Things to do in Kuala Lumpur with kids

Kuala Lumpur was the last stop on our trip. In hindsight, this is the only part of the itinerary I would have done differently. It took me a few days to get in sync with KL and at first I thought I didn’t really like it. But after a while I realized I was just in beach-mode after Langkawi and Koh Lipe, and it was taking an effort to get back into city/sightseeing-mode. We didn’t do as much as we could have or thought we would (it’s been stinking hot), but here’s what we enjoyed:

Petronas Towers

We were planning to go up to the skybridge and then to the top, but when we got there, the lines were HUGE. My advice – you really do need to get there early. We skipped that part and wandered the shops for a while, which was fun, then headed to the large park behind the towers. It was lovely here, and there’s a big playground and public pool. The kids were so annoyed they hadn’t worn their swimmers! A word of warning, though – the park attendants watch you like hawks and blow their whistles every time they see a rule being flouted. And there seem to be so many rules! About lying down on the grass, or accidentally walking on the tiled area with your shoes on, or sitting on play equipment if you are too old. We all found it quite funny.

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The pool and park behind the towers. 

Petrosains

The Questacon of Malaysia, Petrosains is funded by oil and gas company Petronas and is a science and discovery centre with loads of interactive exhibits and activities.

The kids LOVED this place. We spent four hours here and didn’t get around to everything. It is a must-do for kids in KL. I have to say, though, the blatant, over-the-top propaganda for the petrol industry kind of sticks in your craw. I felt like a bit of my soul died (although as I drive a car I can’t be too high and mighty!) Also, we caught one of the educational shows, which was all about how the digestive system works – informative, and kind of gross. But then it got quite weird when the educator finally got to the end of process – the rectum – and started explaining in graphic detail how people smuggle drugs in their faeces! The kids were round-eyed with surprise, and Souljourneyboy and I couldn’t stop laughing, it was so absurd.

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Bookworm enjoying one of the interactive exhibits – he’s about to go down the oil rig escape hatch. 

Central Market

A marketplace with airconditioning! We were in heaven and spent way to much money. A hand carved wooden chess set and an antique gong from Borneo were our favourite finds. And we had a foot fish spa! Yes, where the fish suck off your dried skin. I didn’t think I was going to be able to last 15 minutes, it was creepy and ticklish and kind of sandpapery, but I hung in there 🙂

Petaling Street (Chinatown)

Mostly knock-off junk but fun for a morning stroll. I bought converse sneakers for $15, Bookworm bought binoculars for $6 and there are lots of handbags and sunglasses etc if you’re into that sort of thing.

We liked KL but as I said before, I would do it differently next time, and make sure the very last stop was for chilling out and relaxing. I’ve realised as a family we do love our beach/pool/swimming time 🙂

 

Enjoying Koh Lipe with kids

Sometimes when travelling, the anticipation of a place can be more rewarding than the destination itself – I remember as a kid I was really excited about seeing a black sand beach, only to be pretty disappointed when I actually got to see one. A friend of mine had the same reaction upon finally viewing Stonehenge – she didn’t realise it would be next to a highway, and so protected it couldn’t really be enjoyed. Sometimes the reality doesn’t live up to the postcards, or the hype. I had a lot of hype in my head about Koh Lipe. One of my favourite things to do is research beautiful islands to visit, and Koh Lipe trumps many of those “Top 10” lists you find on the internet. When I realized how easy it was to get to from Langkawi (a short ferry ride away) I was really excited, but couldn’t help wonder – would it really be as beautiful as those possibly photo-shopped pictures on the internet?

The answer, my friends, is yes. Koh Lipe is EXACTLY how it looks in the pictures. Here are some of my snaps (completely untouched!)

