Monday, December 31, 2012

Hanoi, Vietnam Part 1

We just came back from a 5 days trip to Hanoi. It was our first time there and needless to say, we asked friends who had been there before for their advise. Not many of my friends like it though. They couldn't pin point the reason for it...just no feel for it. This made us even more confused. This would be the first time we 'rough it out' with the kids (no typical Kids Resorts or English speaking countries) so we were both excited and nervous at the same time. Afterall, we wanted this trip to be educational. We wanted the children to look beyond the comfort and conveniences they have back at home. We wanted them to be thankful for their blessings and bless others. The world is not all about what they want. We live in a world with many differences, whether it be social, educational, or even political. The bottom line is we want them to accept and respect the differences and bless in whatever way they can.

We managed to get a super sale deal on Silkair so it was great. Not much difference from budget airline tickets so we chose Silkair, obviously. We booked Hanoi Moment hotel based on the reviews on Tripadvisor and we were all set to go. Our flight is 3 plus in the afternoon and because it was Silkair, we were able to check in at 1030 - 11am. A good 5 hours before the take off. We sure took it slow -  a slow walk around the terminal, a slow lunch and a lot of time for drawing (at the Art Corner) and play (at the Family Zone) By the time we were on the plane, girls were so tired they dozed off immediately. It was all part of the plan (evil grin).
Lotsa fun at the Family Zone

All ready to take off
Airport transfer was arranged prior to departure so we were able to weave through the airport. For those travelling to Vietnam, do note that there have been a lot of taxi scams going on. We were informed by the hotel and we, too, read about it on forums. Taxis would start off with a very attractive price before raising it to a ridiculous amount upon arriving at the destinations. 'Drivers' would pose as taxi-drivers and before you know it, the dollars would fly out of your pockets.  Apparently, the situation is also beyond the control of the local police. Or so we heard. I rather be safe than sorry.

The hotel we booked was simply fantastic. It is located right in the middle of the Old Quarters (perfect for bargain buys and interesting sights and sounds) and it is very clean and modern. The staff is of exceptional quality and we were all very pleasantly surprised to find such value in a small hotel. A laptop, with free wifi, was also provided, which was great as we like to travel light. What helped ace the hotel stay is the impeccable service. When we arrived, the doorman and the manager rushed across the road to help us with our luggages, all with big smiles. Check in was swift and we were brought up to our family suite by the Customer Service Manager, Tom, who made sure we were well settled in and that we had everything we needed. Should we need anything, all we had to do is to call the reception and it would be attended to immediately. Maybe it is because it is a small hotel and messages get around really quickly. Whatever it is, we are impressed. Daily room cleaning was done by 3 staff and they were very thorough in their work. I am very picky with the cleanliness and presentation of toilets and Hanoi Moment and its staff did not disappoint. It was so clean and beautifully decorated with flowers on the shower floor that I took longer than usual in the showers. There was also no mold in between the tiles. Yes, I am that picky especially since that was my precious 'me' time.

Breakfast is buffet styled, even though you can only choose from the breakfast menu and the kitchen staff will cook it for you upon ordering. Nonetheless, we are not complaining. Food was served very quickly and everything on the menu was so delicious. My 2 daughters ended up ordering their favourites every morning - chocolate pancake, honey pancake, noodle soup and fresh milk. The fresh milk came in really handy because my younger daughter is a big lover of fresh milk. More importantly, it can be served warm. All the more better for my girl. My favourite would have to be the beef noodle soup. I simply couldn't have enough of it. What topped up the wonderful food was their service. Everyone was so happy, friendly and warm in the morning that it helped to brighten up my day too. Everyone was greeted by name and even the Sales Manager and Customer Service Managers would help in the serving of tables. One can really see the team work in the Hanoi Moment family. The staff would go around the tables and initiate friendly chats with the guests. The breakfast room is very small, only 5 tables, with each table accommodating 4 guests. But because the staff was so friendly and warm, all the guests started making friendly conversations with one another too. When we were taking photos, someone from another table even offered to help us take a family shot. Breakfast became very enjoyable throughout the days we were there. The breakfast staff would also try their best to accede to our requests should we want something outside the breakfast menu. My husband ordered soup with just beef and chicken, without the noodles, and they were more than happy to see to that. They found out that my husband loves their oranges and they offered to send more to our room. You should see the delighted faces when we returned to our room to find that promise fulfilled.

