Hi Everyone,

Well, we made it to the No. 1 spot in Circle of Moms Top Twenty Five Travel Blogs with your help. We are very touched by people's support. We are so grateful to everyone who voted for us but a few people do warrant a special mention.

Luca's cousins, especially Marcus and my Godchild Hugo, Luca's beloved "Ya Ya's" Rog & Eva and the very soon-to-be grandparents, Joy and Vic in Knocklyon, all of whom I know voted daily.

Also, the very soon-to-be parents Sharon and Kevin, the lovely Liz, Rosie, and all of the Stowe girls for that matter, Sarah, Emma and Michaela all of whom frequently championed our cause on Facebook and/ or Twitter. Thank you to all in Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown Libraries but especially to Brendan and Elaine. And thank you to Dorothy, Niamh, Debbie and Clare also for your support.

I am sorry if I am leaving anyone out who also voted and/ or spread the word for us (feel free to comment and put me in my place if I have, unintentionally, omitted you) and please know, again, that we are very grateful for each and every vote we received. It means a lot to us, being so far from home, to know that people follow and enjoy the blog.

There hasn't been too much time for posting recently as we have been quite busy of late. More of that in detail anon. I will be posting a Thank you and an update on the blog very soon for our "Grow a Garden for Allambie" Project but for now I am off  to buy some compost and plants for that. So I'd better fly. Watch this space folks....


As most of you know our primary reason for being in Saigon currently is to volunteer for Allambie orphanage which was established in 2010 by Suzanne Thi Hien Hook . It was Suzanne's story, which I learnt by pure chance when I met her friend in a beautician's in Henley while staying with my sister Niamh and family at the end of  February before setting off on this leg of our travels, which inspired us to do so.

Born in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, Suzanne, was found under a bush and taken to an orphanage. She believes her father to be a black American GI and her mother Vietnamese. The term "Bui doi" refers to Vietnamese street children and especially the offspring of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers abandoned during the War. The phrase connotes "uncared-for child," and literally translates as "living dust" or "dust of life"; a child abandoned and moving about without purpose, like dust. "Miss Saigon" the musical is based on the story of such children. These mixed race children were treated as outcasts in their native country; their only crime, of which they were innocent; their parentage. Suzanne, along with other bui doi at her orphanage, was very poorly treated.

Eventually brought to Britain and adopted when she was three, she went on to marry and became a successful businesswoman. But a holiday to Vietnam in 2006 changed everything. Suzanne decided to sell all of her possessions in the United Kingdom and found an orphanage in the country of her birth. Suzanne now houses six happy and safe children in Allambie.

To find out more about Suzanne and Allambie's children visit their website.

I really admire Suzanne and what she has had the courage to do. She is a remarkably strong woman who has literally given up everything to return to Vietnam and make a difference. She has created a secure and safe home for six children at the orphanage to date all of whom now refer to her as "Mummy" by choice.

Chuyen is one of the children I have come to know best. He's one of the youngest at 8. He came to Suzanne from an overrun orphanage, with his 3 siblings, only 6 months ago, half starved, ridden with scabies and head lice and not even toilet trained. When food was put in front of him he ate it like a savage lest it disappeared. He's now a happy go lucky, clean, outgoing, polite and toilet trained child who is safe and secure and who can now enjoy his meals at his leisure. Himself and Luca have become great pals; playing together happily for hours on end despite language barriers.

Phil and I try to help out in Allambie as much as we can while we are here. Our main asset being time. I was helping out with the younger children's English initially but, with Luca to be looked after as well, we then decided that I would focus on bringing Luca and Chuyen out for playdates and outings. Phil focuses on helping out with the computers, at which he is a whizz. And sometimes all three of us go out, along with the children, on day trips.

"Allambie" is housed in clean, comfortable and homely four storey house. Recently Suzanne converted a room at the top of the house into a study area/ classroom where the children go to have their extra tutoring, to read, study or just chill out. Apart from that the only other "freespace" for the children, who share their bedrooms, is the ground floor which is an open plan area with a small kitchen and living room. There is a wonderful, but currently bare, balcony space on the same floor as the study.

I've been inspired to help to "Grow a Garden for Allambie". Or rather, in practice, create a nice outdoor eating and chilling area for Allambie on that currently bare balcony. A place with some outdoor furniture, potted plants and vegetables and outdoor lights. A place where Suzanne and the children could go to enjoy an outdoor meal and/ or go to chill out.

