Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Blue Mountain Kelong, Indonesia: A refreshing holiday destination

This travel post is written by Pamela who blogs at Tan Family Chronicles. She travelled to the Blue Mountain Kelong in Indonesia with her husband and her petite travellers, Shawna (3 years), Asher (3 years) and Isaac (6 years) in August 2013.

This holiday is suitable for families who love the peace and quiet of offshore living.

Our trip to the Blue Mountain Kelong was fun and enjoyable!

My husband saw some pictures on Facebook of a friend who brought his son on a father-son bonding kelong trip. He was inspired by that and decided to source for a kelong for us to go on a short trip. He googled and found the Blue Mountain Kelong. He was so excited he went ahead to book and make a deposit. I was a bit skeptical as there wasn't much information on it at that time. There was only one review on TripAdvisor, which I thought could very well be a planted review.

After the trip, however, I realised my worries were quite unfounded, and we had a pretty good experience at the kelong. (Though I'm still wondering why it's called Blue Mountain Kelong, for I don't see any mountains, blue or not, anywhere nearby.)

The Journey

So where is this kelong? It's actually in Indonesian waters near Bintan. To get there from Singapore...
  1. We took a ferry from HarbourFront Centre in Singapore, to Batam, Indonesia. (Approx 1 hour)
  2. From Batam Centre, we took a 1 hour ride via chartered bus and Barelang Highway to Mongak Dam.
  3. From the Mongak Dam, we transferred to a small boat which sped us to the Blue Mountain Kelong in about half an hour.
Map taken off the bluemountainkelong.com website

Our petite travellers held up pretty well during the journey there. As we stay in the far west of Singapore, we liked that the ferry departed from Harbour Front instead of the Tanah Merah jetty. The kids enjoyed the ferry ride though it was rather uneventful as they were still in air conditioned comfort. The bus ride was rather cramped though as we had a full bus load of about 20 people in all, but it was thankfully a short ride. Since the bus passed by the Indonesian countryside, I took the chance to point out things in the surroundings to the kids, to highlight how different (or similar) the place was compared to Singapore. Thankfully these discussions entertained them all the way to our destination - the Mongak Dam, which looked like just another jetty. From there, we took a relatively small speedboat out to the kelong.

Accommodation & Facilities

I was anxious to see the place where we would be spending the next three days and two nights. I've done more than my fair share of camping and roughing it out on travels when I was younger. But now, with three young kids in tow, I was definitely not keen on roughing it out with them. (Little steps, you know.) Thus, I was quite relieved to see that the kelong, spartan as it is, was actually very clean and adequate. It's no 5-star hotel, but our basic needs of semi-modern sanitation and cleanliness, were met.

The accommodations were spartan but clean and adequate

As you can see from the photos above, the room was huge. (It seems like most of the rooms in this kelong were approximately this size.) Took our family of five with no problem at all. Spacious to the max. It comes with an adjoining toilet, and a back balcony which came in handy for hanging clothes, swim wear or towels to dry.

I said the toilet was semi modern because there is running water in the tap, and shower...But no hot water. I took to bathing myself and the kids in the late afternoon, at a time when we're hot and welcome the cool water. The kids didn't seem to mind at all. The toilet bowl had a flush, but the waste empties out into the sea beneath us. The thought of it is a little disgusting, but try as I might, in my few days there, I never did catch sight of any solid waste (aka poo!) nor tissue paper floating anywhere. Believe me, I was looking out for them! It's so bizarre, I wonder where the stuff goes. The wonders of nature, perhaps.

The beds were made up of pieces of wood held together. The mattresses were thin and some were very worn and flattened; some were new and still in their plastic. Guess it's your luck which mattress you end up with. It is nice to see new mattresses though - it means that the kelong's management team DOES upgrade their stuff from time to time.

However, the sheets and blankets were clean and none of us had any problems sleeping at alll those two nights. There was even a revolving fan on the ceiling, though it was quite cool at night as we opened the balcony door to let more cool air in. Ventilation was excellent as the walls didn't reach up to the top, however, that means that you can hear the neighbours snoring at night and the kids chattering in the morning. Erm...not a good honeymoon destination, perhaps? ;p

The kids enjoyed sitting outside our room at the kelong and just observe the waters to see if they could see any fishes.

Just about everything in the kelong was made out of wood. We could see the water beneath the floorboards and hear the swishing of the waves at night. Perhaps that's why we slept so well.

When friends heard that we went to a kelong, they were intrigued and wanted to experience it too, but were also worried if it was safe for young kids. Well, the twins were only 3.5 years old when we went, and it was perfectly safe for them. The floorboards had gaps between them, but the gaps were pretty narrow.

You still have to tell the kids to be careful of where they were stepping though. Shawna was drinking milk from her bottle and not paying attention when she stepped into that hole in the bottom left pic of the above collage - and she lost one of her sandals that way, although she wasn't hurt at all. At around the same time when she lost her sandal, there was someone fixing a new board just metres away - again, comforting to me, as it was obvious that the kelong was actively being maintained. Though I must include this caveat - my kids do not have the tendency to jump into any body of water they see, so I felt safe for them to walk on their own.

Activities On Board

Kids had a great time at the kelong.

Because the kelong environment is so different from the one we live in, it was very refreshing for us. We just enjoyed walking around, looking at stuff, and breathing in the fresh sea breeze.

The kids even tried their hands at fishing using a fishing line - although not with much success. They also tried 'fishing' with a net. I actually think they had more fun throwing the tiny fish that they caught back into the water again! And we all enjoyed watching the staff haul up the clams and other seafood that were to be cooked for lunch.

The kelong is situated quite near to the shore, and connected to it via a long walkway. Upon request, a short jungle trek was organised for us on land. We went along with the other guests staying on board the kelong as well. The trek was short, challenging but manageable for the kids. Lots of mosquitoes though, so we were glad we sprayed the kids with tons of mosquito repellant before embarking on the trip. The guided trek led us to another beach on the flip side of the island. The 'sand' was pebble-like, not something you could build sandcastles with. But we had fun throwing the pebbles back into the sea and tried skipping rocks. Hot and sweaty from our trek, the kids cajoled us into allowing them to "go swimming" at the kelong. The waves were quite strong so we didn't exactly swim at all, and rather, just had a dip in the cool waters. There was surprisingly no smell of human waste, and  I didn't see anything floating by at all. But you can understand why I wasn't so keen on being in the water. The kids enjoyed it though. We basically just clung on to the kelong to prevent the waves from washing us away. Guess it was the novelty of it all!

Hot and sweaty after our jungle trek, we took a dip at the kelong waters!

The kelong doesn't have electricity in the day, but the generator is switched on at 6.30pm to 11pm at night to provide power for lighting, the electric revolving fan, and for you to charge your phone/laptop batteries at night if you wish.

Expecting a quiet a time at the kelong, we brought books, doodling materials, and card games for the kids. We were also very blessed to have made friends with the other kelong guests who also travelled, like us, from Singapore. They were all very nice folks and enjoyed playing with the kids and talking to us. Blessed with good company, the time at the kelong passed very quickly indeed!

I think what we really liked was the peace and serenity of the place. It was like another world. The air was refreshing, the sights were simple yet breathtaking. The conversations were unhurried and carefree. Talking to our new friends, we found out that some of them had been there before. It was their second time for some, and even a third visit for a few. They had apparently gotten to know the place from friends and had come, liked it, and came back again. It was simple publicity via word of mouth.

Good company makes for fun times at the kelong!

There was another family with two sons of approximately 7 - 9 years old that had come to the kelong on the same ferry trip as us. They originally intended to stay 3 days and 2 nights as well, but they cut short their stay and left the very next day. I managed to speak to the mum on the morning before they left. Apparently, they also heard from friends about the Blue Mountain Kelong. Their friends told them that they caught a ton of fish, and that there were many activities organised by the kelong, like coconut tree climbing, playing on the beach and trekking. When this family came, they hardly caught any fish and there didn't seem to be any activities organised at all. They felt thoroughly cheated and immediately demanded to leave the very next morning.

I guess it was a case of mismatched expectations. We didn't expect anything but a quiet time at the kelong, and so we prepared for it by bringing books and games. So I would say, if you and your family prefer to have a constant stream of entertainment and activities, then a kelong stay might not be suitable for you. But if you like a quiet and relaxing getaway, then there you would have it...

Asher enjoying his morning milk while looking out... and Shawna having her milk with a view too - courtesy of her Daddy's strong arms! Bottom right - the kids having their afternoon nap on my lap, out on the deck!


The kelong is a working kelong to the extent that it harvests fish and some other seafood for cooking for its guests. Blue Mountain's website says that the vegetables are from their organic garden. Meals are invariably rice and dishes. Freshly cooked, the portions are generally more than adequate. But as the food is pretty good, the dishes are usually wiped clean.

The kids ate pretty alright. Isaac's pretty easy to feed as all he needs is some meat and vegetables with his rice. Shawna was very pleased as there usually is a fried dish (veg fritters, calamari, fried chicken etc) at the table. It was quite a treat for her as we usually don't cook fried dishes at home. Even Asher, who has always been a picky eater, was happy with rice and soup. (I guess the activities helped to work up a hearty appetite for everyone.)

My only complaint about the food was the spicy food. I am not a fan of spicy food, so thankfully there was usually a mix of spicy and non-spicy food. My husband enjoyed it very much though - the seafood and spicy food options were right up his alley.

However, I did enjoy the free flow fresh coconut water/meat that they had all day on the first day. Yums! Now if only their organic garden had durian trees - that would be perfect!

Fresh seafood at the kelong which seafood lovers would relish!

My only other gripe - the flies. There were huge flies everywhere! It was odd because the place was maintained very well and kept very clean. So we're not sure why there were so many many flies. The kelong staff laid out many fly traps (sticky paper) in the kitchen to catch them. The dining area (top right hand corner of the above collage) was cordoned off with mesh so as to keep the flies out. That helped to keep the flies off the food. The flies were in the rooms as well and annoyed us and the kids on the first day. We got used to them from the second day onwards though. Thankfully, the flies disappeared at night and didn't bother us while we slept. If you plan to visit, do bring along some battery-operated fly zappers!

Harapan Bangsa Secondary School @ Blue Mountain Kelong

Would we visit the Blue Mountain Kelong again? Yes, I think we would! For one, we realised that the Blue Mountain Kelong actually houses a secondary school for villagers who have completed their elementary school education but whose families do not have the resources to send them to larger communities in Indonesia to attend secondary school. The kelong's school also sends teachers to three nearby islands to teach English to the elementary school students there. The hope is that education will help edge the villagers out of their poverty cycle. In fact, the name of the school means "Hope of the Nation". Thus by patronising this kelong, we would lend support to this noble cause, since proceeds from the kelong goes toward the school expenses.

Secondly, it is apparently possible to arrange for a trip to the neighbouring villages. We were told that we can bring used clothing and/or stationery supplies to give to the villagers, as they welcome and need these items. It would be an eye opener for the kids to be able to see what living in a kampung looks like.

That said, we are also interested to try out other kelongs. We're on the lookout for more such getaways. Do you know of any other good kelongs we could go? Or if you have gone to the Blue Mountain Kelong before, what was your experience like? Do tell us!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Sydney: Recommended city attractions for under-6s

This travel post is written by Vera who blogs at Life is in the Small Things. She travels regularly to Sydney with her petite travellers, N (5 years) and M (3 years) to visit family who are based there. The attractions highlighted in this post are tried and tested family-friendly spaces in the Sydney city centre for families with children under 6 years of age.


Whenever we start planning out holidays, Sydney, Australia is always one of the first destinations on our list. This is in part due to the fact that we have family living in Sydney which makes it a convenient place to visit, but it is also because we love the mix of wide open spaces, raw natural beauty, and family-friendly attractions that can be found scattered throughout the state. Road trips are part of the quintessential Australian holiday experience and we've certainly done a number of those, which I hope to share here in a subsequent post.

Apart from road trips, we also always make it a point to stay in the city for a few days to visit the city attractions. (And yes, to allow the parents to get some shopping done!) There is plenty to keep the children entertained, and here I would like to share some of our favourites. If you spend a few days in the city with young children under the age of 6 years, these are the attractions right in the heart of Sydney (or really close by) you will want to check out:

1. Australian Museum


The Australian Museum was an unexpected find for us years ago when our son N was 2-years old and is our favourite museum in Sydney. A natural history museum of international standing, the Australian Museum features a large collection of animal specimens and skeletons. There is a lot to see, do and (best of all for the kids) TOUCH. It's always a pleasant surprise to find exhibits that children are free to interact with and we found plenty of these here. 

The one exhibition that keeps us going back is their Dinosaurs exhibition. This crowd favourite features 10 complete dinosaur skeletons and 8 life-sized models together with dozens of other fossils of dinosaurs and pre-historic animals. There is also a really cool palaeontology lab where you can witness actual fossil excavations taking place on-site and specimens being prepared for display. Needless to say, my dino-loving son was in heaven!

Another area I love in the Australian Museum is Kidspace, a wonderful space specially designed for under-5s. Here, the little ones are free to play, move and explore. There are five "pods" (or tents) full of activities -- puzzles to fix, flaps to lift, buttons to press, etc. There are also specimens in acrylic to be examined under microscopes and a treehouse to play in. It is also in Kidspace that you find the museum's baby-changing and feeding facilities.

Aside from the above, we would also recommend visiting the Skeleton gallery, a fascinating display of animal, fish and bird skeletons. 

Australian Museum
6 College Street, Sydney NSW 2010, Australia
Opening hours: 9.30am - 5pm daily.
Admission: A$15/Adult, A$8/Child, Free for under 5s. (Click here for more details)
Nearest train stations: St James, Museum and Town Hall

2. Powerhouse Museum

Another wonderful museum to visit is Powerhouse Museum near Darling Harbour. A science and design museum rolled into one, it showcases an eclectic mix of exhibitions from engineering marvels, to fashion, to ecological science, to design and technology. There is something for everyone, but not all will find every exhibition interesting, if you know what I mean. The exhibitions which my little ones most enjoyed were:

  • The Wiggles Exhibition -- This popular group from Australia need no introduction and indeed, my kids were most excited to visit this exhibition. Their exposure to the Wiggles is actually fairly limited since they've primarily watched The Wiggles at their cousins' home but still this didn't prevent them from enjoying the exhibition thoroughly. There was plenty to play with and explore, and the kids loved the interactive video games, clips of The Wiggles' songs and hands-on play. There is also a stage with a holographic projection of The Wiggles in one corner that caused me to do a double-take at first glance because looked like they were really there! While the exhibition is more for kids, it is also interesting for adults as it chronicles the history of The Wiggles, from their earliest beginnings to how they became a phenomenal chart-topping success. 
  • Cogs' Playground -- An outdoor playground in the museum courtyard, the kids will surely have a lot of fun clambering through the giant spiderweb and swinging, twisting and balancing on the various pieces of play equipment. The best part for me is the cafe situated right next to the playground so parents can grab a snack or a cup of coffee while the children play.
  • Space -- The space exhibition deserves a mention though it is probably more of interest to an older child. My son has a particular interest in space so he enjoyed seeing the replicas the US space shuttle, satellites and other space craft. Also of note is the zero-gravity space lab. If you're wondering, you don't actually float in the air, but rather, tricks are played on your sight and balance to give you the illusion of weightlessness. 
In addition to these exhibitions, there are also regular storytelling sessions and the Science on Show! show in the weekends.

Powerhouse Museum
500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007, Australia
Opening hours: 10am - 5pm daily.
Admission: A$15/Adult, A$8/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details)
Nearest train stations: Central Station, Paddy's Market Light-Rail Station

3. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is a favourite with my kids. And why not when you get to come up close and personal with all varieties of creatures of the deep, and penguins to boot? 