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The two orange spots in the water are Souljourneyboy and Bookworm snorkelling, while Little Miss and Picasso built sandcastles on the shore. Here’s a couple more:

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It is basically paradise on earth. Powder-white beaches, and the clearest water I’ve ever seen, rivalled only by the Whitsundays – that stunning, breathtaking turquoise. My only regret was that we came for just three days – next time we visit Koh Lipe we will make sure we stay for at least a week. Here are some things we enjoyed:

Pattaya Beach

The main stretch of beach, lined with most of the island’s resorts, bungalows, cafes and bars . The beach is beautiful, and the vibe is just so wonderfully chilled. There are fancy resorts, but there are charming little bars with bean bags and sofas stretching out onto the beach, and in the evenings, there’s music and people milling around and sandcastles with candles and fire dancing and its just fantastic.

Walking street

There aren’t very many streets on Koh Lipe, and Walking Street is the main stretch of concrete road bordered by little shops, cafes, restaurants, massage lounges, juice bars and tourist spots. Little Miss got her hair braided, island-style, and we spent each night exploring. Lots of fun.

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Sita Resort

We stayed at the Sita, which fronts directly into Pattaya Beach. With lovely rooms, a decent breakfast buffet and two pools, we loved it here. We lazed by the pool reading, then swam when we got too hot, then ordered freshly squeezed juice, then walked five metres to swim in the sea, and then did it all over again. It was also in a nice spot for a family– close to Walking Street, but far enough away from bars and restaurants so the rooms were very peaceful at night. And we met a lovely Australian couple here too! I do love that I have met so many great people on our trip.

Sunset Beach

We found this delightful cove hidden behind the Sit Resort and spent the day here. You can snorkel about 1 metre into the ocean, the water is just that pristine. Bookworm and Souljourneyboy snorkeled for hours. It was practically deserted – nothing here except a few tents, and a cute shack that doubles as a cocktail bar/café. It was fabulous.

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The cocktail bar on Sunset Beach. You can order food too – they jump on their motorbike, head over to Walking Street an buy whatever thou want, then deliver it back here. What else could anyone want?

Koh Lipe is definitely a place I will visit again. It’s obviously a tourist island, but not dominated by huge, characterless all-inclusive resorts – its beauty is as yet unspoiled by overdevelopment. I hope this lasts. Apparently the military coup that happened in Thailand last year resulted in the new government cracking down on hawkers approaching sunbathers, and hotels scattering sunbeds all over their beachfronts to claim them as “private”. I was glad of both. Part of me worries what the former hawkers are now doing for money (although there seemed to be five people employed to do one job in the Immigration Office, so maybe they’re all working there), but after Vietnam it was nice to just enjoy the beach without being asked to buy things every five minutes. And I liked that the beaches are being kept clear of the hotel sunbeds – these beautiful beaches should be public, not just for guests of specific hotels . All in all, Koh Lipe really is the perfect place to chill out. We cannot wait to go there again – and the kids have made me promise we’ll stay at least one week 🙂

 

Great things to do in Penang for the whole family

Penang! Where to start? Only to say – I think I could live here!

One of the best things about travelling with kids is that you visit places you might not normally visit – and you are so glad you did. And the great thing about Penang is that I didn’t feel like the attractions were either for grown-ups OR for kids – they were just fantastic for everyone. We were there four days and we barely scratched the surface, but here’s what we loved:

 Little India

Butter chicken. Need I say more? We had it three days in a row and Picasso was in heaven. Little India is in Georgetown and is, indeed, Little India. We enjoyed the food, the music and the atmosphere, bought some gemstones and just soaked it up.

 Penang Municipal Park (Youth Park)

This is one attraction we probably wouldn’t have visited if we didn’t have kids and we would have totally missed out! It’s beautiful – positioned beside a waterfall and in the jungle. It has playing equipment, exercise equipment, three pools, soccer field, skate park, chess sets, archery range – and it’s ALL FREE. Yes, that’s right. There are monkeys everywhere and one cheeky fellow stole the bag of crisps from right under my nose and sat under a bush eating it, mocking me 🙂

 Penang Butterfly Farm

With 3,000 species of butterflies to see, this is one amazing place. They flutter all around you in the enclosure, and there are also other insects and spiders to see inside. The kids learned a lot and loved it.

Batu Ferringhi

The beach strip in Penang. We found a quiet little beach near Hard Rock Hotel and had a lovely time swimming. The water was so warm and the waves small enough for Little Miss to really enjoy.

Penang Hill

This was amazing. We took the funicular to the top, which provides breath-taking views over Georgetown and Penang. There’s heaps to do once you’re there, including a jungle walk where we saw a Giant Black Squirrel, an Owl Museum and places where you get Henna art done – which Little Miss was very excited about. There’s also a temple and other attractions but we didn’t have time for everything. It probably deserves a whole day on its own. My only advice would be to NOT eat at Bellevue Hill Hotel, which was an expensive and horrible lunch.

 Georgetown 3D Art Museum

Again, something we wouldn’t have done if we didn’t have the kids, and it was awesome. It’s an art gallery of trick images, which look like they are coming out if the wall. You can have your picture taken and it looks very cool. The kids LOVED this. Here’s an example:

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All in all, I highly recommend Penang as a family destination. I would definitely come again and this time stay for longer. We had such fun as a family here.

The truth about travelling with kids

We’ve been busily travelling for a month now, so I feel it is time for an honest post about what it’s like to travel overseas with three young children.

Travelling with kids is like a distilled dose of parenting. Consumed straight up, neat, in a shot glass. The highs are higher, the experiences more intense, the lows are lower, and the frustrations are more frustrating.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there’s just a lot of stuff to sort out. While you’re in the middle of enjoying an ancient Buddhist monastery, someone will urgently need to go to the toilet. You sit down to lunch, and invariably someone doesn’t like what they’ve ordered. Someone has a sore finger or a bumped head or a question about mythology that must be answered RIGHT NOW. Someone doesn’t like their seat and no one will swap with them, or they’ve suddenly dropped their chocolate biscuit and there are none left; someone’s shoe hurts, and at exactly the same time someone else needs the toilet urgently AGAIN. Yep, it’s pretty time consuming and exhausting.

Secondly, there’s this universal truth – wherever you are, there you are. Sibling issues do not disappear just because you’ve paid thousands of dollars to travel to the other side of the world and experience something amazing. Sadly, my parenting skills or patience levels didn’t miraculously improve either. Picasso is still stubborn and annoys Bookworm. Bookworm still overreacts. Little Miss still gets tired before everyone else and takes out her grumpiness on her brothers. And of course, all this is exacerbated by the fact that you are in each other’s company 24 HOURS A DAY. No breaks. You eat, sleep, travel and play together constantly. This means you witness all the stupid fights that they usually have outside of your hearing. It also means bickering over small things takes on epic proportions. I kid you not, one of the most intense arguments occurred over the microbeads in hand sanitizer. I had no idea it was possible to even argue over hand sanitizer. This then of course led to a mammoth parenting fail on my behalf and I yelled at Bookworm beside the Statue of Lenin. (Bookworm has told me this has now negatively coloured his view of communism – if he ends up becoming a raging right-wing fanatic, I do apologise, everyone 🙂 ).

Finally, travelling successfully with the same five people day in and day out takes two things – selflessness and the ability to practice delayed gratification. Yeah – two things kids are REALLY AWESOME at doing. They don’t seem to understand that at the airport our priority is finding the right tickets and getting on the right plane. Why? Because their priority is making sure they have a turn wheeling the new suitcase RIGHT NOW. They have to work really, really hard at putting each other first, with countless reminders from us, and most of the time it feels like an uphill battle.

So, with all of this – why would anyone travel with kids??

I’ve thought about it a lot, and my answer is this – travel makes the most sense when you do it with children. Doors open when you travel with kids – particularly in Asia. Everyone has a smile or a present for them. Everyone wants to chat to them or take their picture. It gives you a unique perspective you wouldn’t get as a single person, or as a couple. And if travel is about expanding horizons, then that is magnified a hundred fold in children. You see their world view growing and changing right before your eyes. Kids don’t have the same prejudices and hangups we do. They encounter something they don’t understand, or something new challenges the way they think or what they know – and the process to acceptance and understanding is very quick. It’s fascinating to watch. Travelling with kids also opens up the most amazing conversations with them about all kinds of things – politics, religion, poverty, government, family, obligation, deformity, sex, drugs, disease – you name it, we’ve discussed it in the past 4 weeks. It also forces you to really work through some of your relationship issues quick smart. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself as a parent in the past 4 weeks, which has been somewhat confronting, but very useful.

