Friday, 12 June 2015

Aloha, Hawaii: A Kid-Friendly 7 Days Itinerary

This travel post is written by Karen who blogs at Mum's calling. She re-located with her family to California for 18 months from 2012 to 2014 during which her husband furthered his studies. During their stay in Monterey, they spent some time exploring various attractions in the different states of America and there wasn't a trip done without their petite travellers Jazzelle (then 4 years old) and Jareth (2 years old). While America is a gem with lovely theme parks and natural beauty, Hawaii was one of their most memorable trips. They spent a week in Hawaii.

Aloha! We have set foot in Hawaii, Oahu!

We spent about a week in Oahu and Big Island in Hawaii, and unknowingly had our skin tanned a few shades darker. The weather is totally like Singapore: hot, but not as humid.

Why Hawaii stole our hearts:

1. Authentic and delicious Japanese food! Oahu is populated with loads of Japanese visitors. We were more than once mistaken as Japanese ourselves.

2. Beautiful Ocean view! The shiny clear blue ocean with its different hues of blue made the view absolutely breathtaking. The gentle and strong waves sweeping onto the beaches made everything even more spectacular.

3. Rainbows! We see them everyday, the single, the double and the full bow. After every drizzle, all we needed to do was to look up to spot one.

4. You encounter different landscapes on different parts of each island. The windward side of the island presents a world with lush mountains and pristine beaches while the landscape of the leeward coasts is mainly dry. Many towns are found on the leeward coasts of the Hawaii islands, especially on with Oahu.

Day 1
We visited the Swap Meet and Marketplace upon collecting our car. This is a place where goods are sold cheaply, as compared to retail stores. Here is where you can get souvenirs like crafts, accessories and clothing. It is also a great place to taste their local fruits and snacks.

A place like this was a test of my bargaining skills. I bought a hat, but other than that, we walked off almost empty-handed, save for a taste of shaved ice. I do think our Singapore ice kachang tastes better though.

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Looking like our pasar malam

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Shaved ice

Thereafter, we drove off to stroll the streets of Honolulu. Kalakaua Avenve reminded me a lot of our very own Orchard Road. It was a long stretch with branded shop after branded shop, all open till late at night. I could even shop after the kids went to bed if I wanted to, but as much as my strength and body were willing, money was the constraining factor. Sleep seemed like a better choice.

Day 2
We drove eastward, past Diamond Head and looped the island in an anti-clockwise direction to do some sightseeing, stopping at various viewpoints along the coastline to get a good dose of Hawaii's natural beauty. It took us about 1.5 hours of driving via HW72 to HW83 before we reached Kualoa Ranch, a place where various movies (Jurassic Park, Lost and Godzilla) had been filmed. The scenery was beautiful but I didn't think it was extremely impressive as compared to the Pacific Coastline at Monterey (CA HW1 route).

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Awesome ocean view!

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Site where Jurassic Park was filmed
We ended our day with a luau show at Paradise Cove. It took us another 1.5 hours to travel there but we were happy to experience the authentic Hawaiian culture and food. Hawaiian food is superb! I'm already missing it. Such a thing is very touristy, but we didn’t mind and enjoyed it for what it was. The Js happily followed when other kids and volunteered to be part of the hula dance performance on stage.

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Traditional hula dance

Day 3
We visited Pearl Harbor, a short drive from Waikiki beach, and gained more knowledge about WW2.

Pearl Harbor is a must visit if you ever set foot on Hawaii. It was a rare opportunity for us to explore the submarine USS Bowfin (nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger) and also the battleship USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the official instrument of surrender. USS Missouri was also featured in the movie, Battleship. If you wish to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, my advice is to reserve your tickets online or go down early to queue. Tickets are limited and can be snapped up fast. I must say the Pearl Habor historic sites really captivated me. It felt like it was a trip back in history and I was totally immersed in the experience. Be prepared to spend an entire day here.

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Real artefact from WWII

Day 4
Hawaiian pineapples! We visited the Dole plantation on the northern shore of Oahu island, for the complete pineapple experience. While there is nothing much to rave about this place, we had great fun in Dole Plantation's Giant Pineapple Garden Maze, which in 2008 was declared the world's largest maze. The Js loved the challenge, and I loved indulging in my pineapple fruit and ice-cream.

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Ice cream surprise!

In the evening, we drove to Laniakea Beach (further north along HW99 to HW83) to catch sight of sea turtles. I found it interesting that the locals knew the names of these turtles that came onshore!

