We didn't know what to expect from Vietnam, with little knowledge of its history and culture.
As with every country we visit we spent some time researching activities to do, sites to see and places to stay.
However much of this research delivered seemingly, similar experiences and scenery which we had become so familiar with over the last few months; this didn't prepare us at all for what we found.
Our first brief stop was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and was meant to be a mere 3 days, owing to an earlier trip to Cambodia that we cancelled, but as such we found ourselves with a week to play with.
When we touched down in Saigon we were not ready for the craziness of this manic city - and the roads; wow, the roads.
As a passenger you witness death defying maneuvers by the thousands of mopeds, who seemingly obey no road laws at all, travelling in any direction, along pavements, all on mass, whilst performing circus like feats of balance in order to carry every conceivable object.
We saw gas cylinders, sheets of glass, ladders, trees, basically you name it, it can be carried, without any harness, on the back or in the lap of a moped driver.
As a pedestrian, it's worse. Navigating any of the streets in central Saigon meant keeping all your wit's about you.
There is a definite method to crossing the street - quick and steady, allowing the mopeds to move around you, rather than dodging them- however even this knowledge doesn't prepare you for mopeds mounting the little walk ways, flying out of blind alley ways and generally clipping elbows.
The traffic situation in downtown HCMC was only highlighted when we took part in a treasure hunt run by Urban Tales, Cholon.
Originally, with only three days, we had no real plans for Ho Chi Minh City apart from this, kind of, self led walking tour/murder mystery/treasure hunt, which takes you around China Town and past most of the major sites.
We and the kids loved the challenge of following the clues, meeting actors and generally exploring somewhere we may have never made it to, if not for this activity.
We had chosen to stay as close to the centre as we could to make exploring easy, in a basic hipster hostel with reasonable reviews and, on arriving the warm welcome we received mirrored other travellers experiences.
The room however left a lot to be desired, with the beds no more than pallets on the floor topped by sun lounger mattresses - but as usual we put it down to experience - and quite honestly we've slept on worse.
Heading out that evening we encountered our first experience of the Vietnamese to English divide.
Now we are not "those people" - who think the rest of the world should speak fluent English, whilst they don't bother to even learn "Hello" but throughout our time in Vietnam we found communicating and translating pretty hard work.
Our fall back is always Google translate, especially the live image translation for written wording like menus.
Vietnamese does not translate well! With Google giving us choices such as "Thai skin care" and "compost pot" and "pajama trousers" In the end I think we chose duck, some kind of vegetable and fries.
Interestingly the fries came with butter and sugar and we were instructed to first dip in butter then sugar - for a sweet, buttery treat (kind of) and the vegetables came with copious amounts of liver.
And the duck, well the duck came whole - butt to beak - and BOILED.
We have never eaten boiled duck before; but apparently it's a delicacy (or for the price we paid it must have been) - and we will never eat boiled duck again.
The kids did enjoy an impromptu biology lesson though; involving different parts of the duck - especially the eyes.
During our stay in HCMC the food was hit and miss, and seemingly our previous experience of Vietnamese food didn't really share much likeness to what Vietnam actually had to offer.
A full back when stuck for food choices in HCMC though, is of course the Banh Mi.
Banh Mi is a crusty subway style sandwich filled with variations on vegetable, pork, chicken and fish. They are delicious as well as convenient and recognisable when you are having a day where you just want a simple meal.
Heading home that night we were "serenaded" by the shop owner directly across the road to our hostel - who had seemingly set up his own LOUD speakers and karaoke system - I say seemingly because there was no way to know if what he was doing was actually singing or killing a cat.
We were lucky enough to spot on the flight magazine, which was mainly in Vietnamese that we would be arriving just in time to catch a TET (Chinese lunar new year) festival in Le Van Tam Park, near the centre of HCMC.
We were greeted by a lively family, food and drink festival with a mixture of paid and free activities and samples.
We were especially thrilled by the numerous beer stalls, with not only extremely cheap larger (30p a can) but with a few giving it away - for free!
After 3 months in Malaysia where alcohol is heavily taxed - a day in the park, in the sun with a cheap/free can of cold beer, was heaven.
Walking around the festival we came across live music, arts and craft, numerous BBQ and food stalls and a Cute little area under the shade of the trees where traditional children's games were set up.
With mini assault course, balance beams and push of war (opposite to tug of war) It's amazing the fun that can be had with just a couple of lengths of bamboo.
One of the reasons for choosing Asia for our full time travel, was because of the family focus we witnessed all over Malaysia earlier in the year. Play parks in abundance, family activities on every corner, and parents (especially dad's) spending lots of time with their children.
This was again true in Le Van Tam park that day, where the atmosphere was filled with inclusive fun, with all family members, young and old, joining in on the days activities.
We spent most of the day at the park and headed home just after dark to once again be greeted by our noisy neighbour a cross the road - who consequently ensured, along with his friends and the pallets, that we didn't get much sleep the night before - and this night didn't look to be much different.
Our original 3 nights in the downtown hostel would have been plenty but one week was definitely 4 days too long. After 3 nights of LOUD unrecognisable Karaoke, we checked out of district 2 and moved out to district 7.
- The kicker actually came the night before when, whilst doing some web work in the communal kitchen the owner made two attempts to kill me - one by suddenly driving in through the open door at speed on a moped - the second being served some fresh fruit, crawling with maggots - I only found the maggots after a couple of bites.
This bohemian style, outdoor food court was an unexpected surprise, and a relief from the business of the city. Every food imaginable was available, with beautiful aromas and colours surrounding the communal bench seating and numerous independent food stalls.
With 4 days of confusing meals behind us, the kids opted for burger, chips and corn, and we enjoyed a mix of Thai and Indian - and for around 45 minutes we were in our element!
With plenty of kids playing on the swings, slides and climbing frames, as well as teenagers and adults playing, dancing and socializing on the pedestrianised areas around the park.
School students where sitting together doing homework, teenagers practicing group dance routines, a band rehearsed, whilst a group of singers performed and a mixture of adults and children following youtube fitness videos.
The park had become a communal space for far more than play, it was for collaboration, exercise, expression, self improvement and more - and as our kids played happily in the centre sand lined play area it was a privilege to watch the moonlit activities commencing simultaneously around us.
Something we love that our children have become attuned to through travel is their openness towards other children, our son especially will always include children he has never met before into his games, or ask to join theirs.
In most parks this often creates a group of children playing happily together and inevitably a group of parents socialising and sharing stories.
On this occasion we had happened upon another traveling family with their 3 year old, and spent the evening sharing stories, whilst the happy sound of the kid's laughter (and the band, and the singers, and the exercisers, and the....) filled the air.
Our stay in Ho Chi Minh City, was exciting, scary, fun, surprising and possibly a little longer than we needed it to be. Ultimately the crazy roads encouraged us to avoid exploring the city as we usually would, and the language barrier made most outings a little harder - the family atmosphere we witnessed in the parks however kept us excited for what we would find next in Hoi An!