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September 2011

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Bali in Indonesia has long been a favourite travel destination for many families. There?s a good reason: Bali pretty much offers anything a family might want. The island is beautiful, the culture is fascinating and still evident despite years or tourism. It’s cheap; from shopping to food to accommodation. And there’s a style of holiday and a range of activities to suit all budgets and tastes – 5 star hotels with kids clubs or staying in a families compound amongst the rice fields, markets or shopping centres, busy tourist beaches packed with shops and western fast food or quiet villages where a slower pace of life can be explored.  You also won’t have to search long for a babysitter or someone to play with your kids while eating dinner – people all throughout Asia love children but it seems to be especially true in Bali.

If crowds and busy tourist spots aren’t your thing but you still want a beach holiday, head to quieter Sanur. It’s still touristy enough to have easy access to all the conviences you might want like a supermarket and restaurants with kid friendly menus, without having the same frantic energy of Kuta and Legian. Of course if you want to get away from it all then Amed is for you. The coastline is stunning and it’s quiet. Travelling families aren’t that common out this way so don’t be surprised if your children are treated as superstars and soon find a group of local children their own age to run around with all day. After two visits to Bali our favourite destination is still Ubud, the cultural and craft centre of Bali. It’s quickly growing, with shiny new stores opening all the time, but wherever you stay you are only ever a street or two away from quiet rice fields and dirt roads that are fascinating to explore. Ubud also has some of the best family friendly restaurants we’ve seen in Asia – large gardens filled with cats and fish ponds (that staff won’t mind if your children climb into them to catch tadpoles), kid friendly menus and even day beds in some when the children just want to lay around colouring while waiting for their food.

Being a small island travel distances are also small so you won’t have to worry about putting the kids through long driving days to see everything. And Bali holidays offer plenty to see. Here’s our top ten things to do with kids in Bali.

 

Waterbom

There’s a good reason we’re starting this list with Waterbom. Bali’s Waterbom waterslide park is a fantastic day out with kids. There?s seventeen different tall slides, from gentle twisting slides to 360-degree “I think I’m going to be sick” thrill experiences. For younger kids there’s paddling pool filled with water canons and fountains, as well as four mini-slides.

Not only is there a great range of slides for every age group, it’s one of the only waterslide parks we’ve been to that’s flexible about it’s height restrictions. Provided your littlies can demonstrate they can swim, even the smallest toddler is allowed to go on many of the bigger slides as long as they share a tube with a parent. A fact our independent daredevil 2 year old loved!

Waterbom gets pretty busy so go early and on a weekday if you can.

Bali Waterbom

Bali Treetops

Bali Treetop Adventure Park is a fun family friendly adventure park located within the beautiful Bedugul botanical gardens. Swing and climb your way through the trees on six different courses made up of flying foxes, rope bridges, nets, balancing challenges and more ? the easiest curcuit is suitable for kids as young as four.

Bali TreeTops

 

Learn to make traditional offerings

Those beautiful temple offerings you see all around Bali are usually handmade. You probably won’t find anywhere offering lessons on how to make them, but if you ask the staff where you are staying you will find someone who loves kids and is more than happy to show your children how to make them and explain their significance. It’s a wonderful cultural activity for the children and a lot of fun too.

 

Offerings

 

Take an evening walk through the rice fields in Ubud

Ubud has a lot to offer families, but one of the best things is to take a walk down one of the quiet dirt roads through the rice fields in the early evening as bats start to come out. It’s picturesque and the paths through the rice fields are a lot of fun to explore! For older children you may want to consider hiring bicyclyes and exploring further out.

Ubud Bali

 

Take a craft or music class

Pondok Pekak library in Ubud not only has a great children’s book section, it also offers music and craft lessons with very patient teachers! Classes include learning to play traditional musical instruments such as the gamelon, carving, painting and batik. Lessons usually need to be arranged one day in advance.

The library is located behind the football field on Monkey Forest Road.

 

Get up close to Monkeys

The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud is lots of fun for the family. Monkeys sitting on the paths and swinging through the trees, short treks along shady paths to creeks,  fantastical traditional carvings and ancient hindu temples. Thanks to the giant trees it’s a nice place to go for a walk and escape the heat. Bananas to feed to the monkey’s can be bought at the entrance.

Just a word of warning though – the monkey’s here have been known to be agressive. We’ve visited a few times and never had any problems. The mother monkey’s were even encouraging their babies to get closer to our 2 year old daughter. But other children have been bitten or scratched. Keep a close eye on your children and take your cue from the behaviour of the monkey’s. It’s also a good idea for one of the adults to hold onto any excess bananas, rather than your children, or skip feeding them and just observe from a distance.

Sacred Monkey Forest

Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud7

 

Teach the kids to snorkel

The north eastern coast of Bali is not only easily accessible, it’s a fantastic place to teach your children to snorkel. Many beaches in Amed have coral just off shore in the calm waters – the perfect place for even young children to start their search for nemo. Lipah perhaps offers the best snorkelling for children, with wonderful soft corals just offshore.

Tulamben, one of Bali’s most famous dive sites, is also a fabulous snorkelling site as the waters are crystal clear thanks to it being a pebble beach rather than sand. There are friendly fish galore and a wreck site right at the waters edge to snorkel over. Children over the age of 8 can also begin to learn scuba diving. Do your research though as some of the dive operators are a little lax with their safety checks. 

 

Explore the inside a volcano

Mt Batur, north of Ubud, is a active volcano topped with an immense caldera 13 km in diameter! It is edged by a cliff, part of which may be travelled with the car. Inside the caldera is the current Mt Batur, where you can see old lava flows still evident on the sides of the mountain, the stunning and sacred Lake Batur and several villages. You can stay overnight inside the volcano, but even just a day trip is worth it for the stunning views. Not to mention a day trip to Mt Batur is a geology homeschooling lesson in itself!

 

Eat dinner on the beach

One of the best things Sanur offers is dining right on the beach. Prices are higher than you’ll pay in a restaurant one street back but sometimes it’s worth paying more to be able to sit at a table on the sand having a quiet beer while the kids run and play.

 

Bali Safari and Marine Park

Whilst a little on the expensive side, the Bali Safari and Marine Parks is one of the best of it’s type in South East Asia. The animal education shows are fantastic and the park certainly highlights the importance of animal conservation. The park is a full day activity and it’s best to get there early as most of the animal feedings are on in the morning. Leave room at the end for the rides and put aside an hour or two for the pools and water-slides.

Bali Safari and Marine Park

 

As a travelling mum I love Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Why? Well the shopping is OK, the culture is vibrant and the food is great, but that’s not the reason. It’s a completely underrated travel destination for families for three reasons:

  • The public rail network that services the inner city is easy and covers almost everywhere you want to go.
  • Kuala Lumpur is big but most of the attractions that you’ll want to see are located in a relatively compact area. Unlike Bangkok you won’t be spending an hour in a taxi to get to where you want to go in Kuala Lumpur (well unless you are heading to the airport).
  • The museums, science centres, theme parks and playgrounds are either free or really really cheap. Petrosains Science Centre is less is only $2US per child. In so many other cities we’ve visited we’ve had to limit the attractions we want to see in order to stick to our budget. Not so in KL. You might pay a little more for food and accommodation in KL than some other Asian capitals but your children are going to have some unforgettable, educational memories there.

Regardless of how long you plan to spend in KL, here’s three days you should definitely add to your list.

Petronas Towers

Highlights: Petrosains Science Centre, Suria KLCC shopping centre, Aquarium, Playground and Wading Pool.

 The real highlight of a day trip to the Petronas Towers isn’t going up the towers. It’s the other attractions all compactly located nearby.

As far as science centres go, Petrosains is one of the best. Lego, dinosaurs, space, earthquakes, physics, science experiments and more. All of it’s hands on, with activities for all ages. If your children are at all scientifically minded or like hands on activities plan on spending minumum 4 hours there. We’ve easily spent 6 hours inside and could have gone back again the next day. 

