Xin chào from Hanoi, Vietnam!
After an almost tearful goodbye to the comforts of a familiar Malaysia, our own car and being close enough to drive home, we've flown more than 3 hours to a land neither of us have been to before. Watch this reel if you've missed it:
We landed, passed through immigration and got our luggage in barely 15 minutes. That's impressive to be honest. We've had to wait more than an hour in queues at Heathrow London and Auckland Airport. Spent 30 minutes at a belt waiting for baggage at Changi too.
"DING!" Rang my phone....
Our Airbnb host told us to cancel our accommodation while we were in flight....
I had to report the host to Airbnb before the booking was cancelled and the full refund was made. The host just refused to cancel on his side. How lucky can we be?!
We were thankful that it was easy to grab a Vietnamese SIM card for our little pocket Wifi device. You'll find plenty of shops offering the SIM cards at the arrival hall. It cost us 350,000 Dong ($21 SGD) for a full month with Viettel 4GB limit a day on 4G network. Unlimited on 3G network.
We had lunch at a Burger King restaurant in the Airport while I searched for a hotel to replace our Airbnb accommodation. I'm not going to call this a nightmare anymore because we've been through that twice in Melaka and KL. It has been well established on our blog that Airbnbs are a 50-50 chance of encountering a disruption to your trip.
We are fortunate it isn't hard to find decent and well-priced hotels in Hanoi. We were able to get a Grab car from the airport to our hotel in no time. Grab Car and Grab Food is very affordable in Vietnam! It cuts out the language barrier, getting lost and haggling problems with scam cab drivers. It has been a breeze getting around Hanoi with the Grab app!
The ride from the airport to our hotel was like a baptism of fire. My anxiety was through the roof. If you grew up in country where lane markings and road signs are NOT optional, this is going to shock you. Watch this video and you'll understand....
This is considered mild. There are some massive junctions that I can't even draw a diagram to explain the logic. There are 50 million motorbikes in Vietnam so just imagine.
The biggest cultural shock was really the incessant honking. I’ve been feeling really tensed walking on the streets amidst the traffic. The kids were almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We’ve been conditioned in Singapore to understand honking as a show of frustration, anger and imminent danger. But the Vietnamese honk because they are communicating. It goes along the lines of, “I’m coming through”, ”Don’t come out I’m going to pass”, “please move aside”. They also honk when passing a cross junction. Nobody gets pissed. It’s just a way of life.
We are better now after a couple of days! There’s so much beauty in the absolute chaos. We have so much of this world to explore!
Vietnamese summers are as relentless as the honking on the roads. 4 of us are adjusting to the 48 degree celcius real feel in Hanoi.
Before we delve deeper, here are 5 fun facts if you are just as clueless as us about Vietnam:
1. Vietnam is a communist country situated in South East Asia bordering Laos, Cambodia and China. (1 SGD converts to around 16,600 Vietnamese Dong)
2. Vietnamese drive on the right side of the road (Steering wheel on the left of vehicles)
3. It has both temperate climate (in the north) and tropical climate (in the central and southern areas). Mountainous regions bordering China do experience snowfall in the winter!
4. Vietnam was a French colony for 6 decades.
5. Religion was banned, suppressed with great force and persecution until 2004.
We spent the past 3 days walking old town and visiting Sword Lake, Ngoc Son Temple within the lake, Hanoi train street and St Joseph's Cathedral. The heat makes 1km of walking extra hard for all of us although we really are enjoying the charm of this city. There's more to explore and we'll report back in our next post!
We recommend sun block, hats and ALOT of hydration. Avoid being out from 12pm to 3pm. You can get a heatstroke from being out in the sun in summer (June-August)
We also recommend our original design Tees that you see us wearing here! Check them out from our store at www.hirojack.com!
The city really comes alive at night because most people avoid being out in the heat. The night markets and beer streets only come alive once the sun sets. You also almost forget you're in South East Asia. The charming streets looks European!
Hanoi is most charming in the Old quarters! You'll find historical buildings, old buildings with French influence and a lot of street food. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and you'll also find the glass skyscrapers and a very modern city. It is more developed than we all think it is! You get the same big brands in other major cities!
QWSpeaking of food, you cannot come to Vietnam and not have Bánh mì (A savoury stuffed baguette). You must also try Vietnamese coffee in the street side shops and from Highlands Coffee. Debra is not a fan of the intense coffee but I absolutely love it.
