Farewell to Hanoi – 3 years on

Today marks 3 years since we left Hanoi at the end of our 3.5 year posting. We have been back in Australia for almost as long as we were there.

Our life has changed so much since then. Our little boys who were 3.5 months and 2 years old when we arrived in Hanoi, were still so little when we left – and are now school boys. We’ve had our ups and downs adjusting to a new life in the Barossa. There are days where I do miss the challenge of my public service/diplomatic career and I wonder whether leaving it behind was the right thing to do. But then I think about our wonderful lifestyle, the new friends who have welcomed us into this community and supported us and the opportunities we have been presented. I look at two little boys thriving in this beautiful rural town, playing sport and learning so much and I appreciate the fact I do have the time to spend with them and create my own new career.

The photos below were just a quick sample, uploaded in between the boys Crossfit class and basketball yesterday. It would be lovely to sit and browse through the albums of thousands of photos we took during the years. But how do you sum up 3.5 years of your life in photos or even words. We grew as parents and as a family and made some big decisions. We had the most incredible experiences and we made friends from all around the world. There are so many wonderful people from Vietnam and beyond that really should be in the photos below.

Its been cold and rainy here in the Barossa today and so I can’t help but miss the Hanoi summer. We are so grateful to have had the chance to call another place home and while it was only 3.5 years, it will always be a very special part of our family’s story.

 

Leaving on a jet plane – an exchange year begins

Leaving Sydney - 6 January 1992
Leaving Sydney – 6 January 1992

25 years ago yesterday I started my first overseas adventure without my parents. I flew out of Sydney with a group of other Rotary exchange students, bound first for Melbourne (where we would pick up another big group), then Singapore and then Copenhagen. Arriving in Denmark, we flew on to Odense, where we would have a two week crash course in the Danish lanuage – not to mention the art of Danish dinner parties, nightclubbing, eating and walking in the cold and ice.

I can remember the day as clearly as it was yesterday. My parents and sister were there, along with friends, my Grandparents, and other relatives. After checking in, we met with the Rotary area coordinator to receive our HSC (final year of high school) results three days early. This was almost a bigger deal than leaving our families for the year. Opening mine to receive a score of 96/100, I could breathe easy knowing that entry to my prefrred course of Commerce/Law was pretty well guaranteed and that I could enjoy my year knowing I had a place to come back to. I knew the small group from our Rotary district as we’d had various get togethers and from memory, we were all pretty happy – although I remember one friend holding out until we were outside Australia to open her incredible result.

I was so excited that I didn’t even cry saying goodbye to everyone the first time, but then my sister’s best friend (who was like a little sister) started crying setting Dad off and then it was on. I vividly remember doing the rounds of the group a couple of times before deciding that I really had to go.

Excitement soon took over as the NSW crew met on the plane. We stood out with our bright blue or green blazers with big yellow name badges and the beginnings of our pin collections. We swapped business cards and the addresses of our host families and settled in for the flight to Singapore which included a trip up into the cockpit. In Singapore our numbers grew, and from memory, the 52 Australians all flew into Copenhagen together. It was on the flight that I finally met the gorgeous Olivia – who I would go to school with in Vejle and who is a friend to this day. It was hard to believe she was only 16 and had just finished year 10 because she had more confidence and spunk (and could dance better) than most of us.

Olivia and I at our first school party
Olivia and I at our first school party

We were billeted to various Rotary families for the two week language course.  I stayed with a lady called Inge together with a girl called Nicole from Sydney. Inge’s daughter, who had died in her mid-20s a few years before, had been an exchange student with my Rotary Club in Australia and so she liked to have students from my clubs. He husband had also been involved in the exchange program and so the two weeks was a whirl of dinner parties as she introduced us to lots of exchange students, past and present. She even entertained the head of the Rotary  Program in Denmark – “Onkle Arnie”who was ultimately responsible for all of us – and would enforce the rules – “no dating, no driving, no drinking, no drugs” (to which we may have added, “do have fun, don’t get caught” – but then Denmark was pretty relaxed compared to Australia. We would soon learn the concept of “freedom with responsibility”.

I’m sure I put on five kilos in that two weeks – the food was exciting and new, I couldn’t understand a word so I took second and thirds during dinner parties and Inge was determined to feed us up. Nicole and I would also buy danishes on the way home and then eat chcoolate cake with hot chocolate (with cream on top) for afternoon tea when we got home. Dinner usually involved large amounts of pork, fat, butter and potatoes – and dessert.

My first dinner party in Denmark - the day after I arrived - January 1992 (and have just realised I now have some of those wine glasses I bought here in the Barossa)
My first dinner party in Denmark – the day after I arrived – January 1992 (and have just realised I now have some of those wine glasses I bought here in the Barossa)

We had two weeks of lessons and I can picture my classroom so clearly. Like many of my classmates, I had never learned another language which put me at a disadvantage as we struggled with the grammar, not to mention wrapping our Australian accents around the complex Danish vowels. Lunchtimes were spent eating hot chips, drinking beer and mucking around on the frozen lake outside school.

My Danish Class in Odense, 1992
My Danish Class in Odense, 1992

We went along to Rotary and made speeches, were introduced to the now trendy concept of “hygge” (which is probably closest to cosy and comfortable – think open fires, low lighting, candles and Scandinavian design), before parting ways and getting on trains to head to the towns we’d call home for a year.

Dinner with our host Rotary Club, January 1992
Dinner with our host Rotary Club in Odense, January 1992

This was the era before email and mobile phones, so we swapped addresses and telephone numbers of our host families and planned to catch-up at the first exchange student catch-up in March. Unfortunately I missed that thanks to a school excursion to Italy! Imagine Mum and Dad’s reaction when I rang after my first day of school to get permission – and the funds – to head on a week long tour to Italy the following month. Apart from Olivia and a few people close by, we’d next meet up on our crazy European Tour in May – 50 exchange students, a yellow bus, 2 chaperones and 8 countries in  a couple of weeks – aka – a recipe for disaster! Might save that story for another post.

At the Vatican, March 1992
At the Vatican, March 1992

Before I finish, a note on the title. Danes are big performers and a few weeks after arriving at school, all the classes in my year performed at assembly in advance of our upcoming study tours around Europe. I’d never heard John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane, but by the end of the first verse, I was in tears for the first time since leaving Sydney two months before.

For the first time, I realised that not only did I miss my family, but that at the end of the year, I’d being saying goodbye to all these amazing new friends and host families who had made me feel so welcome. Now whenever I hear that song, I’m reminded of how bittersweet travelling and making new friends can be – but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I still consider my Danish host families as family, and I’ll be forever grateful for the experience they provided a young girl from Wollongong.

Farewell party with some of my host families, January 1993
Farewell party with some of my host families, January 1993
My first visit to the little mermaid, Copenhagen - April 1992
My first visit to the little mermaid, Copenhagen – April 1992

My exchange year developed my love of travel, gave me the confidence to travel and live overseas on my own and would eventually lead to my diplomatic career (and coincidentally, yesterday also marked six since years since our first adventure as a family when we headed off to Hanoi). 

P.S: When I set out to write this post yesterday, I thought it would be a general post about expat life and friendships – instead, I took a lovely long trip down memory lane. So over the coming months, I’m going to share a few more posts about my exchange year – going to school in a foreign countries, living with my host families, travel, turning 18 and making friends. Maybe they’ll inspire a whole new generation of exchange students!

 

I’m back…where to start?

I cannot believe I haven’t written since last year. That said, I’m not sure where the first two-thirds of this year disappeared. Writing a blog post about all that has happened might seem like a whole lot of excuses – so instead, here’s a month by month snapshot and some photos with the promise of more to come.

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Stunning beach at Port Hughes – a couple of amazing days at a cabin in the caravan park

January – a great Christmas in Sydney, sold our house in Canberra and came back ready to start the year. A few days in Port Hughes making the most of a great summer. Decided I really needed to get a job so started looking around for cellar door roles. Got the boys ready for school. Simon finally decided to see why his arm was bugging him so much – and bought a ute. Finally we had 2 cars.

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First Day of school – Year 2 and Reception (Kindergarten)

February – 1st of the month saw our youngest join his brother at school and I got a job. Simple. Met for a coffee, chatted, walked to the office – organsied handover. I like to decsribe my job with Schwarz Wines as anything but making the wine – which isn’t entirely true but it’s an awesome mix of office administration, finance, marketing and recently, even some selling. We got back into the groove of working and school and I got ready to run my first training session on free trade agreements as part of a China Ready program run by the local regional development association. Great presentation – not such a great day. Turns out the pain in Simon’s arm was a tumour.