So, if you are brave and foolish enough to travel overseas with children, I’ll share some things that the past month has taught me:

Lower your expectations and let go of unrealistic ones

As an only child, I really struggle with the sibling bickering thing. I just don’t get it. I can’t stand listening to it. It makes me feel like I’ve failed as a parent, which I know is ridiculous, but I can’t help thinking it anyway. Travelling has brought me face-to-face with some of my unrealistic ideals and forced me to just embrace the moment as it is. They WILL argue, whether you’re in your own home or on the Eiffel Tower. Just be prepared to try and ignore it as much as possible and not rise and fall with their emotions (this is a real struggle for me).

Spend a bit more for hotels with good breakfasts and a pool/outdoor area if possible

The times we scrimped on hotels and had a crappy breakfast, we had a crappy morning. Kids are happier if they are not hungry. Also, it depends on the season you’re travelling in, but kids need to burn off energy, and pleasantly strolling through unknown streets doesn’t count. They need parks, pools and play areas.

 Understand they won’t necessarily like the same things you do

We’ve been pretty lucky with this one, because the boys particularly have really enjoyed the museums and touristy sites we’ve gone to. Little Miss not so much, but I keep reminding myself she’s only six. However one of the most delicious memories I have is being in Lake Como with Soul Sister and reading in bed for hours on a cold, rainy day. When faced with similar weather in Hue, spending the day like that would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, and while the kids were pretty good most of the day, everyone was climbing the walls by bedtime.

Split them up on occasion

When the personalities start to grate, it’s a good time to split up. We have found it works more naturally for Little Miss and Bookworm to come with me, and Picasso with Souljourneyboy.

Appreciate the good moments when you have them

In some moments, I did despair. But then there were these moments too – Little Miss writing on a beautiful card she bought at the night markets for her brothers about how much she loved them. Picasso offering Bookworm money when he lost his wallet. Bookworm giving up his window seat in the plane for his little sister. Its important to appreciate them when they happen, and remember that these shared experiences are good for them to soften some of the sharper edges of their personalities as well.

Find the technology balance that works for you

I’m sure there are parents out there who could entertain their kids on a four-hour bus trip with a set of teeth and an egg carton. I am not one of those parents. With that in mind, we decided to buy the kids an iPad mini each for Christmas before we left. We are really happy with the balance we’ve found – the iPads do not come anywhere with us when we are sight seeing or out to eat or playing. They are for the hotel room and long trips only. They have honestly been a godsend – they’re not just used for games, but we also downloaded a couple of movies and TV shows, as well as books, and apps that tell you all about the country you’re in. With all the travel we did in Vietnam – traversing a country 1650km long – they were invaluable. Also, when you have five people living in one room, they’re a good way of each person having some space.

And my final, most important piece of advice? Travel as a single person (I’ll forever regret I did not do this). Then travel as a couple. Then, make sure you travel with your kids (and bring some valium along for the ride 🙂 )

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, and we’d also planned a 2-day homestay tour in the Mekong Delta (a couple of hours from HCMC). We stayed 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh, which really in hindsight probably wasn’t enough. One site I was really disappointed to miss was the Cu Chi Tunnels, but there are just some things you don’t get time for. The weather was so hot and sticky that the kids tired pretty easily and we couldn’t pack that much into a day. I think too after 3 weeks of full-on travel, they were just a bit tired and unwell. Here are some of the things we did:

 The War Museum

This was an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The War Museum does not pull any punches in detailing the graphic nature of the Vietnam War, the atrocities which occurred, and the devastating effects of Agent Orange. The first floor was OK for all the kids, but the second floor was quite disturbing. I didn’t allow Little Miss to go into any of the exhibitions – fortunately, there is a separate kids’ play area for just that reason. Picasso and Bookworm went into a couple of the exhibitions and looked at some of the photos, but were too upset to see much of it, and I made sure they didn’t see any of the really graphic images – pictures of deformed foetuses, for instance. I’m still not sure if we did the right thing in taking them – but I think we did. Outside the museum are big American tanks, a plane and guns – and when we first arrived, the boys thought they were the coolest things ever. After being inside the museum, I asked Bookworm if he wanted to walk by the tanks one last time before we left. He said, “Mum, I don’t even want to look at them, now that I’ve seen those war photos.” I think it’s important to understand the reality of war. I think it was a difficult, but necessary visit.

The Reunification Palace

More of a government house than a palace, but still quite interesting. It’s pretty much remained unchanged since the fall of Saigon in the 1960s and is quite impressive. Unfortunately we were a bit depressed after seeing the War Museum and didn’t stay too long because Bookworm was feeling sick as well that day. The kids liked the Guest of Honour seat in the President’s office, which had an enormous pair of buffalo horns extending out either side.

 The Dam Sen Amusement and Water Park

I don’t think you can beat Asia for cheap, fantastic amusement parks. This was an absolutely enormous place – maybe 5 times the size of Lunar Park – for a fraction of the price. The kids’ tickets were just $6 each! There were stacks of rides, and a big water park inside as well. Unfortunately the day we went was a holiday in Vietnam and I swear every single person in Ho Chi Minh was there was well, so it was very packed. We only saw one other western family though, so if you’re travelling and picked a normal weekday, you’d probably have the place to yourself. The slides were kind of wild and Little Miss wasn’t allowed to go on many, but she really enjoyed the children’s section.

  Saigon Opera House

A last-minute decision saw us buying tickets to the A O show at the Opera House, and we were so glad we did. It was amazing – the kids were transfixed. Created by a former member of Cirque de Soleil, A O tells the history of Vietnam through dance, music and acrobatics, with just bamboo baskets and poles as props. The feats they achieve are quite incredible – human pyramids, flying across the stage doing cartwheels in bamboo baskets, and somersaulting off swinging ropes, to name just a few. Mesmerising.

The Ben Than markets

A huge marketplace with everything your heart could possibly desire. You have to be prepared to haggle though – which personally I found exhausting. Bookworm excelled at it, so I made sure to keep him close by 🙂

The Mekong Delta

We booked a one-night/two-day homestay through Indochina tours and Cruiseabout Travel, and weren’t exactly sure what to expect – but we were absolutely blown away by how fabulous this turned out to be. We had a private guide – Vien – who was amazing. She taught us so much about Vietnamese life, and was so knowledgeable, and kept the kids amused with games in the car and taught them how to make bracelets and rings with coconut leaves.

We drove into the Mekong and then took a boat up the river where we stopped off to see how bricks are made from the river clay, how coconuts are processed into oil, sweets, mats and handcrafts, and we also saw bamboo mat weaving. We visited a gorgeous place right in the mangroves for lunch and stayed overnight in a beautiful French villa and learned how to make spring rolls. We were going to bike into town to see the markets but the kids were pretty exhausted by then so it was nice to just hang out at the villa and enjoy the gardens and the very cute puppy they had living there. We also met a lovely Australian family who were on the homestay as well, and we really hit if off. Travelling is so great for making new friends! All in all, a wonderful way to finish our Vietnam experience. In the way back into Ho Chi Minh, Vien and I talked for hours about the differences between Australia and Vietnam – it turns out the difficulty of balancing work/career and family/children is a universal experience felt by women everywhere 🙂

 

Nha Trang and Da Lat

After Hoi An, we caught a plane to Nha Trang. This was around the mid-point of our journey and so we thought a few days relaxing near the beach would be a nice rest, and it was, although the weather let us down a little. I’d read a few posts and forums with tourists decrying Nha Trang as a sleazy tourist destination, but while you certainly don’t see “real’ Vietnam, it was a nice spot to relax. It is true however that you can’t walk about 5 metres without falling over a Russian! There are plenty of activities to enjoy in Nha Trang – parasailing, scuba diving, snorkelling and jet skiing to name a few  – but most of these are not really for kids, so we didn’t do too much. Here are some of the things we enjoyed:

Cham temples

Built sometime before 781, the Cham temple is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with two Hindu goddesses, and who in Vietnamese is called Thiên Y Thánh Mâu. The temple was interesting, although some of the restoration work has been pretty poorly done, which is a shame.

