Trip Pulse: Singapore – A Treat for the Senses on our Around the World adventure!

Our Around the World adventure continues in Singapore.

Singapore is yet another Asian delight that we have discovered on our journey around the world. This city has proved to be a beautiful brew of Malay, Chinese, Western and Indian culture. Although most of the folks speak Mandarin at home, you can pretty much manage if you’re familiar with one of the official languages – English, Tamil, Malay or Chinese.

Where East meets West

This ultra modern city lies just 100+ km away from the equator and houses over 5 million people who have collectively made Singapore one of the richest per capita nations in the world. A glimpse into history reveals that this country was ruled by the British till 1963. Although they were briefly reunited with Malaysia, there were several ethnic, linguistic and religious differences that led to their separation towards the mid 60s.

Today, Singapore stands as an economic stronghold and contains both urban confines as well as getaways of natural beauty. Here, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to high quality shopping malls and electronics stores and you’ll find that almost everyone has a mobile phone! In fact, the mobile phone penetration rate stands at 1,400 mobile phone subscribers per 1000 people.

Friendly locals, sizzling cuisine, formidable laws!

You’ll love the locals just as much as the city. They are friendly, polite and well-mannered and they seem to follow all the strict regulations that govern the country. These laws draw heavy penalties so do read up on prevailing rules before you step out.

Don't break any of the many rules in Singapore

All in all, you’ll find that the city is clean, safe, very well-organized and easy to get around especially when you travel with kids.

Singapore offers a grand buffet of mouth-watering cuisine filled with flavour yet amazingly affordable. For less than $10US you can get a whole lot of stuff. On the flip side, accommodations are expensive so you may have to dust off your wallet to get a small room.

Delicious Indian cuisine in Singapore

The perfect playground for your kids!

If you plan to travel with children, then you’ll love the Singapore airport. The child-friendly venue was designed to make parents happy as it comes with custom line-ups, playgrounds and lots of attractions to keep kids entertained.

Niko thoroughly enjoyed the Singapore Zoo. In fact, we did too! This world-class facility follows an open concept so the animals are not kept in sad concrete confines.

Check out Singapore open concept zoo

You’ll find them wandering through beautiful greenery almost like in their natural habitat. The lions and tigers were only separated by specially designed water canals!


Things to watch out for … tips for your Singapore stay:

  • Whether you travel with children or not, do check your luggage thoroughly before you enter the country or you may end up becoming ‘criminals’ like we did, as we unknowingly ‘smuggled’ chewing gum and a bottle of beer! Yes, they thankfully did let us go after a lot of explaining!
  • If you’re looking for a hotel room, book well in advance. A last minute booking comes with a very heavy price tag!

Singapore is the perfect Asian base!

Being centrally located, Singapore is the perfect Asian base from where you can fly to other Asian countries nearby. Visit Singapore, especially if you want to travel with children as there’s plenty for them to see and do. You’ll never have a dull moment in this modern, clean, child-friendly and warm country which promises to be the ‘West’ of the East!

What have your experiences been like in Singapore with your children? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Singapore visit:

Trip Pulse: Bangkok – Spicy complexity on our round the world trip.

Thailand is a colourful, tastefully proud and complex society. And, we love it!

Our adventure round the world brought us to Thailand, a colourful and vibrant monarchy that still embraces democracy while being fiercely patriotic to their King. It is a land that offers the perfect blend of tradition and modernism. The Thai people are closely linked to Buddhist teachings and are non-confrontational and very hospitable in nature.

Bangkok – Thai capital home to over 10 million people and the longest official name according to Guinness Book of World Records

Busy Bangkok welcomed us with open arms. A truly vibrant city, the new Bangkok isn’t very different from downtown Toronto. However, although the new Bangkok has its share of western modernism with shopping malls and concrete skyscrapers, we enjoyed the old Bangkok which has retained its traditional core reflecting the spiritualism of this bustling city.  We just loved the street markets.

Famous Bangkok street food - if you have the guts

You’ll find everything from Thai fast food to ‘genuine’ brand items from around the world, all at an amazingly discounted price. Trust me, 100 Baht can go a long way when you’re shopping on the road.


Birthday celebration fit for a king

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and I share the same birthday on December 5th so our timing was perfect! For a little pampering, I opted for a wonderfully royal one hour Thai massage – amazing!

Amazing meal on Khao San Road in Bangkok

The perfect evening ended with a delicious dinner on Khao San Road in the company of my favourite two people –  Natasza and Niko. Thankfully, we didn’t get a cab back to the hotel so we ended up walking along the street, gazing up at the thousands of balloon lanterns that lit up the night sky.

Some of our most memorable Bangkok adventures

When you travel with kids, every experience seems memorable! However, here are some noteworthy ones that I will look back on with a smile.

