Early lessons of life in Indochina
“Why does $1USD buy so much of the local money?”
“Why were Americans fighting in Vietnam?”
These were some of the many questions my children asked during our two weeks travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia with Intrepid. They also asked more unanswerable ones, like “Why would Pol Pot kill people just for being educated?” Or less perplexing, but equally tough to answer, “Why is everyone always beeping their horns?”
Ever since I was nineteen and boarded a plane on my first overseas adventure, I have loved exploring foreign cultures. Travel has a way of broadening our perspective of life, while simultaneously enabling us to connect more easily with people whose lives, traditions and environment differ vastly to our own. Journeying to lesser-developed countries also has a way of cultivating resourcefulness, building resilience and nurturing a deeper appreciation for the many things we often take for granted – like drinkable tap water, streetlights and side walks. Free toilet paper too!
Now as a mother, I think travel is an invaluable way to remind our children how fortunate they are to have been born into a society where education, healthcare, plentiful food and freedom of speech are a given.
Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam wasn’t our first Intrepid experience. Last year we travelled through Nepal where we did an adventure deep dive, doing everything from our first white water rafting trip (let’s not mention the snake we found in our raft) to helping elephants with their daily wash in Chitwan National Park. It’s also why I was so delighted to be able to take my family to explore another part of the world.
Our adventure in Indochina was filled to the brim with firsts and fun. Expanding our culinary tastes to crispy fried frogs, snake and crickets (okay, not my idea of a delicacy), kayaking on Halong Bay (and tipping the canoe!), navigating Hanoi’s charming yet chaotic Old Quarter on cyclos, riding bikes along rice paddy fields outside Hoi An, weaving silk cloth on aging looms in a small village outside Phnom Penh, creating our own overnight train ‘sleepover party’ (complete with about 4 hours of sleep) and honing our kids’ negotiation skills in local markets – the memories we’ve bought home will have us laughing for decades.
However, our travels weren’t just about having fun. We could go to Disneyland for that. In between the laughter, we spent time talking about the inequality of wealth, the brutality of war, and the fact that there are millions of children the same age as my own who will never have the opportunity to learn, travel and enjoy the many things we take for granted.
While it’s part my job as a parent to protect my children from harm, I also see it as my role to expose them to situations that get them thinking, nurture their natural curiosity and equip them with the confidence to navigate their adult life more effectively.
While I embarked on many backpacking adventures in my life BC – ‘Before Children’ – now that I’m in my forties, time is more precious. I don’t want to spend it sorting out the logistics of travel, setting up the best itinerary or trying to discover those off the beaten track gems of places yet to be discovered by Lonely Planet.
Travelling in an organized group – as we did with Intrepid – takes the hassle and headache out of our family adventures. Our local guides handle all that for us and make sure we eat in great restaurants (often a few steps away off the main tourist beat), avoid long ticket queues and provide a level of personal commentary on the places we’re visiting that truly bring history to life and make the experience not just fun for the kids, but incredibly educational. In short, they take the hard work out of travel, leaving more time to climb ancient temples, haggle for trinkets in the local markets and enjoy new, unique and unrepeatable experiences.
Over dinner on the first night back at school I asked my youngest son Matthew what he told his friends about his holiday. His response, “That I went on the adventure of a lifetime.” Given he’s only ten, I’m hoping that this is just one of many adventures in his lifetime. After all, to quote Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”
Margie Warrell is a best-selling author and executive life coach who’s passionate about raising her four children into thoughtful and thriving adults.
Photo in Cambodia © Margie Warrell