March – day 1 of the month was Simon’s biopsy and 11 days later his amazing surgeon confirmed the worst. A 9.5cm tumour (chondrasacoma) in the cartlidge in his upper arm bone.. The treatment – removing about 20cm of bone and replacing with titanium and so another 11 days later, Simon was under the knife. Amazing doctors and nurses at Flinders made us very glad of our choice to move to South Australia – and thankful my Mum could come down and help. After a week in hospital, brough Simon, his bionic arm and his sling home to start rehab. Fortunately with this kind of tumour, treatment was limited to cutting it out – and as he went into surgery, we learned it hadn’t spread.

April – no idea what we did. Simon went back to work pretty quickly. His employers and colleagues at Artisans of Barossa were amazing. The boys took it in their stride. Friends were amazing. Teachers and after school carers a huge help. I started Crossfit because I needed some exercise after Easter! The Dawn Service in Tanunda was lovely and I realised it was the first time I’d attended a local service. We had a wonderful visit from old Beijing/Canberra friends and again got to play tourist in our own town. Lots of great wine was drunk. Simon’s first follow-up appointment showed all was looking well and the surgery had removed all the cancer. Went on my first decent bushwalk in the Barossa – so beautiful.

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First proper Barossa bushwalk – 10km from Little Kaiser Stuhl to Bethany

May – continuined the juggle of work, my business, trying to stay fit, kids sport etc etc. Went to Sydney for my sister’s 40th – great to spend time in their newly renovated house and catch up with some many friends. On a whim, booked the trip to Vietnam we’d thought about earlier in the year.  More walking and the rain began….

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Rainy morning in the vineyards

June – June was just June. Winter so cold and so wet. The countdown to Vietnam was on. More fantastic walks, work, work and family stuff.

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Hanoi really turned on the weather

July – The countdown to Vietnam continued and Mum came to look after the boys for the first week of the school holidays. It was freezing. I got hailed on going to the toilet at work one day and Mum pointed out it was colder than Lithgow or Canberra. We got our work done and finally we left for Vietnam. 10 amazing days. We landed in Hanoi exactly 2 years and 1 month after leaving – but I’ll save that for another post. We came back and it was still cold, wet and there was work to do. But then a friend pointed out a house that was on the market.

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Beautiful weather for our escape to Hoi An too

August – The first week was jam packed. Did our tax (yahoo money back), saw the mortgage broker and I went to Sydney to sell wine. Was glad I’d listended to Simon over the years. Sucked at getting public transport (even with apps on my phone I missed trains) but discovered Uber. Caught up with friends as well as my family. Came home and got serious about buying the house (more on that to come). Simon’s recovery continues and he’ll hopefully be behind the wheel again soon. I’m getting clearer about the work I want to do with my consulting business and got to work with my execllent B2B colleagues on a fantastic conference (more on that soon too).

September – its trying to warm up but it’s still wet. The canola and blossoms are beautiful. I’m working on a great project that will helpo business to understand how to create better value for consumers. Settlement it later in the month. Right now its all about booking tradespeople, deciding on colours and choosing lights.

It’s definitely been busy, and had it’s ups and downs. I’ve wanted to write but couldn’t work out when or where to start. But while we were in Vietnam, I suddenly had this huge urge to write about our posting experience and the experience of my three trips to Vietnam – first as a single girl in my 20s (during my posting in China – so lots of comparisons), then our posting which started with a 3 month old and a two year old and me going back to work, and then going back.

So, it’s time to start writing blog posts again, and while there might not be a theme (and expect lots on rennovations, gardens and decorating), I’ll try and make it fun – and include lots of photos.

Writing away my writer’s block

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Summer Days in the Barossa – green hills replaced by green vines

I’m suffering a bad case of blogger’s block. I’m in a rut. I can’t even think about what to write about, let alone what to actually write.

I’m not even sure what I want this blog to be about – or who I want to read it. I know I should do one of those “ideal reader” exercises but that would be just another excuse not to write.

I need to write. When I don’t write, my brain gets clogged up with lots of random crap and I feel myself getting frustrated and annoyed. It’s also annoying because I started this blog when I started my career change because after years of being restricted about what I could write about due to my job. Suddenly I was free to write about whatever I wanted to write about. The irony – now that I can finally write about anything, I can’t think of anything to write.

