The Secret to Healthy and Twinkly Eyes

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How do we know if our kids are able to see clearly? When Tyler’s reading challenges were picked up at an early age, we decided to also get his vision checked out, to rule out short-sightedness or other sight-related challenges.

Eye care has always been something that is important to me. Being able to see clearly is a their window to the world. After all, we love our lives on the road with our frequent travels to expose the boys to different cultures and experiences, and have since come to understand that even UV from the sun can be a cause of eye damage, and can especially affect young children. 

More importantly, I believe that it is important to start inculcating and practicing good eye care habits with the boys starting from a young age so that this awareness becomes a part of their lifestyle. We can’t correct short-sightedness in kids but we can take steps to prevent it.

That’s why this new platform by Essilor couldn’t be more timely! In fact, it would go hand in hand with the eye test at the optometrist that I’ve booked for Tyler, where we could bring our online vision test results to the pros for a more detailed consultation.

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WhatsApp Image 2019-10-11 at 10.32.49 AMIt would definitely be helpful to the optician to have the online vision test results in hand before the full fledged vision examination as well, since it would give them a clearer idea of Tyler’s current eye health condition.

The online vision test is simple and ticks all the checkboxes for a fun activity with the kids. Interactive, simple and nicely designed with bright pops of colours, Tyler and Jake were actually having fun doing the test! 

However, beyond eye tests, Essilor’s platform also offers a plethora of articles for us to learn about good eye care habits so that we can teach our little ones the best practises to keep their eyes in tip top condition.

Sneak peek of the good stuff below with tidbits of important eye care practises (I didn’t even know about the Harmon Distance previously)!

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All in all, I would definitely recommend all parents to use Essilor’s new platform to introduce your kids to vision tests and find out more about good eye care habits! After all, what  better time to check in on you and your child’s eye health than on World Sight Day? 

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Link to online vision test on Essilor’s page: https://putvisionfirst.com/en/

Disclaimer: Brought to you in partnership with Essilor. All opinions are entirely mine.

 

Europe Summer Trip – Solo Travel with My 6 Year Old

Here’s the rundown and how-to for our epic summer trip through four cities in Europe in twelve days – Oslo, Reykjavík, Paris and London. Tyler was six years old when we made this journey in June 2019.

I have laid out a day by day itinerary based off our actual trip notes and schedule, included links to videos of our experiences via my IG, and links to attractions/ websites featured, and pasted the 12 day itinerary itself at the bottom so you can just use that as a handy reference.

Here we go!

We kicked off our epic mommy-son trip in Oslo, Norway, as I decided I wanted to start in a city I’ve never visited in Europe. It’s also more cost-effective to fly in to a less mainstream city destination, e.g. Helsinki or Oslo compared to cities such as London, Milan or Paris, and a great place to kickstart a series of one way trips to various destinations in Europe.

Tyler walking along popular Johan Gate, a street filled with shops, cafes and eateries at the foot of the Royal Palace
At the grand Royal Palace Oslo where it’s surprisingly uncrowded.

OSLO, NORWAY (18-20 June)

Hotel : We based ourselves in the Grand Oslo Hotel, perfectly situated at Karl Johan’s gate where many attractions like the Royal Palace and Gardens, Stortorvet (Market Square), Akershus Fort and Waterfront, the Stromma Trains and day trip boats are located within walking distance.

18 June – 715am Arrive in Oslo

Take the express train to the city centre, it’s only 20-30 minutes away by train, very efficient and convenient.

We rested for a couple hours, then headed out for quick lunch in Sunny Side Up, an egg cafe along the street, before starting our day’s tour on an open-topped bus.

A quick bite in Sunny Side Up Egg Cafe before sightseeing begins!
Which kid doesn’t love sitting upstairs of a big red bus!

2pm It’s really important to keep kids awake in the day time if you can, to get over jet lag fast. I planned to arrive in the day and to keep him busy until a reasonable bedtime.

I opted for the Open-Top Bus Tour, as it’s fun for kids, and also helps you get your feel for a city, to later navigate your way around on your own.

We decided to make a stop at the Viking Ship Museum (estimate 45 minutes to finish this, try the chocolate-dusted soft-serve Ice cream in front, in the summer time!).

It’s not a very big museum, and its highlights on display are the remains of three Viking ships on display, along with some artefacts and weapons recovered from Viking tombs in the areas around the Oslo Fjord. Stay to watch the 5 minute projection light show “The Vikings Alive”, that they have for one of the ships. It tells the re-imagined story of one of the three ships, from creation, to battle and conquest, exploration of the seas and finally to its eventual retirement as a burial vessel, where it was consigned to its final resting place, buried along with animal sacrifices, tools and treasures for the afterlife when the powerful king passed away.

Tyler was quite intrigued by the ships, once I started telling him the stories of each one. So while the Viking wrecks may initially look unimpressive to little kids, it’s up to you as storyteller to bring them to life for them!

The light and sound show around one of the Viking ships on display. Best spot to watch is from the very front, centre.

On the way back to town, you can also make a stop at the stunning Oslo Opera House (which we missed as Tyler was clearly suffering from jet lag by this time)

Another option, you can also stop by the waterfront (where the Nobel Peace Centre is located) and catch the Oslo Stromma Train, a cute little train that goes around the city.

We had an early dinner on one of the many cafes along Karl Johan Gate near our hotel, and put Tyler to sleep by 8pm, he slept straight through until 6am the next morning, a good start!

19 June Oslo

9am We started off with breakfast at Unity Bakery (Karl Johan Gate, a two minute walk from the hotel)

1030am Visited the Historical Museum (250m on foot from Karl Johan Gate). On display is the world’s only known Viking helmet in existence, as well as a variety of Viking weapons and accoutrements. There’s also a small section on the second floor with a couple of Egyptian mummy exhibits. It’s a little museum, not like the massive ones in London or Paris, but if you’re looking to see a little Viking culture, it’s nearby and with free entry, it’s worth swinging by!

230pm Post-lunch, we visited the Oslo Royal Palace, Palace Park Gardens and Children’s Park with the Rainbow sculpture (below) and many more awesome installations for children to explore. You can also enjoy guided palace tours in the summer.

We were the only people in the Royal Palace grounds, I didn’t have to wake up at 7am or DI people out! Oslo is really not crowded with tourists, so lovely!
Search for the cute rainbow sculpture in the park, we had it all to ourselves!

430pm After spending an hour in the Palace Gardens, we took an Uber to Frogner Sculpture Park (also referred to as Vigeland Sculpture Park). There are a total of 212 statues, each one depicts a remarkable facet of humanity – going from birth to childhood, youth and love, to old age and death. Some are incredibly poignant, some are shocking, and many are open to interpretation.

He’s interacting playfully with the sculptures!

We played a game, where I asked him to give each statue a name. His answers were humorous, insightful and also poignant. It shows you children have more emotional depth than we sometimes give them credit for. Anyway, this is a reminder for us to be their storytellers. If we don’t slow them down and share the wonder with them, they may never see it.

In this series of photos, he’s interacting with some of the sculptures from the Vigeland installation, where he asked if he could be part of the sculptures, and these are his emotional interpretations – playful, longing, thoughtful and in the last, wanting to be part of one that he calls “Love”

This is “Love”, his favourite sculpture.

630pm We went back to the hotel for dinner at the Grand Oslo Hotel Restaurant, and put Tyler to sleep by 8pm to get over any lingering jet lag.

2O June Oslo

This was our third and last day in Oslo. We had Breakfast at our favourite spot at Unity Cafe, returning for big, fluffy croissants with strawberry jam, hearty eggs for breakfast and his favourite hot chocolate.

After breakfast, we headed on foot to Akershus Fort and Castle (a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

Akershus is a 700 year old fortress and castle built in the medieval ages. He enjoyed the audio tour, listening intently in every room, especially enjoying the ghost stories and the exterior areas of the fortress with the courtyard and cannons. Level up in sightseeing, when your kid can follow the audio guide tours!

1230 Head to airport (Train)

Right after our morning’s exploration of Akershus, we went back to get the luggage from our hotel and headed straight to the airport, once again by the very convenient train.

Little traveler at the train station, and we’re ready to roll!

If you arrive earlier, there’s a little airplane playground in front of the Joe and the Juice at the Arrival Hall that Tyler really loved. I let him play for 20 minutes after we had checked-in and dropped off all luggage.

Last note on Oslo, and on the shortlisted activities which we didn’t get to visit in our short stay. You can also check out the Tusenfryd Amusement Park, EKT Riding School and Petting Zoo and the Bergen Train, a scenic train ride I’ve heard described as having stunning “jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery”,with views of fjords, waterfalls and rivers. There’s also a brand-new Viking Planet, interactive digital attraction that opened the day we left! Looks like we’ll have to make a return visit!

350pm Departure to Iceland

REYKJAVIK- ICELAND (20-23 June)

The hotel I would recommend would be Sandholt Hotel, located right in the heart of Reykjavík. We stayed there on our first trip a year ago with Jake, and I much preferred it to the Townhouse 41 Hotel where we stayed this time, which was much more like a hostel.

These are images of Sandholt Hotel from my trip with Jake just a year ago.

20 June – Oslo to Iceland (arrive 430pm KEF)

830pm Taking advantage of Iceland’s 24 hour sunshine while we were there, I booked the Midnight Sun Whale Watching tour (Elding’s) for the first night of our arrival in Reykjavik.

I might not recommended this for kids under eight, it can be underwhelming if they’re expecting to get up close and really see whales. Most of the time, it’s just a glimpse of a fin or tail. They mostly also spot Minke whales in these parts, you would be very lucky to see a Humpback. Minke whales are among the smallest of the whales, to set your expectations, they’re about 1/5 the size of their large cousins like the Blue whale and the Grey whale.

It’s still a pleasant experience taking a boat out to sea if it’s adults or older kids. The tour ended close to midnight, and I almost had to carry my sleepy boy off the boat.

21 June Reykjavík

9am Breakfast at Sandholt

10am Finally, for the main event! We actually made this trip so my little whale-obsessed boy could visit the Whale Museum of Iceland! Imagine more than a dozen life-sizes whales – from the sperm whale and humpback whale, and the smallest whales like Beluga and Orca to the great Blue Whale, largest mammal which ever lived in our planet’s history. They’re all here in the whale museum! We spent two hours here, as he was just delighted with the whales, a normal visit might take 45 minutes to browse all the exhibits!

After a visit to the museum, I can suggest lunch at nearby Icelandic Fish and Chips. We ate there with Jake in my last visit, but didn’t have time this time round as Tyler spent over two hours in the whale museum and we had another activity lined up after.

230pm Following lunch, I booked an ATV and Blue Lagoon Tour via Reykjavik Excursions. Please note that entry tickets to the Blue Lagoon itself, which are based on a specific timing (eg I booked for 4pm) weren’t included in the booking of the tour. Its advisable to book Blue Lagoon tickets online in advance if going in the popular spring and summer seasons.

The ATV tour was a fun, wild ride through the mountains near Reykjavík. The machines were well-maintained, and well-equipped to ride rough over the bumpy, lumpy mountain terrain. The ride might be a little rocky for a passenger, I would say it’s much more fun to be the rider than the pillion passenger! Nonetheless, we had an enjoyable one hour ride on these ATVs, before heading to the iconic Blue Lagoon.

Next up -Welcome to the Blue Lagoon! We’ve gone once in the summer time and once in early spring when it was much colder. It was pretty crowded both times, but the Lagoon is pretty large, so you don’t really feel the crowd. The surreal blue of the blue lagoon is what will hit you each time you see it. It’s a 38 degree Geo-thermal pool, and once you’re inside, it feels like you’re in a giant sauna. Arm floats are compulsory for kids, and there are several areas to explore, including a booth where you can get free face and hair masks to wear while enjoying the blue lagoon, another area with a “waterfall” that you can rinse your hair and face, and a bar in the water where you can get a beer or milkshake. You don’t feel the cold one you’re in, but getting in and out are different matters!

Strawberry smoothie in the Blue Lagoon

815pm We caught the last bus by our tour operator back to Reykjavic, and our hotel (about 45 minutes from the Blue Lagoon) and we slept very very well!

22 June Vik

For the highlight of our trip, I had booked a five hour shoot with www.shootmytravel.com with locally-based photographer Kevin Pages, and it was an “essential Iceland” in one day experience, perfect if you want to cover it all in a nutshell – with a waterfall, glaciers, Icelandic horse, the DC plane wreck and the black sand beach at Vik!

We made some arrangements with our photographer guide Kevin who took us around in his SUV, and decided to start with a horse ride at popular waterfall destination Skogafalls, Tyler rode the horse, which was a gentle, sturdy animal, great for first time or inexperienced riders.

Following the waterfall, and a lunch break at a local cafe, we drive up to Vik with a stopover to visit to the Glaciers at Solheimajokull

The glaciers were stunning of course, but I do have to share that’s it’s about a One KM hike in and back out over rough sandy, rocky terrain, and weather being unpredictable, it also started to rain while we were out getting some shots. Tyler found it hard to keep up after a while, and photographer Kevin had to give him a piggy back ride halfway, and we had to make stops for him to rest and play. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the hike in and out to see the glaciers, and if you decide to skip it, there’s still plenty to see…

Following the glaciers, we wrapped up the day in Vik where we visited the DC plane wreck near the sea, and also the black sand beach famed for its dramatic wall of basphalt columns.

I have almost no words for the way Tyler interacted with the DC Plane Wreck in Iceland. He loves airplanes, seeing this one beached near the sea, a forlorn wreckage riddled with bullet holes and ripped apart was both exhilarating and poignant. Instead of Tragedy, I shared with him it’s story of Triumph.

Not one of its five crew died in the crash, miraculously, and it’s pilot was given an award for heroism, playing his role in landing this plane on the beach, meters from the sea he was aiming for. The plane was destroyed, but all five men walked away from the wreckage. Now what could be a more beautiful story, for this strange and beautiful behemoth stranded in stark incongruity against the lunar landscape of its final resting place.

