Another warm welcome was awaiting us on arrival in Hué, this time from a family that had just recently bought the guest house we had booked. The stay in Hué was only supposed to be a few days, the sole purpose being the visit to the famous tunnels from the war, but we were quite taken by this charming little place that was absolutely electric at night. A few of the streets in the centre became pedestrianised during the evenings, and the place came alive with people enjoying a stroll, food stalls with their enticing smells and the sound from the bars adding to the humdrum of the night air.
As a kid growing up, one of the first records that led to my ensuing obsession with electronic music, was ’19’ by Paul Hardcastle. I remember watching the video to the song on Top of the Pops and was quite shocked at the clips of the devastation caused by the Vietnam war, but never really looked into or understood the history behind it. 29 years on, here I was on the frontline.
The kids relished learning about what happened during the turbulent times that Vietnam endured and were full of questions about how it all started which spurned a multitude of spin off questions ranging from ‘the draft’ to communism and why the war spread to neighbouring countries. This was ‘worldschooling’ at its best – a real hunger to learn about a topic and not have a load of facts shoved down their throats to learn verbatim. Here the knowledge gained was tangible.
Our journey continued further south on to the quaint and charming city of Hoi An. Again our guest house was run by a family who extended their Vietnamese hospitality to us. We had bikes to get around Hoi An, and were becoming quite accustomed to the crazy roads. The beach was a 5km ride away and the beautiful old town was close by. The latter was magical in the evenings – lanterns adorned the walkways and streets, people lit candles to put in lanterns to float along the small river that ran through the centre. The streets were bustling with people soaking in the fairytale like atmosphere or dining in one of the many street side restaurants.
Whilst travelling in Australia with mates 22 years ago I met a Belgian guy called Len in Sydney. I instantly took to him due to his appreciation of our somewhat warped British humour and also his sharp wittedness and his quirky dress sense – black skinny jeans, a roll neck with a christmas jumper over it and his wild hair – a real life Napoleon Dynamite! Len was such great value, and a group of us travelled further up the east coast together. Bar the odd Christmas card, contact faded until the unfortunate passing of our mutual friend ‘G’ from cancer in 2006 brought us back together when Len came to visit G in Surrey during his last days. Incidentally Rico’s middle name is just the letter ‘G’ in honour of our late friend. I knew Len had been working in Vietnam some years ago, but didn’t know if he was still there. A few emails later and by Len rearranging some travel plans a rendez-vouz in Hoi An was engineered. An afternoon was spent sipping on a few cold ones reminiscing and catching up. Len and Rico bonded over their shared love of drawing cartoons. Amazing how life manages to push paths of true friendships together even after decades apart.
We had heard there was a fairly new theme park, Vinpearl, just outside of Hoi An, and the main draw for me was that apparently due to it’s newness it was quiet…which meant no queues, something I didn’t cope with very well due to being so impatient. It was decided that as a treat for the kids we’d take them for a day out. The excitement was uncontainable and they barely slept the night before. True to the reports, the place was empty, even a little eerily so, but for the kids this was heaven..a whole theme park pretty much to themselves. 9 hours later, and after a lot of protesting we had to drag the kids out, but they’d had an absolute blast.
Through the ‘Project World School’ network we had managed to make contact with a Canadian family with two young girls who had been in Hoi An for a couple of months. We arranged to meet them on the beach where they, along with some other families, convened for ‘nippers’ – a junior lifesaving/ ocean awareness morning. War stories of life on the road were swapped and it was nice to be able to download to people that were experiencing similar highs and lows. Our two families met a a few more times, and looked forward to reconvening at the Project World School summit in Chiang Mai, Thailand where there would be lots more families who had also taken a leap of faith to buck the trend.
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