Ginger Cookery and SunWorld

17 January 2019

I had, of course, completely forgotten to wake Cornelia using her magic spell, and I tried unsuccessfully to rouse her by turning on the lights and stroking her gently. It was Ian who reminded me, and I duly followed her spell and she woke up as if by magic, in a delightful mood and very excited for the day ahead! We were dressed, breakfasted and at the main lobby bang on 09:00, at which moment, a smiley, friendly-looking lady walked through the hotel. She immediately guessed that I was Mel, but I think the four year old with me may have given me away…! I immediately took to Thuy, who spoke perfect English and was, as she looked, incredibly warm and friendly.

She drove us through the streets of Halong, parked up and hey presto, as if by magic, we were suddenly in an indoor market that you wouldn’t know was there, unless you were a local. It was sensational, in all interpretations of the word, alive with people hurrying on their way, or simply browsing the vast number of stalls selling their fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs and seafood. Thuy talked us through all sorts of things, showing me and taking foods to sample. Our first stop was to check out bunches of bananas, some of which were green for offerings to please Buddha, and other more yellow, ripe ones. Apparently, you don’t want to buy bananas which are yellow with green stems; you should instead choose ones that are yellow from the top down. Also, in Vietnam, bananas aren’t peeled by opening them at one end. They are broken in half, then peeled. Thuy demonstrated and Cornelia and I each enjoyed half a banana! The next fruit we tried was a perfect mango. To me, they can sometimes taste a bit soapy, but this one was magnificent. It reminded me of when I used to pick my own papaya for breakfast in the morning, when I was in Hawaii for a couple of months working as a nanny, many years ago!

Cornelia impressed Thuy by identifying some unusual fruits, such as the jack fruit, dragonfruit and lychee (hurrah for Tropical Fruit World!) but she didn’t really want to eat anything too unusual, nibbling cautiously at the edge of a logan, then screwing up her face as politely as she could! I tried the logan and some fresh tamarind, before we bought the ingredients for our recipes today: red beetroot leaves, green bananas, eggplant (aubergine), carrots and other things that I didn’t see, as I was too busy gazing around at everything! In fact, I was so busy looking around, that I failed to spot the open drain separating various stalls and fell into it, whilst carrying Cornelia on my hip. Amazingly, I have retained all my ninja-like reactions (😂) and managed to stay upright without breaking my ankle. I just cut the side of my ankle, and actually, it was more of a graze than a cut. A lucky escape indeed!

I was carrying Bugsy because she was a bit overwhelmed by all the people who were fascinated by her blonde hair and kept approaching her, wanting to touch it. She took it with good grace and a cheery “xin chao” but when it was too much for her, I picked her up and carried her for a bit.

However, when we got to the seafood section, Cornelia was happy to get back down and investigate all the different bowls and tubs of animals: crabs; enormous fish; tiny clams; baby octopi; and squid. The squid were really interesting to look at, as there was a bowl of dead ones, and a bowl of live ones next it. The dead ones looked dead – dull eyes and brown mottled skin. But the ones that were still alive had almost luminescent eyes, and their translucent skin had mottled patches of brown that moved around as they breathed. It was quite hypnotic watching them! Finally, we passed the poor old ducks and chickens… there were several awaiting their fate, as per their plucked friends, which were now being sold on the tables… I have always ensured that Cornelia knows where meat comes from, but I was surprised that she wasn’t completely horrified by seeing it so brutally in front of her. She just said how tasty chickens are! 👍🏻

The market is open from 04:00-19:00 every day of the year, apart from the two holidays over Chinese New Year. Thuy told me that it a social place, as well as a shopping facility, where people meet to dawdle, chat and go for coffee. It would be the world’s best people-watching place! It was very funny dodging the mopeds as they drove through the market, filling huge boxes with food stuffs ready to take to the hotels!

Back in the car again, we headed to Thuy’s home and place of work: Ginger Cookery. The kitchen workplace was immaculate and most of the food prep had already been done for us. After our welcome drinks (a wonderful lemongrass potion) Cornelia and I were given aprons and we set to work. First up, the mango and tapioca pudding, which needed to chill in the fridge while we cooked the rest of the food. We got the caramelised pork in coconut water on the go, as well as the green banana and eggplant pork dish. Finally, we created my favourite dish of the day: pomelo and shrimp salad. I learned a brand new trick for using onions in salads (my pet hate, usually) – slice them really thinly, then put them in a bowl of iced water, with some sugar mixed in. This keeps them crunchy whilst reducing the pungency considerably. Cornelia was brilliant and totally engaged – stirring, adding ingredients, mixing and watching everything that was going on. Whilst she wasn’t being very adventurous in respect of eating the foods, she had a little nibble on most things, before Thuy produced a packet of Oreo’s and offered her a couple. Thuy would have happily given her the whole lot, but I insisted that two was plenty! She had the option of eating lunch with us, but had turned it down, so she wasn’t having the alternative being a packet of cookies!! She had also gone off to explore the garden (Thuy has a star fruit tree and a coconut tree, amongst others – makes our apple trees and pear trees at home seem rather dull!!) and in doing so had lost two of the three logans she’d been carrying around all day in her pocket, which she wanted to give to Ian later. I only knew she’d lost two, when I found the third one rolling around on the kitchen floor! Thankfully, Cornelia decided that Daddy would be quite happy with just one!

Once all of the food was cooked, Chi and Xhun (I’m not sure how to spell her name 🥴) dished everything up and Thuy put the final touches to it, making it look fabulous. I can’t really take any credit for it tasting even better than it looked, because it all just happened around us!

As we sat down to eat, Thuy and I discovered we shared the same birthday, so she dashed off to retrieve a couple of cold beers to celebrate. I rather wished we were staying a few more days so we could have joined her for her birthday celebrations on Saturday! How lovely that would have been! Once again, I was so happy to have made a new friend and we both hope to stay in touch. I am hoping I can persuade her over for a visit to the U.K. at some point. How amazing would that be?!

We were way over our allotted time by the end of our meal, and after photos and cuddles goodbye, Thuy drove us back to VinPearl. On the way, she stopped off at the market and came back with a bag of logans for Ian and a whole packet of Oreo’s for Cornelia. Bless her for such kindness. Cornelia couldn’t believe her luck!

Final hugs given and promises to stay in touch, Cornelia and I met Ian in the hotel lobby where he had been waiting for us for some time.

The weather hadn’t cheered up at all, and it was still cold and breezy, but it was really our last chance to go and check out SunWorld, whose bright lights had been twinkling at us for the last few nights. We took a taxi over there, and found the park entrance. There were several ticket options, and we thought we would have a couple of hours at Dragon Park before taking the gondola over to the SunWorld’s Ferris wheel. The gondolas are massive double-deckers, and the biggest (highest capacity) ones in the world. And apparently the pylons that hold them up are the tallest of any cable car in the world. So, there you go!

First off, I had to buy new trousers as it was bloody cold and I finally gave in to the goosebumps. Usefully and unexpectedly, the souvenir shop sold loose trousers so I kitted up and we headed out into the cold. Dragon Park was so empty, it was like having a whole theme park all to ourselves! Quite a few rides were closed, but Cornelia was able to go on most of the others either by herself or with company. No queues meant that she could on any ride she wanted as many times as she wanted. They were all brightly-coloured and obviously, she loved them. She is just the perfect age to make the most of them: old enough to want to go on her own, and young enough to find the absolute joy in choo-chooing your way around a track in a little vehicle!

There was a roller coaster ride that I was quite surprised she was allowed to go on (with me), but all credit to her… she got off saying “That ride was terrifying!” then insisted that Daddy have a go. Even he thought it was a bit hardcore (for a child…(so he says…))!

The park covers a large area, so we spent quite a long time walking around admiring the garden features. There were lots of people working there, despite the emptiness of the place, and we could imagine how busy it gets in the summer. Despite the cold, Bugsy was angling for an ice cream, and we found a little cafe on site which sold them. We sat shivering away until she’d polished it off, and we set off for the last few rides, which included the dodgems, a boat ride and a train ride before leaving. Our final new ride was a petit train around a track, that chugged very, very slowly indeed. We are convinced that it was on its last legs, as it barely seemed to move without moaning and creaking! On the way out, we passed “Paris” again, and Cornelia was keen for one more go on that, so she pootled around, this time in the little ambulance, and finally, via the gift shop (for our fridge magnet), we left Dragon Park.

