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Category: Traveling with kids

Holi-dating Our Children

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of…

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of one parent and one child, visiting a new destination. We thought it would be a fun challenge for us and a meaningful way to get to know our children better. We are parents to young children, a five and two year old, both at an age where they are very active and dependant on us. So this was not a holiday to kick back and relax – we knew that it would be hands-on and would require some compromise on our ambitious idea to see everything at the holiday destination. Still we chose to “holi-date” for the reason that it would have a long-term trajectory of building bonds through travel as our little ones continue to mature and grow as individuals.

I had S, our 5-year old boy as my travel buddy and Terence had little E as his co-explorer. Our destinations were a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to see and taste Taiwan and Terence decided on Hong Kong as photos of dim sum lured him from afar. We booked our tickets way in advance, taking advantage of cheap flight fares but the planning only started about a month before our “holi-date”. When we got into the planning, we researched on public transport, places of interest, child-friendly attractions and the weather. Our itineraries were kept fairly loose to make room for any sudden-lies such as prolonged toilet time, uncalled for melt downs, slower pace of travel and other factors that come with travelling with young children.

Since I had S with me, I also wanted to try staying in hostels to give him the opportunity to mingle with different people from different countries – so we chose two different types of accommodation during our week in Taiwan, a few nights in a hostel-type accommodation and a few nights in a hotel. Much to my delight, he had a lot of questions while at the hostel, asking about different countries and why people travelled, listening in to different languages and sharing common spaces with strangers.

I was particularly excited to explore Taiwan with S. He’s at the age where he can read maps with a little assistance, enjoys different foods, gets excited about trying new things, follows instructions well and is able to articulate this experiences in words. I knew he would be an excellent travel buddy and he proved right! We explored the city from morning till night, always ending up in one of Taiwan’s bustling night markets. We went on a free walk tour where we got a low-down of Taiwan’s history and culture, visited the massive Taipei zoo – the largest in the Asia, rode the glass-bottom gondola to Maokong, decorated paper lanterns with heartfelt words and set them off into the air in Shifen – an enchanting village with a railway line running across it, meandered through the hillside town of Jiufen whilst trying not to get lost in the narrow alleys, witnessed the majestic Shifen Falls, stood in awe of Taipei’s jaw dropping skyline at the top of Taipei 101, elbowed our way through the crowds at Ximending – one of Taiwan’s busiest districts, took a dip in Beimen’s public hotsprings pool where old people hung out and talked all day and gobbled down the best of Taiwan’s street food.

Terence and little E explored bustling Hong Kong – Apliu flea market, Sham Sui Po, Tsim Sha Tsui, savoured many dim sum meals, wandered through Kowloon Park taking time to feed the fish and chase the birds, took the cable car to Ngong Ping, watched fishermen hauling in their catch at Sai Kung and enjoyed a full day at Ocean Park. His days in HK were a lot different from mine. Terence’s bag was packed with E in mind – diapers, milk, thermos, extra clothes and wet wipes. He also carried E in an Ergo carrier when it was time for her morning and afternoon naps. When she snoozed, Terence took the advantage to explore busier sights at a faster pace.

We returned home on the same day after a week of being apart. We were thrilled to see each other, shared many lingering hugs, exchanged gifts, scrolled through photos and spilled stories! While the children went off to play, running around the house and making it come alive – Terence and I took to our journals to pen some lessons we’ve learned from our “holi-date”. It’s without a doubt one of the best travel decisions we’ve made and hopefully, we can repeat this in a couple of years with the other child. What a privilege!

A holi-date in a heartbeat – here’s why:

  1. Special memories & stronger bonds

Extended time together in a new place is the best set up for growing relationships. Shared experiences such as savouring all kinds of street food or hiking to the waterfalls are powerful mental milestones that form special memories exclusive to parent and child. Imagine you’re your child’s best friend and closest buddy for a whole week!

2. Stage for education

Most of school learning is done in the classrooms, through books or audio visual material. Traveling allows our children to learn with all their senses and it gives them real-world practical lessons that can only be thought through experience. For example street smartness, appreciation for diversity and respect for different communities.

3. Ownership results in responsibility 

From the get go, S packed his own day bag filled with a couple of books, a travel journal, wireless headphones, a bottle of water, jacket and a cap. He carried his day pack everywhere and knew that it was his responsibility. There was one incident where left the bag in a shop while waiting for me to buy some souvenirs. Upon realising that he was missing his bag, he dragged me off the streets and back to the shop to ask the shopkeeper for his bag. It was a lesson as a parent that in order for our children to learn responsibility, they have to first feel a sense of ownership.

4. Adaptability

Life will not always be a set routine. If we teach our children to be adaptable and accepting of change, they will be better navigators in life. Adaptability involves living in different conditions, eating different kinds of food, taking different kinds of transport – in general appreciating the differences and similarities that each country, community and and place has to offer. Exposing our children to new cultures and places also fuels their sense of curiosity and wonder.

5. Seeing the world through their eyes 

It’s interesting to see our child’s personality emerge in different situations, such as getting lost, sticking within a budget, studying maps, choosing the places of interest to go to and deciding on what to eat. By allowing our children to make these decisions, it empowers them to step into new (and sometimes) unchartered territory. For example, S was given the option to choose between going to the public hotsprings bath or visiting the national science museum (which I thought was a better choice for children). He chose the public hotsprings bath filled with old people and was not allowed to jump and splash around. I thought he would have hated the experience, but he loved it. He sat in the hot pool listening to old uncles chatting away, people watched and sipped green tea for two hours! What an old soul!

Practical tips for traveling with children

Before you pounce on the next travel deal to plan your own “holi-date”, here are some practical tips that will help you along:

1. Age appropriate

Our children are at the age where they can walk, talk, is curious about their surroundings and don’t need a long checklist of things just to survive. They are also at the age where attractions make sense to them (eg. zoo, theme parks, etc). In short, I will probably not go on a “holi-date” with my baby and wait till he/she is a little older – but I’d gladly take them on a holiday! The purpose of both is quite different.

2. Fly early

Catch an early morning flight because when children wake up, they are ready to go! Morning flights are also usually less crowded and you reach the destination in the day which makes it easier to get around and navigate yourself in a new place.

3. Pack light

Especially if you’re traveling with young children, they cannot help you with larger bags and you don’t want to be in a frenzy waiting for multiple luggages to arrive on the belt while taking care of your child. Pack only what you absolutely need – swap strollers for carriers and bags with rollers are easier to get around.

4. Bring some meds

When traveling with children, you want to be always prepared to combat any bug or treat wounds. Essential medicine include paracetamol, antihistamines and small first aid kit. I also always carry some multivitamins or vitamin C for them to boost their immune system.

5. Encourage them to keep a travel journal

S kept a travel journal of his trip to Taiwan. He scribbled the different places we went to, foods we tried and things we saw. He doodled what he saw and stuck entrance tickets and stickers in it. He absolutely treasures his journal (which is nothing fancy, just a few pages of A4 paper stapled together with brown cover and self-decorated cover) – but this will be in his library of memories way into his adulthood.

6. Do some pre-trip learning

Read up, watch videos and talk about the place you will be going with your child. It helps create a sense of excitement and anticipation before the travel.

7. Take your time

Remember, it’s a holiday between you and your child. Give yourself enough buffer at the airport, getting around, having a meal or sightseeing. Young children love to explore and they don’t care about time. Older children perhaps like doing things that is not your usually fancy – but giving them time means and doing it together allows you to appreciate the world through their eyes. Terence was with E at a park and he thought a walk through was enough, but E decided to pick leaves, gawk at birds, pick up stones and wander around. Terence instinctively got the cue to slow down, enjoy nature and taught her about the tortoises and ducks in the pond and the different birds they saw. 

 

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Top 10 Family-Friendly Places To Explore In Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Sabah and it’s incredibly special and unique because of its proximity to all things nature – the beaches, mountains, rivers, and hills. It’s…

Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of Sabah and it’s incredibly special and unique because of its proximity to all things nature – the beaches, mountains, rivers, and hills. It’s the perfect holiday destination for families, whether you’re looking for a relaxing break or a fun-filled adventure – there’s something for everyone in this top 10 list! Let’s go!

