was a brilliant experience for both of us, and just so great to see her! Did your aunt and uncle enjoy India? It almost makes you see it with fresh eyes yourself, which is always a good thing I think!

      Yes, Asian ‘swank’ is there to be enjoyed! I might as well make the most of it here as it is a lot more pricey in the UK!

      Siobhan

  3. Jon Sanwell September 16, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I can relate to a lot of this. When my dad came out to visit me in Saigon last year, it felt like everything – the food, the weather, the traffic, everything – was my personal responsibility.

    • siobhanambersmith September 16, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      Exactly how I felt John! It’s so silly because I know that my Mum didn’t come with any particular expectations. She just wanted to visit me and see what Vietnam had to offer. I felt guilty every time it rained!

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