Saturday, December 31, 2011

Picnic and Water Play @ Marina Barrage

Editors of  Brennan and LiLing were in Singapore with their kids for the year end holiday and we took the opportunity to spend some time with these savy travellers! After a few emails we finally decided on a morning at Marina Barrage, do some kite flying, have a little picnic, and play at the kids' fountain. We were excited to meet them, but the only thing holding me back was the weather. It had been raining alot and we did not really have a wet weather plan. When we got there at 10.30 am, the sky was nicely cloudy with enough sun and strong winds... in fact, the weather was perfect.

First on our list was to put up the kites. We would soon find out that kite flying requires a lot of patience and is not as easy as it looks. I had picked up two kites for $1.60 each and put one together very quickly. The wind was strong and initially it looked like putting this kite up would be a breeze. However, that wasn't the case. I am a novice at kite flying and took a number of adjustments to attach the line to the kite in such a way that the kite would be balanced, instead of spinning uncontrollably to the ground shortly after take off. We managed to get it up about 10-15 m off the ground for minutes at time before losing control. I attribute it to the lack of mastery technique I have not acquired yet. Still, there were moments when A and I could stand back and enjoy the kite fluttering in the breeze, and appreciate the tug of the kite on the string in our hands. Glad we made time for this. Next time a more expensive kite perhaps?

The weather was great for the most part, but we had to move under the shade a while later as the noon sun rose overhead to escape the heat. For lunch, we had prepared hard-boiled eggs, chicken sausages to go with hot dog buns and cheese, along with freshly cut apples and a punnet of strawberries all packed in a small handy Fridge-to-go cooler bag. Brennan and LiLing brought along drinks, chips, and some snacks. Their impromptu table-cloth came in handy as a picnic mat.

After finishing our food and when the sun was at it's highest, we decided that it was time to get wet! The kids' waterplay area turned out to be a great hit with the children. It was challenging bringing a camera around to snap the kids having fun as there was water spouting everywhere, mini fountains, and not to mention the splashes as the children kicked and ran about. The water was just above ankle deep, which allowed the children to roll around without fear of falling into deep water.

We spent over an hour there and finally convinced the kids to dry up. Before we left, I had a peek at the kite shop and requested a picture of the shop. We called cabs and finally left the about place four hours after we got there.

Thanks to Brennan, LiLing, and their wonderful children for a wonderful day out and hope to catch up next time you pass through Singapore! Visit their site if you're planning a family oriented trip to the US for tips and things to do.

Road Trip to Coral Coast, Western Australia Part 2 Northamption

Our first stop was at Ninghan Park Farm. Located at Northamption, it is only 10 minutes away from the Geraldton. ( Geraldton is 5 hours away from Perth city. We started early to ensure we do not reach Ninghan Park Farm too late. We did stop by the road during lunch time. It was also vital that the girls got some running time. Expecting them to sit quietly and patiently throughout the journey would be near impossible....hmmm...let me rephrase that, it would be impossible. Plus, when they whined so much because they got bored from sitting in one spot for so long, I would be more than happy to get them out in the open, so that I can have some peace...even if it was going to be for a short 5 minutes.

It is very easy to find parking bays along the road. There are also bins located at these parking bays for you to clear the trash. There wasn't much lush greenery as we moved away from Perth but the girls were still happy running among the dried bushes. Lunch was simple pasta but it did the trick of making everyone happy. Needless to say, the girls fell asleep after the lunch and we were able to proceed to the farm. Suddenly, the stillness within the motorhome accentuated the beautiful surrounding.

Girls roaming around while Mummy cooked lunch

Admiring the wildflower

I found more!

One really feel cut away from the outside world once you reach Ninghan Park. Maybe it is because we were the only ones staying there that night. Then again, the vast greenery surrounding the whole farm made me feel tucked away in the countryside. "Ahhh, finally, the relaxing holiday has started"

View on one side of our self-contained cabin
We stayed in a self-contained cabin. There are only 2 on the farm and boy, were we pleased. The cabin was so spacious and clean. The kangaroos hopped past our cabin a few times and we could enjoy the scenery and animals from inside the cabin. The cabins are situated in the middle of the farm so in short, we are surrounded by the animals, all around. Ostrich, goats, lambs, cows...we couldn't wait to start interacting with the animals.

