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October 2011

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When you’re planning a family holiday to South East Asia, Cambodia might not immediately spring to mind. But perhaps it should!

Cambodia is a fascinating country that is easy to travel in and offers a lot of amazing things to do with kids, and the capital, Phnom Penh is no different. As well as offering a huge range of family friendly activities, it’s a small compact city that’s less busy than most Asian capitals making it a lot less tiring to explore for young kids. English is widely spoken throughout Phnom Pehn and family accommodation is cheap. The Khmer people love children and are some of the most genuine, generous and happy people you will encounter anywhere in the world. From the markets to the waterfront to the museums you’ll encounter people everywhere that will just want to talk to and make friends with your children.

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So what’s there to do in Phnom Penh with kids?

Lots! Here’s our pick of some of the best things the city has to offer for families.

 

Sightseeing

Take a walk along the river

The riverfront esplanade in Phnom Penh comes to life in the evenings with families out walking, exercising and playing. It?s a great place to meet local kids or watch fishermen bringing back their catches. We even found a turtle heading towards the busy road and returned him to the river with the help of some local boys. You?ll also find food vendors selling everything from popcorn and fruit to local snacks like cricket, spider and snake. The boardwalk is wide, flat and well maintained so it’s also perfect for strollers if you are travelling with young kids.

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See the city by boat

River cruises offer a completely different view of the city as you motor slowly for one to two hours along the Tonle Sap River past the Royal Palace and across to the floating fishing villages on the vast Mekong River. You’ll see everything from the modern face of Phnom Penh to ancient tempes to simple villages and transport barges.

Late afternoons are the best time to go so you can enjoy the sunset, the cooler temperatures and see the fishermen coming home with their catches. To arrange a cruise just head to the waterfront and look for the guys with boat signs. It’s a good idea to bargain on the price and look at the boat first before agreeing.

Ride an Elephant

At Wat Phnom you?ll find Sambo the elephant offering rides. You might even see him walking down along the waterfront in the afternoon in search of bananas. Bring some bananas of your own to feed him.

Explore the markets

Phnom Penh has wonderful outdoor markets filled with handicrafts, wooden toys, hairclips, DVDs, children?s clothes and games. You can even get a hair cut on the side of the road for $2. Two of the best with kids are the Russian Market and Central Markets.

If you’re in town on a weekend, head to the riverside Weekend Night Market. They have a great selection of children’s clothing. The markets start around 5pm and are filled with families having picnic dinners. Don?t worry if your children are fussy eaters ? there?s a KFC take-away stand if none of the local food appeals to them.

See the city by Tuk Tuk

Tuk tuks are a cheap and fun way to cover a lot of ground in a hot city like Phnom Penh. With kids it’s not a bad idea to hire one for an hour just to drive you around the city centre.

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Culture and History

History and fish feeding at the National Museum

The National Museum in Phnom Penh has amazing artefacts and photographs from historical sites around Cambodia. It’s a great place to learn the history of places like Angkor Wat before heading to Siem Reap to explore the temples themselves. For yougner children there are a lot of carvings that will even capture their attention – hedges carved into the shape of elephants (that were admitedly a little shaggy when we were there but still entertaining), seven headed naga and people with the heads of different animals.

But of course the main attraction for younger kids will be the four ponds filled with water lillies and giant Koi that they can feed. Fish food can be bought for just 50c a bag.

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Catch a traditional shadow puppet show

Sovanna Phum art association holds shows each Friday and Saturday night from 7.30pm. The performances include shadow puppet theater, classical and folkloric dance, theater, traditional music, circus and new performance creations. You can also visit Sovanna Phum’s puppet workshop during the day between 8am-5pm (not Sunday) to see how the puppets are made.

Play traditional instruments at the Royal Palace

It’s rare to find a palace and temple that actually captures the interest of children like the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh does. First there’s the Silver Pagoda with it’s floor tiles with silver plates – perfect for little feet to make clippity-clop noises on. The gardens are filled with flowers and giant topiary trees carved into the shape of animals, teapots and other amazing shapes. Young children will enjoy playing shot the animal tree, while older kids can try to figure out how they were carved that way. A Buddha grotto set on the top of a small manmade hill is the perfect place for a picnic. Near the exit kids can learn about how the kings rode elephants and see life-sized recreations.

But the highlight is the opportunity to play traditional musical instruments. Keep an ear open for the sound of music coming from the traditional stilt houses on the right as you exit the gardens near the Buddha grotto. For a small donation the musician will let your children play the traditional musical instruments and even give them a lesson.

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Playgrounds and fun

Get Wet at the Phnom Penh Water Park

It”s a little run down but the Phnom Penh Water Park is well worth a visit. There are a variety of waterslides, a large jungle gym and lots of shallow areas for smaller kids to enjoy. Weekends are the best time to visit as the largest slides are typically turned off during the week. Make sure you take plenty of sunscreen as there?s not a lot of shade! The waterpark is outside of town on the way to the airport.

Swing at the Playground at Wat Phnom 

Wat Phnom is a well known temple located on a hill just near the city centre. It’s a popular attraction, with lovely carvings and paintings, and great views all set in a shady parklands. But the best reason to visit there with kids is the well-maintained playground with equipment for all ages just across the road. Buy some popcorn and fruit from the nearby venders to eat in Wat Phnom?s gardens. Just watch out for the monkeys – they can be aggressive if your children have food.

The temple is a short walk from most areas, or a $2 tuk tuk ride.

Arcades and slides at Sorya Shopping Centre

Sorya Shopping Centre, near the Central Markets, has two indoor playgrounds, a skating rink, 4D experience ride and an amusement arcade. It’s a great place to spend time on a rainy day. Just outside the supermarket on the ground floor is a real treat – high quality ice cream for less than $1 per scoop. The upper floors are a trap for parents though – cheap toys, kids clothes, shoes and DVDs. Good luck escaping without a new Transformer t-shirt and Dora DVD!

Dig in the Sandbox at Le Jardin

Hidden away in the inner suburbs of Phnom Penh is  Le Jardin restaurant. As well as serving great crepes and ice cream, the large gardens have a fantastic tree house and sandpit to play in. Le Jardin is a little out of the way so you’ll need to take a tuk tuk. It’s also not a bad idea to write down the address as some tuk tuk drivers don’t know it.

 

Do I take the kids to the Killing Fields and S21?

The Killing Fields and S21 are two of Cambodia’s most historical and visited sites from the Khmer Rouge years. Whether it’s appropriate for your children to go is something you need to decide for yourself. But here are the facts: If you take your children they will see human remains and photos of victims and bodies, including children. At the Killing Fields they will be stepping around bones that are still being unearthed every time it rains as they walk along the paths and hearing stories of the truly horrifying things that were done to babies, children and adults. Both sites are very confronting and many visitors become upset by the visit.

“I only went to S-21 and decided against going to the Killing Fields because I found S-21 morbid enough. It’s full of photos of people who died, including babies. It would be educational but I don’t think it’s such a good idea for kids under the age of 10”

Z, a very cool 10 year old who’s travelling the world with his Mum and blogging about his adventures at kidventurer.com

Even if feel your children are too young to understand what happened here, please remember that many of the staff and volunteers lost family members at both these sites so if your children are running or playing, visitors and staff may be upset by their innocent actions.

Our children were 3 and 5 years old when we visited Phnom Penh. We didn’t take our kids to either S21 or the Killing Fields as we felt it would be either be too upsetting or they would be too young to show the appropriate respect for such places. Instead we went separately while the other person stayed at home with the children.

Rather than visiting these sites with your children, consider buying one of the many stories written for children on the history of the region.

As well as traditional folk talkes, there are a wide range of children?s stories about land mine victims that are well-written and will help your kids understand why so many street beggars, including children, are missing limbs without going too indepth into the Khmer Rouge era. For teens there are several appropriate recent history texts or numerous accounts written by child survivors of this era. I really recommend reading “First they killed my father” and “Lucky Child” by Loung Ung if your teenager wants to understand this era more. Monument Bookstore and many non-profit organizations stock a great range of locally written children?s books, with profits going to charity.

Weltkarte im Park

I’ve been promising to integrate new functionality into Vagabond Family for some time now and today I’m making good on that promise with the first of many new features that will be released over the next six months.

One of the challenges we faced when we first started travelling was finding other long term travelling families to talk to, both online and in the real world. When you start planning this kind of life it’s easy to feel like you are the only ones doing it. Lets face it – amongst your family and friends back home you probably are. It isn’t until you’ve been on the road a while and run into other travellers, or found online travel communities that you start to realise there are a lot more of us family travellers out there than you ever knew. We love knowing that we’re not alone, that other parents are also enjoying travel with their kids and facing the same hair-pulling frustrating challenges that we do. 

Of course with us all moving about so much it can be hard to keep track of where everyone is. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve written a post about leaving a location only to discover that we’ve missed meeting up with a family by just a day or two. Or that we were staying just a street away from another travelling family and never knew. If we had of known we would have found a way to meet up for a few days so the kids could play and we could have adult conversation before we moved on.

And even if you’re not looking to meet up with anyone, it’s always useful to know who’s travelling in a location you’re headed to soon to get travel tips from.

Map your location. It’s as easy as tweeting!

We’re adding in the ability for vagabond families to find each other by mapping our locations. Just add your current location to your family profile or tweet us the details and it will automatically be added to your family profile on Vagabond Family. You can even include the map on your own blog – update it through Vagabond Family and the map on your website will update too.

Use it as a tool to meet up with other families or just check out whose in your next destination so you can follow their blog or contact them directly for travel advice.

How does it work?

The twitter approach

We’re all busy so we wanted to make this new mapping feature as easy as possible. To update your location all you need to do is have to do is make sure your twiiter account is added into your Member Profile in Vagabond Family and send out a tweet like this:

#vflocation [city], [country], [dd-mm-yyyy]

The date is the date you expect to leave your current location. It should be in numerical form, such as 1-10-11 or 22-12-2012.

We’re currently in Penang, Malaysia until November 1, 2011. So I would send the following tweet:

#vflocation Penang, Malaysia, 1-11-2011

It’s that simple! We automatically pick up anything tagged with #vflocation and the system will add your location to your family profile for you. Anytime you want to update your location, just send a new tweet.

If your not sure, just search twitter for the tag #vflocation to see what other users have tweeted.

 

Update through Vagabond Family

The other way to add in your current location is to log into your family profile on Vagabond family.

At the top of your profile you’ll see a new button, Add Current Location. Click on it!

Simply add in your city, location and date details. As soon as you hit “Add Current Location” your details will be updated and displayed on your profile. If this is the first time you’ve added in a location, clicking on the ‘Add Current Location’ button will display the map feature on your profile and update it with your location.

That’s all folks!

After you’ve added your location using either the Vagabond Family site or twitter, your family profile on Vagabond Family will display a small thumbnail displaying a map centred in your current location. Vistors to your profile can also click on the ‘Current Location’ tab to see a larger view of the map.

I want to know exactly where people are, not just the city

When we were initially building in this feature we thought it would be fantastic to know exactly where people are. But for privacy and safety reasons we decided to limit the information to just city and country.

We know a lot of travelling families are concerned about the safety of their children and like to retain a certain anonymity. If you want to catch up with someone that’s in the same city you are (or intend to be) then it’s as simple as getting in contact with them through the information listed on their family profile.

Add the map to your site

We’ve also included instruction on the ‘Current Location’ tab of your family profile for how to add this map to your own website and customise the site. If you update your current location through Vagabond Family or twitter, the map on your website will automatically update as well.

You can see an example of how it works in the footer of our personal blog, Our Travel Lifestyle.

Keeping up to date

We know how hard it is to remember to update things like this when you are on the road. So over the next few weeks we’ll be building in an automatic reminder to the system. On the date that you said you will be moving on, a tweet or email will be sent to you asking if you’d like to update your location. If you haven’t left yet yet then simply send a tweet with a new departure date and we’ll remind you again on that date.

Future functionality for the map

This is just Phase 1 of our location finder. In the near future we’ll be:

  • Creating a world map view that displays everyones locations.
  • Adding the option to set future dates and future locations so we other can know where you are planning on going in the future rather than just know where you are now.

We have more ideas but we’re keeping them under wraps for now! If you have any other ideas how this facility could be utilised for everyone, let us know.

 

Working while you travel is never as easy as it sounds. Don’t get us wrong – it beats a 9-5 desk job any day of the week. But it’s not all sitting on the beach sipping fancy umbrella cocktails while you chat to clients via skype. The reality is your going to spend hours on end sitting in uncomfortable chairs that would have your OH&S supervisor back home in fits while your family enjoys those beach cocktails and sends you facebook photos of everything you’re missing. Without a doubt though the biggest challenge is Internet.

A lot of places these days have WIFI but it’s usually slow, unreliable and often doesn’t allow you to work on secured sites, which can be a big problem for Colin who uses secured environments to develop his clients web applications. Travelling with your own Internet is usually the best option if you want to be able to work effectively and not be soley reliant on someone else?s WIFI and opening hours.