The staff always greeted us warmly whenever we walked past the lobby. The doorman would also give my daughters high-fives whenever they walked through the door. My girls loved it! He is also always cleaning the door and the lobby. No wonder, the lobby is always so clean and neat. The Sales Manager, Ms Ching Nguyen and her team of friendly receptionists, are always at the lobby, ready to help us with any requests. They loved the kids and hence my daughters always looked forward to playing with them. It sure helped to set the mood especially after a long walk out in the crazy traffic. We felt so safe once we entered the hotel. So much so that we had no qualms sending our elder daughter down to the lobby to get some materials from the receptionists. We wouldn't do that in other hotels.  

We ordered room service a lot because the girls needed to take their afternoon naps and they sleep early at night. Ordering is simple, just tell them the item number and quantity. They always said that food would be served in 30 minutes and they were always on time, which is very important when we have 2 hungry children. We would bathe the kids while waiting for the food and by the time they are done, food would have arrived. Perfect timing. In short, we love our choice of accommodation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Marriott Vacation Club Phuket

It was the Sept school holiday break so we decided to steal away to somewhere near. We settled for Marriott Vacation Club Phuket on W's colleague's recommendation and were not disappointed. The pick up from airport was swift and because it was located so near the airport, just 20 minutes away, the kids were able to tolerate the journey well. We walked past the Kids Club upon check in and the children couldn't wait to start their engines at the Kids Club.

The Kids Club has many activities for the kids. It helps that both our kids are a little bit older now so they could do more craft activities. I signed them up for a few activities each day and W and I could take turns to hit the gym. The staff at the Kids Club was so friendly and helpful. They would help the kids feel comfortable and made the effort to interact with them. For the adults, hourly activities are also arranged so I signed myself up for a few too, morning stretch, tennis... knowing full well that the kids would be well taken care of at the Kids Club. My precious 'Me' time.

What I loved the most was the room. A 2 bedroom apartment, with everything you need. Kitchen, washing machine, dryer and 2 bathrooms which come in really handy since the 2 kids always have the urge to want to visit the toilet at the same time. I attribute that to sisters' telepathy. From our apartment, we could see the swimming pool and the playground, which the girls frequented and enjoyed thoroughly. The apartment was kept clean daily and the beds were so comfortable. I later found out that they were from Simmons. The girls slept so well was indeed a must needed restful holiday.

We ate at the in house restaurant most of the time because that was the most convenient. If you rather, you can always take the free shutter bus to Marriott which is just a 5 minutes drive away. W and I decided to be more adventurous and rented bicycles from the Activity Center (for free) and went all the way to Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa for dinner. It was an easy ride and it took us only 20 minutes to get there. In the end, we opted for the small roadside store along one of the sliproad just outside Renaissance, for the authentic experience of eating local food.

The 4 days stay was indeed a good rest where both children and parents could be kept entertained and happy.

Raffles Museum: "National Treasures"

We had a dinner appointment in the west a couple of weeks back and decided to swing by the National University of Singapore to visit one of my favourite hangouts as a student: the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity. It was my honour to be the unofficial tour guide for my family as it was their first time at the museum.

You need to make a trip there to understand why I call it the 'National Treasures'. The block is a five minute walk through a carpark away from the main road (Lower Kent Ridge Road), and upon reaching the floor, you would realise that the 5 room flat sized public gallery is tucked away in a quiet corner. We were the only visitors there at that time. The gallery was quiet, relatively dimely lit with spot lights on the exhibits.

And what an amazing time we had. The children were intrigued by almost everything they saw, so much so that they went about 5 rounds and we spent about an hour in that small space. They were asking questions about the different animals, from why they were here, to what they ate, to where they lived. There was a small section on fossils and dinosaurs with some informative posters and some bones, which presented a brief preview of the arrival of the three sauropod skeletons to be housed in the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which will open in 2014. The girls were also especially interested in the insect and mollusk display cabinets.

Aside from our personal encounter with the exhibits, I will refrain from going into the facts and figures, and stories behind them. These I'll have to leave you to find out for yourself during your next visit. I must add, however, that the exhibits placed in the public gallery are only a small representation of the tens of thousands of rare, unique and valuable specimens, some of which date back to the time of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore himself, who was an avid collector of specimens throughout his expeditions into the 'unknown realm' of South East Asia. Many of these specimens are often only viewed upon request by visiting researchers, but the collections are occasionally open to guided public tours, such as on International Museum Day. Needless to say, rapid development in Singapore has reduced the species count to about a quarter of that during the days of Sir Stamford Raffles, and it is indeed sad that the only records of some of these animals lie in the cabinets of this museum.

You should be able to find more information on this interesting enclave with a simple Google search, but here are two sites to start you off.

1. The official RMBR website:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wet And Wild @ Tampines 1

Even before getting to the roof top at Tampines 1, everything seemed to notify patrons about the newly opened water playground. We decided to stop for photos with some of the publicity posters before heading up.