1. Get Close to Wildlife at Lok Kawi Park


A trip to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park offers you a chance to see some of Sabah’s notable wildlife. Located about 25km outside KK city, the park is home to a variety of rainforest animals such as the Orang Utan, Pygmy Elephants, Malayan Sun Bear, and the odd-looking Proboscis Monkey. There are two animal shows a day, the first starts at 11am and 3pm. Bring along sunscreen, a hat, and some insect repellant to avoid the occasional mozzies.

2. UMS Aquarium & Marine Museum 


Tucked within the campus of University Malaysia Sabah, the Aquarium & Marine Museum is lesser known to tourists but this small and compact aquarium is home to a few marine turtles and other beautiful sea life. As you step into the entrance you will be awed by the underwater tower and the touch pool, exhibits and viewing room will keep your children occupied for a couple of hours.

3. Mari Mari Cultural Village


Get to know KK under its skin as you step into Mari Mari Cultural Village , a living museum of five out of 39 indigenous ethnic tribes in Sabah. It’s a fun, educational and experiential trip. Learn about the rice farming Kadazan-Dusun tribe, enter a Rungus longhouse, sharpen the spear of Lundayeh hunter, dance with the Bajau sea gypsies and listen to the battle cry of the feared headhunting Murut tribe. The half-day tour to Mari Mari includes a meal and cultural performance at the end of the tour.

4. Sabah State Museum


The museum is a great place to know more about Sabah, her history, people and the land. It has lots of interesting exhibits including an impressive whale skeleton at the entrance. There is even an area just on Sabah’s wildlife. Outside the museum is a beautiful garden peppered with traditional houses of Sabah’s main tribes. Walk on the hanging bridge to get back to the main building and visit the museum shop for souvenirs and books.

5. Island Hopping


Take a ferry from Jesselton Point and island hop around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park island cluster. Spend the day snorkeling, swimming or just beach bumming. You can also parasail, kayak. Pulau Sapi and Pulau Manukan are the most popular islands known for its crystal clear waters and a dizzying variety of fish.

6. Sunsets and Picnic at Tanjung Aru Beach


Grab some snacks and drinks and head to Tanjung Aru Beach where you will be rewarded with dramatic sunsets overlooking the South China Sea. Escape the crowd and go to Beach 2 where you will be hanging out with locals. Grab some drinks and bring a mat, settle yourself on the green lawn and enjoy the sunset.

7. Panoramic Views from Kokol Hill


For adrenalin junkies, paraglide off one of the hills and enjoy the Crocker Range from a bird’s eye view. If you’re looking for a relaxing escape, simply settle in one of the many hillside retreats for a hot cuppa and watch the city come to life as night falls. For the best views, head to Kokol Haven or Kasih Sayang Resort.

8. River Cruising and Fireflies at Kampung Sambah


Take a 40 minutes drive to the nearby Tuaran town where you can take a boat to the secluded Kampung Sambah, a floating village home to the Bajau community. Explore the life, sights, and sounds of rural living and witness colonies of magical fireflies twinkle in the darkness. This recreational tour is a wonderful way to educate children about Sabah’s rich natural biodiversity while having fun!

9. Go Wild and Rugged at Kiulu Farmstay


Hire a quad bike and explore Kiulu Valley or brace the rough waters of Kiulu River on a river tube or water raft. This beautiful village is set against a backdrop of rolling mountains and expansive paddy fields. You can also spend the night at Kiulu Farmstay for a rugged experience while you have a go at river fishing, rice planting or rubber tapping. Kiulu Valley is only 45 minutes from KK city.

10. Horse Riding at Sabandar


Fancy some horse riding? There is a little cowboy town just off Tuaran (40 minutes from KK) complete with remodelled horse carriages, vintage cars and wooden stables that make for great photos. Then venture into the adjacent mangrove forest for a walk where you can spot freshwater crabs, monitor lizards and monkeys and finally settle in the forest restaurant for a meal while enjoying the cool breeze. Before you head back to KK city, make a quick detour to Sabandar beach where you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the white sandy beach and blue waters.