My inspiration? Suzanne's achievements and the children and also a little "sign". On our first few mornings in Saigon, while we were having breakfast on the 9th floor of our hotel, I looked out at the built up city below and spotted a man on a small balcony carefully and proudly tending to his postage stamp garden on a balcony which was a plant filled oasis in a concrete desert. This man was there every morning we had breakfast - same time, same spot  -  and he just looked so at peace. I have no idea why, but the sight of him stirred me and moved me momentarily each time to tears. A mere fleeting  moment from an everyday scene but one which somehow transfixed me and reminded me of the fragility and yet promise of life. As Suzanne and Allambie do.

It was thus that, when I had my tour of the house with Suzanne on my first day at Allambie, I felt that creating a little garden for these kids was what I, and Phil and Luca too, were meant to do here.

In order to do so we will need your help by way of a donation if at all possible. I do know, believe me, how straitened things are in Ireland,  for example, at present. With so many families struggling with one spouse, unwillingly, out of work and trying to keep the roof over their heads and so many businesses desperately trying to keep afloat. And so we ask, on behalf of Allambie Orphanage,  that anyone who is in a position to do so please donate if and whatever they can afford, to realise this project  - be it  €2.50/ €5.00/ €10.00 or €15.00. We'll make every cent count and go far.

To donate to "Grow a garden for Allambie" via Paypal click on the donate button below. For anyone who would rather make a donation offline, please get in touch with us and we'll explain how. Thank you so much in advance.


I don't know if anyone else finds this with their chidren but I have found that Luca's developmental milestones have pretty much coincided with his birthdays thus far.

The obvious one of course: Walking at one.

And, with textbook timing, in the weeks preceding his second birthday his terrible two's began to manifest themselves with the classic "tantrum" phase. We were at my sister's house in Oxfordshire and I was bathing him when I witnessed his first one. It was 2 weeks before he turned two. And boy, oh boy, was it a bad one. In fact that first one was probably the worst one he ever had. My sister happened to come into the room at the time, unnoticed by me initially in my catatonically shocked state and, upon becoming aware of her presence, I said to her that I thought that Luca was sick. She, a Mum of four, giggled and assured me that he wasn't sick. Just having a good, old fashioned tantrum was all. Thankfully I had been reading up on Irish psychologist David Coleman's invaluable Parenting is Child's Play in advance and employed a strategy he'd suggested which worked. I find his advice really practical and easy to apply. And as quickly as they came - within weeks - the tantrums were over with again. Phew. He was back to his usual gentle and placid self. By and large.

I wasn't as prepared for what his third birthday brought with it though. David Coleman's book being a bit too big to bring along on the bikes. Oh yes - again literally just after his third birthday - the "Troublesome Three's" began in earnest with the "I will do it myself" or "Independence asserting" phase. Believe me, it's worse than it sounds. I guess it's pretty appropriate though that Luca is experiencing his "independence" seeking phase here in Vietnam, a country which has been shaped by its own struggles for independence  - from, inter alia China, Japan, France,  and more recently during what they call the American War. It is said by some Vietnamese that Vietnam is a beautiful woman who has been wooed many times. Suddenly in Saigon - or more correctly the day we got the plane to Saigon - and three days after his third birthday,  everything became a row from brushing his teeth, to getting dressed, to ordering his drinks or food when out at cafes/ restaurants (yes - he wanted to do that himself too if you don't mind) and also to not holding our hands when out and about. In fact, you name it - HE wanted to do it. Which is fine for a lot of things at three but not, naturally, for EVERYTHING. It's already beginning to abate somewhat though thankfully. And hopefully there'll be less dramatic independence seeking from hereon in. :)

Speaking of stuggles in Saigon I am still struggling with the chaotic traffic and especially cycling in it. I got my bicycle seat fixed in the wonderful Saigon Cycles on Sunday. Rod and his team there worked wonders in no time. And while Phil and Rod chatted away about bikes and their components ad nauseum (Zzzzzz....) myself and Luca had a lovely chat with Rod's two boys - Aidan (7) and Dylan (3). I got the third degree from Aidan - who is my favourite Superhero (his is Bugs Bunny - hang on  - Superhero?), what is my favourite type of Lego (his is Star Wars of which he has every piece he proudly informs me) and have I seen Kung Fu Panda II (yay - I score a point for being able to say Yes) are just openers. I really enjoyed the chats with him.

Anyway - bike repaired we duly set off on the cycle back to the hotel. And the whole way back I felt abject fear and exhileration in equal measure. It is an ABSOLUTELY terrifying but at the same time life affirming experience cycling through the madness that is life on Saigon roads. I mean the whole way back I just kept on repeating "OH MY GOD" and "I CAN'T DO THIS" (while still cycling of course), "HELP" as well as something slightly stronger over and over to myself. I wavered between tears and cheers. Terrified but determined too as we made our way through the constant sea of cars, buses, motorbikes, BEEP, BEEP, B-E-E-PING and erratic aggressive driving by everyone, everywhere around you - where anything goes it seems. I mean someone flew by me at one point with a rooster under their arms. At any given time, if I were so inclined, I could reach out my (white knuckled) hand and touch at least 4 motorbike drivers either side of me. I followed Phil and Luca's back wheel like my life depended on it. And it did.

