Post 22 South Korea and the Winter Paralympics.

We arrived at Incheon airport near Seoul, early on a rainy morning. Then off to the car hire desk to collect our car. Fingers crossed the driving would be better than in most countries we had visited! It was!

We drove the 140 miles to our Hotel, where many other athlete’s families were staying. It was a beautiful Hotel, with stunning grounds and gardens, although they were carpeted with snow on arrival. So far so good. Then the cracks started to appear. This huge luxurious hotel didnt have a public Tv. We hadn’t gone to the medals ceremony as Jen and Menna would not be attending due to a 4am start the next morning, so we all wanted to watch together. Eventually I persuaded them to bring 6 chairs to our room!

Next day.. Downhill race. The venue was a 30 minute drive from the Hotel. We set off at 7.00 so that we could ‘bag’ the front seats and hang all the GB flags up, with Menna’s family, and James Whitley’s family.

We were a vociferous bunch, but we enthusiastically supported the whole British team and became known as Skiing’s GB barmy army!

David had come out without Jen knowing, so we put him in the car boot and gave Jen a huge surprise.

He then surprised us all by wearing a super Union flag Onesie for every race! He became a star in his own right!

David being interviewed by the announcer.

As regards the racing, well it got off to a sticky start with Menna crashing out in the downhill at 90 kph. How would that affect confidence?

We needn’t have worried. The next day saw Jen using all her powers of persuasion, and they visibly sped up as Menna’s confidence return, to win a Bronze in Super G. As it was mother’s day, and Menna’s parents anniversary, Mair, David and I got to go down and surprise them while they were being interviewed for Channel 4. So I was seen across the nation, crying my eyes out!!

This is the face of a girl who realises she is a Paralympic medallist

David and Dan went out to explore the nightlife and returned rather the worse for wear after lots of bars and a karaoke club. I was tempted to included the shaky video of David belting out ‘Dancing Queen’, but common sense prevailed!

Day 3 was Super combined. One run downhill and one slalom. Super skiing got them silver behind Henrietta Farkasova, who was claiming her 3rd Gold.

Day 4 was giant slalom..and they did it again. Another silver. Incredible. The girls were allowed out for a celebratory meal.

Interspersed with skiing were the medals ceremonies. The atmosphere was electric and I sobbed unashamedly at these girls who had both fought back from injuries, and were now exceeding expectations.

Back at the Hotel, things went from bad to worse in the restaurant. They closed at 8.30, ran out of food, and the meals were often cold! Grrrrrr.

A three day gap, where the weather went from a high of 19 degrees, to a high of 3 degrees!! A nightmare for the snow conditions!

We found a beautiful temple a few mils from the hotel. First built in 600 AD it is still a monastery today.

It had a stunning Origami display too. Yes these are made out of folded paper!

We also watched and supported the snowboarders and went to a great ice hockey match by speedy train!

Then it was Sunday. The last day of competition – the Slalom. There were some slalom specialists racing too, and of course, the unassailable Farkasova.

We watched with bated breath to see the girls ski superbly in their first run to be 1.66 secs behind Farkasova and just 0.04 ahead of Millie.

The scene was set for an entertaining final run. And it delivered. Millie skied well which put pressure on Menna and Jen. They skied a blinder and overtook Millie. Lastly Farkasova … and we think the pressure of going for her 5th gold was too much. She tensed up and was slower. Gold for Menna and Jen! Unbelievable. Only our second ever gold since the Winter Paralympics began, and also Menna and Jen become the most decorated GB winter paralympians.

What a moment. We went wild.

With Millies three medals and Menna’s four, GB reached their target of 7 medals.

Ade Adepitan from channel 4 had come to sit with us for the race, between Menna’s mum Mair and me. We held hands through every race!

This medals ceremony was on the ski run, and we were all so emotional and proud as the GB flags were hauled high and the National Anthem rang out. We all sang loudly!

Menna and Jen were being interviewed by everyone, but we sneaked some great photos, then dashed back to the Hotel to change for the closing ceremony.

A missed exit and 4km traffic jams meant the journey to the stadium was very stressful, bit we made it.

A real spectacle, capped by Menna and Jen being the flagbearers for Team GB.

Then just time to see them for hugs and kisses before we parted. They fly home early Monday, while we fly to Japan!!