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Sambah River Cruise And Magical Fireflies

We booked ourselves for the half-day Sambah River Cruise tour which starts from the Kampung Bunga, Tenghilan jetty, about 40 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu. We had to drive through…

We booked ourselves for the half-day Sambah River Cruise tour which starts from the Kampung Bunga, Tenghilan jetty, about 40 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu. We had to drive through a local village to get to the jetty giving us a glimpse of what to expect during the tour. We arrived at a huge parking space and a small jetty with some seating space while we waited for the tour to start. In the next few hours, the boat will take us into secluded a water village, explore the life, sights, and sounds of rural living and witness colonies of magical fireflies twinkle in the darkness.

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The tour started at 430pm where we were all given life jackets before hopping into the boat. Our children, 5 and 2 years old (together with our friends and their three children) thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride with the refreshing breeze and occasional splashes into the boat. They roared with laughter every time they got a little wet!

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We arrived at Kampung Sambah, a water village inhabited by the Bajau community. We had a quick pit stop at the jetty for a quick bite of local traditional snacks – goreng pisang (banana fritters) and kuih pinjaram (sweet chewy cake that’s in a distinct green colour).

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This small village of about 200 villagers has only one primary school with an amazing student to teacher ratio of 18:12. We made a beeline to Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Sambah after the light refreshments. This small school has a tiny canteen, an English corner, an outdoor play area, a waste segregation shack, a manual water pump that draws water straight from the ground and beautifully decorated school grounds and classrooms. I was amazed at the upkeep of the school and was encouraged by the education opportunity children in this village were given.

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Just outside the school compound, children and youth gathered as they played in the evening cool. There were a group of boys playing football, and another group kicking the sepak takraw ball, and then there were a bunch of younger girls playing chase and cycling around. The atmosphere was one of freedom and simple joy!

We learned that Kampung Sambah is known for udang salai – smoked prawns. This is a local delicacy that is produced mainly in this village where river prawns are smoked for hours until they turn a nice tan brown colour. The taste is distinct and I’m sure will go very well with some sambal (chilli prawn paste) and white rice.

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We headed back to the jetty walking on raised wooded pathways connected to wooden houses. Children peered out from their homes offering friendly waves and bright smiles. Our tour guide pointed out to his house and beamed with pride as he continued to show us around his village.

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We hopped back into our boat just before sundown to a midway jetty where we stopped to have our dinner and tried our hand at fishing. We were each given a plastic ring with a nylon string twirled around it. At the end of the string is a weight and hook where a tiny piece of shrimp is attached. The children enjoyed uncoiling the string into the water and waiting for the gentle tug from the fish nibbling at the shrimp. My son, Seth successfully caught a tiny fish, snapped a photo of his first catch and gently released the fish back into the water.

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If fishing does not entice you, you can simply bask in a hammock and watch the sun come down while enjoying the gentle breeze. We had an early dinner around 6pm, where we helped ourselves to a simple spread of Malaysian favourites – stir-fry vegetables, spicy prawns, fried fish, fried chicken, fresh herb salad, and fruits.

As night fell, each family was given a paper lantern and some markers. We penned some words on the delicate lantern, lit it, waited for it to expand and released it into the sky. It was such a thrill watching the lantern drift into the darkness.

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The magic continued into the night as we hopped back onto the boat to look for fireflies. Our guide used an LED bulb to attract the fireflies and as we neared the colony, the fireflies lit up like a Christmas tree. Fireflies produce light through a chemical reaction (a process called bioluminescence) at the lower part of the abdomen. The beetle although small is not hard to spot especially when it is pitch dark. I’ve seen fireflies in Kuala Selangor (Peninsular Malaysia) but have heard that the numbers have dropped significantly. It’s no surprise as fireflies are a good indicator of a healthy habitat – which means that if we lose natural habitats like this connected mangrove forest, our friendly fireflies will also dwindle. Let’s hope they stick around for long!

