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!
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!
Our new merchandise is being progressively added to the store at www.hirojack.com/store
Please support our work and help us work towards our goal of doing a trip to New Zealand in remembrance of my late-father!
We'll start with the super fun and light-hearted stuff first!
"Mama, I want to go to the place with all the games!". The two kids have been repeatedly asking to go back to Genting Highlands. We thought, why not? We didn't quite get enough time to see most of the massive new Genting. I grew up frequenting this place in the clouds and I must say it has transformed drastically.
Fly with us on the Awana Skyway up to Genting here! The relatively new cable car system (newly completed in 2016) brought us through the clouds and the rainforest from the mid hills. Comfy, fast and offered amazing views. The station at the base is directly connected to the Genting Highlands Premium Outlets which offers a wide range of branded shops and eateries. You can park your car there for the entire day for an affordable RM12.
We arrived in time for dinner. We were greeted by the amazing food street lined by restaurants, bubble tea shops and pubs that play live music on the weekends! It felt so nice to hear a live performance again!
We had dinner at The Laughing Fish by Harry Ramsden. Fish and Chips was about 7/10. The cod can be a bit fishy for some. Our food came warm and we thought it would be nicer if they came out piping hot from the fryer. We shared a big portion of Fish and Chips, a bangers and mash and more chips! I had mushy peas all to myself because nobody seems to like it? Why?!
We enjoyed Genting Highlands a lot because you can find shops and food for every budget. You can find activities for every budget and risk appetite. It caters to the young and old. Everyone gets to enjoy the cool weather outside and amazing views. You don't have to be rich to enjoy this place. It is a stark difference from some resorts that are exclusive playgrounds for gamblers and the wealthy.
The transformation still amazes me! The mall is spectacular with all the digital screens! Gives it a Tokyo/Times Square and Piccadilly Circus feel. You can do a zip-line from the mall across the indoor theme park, scream your hearts out on the "superman" roller coaster or just enjoy a relaxing kiddy ride. Amazingly, the arcades are still where they used to be when I was a kid!
Now for the nightmare 😱
The pandemic has locked us in for more than 2 years. But it isn't done wrecking havoc in the travel industry. Crazy expensive Airfares, shortage of workers in the industry and a very dismal drop in service standards.
We've experienced our worst nightmare....AGAIN. If you've seen the previous time our trip got derailed , it pales in comparison to this nightmare.
After a 7 hour drive from Cameron Highlands to Johor en-route back to Singapore to visit family, we decided to rest a night in an IHG branded hotel. The place was well renovated and had comfortable beds but as we lay down in bed ready to sleep, there was a COCKROACH on the wall. I flicked it onto the floor with a floor rag and ended it. Okay, we thought maybe it just came in from the outside. The next day, we returned to the room after a day outside, THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE DEAD ON THE CARPET?!
The staff was apologetic when I informed them at checkout. Got extra points as a service recovery. We thought the worst was over.
We've decided to base ourselves in KL for a few weeks to plan the next leg of our Grand Tour since we've been away from the bustling city for more than 2 months! We booked a very premium looking Airbnb unit that was very near to KLCC in Kuala Lumpur after wrapping up our amazing time in the Cameron Highlands Mountains.
If you frequent the Airbnb website often, you'll see that many listings have reviews from 2 years ago before the pandemic happened. It has becoming increasingly difficult to judge how good are these properties from photographs. This was what greeted us...
When informed the owner, he was pretty nonchalant about it. It didn't seemed to affect him and he wasn't too bothered. It seems that many Airbnb owners (in my experience its over 50% of them) are not too bothered what debilitated state their rental properties were in. Word of advice if you are travelling and booking an Airbnb:
1. Book with superhosts as much as possible
2. If you are unsure about anything, ASK before you book via "contact host"
3. READ the reviews
4. Always have a back up plan, be aware of hotels or other units you can possibly go to at short notice. The customer service will leave you stranded！
The nightmare however didn't end there for us. The owner didn't suggest a solution for us and so I proposed that he refunded us fully. He immediately accepted. ZERO apology, not a word to express any tinge of regret of the horrible experience he has caused us. Not to mention, we were stranded AGAIN!
We managed to book a 4 star hotel after some research and a quick dinner around the area. Checked in and decided to use the toilet. Lo and behold....
As if after 400km of driving, cockroach the night before, a horrid Airbnb that left us stranded wasn't enough....I went to the lobby to meet the manager and showed him this picture. Thankfully he was very apologetic and immediately got us new rooms and upgraded us.
We hope KL will be kind to us as we look for another accommodation for the rest of our trip! We absolutely miss the weather in Cameron Highlands already!
That's all for our double issue for this week.
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It always scares me when I see ads on the newspapers promoting package tours that list 4 to 6 European cities for a 10 to 12 day trip. You'll spend an entire day on the plane and another day jet-lagging while they drag you across more than 1000kms in the coach. I'm not sure if that's a $5000 holiday or paid torture.
Here are 4 reasons why you should travel slowly!
1. Travelling slowly helps you relax (and maybe make a baby :p)
Have you ever got back from a vacation and wished you had another to catch up on rest? We've been there and we hated it. Packing less in a day helps you enjoy the lull moments sitting by the pool or taking a stroll around a picturesque nature reserve. It helps us unwind from the stresses of having to meet schedules and answer millions of emails right from the time we wake up. It is a great opportunity to not set an alarm for the morning! It gives you the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved ones and come back feeling recharged!
I'm not joking about the baby part! We all know someone who is stressed out with trying to conceive. After years of not being able to conceive in the midst of their hectic stressful lives, BOOM! A good slow relaxing trip and congratulations! They are pregnant! We can attest this worked for us!
I cannot emphasise what wonders this slow trip has done for our mental health as a family. We can focus better when we need to. We have that bandwidth to write blogs, take photographs, write a book, draw and design! The kids are more willing to do their school work, focus on reading and enjoy countless hours of open ended play.
2. Travelling slowly saves you $$$
Long stays on Airbnb are almost always cheaper. You also can ask for better rates when you stay longer with a hotel too! Less commuting = less costs! You save time and energy packing and unpacking again and again.
Settling longer in a place also means we are more willing to cook/make simple meals, make our own cup of tea and coffee. Instead of eating at touristy places, we use Google Maps and look for great local reviews for awesome food. We've been able to find many food options throughout our trip that cost between 50 to 70RM (About S$15.80 to S$22) for the entire family.
3. Travelling slowly allows you to find hidden gems!
Travelling deeply and slowly, you get to fully immerse yourself and enjoy a place. That's exactly what we've been doing! We found places other explorers mark as "Great View" on google maps in Cameron Highlands and roamed the around on foot to find our favourite satay man in Tana Rata. He sold a satay for 1RM and cooked them over coal... (See pictures in this post)
Because we get to spend more time at a place, we tend to go exploring the area beyond what the travel guides point us to. We go beyond what Google Maps recommends! That was also how we found these eateries when we explored Ipoh...
4. Travelling slowly gives you unexpected adventures
(my favourite reason for travelling slowly!)
We've seen most of the places we could in Cameron Highlands and decided to explore the surrounding areas in Perak (Ipoh). Mossy forest and Parit falls in Cameron Highlands were closed when we wanted to access them because of landslide and maintenance.
I chanced upon this cave on google maps while looking at the terrain layer. (Please try this, it is most amusing for those who enjoy seeing 3D maps!). The interesting "T" shape caught my eye and you won't believe what we found....
Next time you travel, try travelling slowly! Hope you'll find it as rewarding as us!
If you've found other amazing food, scenery or relaxing places around Malaysia, please share them with us!
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Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at email@example.com