Our spacious and clean cabin

Bed is tucked away from view, soft and comfortable

Ninghan Park Farm prides itself in creating opportunities for interaction between animals and people. They also won the MidWest Business Excellence Award 2009/10. We could see why. Animals were allowed to run freely in their spacious enclosure and we were encouraged to feed them bread. A has always been a more adventurous child so she had a great time doing just that. The host, Peter Stoker, informed us the animals' feeding time and we joined them on their afternoon feeds. A touched and fed the smaller animals - guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, goats...well, the goat is the biggest animals among the 'small animals section' but he is gentle. Peter's daughter was having a birthday party on the day we arrived and we were invited to join too. A joined them on the jumping pillow and fed the animals with the whole group of children. It sure was a nice bonus to the stay. K was not very keen on animals. She just want to observe them from a distance. Fret not, there is a small playground (a swing and see-saw) on the farm and for her, that was good enough.

Eager goats just outside our cabins. They love it when we get close. They must be hungry! 

These gentle ponies were K's favourite animal on the farm.

The kangeroos were always around when A walked by with bread. The kangeroos were also seen hopping around outside the fence. Seemed like they can come in and out as they wish.

Farmer Peter and A feeding the guinea pigs during the afternoon feeding time.

Playing on the jumping pillow. It was Peter's daughter's birthday celebration so there were a few kids around. Fun!

K was happy with her see-saw.

Children tractor for the kids to get into the mood for...farming.

Hungry? The colorful cafe on the farm can whip up some dishes for you.
Bread, spread and eggs were provided for breadfast. I reckon the kangeroos knew that we were having breakfast because they were standing outside our cabin, looking through the glass door. Everyone was amused. We sat at the glass doors and A tried conversing with the kangeroos. I doubt any communication was made but it was still fun to watch. After the morning feeds, we packed up and left the farm, with greater determination to have more farm stays in the future. Thank you, Farmer Peter. Ninghan Park is great. 

Looking at the kangeroos behind the glass doors.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Road Trip to Coral Coast, Western Australia Part 1 Planning

Went on a 3 weeks road trip along Coral Coast, Western Australia in June this year. The last time we did a road trip in Australia was when A was 15 months, from Adelaide to Melbourne. She is now 4 years old. We learnt a lot from that trip so we are more ready for another road trip, this time, with 2 kids in tow. As it was a long road trip, we spent almost 8 months researching and making sure everything was in place before we flew.

Coral Coast stretches from Perth up north, pass Jurien Bay, Geraldton, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Coral Bay and finally Exmouth. The first thing we looked up is the climate. Children are very sensitive to climate changes so we wanted to make sure we have chosen the right place. The average temperature in Exmouth in summer is around 38 degrees Celsius while it is at a cool 25 degrees Celsius in winter. Winter it shall be then. We started looking out for cheap airfares to Australia for the period of June. When Singapore Airline had their sales, we jumped on the wagon even though it was a good 10 months before our departure.

We tried asking friends who have been to Australia before about Coral Coast and Exmouth but it turned out that they have not ventured into this stretch before. We did not have any first hand account to rely on so we did a lot of research online. We also went to the NATAS fair to speak to the Australian Tourism Board. Of course, we came back with many informative booklets and that helped us in our planning greatly. You can also download brochures from Western Australia website. The whole stretch of Coral Coast is very long, which means we would need a lot of time on the road. We finally decided on the leap frog travelling method. Leap frogging on road trip means stopping at alternate stops on your way up to the final destination and stopping at the ones you didn't, on the way down. In this way, you can cover more places without spending too many hours on the road. For example, we went from Perth to Greenough (near Geraldton), to Denham and Monkey Mia, and our final stop, Exmouth. On our way down, we went to Carnarvon, Kalbarri, Geraldton, Jurien Bay and finally Perth.

Next, comes the transport. We decided on a motorhome because we needed to have access to water and toilet whenever the girls need to. The long hours on the road between each destination makes it more justifiable to get a motorhome than to get a car. With a motorhome, we can stop anywhere we want and whenever we need to, and have everything we need. This would save us a lot of time eventually. We have no prior experience so it would be fun. We emailed a few motorhomes rental companies in Australia, asking for quotes and of course, a few burning questions. Afterall, we are green when it comes to motorhoming. All of them took a few days or a week to reply, with only the quotes, except one - Trevor and Jane replied our email promptly and was generous in their answers to our concerns. They shared a lot of tips and gave several suggestions on how to better enjoy our time in Australia. They did not sound pushy and even though I wasn't sure of the motorhome I have selected (I asked for a few different quotes for different vehicles), they were very patient throughout. They even arranged for our motorhome to be sent to the caravan park directly so we would not need to rush should our plane was delayed (I am so glad we listened to them because our flight was delayed for 1 and a half hour!) They did up all the paperwork necessary for the transfer of motorhome to the caravan park (the usual practice is for the customers to pick it up from the motorhome company directly) and even called us from Queensland (where they stayed) to ensure that we had gotten all the paperwork over the email. On top of that, they emailed us after our trip to ask how it was. I am absolutely in love with their service. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to hire motorhome, campervans and 4WD.

Packing was done a good 3 weeks in advance. I can't deal with last minute packing, not when I need to pack for 2 different climate and for 2 kids. As we are going in winter, Perth would be about 9 degrees Celsius while Exmouth would be a cool 25 degrees Celsius. Medication for the long trip also needs to be provided for. Appointment was made with the girls' pediatrician to make sure they are in good health for the trip. Powered sites for the motorhomes also have to be reserved. In fact, I started emailing the various caravan parks 6 months prior to departure. Quotes got to be compared, reservations got to be made early especially since it is the whale shark season in June. All the email correspondending took me 2 months to complete. Lots of logistics...but when the day finally came for us to take flight, we were excited and ready.

Late afternoon sun at Exmouth, Western Australia

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SingKids (Changi Airport Terminal 3)

The girls had a long afternoon nap that day so we decided to bring them out for the night. We did not want to travel far so SingKids at Changi Airport Terminal 3 was an obvious choice. We walked past it a few times whenever we were at Terminal 3. The girls were always very excited when would begged us to bring them in. Well, their wish came true that night and boy, were they on cloud nine.

SingKids is decorated with very bright colors which makes it very enticing and welcoming. Like the children, I couldn't help but be happy too. The whole place feels like a mini-wonderland. I have brought the girls to a few indoor playgrounds before but I love this the best. Simply because it fits my needs the best. K is still very young and cannot attempt a lot of more challenging obstacles. The other indoor playgrounds, with their 3 leveled obstacle courses, and huge slides, are more suited for older children. One of the indoor playgrounds I had been to is also not very safe for young children because of the huge gaps between the nets they used to surround their sections and equipments. I saw 2 different children got their legs caught in the net when they were coming down the slide. In the end, they came tumbling down the slide, head first. The irony is that that slide is meant for smaller children. SingKids is great because they avoid height in their equipment and everything is very well-padded. I don't mind the girls falling because I know that they would not be hurt.

The area is not big and though some parents and children may prefer large running space, I like it simply for the fact that it makes it easier for parents and staff to supervise. Many of these indoor playgrounds have closed circuit television (CCTV). Because of this, a lot of the staff, left a lot of the supervision to the CCTV. In SingKids, CCTV is put up but because the place is small enough, the staff is able to attend to things very easily and quickly as well. For example, a lot of kids had been jumping into the ball pool but once the kids were done with their stunts, one of the staff went in to pick up the squashed and broken balls. A big balloon burst in the flying balloons section and a staff removed it immediately before pumping up another one. The only disadvantage I found with regards to the small size is that it gets packed very quickly. When we were there, there were only a handful of children. By the end of our hour there, it was rather packed which did make it a bit difficult for the children to enjoy the equipment at ease.

Only a maximum of 3 children are allowed on the water trampoline at any one time.

There are 2 sections to SingKids. One for the really small children and the other, for the older ones (as long as they are under 1.45m in height). The balloons for the small children are of the usual balloon size while the older children get the giant bouncing balls. The equipments in the smaller children section are also very slow moving so K did not have any problem enjoying them at all.

The small slide for small children

Safe merry-go-round for small children

The small balloons in the young kids section are more manageable for K

Clean toilets are available just outside SingKids and shops and eateries are within walking distance. There is also a foodcourt with a wide selection of food. Changi Airport Terminal 3 has been undergoing upgrading and since then, a lot of new shops have come up. We can spend half a day there easily. What's more, shopping is free from GST charges. Terminal 3 has become one of our favourite family hangout. Looking forward to the completion of upgrading. Meanwhile, SingKids is doing a great job making the children happy, at least for the girls and needless to say, me.

Admission Charges
- Offpeak: 2 hours $18 (1 adult and 1 child)
- Peak: 1 hour $18 (1 adult 1 child)
- Members Offpeak: Unlimited $14 (1 adult 1 child)
- Members Peak: 2 hours $14 (1 adult 1 child)
- Socks - $2 per pair.

For more information, pls visit

Gardener's Day Out @ Hort Park

We first came across Gardeners' Day Out at Hort Park on the Wild Happenings in Singapore website and decided to check it out as it seemed to fulfill our craving for some nature related family bonding activities. Hence, we marked it down on our calendar! Reservations for activities also needed to be made as some of them allowed only a maximum of 10 people each session. 

Program at Hort Park

Upon arrival, we noticed a table sized booth featuring a egg, butterfly, catepillar, and pupa display. What an opportunity for the kids to learn about the life cycle of the butterfly, and see some living, chomping, brightly streaked catepillars. Hort Park boasts its own Butterfly Garden, which serves as both an aesthetic display and a breeding and research facility. We did not get to explore it today but it will definitely be on our list of things to do next time we are here. They run guided tours on the last Saturday of each month.

Eggs, larvae, pupae, butterflies!

At 9am, we joined the Harvesting Time! activity. For $3 per child, we had a short guided tour of the Permaculture Trail Community Farm and harvested vegetables from one of the designated vegetable plots. The families were allowed to take as much as they could carry, as the entire plot had to be cleared for the next batch of vegetables. We decided to take as much as we could eat for the week, plus a couple of bunches for grandma! It was also a good opportunity for the girls to see and feel the plant system for themselves. We always tell them how the trees would 'drink' water from the roots but they have never seen real roots up close. As they pull out the vegetables, they examined the roots and finally understood what roots look like. As they got their hands dirty, we also took this learning moment to emphasize the importance of soil and their permeability in the growth of plants. We talked about how if the soil is too hard, the roots would not be able to grow deep enough into the soil to draw water for the plants. We always made it a point to make the girls understand that people are always working hard to provide for the things they have. In this case, the farmers. Someone had to plant the seeds, water the plants, fertilize them etc. Someone is working hard so that we can have vegetables. Hence, they need to value everything that has been given to them and appreciate the people behind them.

A whiff of crushed lemon leaves passed around during the guided tour.

Rain Tree

Spanish Moss (find out more here)

Vegetable plot with cucumbers, Chinese Spinach, Red Amaranth, melons, lemon grass, and other goodies... 

It doesn't get any fresher than this!

A bunch for grandma, and a couple of bags for our dinner!

 After putting the bags of veggies in the car, we trotted down to the bazaar area at the Greenhouse and signed up for the Paint a Tea Herb Pot! activity. It was $5 per child and inclusive of all materials (small flower pots, paints, soil, and your very own herb cutting to plant in your newly painted pot!)

I ain't no Picasso, but Picasso never did a pot...

Event bazaar at the Greenhouse.

While waiting for the pots to dry (which took very long because of the thick layers the girls painted), A sat in for the free In Search of Bugs and Slugs talk at 5.30pm and had the chance to touch a Madagasscar Hissing Cockcroach, garden snails, peer through an ant farm, and do some simple art and craft (no pictures here as the camera wasn't with me).

It was a fun day out which ended at dinner time, and although somewhat tiring, it provided many hands on activities that not only allowed us to spend some quality time together, but was highly educational as well... not to mention we did not need to buy vegetables from the grocery that week.
If you are interested in finding out more about this event for a family day out, do check out the first 2012 edition on the National Parks events website here.

Some Educational Aspects for Young Children
- The various kinds of trees and their uses in our environment. E.g. trees provides shade, oxygen and food

- Garden Ecosystem. How the different animals play a part in maintaining the cycle e.g. decomposition of leaves provide nutrients for plants, animals breaking down the soil to allow for better infiltration of water and nutrients.

- Importance of water to trees. A good platform to highlight the value of water and the need to use our water resource carefully and wisely.

- Different factors needed for plant growth - sunlight, water, oxygen, chlorophyll etc. Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in a lot of plants and is needed in the process of photosynthesis. You can also explain how leaves turn brown when they are dried and dead. Leaves which are unable to receive sunlight turn yellowish too. It may take a while for the children to fully comprehend how the whole process of photosynthesis works but by using simple words to explain, you would be surprised by what they know. I know the girls always surprise me with their knowledge of things.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Inn Resort Phuket

Just came back from a 5 days vacation with my girlfriends and their families. The last time we had a holiday with them was about 6 years ago. That was before we got married, had children and of course, got busy. Hence, it was nice to be able to go on a trip again. One of my girlfriends had just given birth to her second kid three months ago so she was given the privillege of choosing the accommodation. Having a well-serviced accommodation is very important so we agreed on Holiday Inn Resort Phuket. Being an international chain and located right on Patong beach, we had high expectations. Afterall, we are paying about S$200 a night for the superior room.

Phuket is a short 1 hour and 30 minutes flight away from Singapore, which makes it a real blessing when travelling with young children. We have 4 children on this trip. Oldest being 4 years old and of course, 3 months as the youngest. Journey from the airport to the hotel took about 30 to 45 minutes.

Relaxing while waiting for the hotel transfer

The hotel is rather pleasant. There are two sections to the hotel - the main wing and Busakorn wing. We stayed at the main wing (cheaper) and the check in upon arrival was smooth. The staff was also very clear in her brief orientation of the hotel. Only 1 of the 3 rooms were ready at that time so we all squeezed into one room to unwind from the heat before heading out for lunch. Daddy and I found the superior room to be rather spacious, definitely bigger than some of the superior rooms we have stayed in in other hotels. Really good for the children. Toilet is also very spacious. Room was clean and as I found out later, housekeeping staff mops the floor everytime they clean our room. I was quite surprised because not all of the hotels we have stayed in would bother mopping the floor on a daily basis. Perhaps it is because the kids have dirtied the room so much that the ladies had no choice but to mop it. Opps. The only thing I wish was better was the toilet door. It is a sliding door with no lock. It made going to toilet a very stressful activity because the kids can open the door anytime.

Our room
Clean toilet

We checked out the children's pool and Kids Club after checking in. There are 2 kids pools, a 0.4 m depth pool for smaller children (both the girls could walk around in it with ease) and the other for older children, at a depth of 1m. The latter has a basketball rim for water activities.  The pool for the younger children comes with water toys so it made staying in the water more fun. They also have children tables and benches by the pool so the children can rest and snack. The Kids Club, which is just in between the 2 pools, is clean and painted with welcoming colors. Kids under the age of 5 have to be accompanied by an adult. If your child is above the age of 5, you may leave them in the Kids Club for free. This probably explains why the Kids Club was really crowded when we were there. On one occassion, loud music was playing while the children jumped around. It even took 15 minutes for Daddy to be attended by a staff. He was told by the staff to fill up the form and wait as she was busy. There were 5 staffs in the room at that time and one can imagine, how hectic things must be.

Loving the collection of soft toys
Kids' Club. We went early in the morning to avoid the crowd.
Making friends.
Professional Jamming Session
Ample water toys, yes, including a plastic doll.
Taking a break from the swim
Wild Slide Time

For the adults, the hotel provides guest activities everyday at different time-slots. Half of which need to be paid for.The well-established Aspara Spa is also located within the hotel. Then again, there are a lot of cheaper options available outside the hotel if you are willing to keep a look out. I went for 2 separate massage sessions with my friends at this massage place called Let's Relax. The place looks very clean and decent, very much like a spa boutique. The massages are good and they are cheap too. 

Just walk out of the hotel from either one of the 3 exits and you would be on Patong beach.  Patong beach is famous among tourists and this translates to crowds. Store owners were shouting out to get the tourists' attention, hoping to clinch a sale or two. The deck chairs on the beach were occupied by the sun-lovers. You need to pay for the deck chairs, about THB100 each and you can spend your day away, getting baked by the sun.

The buffet breakfast was mouth watering enough to demand some extra hours on the treadmill at the comfy fitness centre. An array of juices, local delights, and typically western picks such as bacon, eggs, beans, and breads awaited us.

The night scene was colorful. Colorful lights came on, guiding the tourists, along the street stalls lined along the beach. Every now and then, you can see colorful firecrackers bursting forth in the sky. You can also write your wishes on lanterns and set them off into the sky. We tried some local food and they were rather yummy. There was this one stall sending fried worms and cockroaches but we did not have the stomach for that kind of delicacy. That aside, we ate out for most of our meals. Food was cheap and for 10 of us, we spent on an average of about S$30-40 each meal. And mind you, we ordered a lot of dishes. Most of the restaurants and eateries we went to have high chairs so that was a plus.

Trying on Mummy's sunglasses
More food...
On the local public transport - Tuk Tuk

We treated ourselves to the hotel grill buffet on the second night. The spread was stocked with all sorts of meaty treats, from the juicy beef, seafood, or grilled veggie kebabs to light beef steaks, hamburgers, and roast meat. The usual buffet sides were also not to missed: ice creams, smoked fish, fruits, and local flavours. For about S$30 per person (kids under 12 eat free), the yummy buffet was a steal.

Excited about the food

On the last night, we realised we had not yet used the complimentary coupons for our 'welcome' drinks. They were redeemable for non-alcoholic drinks at any of the resort's restaurants. We ordered juice smoothies at the Charm Thai Restaurant in the exclusive Busakorn Wing. The restaurant boasts a wonderful ambience of dim lights and neon coloured table lamps.

Stay was great and the kind staff made the stay even more pleasant. Still, we would opt for somewhere quieter, like Karon beach, the next time we visit. Nothing wrong with Patong beach. It is just that we would prefer somewhere with less visual stimulation for the children. (There are a lot of pubs at Patong beach). However, if you prefer shopping and are for the nightlife, Holiday Inn resort Phuket puts you in a very good spot for the action.