Towards the end of last week there was one of those episodes that would worry all parents.
I have mentioned the girls' South East Asian trip and the fun that they have been having. Well, Dee had a phone call from one of our daughters, I didn't know which one. Watching my wife's face, I thought that one of the girls must have been killed. It wasn't as bad as that, but they were in the middle of a quite frightening experience.
The group had been on a tour of Halong Bay booked through their hotel which they had expected to be a highlight of the Vietnamese trip. They weren't satisfied with the tour and complained to the hotel. Failing to get satisfaction, they decided to leave the hotel where they had booked to stay for the next two nights. This led to a confrontation during which the party was physically assaulted - the details here are still unclear - and threatened with death. Terrified, they paid for the boat trip, the two nights booked accommodation and fled.
At the time Helen rang us, they had gone to a brightly lit five star hotel to try to regroup and to decide what to do. The staff there, as we later discovered, were helpful and kind and the kids spent an hour discussing their options, apparently sitting in the business centre. They were very frightened and just wanted to get out of Vietnam.
You can imagine how we felt. While we waited for further news, Dee rang the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs hot line, while I went to check Facebook. Facebook is in fact banned in Vietnam, but with the usual ingenuity of the modern young, the group had worked out out how to access it despite the ban.
Dee had wanted the kids to go the police, a very Australian reaction. Foreign Affairs advice to her and apparently to one of the group who had rung about the same time was that such a complaint would require them to stay in Vietnam and hire a lawyer. In the meantime, they advise them to stay in well populated areas. I have to say that the Foreign Affairs' 24 hour hotline people were very good.
The group apparently spent an hour discussing their options. Some felt so threatened that that they did not want to stay in Vietnam and wanted to leave for Thailand a day and a half early.
They decided to leave for the airport. No flights were available that evening, but they just wanted to get away from Hanoi city centre. They also hoped to book a flight for tomorrow.
Catching a taxi to the airport, they found that there were no flights available. It was 10pm Vietnamese time by now, so they told themselves that they needed to eat and find some accommodation. They ate at the airport restaurant and then pondered their finance since they were out of dong. The night got worse for them when the only accommodation they could find near to the airport was a 2-star place that they knew nothing about. They ultimately booked in, afraid to go back into Hanoi city.
During this period we largely lost contact, although we knew from one sms message that they were probably okay. As it turned out, the staff at their new hotel seemed to have been remarkably kind.
I can't comment on the original affray because I don't yet know all the details and won't find out until the girls get back. It was obviously a terrifying experience for them as well as a worry for their parents.
I am very grateful to the staff at both the five star hotel and the airport hotel for their kindness.