Petrosains is located on Level 4 of the Suria KLCC shopping centre that is attached to the Petronas Towers. Entry to Petronsains is Adult – RM12.00, Youth (13 – 17 Years) – RM7.00, Children (5 – 12 Years) – RM4.00  and children below 5 Years are free. 20% discount entry vouchers can usually be found in the lobbies of large hotels. 

Just outside Suria KLCC and the towers is a large parkland. The parklands contain a well maintained children’s wading pool and one of the largest playgrounds in the world. Both are free and can be located by exiting Suria KLCC and walking around the left hand side of the lake towards the large whale sculptures.

On the right hand side of the lake is the Aquaria, KL’s world class aquarium. There are bigger and better in Asia, but this one offers lots of opportunities for children to touch sealife, including bamboo sharks, starfish and sea urchins. 

Suria KLCC shopping centre has a number of department stores with large toy departments, as well as a cinema, Toys R Us and a giant bookstore. The food courts are also cheap and surprisingly good, offering a wide range of kid friendly options.

 

Lake Gardens

Highlights: Planetarium, Fairytale Playgrounds, Bird Park, Butterfly Park, Deer Park and the nearby National Museum located just outside the gardens

Lake Gardens are one of the only places that aren’t easily reached by public transport in KL. A taxi is your best option.

The wonderful thing about Lake Gardens is many of the attractions are either free or cost next to nothing.

 

Eating out on Jalan Alor

 

Bangkok, you will either love it or hate it. It”s vast, hot, dirty, smoggy, intense and can grind to a halt with traffic at any time of the day. But it”s also vibrant, accessible, inexpensive, diverse, friendly and filled with fascinating sights for families.

If your family is coming to South East Asia, chances are you will pass through Bangkok, if only for the fact that it?s a transport hub to almost everywhere you want to go.

Given how huge Bangkok is and the travel times it takes to get everywhere, it pays plan your visit, especially if you have young kids who get tired in the heat.

  • Make a list of everything you want to see and prioritise. Visit the must sees early in the morning, that way if everyone gets too tired or sick of the heat you can skip the sightseeing options that are less important to you.
  • Be strategic. Try to group activities based on location. If you strike bad traffic, travel times in Bangkok can really blow out an itinerary. Pick activities in the same region. Don’t plan to do the Grand Palace in the morning and head to a theme park on the outskirts of town in the afternoon.
  • Overcast days are the best kind in Bangkok. If you strike an overcast day don?t let the clouds put you off. Grab your raincoats and head to nearest theme park or all day sightseeing activity that?s on your list and make the most of the cooler temperatures. Of course if there’s torential rain your best bet is to just sit back and watch the puddles grow.

You may find you don’t stick to your list. The heat will get to your kids, you’ll see something else exciting along the way or you will spend longer at an attraction that you’d anticipated because you are having so much fun … whatever the reason plans change. Don’t feel that you need to stick to them – half the fun of Bangkok is just going with the flow of this vibrant city. But it’s a good idea to start out with a plan!

I recently had three days of sightseeing in Bangkok with my 6 and 4 year old. We’ve been there before and followed the same general plan each time, just with different attractions. It seems to work really well for us, so here it is: what to do if you have three days for sightseeing in Bangkok with kids.

Day 1: Temples, river ferry and lunch near Khoa San

Start your day with one of Bangkok”s amazing temples. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is stunning. I’ve seen a lot of temples in Asia and this one is up there for it’s shere opulance and scale. There’s a reason it is a ‘must see’ on many people?s itinerary. Even the kids will be impressed, if only for the fun of calculating what they could buy if their pocket money was paid in the gold tiles from the temple walls rather than coins. 

 

Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace

Being a ‘must see’ on so many visitors lists means the Grand Palace is usually filled with tourists. The temple grounds are huge so it takes a long time to walk around. We spend two hours there and only covered a fraction of the complex. Most of it is sunny, and while there are plenty of places to buy ice creams and cold drinks you should go early when the crowds are less and the sun isn’t as hot.

Entry to the Grand Palace complex is 400 baht per person, with children being free. The entry fee includes access to a number of museums. The coin and weapons museums are well worth the visit and a good chance to escape the sun. Although I was dismayed to learn my children’s only knowledge of tridents as a weapon came from watching The Little Mermaid.