We will add a new post some time this week about the eats, sights and adventures around Hanoi! Please drop us a comment and let us know if we're missing out on something we shouldn't miss in Hanoi!
A parting thought:
Seeing beauty in the chaos reminded us that there really isn't one way to live life. Whether you are travelling on a perfectly orderly road in Japan or North America, or a through a mayhem in the streets of Vietnam's cities, you will still get to your destination. Always remember, My battles, My way!
10 weeks ago, we uprooted our lives and drove our tiny little car across the causeway into the unknown. We didn't have a blueprint of what the past 10 weeks will be like. It was a step of faith and it still is. We carried with us grief that we will still carry for some time to come. If not now then when? Life is so short and unpredictable after all.
We've spent a significant amount of time in Cameron Highlands because the climate, nature and landscape was calming and healing. It brought great comfort to all of us. Almost 6 out of the 10 weeks were spent in rolling hills and clouds. We spent the other 4 weeks shuttling between Genting Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Ipoh, Penang and Port Dickson. You can read our entire series here.
We've spent the last leg of our trip largely homeschooling, illustrating our new book, creating our travel inspired apparel, cards and stickers. Please support our work by patronising our store!
We have been extremely blessed to find an amazing property in Melaka at a very affordable price to spend the last 3 weeks. This part of our travels, we got to really interact with locals and enjoy local food. We even made friends with our Malaysian neighbours who kindly gave us a tour of his amazing garden full of vegetables and fruits. He even gifted us a whole bunch of homegrown bananas! I've enjoyed all the conversations we've had at the gate where several neighbour uncles gather and chit chat like long lost friends.
The property is a two-story corner terrace house in the Taman Malim Jaya area of Melaka. The neighbourhood is 20 minutes away from the city centre of Melaka. It is very quiet but also felt very safe. No crazy loud exhaust of bikes and modified cars here!
It has an industrial unfinished feel to it. Much of the wall surfaces and floor are simply concrete.
We were a little apprehensive initially because it had no wifi, no washing machine and no freezer. We coped by getting an unlimited data sim for our pocket wifi device and did our laundry at the self-service laundromat nearby. This also forced us to explore the neighbourhood shops that no tourist would frequent. We visited hawkers and coffee shops a lot more often on top of the trips we made to Jonker street and the major malls.
To be really fair, ALL of us found Malaysian food a lot tastier than a lot of the food we find in Singapore. There is a lot more character in the food. Don't flak me for this first! Let me explain!
I feel that too many (not all) coffee shops, hawker stalls in Singapore and especially Food courts in malls are no longer owned by the chefs. Chef owned and operated hawker is the essence of our hawker culture in South East Asia. That was how it all started. When a chef owns the brand and operates the stall, he owns the taste and he is the master of his dish. Hired hands will never be as invested as the entrepreneur who built his brand, customer base, dish and taste. Food from a central kitchen that is reheated will never be the same as the taste of home.
We feel that food with character and proudly made by chefs who own the business is increasingly harder to find in Singapore. This is something we will miss a lot as we officially say goodbye to Malaysia.
We took our last drive to Port Dickson via the small village roads to enjoy the serenity of it all. It was blazing hot but that made the beach really beautiful!
It is also officially over because we are saying goodbye to our trusty car. We really can't afford to keep the car and it wouldn't be financially prudent to. It is a painful decision to make because it is one of the best cars we've ever had. It works perfectly fine in little Singapore because we don't drive long distances or carry much luggage. We were a little apprehensive about the smaller boot size and tiny 1.2L engine.
The Suzuki Swift Hybrid performed way beyond our expectations. (We aren't sponsored ! Just celebrating a really good machine!) We've driven more than 7000kms across the West Malaysian peninsula climbing and descending more than 60,000ft worth of mountain roads and cruising up and down the North South Highway. It still averages 17-20km/L. It is a stunning looking Super-mini (B-segment) hatchback, packed with tech we expect of a modern car.
Here are some of them:
1. Adaptive cruise control
2. Lane departure warning/prevention
3. Autonomous emergency braking (dual sensor brake support)
4. Stability control system
5. Hill hold
6. Tire pressure monitoring
7. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
8. Paddle shifters on steering
9. Auto Led headlights with Auto high beam. (Perfect in dark mountain roads!)
10. 6 airbags
Although we can't expect the performance of a sports car or the silence of a premium continental hatchback, it is still a well made and reliable car. With the COE and fuel prices at absolutely crazy levels, you'll want something well made and fuel efficient like a Swift! The children have grown to love our "Big red car" (if you watch The Wiggles you'll know...) so much. We are all sad to say goodbye to it. So here are some pictures to pay tribute to the car that made our amazing adventures possible....
This is the official end of our road trip in Malaysia....
BUT.....it is not the end of our Grand Tour! WE ARE GOING TO.........
We hope you enjoy our content and continue to join us on this new phase of our lives that we wish to continue as much as we can! You can support our work by shopping at our store, recommending sponsorships, like and share our posts and buy us meals because we are broke! :) Click on the red button and we are happy to chat if you wish to connect with us!
Here's some motivational stuff to end off this post! Stay tuned for VIETNAM!
First things first, an update of our Grand Tour:
After a really stressful time in the big city KL, we decided we needed to leave and find somewhere that we can find peace. Due to the limited accommodation options in Cameron Highlands, we weren't able to return there again. That would have been amazing.
We chanced upon a quirky accommodation in the suburbs of Melaka and looked through google maps and street view extensively. (We've got some great shots and will share the links once we've moved on to our next location!) We were apprehensive because we had a heavy heart and a disastrous Airbnb experience the previous time we stayed in Melaka.
We absolutely love this property and there are amazing neighbours who are very friendly and kind. Quiet and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the major roads, we've been decompressing! We've been visiting local eateries and shops in places tourists don't usually frequent and we've been blown away by the amazing food and hospitality of the locals.
One thing that we really love about Melaka is the abundance of AWESOME food!
Here's 4 that we really enjoyed this time...
1. Shu Peo Korean BBQ
No.2, Jalan KPKS 6, Kompleks Perniagaan Al-azim, 75250 Kota Syahbandar, Melaka
2. Face to Face Noodle House
2 Locations...click link
3. The Best Chicken Rice (冠军鸡饭)
G14, Jalan Rahmat 1, Taman Malim Jaya, 75250 Malim Jaya, Melaka
4. 729 Kopitiam
Taman Merdeka Permai, 75350 Batu Berendam, Malacca
We've stayed mostly in the suburban areas of Melaka this time but decided to head to Jonker Street this weekend! We were surprised IT WAS ALIVE! So many stalls are back in operation! It is best to go around 5pm before the really massive crowds come by. If you intend to have dinner at the hawker areas in the street, you'll really need to get there early. By 630pm you will have to wait quite long for a seat.
A beautiful mess is my short description of Jonker's allure.
The longer description: Jonker is where you'll hear the noise of the crowd excited at the calls of shop owners promoting their wares. It is where years are rolled back to when shopping at a street market was part of life. Homogenised and sanitised shopping malls aren't a thing and haggling was an essential life skill. Street markets like Jonker activates all your senses. The fascinating sounds of hawkers clanging their woks or breaking up ting-ting candy while bright lights illuminate their little stalls. Your olfaction is constantly on alert as the smell of umami wafts through the air. An occasional stink of raw seafood and (controversially) durians interrupts the sweet smell of local delicacies. It is like a little treasure hunt where you're constantly searching for something interesting to eat or buy.
Here are 5 awesome things you can do at Jonker Street, Melaka:
1. Eat street food
There's street snacks and if you'd like, the hawker stalls cook up full meals too!
2. Buy local souvenirs
You'll be spoiled for choice at the amount of knick knacks you can find here. There's apparel, electronics, local art, chicken bowls and even customised cup noodles. Go earlier in the day before 5pm to make yourself a customised cup noodle (Noodle Doodle) at Mamee Jonker House.
3. Street Photography/Videography
There's so much action to be captured here! It really is a photographer's dream. If you like blogging or creating reels like we do, here is an amazing place for content creation. Be discreet and most people are generally okay to be photographed.
4. Visit the old town
The Dutch square is just a short 2 minute walk from the entrance of Jonker Street. You'll find the Queen Victoria Fountain, The Stadthuys, Christ Church Melaka and several other museums in the immediate vicinity. The A Famosa Fort is also just a 7 minute walk from Jonker.
5. Take a caffeine break at a Cafe nearby
There are some pretty well reviewed cafes and are all walking distance from Jonker street. I've listed these because they are pretty good + they are open in the evenings on weekends when Jonker Street is in operation.