I need to write because while suffering writer’s block with this blog isn’t really a big deal, I should be writing for my business blog and for a women’s networking organisation I’m a part of. At least for those blogs, I have a target audience and some guidelines on topics.

 

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Loving the colours of late Spring and Summer

So, what am I doing while I’m not writing. Well, I have developed an unhealthy addiction to Nashville (damn you Netflix for allowing me to continue straight to Season 2 – and hurry up and get the next two)! I guess my Dad did play a lot of country music in my childhood….

I’m stuck on level 120 of the Inside Out Thought Bubbles game. I originally downloaded this for the boys because we loved the movie so much and now we’re all playing it. Evening conversations go – “so how was your day, what level are you on?” For the first time ever, I’ve consulted the internet for tips – but as the levels get harder, I am getting bored so hopefully I’ll get over it soon.

I’m getting excited and stressed about heading off to Canberra, Wollongong and Sydney in just under 2 weeks. Excited because I can’t wait to see family and friends but a little stressed about what needs to be done before then – teacher gifts, early birthday party for our Christmas Day baby, catch-ups with friends, a house inspection, and lots of cooking. And I’m not even worrying about shopping until we get over there.

 

On that note, where did the year go? I think part of my anxiety about what needs to be done in the next few weeks is the realisation that the year is almost over and that my business is likely to hit a quiet period, just as I’m starting to build up contacts and networks. On the upside, this is good motivation to put some things in place over the next few weeks so I can enjoy a few weeks off.

 

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I took this photo on Tuesday – while this area escaped the fires, seeing how dry it is, it’s no surprise how quickly they spread

Finally, I think the fires close to us last Wednesday have probably unsettled me and many around me. While I monitored the fire throughout the day, I really didn’t expect it would get so close and that I’d be hearing a catastrophic fire warning for our town as I picked the boys up. While we were lucky that we didn’t have to evacuate, we did start getting things together and came to the scary realisation that we were ill-prepared – no battery powered radio, one torch and not enough hoses. I was blown away by how calm the boys were and how much they knew about fires from school and from visits from the local country and metropolitan fire services.

 

As a 20 year old, I had bags packed of letters and keepsakes. On Wednesday, looking round the house at all our beautiful things collected over the years, I felt like everything was irreplaceable but that didn’t mean we could take it all. At the end of the day, the pictures, rugs, ornaments and photos are just things. Packing this time it was about some changes of clothes, the boys’ special toys, negatives, the hard drive and some jewelry. As long as we were together and safe, that was all that mattered.

 

Knowing we have friends who are volunteer fire fighters and who were evacuated has made this disaster all the more real. The outpouring of community assistance has been amazing and in many cases, relief centres are already overwhelmed with donations. I was glad to have a friend who works in one of the affected areas and I could at least send a few bags of groceries up with her on Friday. It doesn’t feel like much but hopefully communities will continue to help out when they can – and for the long road ahead as people rebuild.

 

I had not plan when I started tapping on the keyboard today. I just wanted to write something because once you start writing, it gets easier.

 

So, for the next 24 days, as the boys open their advent calendars counting down to Christmas, I’m going to write. One blog every day for the next 24 days. I’m not promising it will be exciting, or insightful or even funny, but bear with me – who knows what might come out.

And if you like what you’re reading, please leave a comment and share with your friends.

 

 

Retail therapy in Hanoi

Study deadlines of course bring on the urge to bake, clean and shop but rather than head into the dangerous territory of online shopping, I thought I’d take myself on a little virtual shop through my favourite places in Hanoi. I started this post last week, but a malfunction with my photo album and study took over and so it’s been over a week between posts.

When I drafted this post initially, I was going to make the point it is now over three months since we left Hanoi and that like many places in South East Asia, Hanoi is changing fast. As it turns out in the last few days, I have learned about a few new places but I’ll still be sharing this with friends and asking them to add to this – and of course, if you have been to Hanoi and want to add anything, please comment below.

There are also lots of tourist maps around, but I would recommend the Nancy Chandler hand drawn map of Hanoi which you can find at various places including Bookworm. Updates also appear on the Nancy Chandler web page.

Chula

It’s no secret that the vast majority of my Hanoi wardrobe was from Chula. From the first time I set eyes on these amazing designs, rainbow colours and perfect fit I was hooked. Although many of us in Hanoi had similar designs, I don’t think I ever showed up wearing something the same as anyone. I also loved how Laura & Diego and their team would alter things to suit – my last dress which I wore for my 40th being adapted from a poncho.

