Lombok: Traveling Toddler Approved

DSC_0783We were told by our friends that Kuta Beach in Bali was lovely but overrun by tourists, surfers and party people. There is nothing wrong with that but we were looking for a more peaceful easy going option with less noise for our family. We were told to head over to Lombok, the island next to Bali and only about a 40 minute flight away.

I would not recommend flying Air Wings or Lion Air. If you do, be sure to leave at least five hours in between the flight back to Bali from Lombok to get you to the international airport on time to not miss your flight. Both flights to and from Bali were extremely late and in the end caused us to miss our flights home to Bangkok (costing us another $600USD for new tickets). Lesson learned: Leave a lot of time in between these little fights or take the speed boat from island to island, which might take longer but I bet they will be on time…

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Hanoi: Traveling Toddler Tolerated

The city

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a bustling metropolis but not one that you would expect. I was picturing a big city like Bangkok but that was not the case. It was definitely a big city with a thick layer of pollution hovering in the air but it wasn’t full of skyscrapers. Instead there were a few that dotted the skyline but most of the buildings we saw ranged from 4-10 stories tall.

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Sapa: Traveling Toddler Approved

DSC_0194Disclaimer: I say Sapa is traveling toddler approved because our son loved it but it might not be “traveling parent approved.” So read on to see if this is a trip for your family or not, it’s not an easy one depending on your physical fitness abilities but it was a lot of fun.

So in the last post about Halong Bay, I told you about how we had booked a package deal with Indochina Junk for a tour of Halong Bay and Sapa. The people at Indochina Junk coordinate with a tour company in Sapa to make this a seamless process; all you have to do is show up. The van from Halong Bay to Hanoi took us to a beautiful hotel (this is all part of the package so no extra planning on your part) right by the train station where we could relax, shower, have dinner and nap. Since our train didn’t leave until almost 10pm we took full advantage of the down time. At 9pm, we scooped up the sleeping toddler and made our way to the lobby to meet the representative from Indochina Junk, who took us directly to the train station and put us on the train to Sapa. The walk took about 5 minutes to the station. I was happy to see we were among many families being herded by tour guides to get tickets and find the proper cabin.

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Halong Bay: Traveling Toddler Approved

Halong Bay located in the north of Vietnam translates to descending dragon bay and is a very popular travel destination among families, honeymooners, and retirees. During my travel planning, I came across a tour company called Indochia Junk. They offered a package that would take us from Hanoi, to Halong Bay, to Sapa and back again. We decided that was the trip for us! I mean really what could be easier than an already planned out trip with a toddler where someone is picking you up and taking you everywhere you need to go in a country where English isn’t heard very often outside of the tour guide speaking to you?!

After a delayed flight in Bangkok with JetStar (I wasn’t thrilled with this airline and will not be using them again) we landed in Hanoi and made our way to our hotel in Hanoi’s French Quarter. We woke up early the next morning and Indochina Junk picked us up bright and early to start our adventure. We rode in a large van with another family for around three to four hours to the Indochina Junk office by the bay with a 30 minute break to stretch our legs about half way through the trip. Once we arrived to their office, each family/group was directed on where to sit depending on the boat they had assigned you to. We didn’t wait long, after about 30 minutes we met our tour guide who gave us a quick briefing and led us to the small boat that would take us to the Dragon Pearl 3 Junk Boat.

The Boat 

Indochina Junk offers many different types of boats perfect for any occasion or group but with our package and having a child in tow we were placed on their bigger cruise boat. The boat is modeled after the traditional Chinese junk boats that you would have seen long ago. There are eleven cabins, two dining areas, and beautiful sundecks to relax and sip a local beer or fancy cocktail. The cherry finish of the wood really popped alongside the white accents of the dining area, umbrellas, linens and trim of the boat.

We arrived to the boat and were greeted with fresh juice and were debriefed again as to the plan for lunch, details for the day, and the assignment of rooms. Luckily for us, we were given the bigger room with the large bed so we could all fit. As you can see from the photos, the rooms are decorated very tastefully and modestly. The bed was comfortable and because we were in a bay the night’s sleep was enjoyable with no really tossing from the water.  The bathroom was spacious and clean just like you would expect from any luxury hotel.  I believe our favorite part was the outdoor dining area and the sundeck because of the picturesque views of the islands, the wind in our hair, and the fresh air with no city noise or pollution is just what we all needed to feel human again.

The Service & Food

From the pick up to the final email correspondence once we returned home to Bangkok, Indochina Junk has the best customer service I have experienced in Asia during our travels. I could not believe how accommodating they were with us and everyone on board for that matter. Anything we needed, the staff either on or off the boat were there to assist. Once on the boat, there are about six or seven men who are there to take care of your every need. To make it even better for families, they wanted to make sure our son was happy. We were the youngest couple and the only one with a child on our particular cruise but everyone there wanted to help (including the other passengers) make it a very enjoyable trip for our son.

When it came to meal time, they would ask us first if our toddler needed a special menu and if he would like to eat earlier than everyone else because they heard him whining that he was “so hungry” but this was just a ploy for a jelly bean. Our first lunch set the tone for the scrumptious Vietnamese food that awaited us for the rest of our tour. Although I could not tell you the name of every dish served (there were far too many), the selection was massive with soups, fresh seafood, chicken, fresh vegetable salads, pork, spring rolls, and desserts. We ate like kings!

The first day our son wasn’t too fond of all of the seafood so towards the end of the meal when he hadn’t eaten much we asked if the chef could just prepare a small plate of chicken and veggie stir-fry and they were happy to do so. Dinner followed that evening with another large selection of food, followed by another big breakfast in the morning, and right before we made it back to the dock to continue our trip to Sapa, we had another large a la carte lunch. No matter your food aversion or allergies, the chef and his staff are willing to help make your time on board enjoyable and want to ensure you have a full belly.

The Excursions

By the afternoon, we had made it to Bai Tu Long Bay and it was time to start the excursions. The guide led those interested to the small boat where he took us to nearby Hon Co Island. We made it to the shore and started a small trek up the mountain, due to all of the retirees on this trip this was not a difficult trek up and the toddler handled it like a champ. At the top, we had a great view for photos. Our guide led us down a little opening which was the beginning of the Thien Canh Son Cave. If you take other cruises with Indochina Junk, you could have a very romantic dinner planned inside the cave. After spelunking, we had about an hour to kayak around the island. They had small life jackets so our son sat on my lap in the front of the kayak while dad paddled us around the bay. We paddled the kayak up on the white sandy beach and spent another hour on the beach playing in the water and looking for little crabs. It was a lovely afternoon to enjoy nature and the quiet.

The next day, we had another adventure awaiting us and we left the boat around 7:30am for the Vung Vieng Fishing Village. This fishing village isn’t as populated as it once was because a lot of the fishermen have moved onto other villages. Here we hopped on an old row boat and went for about an hour ride around the village where we met the local people and saw the floating school and fish farm. At the end of the trip, you float through a oyster farm and once off the boat you can see how the village harvests the pearls. I would recommend you bring your wallet because there is an opportunity to go shopping for some very pretty and relatively inexpensive pearl jewelry.

IMG_1932Once we made it back to the Indochina Junk office, they had one more adventure planned for us that would also be our resting point on our three to four hour drive back to Hanoi. About an hour or so after leaving the office, we made a stop at the Yen Duc Village to see the water puppet show. We were greeted with smiling faces and more refreshments (at this point we couldn’t fit one more piece of food) and took a seat in their outdoor auditorium for the water puppet show. For nearly forty five minutes, we were taken on a journey by the host puppet Chu Teu through the different Vietnamese folk stories.

Bottom Line

If you are planning your next vacation to Vietnam and plan on visiting the north, I would highly recommend Indochina Junk for your tour of Halong Bay. To make it even easier on yourself, look into booking one of their packages. You can look to my next post about Sapa to see how our trip continued and what you can expect from this package trip with Indochina Junk. Bottom line this was a very family friendly experience! We left feeling refreshed, well fed and happy with our latest adventure. To see more photos from this adventure click here.

Chiang Mai: Traveling Toddler Approved

Chiang Mai located in the north of Thailand is only an hour plane ride away from Bangkok. We decided this year, since we were home for the Christmas holiday, we would plan a trip to leave on Christmas day in the afternoon because we didn’t want to miss our family back home. We had our Christmas morning, played with our toys and headed to the airport with our new NASA space shuttle from Santa in tow.

A quick flight later, we landed in Chiang Mai and were greeted by our driver that I had prearranged. If you are looking for a driver, I was referred to Mr. Pon from a friend here in Bangkok, who has used him several times. He was very knowledgeable of the area, patient, a safe driver and his English was great.

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Christmas in Bangkok: Not so different from home

IMG_7422Bangkok is a land full of expats, who have their own traditions and expectations when it comes to Christmas time. My first Christmas in Bangkok, I wrote a post about “Christmas sensory overload” and at times it still feels that way, with the massive trees, light displays that could cause a seizure, and the random “Christmas themes” that whatever marketing department for the building being decorated feels works as Christmassy enough but in all reality I have no clue what they are going for half of the time. For example, at Terminal 21 this year by my house, they had a winter wonderland full of what reminded me of the Travelocity gnome and mushrooms that you would see in a Mario Brothers video game. To top it all off this Christmas, Central World Mall, which normally has the biggest display around, was overrun with astronaut Snoopy (hundreds of them!) and spaceship Santa Claus. Can someone tell me how this works as a Christmas theme? Not that I am to upset about this since Killi is on a total Charlie Brown Christmas and astronaut space theme right now; he loved it. Although Christmas isn’t the same for Thai’s as it is for Westerners they still get into the spirit with the gift giving and partaking in the Christmas activities around town. You can read this article about what some Thai’s think of Christmas… it’s about on par with my expectations.

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Khao Yai: An easy family weekender from Bangkok

Situated about three hours from Bangkok is the beautiful Khao Yai National Park. Here you can find wild elephants roaming (well at least you will find steaming piles of fresh poo meaning they had to be there somewhere), wild monkeys at the scenic overlooks begging for food from visitors, cobras (or at least the big sign that says “cobra crossing”), leeches, waterfalls, and much more.

It had been a while since we had left Bangkok and my body was craving fresh air or at the very least the lack of the nasty smell coming up from the khlong that is so pungent I can taste it in my mouth as I walk home. We rented a car for very cheap from Sixt rental off of Soi 24, packed up the bag and the toddler and took off during the holiday weekend. The traffic out of town wasn’t bad when we left around 9:30am and as soon as you were out of the city you couldn’t help but notice the lack of gray smog hovering in the air. Freedom!

What to do

We had an idea of what we wanted to do during our time in Khao Yai but nothing was set, we wanted to go with the flow. Here are the fun family activities that we did during our stay.

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