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: 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: Macau is bigger than Vegas – Round the world with children

An expensive geography lesson

The trip to Macau from Hong Kong took us just under an hour with a speedboat, but our Macau adventure didn’t start here. Our trip to the Vegas of the Orient started approximately an hour before we had to dock the ferry when we realized we may have booked the wrong hotel. How wrong? The initial hotel was located only 2 km from Macau city centre (walkable right?),

the problem

… it’s no longer in Macau. It’s in mainland China. The issue was we only had a 2-time entry visa into mainland China with a still planned trip to Shenzhen and Beijing. While sitting and drinking overpriced coffee at Starbucks, only one to have free wife, we were able to find the first and last available hotel, 5-star of course . Just what we needed on a budget. Enter a $250 a night territory. Ouch!  The good news, we were there for only two nights and truly enjoyed our stay:)!

Enter Macau

Macau is the other special administrative section of PRC People’s Republic of China with the Portuguese colonial past rather than the British one in Hong Kong. As the Portugese government in Macau needed much needed revenues, it decided to open up the gambling trade. Today, Macau is the Mecca for gamblers and a tax haven for the rich! Over 50 percent of its GDP comes from gambling revenues. Macau is only a fraction of the geographical size of Vegas Nevada yet recently it exceed its gambling revenues. Every year over 20 million visitors mainly from mainland China and Hong Kong come here to beat the odds! Macau is officially the most densely populated place on the planet and we could feel it!


Gaming revenue in Macau this year probably will exceed $20 billion, which is a little over three times the size of Las Vegas


With over 50 percent of Macau’s population born in China very few Portuguese influences remain, except for the colonial architecture

Macau Ruins of St Pauls and its Cantonese-Portugese cuisine (even-though I did like their beef jerky served at every corner). It is also the second wealthiest nation in the world based on GDP (PPP) but you would not guess it by looking at dirty and rundown buildings surrounding its 5-star  hotels and casinos.

Natasza was not too fond of the Macanese, Cantonese cuisine with the Portuguese flare … and YES we found ourselves in the comfort of our own crappy cuisine called MacDonald’s … on a couple of occasions … We picked the devil we know:)

Overall, a very interesting and luxurious 2-day trip with a $20 loss at the casino!

What are your thoughts on Macau? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Trip Pulse – Hong Kong: East meets West – Round the world with children


Hong Kong – “Fragrance Harbour” earned its name from the sweet waters of the Pearl River and the scent emanating from the incense factories of north Kawloon


Hong Kong is one of two special administrative regions (SARs) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In case you are wondering, the ‘other’ China is Republic of China, also known as Taiwan. This subtropical region is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and home to over 7 million people. Chinese roots with influences from its time as a British colony can be felt here and by no surprise it is the centre of “East meets West”. Hong Kong will enjoy its civil liberties and independent judiciary system until 2047, before it is fully integrated into the PRC.  Hong Kong main areas include Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and over 200 islands, of which the largest is Lantau Island. We had an opportunity to visit just a few.

Kowloon

We took a day trip from New Territories to check out the peninsula north of Hong Kong Island. We decided to explore it starting with Tsim Sha Tsui just north of the famous Victoria Harbour. After exploring the Kowloon pier area with its fantastic view of Hong Kong Island and checking out such eye candy as Salisbury Garden, Clock Tower and Avenue of the Stars we decided to venture into the heart of Kowloon. We took a recommended discovery walk via Kowloon Park, Shanghai Street, Temple Street to meet one of the most humbling Buddhist temples, followed by Jade Market Jade Market by Temple street in Hong Kong (in Chinese characters Jade means (beauty and purity) where hundreds of artisans create art with the predominantly green mineral stone that signifies long life and good health in Chinese culture. We finished the day with Niko’s favourite; the Goldfish market which is a series of stores selling every exotic fish imaginable. Apparently, the Chinese are big fans of this relaxing hobby. Some sources say China was first to enjoy fish for ornamental purposes. This tradition dates back to ancient Song Dynasty 1000 AD.

Goldfish Market Hong Kong
Needless to say Niko was mesmerized by the multitude of varieties and colours of these fish.

Kowloon is very loud and crowded with overwhelming views of densely concentrated architecture. The skyline is predominantly taken over by high-rise apartment buildings which are not very aesthetically pleasing. We did however like the inexpensive food and free wi-fi offered by the city. If you are a fan of Chinese cuisine, this is the place to be. There are over 6000 Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong!

Lantau Island

We ventured to the island with the inexpensive MTR (Hong Kong has one of the most developed public transportation systems we have ever experienced) to see the Giant Buddha, the world’s tallest outdoor bronze Buddha. The ride up was the key attraction as we took the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car ride to the top of the mountain.

Ngong Ping 360 to the Big Buddha

There, we climbed many steps to gaze at the serene Buddha. From there you can see the Po Lin Monastery, home to many Buddhist monks. The temple was just mesmerizing.

Niko in the temple in Hong Kong We truly loved the serenity, traditional dome-shaped structures (stupas) and zen-like atmosphere of the colourful surroundings mixed with the smell of the burning incense. In Beijing we learned that burning incense not only signifies ‘yin’ energies of the dead, but was also used as a timekeeping device. No wonder people can experience liberation and awakening in such surroundings.

 

Hong Kong Island

After Kowloon and Lantau Island, we decided to spend a day at the heart of it all, Hong Kong Island. This island was the original colony of the Brits. The colonial influence is felt much more here than in the other parts of Hong Kong. It is the most Western part of Hong Kong with many expatriates and tourists who seemed somehow hidden in the other part of the region. We found it very eclectic, with modern influences of world’s best boutiques, brands, global financial and business superpowers mingled between obscure apartment buildings. It is quite clear that space is worth more than gold here. We looked at some real estate listings and noticed we could get a 500 sq ft apartment for a measly million $ CAD dollars. No wonder, the architecture is so overwhelmingly vertical. The Peak in Hong Kong
The only way to fully comprehend the size of the city’s skyline is to take one of the world’s oldest cable cars built 1888 to the top of Victoria Peak. The view up here was quite spectacular of the skyscraper canyons, green mountains and the harbour. It was definitely worth the visit before our flight to Beijing.

There are other kid-friendly attractions we didn’t have a chance to explore include Ocean Park, Hong Kong Disneyland and Madame Tussaud. Perhaps next time. It is of no surprise to us that Hong Kong with its many attractions and versatile culture is the number one tourist destination in Asia. It’s definitely worth the visit.

Toronto TTC, take notice:

It is possible to have a well-developed, affordable transit system in one of the largest cities in the world. It costs $10US to get from Hong Kong downtown to the airport in 25 minutes with a high-speed train called Airport Express. Also, we found the MTR very kid friendly with elevators, making travel with a stroller much easier.

What’s your take on Hong Kong? Have you been, are you planning a visit? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks!