Wow. It has been a LONG time since I posted a blog. Now I’ll try to make up for it but it might take a while. In January, we met some kids that were staying here for a while at hub & coffee and had a fun time playing tag (it was an outdoor cafe) and running around. We met three families there, eight kids in all. Rico, Tiana, Eli, Abby, Daniel, Hannah, Declan, and Tobias. Rico and Tiana were siblings, Eli and Abby were siblings, and Daniel, Hannah, Declan, and Tobias were siblings too. It was really fun playing with them at the hub. We played hide and seek and tag and got ice cream which was really good! A few days later we all went to the beach together which was also really fun. The beach that we went to that day had big sand bags along it because there was a lot of erosion. We couldn’t swim but it was fun to climb on the sand bags and push each other off. We also dug a bunch of fake rivers and dams with the ground water that was being pumped out of the ground where they were building a hotel.
The next day, we invited everyone to our house to swim and have dinner. It was really loud and crowded and we had a lot of fun together. We swam for a while and made a stop motion video on my iPad. We got pizza and Indian food for dinner that was really good! After hours of playing everyone went home to sleep, we were all so tired.
Two days later we flew to Hai Phong and drove to Ha Long Bay to take a three day cruise around Cat Ba Island with our friends from Chiang Mai, Annabelle and Amelia. They drove from Hanoi which took a really long time so we had to wait a while for them at the boat place. When they got there we all got on the boat and saw all of our rooms and had lunch, the lunch was really good! And just so you know this boat was NOT a huge white commercial cruise ship like most cruises. This boat was a small boat with only about 10 tiny rooms.
On the first day we went into a tiny cave and looked around and then took the boat out to go kayaking. We kayaked for a long time and I got really tired, at one point we stopped at a beach and walked through a cave to the other side which was another beach. At one of the beaches some people went out to swim including me. After swimming in the freezing water we went back to the boat.
Later we ate dinner, the dinner was also really good because we got to make our own spring rolls! The first day we met a bunch of new friends who were really nice! And it was fun to do all of the activities together. The first night we stayed on the boat and went squid fishing until really late after dinner.
In the morning we had an amazing breakfast and then went to hike up to a huge cave that was really awesome. The cave was massive and it was super fun to explore it and look around because it was so amazing. The pictures can probably describe it a lot better than me though.
After the cave we went to Ti Top Island that was named after a Russian astronaut that came to Vietnam once. We took a really steep hike up to the view point at the top of the island the view was really cool from so high up and it was really fun running all the way down.
After that we took the boat to Cat Ba Island and got ready to do a really fun bike ride. When we got to the island, we all were given bikes and mine was way too small. It was tiny compared to the other bikes and it was so funny! The bike ride was really fun and we went through a cave and stopped somewhere to take a hike, the hike was really fun too and we all had a great time.
After we biked back to the boat we headed to our hotel on the other side of Cat Ba and on the way me, my mom, Annabelle, her mom, and some of the other people on the boat went kayaking around and into a little area of water that was surrounded by small mountains except for a small hole in the rock that we went through to get in. There was also a super crazy echo that was so funny! Annabelle and two other people got in the water but I didn’t because I was going to swim at the boat. When we got back to the boat we were allowed to jump off the roof of the boat but only me and another person did it. It was really fun!
After that the boat went back to Cat Ba Island and we took a van to our hotel.
The next day we took the boat again from Cat Ba Island back to where we started and we all drove to Hanoi which took so many hours! Our flight was really late that night so we went with Annabelle and Amelia’s family to check into their hotel and have dinner.
After dinner we left to go to the airport and flew to the Philippines but that will be in another post so bye for now! 👋
Our flight to Manila landed bright and early – just before 6am. Katy and Raf were crazy enough to get up pre-dawn and come meet us at the airport. In my bleary state, I don’t remember much about the drive to Quezon City, where we were staying, but I do remember thinking that the traffic was pretty nuts. I can’t really figure out why the motorbikes that are so ubiquitous in Thailand and Vietnam aren’t more common in the Philippines, but the result is millions of cars and hours upon hours in traffic.
We arrived at Tita Mina’s house in time for breakfast and got to meet some of Raf’s extended family. It was the first of many meals we would share at Tita Mina’s house, and even now as I write, I wish I could pop over and have some more longganisa or adobo.