It was starting to get dark, so we decided to skip the gondolas in favour of an early supper, which we took at the hotel again. The restaurant was packed out, full of the visiting GSK conference guests who had taken over the hotel. But we managed to bag our usual table, and Cornelia had her predictable spaghetti bolognese. She was getting quite tired, and couldn’t even bring herself to do her nightly dance to the music of our now-familiar trio. In fairness, she had had a very busy day, so was ready for a quick bath and bed, as was I!


16 January 2019

We had a thoroughly lazy day again today, not getting up until about 08:45. We had a leisurely breakfast: scrambled eggs for me; Rice Krispies and a chocolate croissant for Bugsy; muesli and fruit for Ian, accompanied by a big fry up!

We had been intending to go onto the mainland today, and head up to SunWorld, the nearby theme park. We have seen the enormous gondolas and Ferris wheel every day from the balcony, and have been meaning to go. But it was so very cold today – the coldest we have experienced for a long time – and very windy, that none of us fancied the boat ride on such choppy waters, nor the experience of theme park rides in the high winds.

Cornelia was thrilled that this meant a morning at kids’ club again, and she happily dashed on in, waving goodbye and dismissing us without a second thought! Ian and I sat in the lobby with the laptop and booked me and Cornelia onto a cookery class that our driver from the other day had recommended – we are going to do the “Countryside” menu and have a private class for just me and Bugsy in the morning at 09:00. I can’t wait! Another Mummy / daughter date doing something really original and useful. 😬😬

We also did a bit of research into cycling to Angkor Wat when we are in Cambodia later this week, and have booked onto a sunrise tour that starts with pick up at 04:15. Gulp… but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip and we want to make the most of it, so have agreed that we can cope with Cornelia being tired for one day! Famous last words, no doubt… we have rented a child seat for her, so she can sleep on the back of Ian’s bike if she needs to. That looks terrific too – 35kms around the temples. Wonderful. 🤗

We collected Cornelia around 13:30 with the intention of going for lunch, but actually neither Ian nor I were hungry, so we ordered room service for Cornelia – fishfingers and chips – which she ate in her Paw Patrol camping chair that has been in my suitcase since Africa, whilst watching TV. We asked her if she’d rather go back to kids’ club in the afternoon or for a swim, and she said she’d prefer to go for a swim. So the three of us piled up to the third floor, and had the whole pool to ourselves! It was the first time I’ve been in the pool since we’ve been here, and we had a brilliant time. She must just use up so much energy. She was on the go for the whole hour we were in the water, clambering in and out of the inflatable ring, and then “surfing” on my back while I swam underwater.

Ian and I were still hoping to go to the gym, and as she was thrilled with the idea of kids’ club yet again, we dropped her off again and went to the gym. This time, we were joined by four very noisy men in their early twenties who could not talk at normal indoor voice level and just yelled at each other. 🙄 I was lucky enough to have brought my headphones, so plugged into an episode of Suits, turned up the volume and did my run, but poor Ian was stuck listening to them, and worse still, they were right behind his bike, just standing there chatting loudly to each other! Haha, we are so used to having the hotel to ourselves, that suddenly having company feels a bit strange!

When we went to collect Cornelia, we saw a hundred or so new guests arriving, and the hotel lobby was alive and buzzing for a change! We had decided to eat out this evening, and Avocado had the best reviews on Trip Advisor, so once we’d showered/bathed we headed across on the boat to the main lobby, from where we hoped into a taxi that had fortuitously just arrived. The restaurant is a bit hidden away behind the main road, but thanks to good old Google Maps, I managed to get our driver to drop us off nearby and we walked the last 200 or so metres to Avocado.

It was a lovely restaurant and Wendy, our hostess, spoke near-perfect English. She gave us both the Vietnamese and European menus. Ian and I both chose from the Vietnamese menu: I had “beef in coconut” and Ian had the marinated duck with purple sweet potato. Thankfully, they had good old reliable spaghetti in tomato sauce for Cornelia. I still haven’t managed to persuade her to eat rice or noodles! 🙄

I have to say, my beef was one of the nicest meals I’ve eaten since we’ve been travelling. It was quite a simple stir fry served in a coconut shell, but the beef was tender and not at all chewy, the stir fry was crunchy and the sauce was subtly flavoured by the warmed coconut. With high hopes for dessert, I ordered avocado chocolate mousse and Ian the coconut soufflé. Sadly, they were both a bit disappointing. The texture of my chocolate mousse was a bit too unusual for me and the avocado tasted watery instead of creamy, and that diluted the chocolate taste. Ian’s soufflé tasted yummy with the ice cream, but had failed to rise, so was more gooey than fluffy! We had ordered a second round of drinks but they’d forgotten about them. This meant that we had nothing to drink while we waited for our dessert to arrive, and then had to neck them once we’d finally managed to catch Wendy’s eye. It was quite a busy evening for them and I think they were just too rushed to remember everything. But they remained cheerful and friendly throughout, which left us overall with a positive memory.

The restaurant called a taxi for us and we were soon back in our room. Cornelia was exhausted, but in good spirits and went to bed quite happily. She had given me a code to wake her up in the morning: three knocks on her body, a flick with my fingers, then the words “cookery school, cookery school”, and I promised to rouse her with this magic spell!

Brutal bliss!

15 January 2019

Another night, another series of bizarre dreams. Last night’s included me being attacked by Good John and Bad John, twin brother wearing identical red jumpers, swimming in murky rivers and losing my tooth. The latter is obviously related to my ongoing toothache, and the murky rivers must have something to do with the waters around us and our trip yesterday, but as for the rest of them.. well, who knows?! 🤷🏼‍♀️ Ian also had a bunch of weird dreams. There must be something in the food!

Cornelia slept on until 09:00, after which we headed down for breakfast. I wasn’t terribly hungry so settled for scrambled eggs and a slice of toast, while Bugsy had some Rice Krispies in between reading her Hot Dog book that she’d brought to breakfast with her. She also had her daily chocolate fix (I have come to the conclusion that it’s best to get this out of the way first thing!) and then I excused myself, as it was time for me to get ready for my massage.

When I had booked yesterday, they had suggested I arrive half an hour early, in order to warm my body up in the sauna/ jacuzzi / steam room. I duly arrived at 10:30, ready to be heated! The locker room containing the sauna etc was completely empty, so I had the whole place to myself, once someone came in to switch it all on! I was handed a robe and an electronic wristband to unlock a locker, in which I found a jewellery box, pair of flip flops (size 42 – completely useless on my child sized feet), a towel and a shower cap.

I enjoyed ten minutes in the jacuzzi followed by ten minutes in the sauna (which had yet to warm up properly) and I did some yoga routines just to prepare my body for the anticipated brutality of the imminent Thai massage! Once I was in the pyjama suit I’d been given to wear, I was shown to the treatment room.

Tuan was my masseuse and she has been trained in Thai massage for fourteen years, so I was in good hands. And feet. And elbows! I was a bit anxious beforehand, that my various niggles and aches would prevent me from “enjoying” being pulled and twisted, but I was lulled into a false sense of security by a delightful foot and leg massage in a bowl of warm water slices of lemon and lime. Once that was over, I was invited to lie face down on the table. I stared a bowl containing thirteen floating pink lotus flowers while the massage began in earnest. First, I was stretched in opposing directions, with one of her strong hands on my backside and the other on my shoulder. She worked up to kneading my entire body with her feet, elbows and fists in a systematic way, and then twisting my legs and arms and stretching me into heavenly yoga poses. She found all of my tender spots and it was what I’d call blissful agony! I would absolutely have another one of these, and my only wish was that I’d opted for the 90 minute session rather than the 60 minutes.

As I dressed, I realised that I didn’t have any cash with me to tip Tuan and hope that I haven’t insulted her by not doing so.

Once I’d changed back into my normal clothes, I joined Ian and Bugsy in the pool area, where they were concluding an hour long game of dolphin and mermaid rescuing. 😂 I managed to sit on the only wet lounger while I dressed Bugsy, so had a very soggy bottom when I stood up. 🤦‍♀️😉

We decided to have snacks in our room for lunch, as none of us was particularly hungry and Cornelia was keen to get herself off to kids’ club again. Cornelia had an oat bar and a box of raisins, and Ian also had an oat bar. I was surprisingly unhungry, and decided to wait until this evening to eat, and take advantage of the buffet menu tonight instead 🐷

While Cornelia was at kids’ club, Ian and I managed to do a bit of life admin, including my tax return at long last, and I can finally cross that off my list of things to do! I have also booked myself into a cookery class for Thursday, so that will be good fun, especially as Bugsy is going to come with me!

The sun almost shone today, so Ian and I took advantage of the brighter skies and took a walk around our small island. It was completely deserted still, although it looked as if they were setting up for a big event in one of the conference buildings. There are a few more people here today, but we still feel very lucky to be able to enjoy the relative solitude and subsequent luxury an empty hotel brings!

