Memorial Day in Vietnam

It’s surreal living in Hanoi, Vietnam on Memorial day, in a country that spent more than 20 years at war with the United States not that long ago. As I enjoy my day off, I have reflected on the over 58,000 American lives lost here.

I’ve never felt anything but warmth from the Vietnamese people, and no one here lives their daily lives thinking about the war that ended in 1975. There has been a sincere reconciliation and great effort to return those soldiers lost in Vietnam back to their families. This is a country that has moved on from the war but is in many ways still reflective of it.

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 Living here makes it hard to forget who Memorial honors. I drive by walls that boast of bringing down US bombers. My grocery store and gym are on the old grounds of the “Hanoi Hilton”. We often drive by the commemorative stone that tells people where John McCain’s plane went down and I’ve visited the sight of a B52 bomber that was shot down and remains where it fell.

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In Da Nang we visited a café that was run by a woman who provided aid to US soldiers. Her café is filled with pictures of US soldiers who stayed on the beaches close by. The Independence Palace is brimming with history as it was the site of the fall of Saigon in April 1975.

Today, surrounded by memories of a past war, I am grateful to those who sacrificed their lives for my freedom.

Flowers of Hanoi

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One of the perks of living in a tropical environment is the beautiful flowers. Our wonderful helper makes sure we always have beautiful fresh flowers in the house year round. From lily’s to roses to flowers that I don’t even recognize. Oliver likes to help cut them and put them in a vase. We even had a big pink blossom tree for Tet this year, decked out in Tet ornaments. Enjoy!

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“The earth laughs in flowers” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Vespa tour of Hanoi

My in-laws spent two weeks with us in Hanoi just before Easter. Since I’m not working, I was able to take them around the city most days while the kids were at school. We did a lot of shopping around Hoan Kim lake, ate some delicious street food on tiny stools, and I even convinced my father-in-law to do a Vespa tour.

I’d never done a Vespa tour, but this company had a lot of positive reviews and it looked like they were used to giving tours to westerners. They picked us up right outside my house with their bikes ready to go. We hopped on board and got right into the early morning Hanoi traffic, weaving in and out of other bikes, cars, and pedestrians. Our bikes stopped at the Hanoi Opera House for a little background on the city before driving out to Long Biên bridge. This is the oldest bridge in Hanoi crossing the Red River and was the only bridge for a long time. I had never ridden on this bridge because it is only for pedestrians, motor bikes and the occasional train, not cars.

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Next we went around West Lake and visited a pagoda and a temple that were very beautiful. There is nothing like riding around the lake on a beautiful day and we had perfect weather. Our drivers were very careful and stopped every once in a while so we could take a break and get some pictures.

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These large ceramic dragons on West Lake are on display from 2010 which was the 1,000 year anniversary of Hanoi. They are in a beautiful part of the city where you can stop and sit by the lake while enjoying a cup of coffee or juice.

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Our last stop was to the down B-52 in Hanoi. It’s a bit of a drive from the city center, but I think most tourists want to see it. Our guide had an interesting view about the “American War” and how that came about, but I won’t get into that here…

We finished our tour with lunch by Hoan Kim lake at a little restaurants down a small alley. All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I think it was worth it for my in-laws. It was a good way to experience the city the way locals do, on a motorbike weaving in and out of traffic.

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Hanoi Street Food Tour

In February, I had the pleasure of hosting my parents for a visit here in Hanoi. They spent 9 days with us and powered through the tough jet-lag even while playing with our energetic kids all day. Our little family has gotten used to the food and drinks here in Hanoi, but it is still considered pretty adventurous food. That’s why I decided to take my parents on a food tour.

We took an Uber to 74 Hang Bac Street, checked in at Kim Tours and met our tour guide “Moon” and our tour mates before heading off down the street. Our first stop was for bún chả. This is a dish that was invented here in Northern Vietnam. It consists of small rice noodles called bun, grilled pork patties in a sugar and vinegar sauce and mixed greens. The dish is really tasty and filling; great for lunch.

Next we walked to a small street side stand with a lot of food options. We ate dried beef salad which is something I hadn’t eaten before. I think this was my favorite dish of the day. It had the sweetness of some papaya and fresh vegetables combined with the salty dried beef. This was my mom’s favorite!

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After the salad we went to a bánh cuốn restaurant. Bánh cuốn is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes and I was happy to discover a new place to get it. Bánh cuốn is a fresh thin rice pancake filled with mushrooms and pork, topped with crispy fried shallots. Yum!

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Our next stop was back by St. Joseph’s Cathedral near a very old banyan tree. This restaurant specialized in all things fried. We had some fried spring rolls, fried pillows, fried donuts and friend dumplings. It was a bit too much fried food for me, but the Hanoi beer we had with it washed the food down nicely. Our snack was observed by a strange half naked portrait above the piano.

Our fried food adventure was followed by a bowl of beef glass noodle at Apron Up, a restaurant and teaching kitchen. I had never had this dish before and it was very good. The fried shallots and beef was offset by the mild steamed morning glory and peanuts.