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Envy their slow paced life

We completed the day with a drive clockwise to complete the loop around Oahu island. Along the way we experienced a sudden shower and plenty of rainbows. Guess it's no wonder that one of Hawaii's nicknames is Rainbow State!

Day 5
As we were staying in a hotel just opposite the world famous Waikiki beach, it was impossible for us to not get into the blue salty water before bidding farewell to Oahu. The Js had been pestering us for beach play, and we had to make it happen. Luckily for us, our thoughtful friend brought some sand tools along for the Js. Do remember to pack some along if you plan to have some fun on the beach.

I had reservations about the kids playing in the open water, but I knew we must do it! I believe if you have too many inner reservations, you will miss out on life. I would recommend going to Kuhio beach which is beside Waikiki beach as this beach has breakwaters built to form a lagoon and the waves are gentler. We found the waves here really exciting to play with. Jareth was initially afraid, but got hooked on playing with the waves after we demonstrated how fun it was.

I really love the moments we shared that sunny morning! With everyone were involved together with no distractions and no individual play, we really enjoyed some quality time as a family.

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Beach Fun

On the same day, we took a short flight to the Big Island. It is usual to fly to get from one island to another and there are plenty of flight options available.

Day 6
How can we miss the volcanoes in Hawaii?!! This was the reason we came to Big Island, home to two of the world's most active volcanoes. Visiting the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park does take some planning as the park is situated on the east side of the island near Hilo, but the west side of island is generally more pleasant and offers more options for accommodation. Big Island, as its name suggests, is the largest of the Hawaiian islands and driving from the west coast to the east coast of the island takes a good 2.5 hours one way. So one option could be to fly into Kona International Airport and out of Hilo International Airport or vice versa to save on travelling around the island.

Back to volcanoes, we visited near night time and saw glowing red orange lava! It was a pity that we couldn't catch flowing lava but I guess there's a season for everything. Still, it was awesome to not just read about volcanoes on Geography textbooks but to actually see one in action. Do check the National Park Service website for the latest updates on the ground conditions and status of lava flow as well as road closures before visiting.

We took many great pictures with volcanic sights and rock, but we had to be really cautious while walking on the volcanic rocks. They were very rough and it hurts just to press your palm down on them. I constantly feared for my wriggling Js as one careless move could easily cause an abrasion and a storm of crying.

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'Road Closed' sign was covered by lava flow

Day 7
We took a drive up Mauna Kea, about 10,000 feet above sea level to watch the sunset and star gaze. Verdict: It was truly awesome! We were totally wowed when we stepped out of the car. Never before have we seen such clear sky with millions, trillions of stars. Believe it or not, we even saw the milky way! We also identified planets with the help of the telescopes at the Visitor Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. I even spotted the rings around the planet Saturn!

I did think that it would be amazing if we could camp out at 10,000 feet, lie in a tent with an open top and be mesmerized by those stars. But in reality it was extremely cold and windy up there. While hiking to get a great sunset view, there were several times when I felt as if I could be blown away.

For those with strong hearts, you may want to drive up to the summit (14,000ft) to view the astronomical research facilities, giant telescopes and get a great view of sunset and sunrise. Do bear in mind though that the air is thin up there and there is a high likelihood of getting altitude sickness as a result of the rapid ascent from sea level to 14,000ft in 2hrs. It is not recommended that children under 16 proceed beyond the Visitor Station at 10,000ft.

Braving the cold was all worth it! Just don’t forget your cold wear if you plan to visit.

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The Milky Way!

In conclusion, we really had a great time in Hawaii! The food, shopping and our encounters with nature and the raw natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands certainly made for a memorable trip.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

June Holiday Flash Giveaways

We have partnered a few lovely sponsors to launch a series of flash giveaways! The prizes up for grabs are all family, children and travel friendly.

The first of the giveaways has just started. Do check out our Facebook Page for participation information.

Remember to also look out for the special discount codes that our sponsors have offered petite travellers readers.

All the best!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Bangkok for Kids

This travel post is written by May and she blogs at A Million Little Echoes. She spent 4 days in Bangkok over the May Day weekend with her petite travellers Ewan (3 years) and Faye (1 year). Be warned that this is a kids-centric trip and every day was filled with activities only for Ewan and Faye's pleasure. It was a VERY TIRING trip (for the parents) but your children will thank you for it.

