Adventures living as expats.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City

Jeff and I are hoping to do another overseas assignment after Jakarta, and we got the chance to check out what expat life is all about in Ho Chi Minh City.  We crashed with our good friends Clayton, Chantel, and their lab/boxer mix Ginger.  This part of the trip was less about sightseeing and more about relaxing and enjoying some time with C&C since we haven't seen them in over 2 years.  We were so busy socializing and enjoying ourselves that we completely failed to take any good group pictures.  Had we been a bit more ambitious you'd see us lounging by the pool with drinks in hand, getting a massage with G&Ts, riding bikes around the expat complex, playing corn hole, enjoying delicious wine and beer, grilling, baking cookies, and playing board games.

Beautiful street in the complex, we wish our apartment complex had streets like this!
Chantel also showed us how to make authentic Vietnamese coffee - it's almost like a personal french press only with the addition of sweetened condensed milk at the end.

Dessert in a cup

We did venture out for a little shopping at Cho Ben Thanh Market, where we stocked up on our favorite Vietnamese treat - dried, sweetened coconut strips, and found a hat for much anticipated Kentucky Derby Party.

Don't worry this is not the dried coconut
On our last day in HCMC, we made our way to the legendary Lunch Lady that Anthony Bourdain made famous in his show.  There's only 1 type of soup made each day and it varies.  We happened to show up on seafood soup day which was even better than we imagined.  Jeff was also here a few years ago and he said the price had really gone up; we paid a whopping $7 for 2 large bowls of seafood soup with fresh veggies and noodles, 6 fresh spring rolls, and 6 fried spring rolls (definitely still a smokin deal in my opinion).  

The picture hardly captures Jeff's excitement, he was like a kid on Christmas morning bouncing in his seat waiting for the soup to come.
Our time in HCMC was a perfect end to our Vietnam trip and it was so fun to compare crazy stories of living abroad.  If it was up to me, we'd be packing our bags in a few years to move to this beautiful country.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

As we boarded our junk boat for a 2 night cruise, we were awestruck by both the stunning views and the number of boats loading up tourists. We enjoyed the leisurely ride out to Ha Long Bay, and then boarded a smaller boat to take us to Dau Go Cave (Cave of Wonders).  The splendor was marred by the concrete covering over many areas in the cave, but a little imagination helped us picture how amazing the cave must have been.

View from just outside the cave
Next we kayaked around the bay enjoying the beautiful sunset and challenging ourselves to paddle in a straight line.

The next morning we set of for Cat Ba were we enjoyed more kayaking and cave exploring - thankfully these ones had escaped the artistic concrete touch of Dau Go Cave. Since most tourists only take 1 night trips, we were able to get away from the crowds and enjoy the nature and peacefulness mostly to ourselves.

View from inside one of the caves
We had to cool off after our strenuous paddling
Our final stop that day was a pearl farm which was pretty unexciting until a junk boat came barreling into the dock at top speed of about 10 MPH while blowing the air horn. There were no injuries and just a few boards were damaged on the dock, but it certainly was good for some hysterical laughter afterwards.

Sunset on our last night
Our final morning we cruised back through the limestone cliffs while I took an unbelievable amount of pictures trying to get the perfect postcard scene to send our family.

It seemed like such a quick trip, but I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling in Vietnam.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hanoi, Vietnam

A few years ago Jeff's crusty Uncle claimed that Vietnam was the worst place he'd ever seen. Since I disagreed with most of his declarations that day, I decided I had to judge the land of Pho and Banh Mi for myself. Living just a quick flight away gave us just the opportunity. The Old Quarter in Hanoi was our first stop and we certainly had our share of adventures.

For the most part we wandered around the maze of streets, practicing our Vietnamese street crossing skills and trying food we found along the way. Getting across the street is no joke given the hordes of motorbikes swerving, honking, and speeding in all directions. The key seems to be avoiding the large buses and trucks while maintaining a steady pace (always forward) so the motorbikes can judge your trajectory and adjust their direction to avoid you.

Drinks with a view over Hoan Kiem Lake
Snail and clams for dinner at a street vendor, notice Jeff waiting patiently in the top left
Local coffee shop - these tiny little stools are everywhere.
We took a street food walking tour to try some local favorites and learn more about the cuisine. Our dinner included mushroom stuffed rice pancakes, bia hoi (fresh beer), floating cake balls, fried eel with rice noodles, pho ga (chicken soup), and grilled fish.  The food was so tasty, but we had to pass on the egg coffee for dessert since I'd been feeling nauseous since before the tour. That night we'd pre-booked a show at the water puppet theater, but about 5 minutes before the start disaster struck and Jeff had to usher me back to the hotel while I hobbled along trying to keep everything down. Jeff was also hit with food poisoning sometime that night and we spent the next day sleeping through our fever and dealing with our stomach "issues".   
I had tourist written all over me and this lady tried to charge us $5 for the picture .  We settled for  a bag of pineapple for a reasonable $1.
Dong Xuan Market

We recovered just in time to enjoy our last day in Hanoi. After a huge breakfast to make up for not eating the day before, we headed straight for a coffee shop to try the popular egg coffee, an extremely addicting treat that I'm going to have to find a recipe for.

Vietnamese egg coffee - so sweet and indulgent!
The finale of the trip was seafood cooking class where we learned squid cakes, shrimp wrapped in bettal leaf, steamed clams, and crab/pomelo salad.  The food was so fresh, tasty, and easy to make.  Hopefully I can replicate the taste when we get back to Jakarta.

Our favorite was the crab/pomelo salad (in front)
Next up is Halong Bay for our first cruise!