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Fun recreational tours like this is an incredible learning getaway. Children can learn about the ecosystem and how human, wildlife and nature are dependant on each other. Here are the details of the tour:

Price: RM80 per adult / RM40 per child (inclusive of dinner)
Note: You will need to drive yourself to the Jetty. If you require transport from KK, there will be additional charges.
Duration: 430 – 830pm (approximately 4 hours)
Website: http://sambah.weebly.com/
FB: https://www.facebook.com/sambahrivercruise
Things to bring: Insect repellant, sunscreen, and water

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Glamping in Snowdonia National Park

Camping was initially on the cards when we planned our stopover at Snowdonia National Park, but quickly realised that most camp sites only rented out tents and sleeping bags – but…

Camping was initially on the cards when we planned our stopover at Snowdonia National Park, but quickly realised that most camp sites only rented out tents and sleeping bags – but we needed other camping essentials for a comfortable experience. With a four year-old and a one year-old with us, we decided not to rough it out in the chilly weather. Snowdonia is known to be cold with super strong winds. We needed to stay warm while having the thrill of being close to nature.

Without searching far, we found the perfect spot at Pant Hwfa Farm in one of their glamping bell tents. In case you haven’t already heard, “glamping” is the fabulous reincarnation of the classic camping experience without the need to pitch your own tent or set up your own rickety camp bed. It’s an ideal choice for those looking for a bit of a rugged experience without compromising on comfort.

We arrived at the farm passing through narrow countryside roads and up a hill slope overlooking acres of farm land. We found some sheep happily grazing and unperturbed at our arrival. Our bell tent opened into a spacious and well-designed space for our family. It had a queen size mattress and two single mattresses all fitted and complete with fluffy duvets, a drawer cupboard filled with proper cutlery, Dutch ovens, a portable stove, a kettle, picnic mats – practically, all the essentials you will need for a cosy stay.There was even an icebox to keep our groceries fresh, a big dispenser of drinking water, hot water bottles, throw blankets and leather cushions for seating. Just outside the tent is a fire drum for cooking and a table and bench with fairy lights for a meal out in the open.

On the evening of our arrival, the winds were so strong that we couldn’t start a fire outside, so we had to cook a quick meal of pasta and meatballs in the tent. Unlike dome or A-frame tents, the bell tent is massive and we did not need to bend over to walk or cook. The space was just right for our small family. We huddled together and slurped up the warm meal in minutes!

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That night, we filled up our hot water bottles and tucked into bed for an early night. The children snored off very quickly making a soft symphony in the quiet of the night. At 5am, I woke up and decided to take a peek at the night sky and was duly rewarded with star studded skies. The soft gentle wind in the stillness of the night was incredibly special, so special that I didn’t go back to sleep. Not long after Terence woke up and started a fire and we sat by the fire and waited for the morning sun to peak.

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By 6am, the birds broke out in singing, the crisp morning dew set in and the sheep started grazing again.

Then the children clambered out from their warm hiding and sat by the fire while roasting marshmallows as we cooked up some eggs and sausages for breakfast. Seth wandered off looking for branches and twigs to pick up while we cleaned up after brekkie, camping style – bucket and water system.
Then we settled back in the tent for some card games and slowly crept back into bed for a late morning snooze. What piggies! It’s rare to find holidays with no agenda but enjoy each other’s company and rest.

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We did some exploring around the national park that afternoon and in the evening we were back at our tent. We cooked a hearty stew in the Dutch oven and for supper, we sipped hot chocolate with our legs tucked into the duvet as we told stories to the little ones. It was cold and windy outside but we were warm and toasty – bliss!

Camping is awesome, but consider glamping if: 

  • It’s your first time sleeping out in the great outdoors 
  • If you’re traveling with young children  and you want a bit of comfort and convenience for your little ones. Camping is a wonderful way to spend time with the family. You can teach them about nature, how to start fire and make smores and how to cook a simple meal over the fire. 
  • The weather is not great and you need a snug shelter for the night but still be able to start a fire and do all things associated with camping. 
  • You’re traveling for a long period of time and don’t have all your camping equipment with you. Sometimes renting equipment can be expensive or you may not find everything you need. 
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