First off, allow me to share our experience on the accommodation we had chosen for this trip. We spent 3 nights in a 5-star (self-acclaimed luxury) business hotel and it fits the bill to Centrally-Located, Family Friendly and Affordable Rates!

GRANDE CENTRE POINT RATCHADAMRI is indeed a business hotel but ironically, houses children entertainment that surpasses all that we've experienced in the aforementioned international brands. Ours was a Grand Deluxe, their basic category, which is fully equipped with a mini kitchen and dining room. We were provided with a full-sized refrigerator, microwave, stove, pots and pans, utensils, washer/dryer and water boiler. Basically, we are ready to cook up three meals for little Faye who is a fussy eater!

On level F (the facilities floor), I call it the FUN floor, you will find a swimming pool surrounded by lush greens and timber decks, a playroom fully equipped with toys, a 85sqm indoor playground with a foosball table, a beautifully-maintained reading room which has an array of children's books, a movie room fully blacked-out and sound-proofed for the whole family to watch Baymax in and a gaming room with computers and headphones for the older kids. Did I mention that there is a resident lounge on the same floor for us parents to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee while the children play to their hearts' content? Best of all, you need not pay anything extra than your room rate to enjoy these facilities. Not only were the children on cloud nine, the parents were too!


ONE: FANTASIA LAGOON WATERPARK is located on the rooftop of a heartland mall. It took us 30 minutes to travel to The Mall BangKae with a metered taxi at 5pm. As it is away from the city, be warned that hardly anyone speaks English but hey, you still get to enjoy Uniqlo there.

The park was packed! When my husband saw the amount of people in there, he went, "Holy Cow!" Well, to be fair, it was a Saturday plus a long weekend and this is an affordable, fun-filled playground for the Thai locals. Putting the crowd aside, I felt that it was designed perfectly for children of all ages! There were shallow pools just for splash and play toddler-suitable pools that allow them to play safely amidst slides, (adult) waist-high pools for the whole family and a Slider Tower for the bold. For a birds-eye view of the city below, be sure to head up to the Tower if you have a chance.

The toilets. Well, on a crowded weekend, it is truly not for the faint-hearted. They were flooded and dirty. However, there is always an aunty on-site trying her best to provide you a drier and cleaner toilet. The showers are heated but all you get is a shower head and a hook for your towel in each cubicle.

Tip: Go on a weekday where there is no crowd to enjoy clean toilets! Otherwise, wear your slippers into the shower. Oh, and be careful on the slides as they are pretty slippery!

Address: 275 Moo 1, Petchkasem Rd. Phasicharoen Bangkok 10600 
Opening hours: 11am - 10pm
Where: Rooftop of The Mall Bangkae

TWO: AMUSEMENT PARK at The Mall Bangkae is situated just beneath Fantasia Lagoon! After all the water fun, we settled our dinner at a Japanese restaurant (which was an meal ordering disaster because the staff cannot speak English!) and spent our night away sitting kiddy rides and playing games. Ewan was so high from play, he almost refused to budge. It spans across the whole of Level 4 from end to end with eateries and a cinema in the middle. The cartoon town has fun looking houses, a painted sky, a carousal and even a tree with moving eyes. Oh the tree looks friendly but it frightened the children to the extent, Ewan wouldn't take the escalator next to it.

Did I mention about the indoor playground, arcade, fun-fare and suspended pirate ships (see picture below) that you can ride on? I would say go early for a day trip and take your time to enjoy the mall with shopping and play. It will be an exhausting trip but I bet you the children will absolutely love it!

Address: 275 Moo 1, Petchkasem Rd. Phasicharoen Bangkok 10600 
Opening hours: 10.30am - 10pm
Where: Level 4 of The Mall Bangkae

THREE: SAFARI WORLD is 40 minutes away from our hotel. We hired a metered taxi to bring us from the hotel to Safari World. The ride including the driving tour inside the park, cost us 425 Baht (S$17). Well, that is only the price we had to pay on the meter. If you cannot get a metered taxi, the usual full-day hire would be 1500 baht. Your driver will wait for you to be done with the Safari and Marine Park before sending you back.

We found it to be an eye-opening experience. Not only for the children but for us as well. We had a good laugh when we arrived and was told that we will be touring the safari in our taxi! I had expected to be dropped off at the entrance and be whisked off into a safari jeep or bus of some sort. But no, we went on a safari tour in our yellow cab while some other visitors came in SUVs and convertibles. Of course the convertibles weren't allowed to ride through the park without covering up.