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To add something sweet to our day, we stopped at a little hole in the wall dessert place. And by hole in the wall I mean we walked into a dark doorway and I wasn’t sure what was on the other side. By we trusted our friendly guide Moon and continued on until we found a delicious treat; green baby sticky rice with coconut ice cream. It was well worth the uncertainty.

We finished the day off with half a banh mi, some rice wine and an egg coffee at a place called Hanoi Street Food Restaurant. It wasn’t the best banh mi or egg coffee I’ve had in Hanoi, but it was a nice end to the tour. My parents really enjoyed the food tour and I would definitely recommend it to anyone considering it!

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Ada Rose – 11 Months

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Eats: if I let her eat beans all day long she would! But then I’d have to order a lot more diapers…

Sleeps: All night until around 7am and and then one nap in the afternoons.

Favorite activity: Using her walker to walk around the house. She gets frustrated when the walker gets stuck because she can’t move it yet.

Least favorite activity: Riding in the car in the Ergo carrier. Ada doesn’t like to be tied down!

Words: Her first official word, as agreed upon by her parents, is “uh-oh”. She says it all the time when she drops something or wants something. It’s the cutest…

Starting to: Talk more and more in her baby language. She reads a book and talks to herself just like Oliver does. She also waves goodbye!

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3 days in Siem Reap

Don’t forget to read about the first half of our trip in Phnom Penh.

After a long day on the bus, we finally arrived in Siem Reap. We loaded up two tuk-tuks with our luggage and enjoyed the breeze on the ride to our hotel. Our little travelers were exhausted and held it together long enough to eat room service and then they crashed.

The next day was our big Angkor Wat adventure. We rented a tuk-tuk, driver and English-speaking guide for the day. The temple compound is huge-its the largest religious complex in the world-stretching 402 acres. We left at 8am to get tickets and made it to the temple by 9:30am. Our driver and guide were great, taking us to the temples we wanted to go to and providing us with lots of water on a hot day. There are lots of tuk-tuks for hire around the temple grounds, but I would recommend paying someone to drive you around. It’s a huge complex and it would have been hard to navigate without our driver and guide.

We went to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prom, and Bayon. All the sites were beautiful and very crowded. There were carvings of Buddha and Hindu gods, as well as places where Buddha’s image had been chipped away when the Kings of Angkor switched faiths to Hinduism. Temples had crumbling steps and trees growing with them, making them feel truly ancient.  Oliver was exploring with us, looking at the carvings and climbing on the artifacts when we weren’t looking and Ada slept some and enjoyed watching everything from her carrier.

We toured around until 3:30pm when we called it a day. Everyone was exhausted, but it was still early so we ate some ice cream at Glasshouse at Park Hyatt and strolled around the Night Market until we couldn’t hold any more souvenirs in our stroller and both the kids had fallen asleep.

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Much like Phnom Penh, our second day was mostly relaxing and shopping at boutiques we had mapped out. We drank coffee at Little Red Fox Espresso before walking around the neighborhood looking in all the stores. Our morning ended with yummy cupcakes at Bloom Café, which gives vocational training to Cambodian women. After and refreshing swim and nap, we left the hotel for dinner at Marum, another TREE restaurant. Dinner was really good, and Oliver was so tired he slept through the whole meal. We walked over to Glasshouse for more ice cream (it was good!) and then back to the Night Market for people watching and shopping.

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Our last day was nice because we didn’t fly out until the evening, giving us a relaxing morning of breakfast and packing. We had enough time to walk around the city a bit, visiting a local wat and eating lunch at Raffles hotel. With time to swim before heading the airport, it was the perfect end to our Cambodian adventure. We definitely want to go back if we can, and see more of everything. 6 days is not enough.

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Our Phnom Penh Adventure

During the Tet holiday, everyone is off work for about a week total. The expats tend to leave the city because it gets very quiet as locals are visiting with family. Our little family flew to Cambodia for the week, spending the first half in Phnom Penh and the second half in Siem Reap. It was hot and humid the night we arrived and we had just enough time to eat at Mideast Feast down the street before the kids lost it.

Our first full day was a busy one. We started at the National Museum of Cambodia, looking at different stone carvings and statues, as well as feeding the fish and enjoying the shade. We then made our way to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for lunch near the Tonle Sap river. Lunch was good but getting out of the hot sun was better. After lunch we did a little walking and shopping along the river before joining some friends on a sunset river cruise. Our evening ended with a yummy Thai dinner at Chiang Mai Riverside.

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Because we did so much sight seeing the first day, we spent most of the second day shopping. We took a tuk-tuk to the Russian Market, which was the best market we went to all day. The market had lots of beautiful paintings, carvings, silver statues, and souvenirs to choose from. We found the Cambodian people to be more passive bargainers than Vietnamese, so we had to tone down our bargaining a little bit.