Our favourite zones are the Shark Walk and Shark Valley and Dugong Island. In both these zones, you descend underground and walk through long stretches of underwater glass tunnels while rays, sharks, dugongs and fish glide over your head. It is an immersive experience which the kids really enjoy. At the end of Dugong Island you are also brought up to an overview of the dugong tank where you can catch the two resident dugongs being fed. My kids are always tickled by the amount of lettuce leaves these dugongs eat, which is ALOT! 

Another lovely area is the Great Barrier Reef where you can view a large variety of colourful fish from one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. These areas are at the end of the one-way walk through the aquarium though, so don't be in a hurry to get to them! Instead, take your time to enjoy the many different zones. Also, don't miss the Discovery Rockpool where you can get your hands wet touching urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and fish.

The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is one of those attractions where it really pays to get your tickets online, as you can get up to 30% off the ticket price, depending on the day and time of your visit, and other value-for-money combos. So make sure you get your tickets before heading down! You don't even need to print out the tickets -- just show them your confirmation e-mail on your phone at ticketing when you arrive and your tickets will be issued on the spot. My favourite offer is the Midweek Parent & Child Ticket for visits between 9am to 4pm, Mondays to Fridays. You pay only A$32 for 1Adult + 1 Child ticket where an Adult ticket at the door would cost you A$40.

The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium also offers Multi-Attraction Passes with other attractions under the same group, namely the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds, The Sydney Tower Eye, and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. It might be worth getting these if you are considering visiting these other attractions, though if you ask me, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is the best of the lot. The rest are not must-dos and I would give Wild Life Sydney Zoo a miss in favour of Taronga Zoo.

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
1-5 Wheat Road, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Opening hours: 9am - 8pm daily
Admission: A$40/Adult, A$28/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details and online offers)
Nearest train stations: Town Hall Station, Wynyard Station / Light-Rail: Convention Centre, Pyrmont Bay

4. Taronga Zoo

There is a reason why Taronga Zoo comes up regularly in lists of must-dos in Sydney, and it is because it really is fun for the whole family. Coming from Singapore where we have our own award-winning zoo, you might not think you need to visit another zoo, but Taronga Zoo is worth a second look. 

Part of the fun of visiting Taronga Zoo is getting there. You could drive there -- Taronga Zoo is at Bradleys Head in the suburb of Mosman -- but my children's favourite way of getting to the zoo is via ferry from Circular Quay in the city. From there it is a short 12-minute ferry ride across Sydney Harbour and you get to pass very near to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and sail right in front of the Sydney Opera House. These are perfect photo opportunities not to be missed! 

After you get off the ferry you can hop on the free bus shuttle up to the entrance to Taronga Zoo, or alternatively take the Sky Safari cable car up to the top. The cable car offers a fun ride for kids and views over the harbour but if you wish to take the cable car, do note that you have to purchase the Zoo Pass for the ferry ride and Sky Safari from Circular Quay before you board the ferry. Sky Safari tickets cannot be bought at the door. The queue for the Sky Safari can also be rather long, so do factor that into your considerations.

Perched at the top of a hill, Taronga Zoo is a zoo with a view. You catch glimpses of the Sydney Harbour as you walk around, and when we watched the QBE Free-flight Bird Show, it was amazing watching the birds soar to the backdrop of the harbour. Like the Singapore Zoo, Taronga Zoo also adopts a cage-less set-up, allowing visitors to get closer to the animals. The attraction here are the many native Australian animals like the Tasmanian Devils, Koalas and Wombats that you can see, to name a few. Children will also enjoy the Kids Trail where they would get to pet animals like guinea pigs and feed some sheep, goats, and even walk amongst the kangaroos, which are allowed to roam freely. There is also a playground and water play area, but the latter is currently closed for upgrading at the time of writing.

Taronga Zoo also host a wildly popular Roar & Snore programme where you can to camp overnight in the zoo in specially designed (read: really nice) tents and go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. Children have to be at least 5-years of age to participate and I'm definitely going to try to go for this once both kids are of age! Dates are booked up well in advance so advance (maybe super-advance) booking is essential. It is pricey (Peak rate: A$320/Adult, A$205/Child; Off-peak rate: A$288/Adult, A$184.50/Child) so in all likelihood, I'll be vetoed by my husband on this, but from what I hear, it is worth the experience.

Taronga Zoo
Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
Opening hours: 9.30am - 5pm daily (4.30pm in between May to Aug)
Admission: A$46/Adult, A$23/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details)

5. Sydney Opera House

I'm cheating a little with this one because while I have visited the Sydney Opera House myself, I have yet to bring my children. But it is definitely on my list to bring them to attend a concert or watch a play at this iconic location.

The Sydney Opera House offers a really good Kids at the House programme which includes world-class theatre productions all year round for little ones aged 2 years and up. During the school holidays, the programme is extended to include Creative Play sessions, which are a series of interactive installations staffed professional artists which are designed to inspire children to express themselves and have fun getting creative. Also in the line-up for the school holidays is the Sydney Opera House Junior Tour, a one-hour peek behind the curtains at the stages and dressing rooms within this famous performing arts venue. Sounds like fun already!

Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Nearest train station: Circular Quay Station

6. Sydney Fish Market 
The Sydney Fish Market gets an honourable mention here though I'll admit that visiting the Sydney Fish Market is more for us adults than the kids. I love to cook and all the fresh produce on offer at a fraction of the prices I pay at home gets me excited. But the fact is that my children do get enjoy visiting the fish market too for the following reasons:

  • Pelicans. There is always a pelican or two loitering in the parking lot waiting to be fed and they make a fascinating sight.
  • Chasing and scaring seagulls. The seagulls scare them back in return.
  • Tanks full of interesting fish, crabs, clams to be found at the various market stalls.
  • Yummy fresh fish & chips and fried calamari. Our favourite stall for this is Peter's Fish Market.
  • Huge chocolate-dipped strawberries from Waterside Fruit Connection round the back.

The Sydney Fish Market also conducts Behind the Scenes Tours every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday where you get to explore facets of the market, including the austion floor. The minimum age for this tour is 10-years though, so while it's not for the littles, it is definitely worth considering if you have older children.

Sydney Fish Market
Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont NSW 2009, Australia
Opening hours: Retailers open from 7am - 4pm (Mon-Thurs), till 5pm (Fri-Sun). Restaurant service till 11pm.
Nearest train stations: From Central Station, take the light-rail to Fish Market Light-Rail Station

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Batu Ferringhi, Penang: The beach holiday with lots to do & eat!

This travel post is written by Corsage who blogs at A Dollop of Me. With her two petite travellers, Bubbles (4.5yo) and Bun (2yo), and the extended family, she visited Penang in June 2014 and stayed at Golden Sands Resort in Batu Ferringhi.

This holiday is suitable for families who want a laid-back couple of days with good food, horse-riding, children's programmes, and everything else that comes with the sun, the sand and the sea. 

Our family enjoys beach holidays and chose Penang because this was to be an extended family trip, and its close proximity was a plus for us. My parents-in-law and my husband's siblings joined us for this trip, much to the delight of my children!

Penang is also the birth-place of my husband, and the island where he spent the first half of his childhood. Penang Island has always been one of my must-go destinations, and I am glad to have experienced a little of what this lovely place has to offer. 

About Batu Ferringhi

Batu Ferringhi is a beach front in Penang that boasts a long stretch of white sandy beach, and a parallel row of hotels and many dining options. Jalan Batu Ferringhi, the road that runs alongside the beach front, comes alive every night when the street-side market opens. While it is clearly an area for tourists, there is a laid-back charm to this place, where the drivers do not honk, and the sound of the sea fills the air.

Where To Stay In Batu Ferringhi:

Golden Sands Resort, Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Hard Rock Hotel, Lone Pine Hotel

There are many hotels and resorts that are available on this stretch, catering to different needs. We stayed at Shangri-la's family-friendly Golden Sands Resort, which has a few pools, an in-house Kids' Club and Adventure Zone, and serves up delicious buffet breakfasts. The resort offers babysitting services and breastmilk storage facilities for nursing mothers!

Golden Sands is situated next to Shangri-la's other property - the more luxurious Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa. When we dined at the restaurant or used the Spa facilities at Rasa Sayang, we were given the option to pay by charging to our room! I thought it was a lovely gesture between these two resorts under the Shangri-la umbrella. Our children enjoyed the free rides on buggys that ferry guests between these two hotels too!

Besides these two hotels, our next bet will be on another family-friendly resort - the Hard Rock Hotel. We have already marked this out as our next place to stay should we visit Batu Ferringhi again, as we have heard good reviews from our friends. Hard Rock Hotel also has a Lil Rock Kids Club, and kids-focused rooms equipped with amenities and decor specially catered for children.

Another place worth mentioning is the legendary Lone Pine hotel. This boutique hotel is known as the first beach hotel to have been built along the Batu Ferringhi coastline. It was converted from a 10-room bungalow in 1948, and a new wing was built alongside the colonial-style blocks after the hotel's refurbishment in 2010. 

Where To Dine In Batu Ferringhi

This area has a large variety of eating establishments. From street side vendors to established western restaurants like The Ship (best steaks), there is a lot on offer for everyone. 

Here are a few places that we dined at and enjoyed:

1. Ferringhi Garden Restaurant
34, A, B & C Batu Ferringhi
11100 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 4-881 1193

This restaurant boasts lush greenery and a large number of well-tended plants for guests to admire. The type of plants are changed with the seasons, and are always a draw for visitors. The grounds also include a water feature with running water, and a pond with pretty koi. It is not hard to see how this restaurant is a popular place for romantic dinners and intimate events. We went with our children, and found that it is also very child-friendly, with attentive servers, good food options for children, and lots for them to look at and explore. 

Our favourite dish was "Seventh Heaven", a delectable seafood platter that included Lobster Thermidor, grilled squid, mussels, crab, prawns and fish. It was really good! The restaurant serves a large variety of local and western dishes, and gorgeous desserts. 

2. Beach Corner Seafood Restaurant
Jalan Batu Ferringhi (Next to Tarbush Restaurant, facing the sea)
Tel: +60 12-4729113 or +60 16-4222113

Beach Corner is like a large zhichar place, with large round wooden tables and a casual atmosphere. It serves up authentic Penang cuisine at great prices. Here, you can find Penang Choon Piah, Assam Prawns, Inchi Kabin (nyonya fried chicken) among other yummy dishes. The sea breeze that comes through the restaurant adds to the ambiance. I missed taking photos of some of the food we had, but my favourite was a yam and duck stew. It was really lip-smackingly good!

3. Danish Briyani House
Jalan Batu Ferringhi (Diagonally opposite the Golden Sands Resort)

We visited this place because we were curious what "Danish Briyani" was! It turns out that there is nothing Scandinavian about the food, and that "Danish" is the name of one of the owners. This eatery has two floors, with the upper one being air-conditioned. Besides a wide variety of Indian rice, meats and wraps, they also offer kid-friendly dishes like pizzas. We found their food pretty good. 

4. Spice Market Cafe Buffet
Garden Wing, Lobby Level
Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa
Tel: +604-888 8888

We enjoyed a lovely International Buffet dinner here on our last night in Penang. There are special discounts on certain weekdays (call to enquire), and an adorable buffet station for children! The sashimi, rojak, meats and desserts were lovely. With the currency exchange rate now, this buffet is good value for money for travellers from Singapore. 

5. Tree Monkey @ Tropical Spice Garden
Lone Crag Villa, Lot 595 Mukim 2
Jalan Teluk Bahang
11100 Penang

Tel: +604-881 3493/4

This rustic eatery is a short drive away from the Jalan Batu Ferringhi. Set on higher ground in the midst of the Tropical Spice Garden, you can opt for tables that overlook the sea. The cuisine served is Thai, with a few Western options like pizzas and pastas. After our meal, we enjoyed a short walk around the lush garden grounds, where there is a cooking school, and a souvenir shop. 

(Across the road, there are a few small street-side stalls that sell roasted corn, ice-kachang, and laksa, among others. We were too full to try, but they looked good!)

Five Things To Do In Batu Ferringhi

I was scrolling through my photographs to jog my memory about how we spent our time in Batu Ferringhi. Just like most holidays, the time just flew by, and although we were there for five days, it felt like it was not enough! 

Here are five things you can do (and we had fun doing!), besides eating, that is!

1. Enjoy the Sea, Beach and Pools
What is a beach holiday without this? Wade in the sea waves or splash around in the hotel pools. There were warning signs about jellyfish in the sea, but it should be alright to play in the water nearer the shore. It was to my pleasant surprise that the long sandy beach was really nice! The clean, white, sand is great for sand play, or just to lie on to sun bathe, read or sleep. The sea stretches out as far as the eye can see, truly a relaxing sight. 

2. Attend the Kids' Club
Petite travellers can be signed up to attend drop-off activities at the Kids' Club, that include a variety of scheduled events like cooking, arts and craft, and even Segway rides! Younger children can enjoy accompanied play in the indoor playground, out of the sun (or rain). 

3. Go on Rides!
There are plenty to choose from! Older children can indulge in various water sports, including para-sailing, jetskis, and banana boats etc. My children, who are younger, enjoyed a horse ride by the beach (it was so very lovely!), a trishaw ride along the main road, and as mentioned earlier in the post, free buggy rides within the hotel compound. Both the horse rides and trishaw rides cost between MYR$20-40, depending on the distance you go.

4. Wander Through the Night Market and Mini Funfair
At night, the Jalan Batu Ferringhi comes alive. There are plenty of shops to poke around in, and food stalls to try out. If shopping and eating are not your thing, you can also take the children to a small funfair tucked behind the night market stalls. There are a few game booths, and some carnival rides like the Ferris Wheel - all kid-friendly choices.

5. Indulge in a Massage or a Spa Treatment
When the children are occupied you can treat yourself to a nice foot or body massage. There are budget options on the beach itself (starting from around MYR$30), where there are little huts where you can get massages done. There are also other massage places you can try along the main road too, at varying prices too. If you want something more luxurious, Chi, The Spa at Rasa Sayang is a recommended choice. Roboman and I managed to get some time out for a couple spa treatment there, and it was so. very. good!

I hope you enjoyed this post! Besides Batu Ferringhi, Penang also has the charming George Town to explore. There will be a post on that by another Petite Traveller contributor soon!

*The post on George Town, Penang is up! Read it here.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Phuket Mai Khao: A restful yet fun beach holiday

This travel post is written by Lyn who blogs at Little Blue Bottle. She travelled to Phuket with her husband and her petite travellers, K (5 years) and B (3 years) in March 2014.

This holiday is suitable for parents with kids who just want a relaxing and comfortable beach holiday, not too far from home.

We took a quick escape to the Holiday Inn Mai Khao in Phuket, which is just a short (less than 2 hours!) plane ride away.

Here are the best things about our stay:

1. The pool access room (quiet lap pool with a private recess) was worth every cent and the girls spent hours swimming every day.

2. There was a fantastic Kids' Club that was free! The girls asked to go everyday and didn't want to leave, even at mealtimes. Which meant that the hubs and I could take turns babysitting (the three year old was too young to be dropped off) and each have some stunning alone-time.

3. A clean and calm beach was a mere 10 minutes walk away from our room (read: gorgeous sunsets and sandplay!).

What did we do for food?

We had breakfast buffet at the hotel every morning. Whilst it was more expensive than venturing out, the spread and comfort made it worthwhile.

The breakfast venue has a lovely outdoor setting. Unfortunately, as with many other southeast asian holiday spots, it is plagued by houseflies. Annoying, but harmless (unlike mozzies). I personally don't mind houseflies, since they seem relatively clean, and though some landed once or twice on our plates no one suffered any stomach upset. But I guess coming from Singapore, we tend to have a low tolerance for what's simply part of life in most of Asia.

For lunch and dinner, we either ate at one of the hotel's restaurants (prices are similar to dining out in Singapore), one of the eateries near the hotel, or got takeaways from the latter. There are 3 of those within a 5 min walk of the hotel's front gate, and another one near the beach, to the right of the hotel proper. Simple dishes like Pad Thai or Fried Rice with Prawns went for SGD$4, and they were yummy. There were also seafood options.

For takeaways, we either ate in the comfort of our air-conditioned room, or at a cabana as we watched the sunset. One of my favourite memories of the trip was just that, four of us, right in front of the sea, eating as the sun got redder and bigger, then lower and fainter, and finally disappearing down the horizon. Ahh...

How about our favourite activities?

The girls loved the hammocks strewn around the beach, and happily swung in them.

Budget-conscious me headed straight for the 500 baht an hour massage hut next to the beach. It had no name, but I was just musing about how I'd call it the Casuarina Press - strong kneads to my aching shoulders and neck, as causarina branches swayed overhead... Add that to the sound of lapping waves, the occasional birdsong and the lilt of Thai between the masseuses in the background... bliss!

Massage by the sea

The hotel also had free outdoor popcorn and movie night screenings - there were two shows scheduled in the four nights we were there, and a huge basket filled with salty popcorn packets that you can help yourselves to.  On movie nights, a cartoon is screened at 7pm, and a grown-up movie at 830pm. There are cabanas and beanbags for folks to get comfy in. 

We were a bit bothered by the mozzies and tiny tiny flies that fly in a cloud. So after half an hour each time, we'd pack our popcorn packets and head back to the air-conditioned comfort of our room.

The girls were thrilled that there were DVDs for free loan from the lobby too - we watched 4 cartoons in the comfort of our beds!

The hotel had an infinity pool and various other smaller pools adjacent to that. Our five year old totally impressed us with stamina we didn't know she had, by swimming almost 30 metres from one end to the other. 

It was nice that they has a large ankle deep section that our three year old could wade in, and potter about with her sand bucket in.

Fluffy large pool towels were in abundant supply, and you can see from the photo above that they even had a table full of games and books that you can borrow.

We had pizza and kids meals at the Italian restaurant right at the edge of the beach.  There was so much to do that the girls didn't even have time to explore the playground! (We only stopped to take a photo in front of it!)

Ahh... It was a truly enjoyable break from work and school for all of us. So near and accessible, relatively cheap, with yummy food.

The downside?

The worst part of our trip I must say, was Thai immigration! I know we are thoroughly spolit by our airport and our immigration officers' efficiency, but the chaos entering and exiting the Phuket airport was no joke.

Even infants (we saw quite a number) did not get priority and had to suffer the hour long queues. So be forewarned.

We saw some kids from an international school busying themselves with colouring and other activities alongside the queue, so we let our kids do the same. Activity books are lifesavers!

So, that's a wrap for our Phuket beach holiday at the Holiday Inn Mai Khao. We thoroughly recommend it! Although we were initially concerned that its more secluded location meant that we were far away from the usual night markets and shopping centres, there was enough to do in the resort itself that we didn't even use their shuttles (fee required) to venture out. If we were to visit again, we'd definitely go to Mai Khao rather than the usual crowded Patong area. :)

Holiday Inn Mai Khao
81, Moo3,
Tumbol Mai Khao Amphur
83110 Thailand

Sunday, 15 June 2014

10 great travel games for stress-free holidays

This travel tips post is written by June who blogs at mamawearpapashirt. She has 3 petite travellers under her wings - V (5 years) and JJ (3 years) and Josh (0.5 years).

These travel games have been carefully selected and curated to cater to petite travellers between the ages of 2 and 8. Enjoy!

1. Fuzzy Face Magnet Game ($12.80) - The Children's Showcase

This game is silly, creative, and even trains little hands in fine motor skills. The only hitch is you need a flat table to play it, as the "hair" slides off when slanted.

It's also bound to generate giggles and shrieks of laughter, so you wouldn't want your kids to play it at a fine dining restaurant or an art museum.

Suitable for 3 to 6 years.

2. Pocket puzzles ($4.80) - The Children's Showcase

These pocket puzzles come in a handy size, are affordable and easy to carry around. The quality of the cardboard isn't too shabby either.

There are 6 different designs to choose from. Ideal for airplane/train/bus rides (you just need to find a solid flat backing), or while waiting for your food at a restaurant.

Suitable for 3 to 6 years.

3. 3D puzzles  

Tackling these animal puzzles are a great way to keep your little hands busy. My 3 year old managed to do some of the simpler pieces by himself, but needed some help with the harder ones. 

As we actually received this as a gift, I'm unable to say where you can find these. But here are some options you can check out: 
- 3D Wild Animals puzzle from Educa - suitable for 2 to 4 years.

- 3D Dinosaur puzzles - suitable for 4 to 8 years.
4. Super Circles card game ($19.90) - My First Games

The aim of the game is to get rid of your cards by matching the coloured rings of the last-played card. The quickest one wins. This trains up your little ones' observation skills too.  

Suitable for 5 years and up. (Based on personal experience, a 3 year old can also play the game with some guidance.)

5. Spot It! ($24.90) - My First Games

This is a really interesting card game. Each card is unique, and only has one picture in common with another card in the deck. Players race to find the picture or symbol that matches the card at the top of their individual deck, and the centre deck. The tricky part is that the symbols can be different sizes.