The Bito clan was gathering to celebrate the life of Raf’s grandmother, who was almost 100 years old when she passed away in 2018. People were flying in from all over, and I saw a spreadsheet floating around just keeping track of flight arrivals and sleeping arrangements. With all that going on, it was amazing how the whole family fully embraced us and went out of their way for us. Including taking care of our very smelly laundry (a result of three days on a damp boat) – which was definitely above and beyond.
Our first day, we did some shopping at Greenhills, had our first Jollibee fried chicken, and napped to try to recover from the red-eye flight. On Saturday, before the party, Katy and I got massages at The Spa with Raf’s sister and cousins while the boys all went swimming.
Saturday night, we all enjoyed the party, the food was delicious (of course) and the entertainment was very entertaining. I endured a few moments of terror when Katy and Andy, a good friend of Raf’s and the karaoke leader of the evening, bamboozled me into getting up and joining Katy for a few bars of a song. Some of you know that I have a crippling fear of speaking in front of people, much less singing (which I am truly terrible at). It was my great good fortune that the video Kyle took ended before I was forced to take the mic.
Max and Henry made fast friends with Raf’s nieces and nephews, and spent most of the the rest of the trip either playing with them, or irritated with us when we did something that didn’t involve all the other kids. Henry also fell in love with the puppies at Tita Mina’s house, and wanted to visit with them at every opportunity.
On Sunday morning, we headed to the Cowboy Grill to watch Manny Pacquiao defeat Adrien Broner to keep his welterweight title. I know little to nothing about boxing, but Pacquiao is a national hero in the Philippines, and it was pretty fun to join in the cheering when Pacquiao did something good. Currently a senator, many people expect him to ultimately run for president. I can say I don’t need to watch boxing again for a very long time. I think the boys agree, after seeing an earlier bout where the guy got his forehead split open by a head butt, and then his opponent just kept trying to punch him in the head where he was cut. By the end of that bout, Max looked like he was going to pass out.
After the boxing, we got in a van and headed to Alaminos, where the Bito family has deep roots, for a couple of days. We visited the Hundred Islands National Park, boating, swimming, eating, and, weirdly, visiting the Stations of the Cross. We also had a delicious dinner of arroz caldo at Tito Don’s, and got a tour of some of the historical family spots in town.
Back in Quezon City, we headed to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) with most of the under-13 crew (and their parents). BGC was a surprise – much, much less traffic, wide sidewalks, mostly new(ish) construction. We went the Mind Museum, where the kids had a blast, and then to Yellow Cab Pizza Co. for some Filipino pizza. As far as I can tell, it’s a lot like American pizza, with a slightly sweeter sauce.
The next day, we played tourist with Katy and Raf and got a guided tour of Intramuros, learned about Jose Rizal, the brilliant, reluctant hero of the revolution, and about the Battle of Manila in WWII. We also visited the Manila Cathedral, currently in its eighth (!) incarnation, having been destroyed seven times (fire, earthquakes, and Allied bombings) since the original cathedral was consecrated in 1581.
We went to the massive Mall of Asia for lunch, where we finally tried halo halo. Hard to describe, truly. In our version, over the shaved ice there was ube (purple yam) ice cream, sweetened red and white beans, popped rice, jellied fruit, condensed milk, and flan, among other things!
It was a fun, busy week, and we were sad to say goodbye to Katy, Raf and all of our new friends in the Bito family. But we were also looking forward to getting “home” to Hoi An and the arrival of Brad, Melanie, Kai and Eli.
After a month in Hoi An, we ventured north for a few days to cruise Ha Long Bay with the WAACAwayAwhile crew. Ha Long Bay is designated by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site and is one of the top tourism draws in Vietnam. There are seemingly hundreds of tour operators offering thousands of tour packages, and I would probably have wasted away in analysis paralysis without Christiana, who cleverly gave me exactly one option, Vega Travel.
In a nutshell, the cruise was three days of eating:
did I mention eating?
and general hilarity.
We even got to make our own spring rolls.
Along the way, we learned about floating fishing villages, the karst topography, and the legend of the family of dragons that gave Ha Long Bay its name.