Dress code is very strict ? men must wear long pants, covered shoes and shirts with at least short sleeves. And if you only have sandals I?m sorry to say you will probably be asked to commit fashion suicide and wear socks with your sandals. Women need skirts or pants that cover the knees and sleeves. For women, skirts and pants don’t need to be full length but you do need to ensure that your entire knee is covered. Appropriate clothing is available for loan at the Grand Palace for no cost but you will need to leave a deposit.

 

Borom Phiman Mansion Bangkok

If you prefer to see less popular temples, two other beautiful temples are Wat Pho, filled with hundreds of Buddhas and the smaller but distinctive stone Wat Arun. Children will love listening to the music of the golden bells swaying in the breeze that adorn Wat Arun’s spire. Entry to either temple costs 50 baht. Both temples are very popular, but not as popular as the Grand Palace.

River sightseeing on a public ferry

All three of the above mentioned temples are just a short walk to the Chao Phraya river ferry. Grab a drink and some snacks from the street food vendors along the way, and get ready for some of the cheapest sightseeing in Bangkok.

Many of Bangkok’s temples and attractions are situated along the river, so the public ferry is a great way to sightsee with kids. Depending on the lenght of your journey, a ticket costs around 11-25 baht. You’ll strike plenty of touts trying to sell you private boat tours. Ignore them and try the public ferry first!

We caught the ferry to Phra Arthit, stop N13. From the pier it’s just a short walk to Phra Suman Fort and the surrounding parklands. It’s a nice place to picnic, with plenty of shade. Or head to the mainroad and cut through Wat Chana Songkram to reach Khoa San Road. Along the way you’ll pass the Prince’s residence (always a hit with kids to see a Princes house) fish spas, street food vendors, a wide range of restaurants and a small touristy markets. Wat Chana Songkram is a lovely Wat in itself. The bell tower above the gate just before you enter the Wat is accessible to the public. It’s a great spot to show your children some of the local musical instruments.

 

IMG_0022

Time for lunch

The area around Khoa San Road is filled with great places to eat. Yes the food is less authentic and the prices are higher than what you’ll pay elsewhere but most restaurants have kid friendly menus and if you look around you will find some cheaper options. If you’re over the heat there are even a few restaurants and fast food chains with aircon in the area.

We prefer to eat on nearby Rambuttri road, where the prices  are cheaper and the food is better.

After lunch you can shop in the markets on Khoa San Road, which despite being touristy do have the best range of t-shirts and casual dresses I’ve seen in Asia. They are also one of my favourite markets in Asia because they are open during the day. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve missed visiting markets in Asia because they are only open at night and the kids are too tired!

Of course if markets aren’t your thing, Khoa San is still a fun place to grab an ice cream and people watch.

 

Day 2: Attractions and Theme Parks

Day 2 is where you need to make some hard decisions. Bangkok has some fantastic attractions for families but sadly not many of them are located in the same area and many are on the outskirts of the city, so unless you have longer than 3 days to sightsee you are going to have to choose.

Some of the best family attractions include the Crocodile farm, Dreamworld, Dusit Zoo, Safari World, Siam Park and Siam Ocean World. Sadly the Childrens Museum closed last year for renovation and doesn’t look like it’s opening again any time soon.

The top two on our list are always Siam Ocean World and Dreamworld. Some of the animal attractions sound fantastic but I have personal reservations about visiting places that teach their orangutans to box for the amusement of visitors, so we tend to stick to the theme parks and aquariums.

Siam Ocean World is one of the largest and best aquariums in Asia. It’s centrally located and attached to the Siam Paragon Shopping centre, making it a great day out with kids. It even has a hands on kids area with a playground. Entry costs 900 baht per adults and 700 baht per child, although if you book ahead through their website entry costs 630 baht for adults and 490 baht for kids or 3000 baht for a family ticket that includes lots of extras. Well worth doing!

Dreamworld is a theme park on the nothern outskirts of the city. It’s a long way out but well worth the trip, with plenty of rides and attractions for kids (and grownups) of all ages.