We checked on Cornelia, who was building a tower block whilst watching TV, and she said she was very happy there and would see us when we had finished at the gym. Consent for another child-free hour granted, we visited the gym again, where I returned to the treadmill for a slightly longer run (5 miles) while watching an episode of Suits on my iPhone. It definitely takes the tedium of the treadmill away! From the sign in sheet, I could see that we were the only people to have been to the gym today. That’s how quiet this place is!

Sweaty and hot, we collected Cornelia and returned to our room for showers. Unfortunately, our room hadn’t been made up, so we decided to leave the “Please make up our room” sign on the door handle, and hoped that they wouldn’t turn up while we were showering!

Thankfully, they didn’t, and we all washed and dressed without being disturbed. While I was getting dressed, I could see Cornelia playing with her pens and mumbling to herself. Bless her, she’d sorted the pens out into “boy” and “girl” groups (they were the parents) and had sent the children pens off: “I’ve taken the kids to a place on their own while the parents hang out.” She had made a web out of her stickers and had stuck the child pens in the web, on the cupboard door. I see her brain is being affected by the food, or whatever it is, too!! 😂😂

Off to the buffet we went, earlier than usual, and hungrier than usual! Cornelia was content to have her usual bolognese, and we had no objection. She did some dancing to the little trio that play and sing every evening, while we nosied around the buffet. Ian loves the sushi so much, he went back for seconds, while I filled up on salads and vegetables, which I have been missing once again! The buffet had loads of variety, but I just don’t think we eat enough to warrant the £25pp price tag.

Anyway, pudding was a welcome treat, having abstained all week so far! Mini lemon meringue, mini tiramisu and a mini crepe brûlée (that I shared with Bugsy who has discovered a new food that she likes!) for me, along with a choux bun dipped in the chocolate fountain (and I got one for Cornelia too, naturally). Thankfully the desserts were “fine” as opposed to being so scrumptious that I had to go back for more, and we left feeling full but not stuffed, and not like the five mile run had been wasted!

The band was still playing at the front of the bar when we left, so Cornelia and I did a bit of dancing together before we dragged her off to bed. I nipped to reception quickly, to ask that dry towels and bottled water was brought to our room, as housekeeping had not made it today (due to our being in the room at the times they would usually visit). No problem, he said, they’d sort that straightaway.

Of course, our room had been made up by the time we had finished supper, so I had to call reception to let them know that we didn’t need housekeeping anymore. It took two phone calls for us to be able to communicate that successfully! 😳

Cornelia didn’t settle at all tonight – she was being a pain in the ass to Ian, who was trying to brush her teeth, and then she kept calling out to me for cuddles until well after 21:00. Anyway, she did of course fall asleep eventually, and while Ian went outside to chat to Matthew (who has now moved to London for work!) I spent some time catching up with friends back home and making arrangements to see them. I am so thankful to have these wonderful people in my life – it will make the fact that this trip of a lifetime has ended so much easier to bear!😘

A day in the bay

14 January 2019

I woke up at 03:00 and checked on Bugsy, only to find she wasn’t in her bed. I almost had a middle-of-the-night panic until I saw that she was sprawled out at the other end of her bed! Satisfied once I’d replaced her in her usual position, I fell back to sleep, only to experience the craziest of dreams, most of which I can’t quite remember, but one involving a plane crash, which left me feeling slightly anxious when I finally woke up! Ian also has lots of weird dreams, so we wondered if it was either something we’d eaten or the lack of oxygen in our room that made our brains go a bit mad!

We didn’t actually get up until nearly 09:00, but were at breakfast half an hour later, where Cornelia was given a hot chocolate by the restaurant manager, and scoffed two pieces of toast with jam, followed by a plate of scrambled eggs that she asked for, having seen my plateful. We are being recognised by all the staff now, who are being very attentive! While I was waiting for my eggs to be made, another manager came over and took my plate and said he’d bring them over when they were ready. At one point, we had three memberships staff cooing over Cornelia and I knew it was all too much for her when she buried her face in her hands and refused to speak to any of them!

After breakfast, we sorted out some laundry that needs to be done. The prices here are way too high, but we don’t really have a choice, and only have a week’s worth of undies etc. I managed to persuade Ian to have a couple of t-shirts washed too, so he wouldn’t keep sniffing the armpits to work out which was the least smelly to put on today… 😂😳

We had half an hour in the play park while we waited for our tour guide to collect us for our boat trip. Cornelia had fun whizzing round on the merry go round, quickly recognising “her swan” by checking that the bird behind had a splat of peanut butter on it.  We waited in reception to be collected, but she came to let us know that she was still waiting for the other couple who were booked on the trip to arrive.  Ten minutes later, she returned to say that they’d decided to go on a private excursion later instead.  Four year olds are brilliant at reducing numbers on organised trips!!

Off we went, on our little boat across to the mainland, where our tour guide introduced us to our driver, Le Van Dung, who took us to Tuan Ghau Marina, where there were literally hundreds of tourist junks moored.  Many of these boats appeared to live up to the name “Junk”, and looked as if they’d seen a storm or two over the years! We were handed over to our guide for the day, Lisa, who was a warm and enthusiastic young woman.

We had been told that the boat (which could accommodate 40 people) was unlikely to be anywhere near full.  Apparently, ten in total had travelled on it yesterday.  Initially, we were seated with a Chinese family and were rather squished on to the table together, but they quickly noticed the unnecessary squashing of us all together, when there were several spare tables available, and another table was laid for us.  Again, we were delayed by about fifteen minutes by two passengers who had not arrived.  These latecomers joined our table, and the couple from Singapore were very pleasant company for the day.

Lunch was served as soon as we had set sail and our table was filled with an assortment of dishes: seafood salad; (not very) crispy chicken; semi-cooked cold chips; enormous prawns in their shells; an unidentifiable fish (Ian thinks it tasted like mackerel); boiled rice; delicious boiled cabbage; salad; stuffed crab shells; and later on, fresh pineapple and watermelon.  It was an interesting feast and, apart from the chicken and chips which were a culinary disaster wherever in the world you may live, it was quite tasty and filled us up enough for the afternoon.  We were glad that their food hygiene standards are up to scratch… Ian found the largest rat trap he’s ever seen, resting outside the kitchen, and baited with a prawn!

After we had eaten, we headed to the outdoor top deck (having donned our coats to protect us from the chilly breeze) and enjoyed the atmospheric surroundings.  Again, hundreds of boats joined us on the waters, and we were glad that there were only sixteen of us on our boat: some were jam-packed with tourists, and I’m not convinced I would have felt terribly safe on them!

The limestone rock islands are reminiscent of those you find in travel brochures, with fascinating shapes, including the “kissing chickens” (which in Vietnam make an entirely different sound, we discovered during our chat with Lisa!!!) While Ian and I were entranced by the views, Cornelia entertained herself by sliding down the “plank” into the pretend water, much to the delight of our fellow guests! One of a group of four teenage boys thought she was so funny, he asked if he could have his photo taken with her and (following a stern word from Mummy in her ear) she obliged, holding his hand and smiling broadly.

Our first stop was at a floating fishing village by Ba Hang Cave.  The village is now apparently abandoned, but the fishermen are shipped in every morning from the mainland.  You could choose whether to kayak around by yourselves, or take a bamboo boat which would be rowed by a villager (exclusively, it seems frail-looking old women who were probably not old and certainly not frail!).  We opted for the latter, and were glad to have done so, as we were treated to a superb voyage through the cliffs into some beautiful lagoons, which would have been serene and peaceful and quite spiritual, had it not been for the several dozen other boats, with passengers all donning their hi-viz life jackets!  We can’t complain – we were amongst them – but it did somewhat detract from the ambience of it all.  Similarly, the volume of floating plastic rubbish was sad to see.  We understand in summer that there are three times as many boats, and were glad to be visiting in winter!

Being delayed by other people became the theme of the day, as we were missing one family for nearly half an hour!  We have no idea where they went, but they did eventually return, seemingly oblivious to the inconvenience they had caused in terms of less time for our subsequent activities. 🙄

We set sail again, this time arriving at Dong Thien Cung, a magnificent cave.  Lisa asked if the group wanted to visit two caves, or just stick to the main touristy one.  Ian and I both shot up our hands at the opportunity to visit both (and hopefully escape the flow of human traffic), and we all trekked slowly up the impressive staircase that had been carved into the rock.  Cornelia was terrific, and walked the whole way.  This was particularly impressive, given the number of adults who needed to stop to catch their breath.  We were quietly very proud of her.