The beach and Central Park

The main tourist stretch on the beach is called Central Park, and there is a pretty cool set of pools right opposite the beach. You can rent a chair for about $5 for the day and just divide your time between the beach and the pools. The boys enjoyed the beach, although December is not the best season for swimming – its pretty churned up and Little Miss did not like it much – but they all loved the pools. I think we are pretty spoilt with our beaches in Oz 🙂

Vinpearl Amusement and Water Park

Built on an island just off Nha Trang’s coast by a Vietnamese billionaire, Vinpearl is a resort and a huge amusement and water park. It’s not cheap by Asian standards but well worth a visit with kids. We spent a day there and still didn’t do all of the rides and activities. The kids particularly loved the water park, and there were really good water slides for all ages. I even did some! Also, you get there by cable car from the mainland which is heaps of fun.

Da Lat

After Nha Trang, it was a taxi ride up the mountains and into Da Lat. When we were refining our itinerary, we nearly dropped Da Lat – we have packed a LOT of travelling into the Vietnam leg of this trip, and I wondered if Da Lat was an extra stop that would push it a bit too far for the kids. I am SO GLAD we didn’t! We just loved Da Lat. The city was built by the French in the early 1900s in beautiful alpine country, and so the city has quite a European feel. The cooler climate means there are gorgeous flowers and gardens everywhere. There is a lot of interesting cultural history too, with many minority groups in the area. I think though what made Da Lat so awesome was an Easy Rider day-tour we did with local guide Hung. This was probably the best day we’d had, and I think Da Lat was the perfect place to do it. The highlights for me on the day trip were:

Datanla Falls

The Elephant Falls are more impressive, but these smaller falls had an alpine roller coaster you could ride to and from the falls, which is the best thing ever. There was also an archery range which we all thought was pretty cool.

Coffee Plantation and Silk Factory

Da Lat has coffee plantations everywhere, and it was very interesting to learn more about the coffee making process. And even more interesting was visiting a coffee house where the beans are passed through a weasel’s digestive tract before being used! We even tried a cup – I quite liked it 🙂 Seeing the silk factory was awesome as well – I hadn’t realised it takes 8kg of cocoons to make just 1kg of silk. it was fascinating to see the process and how the silk is spun from the cocoon – and I also liked that nothing is wasted. The silkworms inside the cocoons (who are boiled during the silk making process!) are used for cooking, and the silk that is not of good enough quality to use in cloth is used for stuffing pillows.

The Crazy House

I could try and describe the Gaudi-inspired Crazy House, but a picture is worth a thousand words:

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It is truly Alice In Wonderland-esque, a wild mass of wood and wire fashioned into the shape of a giant tree house and smoothed over in concrete, with hundreds of tiny winding staircases and little odd rooms. The eccentric owner/proprietor and chief architect, is Ms. Dang Viet Nga, daughter of aristocracy, with a degree in architecture from university in Moscow. Needless to say this was a total hit with the kids! Truly crazy and wonderful at the same time.

If anyone out there is considering a trip to Vietnam, a highly recommend a stop in Da Lat!