Suitable for 5 years and above. For younger ones, you can check out Spot It! Junior.

6. Magnetic doodle board ($11.90) - The Children's Showcase

Plastic doodle boards are quite commonly used as travel entertainment, but what makes this one a winning design is its thin-ness. Almost like carrying a sheet of paper around, yet sturdy enough to be used as a backing.

But wait, no slider? How do you erase your doodles then? The magic trick is to tap your hands on the back of the board. Pretty nifty? You bet!

Suitable for 2 years and up.

 7. Animals by Night (Torchlight series of books) $11.45 - The Book Depository

The Torchlight series of books comes with a paper "torch" that kids can tear out and use to explore the transparent pages within the books, to try to spot and identify various animals or objects. A very simple idea, but it never fails to get kids hooked and keep them busy for a good 20-30 minutes!

There are other titles in the series, such as Let's Look At Life Below The City, Let's Look At The Sky, and Let's Look At The Zoo.

Suitable for 3 years and up.

8. Fishing game ($2) - Daiso 

This is an old school game with a magnetic twist. Wind it up, get your rods ready, and start attracting 'em fishies! 

Tip: For kids less than 3 years old, don't bother with the winding so that it's easier for them to get their catch.

Suitable for 2.5 - 5 years.

9. Nanoblock (from $13.90) - My Toy Shop 

Nanoblocks are just like mini-Lego. You need pretty developed fine motor skills to navigate these mini blocks, so they are more suitable for older kids. This particular one I have is from the holiday collection, which is currently out of stock. You can also get the Pokemon edition from Qoo10.

Suitable for 5 years and up.

10. The Very Lonely Firefly sticker book ($7.33) - Book Depository

Activity and sticker books never go out of style. This particular one features shiny stickers that are reusable.

Suitable for 2.5 years and up. 

I hope you enjoyed these 10 travel companions for kids. If you have a favourite game that always ends up in your suitcase, please share it with us and our readers by leaving a comment below! Thanks and merry travels! 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland: a short getaway destination for lil' Disney fans

This travel post is written by Candice who blogs at MissusTay. She travelled to Hong Kong Disneyland with her husband and her petite travellers, master T (3 years) and missy T (2 years) in May 2014.

This holiday is suitable for parents who do not want to travel too far to give their kids a Disneyland experience.    

Hong Kong may not exactly be a child-friendly holiday destination, but Hong Kong Disneyland ain't too bad! 

Moving Around

There are plenty of transportation options available to get to Hong Kong Disneyland from the airport. We were advised by the nice people at the airport that cab is the way to go for the four of us, one huge suitcase and one twin stroller.

Resort shuttles are available for in-house guests from the two hotels (Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Hollywood Hotel) to the Disneyland Resort Public Transport Interchange, which is located about 10 minutes walking distance from the theme park.

Parents do not have to worry about how to store the strollers when using the resort shuttles. These resort shuttles are huge coach buses that have plenty of storage space at the bottom of the bus for luggage and big items.

The Park

Hong Kong Disneyland is probably the best Disneyland to start with for those who haven’t visited any before. The size of the park is definitely more manageable. We had about 1.5 days of time to spend at the park but were prepared to not cover the entire park should either of my difficult children try to be well, difficult. But surprise surprise, we managed to cover all the lands in less than 2 hours when we did a leisure walk through the park and even took a boat ride!

There is however, only one Baby Care Center located inside the park – next to the Main Street Corner CafĂ© on the Central Plaza. There are a few diaper changing stations and some cubicles for moms to nurse their babies in private inside this Center.

The Rides

Because my 3yo is not the adventurous sort (yet) and my 2yo is limited by height, we didn’t get to take many of the rides in the different lands. It may seem a tad wasteful since we were already there, but hey, it doesn’t matter as long as they were enjoying their time with us! And trust me, it is WORSE when they are overtired. So always go at their pace!

The Disney Characters

Besides the usual Disney characters located at different lands in the park for visitors to meet (and queue for photo-taking), there are surprise appearances of other Disney characters at any part of the park. We have seen Rapunzel appearing around Main Street and Tinker Bell around Fantasy Land.

Despite the long queues for interested visitors to take pictures with the characters, I love that the characters take time to interact with the visitors. I had a bad experience with one of the characters at Warner Bros’ Movie World in Australia when I visited years ago – he was nudging me to leave after taking a picture! Not impressed at all.

For Disney characters that can speak for themselves like Tinker Bell, they would chat with the group of visitors who are having their turn with her to take pictures. There was no hint of rushing through the motions and they made sure every one in the group gets to take a picture with her. I was blown away! 

For those who can’t quite speak like Chip & Dale, they would try to play with you and enthusiastically put up different poses! No hint of rushing through the motions either! Very professional, I must say. 

One of the best add-ons in our booking was the breakfast dining with Disney characters at the hotel we stayed in.  Similar to the experience at the park, the Disney characters at the restaurant would spend some time interacting with the guests at each table and ensuring everyone gets a nice photo with them. See, children of my kids’ age don’t do queues very well. So this worked out great as we didn’t feel compelled to queue to take pictures with the characters at the park and we could get pictures with some of the Disney characters in the comfort of an air-conditioned restaurant with plenty of food and drinks to fuel us up.

In conclusion, Hong Kong Disneyland makes a great destination for a short getaway for the little Disney fans without the pain of a long flight!

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