The caves are staggering and have incredible formations, which have been really well-illuminated to maximise the “wow” factor.  The second cave (Hang Dau Go) was even bigger and was not discovered until 1996, by a fisherman who chased a monkey into a hole in the cliff.  The hole is still visible, and we had a real sense of how incredible it must have been to find the enormous cavern which contains a source of fresh water, initially used by the local fishermen.  Apparently, at the time, several thousand fishermen lived in floating villages around the islands.  Lisa told us there were now fewer than 200 people living in the Bay. She pointed out many of the stalagmite/stalactite formations which looked like various objects/things, including a pair of elephants, a turtle, and a breast, which led her to tell us a cultural tale… This was hard to follow, but the moral was that in Vietnam they customarily wee outside, and frown upon public displays of affection.  As Lisa put it: “Pissing for outside, kissing for inside”.  So, that’s a new word for Cornelia’s vocabulary…! 😳

By the time we had completed our circular route through the caves, Cornelia’s heels were starting to rub, and she was very happy to get back to the boat for her plate of pineapple.  Annoyingly, they had cleared away our almost-full bottles of water, and were going to charge us for another bottle.  Ian brought me a cup of black tea instead (which was free) and we stubbornly declined any other drinks.  Which was probably a bit silly of us, really, as they were less than a £ a bottle… And we were thirsty!!!  😂🥴

The crew also showed us various souvenirs and trinkets, but we weren’t buying anything today.  However, Cornelia was very happy to be given a Vietnamese figurine by the boy with whom she had had her photo taken earlier, and she has named the doll “Lisa”.

We spent the rest of our trip up on the top deck again, enjoying the views (complete with very atmospheric late afternoon sunny haze), until Lisa asked us all to go back inside, as we were shortly to dock.  The marina was far less crowded now, and we were soon reunited with our driver.  He spoke good English and gave us a couple of recommendations for our next few days, including a cookery school and a day trip to Hanoi.  (He gave Ian his card, and said that if was interested in a driver to take him to Hanoi, or indeed anywhere else, he should give him a call.)

Back at Vin Pearl, Cornelia (at her request) went straight to kids’ club, while Ian and I killed half an hour at the gym.  I tried out a elliptical machine that I have not come across before, and although I enjoyed it well enough, I am definitely a runner at heart!  We collected Cornelia and after Ian and I had showered (Cornelia had requested a bath after supper), we went back to our usual spot in the restaurant for the usual selection of a la carte items.  We want to try the buffet one night, but we are always too full from lunch to justify the expenditure and the amount of food we might consume!

Cornelia was very tired, and agreed to have her hands, feet and face washed before bedtime.  This ended up being a quick bath for her, and I added some bath salts (courtesy of the hotel) which she enjoyed very much.  She snuggled up on our bed for a story with Daddy, and although she fidgeted for a time, she didn’t demand our attention, and eventually fell asleep.  Ian and I weren’t far behind her – there’s something soporific about sitting quietly in a warm dark room!!

Wearing Mummy’s sparkly heels!

Leaving the island to explore

13 January 2019

There must be something that wakes Cornelia at 05:00-ish, as she once again called out for a cuddle. This time, I went into her bed and cuddled her until she fell asleep, before returning to my own bed for the rest of the night.

We were all up a bit earlier than yesterday, and made it to breakfast by about 08:45. I discovered that the restaurant did have chocolate sauce, so once Cornelia had had her fruit (pineapple and watermelon again), she had a chocolate croissant and a piece of toast to mop up the remaining sauce, which feels like a step up from using her finger!

Ian tried smoked seabass for breakfast today, but didn’t like it. At last, we’ve found a food he didn’t want to eat! He said it was rubbery and tasted muddy. Honestly, so fussy! 😂

While I finished my enormous pot of tea, Ian took Bugsy out to the playground for a bit. A manager approached me to ask how long we were staying (and looked very surprised that we were staying a week, as does everyone who asks!), and which room we were staying in. Again, she looked surprised when I told her we were in 115. We have already determined that we are probably in the cheapy rooms (although it is very nice!) and when she asked if there was anything they could do to make our stay better, I almost asked if we could have an upgrade, but quickly realised that the hassle of packing up to move to another room, possibly of the same size, probably wasn’t worth it.

I joined Ian and Cornelia in the playground, where another little girl was playing.  Despite the language barrier, Cornelia was determined to get her to play with her, and eventually, they followed each other around the slides and little merry go round.  It’s quite a nice little play area, with plenty of different bits of equipment to keep a child busy for a while! We managed to drag her away, to brush her teeth, and she asked if she could go back to kids’ club.  We didn’t really have any plans for the day, other than an intention to take the boat across to the mainland of Halong Bay, so we were more than happy to take some extra child-free time.

We sat in the lobby again, and I finally managed to write up all the expenses so I could throw away the enormous collection of receipts I have acquired over the last couple of months. One of the bar staff saw me working diligently and brought over a glass of water. When Ian returned from his chat to the tour agent at reception, she brought over another glass of water, and I ordered a mint tea, to make a nice change from normal tea!

I nipped to the loo (SO much tea!) then peaked in to check on Cornelia who was busy making a Lego tower, and seemed quite happy, so I crept away quietly before she spied me spying on her!

There is a tour guide manager up at reception, and she was brilliant at helping us make a good reservation for a day cruise for tomorrow.  All the reviews that we’ve read say that you get what you pay for, and most of them seem to be trips from Hanoi to Halong Bay, and we had struggled to find anywhere that did day trips starting in Halong Bay.  Anyway, we are booked onto a shared cruise with a pick up time of 11:40, which is absolutely perfect for us.  Once that had been booked and paid for, we collected Bugsy who was driving herself around the playroom whilst watching TV…

The flip side to not having any firm plans means that time tends to pass quickly without you really noticing, and this morning had been no different. In fact, by the time we had collected Bugsy and made it to lunch (in the main restaurant), it was nearly 14:00. Cornelia and I had shared a pizza and chips, and Ian had a Club sandwich with chips. Our pizza was strangely delicious but Cornelia didn’t like it, so I had most of it and she just had a plate of chips. 🤦‍♀️ It was too much for me to finish (although I probably could’ve eaten it if I wasn’t planning on going for a run again this afternoon!).

We took the speedboat over to the mainland, and with no map or particular plan in mind, we walked around the local area.  It’s an interesting place, to say the least.  There is a huge amount of construction taking place, mostly on reclaimed land. We wonder what it will be like in five or ten years – massively different and developed, I suspect. The foundations are already in place for this to happen, with modern buildings housing shops and apartments which are springing up everywhere. In between the smart houses and developments are the little shacks, a stark reminder of the pervasive poverty. We were stalked by a couple of wild dogs for a bit that made me clutch Cornelia close to me, whilst going my best to reassure her that they were just curious! We stopped to speak in halting English to a couple of women working at the side of the road, who had a little pet dog with them, who was more excited to see Cornelia than she was to see it!

As I mentioned, we had no particular direction in mind, so we walked a big circular route which took about an hour, taking risks when crossing the road (the zebra crossing led to a bushy verge in the centre of the road that was then impassable!), and when walking on the uneven pavements. Loads of small shops filled the streets, selling buckets of seafood which was being kept in water with air being pumped into it. It was all fascinating.

Continuing our walk, we followed a mural depicting various landmarks from across the world, which ran alongside the main road, before turning off and completing our round trip.

We didn’t have to wait long for our boat to arrive and when we made it back to the hotel, Cornelia asked if she could go back to kids’ club again. While she disappeared there, Ian and I went back to the gym. We did the same as yesterday: once we’d finished our workouts, I collected Bugsy and helped her change for swimming, then we met Ian outside the pool, and he took her in while I updated the blog.  I’m nearly there!!

Once swimming was over, I booked a Thai massage for Tuesday morning.  The girl taking the booking warned me that it is a very tough and painful massage.  Sounds absolutely perfect for me!  If not a little scary…!

We called Grannie Annie for a chat once we’d showered, and were hoping to speak to Izzie at the same time (she was having lunch with Grannie Annie today, but they hadn’t yet arrived by the time we’d called. So we went for supper in the restaurant again – thai green curry for me, and beef & cashew stir fry for Ian (both very tasty but not as incredible as last night’s fish), before trying her again later.  We were in luck this time, and Bugsy had a good chat with Izzie before it was time to get her into bed. She asked for one story, which Ian read while I updated the blogs once more, and she was fast asleep within minutes.  I’m nearly up to date now, so won’t be up until midnight tonight typing.  I may even read a book before bedtime. Yep, it’s all gone wild here!

Island isolation

12 January 2019

Bugsy asked for a cuddle at about 05:00, and I suggested she come into bed with me, which she did. I then woke up again at 07:00, and dozed fitfully until about 08:30. Bugsy slept on until 09:30, by which time Ian and I were up, showered and dressed.

Breakfast was in the main building and was a bit of a challenge to find on our first day.  There is no map provided in the room, so we walked around the outside of the hotel until we found the main entrance, then came in that way.  We discovered later that there is a quicker way, but for now, we did at least make it in time!  The hotel is extraordinary: situated on its own island, and it is currently very quiet indeed.  It is winter here, as you can tell from the cloudy skies, so things like the massive outdoor pool are completely empty.

We had a nice breakfast – I love the culture difference where you might have miso soup and duck egg rice for breakfast! Ian had smoked eel. 🙄 Cornelia had her fruit (which I insisted on first, before she eats anything else, so I know she’s had at least two healthy portions during the day!) then a chocolate croissant. I’m determined to lose a couple of kilos by the time we return, so am currently managing to avoid all the pastries and other calorie-laden temptations!

After breakfast, we ambled back to the room, having a quick explore of the hotel itself first. It is immaculate, and there were plenty of staff around working hard to keep it looking pristine, even with the low number of guests.

Cornelia was keen to try out the kids’ club, and in keeping with the obvious quiet season at the hotel, was the only child there. But she didn’t mind at all, and when we collected her for lunch, she asked if she could come back again this afternoon!  While she was at the club, Ian and I finally managed to book the rest of our travels before we come home in just a couple of weeks. We sat in the lobby with my laptop, and called Expedia to cancel our return flight from Hanoi to Singapore, as we are now going to fly from Hanoi to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  It feels great to have finally booked something, but it does now mean that our trip really feels it is coming to an end!

We collected Cornelia from kids’ club to have lunch by pool . It was still completely empty outside!  And there is a really wonderful pool which looks to be about 50 metres in length. It isn’t heated but I suspect I may brave it and have a good session in there at some point this week!  We are slightly disappointed with the weather.  It is cloudy, dull and slightly chillier than we had anticipated, so our aim of having the last couple of weeks sitting on a beach relaxing seems slightly unachievable!  Nonetheless, as we thought we might find just doing nothing for two weeks slightly unnerving, the weather hasn’t put a dampener on things, so to speak.

I wasn’t particularly hungry, so while Ian had the Club sandwich, and Cornelia had the chicken burger lunch, I got to eat her leftovers. Which was quite a lot, as it happened!  But the lunch took a long time to arrive, and by the time we’d finished it was about 15:15.

We dropped Cornelia back to kids’ club, and Ian and I went back to the room and changed for the gym. It felt very strange not having Bugsy with us, but as she asked to go again, we were happy to let her, and have some grown up time together.  And yes, we spent that time at the gym, not guzzling cocktails and slobbing on the lovely sofas!  I went on the treadmill in the gym – the downside to having an isolated hotel on a small island is that I can’t really go for a run anywhere other than on the treadmill.  The gym had no air con, so we were both really sweaty by the time we’d finished.  I realised that it was 17:00, so dashed off to collect Bugsy who’d had her hair French-plaited beautifully by the girl hosting the club this afternoon.  When I asked if she’d liked having her hair plaited, she revealed that she’d asked the girl to hurry up, please! She really has no patience when it comes to having her hair done.  (As it turns out, kids’ club is open until 21:00, so yahooooo, perhaps we will have an evening of cocktails yet!)

I took her back to our room to get her swimming stuff, and we met Ian back up by gym and pool. The men’s changing rooms were a bit too weird for Ian to feel comfortable taking Cornelia in, and I’d hung around just in case that were so.  I changed her in the ladies’ locker room and tried to do a bit of my blog while I waited for them to finish their swim.

They had a fab time! She told me, as we were walking back to our room, that she’d been a princess on a boat (inflatable ring) and there had been a terrible storm and she’d fallen off her boat. She almost drowned but then the handsome prince arrived to save her. Love it!

Ian and I had showers, while Bugsy soaked in the bath, then we managed to get hold of Charlotte for a good chat, before we went for supper.  We asked at reception about the dining options, but there were none… Only the main restaurant was open, serving the a la carte menu and a buffet. We opted for the a la carte but in hindsight, we should’ve done the buffet as it took so long to arrive, and it was already quite late in the evening.  Ian ordered a Tiger draught and I decided to treat myself to a Cosmopolitan, but both were unavailable.  Argh, that was annoying!  But never mind, we both settled for a can of Tiger instead.

The food was worth the wait. I had sea bass with lime butter, pesto linguine and vegetables. Ian had Asian sea bass with soy and ginger. Bugsy was happy to have pasta bolognese.  It was all absolutely terrific and we scoffed the lot quite happily.  The sea bass was unlike any other I’ve had before – really thick and meaty, and the size of large salmon fillet.  Yum, yum, yum.

By the end of the meal, Cornelia was getting very tired. As we were leaving, Ian made the mistake of showing her the chocolate fountain. When will he learn not to show her stuff she isn’t going to get??!!! As we passed by, the waitress could see Cornelia’s interest and offered her a try of it. She had a piece of pineapple on a stick and smothered it in the melted chocolate, before licking the sauce off the fruit and declaring she didn’t want the pineapple! I shoved it in Ian’s mouth, thanked the waitress and off we went to our room.

By now, Cornelia’s fatigue was beginning to take control! She was whining and being generally disagreeable, and wasting a lot of time. So although we managed to avoid a scene, she only had one story (that she insisted was read by me) before falling asleep.

As I updated the blog again, Ian fell asleep on his bed at about 21:45 and just now (22:10) Cornelia actually climbed out of her bed and onto mine – all whilst seemingly fast asleep! The cheek of it!!

How long to Ha Long?

11 January 2019

I couldn’t resist curling up in bed with Bugsy this morning as she slept on, while Daddy showered. She woke up and asked me if I’d stayed in her bed all night? She thought it was still nighttime because it was dark, and was very surprised when I revealed that it was daylight behind the curtains! Well, sort of – it was a very dull sky that greeted us and we realised how lucky we’d been yesterday to have no rain at all. Cuddles over, I hopped in the shower – it worked properly today by some miracle – and once I was dressed we headed down for breakfast, mini jar of Nutella in hand.

Cornelia had a good breakfast of pineapple and watermelon, a small bowl of honey stars and two little pancakes, with Nutella, of course, and she ate it all very quickly so we could get back up to our room and pack, in readiness for the shuttle bus that would take us to the airport. She had twenty minutes of TV while we waited for our luggage to be collected, then we checked out and hopped on our transfer bus. Someone on the bus hadn’t booked their seat but wasn’t owning up, as one British guy was left without a seat. I said that he could have mine, and Cornelia would sit on my lap, and then we had a very interesting chat. He had missed his connecting flight in Singapore while travelling from Melbourne to Cambodia yesterday, so his insurance had covered him for a night at the hotel and food, so despite the inconvenience, he was happy enough with how things had turned out.

When we arrived at the airport, we were dropped off at Terminal 2, then had to load our luggage onto a trolley and cart it down a floor and around the building to catch the shuttle bus between T2 and T4. T4 looks brand new and displayed a big shiny poster gloating that THIS airport had more than just escalators and travelators for children, together with a photo of a fantastic playground. Cornelia was very excited, so you can only imagine her face when we read the small print… the play areas are available in Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Not 4. 🙄 Luckily, the range of unusual seating kept her occupied as she flew herself around the world on different dragons…!

I wandered off to have a look at the shops and came back to present three ideas to Ian: the first was a gold bar that was for sale, Swiss gold 24 karat, with a commemorative year of the pig design on it (it is Chinese New Year and 2019 is the year of the pig). I was given a gold Krugerand by my grandparents when I was born and it is one of my most precious possessions. I wanted to get one for Cornelia as something special and unique, to give to her for her 18th birthday. I also found a Moomin pencil case that I thought would be better than the ziplock bag we’ve been using for eight months! Finally, we needed a Singapore fridge magnet to add to the kilo of magenta we have collected from around the world. I explained all of this to Ian and sent him off to have a look. He returned confused by the price of the gold bar – he loved the idea but couldn’t understand why it was so cheap – but then did a U turn and decided we shouldn’t get it. I was quite annoyed / upset, and although we left with none of the three things I’d suggested (bearing in mind we’d had to withdraw $200 cash the other day and can’t use it in any other countries, so we HAVE to spend the money), I have resolved to get the gold bar when we return to Singapore to fly home.

We were delayed a bit boarding, but Cornelia was having plenty of fun running around and it gave me an opportunity to call to confirm our transfer from Hanoi airport to Halong Bay, which all seemed fine.

On board, once we were seated, a guy approached the family in the row in front of us, saying the dad was in the wrong seat, and showing his boarding pass which confirmed that they both had seat 22G. He summoned over a stewardess who looked equally puzzled until she pointed out that he was looking at an old boarding pass. Somewhat surprised at his own error, he pulled the correct one out of his jacket pocket and hey presto, took his seat two rows back..!

The flight was otherwise uneventful. I’d bought lunch for us at the airport as I didn’t think we would be served a meal on the plane. So I had scoffed my salad, and Ian his sandwich when they tried delivering a hot meal to us! We declined, and I read another book while Ian made a start on The President is Missing. Cornelia was happy watching Paw Patrol and that entertained her until the battery on her Kindle ran out.  After that, she had some time to colour and just play games with me, which was lovely. The flight was just under three hours long, and we managed to get through passport control and collect our baggage quite easily.

We had booked a transfer and sure enough, our driver was waiting for us with a name card. His name was Gunz and he is 27. We enjoyed on and off chatter with him throughout the journey, although the traffic was so awful getting out of Hanoi that we let him concentrate for much of it! But he was a good driver and we learned a lot about his country and his life. He had been in the army for two years, as it is compulsory for all men before the age of 27. We passed a large coal factory, which is still a main source of fuel in North Vietnam (being geographically close to China).  Hanoi also houses the largest Samsung factory in the world, which seemed to be single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary volume of traffic. It employs over one million people in Vietnam and most of them seemed to be on mopeds three deep on the hard shoulder, or in cars forming three lanes on a two lane road, having left work for the day!  He said that they worked in shifts at the factory, but had an hour and a half rest halfway through.  I found his use of the word “rest” interesting, and asked if they had three meals a day.  He laughed and sounded very surprised… No, he said, just breakfast and an evening meal.  They are generally too poor and/or too busy to eat three times a day.  Gulp.

We stopped off at a large indoor shopping area, that sold works created entirely by disabled people, so that they can earn a living.  It is quite an extraordinary place and some of the art and sculptures on display were absolutely brilliant, disabled or not.  I would happily have bought a lot of stuff there (they even had the shipping rates to send your purchases direct to the UK) but we were on a food mission, as the driver had to have a compulsory stop for thirty minutes, before we could leave again.  The restaurant was tucked away at the back of the building, and I ordered the chicken chilli and lemongrass, dish, Ian had chicken & rice, and Cornelia tried the chicken burger.  Mine was quite tasty, but Ian wasn’t too impressed with his.

Back in the car again, Gunz put “Baby Shark” on his DVD screen for Cornelia to keep her entertained as we drove on.  It is funny to see how something like this has travelled all the way across the world, and is adored by kids everywhere! She proceeded to watch a selection of joyfully irritating songs and videos as we drove the last hour to Vin Pearl resort, finally arriving around 21:15. The lobby to the hotel is separate from the main hotel complex, which is actually a short speedboat ride across the water to a small island. We checked in, paid a seven million Vietnamese dong deposit (£236) and had our photos taken for security. Our luggage was added to a growing pile of new guests’ luggage, and I was given a baggage tag recording our five bags which would be delivered to our room.

We then took the boat over to the island and were driven in a little electric buggy to our room – 115. It is a decent-sized room with two beds for me and Ian, and a third smaller bed for Bugsy. She was exhausted and desperate to go to sleep, but we had to wait for our luggage to arrive before we could put her down. It took over half an hour for it to arrive, and once she’d brushed her teeth, we managed to get her into bed, and she was asleep almost immediately (and by about 22:20). Vietnam is an hour behind Singapore.

Once she was asleep, we brushed our teeth and crawled into bed. We are excited to see what everything looks like in daylight!


10 January 2019

Ah, what a great night’s sleep I had! I woke up at 07:15, then again an hour later. The bed is so comfortable and the blinds kept the morning sun out perfectly. We weren’t even disturbed by the numerous construction works taking place opposite. Ian showered first and warned me that the pressure was really bad and he’d had barely a drizzle coming out at one point. Mine wasn’t too bad, although the shower nozzle kept popping back into “bath” mode. Anyway, we were both clean and dressed by the time Bugsy woke up.

We were ready for breakfast and decided to head down to the 3rd floor for the buffet there, as opposed to the breakfast that was served on the 17th floor, which the reception staff had said wasn’t as big as the main one!

The only thing breakfast was missing was chocolate spread for the child who’s been hoping for a chocolate croissant… I offered to fetch her mini jar of Nutella that Father Christmas had brought for her – after all, that’s what it was for – and she munched her way through her croissant, a bowl of “honey stars”, and some watermelon.

After we’d brushed our teeth, we were in our taxi by about 10:30, and he whizzed us over to Sentosa, which is basically an island holiday resort, filled with shops, theme parks, casinos etc. It’s a bizarre and wonderful place!  On the way over, Cornelia told me all about the rules of fairies:  “Fairies must keep their wands secret;  They have extra special glittery tears;  Make sure no one makes them look ridiculous to make them laugh; Fairies must always fly over traffic lights and try to keep their wands safe in their fairy magic pockets; Fairies must always be in a happy mood and they have to have dragons to help them stay in a happy mood. In case anything happens to their wings they still have a dragon who can fly them. And they have a water breathing dragon in case anything is set on fire.”  So, that’s clear then…!

On arrival, it turned out we needed cash for the taxi ride (we had been able to pay by card previously), so Ian hopped out to the ATM while Cornelia and I waited in the car. The machine would only allow a minimum withdrawal of $200, so we have some cash to spend now.. 😉 Unfortunately, once we’d left the cab, it was quickly apparent that the driver hadn’t dropped us off at KidZania, and it took us a while to figure out how to get there. We eventually found the (free) Sentosa Express train which took us a few stops from where we were able to walk the rest of the way, through the craziness that is Sentosa!

KidZania is amazing!! As you approach, you can see a whole plane that has been embedded in the wall of the building.  To explain KidZania, it’s a mini city for children, where they go to work to earn money which they can then spend. She was given her own bank card that she had to activate on arrival in the bank (adults are not allowed to go into the individual places with the kids – it’s all about independence and autonomy), then first we visited the hospital where she was a paramedic, then the police station where she became a police officer. After this, we went upstairs to collect a “queue card” for the very popular pilot experience, but they only hand out the cards at specific times, so Cornelia went into the Milk Innovation Lab first, where she learned about milk formula, how to weigh out the powder and mix it all up etc.  It is all fascinating, and I couldn’t help wish there had been something like this available for teenagers when I was younger!  Not only do you have the opportunity to be paid for work, you can also pay to go to university and get a degree in either maths, science or English.  Once you’ve earned your degree, you get paid an extra 2 Kidzos (which is their currency) for the jobs aligned with those respective degrees  (eg, you earn 10 Kidzos instead of 8 for being a paramedic).

One of the most popular activities was in the aviation zone where you could choose to either be the pilot or cabin crew.  I was very surprised when Bugsy asked to be cabin crew, but it meant that she didn’t have to queue so long.  Her queue card was for the 14:00 session, so we went off and had a piece of pizza while we waited.  This was one activity that parents couldn’t view from the outside (all the others were visible through windows), and by all accounts she had a fab time, serving food to the crew!

Each session generally lasts between 20 and 30 minutes, so there is a lot of waiting around, but this teaches patience and the art of queuing…  Speaking of queuing, while we were waiting for the Ice Cream Factory to open up, having asked Ian to keep an eye on the queue to make sure it didn’t fill up (only six kids per class), when I came back from the loo, I could see a line of children had formed. I whizzed Bugsy up there (having given Ian a death stare for epic failure to make sure she didn’t miss the next slot) but she was the seventh child in line. She asked if she could wait and I said that was fine and actually, she should wait anyway, as sometimes things happen and people change their mind, so she may yet get in.

This prediction came true, as the little boy at the front of the queue did not have his bankcard on him. He was told by the woman running the session that he needed to have it, and his father made him leave the queue. However, a couple of minutes later his mother appeared carrying his card. The woman taking the session had nipped off to the lo, and if she hadn’t said anything before she went to the bathroom is, that little boy would still be at the front of the queue. I explained this to Cornelia and after a few tears and foot stamps, she reluctantly offered her place back to the little boy. However his father told him he couldn’t not have it as it was his fault he had lost his card and therefore his place. We were all trying to teach our children good things, but this poor little boy ended up losing out. I explained to the parents that he should have Cornelia’s place as she would be in no worse a position as she had been five minutes previously, but the dad was insistent that his child should bear responsibility, as the bigger boy. This is contrary to what I was trying to teach Cornelia which was about fairness and kindness, whether he was a big boy or not. I certainly do not want her to grow up thinking that being a girl you can cry will mean she gets her own way. Not in my world!

