Part 1 – Malaysia on our Around the World Voyage with Niko.

Christmas –  Far away from home yet enjoyable on our around the world trip.

Our around the world voyage brought us to the kingdom of Malaysia, a country that exemplifies beauty in diversity. You’ll see a riot of differences in dress, cuisine, music and rituals yet there’s an underlying bond that brings different ethnic groups together to truly reflect their motto ‘Unity is Strength’.

Kuala Lumpur - New and Old together - Merdeka Square

Malaysia is a perfect fusion of ethnicities, cultures, religions and landscapes and we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect that makes this country truly Asia! Once under colonial influence of Portugal, Holland and Britain, today, Malaysia stands free and houses close to 30 million people.

The Exciting Capital City of Kuala Lumpur

We were happy to spend our Christmas holidays in Kuala Lumpur on our around the world trip. As one of the Top 10 most visited cities in the world with almost two million people, we came across different ethnic groups such as Malaysian, Chinese and Indian;

Highest twin buildings in the world Petronas Towers

all living in harmony. Once a young tin mining town, Kuala Lumpur has grown to become a huge metropolis, popular for its towering skyscrapers like the Petronas Towers. The largest in Southeast Asia, these towers were inspired by Muslim architecture.

The name of the city comes from its two Gombak Klang Rivers and you’ll see the beautiful Jamek Mosque at its confluence. When you travel with kids, you’re almost always looking for places to eat! We headed to Jalan Alor for a grand Christmas feast, which featured delicious Thai style fried fish. Simply awesome! The street food is affordable and very tasty. If you’re in the city, do take a stroll through the central market and visit Masjid Negara (National Mosque), which can hold up to 15,000 people.

The Architectural Delight of Georgetown and Penang

A world heritage site showcasing colonial architecture and unique cultural diversity, Georgetown is one of Malaysia’s richest regions and is well-developed and very tourist friendly. Penang (Malaysia) Temple You can easily get around town using local transportation, or walk (as we like to do) taking in the historical and architectural sites around town. You’ll find it easy and economical to travel with children as many of the attractions are highly subsidized.

If you’re looking for scrumptious cuisine, head to Little India. We loved the naan!

Amazing Indian cuisine in Kuala Lumpur

The city has other equally good places to dine out and the food at hawker stalls is especially tasty and cheap. Many tourists come here to enjoy the sun and sand but we didn’t think the beaches were that big of an attraction. However, a real sight to behold would be the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple, which is not only the largest in Southeast Asia but also one of the most interesting and beautiful.

Malaysia offers plenty of things to see and do for kids

Travel with kids is easy if you can keep them occupied! In Kuala Lumpur, Niko loved the Planetarium and especially the walk in a ‘no gravity room’. The Christmas festivities included as always a happy Santa, plenty of presents and balloons that lasted for days! The temples at Penang were equally entertaining and Niko was very impressed!

Kuala Lumpur Planetarium (Malaysia)

A Well-Developed Malaysia with So Much to Offer

If you’re planning to travel with children, take the free tourist bus in Penang which takes you by all the major attractions. However, if you want to take your time at the attractions, you can opt for public transportation or buses which are quite inexpensive.

Malaysia welcomed us with true Asian hospitality. Even when so far away from home we managed to celebrate Christmas and truly enjoy it with a mini Christmas tree and symbolic gifts. The country’s friendly locals and delicious cuisine made this location a home away from home.

If you have similar or relevant around the world with children adventures, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Malaysia trip:

To see all pictures from our Malaysia voyage, please go to here

Trip Pulse: Bali mesmerized us! An amazing place on our around the world voyage

Bali – Sweet Smells and Soothing Sounds

Our around the world trip brought us to Bali, a paradise filled with exotic and mystical beauty. We were immersed in its unique culture and mesmerized by the ribbon of beaches that surrounds this holiday getaway.

Although Bali’s past was influenced by the Dutch and Japanese rule, it managed to differentiate itself and stay true to its heritage. For instance, a Balinese woman in traditional Balinese sarong, still places an offering or ‘ngejot’ at various places around her house as an offering to God, a way to give thanks, to help expel negative energy and to protect the home from evil.