What are the options?

Stay in accommodation with WIFI

A lot of guesthouses, hotels and hostels today offer free WIFI. We try to stay in places with WIFI as often as possible. It?s usually best not to rely on this as your only source of Internet though. If the WIFI goes down then it?s out of your control. The WIFI might not work in your room, only in reception ? which can make it hard for both parents to work once the kids go to bed.

But the biggest problem of working at the place you are staying are interruptions from the rest of the family. You may be able to scoot the family away for a few hours, but sooner or later the kids will get tired and want to come home to rest and play, usually involving at least half an hour of show?n?tell followed by regular ?I?m just going to go tell Daddy/Mummy ?.? interruptions.

Find a café with WIFI

Colin spends a lot of his time in McDonalds and restaurants using their WIFI. As I said, it?s often not fast or reliable but it gives him a chance to get away and focus on work without the distraction of the kids around. The other big problem with cafes is power points. In Australia in particular it can be ridiculously hard to find a restaurant or café that?s happy for you to plug in. You can often be limited to just a few hours of work.

Travel with your own internet

We travel with a USB modem. Whenever we arrive in a new country we buy a local ‘pay-as-you-go’ sim card with a data plan. In most countries in South East Asia this has cost us less than $10 per week for unlimited Internet. The speed varies from country to country, region to region, but it?s usually fast enough to get the job done.

The other option is to travel with an unlocked iPhone or other smart phone that you can tether to your laptop. We?ve found that sim-cards with shared data/phone plans are slower than the ones you put in USB modems and the data plans will be smaller, but it can still be a good backup option in some areas where coverage is poorer as your phone is better at picking up a signal than a USB modem. What do we do?   We usually do a combination of all of the above ? book accommodation with WIFI whenever possible, find a WIFI café and travel with either a data plan for the USB modem or the iPhone, depending on what country we?re in. It?s not fool proof  

 

South East Asia tips  

Internet is surprisingly easy to access all thoughout South East Asia. Even many cheap hostels these days have WIFI. The biggest issues will be finding fast internet. We’ve found we can always get internet fast enough to work with, either by using local WIFI connections or our phone/USB modem but rarely do you get WIFI fast enough for Video skype calls outside of the country.

Start in a capital city  

If you do want to get a sim card for your phone or USB modem, start in a capital city when you first arrive. Once you get out of the capital it can be really hard to find the right phone store and someone who speaks English with enough fluency to understand exactly what you want. In countries like Laos and Cambodia, we?ve found that the only way to organize pre-paid data sim cards is to go into the main branch in the capital city.  

Generators are not your location independence friend

You may have ideals of staying just outside the main tourist areas on a quiet beach, on a deserted tropical island on getting off the beaten path in small mountain villages.   That?s fantastic, but many of the amazing islands and remote locations that you are dying to visit run off generators. Finding WIFI can be tricky ? it?s either going to be slow, unreliable or exists but you mysteriously can never ever connect to it.

But the biggest issue is the heat ? chances are the generator will be off for a few hours each day so it?s going to be hot. How well do you work when it?s 36 degrees outside with mosquitoes flying around you and there?s no fan?   Plan your trip so that you?re in these areas when you don?t have deadlines and lots of work. You?ll just end up hating the location and probably your family for dragging you here!    

Skype for work calls

Accessing internet that’s fast enough for skype video calls has been a challenge althroughout South East Asia. Even voice-only calls can be a challenge. If you do need to use skype for work the best solution is to travel with a phone and get a local number in whatever country you are in. Set up your skype so that it re-routes to your local number if you are not logged into skype. We’ve found that once the skype call reroutes through the local telephone networks the connection is excellent. We do this with our iPhones by the way. It doesn’t solve the video skype issue but at least the voice calls are clear.

Country specific tips:

Thailand and Singapore are actually quite hard to find free WIFI in unless you sign up for an account with several WIFI service providers. It’s easy enough to do this, but it is a complicating factor if you’ve just shown up in the country …

Australia

I?ll be completely honest – we found it easier to work location independently in rural Laos than we did in Australia. And we?re Australian so it?s not because we were unfamiliar with the system! Working and travelling around Australia isn?t impossible but there are a lot of frustrating challenges that you wouldn?t expect in a developed country.  