The PaddlePop contained ingredients that I rather wished I hadn’t seen: corn syrup, palm oil, tartrazine… bleurgh. Thankfully, Cornelia only had about a third of it before deciding she didn’t want anymore, and handed it over to Daddy to polish off.  We were then off to the dentist, but once we arrived, she changed her mind about being a dentist, and after thinking and resting for a few minutes, decided she wanted to try working in the bed shop, as Assistant Sleep Master, following which she became a Window Cleaner.  For this, she took her bucket, spray, cloth and squeegee along to the 7-11, cleaned their windows, then had to have some paperwork signed off to say it had been done properly.  Honestly, this place is brilliant!

While Cornelia was busy at worked, we had plenty of time to kill, so looked online at the various KidZania outfits around the world, and the idea of one in Russia made us chuckle as we mused over the various shops and activities that may be on offer: weapons training, travel agencies where you can buy a trip to Salisbury, vodka making, skin your own bear, understanding state-sponsored doping, make your own bling clothes… haha, we could’ve gone on for a long time!

Finally, she had had enough, and we made our way back to the Sentosa Express and took the little shuttle back over to the mainland, from where we took a taxi back to our hotel.  Our driver was baffled when we tried to give him a tip… we looked up the tipping expectation in Singapore, only to find that it is very unusual and that no-one really expects a tip – especially taxi drivers. No wonder he looked so awkward as I shoved the notes into his hand! D’oh!

We had a very brief pit stop back at the hotel, so that we could wash our hands and change for an evening meal.  Ian had been looking hoping for a street food experience, and “Building 84” opposite our hotel came highly recommended as having plenty of variety.  We walked over there, and spent some considerable time looking for it – all of the buildings helpfully have giant numbers displayed on their walls to assist – but eventually realised that the building wrapped up in fencing and curtains must be Building 84.  It was closed for redevelopment.

The East Coast Parade Food Court had been recommended to us by a local mum I’d been chatting to in KidZania earlier, so we walked back to our hotel and took a taxi there.  It was certainly the street food experience!  There were, maybe, 50 different stalls all selling similar food.  We managed to find a table, which I wiped clean while Ian went off to order our supper.  To my great irritation, a man came over with a tray of drinks and said that he had reserved this table, by putting two packets of tissues on the table.  He added that he was with three people.  I was not going to give up the table, and said that one of them should have stayed to keep their place, and that simply putting a packet of tissues on the table didn’t mean a thing.  Then Ian returned to find me arguing and found another table around the corner.  I quietly hoped he had a crappy evening, and left with Cornelia for our new table.

Ian had ordered a nasi goreng, a seafood rice dish, and ten skewers each of lamb and chicken satay, along with two enormous Tiger beers.  It was all delicious, and the meat unexpectedly tender and sweet.  Even Cornelia ate loads of chicken and all of the prawns from the rice dish – if only she liked rice too!

We watched the sun set, in our lovely seats right near the water.  It was all just as we had hoped.  Then, as we left, Cornelia smelled roasted chestnuts and could see the men with their fire and cauldron cooking them.  She couldn’t remember if she’d had them before, and was keen to try them, so she bought a bag, and we eventually found a taxi to take us back to our hotel.  (There was no taxi rank around – you just had to wait in the car park for another taxi to arrive, then get in it before anyone else steals it!)

On the way back, Cornelia made up a joke: “What do shrimps do when their bandages fall off? They roll over and snap.”  It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it made her laugh!


When we were back at the hotel, she had a very quick bath and then went straight to bed, and straight to sleep. I stayed up blogging, then rolled into bed just before midnight!

After five weeks in Australia, it’s off to Asia!

9 January 2019

We were up and about at our usual time today, and after a quick breakfast were packed up and ready to go. We are now using the spare bag we bought as hand luggage as hold luggage, as we somehow seem to be running out of space again!  We will need to do some sensible rearranging at some point, and perhaps get rid of some of the random bits of junk we have acquired.  Anyway, for now, we have four pieces of hold luggage and four bits of hand luggage.  Not tooooo bad for four months of travelling without going home!

Once we’d left our apartment, I drove us down to the car park by the Whale Playground, and we watched Cornelia join a group of children, with whom she happily played chase, and hide & seek for a bit.  When her friends left, she did some more playing in the sand by herself, before spotting another couple of children and going off to play with them.  She remembered to come and ask me if she could go outside the playground.  I asked her where she was going and she explained that she just wanted to get up on the wooden bridge (part of the main playground) and had to go up the steps and out underneath the “Whale Playground” sign to get to it.  She was being very literal about my request that she checks with me before leaving and I am very grateful for that!

Soon, however, it was time to head off.  We weren’t taking her bucket and spade with us again, but this time, she happily chose a family to receive her toys.  Typically, the first little girl said she didn’t really need it, but undeterred, Cornelia found another couple of girls with whom she’d been playing, and they took them off her hands.

As I rinsed her feet off, Ian went to look at the waves one last time, and then we piled back into our car and drove to Anaconda, a sports/outdoor store, which was on our way to the airport.  We needed a replacement valve for Cornelia’s water bottle which has split causing the bottle to leak, but could only find valves for adult-sized bottles.  They had other kids’ Camelbak bottles for sale though, so I picked one out with Cornelia.  Then just as we were joining the queue to pay, I saw the replacement valves for kids’ bottles. In hindsight, I should have just kept quiet, as I knew that taking away a new bottle in exchange for an unexciting valve would not go down well.  How right I was…!  She had a complete tantrum about having a new bottle and not wanting a new valve, although she was also refusing to throw away her old bottle.  I said that she could either have the new bottle and throw away her old one, or keep her old bottle and have a new valve.  I wasn’t going to cart around a useless empty bottle (I refer to earlier paragraph re now having four bags… it’s starting to become clear!!!).  The other customers were largely sympathetic – they’ve mostly all been there, I suspect – but the young chap behind the counter was really firm with her!  “If I hit my parents, they’d hit me right back!” he said. “Consider yourself lucky your mum hasn’t belted you!”  But he then he also said “Can you just show me that thing you’re holding, please?” and she handed over the valve she’d so far refused to give to me.  And quick as a flash, he’d processed it and I paid for it, and just like that, the tantrum was over, the valve bought, and she was back to normal again.

She needed a bit of a reassuring cuddle from me, before we went into the next door restaurant for lunch, but was then fine and we enjoyed a nice meal together.  Mine was especially tasty – a roasted pumpkin, halloumi, quinoa and beetroot salad.  Yum.  Then we were on the road again, to return the hire car and make our way to the airport for our flight to Singapore.  We have really loved Perth and it definitely makes it onto our list of places to visit again.  I’m already planning my return visit with Bugsy in the next year or so!

Our afternoon flight went smoothly, and as we were served dinner (albeit early) this worked perfectly as it meant we didn’t have to worry about finding somewhere to eat when we arrived in Singapore.  Cornelia practiced her brace position, concerned that she couldn’t reach the seat in front, so would have to bend forward over her knees.  It is very sweet that every time we are in a plane, she reaches for the safety card and pays proper attention to what the cabin crew are saying.

Cornelia was brilliant throughout the whole flight and stayed awake for the duration, watching TV and listening to audiobooks.  This meant that I managed to watch two movies (Crazy Rich Asians and Juliet, Naked – both enjoyable) and started a drama series called Sharp Edges, which wasn’t brilliant, but had me just about hooked before we landed, so now I’m going to have to try and find that online to watch it!

We made it through passport control and collected our baggage really quickly, and everything was running very smoothly, until we realised that we couldn’t find the bloody hotel shuttle bus!  We asked at information, and were told to go down one floor, where we were told we needed to be up one floor.  Then we saw a sign, which told us to go up for the hotel shuttle buses.  Following the instruction, we went up the escalator and wandered around for a bit without finding an further directions.  I rang the hotel twice, but they weren’t answering, to our great frustration, and there was no information either on the hotel website or the airport website which could help. We saw another information desk, and asked her for some help.  Down to B1, she said.  No, but we’ve been there already, and they told us to come upstairs!  And then we followed a sign which led us here! We have been looking for over half an hour now! Sensing our impatience and frustration, good old Kimmy, took us herself (Cornelia held her hand the whole way, and Kimmy said she’d made her day).  As we were going down the elevator, she said that because of the huge renovation works going on, even members of staff were getting lost coming to work!  Anyway, she took us all the way to the hotel shuttle bus.  Which we had missed by literally one minute.  The next one wasn’t for an hour.  Argh!!!