We have since been cycling to and from the orphanage where we are volunteering and have been out with some of the kids on the bikes - and I am not struggling with it any less to be honest. I live in hope. I mean after all - just as I am re-learning through Luca's developmental struggles - growing as a person does mean facing and overcoming challenges. I will look to the indomitable spirit of the Saigonese and Vietnamese for inspiration. Wish me luck - I'll need it.


Our Saigon search

Our search for an apartment to rent in Saigon has come to a rather unsuccessful end. It seems that apartments here are for longer term rentals only and none would do a rental for three or four weeks only. Any that would cater for shorter rentals were serviced executive apartments and prohibitively expensive. So, a no go on the apartment and our own kitchen front. Ah, well, the food here is so delicious and cheap that the kitchen probably wouldn't have seen too much action anyway.

On a brighter note, or rather a more sombre one, we went to the fantastic War Remnants Museum here yesterday. It was a fascinating museum, with the added bonus of a separate children's play area.... and a great one at that. It kept Luca more than amused for the hour or two in which Linda and I took turns to wander around the museum. Then, when the monsoon rain storm ended, we went outside to the tanks and airplanes and that kept him amused once again. The museum houses a particularly interesting exhibition based around the work of well-known photojournalists during the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it's understandably known here). It's definitely a museum we'll all return to, happy to fork out the entrance fee of 15,000 Dong, or around 50 cent!

This morning we set out to explore District 1 in search of a hotel to stay for the three weeks or so that we're here and think we've struck gold. A nice, modern hotel, with large rooms and, the clincher for Luca, a rooftop swimming pool. And all for the princely sum of $US 20 a night. We move in there tomorrow and then start in Allambie Orphanage on Wednesday. We're looking forward to it, although perhaps not looking forward so much to the daily cycle amongst the traffic chaos of central Saigon!


Griffith Avenue to Dollymount Avenue, Frances D'arcy to Frances Power, Daughter to Mum to Grandma

Tree lined Griffith Avenue, no. 365, your first and beloved home,
A sanctuary of white linen table cloths, far from it you had no need to roam,
To school and back to warm your dear Dad's slippers by the fireside,
Faithfully awaiting his return from work, his youngest joy and pride,
You, his “best customer”, who warmed his heart as well as his weary feet,
After a long day working his hairdressing salon on Grafton Street,
Until that heart gave way, one awful day, when too early was he taken,
But with you forever, your love being such, not even death could it shaken.

It was to Grafton Street that you, too, were bound by fate,
Working in exclusive Switzers where you would meet your mate,
He was a great dancer, his son followed in his dancing shoes,
But before that son was 'ere a twinkle in his eye, it was a coup,
de foudre, For the man from Waterford, who dinner danced with you,
So well and to whom you promised, 50 years ago this June, to be true,
You saved your coffee break money and all you possibly could,
To add to your new Dollymount Avenue home Switzers furniture of mahogony wood.

Give up your job when you take your vows, the government did then insist,
In the kitchen left alone, your only company, the clock's tick-tick-tick's,
The beautiful young bride you had been, awaited your of-his-era, husband's daily return,
You created a home, But, no doubt, for your old life you did dream and yearn,
'Til the arrival of a distraction, and another, and another, and another,
Then two more at once, followed by another two at once; of eight you became a mother,
Never stopping to complain, There was no-one to listen at any rate, No time to contemplate,
your lot, when your own Mum, our beloved Nana, needed shelter and later nursing, You didn't hesitate.

To give refuge and succor, Your limitless capacity for goodness and love once again so brightly shone,
Tested, beyond normal human endurance, over subsequent years; but that's all forgiven now, all gone,
The present and the future, are the currency you choose now to invest in and freely spend,
To cash in on each and every day which dawns, When to your beloved garden you can tend,
Read your books, Watch your favorite TV shows, enjoy a cup of tea/miwadi, a walk,
Meet up with your children, grandchildren, your friends, or on the phone to them just talk,
Happy birthday, my dearest Mum, and Thank you for teaching me, always, to follow my star,
I wish I could be with you today but know you are with me, close to my heart, though I'm far.