The flight home with British Airways was a big party. The crew had hung bunting, played the National Anthem, had special champagne labels made, and recruited some extra staff to help with trolley service!! David and Dan look rather fetching.

They even have new pilots!!

They had a heroes welcome at Heathrow, with Peter and Tracy joining them for a reception in the evening.

What an amazing Paralympic Games.

1 x bronze 2 x silver 1 x GOLD.

Huge congratulations to Menna and Jen… and I think I can stop taking the blood pressure tablets now! All the mums were nervous wrecks!

What a trip… what a result. So proud to be able to share in it, especially after having cancer 7 years ago.

Now onto the last part of our trip. Japan!

Post 21 Vietnam – Hoi An

Next morning, Chris is very excited. The next leg of our journey is by train! The coastal line between Hue and Danang is considered to be very beautiful. Bizarrely, our seats are in a luxurious, but used, sleeper compartment for the 2.5 hour journey, which was fascinating and beautiful, as it hugged the coast. Note the station buffet!

As we arrived in Da nang, a large port and resort, the first US warship to visit since the war, the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, was in the harbour. On alighting, we took a taxi to Hoi An, a riverside Unesco heritage town that escaped damage in the war. It is utterly charming, although geared up for tourists. We spent 3 days here, visiting old houses, temples, little museums, the night market and the beach.

It is famous for it’s lanterns, which are everywhere, and tailoring, so Chris had 2 shirts made to measure, as he struggles to get them long enough at home!

Our hotel, the Lantana riverside, was the friendliest of the whole trip, and that is saying something.

A slight hiccup when I got the first tummy bug of the trip, but I was looked after well. We ❤ Hoi An.

Post 19 Vietnam. Hanoi here we come…almost!

Another adventure. The vietnam blog is in 3 parts covering 10 days in this amazing country.

Our rescheduled flight was 10 minutes late so a Kuala Lumpur we had just 40 minutes to get from domestic arrivals to a different gate in international departures, and board our flight! Luckily, our baggage was checked through to Hanoi. We made the flight…phew! 3 and a half hours later we are the last ones standing at the empty luggage carousel… no cases!

Malaysia airlines soon verified they were still in KL. We only had the clothes we were wearing! They promised they would reach our hotel by midnight!

We headed to the charming La Selva hotel. Friendliest place ever, right in the old quarter of Hanoi, a tangled network of old streets, crowded with houses and shops and piggybacked cables! Delhi all over again, and I love it. The traffic is almost as crazy, but there are many more motorbikes than cars or push bikes. 7 million people and 5 million motorbikes!! “When you want to cross, just step out and keep walking” was the advice we were given. Unbelievably, it worked. We walked around the central lake, visiting the temple dedicated to a giant turtle who was the guardian of a special sword that saved the city. Every temple is full of offerings of food because of the Tet holiday. Chinese New Year. In Vietnam, everyones birthday is New years day. Their age is counted from the New years day after they were born.

Then through the gardens into the French quarter, where the opera house was a copy of the one in Paris.

French colonial architecture is apparent everywhere, especially in government owned buildings. The french influence is also clear when you see much more wine on the menu than elsewhere in Asia!

At 6.30 we had a date with the Hanoi street food tour! A 3 hour walk around the old quarter, sampling typical street food. It is so busy. Everyone seems to sit on the pavement and eat. Vietnam must have a monopoly on small, plastic childrens stools.

We aren’t sure how the places we visited would score on a food hygeine assessment, but the foods were delicious, including egg coffee!

At 00.30 am our cases were delivered… which was lucky because we needed to repack! The next morning we were collected by a driver and guide for a 2 day trip to rural Vietnam at Ninh binh. En route we saw some beautiful hand embroidery, and a very unusual way of differentiating mens and ladies loos!

In this lovely area, we visited one of the most important temple complexes in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh temples and pagoda, with a huge happy buddha statue, and a pagoda that can be seen for miles around. It was all built in 2004, but it seemed ancient. It was built on an epic scale. 500 golden buddhas line the parallel stairways. I imagine we felt rather like people in georgian England getting the chance to see a newly built mansion and marvelling at its size and beauty.

Onto a river trip through the lovely Karst limestone scenery, and into caves… in a small boat rowed by a diminutive lady, using only her feet!!!