Mum and I wearing Chula on my 40th birthday. My dress was from Chula's most recent Hanoi collection and was actually adapted from a poncho!
Mum and I wearing Chula on my 40th birthday. My dress was from Chula’s most recent Hanoi collection and was actually adapted from a poncho!
With my birthday twin Elodie wearing Chula - hers is the fabulous Pho (noodle soup) dress
With my birthday twin Elodie wearing Chula – hers is the fabulous Pho (noodle soup) dress

Laura & Diego are passionate about what they do and have really created something special. Once a small studio in their home, they have moved out allowing for the expansion of the shop space which also doubles as a venue for art and music (and includes the family alter of the landlords which is still used daily and is an incredible sight). It’s also on a pretty part of Ho Tay (West Lake) which is worth a visit (just near the pottery covered dragons) and if you can’t make it to Hanoi, best thing is they are now online. So you can shop the collection or even send your measurements in for something custom made and they’ll send it anywhere in the world (just make sure you tell them I sent you)!

Courtyard at Chula
Courtyard at Chula

Hang Gai

Vietnamese for “silk street” it’s probably no surprise that this was one of my favourite shopping streets in Hanoi. I often did a mad dash from the office in the last lunch hour before leaving for Australia to stock up on last minute gifts. I’ll talk about Tan My, Ginko and Hanoi Moment below, but other good shops include Ninh Khuong for embroidered clothes and gifts for babies and children and of course being silk street, lots of shops selling silk. Han Gai is also home to the Hidden Café (great Vietnamese Coffee especially egg coffee with a view over the lake – see my post on the things I miss about Hanoi).

Tan My

If Chula was my favourite place (and weakness) for dresses, then it was Tan My for everything else. It was my favourite place to take guests and the best place to buy good quality gifts including lacquer, linen, gorgeous Valerie Cordier handbags, art deco lamps from My Way deco, art prints and Vietnamese themed stationery and kids books.

Valerie Cordier bags and beautiful lacquer from Tan My
Valerie Cordier bags and beautiful lacquer from Tan My
My Way Deco lamp from Tan My
My Way Deco lamp from Tan My

Ginko T-shirts

Ginko sell funky t-shirts in kids and adults sizes. My favourite is probably their Vietnam telecom shirt which has sadly been picked up by all the t-shirt copiers and one with various activities on a motorbike (everything from moving house to sleeping). Ginko have a couple of shops in Hanoi, including on Hang Gai, and are also in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi Moment

Another great shop on Hang Gai. I’ve bought silver jewelry and candleholders, great pottery and they also do some really interesting boxes inlaid with rolled paper.

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Future Traditions

Future Traditions beautiful clothes using indigenous textiles sourced from across Vietnam as well as beautiful jewelry. It was Cynthia from Future Traditions that alerted me to the opening of Emporium Hanoi this Thursday 2 October at 172 Xuan Dieu.

Oriberry Coffee and Pottery

This social enterprise has two locations – on Xuan Dieu in the Tay Ho (West Lake area) and one in Au Trieu in the Old Quarter (called Indigenous) has great coffee (both western and Vietnamese versions), and juices as well selling fair trade coffee (ground or beans) from a variety of areas in Vietnam and beautiful pottery from Bat Trang (great if you don’t have time to visit this pottery village just outside Hanoi).

Beautiful pottery from Bat Trang at Oriberry
Beautiful pottery from Bat Trang at Oriberry

Things to consider buying:

  • Vietnamese conical hat – non la – great for gardening I’m told
  • Bird cages – although a little tricky to ship
  • Lacquer and bamboo – with the usual rule of “you get what you pay for”
  • Fabric – depends what you are looking for but a trip to a fabric market like Cho Hom or even the street selling all manner of ribbons, buttons, zips and trims in the old quarter is worth it if you like sewing

Even taking a few days from my first draft on this, I’m sure as soon as I hit publish I will remember some others but these are my favourites that spring to mind as I indulge in a little virtual retail therapy..

Please share your tips and any favourites you have found in Hanoi.

Finding my running groove again

Yesterday I ran in my first big fun run in Australia. The annual City to Bay sees about 35,000 people run from Adelaide to Glenelg. There are options to run or walk the full 12km, 6km or 3km.