-Street Barista @ Jonker
3, Jalan Hang Lekir, 75200 Melaka
-Limau Limau Coffee
We are now wrapping up our Grand Tour in Malaysia! Our Grand Tour is headed to another country and we are SO EXCITED to plan for the next leg. We will be flying again and we've been waiting for this moment since 2018!
Please support our work and check out our store!
If you’ve landed here on this post you must be a little interested in how a Singaporean family can home school two kids while they travel! Under the compulsory education act, a Singaporean child below 15 and above 6 years of age must receive primary education in a national primary school unless exempted.
The first step to homeschooling is really to ask yourself:
1. Can i commit long-term to my child’s learning?
2. Am i willing to learn and adapt WITH my child?
3. Will i keep an open mind and do what is BEST FOR THE child?
Homeschooling is a long term commitment. For at least 6 years, you will need to make an effort to create learning moments. Don’t do it if you can’t commit to it.
The most common comment I hear from aspiring homeschool parents or people considering it for their children is “I am not qualified to teach my own kids, i don’t know how to teach.” Consider this, we didn’t have widespread formal classroom learning in society until the recent 200 years. Human civilisation has existed for thousands of years when parents and the elders “informally” taught their children language, math, life skills etc…They weren’t paper qualified were they?
Even though Debra and I are former trained MOE teachers, we don’t know everything. Homeschooling will challenge the most qualified teachers if they aren’t willing to ADAPT and LEARN. The key is really just an open mind and a willingness to challenge your preconceived ideas of learning. Remember, every child is different and everyone learns differently!
Here are some steps will have to take before you can legally homeschool:
(We sharing about our personal experience. Rules and regulations can change from time to time. This is not meant to be legal advice)
1. Around midyear the year your child turns 6, you’ll need to apply for a place in a public school. If you intend to homeschool and apply for exemption, you’ll still need to apply for a place in school
2. After you’ve done that, you can write to the MOE compulsory education unit (via email) and indicate your desire to homeschool your child. They will ask for information about your child and ask for personal details etc. You’ll get a bunch of forms to fill up. You are required to school your children FULL TIME. So you can’t be having a full time job and be the main homeschool parent. They will look at the homeschool parent’s credentials as well. They are more likely to accept homeschool parent/s who are graduates.
3. The process really starts when they send you a package of documents. This is the most difficult part. You’ll need to provide your plan for 6 entire years of their compulsory primary education. This involves extensive work prior to submission.
You’ll need to have a syllabus, a timeline of what is learnt and how it is learnt. You’ll have to cover English, Math, Science, Mother Tongue for 6 whole years. You can add on other areas of learning like religious teachings, coding or other areas into your learning scheme. They also ask for a time-table you intend to work with.
Your child must still be able to pass the PSLE (he/she will be required to take the exam the year they turn 12). We chose the MOE syllabus for Matthias because it is something we are familiar with.
This is really the most daunting part for most parents. We are happy to connect and assist anyone who is interested to homeschool their children!
4. There will be a home visit by an MOE officer to determine the suitability of the learning environment. Your child will also be asked a few questions about the home situation, learning with you etc.
5. The officer in charge may write back to you and ask more questions about your learning scheme. They are usually kind enough to provide advice on how you can improve it for approval. Upon a final approval by the ministry, they will send you an official letter stating you are legally allowed to homeschool your child. The whole process usually happens between September and November.
6. Upon approval, you can then proceed to withdraw your child from the school he/she got a place in. You can provide the ministry letter and correspondence to support your withdrawal. It is usually just an email to the school.
Here is how we do school with two kids turning 8 and 5 this year…
There is no escape from worksheets, writing and table work when it comes to learning. We follow the MOE syllabus for all subjects and so we do use MOE text books. We travel with their text books, story books, paper, stationary, learning cards and exercise books.
We follow a very simple style of teaching:
1. Teacher lectures
2. Teacher practices with the student
3. Child is assigned independent work
4. Teacher reviews independent work and reinforces learning with student
We intentionally make this style of learning only less than a couple hours a day with the kids. The point of homeschool is not to replicate the public school classroom. Our kids learn throughout the day in different contexts, languages and environments.
Apart from their academic pursuits, we make sure they are learning to love others and themselves. Matthias loves coding and Gwyneth loves to draw. We give them space to pursue there interests.