 

Giant's castle

There are no waterslides, but the rides and attractions at Dreamworld are well maintained and there’s a 4D theatre and indoor artifical snow world. For families with younger children, Dreamworld is a great option with a large range of rides for kids between 90-140cm, as well as a fairy tale land filled with oversized re-creations of fairytale favourites.

Entry to Dreamworld costs 700 baht per person over 90cm, or 550 baht if you don’t want to go to Snow Land. A taxi from the city will cost 300 baht each way. Some hotels arrange package tours including transfers and lunch, although food inside is very cheap so it’s worth doing your maths on whether it’s worth it.

If you do venture all the way out to Dreamworld, the nearby Future Park Shopping Mall (a 5min taxi ride back towards town) is a fantastic place to grab dinner.

 

Snowland at Dreamworld

Another theme park option is Siam Park, norrth east of the city. The park is huge, with everything from rollercoasters and speed slides to slow trains, dinosaurs and wading pools. An all-in-inclusive entry ticket costs 600 baht per person. Alternatively you can pay 200 baht per adult and 100 baht per child for just entry and pay extra for just the rides you want to do. It is closer to the city than Dreamworld but gets a lot of bad press for unsafe rides and poor maintanence. A lot of people, including children, get injured there every year. The park does regularly undergo maintanence though and is a popular attraction so things might have changed since we last researched the park. Do your own research before deciding to go.

Day 3: Shopping and playtime.

If there’s one thing Bangkok does well it’s shopping, particularly clothes. If your travel clothes are looking a little worn out, Bangkok is the place you want to restock. Shoes, electronics, bags and toiletries are also very cheap here. All in all, it’s a great city to restock in before hitting the road again.

Weekend option

The Chatuchak Weekend Market is hugely popular for a good reason. Souvineers, funky clothing, household items, handicrafts, paintings, toys and more. With it’s narrow covered alleyways  packed from floor to ceiling with goods and quiet streets it’s a fabulous place to explore. I’m often tempted to give the kids a compass and let them lead the way.

 

Chasing bubbles

There’s also an impressive range of groovy coffee shops and street foods vendors selling everything from fruit and noodles to crickets! To see something different, head to the outer edges of the markets near the now closed Children’s Science Museum to locate the wall to wall pet shop vendors. Fish of every kind, turtles, worms, birds. Your kids will have a wonderful time investigating it all.

 

Turtles and fish Chatuchak Markets

The nearby Queen’s Park is a lovely parkland to explore, with ponds, walking trails, bridges and playgrounds all within walking distance of the markets. The playgrounds are right outside the markets, with nearby street food stalls selling every drink and snack you could want for a fantastic picnic.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is a little way out of town but it’s easily reached by taxi or by train. Mo Chit Skytrain Station is right next door to Queen’s Park and the markets.

Midweek option

The centrally located MBK and Siam Paragon are two fantastic shopping centres if your not in Bangkok on the weekend.

MBK has more of a market feel, with a fantastic range of cheap childrens clothing, adult t-shirts and cheap electronics. If you need a new phone or accessories for you laptop or camera, this is the place to come. There are some great toy stores but I’ve seen much cheaper prices elsewhere. Still they’re fun to let the kids look in. MBK also has a cinema, ten pin bowling alley and a full loor of AC, wifi western chain restaurants. It’s the perfect place to upload your travel photos for relatives to see and treat the kids to an ice cream and movie. MBK isn’t large enough to spend a whole day in, but it’s a great place to escape the afternoon heat for a few hours if you’ve already hit the markets in the morning. Or buy the kids a cheap DVD and some snacks before heading back to your accommodation to create your own cinema,

The newer Siam Paragon is one of the largest shopping centres in Asia, offering cinemas, bowling, restaurants, shopping and houses Siam Ocean World. If you chose to do the theme park yesterday, heading to Siam Paragon might be the perfect choice for you – send the kids to the aquarium with one parent while the other shops! 