I didn’t think I was up to 12km so with some advice from friends, I decided to run the 6km route and to enjoy it. Unfortunately even once I had the goal, distractions of setting up house and study meant my training was still a bit hit and miss and one run with the fitness centre Friday running group had me really doubting myself.

And then last Thursday my Women’s Running magazine arrived and I started reading about people’s running experiences, great races and tips for revamping my running. I was reminded why I enjoyed running and the great sense of achievement on finishing a race. It made me think about the fact that until August 2011, I had been one of those people who said she couldn’t run and had even been teased for her bad running style. But signing up to Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) to lose the weight I had put on after two babies convinced me to give running a try.

My sister was also running and inspired by her, I moved on to the Couch to 5km app and soon I could run 5km. The chance meeting of some girls in Brunei via the 12WBT forums led me to completing a 10km race in Kota Kinabalu in May 2012. The following year, I was training for my first half marathon which was unfortunately canceled due to elections in Malaysia, but I pressed on and entered the amazing Angkor Wat Half marathon in November 2013, the first time I’d had the opportunity to run with my sister. I managed to run the first 12km, then run and walk the next 9km finishing in around 2.40 – and by no means last.

My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon - an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon – an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I'll treasure forever
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I’ll treasure forever
Part of the race route - Angkor Wat
Part of the race route – Angkor Wat

From the time I arrived at the City to Bay 6km start, I was impressed by the organisation and atmosphere. There were lots of groups in matching gear as race is a great opportunity to race money, or promote a group or issue. There were also lots of people in fancy dress. I was at the start in time to see the fastest 12km runners and wheelchair racers come through which was amazing.

Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run
Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run

Despite a slightly slow start due to the number of people, we were eventually out on the road and it was the perfect sunny blue sky running day. There were people all along the route – from spectators and locals cheering on runners to businesses and organisations using it as an opportunity to promote themselves. The drink stops were regular which was good because it was slightly warmer than I’d expected. It was a real carnival atmosphere and I could help but enjoy myself, even though physically I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. Seeing young kids and people running in memory of a loved one or to support a charity provided that extra hit of inspiration.

I ended up making it to the finish line in under 40 minutes which was my goal. Not fast by any means, but I’d kept running and most importantly, I finished feeling inspired to start running again. Suddenly saying I was going to run the Barossa Half Marathon in May 2015, felt like a real goal and not empty talk.

So when I feel like skipping the training, I’m just going to remind myself what I love about running:

  • the friends I have made all around the world because of running
  • the fact that I’m keeping my body and my mind fit (read this great article on why women should run)
  • the amazing experiences of running in different, beautiful places
  • that awesome feeling coming through the finish line yesterday, knowing I had achieved something I had set out to do.
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014

    Jetty at Glenelg - great spot to stretch out after a run
    Jetty at Glenelg – great spot to stretch out after a run

Dreaming of a beach break in Hoi An

After a beautiful weekend, it’s a wet, cold and windy day in the Barossa so I can’t help but start thinking of the beach. So I thought it was a good time as any to share some of my favourite places in Vietnam starting with our favourite spot for both family beach getaways and girls weekends.

Beach in Danang
Beach in Danang

Hoi An and Danang are in the centre of Vietnam, on a long skinny strip of the country that is only about 50 kilometres wide with ocean on one side and mountains (and Laos) on the other. It’s an area with a fascinating long history with amazing Cham Kingdom ruins but was sadly also hugely affected by the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War). The Cham Museum in Danang is well worth a look. Other popular tourist sites include the ruins at My Son, Ba Na Hills and the 67-meter-high statue of the Bodhisattva of Mercy at the Linh Ung -Bai But Pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula.

Lady Buddha in Danang
Lady Buddha in Danang

Hoi An is an old fishing village which has been well preserved although it’s quite different from my first visit in 2003 when much of the Old Town was a tourist site. However you can still buy a ticket that gives you access to the Japanese covered bridge and some of the old shop houses, which have been restored. Hoi An used to be much quieter, but it is now a popular spot for local and international tourists. However it is still a wonderful escape from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and has some of the best food, hospitality, tailoring and hotels in the country.

Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An Old Town

Our first visit as a family was in 2011 when the boys were almost 1 and 3. We stayed at the Victoria Resort which was perfect for a family, the deluxe garden rooms being big enough for a spare bed and a cot – and we have been back several times. The Victoria is on the beach, and although part of the beachfront was lost during a series of bad storms in 2013, but they have built up another area of beach at the end of the resort. The gardens are beautiful and the breakfast buffet is one of my favourites. The hotel offers side car trips around the local area and is about a 5 minute taxi into Hoi An. It’s a popular hotel for families probably because babysitting is easy to organize through the hotel and there is a kids club and kids pool.

View from our room at the Victoria Resort Hoi An
View from our room at the Victoria Resort Hoi An

Getting around Hoi An with small children is also fairly easy compared to the bigger cities. There are still motorbikes but no cars in the old town so it’s actually a pleasant place to push a stroller around. Like most of Vietnam, children are welcomed and well looked after.

Sunset at the Victoria in Hoi An (sadly this beach was lost in the storms in 2013)
Sunset at the Victoria in Hoi An (sadly this beach was lost in the storms in 2013)

Hoi An is home to some of my favourite Vietnamese food including white rose dumpling, My Quang noodles, Cao lau noodles (a Hoi An specialty) and Hoi An chicken rice. I also had the best ban my (Vietnamese roll) at Banh My Phuong on our last visit 2B Pham Châu Trinh Street. Great restaurants include Bale Well – all you can each skewers and Vietnamese pancakes wrapped in rice paper wrapping; White Marble – fusion food and a great wine bar which makes it a good choice for snacks or dinner, Morning Glory (and their fabulous cookbook of the same name), Streets Cafe – providing hospitality training for local youth (and my pick for Hoi An chicken rice) and Q Bar for cocktails.

Favourite Hoi An dishes at the Victoria - white rose dumplings and Cao lay noodles
Favourite Hoi An dishes at the Victoria – white rose dumplings and Cao lay noodles
Banh My from Banh My Phuong in Hoi An - so sad I only discovered this on my last trip.
Banh My from Banh My Phuong in Hoi An – so sad I only discovered this on my last trip.

We had lots of things made at A Dong tailors on Le Loi Street but apart from suit and shirt fabric and some silk, there is limited choice so my best clothes were suits they copied or dresses with fabric I had brought with me. Other great shopping in Hoi An includes quirky Ginko t-shirts, Metiseko, Hot Chilli (Australian designed and locally made beachwear), as well as lanterns, pottery and other souvenirs. A fairly recent addition to Hoi An’s shopping scene is Ô Collective which brings together a selection of great brands from across Vietnam including Saigon Kitsch.

I would always recommend Hoi An to tourists and if you can, a trip on the train to Hue gives you an amazing view of the Hai Van pass. Otherwise fly in to Danang which is one of Vietnam’s newest (and best) airports and only about 30 minutes from Hoi An.

Hai Van pass - on the train between Hue and Danang
Hai Van pass – on the train between Hue and Danang

Living in Hanoi, Danang was a popular option for girls’ weekends and golf trips. There are a range of great hotels and spa resorts along the beach like the Fusion Maia which has spa villas and 2 spa treatments per person per day as part of the package or the secluded Intercontinental about 40 minutes north of Danang.

Pool villa at Fusion Maia Danang
Pool villa at Fusion Maia Danang
Intercontinental Danang
Intercontinental Danang

One of the only downsides to Hoi An and Danang can be the weather. We found it was still a bit cool for swimming in March but was beautiful by April. In 2012, we had five amazing days in July, but August- September tend to be stormy months and in 2013, there were still storms (and floods) through until November. Given how quickly Vietnam is changing, and the fact we’ve already been gone three months, I’d recommend Lonely Planet for general tourist information, Trip Advisor and local bloggers like Sticky Rice, Vietnamese God and Cameron Stauch for restaurant advice and Trip Advisor and Agoda for hotel reviews. Travelfish is also a good site for general information and good accommodation reviews. Travelling with children I have always tended to book directly with hotels just to ensure we can all fit and get the cot/spare bed we needed – and I found being a resident in Vietnam usually ensured we received a good rate. Over the next few months, I’ll try and post about some other places in Vietnam and the region, but please get in touch if there is somewhere you’d like to hear about.

Beautifully preserved and restored buildings in Hoi An
Beautifully preserved and restored buildings in Hoi An
Riverside in the old town in Hoi An
Riverside in the old town in Hoi An