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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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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Ada Rose – 9 months

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Eats: lots and lots of food. She especially likes oatmeal and bananas with yogurt! But really, she’s not picky.

Sleeps: All night and one nap most days. She is still rising earlier than the sun, but that’s ok… most of the time.

Favorite activity: Standing and trying to walk. She loves to move in her rolling walker and follow Oliver around everywhere he goes. Also she really wants to go into the bathroom…

Least favorite activity: When Oliver takes her toys away, which is constant. She also gets frustrated when she can’t stand.

Words: Ada is babbling along and imitating all of our noises, including smacking her lips.

Starting to: Get teeth! She is finally getting her bottom two teeth.

We are smitten with our little girl and Oliver loves his “Baby Rose”.

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Ada Rose – 6 months

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Eats: Formula! Mamma is done breastfeeding. *whew* we made it to six months!

Sleeps: Peacefully at night again. We’re trying to get her to a big afternoon nap instead of small naps throughout the day. The goal is to get both of them sleeping at the same time in the afternoon but I’m sure as soon as that happens Oliver won’t want to nap anymore…

Favorite activity: Chewing on everything! She wants to drool and chew on everything in sight. If she has a toy that’s not good for chewing, she doesn’t want it.

Least favorite activity: Being alone. Anytime I leave her playing by herself she cries and cries until I come back.

Words: Lots of baby talk and imitation. She loves listening to our wonderful nanny, Phuong, sing to her and talk to her.

Starting to: Scoot and move around. I wouldn’t call it crawling but she is moving around quite a bit. She’s also sitting on her own for short periods of time, usually until she sees a toy she wants and dives for it. Oh, and she’s holding her own bottle!

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Da Nang and Hoi An with 2 under 2

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We spent our memorial weekend on vacation, our first vacation with two kids under two. From Hanoi we flew to Da Nang and stayed for 3 nights. We left Friday after hubby got off work and arrived at our resort around 9pm and crashed.

Saturday was relaxing. The resort had a great breakfast buffet with food that Oliver liked (a big win). After breakfast we found a great kids area with lots for Oliver to do while we got settled. The thing about having small children on vacation is it’s nice to keep it low key sometimes. Hubby and I tend to go, go, go when we’re vacationing so we can see all the sights and eat a lot of good food. But with our children at such young ages, its nice to just relax sometimes. So we stayed at the resort for most of the vacation.

After our lunch at one of the resorts restaurants, we took the kids back for naps and we all slept. I went to the beach for a bit while everyone napped and eventually went back to the room to sleep. Is there anything better than a nap listening to the waves crash on the beach?

For dinner we decided to go off site into Da Nang. We were going to try this burger place I’d heard about called Burger Bro’s but when we got there they were out of beef and chicken, so we said no thank you. But we ended up at Taco Ngon, a beloved spot by travelers. I would not have bet on eating a good taco this far away from South America, but they were delicious and I can’t wait to go back.

On Sunday we were rested and wanted to get out, so we took the shuttle form our resort to Hoi An. It was about a half hour ride from door to door. The second we stepped off the shuttle we started sweating, so a stop for lime juice was in order. The roadside stand we stopped at made some good lime juice but it was super dangerous for children, which is something you don’t notice until you’re a parent traveling with young children in a country without great medical care. Oliver was sitting super close to a rusty fence and grabbed a stick of burning incense before we got out of there.

There are many tailors in Hoi An and if you ever visit you should go on your first day and get some clothing custom tailored so it’s ready before you leave. There are shops who do excellent work. You can have suits, shirts, dresses, coats, or anything you want tailored. Just remember to bargain, even if it’s already a good price. We didn’t get anything tailored this trip, but next time we go we will have some tailoring done.

We saw a lot of westerners vacationing in Hoi An, which means prices are going to be more expensive than other parts of Vietnam. But more westerners didn’t stop Oliver from getting a lot of attention like usual. He is probably on more people’s Instagram and Facebook pages than we can count.

Once we returned to the resort, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach and pool enjoying the water and relaxing. We wore the kids out so much that they both passed out before 7pm, yay!

Our flight wasn’t until Monday evening, so we paid for a late checkout and hung around the resort until we left for the airport. It was great to be able to go to the beach and pool one more time before we had to leave. Our vacation to Da Nang and Hoi An was wonderful and we wouldn’t change a thing about it. Next time we go we will see more sights and get out around town a bit more, but there is nothing like a weekend where you just lay on the beach!