And of course there’s always the floating markets. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market are the most famous, but of course they’re becoming more and more of a tourist attraction and less of an authentic markets as visitors flock here. Bangkok has plenty of other floating markets though. Ask around the find the nearest one to you. Go early and be sure to do your research first into the best tour company or boat operator. A trip to a floating markets is one of the most common rip off scams in Bangkok, with many people being over charged or taken to jewellery shops along the way.

 

So there you have it!

Even given how huge Bangkok is, you can still cover a lot of ground in three days if you plan it right. Hopefully though you’ll be lucky enough to spend longer in Bangkok and have time to enjoy one of the best things to do in the city – slowly exploring where ever your feet might lead you.

 

Links

Siam Ocean World

Dreamworld – at the time of writing the website was resulting in error messages but it was fine a few weeks ago.

Siam Paragon

Grand Palace

Chatuchak Markets

 

Planning a vacation for a family with children can be a daunting task even for the most seasoned parent. From finding the right destination to deciding between flying or driving and camping or a hotel room, there are a lot of variables that come into play and that can turn what hoped to be a nice relaxing week into a nightmare. The most common cause of travel turmoil is where you stay and the following are just a few of the reasons why so many families are starting to timeshare rental properties instead of regular hotels.

So, you and your spouse finally pick a destination for your family?s trip; it’s Disney World. The kids have been pushing for it for years, and you’ve finally given in so you try to find a hotel on one of those online booking sites. The prices range is anywhere from $150 to upwards of $400 a night and the closer you get to the theme parks, the higher the price goes. You end up compromising at $250/night and when you and your family arrive at the room you realize it’s exactly the same as every other hotel room you’ve ever been in. Two queen beds with an adjacent bathroom. Looks like everyone’s sharing beds and if you have more than 2 kids, someone’s going on the floor or you?re paying extra to have a questionable cot sent up.

This really doesn’t have to be the case, especially when you rent a timeshare week from an existing owner. Here is how it works: an owner can’t use his/her week but is still obligated to pay their annual maintenance fees. Instead of eating the cost, they put their week up for rent on by-owner timeshare resale/rental websites like Sellmytimesharenow.com to find a renter to cover the cost of their fees. These can range depending on the number or rooms in the unit and the time of year but the average maintenance fee for a 1 bedroom timeshare unit is about $700 for the week (7 nights). That’s $100 a night for a unit that has a separate bedroom, a living room with a pullout couch, a fully equipped kitchen and a washer and dryer. Imagine how much happier everyone could be with all that extra space.

The kitchen could very well become the MVP of your trip. Did you forget what it was like to eat out with kids? Trying to find a place everyone can agree upon and then hoping that the menu will have something they’ll actually be happy to eat. How about doing that 3 meals a day for a week? With a kitchen in the room you can stock the fridge up with food they love from the grocery store and mix in a few homemade meals between going out for food. It will make your life easier and just as importantly, it will save you money.

Outside of the room you’ll also be happy to find that the resorts also have pools and playgrounds for the kids to play on. Don’t worry about not letting them getting too dirty; the washer and dryer in the room can take care of any dirt and grime they might dig up. A lot of times you can also find a grocery store within the resort grounds and if you happen to stay at one of the Disney Vacation Club resorts, you’ll already be right amongst the various theme parks so you’ll never have far to travel. No rental car, no bus, no maps. Just you and your family enjoying a week at the happiest place on earth.

The destinations available are not limited to just Disney and central Florida, in fact it’s quite the opposite. There are timeshares available for rent all over the world, so wherever you decide you want to travel to, there is a very good chance you can find an affordable week that fits you and your family?s needs. Timeshare resorts cater to traveling families in hopes that they want to return on a more frequent basis enough to actually consider buying one. Just remember, if you ever consider investing in vacation property you should always look for one that is for sale by-owner. There is literally no difference between a pre-owned timeshare and one purchased “brand new” through the resort ? other than the price.

Your family vacation should be enjoyable and relaxing for everyone so when you’re planning out your next trip, try and focus on all the things you can control so you’ll be more prepared to handle the ones you can’t. Securing the right accommodations before you leave will have you avoid one of the biggest travel obstacles of them all and I promise you won’t miss the cot.