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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Ubud: Traveling Toddler Approved

DSC_0205Ubud is the nature retreat we have been looking for. Coming from Bangkok, we needed to get away from the city noise and the pollution. We heard it was beautiful there and everyone that has been has said how much they loved it and now I see why. We stayed outside the city center, really it felt like in the middle of nowhere, it was perfect and very inexpensive at the Pajar House. If you are looking for a nice, clean, away from noise, and inexpensive hotel I highly recommend this place. The hotel will even help you to book excursions through their own service or you can book ahead of time with other companies in the area like we did.

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Bali Bird Park: Traveling Toddler Approved

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There are so many fun things to do in Ubud. Just to be out in nature, away from the city to where you only hear bugs, geckos, and the rain falling down was a much needed break for all of us.

We had been dragging the toddler around for days on different outdoor adventures and he was faring pretty well but we wanted to do something special just for him. Our hotel recommended we take a drive to the Bali Bird Park.  For around $80USD, we were given three tickets that gave us access to the bird park as well as the reptile park.

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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.

Vietnam: Traveling Toddler Approved

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It’s that time of year again for the Horace family. It’s travel time! We have a large number of Thai holidays at the beginning of the year that Chris must take off work (they can’t be used as a floater holiday) so April and May are always a busy time for us. This year in planning our travels we are trying to stretch the budget as far as it can go and see as much as possible  before we move back to the states at the end of the year. Our first international stop of the year is Vietnam.

Vietnam has a lot to offer the explorer from beautiful beaches, busy cities, to mountain ranges that have been used as farming for centuries. I was a little ambitious with the trip planning at first and had it all worked out to see the entire country with multiple sleeper train adventures! Then we realized we are traveling with a toddler and as you all know toddlers need their rest and down time. So that trip quickly changed to three major areas over 9 days that I will cover in the next three posts.

  • Halong Bay Cruise: With water as blue as the sky surrounded by limestone islands, we enjoyed a relaxing ride with Indochina Junk full of delicious food and well thought out excursions.
  • Sapa: Our adventure continued with two days of trekking (not for the faint of heart) along the mountains and rice terraces, which is home to Fansipan Mountain the highest mountain in Indochina. We were able to catch a glimpse of ancient times where we discovered villages and their inhabitants that have made Sapa their home for hundreds of years.
  • Hanoi: We wrapped up our trip with a tour of the capital of Vietnam to discover UNESCO World Heritage sites, temples, cafes and much more.

You can view our photography posts of Halong Bay, Sapa, and Hanoi by clicking on the links. We really enjoyed our time in Vietnam and with everything being so affordable it makes the time there that much sweeter. Enjoy the posts and if you have any questions about our trip just send a comment, we are happy to answer.