For lunch we went to Romdeng, a TREE restaurant that trains students to help them build a better future for themselves.  They specialize in local cuisine and we tried some delicious food, including crispy tarantulas and crickets. They were crispy, salty, and yummy. The whole family ate the tarantulas and crickets and enjoyed them. The kids won’t eat broccoli but they’ll eat crickets… go figure. After shopping around the Central market, we took the kids back to the hotel for a refreshing swim. We finished off the day with a delicious dinner at Malis, ordering way too much food. No regrets!

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The next day was our travel day to Siem Reap. We didn’t get picked up until 11:30, giving us plenty of time to walk around with the babies and enjoy the book stores and clothing stores nearby. After we were dropped off at the bus terminal, we boarded our Giant Ibis bus. It is about a 6 hour bus ride in between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. We had initially planned on taking an overnight bus, but we waited to book our trip until the last minute, so we did a day trip. The bus was comfortable with good air conditioning, and made three stops along the way including lunch. The kids did great and kept it together for the ride up until the very end.

Watch for my next post detailing our time in Siem Reap!

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6 days in Sydney

We made a last-minute decision to fly to Sydney this past week. Our tour here in Vietnam is quickly coming to an end and we have no idea when we’ll be back in this part of the world again. The best part about the flight is it was direct, no layovers. While a 9.5 hour flight doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend time, it is much preferred to a longer day with layovers and down time in airports.

Since we had a short visit, we kept to the beach and Sydney harbor area. We stayed right on Bondi beach, which was beautiful and a great place to stay. We strolled along the boardwalk, did some people watching and checked out the beach scene. Oliver liked watching the kids doing tricks at the skate park, insisting on getting a skateboard so he could try. Luckily, we were able to distract him with some ice cream.

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The beach was clean and had nice soft sand, which Ada proceeded to eat. Oliver was nervous that the “big ocean” was going to get him, so it took some convincing to get him in the water. But we all enjoyed our days relaxing on the beach. We also took advantage of all the western food, including some great burgers at The Bucket List on the boardwalk.

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One thing I had to do while we were in Sydney was take a tour of the Opera House. Of course, it’s a very recognizable building, but the interior was also beautiful although not designed by the same architect. The kids were great and held it together for the hour tour, just in time for lunch afterward and then stroller naps. That evening we took a ferry across the bay to Manly which gave us beautiful views of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house at night.

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We took the kids to the aquarium where we saw sting rays, sharks, octopus, jelly fish and lots of other sea animals. Oliver was a little nervous to go into the underwater tunnels, but he liked looking at the aquarium through the picture windows. They also had a cool penguin boat ride that floats around the penguin habitats so you can see them swimming and walking around. We also found the coolest playground near Darling Harbour that Oliver just loved. It had lots to climb on, slide on, and swing on.

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Our last night in Sydney was spent walking on one of the coastal pathways from Bondi beach to Bronte beach. We didn’t make it all the way to the end, but we had a nice stroll along the beautiful path. Hopefully the fresh air and sunshine will stick with us long after we’re gone.

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Ada Rose – 10 months

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Eats: she’s into pumpkin, banana and oatmeal. But she will eat almost anything, including zucchini, spinach and green beans.

Sleeps: All night and one nap most days. She is going to sleep pretty early because she is so tired from all her crawling and exploring.

Favorite activity: Still standing and trying to walk. She also loves daddy’s silly faces and getting tickled.

Least favorite activity: When she falls from trying to stand using a chair or something that isn’t stable. Nothing makes her more frustrated than falling when she wants to climb everything.

Words: Ada is saying “dada” and lots of other noises. She loves doing a kissy noise with her lips.

Starting to: Point at everything. She’s so curious about everything in the house and outside, so she is constantly pointing.

I can’t believe she’s in the double digits already. Her first birthday will be here before we know it.

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What’s for lunch – Bánh cuốn

I decided that I need to get out and eat more street food. It’s easy when you live in a place like Hanoi to want to eat food that reminds you of home. But the street food is so good here, I know I’m going to miss it when we leave so I need to eat as much as I can while we’re still here!

I wanted to eat some bánh cuốn today, so I went to a well-reviewed restaurant in the Old Quarter called Bánh Cuốn Bá Hanh. It’s located behind St. John’s Cathedral in a pretty touristy section of town. What made it touristy? They had a menu, the chef and waitstaff spoke decent English, and I paid about 2x more than I would from a street vender. But it was delicious.

What is bánh cuốn? It’s steamed rice batter cooked like a pancake and filled with ground pork and minced mushrooms, topped with crispy fried shallots and served with nước chấm (fish sauce). I ordered a combo platter which included 6 bánh cuốn, papaya salad, pork lemongrass skewer and a mushroom omelet with a coke. I also ordered a lime juice to go with it. The total bill was 101,000 vnd, a little less than $4.50 usd.

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After eating my lunch and reading for a bit, I decided to walk home. I couldn’t pass up a chocolate éclair from Beard Papa’s on my way. This was 35,000 vnd, $1.50 usd. That brought my total bill for lunch and dessert to less than $6. And it was worth every penny.

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