Khao San Road

We saw a palm reader on Khao San Road in old Bangkok and were quite happy to find that Natasza had some good fortune coming her way. How exciting!

Boat ride on the River

As the Chao Phraya River runs through Bangkok, the boat ride is just amazing. For a few Baht, you’ll get an awesome view of the city from a completely different angle. Skip those expensive private tours and take a public transport boat like we did. Live like a local!

Tuk Tuk Ride

When in Bangkok, you just have to ride the Tuk Tuk. It’s cheap and so much fun especially when you travel with children. You might even get a free ride as market vendors often offer to pay your fare if you buy something from their store.

Fun and famous Tuk Tuk rides

Temple Hopping

We enjoyed temple hopping and visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw Arun by the riverside. Did you know that there are over 400 temples in Bangkok?

One aspect that really stood out was the fact that Thais absolutely love their King and the royal birthday celebrations were truly unforgettable.

Amazing Thai street food

How can we forget Thai food! Both on the street and in up-scale restaurants, the cuisine is delicious but be careful where you decide to eat. Niko loved the chicken satee! Although we skipped the Floating market, we enjoyed a visit to the Royal National Art Museum.

Bangkok with kids can be lots of fun!

When you travel with kids it’s important to keep them occupied and happy! Although a lot of the local attractions were closed due to the floods, Niko still enjoyed the boat trip and the splunge in the hotel pool. Too bad Bangkok lacks kids playgrounds except for a large one in Lumphini Park. If you’re heading to Bangkok, you’ll want to check out the Siam Ocean World and the Butterfly Garden.

Our family travel tips for Bangkok:

A couple of tips to keep in mind especially when you travel with kids would be

  • to avoid tap water
  • be careful while crossing the busy roads
  • carry mosquito repellent
  • remember to dress appropriately when visiting the royal grounds
  • it would be wise not to discuss politics or make any negative statements related to the King unless of course you want to spend some quality time in jail!

Many shrines with the Thai King in Bangkok during his birthday celebrations

 

  • One area of frustration was that Bangkok was not very stroller-friendly, so flex those muscles.

Bangkok was everything we expected and a little more. From a culture steeped in both tradition and modernism, we enjoyed every aspect of this South East Asian city.

What have your experiences been like in Bangkok with your family? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Bangkok (Thailand) visit:

Trip Pulse: KoTao – Paradise and a must have on your round the world itinerary!

Ko Tao is a gem definitely worth visiting on your round the world trip or family getaway!

It is named Turtle Island in Thai even when most turtles have escaped elsewhere to make way to thousands of scuba diver wannabes.

The development of the island started just ten years ago and it manages to keep a ‘virgin feel’ to its larger cousins, Ko Samui and Phuket with just over 100,000 visitors a year. Getting there is not as much of a challenge as it is sickening, literary, to the stomach:)

We had to endure a high-speed, bumpy catamaran ride for over 2 hours from Ko Samui. Truthfully, we have never experienced such sea sickness in our life and judging by our neighbouring passengers, neither did they! Let’s just say, we should have listened to our friend, Justyna and bought ourselves some motion-sickness pills (for kids preferably, as they are non-drowsy). Needless to say, Niko was fine and slept like a baby throughout the entire trip while we suffered.

But once you get off the catamaran you realize it is worth the sacrifice!Beautiful beaches of Koh Tao

Ko Tao is a very beautiful, small and so far one of our favourite island beach destinations. It has amazing beaches, breathtaking views, phenomenal diving/snorkelling and fantastic food. It is still laid back with relatively few tourists but with all the necessary needs and wants fulfilled. We wish we could have stayed longer!

 

Koh Tao with kids

Nang Yuan Islands just of the main coast are just amazing for kids. Niko loved the 15 minute  long-tail boat ride, the shallow crystal clear waters and all the colourful tropical fish that just swam up without having to dive.

Niko loved the boat ride on longtail boat in Koh Tao

Off season is a great time to go if the weather cooperates…

Mostly cool kids, some young families and long-term travellers visit during off-season.

When looking for accommodations during the low season (Sep-Nov), we recommend to book a place just for a day or two in advance. When on site, spend half a day checking out most proper places along the beach and ask for a discount at the perfect place.

This is how we found ours, at Sairee Beach, which even though is further away from the serene Freedom Beach, offered kid friendly Ko Tao Freedom Beach Views from the top
accommodations all within walking distance. We opted out for a hotel with a kiddie pool, easy access to the beach, shops, restaurants and medical services, just in case. It was also the best value for our budget.

Mae Haad beach may be a good alternative as everything you may need as a family is also within a walkable distance.

Getting around on Koh Tao ain’t easy, if you are a family that is …

The Island is predominantly designed for mopeds and ATV’s, so a safe solution for families is not always available. We like walking, so we chose that as our form of transportation.