Our guide, Dui, was friendly, funny, and constantly reminding us to bring along our “money, phone, gold, and diamonds” whenever we left the boat.
The kids made fast friends with the Millennials on board, who taught them to play the card game BS, and they reciprocated by teaching everyone to floss.
We slept on board the first night, and in a hotel on Cat Ba Island for the second night. Parents and children alike took notice of the name and pointedly did not mention it to each other.
When the tour was over, we spent a few hours in Hanoi learning how to cross the street (it is a science and an art).
Then we headed to the airport for a late night flight to the Philippines to meet up with Katy and Raf. That fun adventure will get its own post, shortly.
We’ve come to Hoi An during the rainy season, so it seems silly to be surprised that it rains every day, sometimes all day. Yet I have been surprised, and a little distressed. When every time I look at the forecast, rain is projected for either 9 or 10 of the next 10 days, I get Seattle flashbacks.
However, the temperature remains warm and at least things aren’t flooding. Our house is spacious, so even when we can’t go out, we have our separate corners. The boys are taking full advantage of having their own rooms and I’m impressed at how messy they can get them, given our extremely limited possessions. I’ve been reading for hours at a time and that is exactly one of the things I dreamed of being able to do on this trip.
The rain has slowed us down, but hasn’t stopped us. We bought bicycles and are putting them to good use. We ride just about everywhere, and have mostly gotten the hang of navigating the chaos of traffic here. It’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t matter whether you are obeying traffic laws, or even driving on the right side of the road, the size of your vehicle dictates the right of way. So, those of us on bikes cede to everyone except pedestrians. If a truck laden with rebar is slowly but certainly running a red light and turning left from the right lane, initiate evasive maneuvers. If it’s mid-afternoon on a Sunday, and you see lots of young men leaving a wedding on their scooters, stay way back because they are very likely very drunk. If a pedestrian is being clueless and walks into your path, ring your bell and don’t run over them. And try not to hit any water buffalo.
Someone wrote that it’s a lot safer to pay attention to what’s in front of you and hope for the best about what’s behind, and that seems to work out here.
We live right across the bridge from the Ba Le Market, so just about everything we need, from fresh-baked baguettes to bungee cords, is a 3 minute bicycle ride away. For anything we can’t get here in Hoi An, we can get to Da Nang in 30 minutes (by car), where the Mega Market is Vietnam’s Costco – membership card and all. Our first week here we got a ride with My, who speaks English, and who cleverly put his number in my phones as “My Driver,” so whenever we go to Da Nang I just call “My Driver” and he even waits while we shop.
Our house doesn’t have an address. None of the small streets around us even have a name, as far as we know (or, more importantly, as far as Google Maps knows). The closest landmark on the map is the “Place de la Concorde”, which is a small roundabout at the end of the nearest car-sized road.
This is not a problem generally, but makes getting deliveries a bit of an adventure. Kyle ordered some new power cables from Lazada, cash on delivery (they still do that here!), but with no address we had to rely on them to call us when they were in the neighborhood so we could guide them to the house. Given our nonexistent Vietnamese and the 3 minute warning they give you that they’re nearby, this did not go smoothly. The first couple of attempts failed and when I got the third call, we were on our way back from lunch. We saw the the scooter delivery guy leave our road so I chased him on my bicycle, frantically waving at him until he stopped, only to find out that our kind Belgian neighbor had paid for and accepted the package on our behalf. We let the startled scooter guy go, and resolved to find a better delivery solution.
We aren’t doing much cooking at home, since dinner for four ranges from $5, for big bowls of pho at the market to a whopping $22, when we splurge on delivery from our favorite Indian place, Ganesh. Our otherwise fully-equipped kitchen doesn’t have an oven, so that’s another excuse. However, with the abundance of bananas, mangoes, pineapples, dragonfruit, and dozens of other tropical fruits at the market, Kyle has become a smoothie master.
“Settling down” here has been nice, yet I’m already itching to move around again. Luckily, we leave in less than two weeks to meet up with friends for a few days on Ha Long Bay, then we’re off to the Philippines for a week. I’ve been promised that the rains should be over by the time we get back. I’ll believe it when I see it.