I'm using some of those “kisses in my pocket” from you I'd saved from years ago to make me feel closer and to ease the pain of being across the miles today,
All of my love,
One of those distractions, 
Linda x


Those of you who have read or seen Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" (okay - I admit it - I have both read the book and seen the film) will understand the reference to "Attraversiamo" above. It's one of  Italophile Liz's favourite Italian words and, literally means, "let's cross over". It's a word which, for the author, epitomises some of the beautiful characteristics of the italian language: "the open sound A, the rolling R, the sweetening S". Of course it has more than a literal meaning for her and, by the end of the book/ film, she has made a crossing, to contentment and love, figuratively.

For me, thus far, "Attraversiamo" is my "Saigon word". Hardly appropriate as it is not Vietnamese but very appropriate because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CROSS THE ROAD IN SAIGON. This city is THE CRAZIEST city for traffic I have ever been to - EVER. I mean if you were to apply the Safe Cross Code which we Irish folk learnt in school here in Saigon (Remember 1: Look for a safe place, 2: Don't hurry stop and wait, 3.Look all around and listen before you cross the road, 4. Then let the traffic pass you, 5. Walking straight across you, 6, Keep watching that's the safe cross code. - Hmm..Just a little digression as I walked down memory lane there) you would be still standing at the side of the road trying to cross 24 hours later and the wait would go on. Maybe it's the lawyer in me but I do favour some kind of order and system to apply wherever possible - words which are the antithesis of the Saigon traffic scene. We were so exasperated after our first evening here that we googled how to cross the road! And got lots of tips. Which we've since applied. Basically, you don't wait for a break in the traffic, as there won't be one, you just venture slowly across giving the motorbikes enough time to see you and dodge you. Seriously - that's it. That's the tactic. We're getting better at it and I hope that by the end of our stay here we'll be able to do it without skipping a few heart beats in the process. I actually just tag right behind Phil and Luca - they go ahead together holding hands. I follow, holding my breath and hoping for the best. One of the upsides for us as cyclists though is that this is possibly one of the few cities where you are quite possibly safer on two wheels than two legs.

Saigon is undeniably hectic but we're really enjoying it thus far. We went exploring on foot yesterday and hit the Ho Chi Minh City Museum which houses exhibits which offer an insight into Vietnam's revolutionary struggle against foreign powers. Afterwards we retraced history's steps with a walk past Reunification Palace, once known as Independence Palace or the Presidential Palace, which was once the symbol of the South Vietnamese government which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of Americans died defending and trying to save. It's one of the top sights here and we're dying to explore it but had to content ourselves yesterday with a mere stroll by as it was then late afternoon and closing. But even that was emotional to be honest. I have always been interested in Vietnam. Ever since I was very young. And here I was, with my family, literally at the gateway of the building, the gates of which had been knocked down by the communist tanks on 30th April 1975 when they assumed power. I am looking forward to returning to explore it fully. We walked on, and on, and on, and on for ages afterwards looking for a cafe that sounded divine in our trusty Lonely Planet, but it's no longer there it seems as we couldn't find it. And trust me if Phil can't find it - it's not there. We walked on that is until Luca just stopped, stood absolutely still at the side of a road, and shouted "Taxi" at the top of his little voice before bursting into tears. I bent down and asked him what was wrong and he said that he was just really tired and that a taxi wouldn't stop to bring us back to our hotel. The poor little fella was just exhausted. He has never just burst into tears before at being sad like that out of sheer exhaustion that we can remember...We both just felt so sorry for him and, naturally, got a taxi straight back to our hotel. As we are self propelled on our trip, so to speak, we hardly ever get a taxi but this one was worth it for little Luca's comfort even if it cost us a few thousand....dong that is i.e. the equivalent of just €2. The money is another thing we've all yet to get comfortable with. Anyway once we into the taxi Luca instantly cheered up and back at our hotel we all had a nice rest and an early night.

Today we've focused our attentions on trying to find somewhere to stay in Saigon while we volunteer at Allambie Orphanage. We'd love a little apartment but the search continues as most of the places we've found have a minimum 3 month lease... fingers crossed something suitable will turn up. In the meantime we're off, on foot, to find somewhere to eat in this culinary heavyweight of a city. Which may mean crossing the road; I'm bracing myself.... Adiamo.. attraversiamo.


Xin chào from Saigon everyone,

We've just found out that our blog has been nominated for the accolade of Top 25 Travel Blogs by Parents by Circle of Moms for which we are privileged. We're in great company with the other nominees.

We'd love to make the list but need your votes to do so. So please click on the link above to vote for us. You can vote once a day until voting closes on the 23rd of June 2011.

We'll post links on our Twitter account and on Facebook (if I can access it from Vietnam, that is!) too.

Thank you all so much,

Linda, Phil and Luca