The animals were free to roam about and we had close proximity to them from our windows! Even the tigers weren't caged up but warning signs were erected to remind you to keep your windows closed. Until today, 3 weeks after the trip, Ewan vividly recounts his experience at the Safari.

Tip: If you'd like to feed the giraffes, you will need tickets to the Marine Park, which is a traditional zoo with many interesting shows, river rides and photography opportunities with tiger cubs.

Address: 99 Panyaintra road, Samwatawantok, Klongsamwa

Opening hours:
Safari Park: 9am - 5pm
Marine Park: 9am - 6pm

For more details, visit the Safari World website.

FOUR: KIDZANIA BANGKOK was CRAZY FUN! I was so impressed with the setup that I wished I could be part of the excitement as well. This is a city made for children, allowing them to do everything they've never been able to outside these doors. They can hit the dance floor in a Discotheque, work in a Coca Cola factory or even scale the wall of a building as a secret agent on a mission! It is a world built entirely out of imagination and is truly engaging! They say we learn from experience. KidZania is just the place for our children to learn about occupations and discipline first-hand through role-play. 

This city belongs to the children so naturally, adults are prohibited. We were allowed to enter the city but we had to wait outside the courtroom while they play judge or police station as they go through a roll call to nab a thief! Ewan, who is almost 3 years old, was underaged for majority of the experiences. We would thus recommend Kidzania for children above the age of 4.

TIP 1: Avoid weekends and public holidays because the queue at each experience is going to take you at least 30 minutes.

TIP 2: Work for McDonald's close to lunch hour so that your child can make his own hamburger for lunch!

Address: Siam Paragon Shopping Centre, Level 5 
Opening hours:
Weekdays: 10am - 5pm
Weekends: 10.30am - 8.30pm

FIVE: SEA LIFE OCEAN WORLD is in the same shopping mall as KidZania. So, if you have time for it in a day's trip or residing just a stone's throw away, do pay a visit! Regretfully we missed this one because we ran out of time, having spent a tad too long at KidZania (it was too fun to leave early for an afternoon nap).

Based on rave reviews, this underground aquarium seems too good to be missed. There are activities for the whole family to enjoy like no other aquariums I've known. You can take a ride on a glass-bottom boat in the aquarium (180 baht), tour the back of the house to check out the "Aquatic Quarantine and Nursery Centre" (250 baht), go for an underwater walk amongst astounding sea creatures in a dive suit and 180 degree helmet (2000 baht), have a chance to dive amongst sharks and sting rays (5300 baht to 6600 baht depending on diving experience) and experience a 25-minute 5D virtual reality adventure (250 baht).

We also read that children can enjoy a feet massage therapy by little fish at the Happy Feet Pool, be educated at the Rocky Shore and Diver Underwater Talks, witness first-hand the feeding of sharks, otters and penguins and get the opportunity to feed freshwater fish from the Feeding Pier in the Rainforest. How exciting!

Address: Siam Paragon Shopping Centre, Basement

Opening hours: 10am - 9pm 

SIX: TUK TUK is a motorised rickshaw which used to be everyone's favourite mode of transportation before taxis and the BTS. Today, it becomes a popular (though cut-throat) tourist ride which I fall foolishly into paying exorbitant prices in exchange for the experience. They charge a rate of 150 baht for a short distance which would have cost us only 50 baht if we took a metered taxi. Oh yes, that's 3 times the price but then again, 150 baht is only S$6. A small sum to pay to make Ewan absolutely high from the ride. Tuk Tuk drivers are known to be reckless, whisking in and out of traffic at high speed. The wind in your hair and sharp manoeuvring around the bends were the highlights of the drive for Ewan. *haha* So, hold on real tight to the children and make sure you don't get thrown out! There is no harm giving it a go.

Tip: Avoid taking a tuk tuk during peak hours (0700 to 0900 hours and 1600 to 1900 hours). You don't want to be stuck in traffic for hours at end!
As you can see, a trip to Bangkok can be fun for all but if you'd like to accomplish every activity stated here PLUS shopping and eating, do plan for a week's stay. There is much more to do in Bangkok than these 6 activities I've shared; you can visit the Trick Eye Museum, Madame Tussauds, or even fly a Boeing 737!

If you have been longing for a trip to the land of smiles but shelved it because it just seems impossible to lug the kids, you've every reason to convince the husband now. ;)
For more on Bangkok:
10 Nov 14: Bangkok Cafe-Hop

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