Then to a very rural homestay in a lovely garden. A vast dinner with our guides.

Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Especially the house geckos, who chirrup every so often! A HUGE breakfast… they just kept bringing more food – we had to politely say no to the beef noodle soup AFTER the omelettes, salad, bread and fruit!!!

Then an early morning boat trip in bamboo boats through a tranquil National Park. Lots of birds, and as we were proudly told.. this was where they filmed King Kong. They pointed out the location of various scenes, ” you know…skull island” ” you know… fight with giant lizard”. We nodded sagely and didn’t let on we hadn’t seen it!

Gosh… is it 12 noon, must be time for another huge meal! Then a visit to 2 temples dedicated to 2 kings who saved Vietnam from the Chinese. Finally we return to our hotel in Hanoi, where they greet us like long lost friends.

Our last day in Hanoi started with a guided walk with 2 charming University students, Kim and Kelly. They volunteer with the Hanoi Kids scheme which provides free tours in exchange for english conversation practise. Brilliant scheme.

We went past Ho chi Minh’s tomb. Queues stretched in every direction to file past the tomb of their hero ‘Uncle Ho’. Apparently, even 48 years after his death, people wait 3 – 4 hours to see his embalmed body. That is fame! We walked past beautiful french colonial buildings, now government offices and embassies, and visited the pagoda on the lake.

Finally, the awe inspiring Temple of Literature and Academy, first built in the 10th century and dedicated to Confucious, it is the oldest University in Vietnam.

We loved the old bookcarriers – an early uncomfortable rucksack!

Historically, students had to bring their own tent which they sat in to do exams, so they couldn’t cheat!

Nowadays, students come here to pray for exam success, and to take graduation photos. In so many Asian countries, education is seen as a very necessary privilege. Typically school is 5.5 days a week, with lessons from 7.30 – 12 00 and 3.00 – 6.00. A lot of children do extra classes in the evenings.

We treated ourselves to a super lunch at Cao duc, then mooched around Hanoi, before an early night, due to an early morning flight to Hue.

Some random images of Hanoi including some very narrow houses, dating from the days when taxes were based on just the width of your plot! !

Post 20 Vietnam Hue

Hue was the old capital of Vietnam from 1802 – 1945 . It is a delightful city. Our guide met us at the airport, and whisked us off to view the Minh Manh tombs and a really informative tour of the market.. with tastings!

Then lunch of Hue speciality, Royal pancakes, at a very local restaurant, with a simple , but effective bottle opener!

Then on to the incredibly vast citadel, or imperial palace. First built in 1804 , it was caught in fierce fighting during the 1968 Tet offensive in the Vietnam war, but enough remains to be very impressive.

Lastly, the oldest pagoda in Hue, and a boat ride back down the river to the Scarlett hotel. The pagoda had a statue with a hair beard! At the boat we met this lovely group of “Ladies who lunch”. Our super guide from Bee Bee travel explained that Vietnamese traditional dress has the freedom of trousers under the tunic, as decreed by a Ngyuen emporer in the 19th century.

Unbelievably, we were peckish, and found a lovely riverside cafe in the vibrant, neon lit city.

Post 18 Beautiful, bountiful Borneo!

When I was 7 years old, my father bought me a huge book about countries and peoples of the world. It fascinated me, and I am sure fuelled my wanderlust, as I wanted to visit everywhere in the book! Borneo was presented as one of the most remote and mysterious destinations. A land of Orangutang, strange proboscis monkeys and head hunters. Now I would finally visit! Flying into Kuching in Sarawak you could see this was real tropical jungle! Close to the equator geographically, Borneo is an island which partly belongs to Indonesia, partly to Malaysia and also the kingdom of Brunei. The Malaysia bit is further divided into Sabah, and Sarawak where we stayed!

Kuching is a small but growing city on the riverside, with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The area is a happily cohabiting mix of extremely friendly local tribespeople, Malays, old time chinese and some expats. We walked into town everyday to explore the rainbow interiors of the fabric shops.

This is the home of Batik printing. Prices were ridiculously low, so some fabric may have sneaked into my case!

There are historic temples, bedecked with lanterns and offerings for the chinese New Year.

The old court house and fort from British colonial days, a beautiful mosque,

an Orchid garden,

a magnificent new government building

and a brand new wiggly bridge.