Amy from Livin on the road wrote a great review recently of the problems with Australia. Coverage is limited … really limited. Post-paid (contract) data plans are expensive, pre-paid even more so.

WIFI

Free WIFI is a lot harder to come by in Australia than …

For many the idea of a perfect getaway conjures up images of long sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, cocktails and a sun lounger. Millions of holiday makers travel to beaches all around the world for just this kind of holiday. Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Spain should be top of your list if you’re in the market for cheap beach holidays. Whether you want fun and dancing, quiet relaxation or plenty to keep you active, Spain has a beach that fits every requirement.

Party Beach – Playa d’en Bossa Beach, Ibiza

During the early hours of the day, Playa d’en Bossa is just like any other beach. Hundreds of sun worshippers stretched out along the beach front, playing in the waves, going for a swim in the ocean. This all changes late in the afternoon the revellers arrive and beach venues like the Bora Bora start their evening festivities. With DJs, parties and beachfront bars the Playa d’en Bossa Beach keeps partying late into the night.

Quiet Beach – Tamariu Beach, Costa Brava

The North-East coast of Spain has some beautiful beaches. While most of the area is heavy with development and tourism, there are still some places that retain a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. Tamariu beach is a quiet former fishing village close to the French border. It hasn’t changed much since it’s time as a fishing village and only has a small number of hotels and apartments that line the water front. The restaurants serve fresh seafood and there’s a local fish market if you fancy cooking your own. The beach is small but peaceful and there’s no noisey jet skis or busy beach bars to contend with.

Sporty Beach – Conil de la Frontera, Andalucia

Conil de la Frontera is Spain’s premier windsurfing destination and specialises in activity holidays. The water is clear and warm in the summer months making it perfect for all kinds of water activities including surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and snorkelling. The weather conditions are best for surfing in May to October and even in the buys periods you can still find quiet sections of the coastline to chill out after hitting the waves. Out of the water there’s football, volleyball and horseback riding on the beach. Once you’re done with the coast you can try mountain biking in the nearby national park or golfing on the various local courses.

An all-inclusive holiday is a perfect idea if you don’t want the hassle of organising where you’ll eat or the stress of budgeting for your drinks and entertainment. As long as you stay inside the resort, everything will be taken care of by the cost of your trip. This may sound pricey, and in some locations it is, but it’s also not exclusive to high-price luxury resorts and there are plenty of places that offer cheap all inclusive holidays. We’ve picked some of the best destinations for this type of holiday that should give you an idea of what to expect.

Turkey – Didim Beach Resort

Didim Beach Resort is in Altinkum, on the south coast of Turkey. It’s a great example of a truly all-inclusive resort, where you can enjoy the whole of your holiday without worrying about any extra expense. It even includes its own private beach so you can relax and enjoy the sun in quiet privacy. If you get bored of lounging by the swimming pool or the beach there are various sports clubs, including scuba diving, watersports and aerobics. Dining is taken care of by two restaurants and a whole host of snack bars and cafes while entertainment is provided by daily shows and live music, both around the pool area or in one of the venues.

Egypt – Royal Albatros Moderna

Sharm el-Sheikh is home to many resorts offering all-inclusive accomodation and the Royal Albatros is one of the best equipped among them. There is an astonishing amount of entertainment and activity included in your holiday and there’s bound to be something to keep everyone happy. Sports featured at the resort include volleyball, football, water polo and tennis, but if you’d rather stay out of the heat there’s an indoor games room with billiards, table tennis and darts. If you want to just relax by the pool there are 4 to choose from or you can take advantage of the spa facilities with a range of beauty treatments. If you’re got kids there’s even a private water park for hotel guests, with admission included in the price of your stay.

Mexico – Royal Solaris

The Royal Solaris is a beautiful hotel located right on the beach in Cancun, Mexico. There are 3 restaurants within the resort with a great variety of menus, with buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s also an a la carte menu if you’re after a nice romantic meal. The hotel has its own marina where you can rent pedal boats or go kayaking, included in the cost of your stay. Along with a spa and sauna, there’s a two level pool by the beach front if you’d rather spend your time relaxing, which has a swim up bar so you don’t have to leave the water for your cocktail. The dinner theatre hosts shows and gala nights with cabaret, magic shows and even karaoke if you fancy becoming part of the entertainment.

Just remember that no matter where you choose, whether it is the summer holidays or the winter holidays make sure you check what is covered by the price. Despite the name, “all inclusive” doesn’t always include everything.