The playground itself is narrow and longish and has a wet and dry section each. The dry sections have structures and toys for the young (5 years old and above) and the younger (2-4 years old).

The wet section is divided into two parts: the first is a north pole themed water slide and shallow pool for the older kids, and the other is a safari themed pad with fountains of different heights spouting out from the ground for younger kids.

We were there on a public holiday and it was crowded with families and people who just wanted an open space to enjoy the fresh air and fair weather that day. Even though all the benches were occupied, families made themselves comfortable by sitting on the dry boardwalk areas. There are kid sized toilet and shower facilities for the boys and girls with swinging doors so no one accidentally locks themselves in.

Overall, we felt that the playground here was more friendly to younger kids below five years of age compared to some of the other ones we have visited. There were many babies splasing around the fountain area in their rompers. The area is not very large, so it's easy to keep an eye on the young ones.

After the wet and dry playing, we headed to the foodcourt for a quick bite followed by a little shopping. Before we knew it, we had spent a good three hours at Tampines 1 and were ready to head home.

Definitely will return due to its proximity to our home, readily accessible food and beverage, and safe playing areas for younger kids!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Craft Place @ East Point Mall

We bumped into the owners of Our Craft Place at East Point Mall during a road show they were doing. The art and craft ideas they suggested to the girls were intelligently easy to do, and we were impressed by their understanding of the abilities children under the age of five have when it comes to glueing, pasting, and decorating. We decided to sign up for two sessions which we could use in the upcoming school holidays to entertain the kids.

On our first session, the instructor Justina first asked the two girls to choose a foam door knob each, and then pulled out boxes and tupperwares of stickers, buttons, paper decorations, glue and beads.

Before I knew it, the girls were busy choosing their favourite stickers, laying them out on the foam, as Justina briefed them on how best use their chosen tinklets to bring out the best in their design. On our second session, the girls decorated a foam photo frame. Each session lasted about 45 minutes. The kids were well-occupied which also meant that I had 45 minutes all to myself.

The owners, Justina and Kelvin have outlets at Siglap Center and East Point Mall, where they conduct craft and scrap booking classes for kids, youths, and adults, and sell all sorts of high quality craft material to satisfy your creative craft juices. You can find out more about Our Craft Place at their facebook page here or at their website

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Western Australia Part 9 Perth City

We rented a car for the remaining one week in Western Australia and off we went on our exploration. We headed to Hay Street Mall to meet some friends first. Having driven on the open roads for 2 weeks, driving in the city was quite a challenge. It didn't help that we did not know our way around and had to ask kind passerbys for direction to find parking. One-way roads made it all the more challenging. By the time we got out of the car, we were 1 hour 30 minutes late for our appointment. Good thing our friends were kept occupied with all the shopping Perth city has to offer. After lunch at Miss Maud, we decided to do some window-shopping. Just the right exercise to aid digestion. Interestingly, we were lured into a very nice-smelling shop by a friendly shop assistant. She was all smiles and asked the kids if they would like to make soap. She explained that they were going to make some and invited the kids to join in. The ladies in the store were so friendly that we were all 'pulled' in. The kids had fun and so did we. Thanks, Lush!  After that fun and slippery experience, we made our way to The Bell Tower, where the kids could run around abit.
Still warming up to the soap-making process

Getting the hang of it

Getting excitement out of it

The kids' concoction

Walking along Hay Street, stopping to observe and learn. I suppose only tourists do that?
The Bell Tower (Photograph by J. Zheng)

Next stop, King's Park. It was huge and we parked at Wadjuk Carpark which is near the visitor information center. It is also near the State War Memorial Precinct. There one can find ANZAC Bluff Commemmorative Plaque, Cenotaph and Court of Contemplation.  The Flame of Remembrance within the Pool of Reflection burns solemnly, reminding visitors of the sacrifice the soldiers made, in exchange for a better country for their families and future generations. Maybe because I have my own children so such sacrifice made it all the more emotional for me. We spent a fair bit of time there, reading through the list of honors and stood in respect for those who fought. We took the opportunity to explain to the kids what war is about and why people go to war, the importance of respect and peace and how they can start by being sensitive and kind to their classmates and friends.

A reflective walk around the Pool of Reflection

The Flame of Remembrance

'Lest We Forget'

List of Honors
Sisters' Rolling Good Time
View of Perth City at the background.

"Mummy, my shadow runs with me!"

Some light snacks from food kiosk outside the visitor information center.

Everyone was tired after the whole day out and everyone was eager to have a good warm bath and dinner. We stayed at a family friend's place at Perth Hills and the view from the house is simply amazing. Thanks Uncle Alan and Aunty Amy. We love the hosts and the house!