The Bali God offering

While at a hairdresser, I picked up an English book written by English-speaking expats. It described the Balinese New Year and how, instead of the usual revelry and celebrations, the locals observed a Day of Silence so they could usher in the next year with fasting, meditation and quiet contemplation. This act in itself reflects the nature and mindset of the Balinese people.

The Beachy and Touristy South

Folks from around the world, head to Kuta for its swells. For other tourist oriented spots you can explore Surin or visit Nusa Dua don’t expect the true essence of Bali. There are several kitschy stores where you can buy counterfeit t-shirts and Raybans (I’m already on my second pair!). Street vendors don’t really take ‘No’ for an answer so be prepared to purposefully walk past.

Natasza and Niko playing in Bali waves near Uluwatu

Gili Islands by Lombok may still be a backpackers’ beach paradise destination but Bali still has a few gems of its own. Far from the madding crowd, there are picturesque beaches such as Uluwatu, Blue Point, Dreamland and Jalan Pantai beach, but Ubud really took our breath away. It’s been the most spiritual and exotic spot we have seen so far on our around the world trip.

Spectacular Ubud

In the late 15th century, following the collapse of Majapahit and the rise of Muslim principalities on the northern coast of Java, many Hindu nobilities, artisans and courtiers migrated to Bali. In the 1930’s a number of European artists such as Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet ‘found’ Bali. To say the least, art is the focus of Ubud with hundreds of galleries, art shops, craft stores and handmade fashions. The architecture is inspired by Indian and Javanese designs. Don’t be surprised to find local people labouring away on their paintings and wood carved sculptures, as art is the life and soul of this quaint town. Apart from art, the Balinese reserve a special place in their hearts for dance. We loved the Barong dance which was usually performed only during special rituals. Truly brilliant!

Barong Dancer in Ubud Bali

When you travel with kids, food becomes an intrinsic part of any holiday! Go ahead and try the Bebek Betutu or roast duck which is deliciously prepared with an assortment of spices. Natasza really liked their vegetarian fare as well.

The Majestic North

Our day trip to Kintamaji and Lake Batur was truly memorable. From here you can see the spectacular Mount Agung which stands over 3000 meters high. As you travel here, the temperature and the terrain changes and you can enjoy a view of the Batur Crater and beautiful rice field valleys. Keep a ‘bribe/gift’ ready for the local police as they like to make an extra buck. We would have really enjoyed the amazingly large Balinese temple on Pura Besakih if it wasn’t for the ‘tour guide wanna-bees’ making it really difficul to enjoy. When you travel, especially with children, opt for an organized tour to avoid the hustlers.

Largest Bali temple - Besakih Mother Temple

Fun and frolic when you travel with kids

Apart from the many nice beaches that offer hours of unadulterated fun in the relaxing warm waters, Niko also enjoyed running around in the Monkey Forest watching their antics and play. He also like the Barong dance and seemed completely engrossed watching the mystical characters perform.

Keep in mind…

  • Be careful on the roads, the drivers are quite aggressive and safety may not always be their first priority. Carry your international driver’s license at all times.
  • Check Agoda.com for last minute deals before you walk into any hotel so you can get good prices and bargains.
  • Arak – Bali moonshine coconut made from palm sap can be poisonous if received from questionable sources. I received a few offers from locals but was a bit freaked out by the warnings and parental guilt of being ‘irresponsible’:)
  • Many car rental companies will not have insurance so either pay a big premium to go with the brand names or drive extra carefully – Balinese marketing methods – while leaving an Avis office we were called by a guy hiding in the bushes, yes, the bushes…He was quite convincing and finally talked us into renting a car with him. Talk about competitive tactics
  • To us, Bali seems blessed with the best of art, culture, dance, scenic beauty and architecture and we walked away with an armload of happy memories from Ubud, a destination like no other!Do you have any questions or comments? Do you have any interesting Bali experiences to share with other parents? Please let us know in the comments section below.
    If you have similar or relevant around the world with children adventures, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

    Here are some of our photos from our Bali 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: