Thanksgiving in Bangkok

We took a much-needed vacation to Bangkok over Thanksgiving. Our trip was two travel days and three sight-seeing day, so it was a quick one, but we also met up with some friends so it was worth it! We were able to see a lot of sights in a short amount of time, and all four of us were wiped by the time we got home. The weather was very hot and sunny, which made the pool at our hotel very relaxing in the afternoons.

Our first day we toured The Grand Palace which is a huge complex with lots of different buildings and temples to see. By the time we arrived it was nearing 11 and the place was jam packed with tourists. It was by far the shiniest place I’ve ever visited, which made our sunny day even brighter. The gold painted and elaborately jeweled buildings were stunning and we enjoyed our time walking around. Don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing because they were very strict. Hubby had to go buy some cloth pants before entering so he wasn’t baring his white legs in the complex. We found a delicious street vendor serving up some yummy chicken rice and many, many coca cola bottles before heading back to swim at the hotel.

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Our second day we went to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This temple is the oldest and largest in Thailand, housing the largest buddha in the country as well. We enjoyed walking around the different stupas (structure containing someone’s remains) and looking at the temple. The Reclining Buddha is very large, taking up the entire temple space. It was hard to get a good photo because of the size. Next, we went to the Jim Thompson house. Jim Thompson was an American businessman who helped revitalize the silk industry in Thailand in the 1950’s. He disappeared in 1967 and now his house is open for tours. Our last stop was to get food at CentralWorld mall, famed for it’s food court, and the food did not disappoint.

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Our third and final day was spent shopping and relaxing by the pool. We finally tried out the metro system and we wish we would have done it sooner. It was a much easier way to get around the highly trafficked city. The BTS dropped us off right at the Chatuchak weekend market where we happily shopped until we dropped. Hopefully we can make it back to Thailand soon to see more of this beautiful country.

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Road Rules of Hanoi

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When we moved to Hanoi we decided not to bring a car with us, instead choosing to use taxis, Uber, and motorbikes to get around. Most of the time we can get around without any issues. Here are the rules we have learned to survive traffic in Hanoi.

  • Taxis have different rates of either 5, 6 or 10 thousand
  • Make sure the meter is on when you leave and do not be convinced to pay USD instead of VND or to pay more than the meter says
  • Uber is most likely cheaper than a taxi and makes it easier to find your exact destination
  • When you’re getting out of a taxi, always exit on the side of the sidewalk not the street side, no matter how clear it is. Motorbikes often come out of nowhere and can hit you as you’re exiting.
  • Download Google translate so you can troubleshoot if your driver is trying to speak to you about something

The traffic here is unlike anywhere else I’ve lived and vehicles don’t necessarily follow traffic rules consistently. Buses and cars will stop at a traffic light. Motorbikes will stop after the light turns red and start before it turns green. Bicycles kind of do what they want.

The rule for motorbikes and bicycles is drive anywhere there is an opening. Drive between and around cars. Drive on the sidewalk to get around traffic or just because. Drive in the tiniest ally and make people move their seats to get around. Nap on your motorbike in the afternoon because, why not.

The hierarchy of traffic goes: Bus, car, motorbike, bicycle, and pedestrian. This is important to know when crossing the street which has its own set of rules. Some busier streets have crosswalks with indicators but most streets, especially in the Old Quarter will not. The rules for safely crossing the street are:

  • Buses won’t stop. Cars probably won’t stop. Motorbikes and bicycles will go around you.
  • The flow of traffic is like a river.
  • Do NOT cross the street while posting a photo to your Instagram or looking at Google maps because you will not make it to the other side
  • Do NOT stop in the middle of the road, you will not make it to the other side
  • Do keep moving little by little and look to make sure oncoming traffic sees you

Getting around Hanoi isn’t that hard, but it can be overwhelming when you arrive. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be moving around like a native in no time.

 

New Zealand Adventure: Wanaka, Te Anau, and Queenstown

If you missed it, we just got back from a great holiday in New Zealand. We started off in the North Island spending time in Auckland and Hobbiton, flew down to the South Island and did some hiking. Read about it here!

We did some driving and landed in Mount Aspiring National Park near Wanaka. We did a couple of short hikes with the kids. It was raining pretty hard the days before we arrived, so the roads were getting flooded. We made it over several fords in the minivan before we came across one that we didn’t want to risk, so we chose to do a walk we could actually get to, and it turned out to be beautiful.

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All of our accommodations on the trip were great, but our favorite AirBnB was in Te Anau. It was a wonderful little home with a hot tub under the stars and a beautiful mountain view. They had a few alpacas and sheep as well as chickens right in our backyard. Oliver had a great time feeding the sheep, and by feeding I mean throwing hay through the fence.

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We ended our trip in Queenstown at a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake and mountains. It was nice to be back in civilization and do a little souvenir shopping. And Oliver kissed a singing dog, so that was the highlight of his trip. We loved our trip to New Zealand and hope to visit again some day.

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New Zealand Adventure: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

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If you missed it, we just got back from a great holiday in New Zealand. We started off in the North Island spending time in Auckland and Hobbiton, flew down to the South Island and did some hiking.

After our hike up Mount Sunday, we drove to Lake Tekapo and stayed the night on a farm in Burkes Pass. Our arrival the night before in the dark didn’t inspire us, but it was awesome to wake up to such a beautiful view the next morning. Just was we were leaving there was a herd of sheep moving pastures, coming right for our car like a wave. We weren’t sure what to do so we pulled off to the side of the road and watched as they moved around us. Oliver was so excited!

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We stopped to see Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd in the daylight. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be surrounded by huge mountains on all sides and even harder to capture it in a photo. Our lunch spot was just a lookout on the lake, but it gave us time to drink in the fresh mountain air and for Oliver to collect and throw some rocks.

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Aoraki/Mount Cook National park has the tallest peaks in New Zealand, the tallest being Aoraki/Mount Cook itself at 3,724 meters. This national park was where Sir Edmund Hillary completed his first major climb and where he trained for his climb up Everest.

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We chose to walk two of the tracks that weren’t too difficult or long with the kids. The first was the Tasman Glacier walk which involved climbing about 200 stairs to get to the view (not easy with a baby on your back). The second was the beginning of the Hooker Valley track so we could see Aoraki/Mount Cook. We spent the whole day driving and climbing around beautiful mountains and we couldn’t have been happier!

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New Zealand Adventure: Mount Sunday

If you missed it, we just got back from a great holiday in New Zealand. We started off in the North Island spending time in Auckland and Hobbiton. Read about it here!

Next we flew to Christchurch. We spent the night and drove off early in the morning towards Ashburton and Hakatere Conservation Park. The drive was beautiful, and we passed lots and lots of sheep along the way. Did you know there are more sheep than people in New Zealand? It is here that Oliver finally realized his dream to yell “BAAA” out of the car at sheep and the sheep answered back. We’ve got ourselves a sheep whisperer.

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Hakatere Conservation Park was beautiful, and the drive to our trail head was stunning. I had to stop and take a lot of pictures so it took us a while to get started. Ada loved the fresh mountain air and Oliver enjoyed being able to run around freely and pick up rocks to put in his pockets.

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This hike was supposed to be an hour round trip, but it took us a of couple hours. Oliver walked about half of the time which meant we progressed very slowly, but he was happy. The path was washed out in some places because of all the rain and melting snow from the mountains, but we were not deterred. The only place we had trouble was the last incline to the top which was very steep. I had Ada on my back and didn’t feel comfortable risking the climb. Luckily I found an alternative path which was less traveled and safer.

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The view from the top of Mount Sunday was spectacular. Mount Sunday was the location of Edoras, the capitol city of Rohan from Lord of the Rings. The entire set was built on the hill and used throughout the LOTR trilogy. Once filming was over it was torn down and the hill was restored to its natural state. I confess I was humming music from the film in my head the whole time we were walking. It was a stunning view and a great start to our tramping holiday. Tune in for more about our NZ holiday!

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New Zealand Adventure: Hobbiton

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Our family just got back from a 10 day holiday in Middle Earth. We started our journey in Auckland, New Zealand and drove to Matamata in our rented minivan (which is exciting for these boring parents). Matamata has the farm where The Shire was built and filmed for the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. The set was originally torn down after LOTR but was rebuilt and kept up after the Hobbit.

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We took our double stroller up and down the small dirt paths around the Shire during our tour. It was a beautiful sunny day and the magic of the hobbit-burrows was enchanting. We even got to see Bag End, which was Bilbo and Frodo’s house. Fun fact: the big tree at the top of Bag End was a real tree in LOTR but is now a fake tree since the set was rebuilt. The hobbit-burrows don’t have insides, the scenes in the movies were all shot on set and not actually inside the homes.

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At the end of the tour we drank some cider in the Green Dragon, a pretty touristy spot. The whole Shire is beautiful and even if you’re not into LOTR, it is a fun tour. It’s set on a working sheep farm in a beautiful part of the North Island and it’s very scenic. Stay tuned for more on our New Zealand adventure!

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Weekend in Saigon

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We haven’t done any traveling since Memorial weekend. We spent the summer getting readjusted to life here in Hanoi and getting back into a routine, so we decided to take an extra long Labor Day weekend and explore Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

As can be expected, our weekend consisted of lots of time in the hotel for naps and diaper changes. Luckily we already knew that and stayed in a hotel with a nice playground and pool area. The kids had ample room to run around and play in our spacious room.

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Saigon is more polished than Hanoi, and we brought our coveted double stroller to haul the kids and their stuff around in. It was SO nice not to have to carry them and all their gear around the city, especially considering it was sunny and humid all weekend. Saigon is a bigger city than Hanoi and we enjoyed indulging in some western food that we don’t get back home. Some favorites were steaks at B3 Steakhouse, burgers at East West Brewery and burritos from Cali Burrito.

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In between naps we visited some of the more famous spots in Saigon. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon which we couldn’t enter due to renovations, Saigon Central Post Office which was constructed in the late 19th century, and Saigon City Hall. It was sweltering, so we cooled off inside when we could. Oliver made friends with a little boy while he was running around a display for the upcoming Moon Festival in a local mall.

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We visited the Imperial Palace on the morning we flew out. It was a whirlwind visit but we’re glad we didn’t miss it. The Independence Palace (also known as the Reunification Palace) is the site of the Fall of Saigon in 1975 when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. The palace is largely untouched and can be seen as it was in the 1970’s. It was good place for kids because it has a large lawn where they can run around.

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Our flight home was easy because our two tired babies slept the whole flight. We know how to tucker our kids out!

Silk Village on the 4th of July

Sometimes when the U.S. has federal holidays and hubby is off work, we leave the kids with our wonderful nanny and spend the day together just the two of us. On July 4th this year we took the opportunity to explore Hanoi on our motor bike.

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We drove about 30 minutes to Silk Village (Làng Vạn Phúc), one of the craft villages around the city. It was a pretty little area with some pretty fish ponds and bridges all around the village. The shops were quiet because it was a weekday morning, but I’m sure it’s hopping on the weekends.

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We found a room filled with silk looms weaving beautiful patterns. The shops sold everything from silk robes, to silk pillowcases, and silk embroidered slippers. We bought a few things including an áo dài, a traditional Vietnamese long dress that will fit Ada when she is a little older. I wanted to get some clothes for myself but I was not willing to try on silk in 110° weather, so we will go back in the winter when I’m not quite as sweaty.

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Before we left the village, hubby took the chance to teach me how to ride our motor bike. I had driven a Vespa before and fell in love (thanks Beth and James!) so it wasn’t completely new to me. Our Air Blade has more power to it, but the concept is the same. I think I did well, but I wasn’t ready to drive it on the road yet, let alone drive it with tall hubby on the back. Next time we ride around, I’ll give it a shot.

A walk in Hanoi

One thing hubby and I loved about living in Northern Virginia was the beautiful walking paths. We could walk out our front door and onto a nice wooded path around our neighborhood. Sophie loved it. Oliver loved it. Hanoi is not the same. We do a lot of walking, but we’re mostly trying not to trip over broken sidewalk  concrete or get run over by motorbikes.

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Sunday we found a nice path from our house to “pretty street”. This street, Phan Dinh Phung has a nice wide sidewalk and beautiful trees, perfect for a walk with kids. Oliver loved riding on his tricycle and Ada enjoyed her view from the ergo carrier.

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Hanoi is home to some beautiful architecture. The French colonial buildings and old city gates give the city an old feel, but the buildings are not well maintained making many of them unsafe.

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After looking around this parish church, we grabbed some lime juice to cool down and replenish our fluids. Oliver found a stick so he would agree we had a great walk. We took a cab back to our house, so I would agree with Oliver.

Our home in Hanoi

I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding our home here in Hanoi. I’m sure what everyone really wants to know is what is different here than in the States. Most of our home is pretty typical, and that’s due in large part to the State Department trying their best to give everyone a home they’re comfortable in and as close to a house in the States as possible.

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There are a few things that are different in our home. One is the outlets. We have standard Vietnamese outlets (220v) that we can use for our local appliances, but we have converter boxes for our American appliances (120v). We also purchased some outlet converters for smaller appliances like my hair straightener or our baby monitor.

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Another difference is the toilet. It’s a typical toilet but like all toilets in Vietnam, it comes with a sprayer on the side. Hubby and I have different opinions about what this is for. I think it’s a sort of bidet but he thinks its just for ease of cleaning the toilet. We’re too afraid to ask, but it does come in handy.

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The tap water here is not safe for us to drink, so we have a big water dispenser and water bottles for when we go out. We still use the tap water for washing fruits and vegetables and washing our hands.

Air pollution here in Hanoi is very high. To combat the humidity and air pollution, we have dehumidifiers and air purifiers running all the time. The dehumidifiers pull out so much water, we empty it at least once a day, sometimes more.

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Most of the embassy homes do not have dishwashers, but we are blessed to have one in our kitchen. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but I’m not going to question it! However, no one has a garbage disposal.

Everything else in our home is westernized, including our full size washer and dryer. Our hot water is a little interesting, but works most of the time. We even have more closet space than I was expecting and room for our bikes and stroller that we never use. (Shoes organized by Oliver – he’ll work for goldfish).

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We also have a nice big guest room with a beautiful view of the city *hint hint*. Our home is wonderful and our family has settled in nicely. Come visit and see for yourself!