Luang Prabang, Laos

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This is our last trip for a while. I’m flying with Oliver to the States so we can prepare for baby girl’s arrival! We wanted to have a little vacation before the chaos, and Tet was right before my departure which gave us the perfect window. Our trip to Luang Prabang, Laos was 5 days, which was plenty. The hotel we stayed at was nice and quiet, and we were practically the only people there. The weather was perfect, in the 80’s but low humidity and no pollution. Luang Prabang is set on the Mekong river and we ended up eating or relaxing riverside every day. There is a huge night market in the center of the small town. We walked through the market every night, buying clothes and unique souvenirs from the locals.

Our first full day in town we went to Elephant Village, an elephant sanctuary that focuses on the rehabilitation and protection of elephants. I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant, and at 8 months pregnant I got my chance. There are a lot of things I haven’t been able to do here in Asia because I’m pregnant, like ride roller coasters at Disney or go zip lining. But I was not going to pass up a chance to ride an elephant, bareback. It was a once in lifetime experience! I’ll admit, I was a little nervous at first, but my mahout (elephant trainer) stayed on the elephant until I was comfortable. Hubby and Oliver rode another elephant during the ride, and Oliver was very good about riding as long as he could see me behind them.

We aimed to have a relaxing couple of days, so we didn’t really set any kind of itinerary. You can’t stay in Luang Prabang for any length of time with out visiting a temple (called wats). There are 32, and each one is beautiful. The outsides are often painted in gold and decorated with shiny pieces of green glass so they shimmer in the sun. Inside are different depictions of buddha and walking around are monks of different ages in their distinct orange robes. The wats were all beautiful in their own unique way.

The food was really good, ranging from western dishes to noodles soups to whole fish grilled on bamboo skewers. We drank from coconuts and enjoyed some delicious coffee along the Mekong. Our final vacation was a wonderful one, and I would highly recommend Luang Prabang for anyone looking for a nice relaxing vacation.

A weekend in Bai Tu Long Bay

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About three weeks ago, my aunt and uncle came to visit for a week. Our first visitors! We had a lot of fun showing them around the city. We decided to spend the weekend on a cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay, which is in the greater Halong Bay area. Halong bay is more well known, and also more crowded, so we opted for the quieter three day cruise.

The package included transportation from Hanoi to the ship, which was nice and saved us from having to worry about getting there on time. However, our driver was a stickler for timeliness and hovered around us during the rest stop reminding us of the time.

Our ship, the Dragon Legend, was really nice and spacious, especially considering the cruise was only half full. It’s a more popular destination when the weather is nice enough to swim, although I’m not sure how much swimming I’d do in the bay. The food was really tasty, and included a lot of fish (not shocking since we’re on the ocean). Our waiter, known to us as Tom Cruise, was very friendly and made sure we were taken care of the whole time. The rooms easily accommodated us, including the crib for Oliver, and had beautiful views of the karsts as we sailed past.

The first day I went kayaking with my aunt and uncle while hubby stayed with Oliver on the boat. We thought about taking him kayaking, but we weren’t feeling adventurous enough to jump in after him if he went for a swim. Kayaking gave me an up close view of the karsts at sunset, which was amazing. The guide said if we looked close we could see monkeys, but I’m pretty sure he was just saying that. There are monkeys but they aren’t usually visible during the winter months.

Our second day was action packed. We started the morning visiting floating fishing villages. Our family was rowed in a small rowboat by a local fisher woman through the karsts and different floating homes. We stopped at a floating community area that housed lots of fisheries and a school for the children. I was surprised to see quite a few dogs who lived on these floating homes. Oliver was super excited and hugged one of them. Next, we rowed to another community area that specialized in pearl farming. They explained how they implanted pearls into oysters to create larger pearls, and showed us the different kind of oysters. And, of course, there was a large show room where we could purchase the pearls. (Hubby secretly bought a pair of earrings and gave them to me for Christmas).

After the fisher woman rowed us back, we had lunch on a beach close to the ship. First, we climbed some stone steps to explore a cave which was cool to see. Then the crew served us a BBQ lunch feast on the beach. Oliver was able to go for a swim and play in the ocean a bit, which was a first for him.

The rest of the night was relaxing, and hubby was able to go kayaking this time, while Oliver and I napped and explored the ship. The following day was mostly packing up, and enjoying the view of the karsts in the morning as we sailed back to the harbor.

The trip was a perfect mix of relaxation, adventure and fruity tropical drinks. It was definitely a trip I would do again, and again.

Vietnam: What Do You Want to Know?

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We’ve been here about six weeks now and I’d like to know what you, our family and friends, have questions about.

Once we receive our boxes and settle the rest of our things into our home, I will do an entire blog post about our house and some of the differences between here and the US.

But what else are you interested in? Recipes? Food we’re eating? Traveling with a one year old? Pregnancy in a foreign country? The language barrier? Strange things we’ve seen?

Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Thank you in advance for your feedback!