Diving or snorkelling in Ko Tao is just amazing

I completed my Open Water Diver Certification here. It was just 4 of us and the instructor. I dove on some of the most amazing sights and recommend Tropical Fish Ko Tao while snorkelling with kidsdiving here to anyone whether you’re a beginner or advanced. The conditions boast great visibility, vibrant tropical fish and a colourful coral.

You can’t go wrong while on this island as a family…So, what do you think of Koh Tao? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Ko Tao (Thailand) visit:

Trip Pulse: Ko Samui – Tourist Trap or good value for families? Improve you round the world trip success…

Ko Samui can be a great destination for families on their round the world trip, but not all choices are good ones.

Ko Samui is one of the most touristy places in Thailand only bowing down to Bangkok. This once backpackers’ heaven on the Gulf of Thailand is now the most developed island with over a million and a half visitors per year. Beside white sand beaches, coral reefs and rain forest, it also offers good local Thai cuisine and some truly unique buddhist temples. But is it authentic? Is it worth to add to your round the world itinerary?

More developed towns like Chewang beach are tourist traps with prices double of what you can get elsewhere including neighbouring much friendlier and quieter Lawai beach.

We came during the monsoon season (usually from September to November) so the high winds brought in cloud cover and wavy seas making it tough to enjoy the islands’ famous beaches.

We were however able to explore the more spiritual side of the island by visiting most of the temples and taking day trips to some of the hidden and less travelled corners of the island.

Here are some of the Ko Samui’s attractions that make Ko Samui a place still worth visiting.

Ko Samui Temples

Wat Plai Laem and Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai)

This holy place with three grand Buddhas is set in a man-made lake. You not only can buy your fortune from an automated fortune-teller machine but also leave a permanent mark by signing your name on tiles which will become part of the temple (we did it too).

Mummified Monk in Wat Khunaram

This monk allegedly predicted his own death and requested that if his body would not decompose after his death, for it to be put on display as a symbol of his faith and path to nirvana. He got his wish, 30 years after his death the monk’s body shows little sign of decay except for his eyes covered by Ray Ban sunglasses.

Laem Sor Pagoda

Located on the southern tip of the island, this holy place is truly unique. Rarely seen on tourist maps, this gem is a must-see. 

Laem Sor Pagoda, Ko Samui - Round the world with kids

Beautifully situated by the coast this temple is beautiful. We also drove up the hill next to the pagoda, that is home to a large Buddha statue, that apparently holds Buddha’s actual bone under its foundations. In 1903, a monk buried a fragment of the Buddha’s bone that he brought back from his pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. The statute was constantly hit by lightening and hence susceptible to fires. To cut the risk of damage, Buddha’s bone was relocated elsewhere. Not sure, how much truth is in this story (printed in badly translated English on a sign next to the statute), but it definitely helped to make this place feel extra special.

Natural and made-made wonders

Hin Ta – Hin Yai – natural coastal grandma and grandpa rock formations with a tale behind it, that surprisingly closely resemble human male and female genitals:)

The grandfather rock, Ko Samui, Thailand - Round the world with kids

Bophut’s Fisherman’s Village

A charming village that retains the original Thai-Chinese atmosphere even if already packed with many new hotels and guesthouses.

Just drive around

Many tourists rent mopeds or jeeps and we decided to get us a 4WD beast ourselves, the famous Suzuki Jimni. The drives through palm tree plantations and up to the rainforest hills are worth it! From there we enjoyed the views of  Hin Lat Falls, places like the Secret Buddha Garden and a breathtaking panorama of the island.

Ko Samui for kids and families

There are a few attractions deemed kids friendly that we decided to explore including Namuang Safari Park known for its elephant trekking and shows as well as Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo. We can not recommend either! We were appalled by the elephant show’s MC who appeared intoxicated, sniffing what appeared to be drugs in front of the audience. We decided to leave the place mid show. Both the safari park and the zoo appeared to us of  poor upkeep conditions and questionable animal treatment.

Thail Elephants Ko Samui - Round the world with kids

 

We did however read good reviews about the Angthong Marine National Park, a marine park that is a major draw for families. We felt Niko was still too little for this attraction, but it maybe suitable for older kids.

There are over 250 resorts on the island, so make sure to pick those that are kids friendly, with playgrounds, kids pools and even babysitting services.

Perhaps, it’s good that it wasn’t beach weather during our stay as it forced us to explore the very unique and perhaps the more authentic part of the island. Some parts of the island like Chewang lost its original Thai nature and succumbed to pressures of the demanding tourist, but there is still a part of the island worth exploring!

So, what’s your take on Thailand’s Ko Samui island? Please share your view in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Ko Samui (Thailand) visit: