Almost 11 months ago we left Canada with a (just turned) 1-year-old to pursue our dream of a location independent lifestyle. The first 8 months we spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can read more about our time there in my previous life update.
We then moved on to Hoi An, a lovely quaint town in Central Vietnam and have spent the last 3 months here. Hoi An's old town center is a UNESCO world heritage site. It used to be a vibrant port that is now defunct but the buildings with Portuguese, Japanese and French colonial influence remain.
The old town with it's picturesque yellow painted buildings decorated with countless colorful lanterns is now a car-free zone lined with souvenir shops, tailors, restaurants and cafes. It's such a charming area to hang out, that we often do just that. On the weekends we love to come for a nice dinner or a coffee & cake break and then just stroll the streets - not to get somewhere or buy something, but just to be and enjoy.
We have rented a beautiful and large 3 bedroom 4 bathroom house outside of the town center. We are immersed in a local neighborhood down a narrow lane that barely fits one car. The house is bigger than the 3 of us need, but since we had family from Canada to visit we got a house that could accommodate all of us.
Our rental house and alley leading towards it
With the help of a local rental agent (Nha Toi) we were able to scout out available rental homes, find our house and move in all within less than 5 days.
One of the most important things for me is always the kitchen. This house is equipped with a gas stove, small electric oven, and granite countertops! Again (just like in Chiang Mai), I had to go out to buy some more utensils and other items to make it 'food blogger equipped'.
Olivia made friends with a neighbor and her grandma
I love that our house is right next to a neighborhood community garden. We have neighbors on only one side and get more light through the windows on the other side than most houses built in this style. While I am writing this from the extra room that we made our office, I get to look out onto the herb garden with it's free range chickens, palm trees, banana shrubs, rows of sweet potato plants, mango and papaya trees.
There is always a rooster crowing at any time of day or night, dogs barking (mainly at night), motorbikes buzzing by, community announcements via speakers, and always busy neighbors. But I take all of these sounds of a healthy neighborhood community over the incessant airplane noise and next door construction that we had in Chiang Mai.
A bicycle with a child seat in the back is our main mode of transportation. I love this so much more than a motorbike! Olivia loves it too.
We both get to take in the views while cruising around - we have stopped for many a cow in the rice fields, chickens scurrying along, and once even for pigs crossing the road!
Hoi An is small enough that we can bike almost everywhere, even to the beach - which is one of the main reasons I wanted to come here. When it is hot and humid, outdoor activities for kids are really limited, but the beach with its cool breeze and refreshing waves offers a welcome refuge and free opportunity for kids to run off their energy.
Fun at An Bang Beach
The Markets - Shopping
I love that we are within easy walking distance from a local market, where we get fresh fruit + vegetables, chicken + duck eggs, and occasional fresh tofu. We are not big on buying meat from open-air markets, so have gone semi-vegetarian for now - meaning we usually only have meat when we eat out.
It took a little while to find our preferred market ladies who would recognize us as regulars and give us fair prices. Haggling and grossly overcharging tourists is the norm here. Luckily, our rental agent has a common market price list on their website, so we quickly got an idea when we were being had.
This open market price structure isn't reserved for the actual market only. There are no big shopping centers in Hoi An, only convenience stores of varying sizes and rarely any price tags. It definitely took some getting used to, but again getting to know the shop owners and being seen as a regular, takes care of most overcharging.
Just the other night, Konrad was joking that things become cheaper and cheaper the longer we stay, when he came home with beers and snacks all for less than $2.50!
The food! Oh my, Vietnamese food is really amazing. Not as spicy and bold like Thai food, more subtle with amazing flavor balance. So are you wondering now why I haven’t posted Vietnamese recipes yet?
Loaded Banh Mi Sandwich - sooo delicioussss
Here is the deal, while it is absolutely delicious, I also find it intimidatingly complicated with long ingredient lists including things that are basically impossible to find outside of Vietnam. Heck, my most favorite dish - Cao Lau - exists only here in Hoi An, because it is made with special noodles that only one family makes here with water from a local well.
Maybe I just haven’t spent enough time here yet to become familiar and comfortable with the local ingredients. And yes, I have taken a wonderful cooking class (Baby Mustard) with my sister-in-law when she was visiting. The class was super insightful into Vietnamese food and cooking, and also the culture. But it also increased my feeling of being an outsider, who has nothing to do writing recipes about Vietnamese cuisine.
At Baby Mustard Cooking Class
So in the meantime, I am enjoying as much local food as I still can while we are here, and leave it up to authorities like Viet World Kitchen to bring you Vietnamese food recipes.
We were fortunate to welcome and host family from Canada while in Hoi An. Konrad's sister and mom with her husband came a long way to spend 2 wonderful weeks with us.
My sister-in-law had visited us before, when we lived in Thailand 4 years ago, but for my mother-in-law and her husband, this was their first visit to Asia and we tried our best to give them a good experience getting a glimpse into this part of the world.
Bicycle Rickshaw Ride with Grandma
Most importantly though, it was great to just spend time with family. I loved seeing Olivia interact with them and warming up to her aunt and grandparents within the first day! This quality family time is the part we miss the most in our location independent lifestyle.
The work part of our lives has been going great as well. With a nice kitchen, I am able to continue coming up with recipes to blog. And with family bringing product from Canada, I was even able to do a few sponsored posts.
Since we have a much bigger house, we dedicated one of the spare bedrooms to be our office (when we didn't have visitors). We continued our routine of one of us working for half a day, while the other watches Olivia and then switching after her nap. But a growing toddler comes with changing sleep patterns.
Nowadays, she skips her nap every third day and doesn't go to sleep early anymore. After spending 1-2 hours a night trying to get her to sleep at the time I thought was right, I gave up and let her decide on her own bedtime. It's much later than I'd like, but at least she is finally sleeping in longer and not waking me at 6 am anymore. So I've actually started to get between 1-2 hours of work time before she wakes up. Those have been my most productive hours!
I've finally finished writing and editing my eBook. After having it proofread, I pre-launched it exclusively to my list last week. I am hoping to get some more feedback on the book and the buying process, in preparation for the full launch, anticipated for next month. So for now, when I don't write recipe posts, I am busy planning marketing strategies for the book release.
Visas - Change of Plans
And just like that our time in Vietnam is coming to an end. We had a wonderful 3 months in what must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. The plan was to stay at least another 3 months, but soon after we arrived, visa rules changed (as they do here often), requiring us to leave the country before starting another 3-months visa.
We were faced with the options of taking what is often referred to as 'suicide bus' to the closest border with Laos, hop off, leave Vietnam, enter Laos, turn around, leave Laos, enter Vietnam. Voila! Well, we've done similar when we lived in Thailand 4 years ago, but bring a toddler into the picture and things change quickly.
Another option would have been hiring a private car for the border run, but without car seats and a toddler that hates being buckled in - aka 'stuck' as she says - this seemed just as suicidal. The last option was taking a flight to a neighboring country and return soon after.
We were actively planning this, when we realized, that this would probably be Olivia's last flight as 'infant in lap' - before she turns 2 and requires to have her own seat. So very quickly we decided to make that last 'free' flight count by taking long-haul flight back home to Canada.
No, our location-independent lifestyle isn't coming to an end. Our next destination in mind is Mexico. But first, we took up my parent's offer to stay at their house while they are on vacation in Europe. We still get to spent some time visiting with them before and after their trip and while they are gone we get to tend after their little homestead. Fresh chicken eggs and garden vegetables here we come!!
We are actually super excited to spend a month in Kelowna, BC. I may be a little biased, but I think it is another one of the most beautiful places on earth (at least in summer). June is a perfect time to enjoy some fresh berries (that we dearly missed in this past year in the tropics) and the weather is nice and warm, but not too hot.
Olivia will get to spend time with her cousins and we will be able to catch up with family and friends before traveling on.
And because you have made it to the end of this rather long post, here are more pictures of our Life in Hoi An Vietnam for your enjoyment 😀
After the rice harvest the grains are dried in the sun - everywhere!
In love with all the Bougainvillea covered entrances
Any chance you kept a copy of the common market price list?
Sounds like a fantastic place to live for a few months!