Hilariously, we ended up going back to the taxi rank (which was the first place we’d tried for the shuttle bus) and the fare was only about $18, which seemed very good value for a thirty minute ride.

Weary from our long travel, we arrived safely at the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy, and were offered a cheap upgrade to the top floor with a bigger room, which Ian was happy to accept.  I must say, having someone to take our bags up to our room was a welcome change to us having to lug them ourselves!

A roll up bed was brought in and both Cornelia and I were very happy that our beds were “holding hands” distance apart.  Our sandy girl needed a bath, so I washed her and brushed her teeth, then she went for her story while I had a quick shower. When I came back to the bedroom, she was having an argument with Daddy about having cuddles from me, and was lying in our bed, refusing to get into her bed. So I just lay in her bed waiting for her and, to be honest, I didn’t really care where she fell asleep, as long as she slept. She was still in my bed when I went to brush my teeth with Ian, and she briefly popped her head into the bathroom before skipping back to her own bed without any prompting. Sure enough, she was asleep within ten minutes.

Having done some research on things to do with children in Singapore, given that we are only here for one day, we tried booking tickets for KidZania in Sentosa, which is a part of Singapore that Ian has not visited before.  The website was a bloody pain, and it took nearly an hour to finally receive our tickets.  Cornelia is going to LOVE it there, I’m sure!

If Carlsberg did super furry animals…

8 January 2019

Ian and I woke up around 07:00 this morning, before rolling over and going back to sleep for an hour.  We then got up and showered, before Cornelia called out for me at 08:45.  She needed a wee, then wanted to go back to bed!  Thankfully, at 09:00, she decided she was ready to get up and start our day.  I’d put on a load of laundry that I needed to finish and be hung out before we left, so we were finally on the road at 10:00.  Just as we left, a car arrived.  I think it may have been Gabi, our host, who was meeting the plumber to look at the pipes (although, typically, this morning there had been no such leak!).

We drove to Fremantle and had hoped to have a quick look around before catching our ferry over to Rottnest Island, a nature reserve,  and home to the Quokka – allegedly one of the world’s cutest creatures, but we didn’t have time.  We had parked about a kilometre away and had speed walked to B Shed, from where we would catch our ferry “Quokka 1”, which would whiz us over to Rottnest.  If we thought we were rushing to be on time, we saw one guy charging down the gangway at top speed in hope of boarding.  He was in luck – they pulled back the ropes and allowed him on.  I couldn’t help thinking how different it would be if he’d been trying to catch a train in England!

I hadn’t brought Cornelia’s Kindle today, as I wanted her to look around her instead of down on the ferry, and she was hilarious trying to occupy her time, by pretending to be a cushion and making us sit on her.  No wonder she always looks like a scarecrow by 11:00 every day!  This amused her far longer than it did!

Outside, the colours of the water were incredible – dark blue patches, then ponds of bright blues, complemented by spectacular cloud formations in the sky. The swell was about 1 metre, so it was a bit choppy, but nothing too concerning. We docked at Rottnest just after 11:30 and raced straight up to the bike hire place.  Ian had read online that the queues get really long really quickly, and we were most fortunate to have no-one in front of us!  We bagged the last tag-along bike which was attached to Ian’s bike, and I had my own bike (and the rucksack, to even things out – a bit!).  By the time we left the shed, the queue was out of the door and we were very happy that we’d managed to get there so quickly!

That was where we left our happiness for the next hour.  Cornelia had a complete breakdown about going on the tag-along, something she’s done loads of times before, including a 30 mile ride around the Grand Canyon.  She cried and cried, said she was scared that she’d fall off, and all sorts of things.  My patience gradually wore off (my toothache had not yet improved and was unexpectedly appearing from time to time), so I said that I would go off for a bike ride by myself and meet her and Daddy back at the jetty in an hour or so, when Daddy could go off for his ride.  I’m not sure what it was that exactly changed her mind, but she said she’d give it a go.  I had to hold on to her to start with and we had a few false starts, with her having an itch or a fly in her face, that she wouldn’t scratch because it meant taking one hand off the bars, but we all stuck with it and amazingly, we were eventually on our way.  We had wasted a whole hour of our bike hire time, which meant we had to rule out taking the long route we’d been hoping to do, but we were able take the middle distance route still – a very respectable 12 miles. And, would you believe it, she loved it.  Of course she did!

We stopped at a beach called Little Salmon Bay to eat our sandwiches, and although we’d been hoping to have a swim, it was really cold, due to the strong offshore wind blowing over us.  I had to wrap Bugsy up in my beach kaftan, and once the sandwiches had been consumed, we set off to make it around to the other side of the island, where we would be protected from the wind.  Rottnest is stunning.  Every time we went around a bend, there was another jaw dropping view of rocks, flora, beach and sea, all with exaggerated colours. Even the sky was in on the drama, and at one point, the clouds looked like those you see when looking at a satellite image of a hurricane, complete with its eye in the middle.

Quokkas, as I mentioned earlier, have the reputation of being the world’s cutest animal. And whilst they are not quite koalas, I am able to confirm that they are pretty darn gorgeous!  Unlike koalas, they are incredibly friendly and curious, and although the tourists are asked not to touch them, they bound over and come and sit right by you, or on you!  All three of us were thrilled to have found a couple of friendly animals who were very happy to join us for photos, although it was soon clear that they were also after Cornelia’s water bottle.  I cannot lie.  They were ridiculously cute.

Further on, Ian stopped to use the loo, and Cornelia took a tumble whilst holding her hand, so I had to collect her and help her back up the hill, to recover.  She was fine – a small graze – and by the time Ian returned, she was fully recovered and on top form. Given her earlier meltdown, I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but she had put all of that behind her, and was completely fine now.  We cycled past the ominously-named “Geordie Shore” and found a quieter little bay, where we locked up the bikes and finally ventured into the sea.

While Ian and Cornelia explored rocks that hugged the coastline, I walked over the reef and dived into the beautiful blue waters.  Ah, heaven!  I swam around for a bit, looking at all the fish (nothing exciting to report) before rejoining Bugsy and Daddy on shore, where we wrapped up in towels and watched as the clouds above us darkened.  It looked as if we were going to be hit by a storm, and we decide to pedal back quickly to return our bikes, but fortunately, the rains never quite hit us, although the temperature had really dropped quite a bit.

Not enough to prevent a shivering Cornelia from asking for an ice cream, while Ian and I had a cider and a tea (respectively) and waited to board our return ferry.  This journey felt rougher, and the swell was more like 2 metres this time.  Great waves slapped the windows at the side of the boat and all of the passengers ooh-ed and aah-ed as the waves threw us up and down.  Two members of the family next to us were very worried that they would be sick, but the well-timed delivery of ice pops to those suffering avoided any such event.  The crew were evidently very well-prepared! Cornelia does not suffer with any kind of motion sickness, and put on a delightful puppet show, starring Cowbat. Our companions around us were at least distracted for a while!

Having arrived back in Fremantle at 18:40, we decided to drive back home and get fish ‘n’ chips as our final meal in Australia.  Not quite what I’d imagined, but at Bugsy’s request, this was what we had.  But first, the magnificent sunset… just wow, wow, wow, wow.  It was setting as we were driving back to Scarborough, and we ended up diverting to the seafront, so that we could catch our last Australia sunset.  It was one of those magical moments, forever etched in my picture memory, where the photos can’t do justice to the accompanying feeling, as I held Cornelia in my arms and watched the sun disappear. Just perfect.

Heart filled with happiness, I offered to collect supper and walk back home, while Ian unpacked the rucksack which was filled with soggy towels and sandy swimwear.  I wasn’t too impressed with my fish, so added some cheese to my chips and enjoyed an unhealthy meal of cheesy chips and mayo.  That took me back a few years…!

Cornelia was so tired, but she needed to have a shower to wash off the sunscreen, salt water and sand from the day, so we had a very quick rinse together, before Ian read Little Miss Explorer to her.  I gave her a quick cuddle and as soon as I left the room, she was fast asleep again.  Before she’d showered, I’d told her that she should be very proud of herself for overcoming her fear earlier, and turning a potentially miserable day into a real joy for all of us,  She was slightly uncomfortable at first, but I asked her to tell herself, out loud, that she was proud of herself, which she did, adding (after her shower) “And I shall stand up tall and say “I am amazing!”” And indeed she is.