Seriously, I’m not joking. Last night at about one o’clock I was up late listening to an audiobook that I just got and I heard something from outside my room. My room is the only one downstairs and I thought it was my mom or dad coming down to do something because they couldn’t sleep. But when I looked at my door (all of the doors inside the house are tinted glass so I could see the shadow of whoever was standing in front of the back door) I could see a shadow of someone that didn’t look like anyone who should be in the house. I still thought it was my dad though so I open the door and looked out. When I saw the guy I just kind of froze and stared and for a second he stared back and then he ran. I was confused about why and how he was in the house and couldn’t really think straight so I just watched him run out the back door and jump over the wall around our house. That’s when I started thinking again and I knew instantly that he should NOT have been here and I ran upstairs and woke up my parents and told them that there had been a stranger in the house and they came down and checked if anything was missing. Nothing had been taken because he had just got in. In the morning though we found my mom’s kindle on the other side of the wall he jumped over. Our landlord also found his ladder propped up against the wall at the window to the stairs. It was really crazy that it happened on the last week so we only have to be worried about it for a few days.
OK, while I was in the middle of writing this I went out into the living room to ask a question and I suddenly felt dizzy and I fell and my head hit directly on the corner of the wall and I got a big cut and it bled a LOT. I had to go to the hospital to get stitches but I’m OK now and I just got the cut cleaned and have to get the stitches taken out in London in 5 days. For now I have to take antibiotics twice a day so it doesn’t get infected or anything. I will try to get the blog about my cousins’ visit done soon but it’ll be much harder to in London because we will be so busy. Hope you’re having a better day than I did. Bye.
Kyle here. We’ve spent over two months in Hoi An now. After covering 13 countries in the first four months of our trip, we’ve really enjoyed the switch to slow travel and the relaxed pace of life here. And we’ve met some great friends here, both locals and other traveling families. Here are some photos and details to give you a sense of what our daily life is like here.
We found a place in Cam Thanh on the edge of town so that we could have more space and some distance from the heavier traffic and flow of tourists in the Ancient Town. But, we’re still within a short bike ride of the market, restaurants and anything else we need.
An Bang Beach:
An Bang beach is about a 15-20 minute bike ride for us and a great place to spend afternoons and to meet up with friends. The beach side restaurants offer recliners with umbrellas and tables for food + drinks.
Ba Le Market:
The nearest large scale supermarkets are in Da Nang (40 min drive), so we spend a lot of time at the market, the bakery and the mini-marts near the market. It took a couple weeks to figure out where to get everything, how much to pay, when things were open/closed. But, we quickly established a routine around shopping. Eating out or getting delivery is very affordable here also, with lots of great options.
The main draw for tourists in Hoi An is “Ancient Town”. Aside from the 16th century historical landmarks, there are countless restaurants, boats offering rides, lanterns and lights of all kinds, vendors selling clothes and souvenirs, and more.
The Rice Paddies:
The growth of tourism into a significant source of income here is relatively recent, coming in the past 20 years. Traditionally, rice farming has been an important source of food and income for locals and rice paddies still surround Hoi An on all sides. One of the highlights of being here is cycling on paths through the fields every day.
There are small cemeteries all over Hoi An, squeezed onto islands in and around the rice paddies. We follow the bike paths through these spots and often see people here honoring their family members.
Since we’ve been in Vietnam, we’ve had a break from the intensive planning that is a big part of this trip, but with just a few weeks left before we take off again, Kyle and I have both started to spend our time in front of a screen, calculating the cost-benefit of taking that cheaper flight which takes 33 hours, or the more expensive one, which takes 17, but means we’re eating nothing but bread and Laughing Cow cheese for the entire time we’re in Paris. And we’re getting emails reminding us that our tax forms are ready, which fills me with dread, exactly the same response I have every year.
World travel is intense and exciting, to a point. But long-term travel serves also to remind you that the simple responsibilities of daily life are pretty much unavoidable. We might spend the morning exploring a new city, beach-hopping to find our favorite waves, or climbing to the top of a mountain in the Dolomites, but at the end of the day, someone has to wash the clothes. And shop for groceries.
And cook, and watch our finances (carefully!), and make sure the boys do their math (reluctantly!).
No matter where we are in the world, a stubborn baby tooth might need to be extracted (at the shockingly low price of $4) and teeth will need to be cleaned ($8).
Tween feet will just keep growing, and shoes will need to be procured. A bike chain will break and need to be replaced or else one of us has a large kid on our pannier rack.
And these days that is all happening in a language I don’t understand, and often involves haggling over the price when I don’t even know what the right price should be.
I can feel the side-eye now, and I promise, I am not complaining. Just reflecting, and avoiding looking at those tax forms…
It has been a long time since Kai and Eli were with us, but I still haven’t finished writing about their visit! Well, I will have finished by the time you read this. So, I left off when we got home from the Tra Que Water Wheel. The next day we went kayaking on the Thu Bon river and saw a lot of cool stuff. It was really fun kayaking together with everyone.
A couple of days later we went to Vinpearl Land which is a huge amusement park near where we live.
It was AMAZING! We had been there once before but only did the inside stuff because it was raining. This time we did almost everything! It was so fun! We went to the water park first but could only do half the slides.
It was still fun because there was a lazy river and a wave pool and a giant water playground! We also went to the indoor games which had an arcade where all the games were free and there were also some trampolines and a little kid area. We played inside for a while jumping on the trampolines and playing the arcade games. After the indoor games we walked around for a while and then went to the best part, the rides! There were two roller coasters not counting the creepy caterpillar baby one. There were bumper cars and flying chairs.
And last but not least the Swiss Tower!!! It was a super tall tower that had a ring of seats that took you up to the top and left you there for a whole minute and then just dropped you! I just looked it up it is 85 meters high! And that is about 279 feet! It was crazy! The first things we did there were the roller coasters which were super fun! Then we did the bumper cars which were really crazy and every one was ramming into each other so hard I would be surprised if I didn’t get whiplash! Next we did the flying chairs, they were just relaxing though compared to the other rides.
After we did all the other rides we finally got on the Swiss Tower! It was really scary going up. We were slowly rising up the tower regretting our choice more and more as we got higher. When we reached the top we were so high up that we could see everything for miles around it was so amazing. For a minute we talked and looked around waiting for the “click” and then the fall. Finally it clicked and down we went faster and faster and faster! I tried to scream but the sound was ripped away by the air rushing past me. I could barely see anything except for a blur of lights. And then we slowed rapidly like we had sunk into a pit of thick mud. I was kind of dizzy and full of adrenaline! We all got of and walked away yelling about what had just happened. By then it was pretty dark and we went home soon after and went to bed. We were tired! The next day they left to go back to the U.S.
In the last post I told you about taking a cruise in Ha Long Bay. After that we went to the Philippines but my mom already wrote about that and there is a lot to catch up on so I will start when we got back. The day we got back we went to Abby’s birthday party at the beach and swam and had a lot of fun! That day was kind of windy and foggy and cold but we still had a great time. Annabelle and Amelia came to Hoi An a few days before we got back so they had met everyone and came to the party also. It was so much fun playing in the water and the sand with everyone. The next day everyone came to our house and we made another stop motion movie and got pizza and watched TV.
The next day was the day that our cousins Kai and Eli were coming. I couldn’t wait because they were coming really late that night and we had to wait all day. When they did get here Kai was sick but other than that it was really exciting to see them again! They were really tired though so we all went to sleep, it was kind of hard to fit everyone in the house but everyone shared the beds and Henry and I slept on the couch and the floor. The next day we didn’t do anything except play video games and swim, and in the afternoon we went to the Hub & Coffee and had some drinks. We were all kind of tired. On Wednesday we went to Taboo Bamboo which is a bamboo workshop where you can make whatever you want out of bamboo. It was super fun and we all made some pretty cool stuff. And we got to keep what we made and it is going to be kind of hard to bring it around everywhere we go.
The next day we went to the Tra Que Water Wheel to do a cooking/planting/buffalo riding class that was really fun. First we all biked out to the market to get ingredients and we saw a bunch of cool stuff. After we got back from the market we tried watering some plants with two big watering cans that had a stick between them that you put on your shoulders and swung back and forth to water stuff.
After that we did a basket boat ride and made cool stuff out of the palm fronds like crowns and ring and a really cool grasshopper that the guide made.
Then we went to ride a water buffalo named Lady Gaga, it was so funny!
When we finished the outdoor activities we went back to the restaurant area and got short massages before we did the cooking. We made rice paper for spring rolls that looked really cool. We made some really good spring rolls called Three Best Friends (Tam Hữu) and rice pancakes (Bánh xèo) that were so delicious! Everyone loved it! it was also really fun flipping the rice pancakes even though mine fell into the rice pancake batter stuff, which was actually really funny. When we had eaten all the food that we made we went home and relaxed.
OK I think I’m going to leave it here for now but I’ll do a part two next week! Bye!
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.