My favourite part about homeschooling is that we can be flexible about when we learn, how we learn and what we learn. We can do progress faster with Math because Matthias is able to. We can spend more time on Tamil because he needs more practice. We can take a holiday from school when we need it. Their learning is tailored to their needs. We can continue with school through June because we want to.
We learn about the weather systems when walking through the clouds on a mountain. We learn math when we calculate the tax on the restaurant bill or multiply the price of fuel by how much we pumped into the tank. We learn resilience when our bookings get cancelled or plans change. We learn Bahasa when we travel through Malaysia and speak with the locals.
Homeschool is a rewarding journey! If you are interested, drop us a message and we can connect and share more!
We've spent more than 8 weeks on our Grand Tour across Malaysia. Our initial plan was to spend some time in Kuala Lumpur after spending 6 out of our past 8 weeks in the more rural highlands. The convenience, the comfort of having a huge selection of food and way shorter distances on the road called us to the city. We knew we would enjoy the malls, selection of gluten-free groceries and glitzy architecture. It sounded all positive, bright and cheery. Or at least that was what we thought it was going to be.
It has been a long eventful week for us. A little too eventful for us. You can read the horrible backstory here. We did have pockets of enjoyment in the city but the city really sucks for us. It is not just about Kuala Lumpur. Whether we're in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Melbourne, Auckland or Rome, they are all plagued with the same problems.
Here's why we think the city sucks...
We've been so used to empty streets and social distancing for the past two years that it has become OVERWHELMING to be in a crowd. We noticed very distinct behavioural changes in the children and ourselves when we are in the city. We are short-fused, easily frustrated, anxious, heightened and stressed. Where there are crowds, there is competition. People compete for space, toilets, a place in the queue, a seat and parking lots.
We love long journeys. Long hours on road trips isn't a waste of time because we get to go places and see the landscape change. Being in a jam IS A WASTE of time. In the current climate of inflation, it is a waste of fuel/money too.
Noise from traffic, trains, sirens, crowds and noisy neighbours. If there's one thing that most affects us, it must be noise. Can someone explain where is the pleasure in loud exhaust noises? I would think when one is living in close proximity in a city, you'll be more conscious of the noise you make and how it will affect others around you. I've been to more than 15 major cities across the world and grew up in one, I've yet to find a city where noise isn't a problem.
Cities are generally always 2-5 degree celcius warmer. If you live along the equator, the 2-5 degrees make a huge difference. We were completely exhausted after 15 minutes outside in 38C/100F temperature. It is just simply unbearable. It reminds us every moment that climate change is real and it will kill us.
You would think that in the city of huge crowds, you will be less lonely. Michael Buble puts it across best in song... "May be surrounded by, a million people I, still feel all alone" (Lyrics from 'Home'). It is precisely the crowds competing for what little space and resources that makes the city such an isolating experience. People are less friendly and more hostile. Ear pods on, rush to your work cubicle and rush back home to shut the world out. It is no wonder anxiety and depression rates are higher in cities.
We experienced all 5 of these and it reminded us of Singapore and why we chose to travel in the first place. It deeply affected all of us. We took a few days off work and school while we search for a new place to spend the rest of our time in Malaysia. Sofitel KL was our choice of refuge while we worked out where we would go next. The thick window glass blocked out traffic noise almost entirely, the air-conditioning was well regulated and we were isolated from the world. We caught up with sleep and enjoyed our food. As much as we enjoyed the time there, we were under no illusion that this was a long term solution.
Despite the respite in a 5 star hotel for the past few days, it still feels like a STARK difference from our 6 weeks in the rural highlands.
There was significantly less noise. We enjoyed the sounds of nature and we took notice of the natural surroundings. We were a lot more relaxed, less anxious and met with friendlier people. The weather helped reduce our allergies and made us go outside a lot more. We were also substantially more inspired creatively.
In fact our brand new store and collection HERE features art and designs inspired by our surroundings while we were in the highlands.
If we ever have a choice on where we should settle, it would be a small town about an hour or two away from the city. We could take trips to the city for supplies and services just a couple of times a month.
We've since left KL and moved on to a quieter sub-urban area in Melaka. For security reasons we won't be posting specifics about the property or area we are in. We will continue to bring you more content on awesome food and our travels soon!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at email@example.com