2 weeks have already past since Lou, Flo and I left the UK, and so here’s a few lines about what we’ve been up to so far…
It’s fair to say that our final week in the UK was chaotic. But thanks to Lou’s organising powers and steely resolve, and the help of various family members and friends, we made it on to the plane in one piece.
Lou’s hypnotherapy sessions helped to calm her nerves whilst in the air and, as Flo was over-excited the entire time we were on a plane about watching Mr Men stories on DVD, and taking her headphones off and on, we seemed to make it to Bangkok, via Dubai, without too much agro at all (although none of us actually slept.)
The whole journey to Koh Chang (2 flights + a 6 hour taxi ride) took about 24 hours and upon reaching our top notch hotel in Koh Chang, and being hugged several times by a beaming Derek, we never looked back!
For the next 6 nights we had a blissful time jumping from swimming pool to beach to restaurant to bar, and so on. Derek and Ru’s wedding itself was superb – various ceremonies on the white sanded beach conducted by Buddhist monks, followed by cocktails, dinner and then traditional Thai dancing and fire throwing! Lots of great catch ups over happy hour beers with school friends, and all in all it put us in great shape to make our final leg to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, depending on who you are talking to). We got here on Sunday after a final 2 nights back in Bangkok, and have had quite a busy first few days getting our bearings and sorting ourselves out…
Our first impressions of Vietnam have been really good ones. It transpires that everyone who advised us beforehand on the amazing food, generous and charming people, and crazy traffic were all spot on. But more than this, there is a general ease about the city here which is very engaging. The traffic, despite its proportions, moves apace and you don’t get the sort of gridlock you find in Bangkok, or London for that matter. There are 6 million people living in HCMC and 3 million motorbikes…which means the number of vehicles is relatively low and so everything moves about quite freely. By freely, I mean people driving on wrong side of road, in the wrong direction, and when the roads get too congested (which is all the time) bikes just use the pavements.
Nevertheless, it all works, and as a 45 min taxi ride from one side of town to the other will only cost you about £4.50 then it is not so stressful on the pocket. What you do have to do is put your Green Cross Code learnings into practice all the time. You look left, right, in front of you and behind you, and then when you realise there is actually traffic approaching you from all sides you just put your head down and go for it, and everyone just weaves around you.
The food is very special. Fresh ingredients, lots of salads, sauces and the famous Vietnamese “pho” – which is a version of a ramen soup, typically with shredded beef, noodles, chilli and basil leaves. You can eat pretty exotically here if you want to – Flo and I walked past a tank of snakes and frogs on the way to the loo earlier this afternoon in a restaurant, and there was pig’s uterus on the menu last night. Out of curiosity I’ve taken to ordering food and drink that sounds interesting (to be clear, by ‘interesting’ I don’t mean snake, frog or uteri.)
Yesterday I ordered a “sapodilla shake” and two dishes which turned out to both comprise of nice juicy fillet steak – one came with a French stick and the other came with chips. Not what I expected at all, but very tasty nonetheless. Sapodilla turned out to be a fruit much like a date, which meant I’d essentially consumed a milkshake laxative and two plates of rare beef. A potentially dodgy combination.
Another good one the other night was ordering the wonderfully titled “beef Jacuzzi” – I just couldn’t resist it. It sounded to me more like the title of a XXX porn film, but instead turned out to be raw steak, skewers, leaves, raw horseradish and a pot of boiling oil. It was basically a beef fondu, but you wrapped the cooked meat in leaves with the horseradish and then dipped this in a variety of sauces also provided. Sauces are key here. That night we had soy, sweet chilli, lime salt and chilli salt – finger lickin’ good indeed (…and yes, there are KFCs here as well as it happens.)
The coffee is really up to the high standards I was hoping for. Given the country was colonised by the French there remains a lot of great coffee shops serving lush coffees, pastries and the like. Vietnamese coffee itself is quite a different flavour but bloody awesome (technically speaking) – served hot or iced.
In terms of the important stuff, we’ve registered at the international FV (‘French-Vietnamese’) hospital and Lou has had her 28 week check up, which went well. The hospital is pretty smart and the dr/consultant Lou saw was a very nice woman. We’ve already been put in touch with other new Mums here who have delivered at FV and I think it will be a good option for us.
We went to the Montessori school here and were really impressed with the facilities and the teachers and so have registered Flo there for 4 days a week (they run an 8am to 3pm day) starting next week. There will be a week’s settling in phase but Flo seemed to really enjoy being there and hopefully she will take to it well.
Flo has started talking gibberish at times but we think this is her reaction to having listened to people speaking Thai and Vietnamese over the past 2 weeks! Overall, she has been fantastic with all the changes, travelling and funny environments. We’re really proud of her. We need to watch her ego though as literally every single person we walk past stops and stares, dotes and takes a photo of Flo. She is usually carrying around her doll with her, which all the locals think is very cute.
And then finally, where to live. CARE have arranged a great little 2 bed apartment 5 mins walk from my new office where we will stay this month, but we’ve been looking at apartments nearer Flo’s nursery this week. For obvious reasons it is going to be more practical initially if we are based nearer there and I commute across the river into work (about 35-40 mins). This means we will be living in one of the more upmarket, ex-pat districts, but there is still a nice feel to the area and you don’t feel completely cut off from local life. The apartments we saw today which are the current contenders also have a shared pool, tennis courts and gym onsite, which will be really useful given the practicalities of Lou getting about with 2 kids in the future. You can walk easily enough on the roads and pavements, but with 2 kids it makes things slightly more tricksey.
Anyhow, stopping there for fear of this becoming far too long a ramble. Will be in touch and fill you in on more happenings and the new job, again soon.