Hue in the rain and Hoi An

Overnight train to Hue

After Hanoi, we decided to take the overnight train to Hue. It was an experience! Two three-bunk beds crammed into a tiny space, one toilet per 7 cabins and paper-thin walls. Still, it was pretty clean and we were so thankful the toilet was a western one. Before we left though, the toilet door wouldn’t open. A Japanese couple and I were highly concerned about this (and managed to have a worried conversation about it despite no shared language) but the Vietnamese train conductor just kept waving us away when we tried to talk to him about it. Luckily the door opened once we were flying along. It was a rattly sleep, and Bookworm has written his thoughts about it at campbellwhale.wordpress.com (I can’t include the link because the internet connection won’t let me!). When we arrived in Hue we were all tired and cranky, and so Souljourneyboy and I decided to splash out on two interconnecting rooms instead of just one room, which was a good idea after a solid week of us all in each other’s company 24/7.

Hue

Hue was a city I’m glad I visited, but I probably wouldn’t go to again. It just felt like we were on the point of being rorted all the time, and I haven’t felt like that in other places. Picasso got scammed out of some money by some sweet-looking Vietnamese women who did a currency exchange trick on him, which really pissed me off. He’s a 9-year-old boy for crying out loud. The cyclo peddlers and street hawkers are way too persistent and the prices are jacked up ridiculously high for tourists, which forces you to haggle vehemently, which I don’t like. Also it rained a lot and it was cold to boot, which made sightseeing difficult. Still, these were the highlights:

Imperial City

I think the kids would have enjoyed this more if it hadn’t been raining. Also, it looked close to our hotel on the map but the map was oddly scaled and it was actually quite a long walk away, which Little Miss got over towards the end. But it was pretty amazing seeing where the Emperors had lived.

Cyclo tour

This is one place I would recommend a cyclo tour as there are hidden sights to see that are quite spread out. Our drivers took us to the house where Ho Chi Minh had lived, and a spot looking out high over the city that had been bombed in the war, and a garden house with bonsais that were hundreds of years old.

Dong Ba markets

The haggling is exhausting but the markets are the largest in Central Vietnam and absolutely amazing. The kids loved them and Bookworm learned to bargain like a pro – Picasso and Little Miss are too softhearted 🙂

Hai Van Pass and Marble Mountains  

Three days was enough for Hue, and we had booked a driver to take us to Hoi An and see some of the sights on the way. It was a beautifully scenic trip, although we got a bit car sic”k with the hair pin turns. Hai Van means “Sea Clouds and it is an approximately 21 km long mountain pass. Its name refers to the mists that rise from the South China Sea, reducing visibility. The pass forms an obvious boundary between North and South Vietnam, and you can stop and see the fortifications built by the French and then later used by the South Vietnamese and the Americans. The kids found climbing down into the bullet-ridden bunkers very interesting. The Marble Mountains were also very interesting but we’d run a little late on our taxi ride and didn’t have enough time to explore properly. I’d recommend an overnight stay in Danang to give them enough time.

Hoi An

Then it was onto Hoi An. We just loved this place. We stayed in Rock An Villa which was a little out of town, so quiet and peaceful, and such good value – two big rooms, our own bathroom with 2 showers and a bath, and full breakfast daily for about $90 per night. The villa also had a pool, a yard with swings for the kids to play on and bikes and scooters available for free. The kids enjoyed riding the bikes along the streets around the villa, and we all rode together to the beach. This was slightly hair-raising – after all, you’re sharing your road with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and buffalo) and there are no helmets or road rules in particular. Picasso did accidentally crash into a motorbike at one stage but was OK. You’ve got to take a deep breath ad go with it 😉 Hoi An’s old city was too far away to ride to, so we ordered taxis when we wanted to go in, which was easy enough. I can’t express how beautiful the old city is. It’s Asia’s answer to Venice and I think I enjoyed it even slightly more. I spent a fortune on lanterns, and we also got shoes made – I got knee-high handmade leather boots for $60. The kids loved this – you pick your own style and colours. There were plenty of day trips and things to see in Hoi An but we took it easy, strolling around the old city and taking a boat ride up the river, enjoying the lanterns and the markets at night. We had a rainy day where we chilled in the villa which was nice too. We found a great place called Cargo Club to eat and enjoyed my first good coffee in 2 weeks.

This is what I really loved about Hoi An: IMG_2075

Its definitely a place I would love to visit again 🙂