The promenade is lined with pop up food stalls, and at night the whole area is illuminated.

The big action happens outside town. Through tripadvisor I found lovely Jihey, a local driver guide, and he took us on our outings! We visited the Semenngoh National Park, one of the few areas Orangutang remain in the wild. Their natural habitat is being decimated for Palm oil plantations. We were so lucky and privileged that several animals came down near the watching area.

Then on to two incredible cave systems. A rather strenuous and precarious climb up to the fairy cave was rewarded by suddenly arriving in a vast cavern, full of ferns and great limestone formations.

The wind cave was a 1 kilometre network of boardwalks through an unlit cave system where it seemed everywhere you looked were thousands of bats. 12 different species apparently. If you shone a torch on them, they swooped around you. Luckily we like bats!

There were also tiny cup nests made by the cave dwelling swiftlets. Some with eggs or chicks.

The cups are held together with saliva, and this is the sought after ingredient for birds nest soup. It was a truly remarkable place.

Ooh… did I mention the spider?

The next day we visited the Sarawak cultural village. Houses, typical of each tribal area, have been reconstructed here.

Many tribespeople still live in communal longhouses, and we were astonished to learn that one tribe continue to live a nomadic existence and hunt with blowpipes. We were able to try a blowpipe.

It was surprisingly accurate, even with me blowing it! The longhouses would contain a headroom… containing the heads of any enemies they had killed. Thankfully not a current practice.

We watched a beautiful cultural show. Not usually my thing, but the costumes and dance moves were so expressive.

Our last day was spent doing some hot and steamy jungle hiking in Bako National park, on an offshore island.

Featherworm patterns in the sand!

This is one of the only places in the world to see the proboscis monkey. Just as we were giving up hope, we encountered 3.

Another privilege. I also got to paddle in the South China sea!

Our final afternoon was spent at Bumbu’s cooking school…actually the covered yard behind a rather dusty antique shop. Any health and safety jobsworths would have had a fit, but basic hygiene was promoted at all times. We were introduced to local tribal cuisine and taken to the jungle market where everything was picked or collected locally. Every unusual vegetable or fruit was explained to us, and we selected our ingredients, including Mirin, a forest fern!

Back at base we chopped, and crushed and pounded ingredients and made marinades and sauces for our dinner. We wove pandan leaves into baskets and made coconut custard to put in them.

Great fun and educational too, and a super dinner to enjoy at the end.

Our other dinners in Borneo were eaten on the roof of a multi storey carpark!! We were dubious at first, but on reaching floor 6 we entered the bustling, garishly neon lit wonderland of Top Spot. All around the edge were stalls filled with fresh fish, shellfish and vegetables.

The centre was crammed with plastic tables and chairs that were filling up at an alarming rate. Stall 25 had been recommended. How to choose? Eventually we had squid in their special batter, huge freshwater prawns grilled with garlic, mixed oriental vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. All delicious.

With a large beer for Chris and fresh juice for me, the bill was under £9 per person!

Now we ❤Borneo too! We even found a great sunhat for Chris.. although not very practical on the plane!

We were expecting a taxi at 4.15 am for a very early flight to KualaLumpur and a 2 hour wait for our connection to Hanoi in Vietnam. Just before bedtime I got a message. Our flight is cancelled. We are on the 7.00 instead, giving us just 45 minutes to change planes. Aaagh.. see what happened in our next blog!

Post 17 Cocos and travel day (also known as ‘Anne’s swimsuit finally gets worn!’)

Not sure what happened here.. this should have been attached to post 16!

Our last day on Cocos was spent doing the wonderful Canoe safari with Kylie and Ash. We had motorised canoes and 10 of us set off to explore the uninhabited southern islands of the atoll.

The first beach stop saw us literally surrounded by hundreds of advancing hermit crabs as our champagne breakfast was unpacked!! We hadn’t seen that in the advert so it was a nice surprise! An impromptu hermit crab derby was set up, in which my crab scored a notable second place!

Then on to the next island, seeing turtles swimming in the clear water as we went. A walk on this island to a former military lookout, where the birds were within a few metres of us, and there was no land between us and Antarctica. Beachcombing turned up some stunning shells.