At the balcony, overlooking Perth City.

Let's Go To The Zooooooo!

It was the school holidays some time back, and we decided to set aside a day for the zoo. We prepared snacks, including freshly cut fruits, packed the usual contingencies, water-play essentials, cameras, and cabbed down to the Singapore Zoological Gardens! We decided that this time, we would allocate more time for the kids to play at the water-themed playground. On the way, we managed to catch the feeding of the Orang Utans, and view some of the larger birds and mammals, along with our favourite reptiles.

It's interesting to note that the zoo rents out scooters, strollers, mini-trailers, wheelchairs and other equipment to accomodate almost anyone. We did not ride on the trams till much later in our trip when the kids started to get tired of walking.

We made sure we stopped by at all our favourite exhibits, one of which is the elephant bathing time where tourists get to interact with the bathing elephants by buying a basket of fruit for $5 each and feeding them right in their baths! It's easy to forget just how huge these giants are until their thick trunks reach out to take the apples out of your hand and toss it whole into their bucket sized mouths.

Feeding the giraffes has also become one of the activities we look forward to when we visit the zoo. We always recall the day three years ago when we brought our older girl to feed the giraffes, and the then baby took a mouthful out of the carrot meant for the giraffe. You should have seen the shocked look on the giraffe. I could imagine the giraffe saying, "Hey! That's mine." It was so funny!

We took some pictures of our best animal imitations and compiled them here. Can you tell what we are pretending to be? (*Hint: the animal is in the picture too!)

The kids' area was our focus today. There is an animal themed carousel, small mammal touch pens, playgrounds, and the main fuel of the day: Kentucy Fried Chicken! We bought a ticket that allowed us to try the carousel, and pony ride, but we did not get round to trying the horse drawn carriage.

The KFC just fronts the water-play area making it an appropriate launch pad to hours of fun in the sun. There were about three different slides, and we lost count how many times the older girl came down each one.

Water cannons, climbing nets, stairs and ladders, misting and water spouting structures, even a gigantic tipping bucket that pours out a crashing waterfall every few minutes. There was much running about, and kids everywhere. There were employees dispatching the kids down the slides and maintaining safety.

Needless to say, the girls were more than tired after their lunch and water-play, and the trip back to the main entrance was on the tram as everyone did not feel like walking very much. I think we all fell asleep in the cab on the way home. The zoo is one place we never seem to get bored of. We've made a handful of trips here and we always enjoy ourselves. We look forward to our next trip here!

Educational Aspects:

- The exhibit groupings (for example Fragile Forest, Australian OutbackWild Africa, Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia) provide an appropriate and readily available educational dimension to the trip. If you have school going children, it is useful to highlight the different characteristcs of the different habitats, and how the animals in those habitats have adaptations that allow them to thrive in the habitats they live in.

- Why is it important to showcase wildlife in a setting like the zoo? What are some concerns and issues with regards to deciding where these animals come from? How far should we go in conserving natural habitats and how can it be balanced with economic development and bettering the lives of the people who live there? Your young ones, if they are old enough to understand, can learn that like many issues, conservation is sometimes tricky and while public education is crucial to future protection of a species, some institutions can be unethical when it comes to sourcing for their exhibits.

- While surfing the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) website, I came across a treasure trove of multi media resources, articles, and newsletters informing readers about upcoming educational activities for children. The activities on the website are divided into sections for Preschool, Primary, Secondary and above, and there is even a page for teachers. To make the visit to the zoo even more enriching, a suggestion might be to view some of these videos highlighting conservation issues before the trip so that we can talk about these issues inbetween walks from one exhibit to another.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Road Trip to Coral Coast, Western Australia Part 8 Swan Valley Margaret River Chocolate Company

As we drove on, we would feel the effect of city life elbowing its way in. The number of cars on the road increased exponentially and so did the crowd. Somehow we were beginning to miss the sparse Exmouth again. It also meant that our long holiday was coming to an end soon. *sob sob sniff sniff*

We had time for one stop before heading back to Perth City. Yummy chocolates and ice-cream were the obvious choice. It was also a good place to stock up on gifts for family and friends.

Time stopped as we came face to face with the inviting chocolates

Chocolate factory. Stools are provided just outside the viewing glass for children.

Cafe within the building. Majority of the guests opted for outdoor dining.

A happy ice-cream fan
Time passed very quickly when we were enjoying ourselves. In a short while, we would be in Perth city and it would be time to say goodbye to our home for the past 2 weeks. Would certainly miss the motorhome and I sure will miss the space and convenience it gave. Thank you, and Maui.