More exploring and into a crystal clear beach where sharks about 1 metre in length were swimming in the shallows. This coffee stop… well, wine and beer stop, included lessons in speedy coconut husking! Finally the highlight..even for me! Snorkelling between 2 islands. Finally, after 7 weeks, my swimsuit was required! Ash stayed with me and, despite my fear of deep water helped me experience snorkelling through a drift between the islands, letting the current carry me along. So many pretty fish of a myriad of colours shapes and sizes, an underwater cave full of large yellow fish and lots of sharks and different species of sea cucumber. An awesome experience.

Next morning we waited both sadly and anxiously for our flight. Today we had 3 flights to catch. The first to Christmas island where hopefully Steve would have our passports. However this flight frequently fails, because if the cloud comes down, the pilot cannot land, and heads straight to Perth!! Aaaagh. Our confidence wasn’t helped by a massive tropical storm which broke just as we taxied to the runway , and delayed our departure by 20 minutes! The second flight was to Jakarta Indonesia which was notoriously tricky for immigration and customs, which could delay us for our flight to Singapore!

Phew.. sunny on Christmas island, passports waiting. Hurray! Thank0 you so much Elaine and John.😀Jakarta flight on time. Brand new deluxe terminal in Jakarta, and we sailed through (if you can sail in an airport). They did have some rather strange products on sale… this is supposed to be one of the most revolting tasting fruits in the world!

Flight to Singapore bumpy due to thunderstorms, but that was the least of our worries. We made it. We stayed near the airport at Changi cove. Lovely spot, so did an enjoyable early morning coastal boardwalk.

This was in stark contrast to its former life as the site of the British army barracks which then became a Prisoner of War camp when the japanese invaded. It was where Carol’s father was stationed when he was captured and subsequently sent to work on the notorious Burma railway.

Finally, off to Changi airport for our flight. This huge airport is amazing. Fully carpeted, playing soothing jazz music, it is full of beautiful sculptures and areas to explore. Even the car parks are bedecked with flowers!Highlights are the butterfly gardens, orchid garden and sunflower terrace!

So much decoration everywhere for Chinese year of the dog!

Now onto tropical Borneo!

Post 16 A tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos and Keeling Islands!

1800 miles from Perth, these islands are just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Perth. They are 2 coral atolls formed on top of long extinct volcanoes, and their height is just 10 feet above sea level!

They were a British colony, and their location meant they were ideal for an RAF base in WW2. Chris’ dad was sent here in April 1945 to maintain the radar system on uninhabited Horsburgh island. He wrote over 200 letters home to his wife, which Chris has in 2 shoeboxes!

He described the islands as paradise, and Chris has always wanted to visit. So here we are!

The islands are low lying, with many palm trees and jungle shrubs.

Only 2 islands are inhabited. West island by 150 people, mainly of Australian descent, and Home island where about 500 Cocos Malay people live. This is a muslim island. Everyone lives very harmoniously together. Just 2 flights per week, if weather permits, must carry every essential they could need. Coral and sand are not a good medium for growing food!

On our first morning, the owner of our cottage, The Birds Nest took us 5 miles across the lagoon by boat to Horsburgh. A real Robinson Crusoe island and very special for Chris.

The buildings are all gone, and the jungle has reclaimed most of the land. A few rusty gun parts remain!

We hiked to the ‘lagoon’. Birds were quite unafraid of us. This is a beautiful white swift.

All around the lagoon were magnificent weathered stumps and branches of ironwood trees.

There were hermit crabs everywhere. Each time I picked up a nice shell….there was a crab inside!

Chris picked a coconut, and drank from it, just as his dad did 72 years ago.

He cut it open with a vicious looking knife provided by Geof!

In the evening we took the ferry to Home Island, where the Malays live, and had a super supper. Coming back across the lagoon in the darkness was magical. Such beautiful stars.

Day 2 was a lazy day. We wanted to snorkel at Trannies Beach, but had no transport. Our caretaker just said ‘ take my car’! No-one locks their house doors here, and you leave your keys in the ignition whenever you park! We saw a variety of fish, and a black tipped reef shark. We were the only people there!

The pace of life here is S-L-O-WWWWWWW! I couldn’t stand it for long! Opening hours are strange… the shop shuts at 3pm. There are several cafes, but each one opens just a few times a week. Our dinner was at Maxis by the sea! Gorgeous sunset and a great pumpkin curry!