The last stop was at the Black Sand Beach in Vik. It’s a stunning, surreal landscape, strangely more beautiful on grey cloudy days than in bright sunshine like the day we were there. The first time I saw it a year ago, it felt like we were on a different planet. Little wonder that it’s also been shot as a location for The Wall in the scenes of the Night Watch on Game of Thrones. I’m including photos of Jake shot a year ago, so you can compare a cloudy day with a sunny day, and see how different the beach looks!

Cloudy and slightly wet day above, with no other tourists around because of the drizzle. Photos shot in bright sunlight below, where we were unable to shoot certain angles because the beach was heaving with tourists!

23 June

We departed Reykjavík after too short a stay, we could definitely have done one more day, and headed to the airport via Flybus. Give yourself a full two hours at the airport, there were long lines for Iceland Air, and we only just cleared the check-in on time. There is a family lane if you’re traveling with kids under five, so you can look for that line or ask an attendant to direct you to it.

PARIS, FRANCE (23-26 June)

We stayed at the Le Bellechasse St Germaine, a boutique hotel which I chose for proximity to an underground station as well as its location in a neighbourhood with lots of cafes, near the Musee D’Orsay and a short walk from the River Seine.

Streetside creperie at the doorstep or the hotel in St Germaine

4pm Retro Sidecar Tour – Tyler literally screamed with joy when he saw this retro sidecar pull up next to our hotel.

We zipped through the city, navigated the small streets in Montmartre, visited the Artist’s Square, paused for ice-cream, got a street portrait, stopped by the Sacre Couer and passed by grand monuments like the Opera House and the Louvre, all on a zippy Retro Bike with our guide Thomas, who was so great with kids!

Highly recommend this (if you’re not faint-hearted)! Oh, wear pants, you’ll probably be riding pillion behind the driver if it’s two of you; the sidecar only fits one passenger unless your kid is under two and can squeeze in on your lap. Alternatively, book two sidecars (but it’s more pocket-friendly to ride in one)!

24 June Paris

10am Museum of Natural History (this was in our itinerary, but I confess we didn’t make it, as I got lazy and we decided to sleep in and have a leisurely morning! I’ve visited the museum before on a previous trip to Paris, and do recommend it as a kid-friendly destination with beautiful architecture – well worth the visit.

230pm Tour with Julien… how to roll in Paris!

As we were traveling in the June peak summer season, all public transport and museums were heaving with crowds, so we decided to roll with the locals! We booked this cool buggy tour with Julian from www.withlocals.com

We avoided the big museums and tourist hotspots with their snaking lines, with Julian taking us down small neighbourhood streets, his favourite little bakery, sampling some gelato off the beaten track and visiting a mini-coliseum that I never knew existed in the city! (Here’s a code for a €15 discount valid for a booking on Withlocals)

All that walking can get too much for little legs, so this was just perfect!

715pm Finally, we booked a two hour sunset shoot with local photographer Meyrie, again on Www.shootmytravel.com as I wanted photos with the iconic Eiffel Tower and along the lovely River Seine.

Highly recommend this, as the local photographer is able to take you behind the scenes into all the back alleys and riverside where you’d be able to get amazing views of the Eiffel Tower, without any of the crowd!

We enjoyed our time with Meyrie, and I just love these keepsake photos she captured of me and Tyler. (Book before December and you can use my code TJIN25 for $25 off when you book with shootmytravel.com)

25 June Paris

1030am To start the day, I booked a Paris Kids Tour with Valentina on www.withlocals.com

It was a lovely kid-oriented walking tour to check out the play areas by the river and the Tuileries Garden.

Games for kids to play by the river!

Another reason to book a guide… they can help you take great holiday photos when you’re traveling solo with a kid!

Our guide Valentina was lovely, she took us to play areas by the river which we would never have discovered otherwise, we stopped for galettes and iced tea when Tyler got too hot, and ended up our tour in the Tuileries where she finally left us to play in the carnival.

Tyler and I rode bumper cars, he entered a four storey obstacle course, and went on a couple rides at the Tuileries summer carnival – loads of fun!

1pm Lunch at Angelina’s – this was a short walk across the street from Tuileries. This Paris institution is famed, of course, for its hot chocolate and sweet treats. We had burgers and soup, and saved our tummies for the treats! It was too hot for hot chocolate, so we had iced chocolate and desserts!

After lunch, it was still just too hot to be outdoors, so I had to abandon my plans for the Paris Open Top Bus and Louvre Museum – but this would be a great place to slot that in!

Instead I took Tyler to Galeries Lafayette and we explored the iconic shopping destination, made a trip to its toy department and kids fashion floor.

LONDON, UK (26 June – 30 June)

26 June London

The quickest way from Paris to London (and vice versa) is by the Eurostar. Interestingly, these train tickets cost more than any of my other connecting flights in Europe. The journey was fast and smooth, however, and we were there in just two hours.

In London, we stayed at the Ampersand Hotel. I really recommend this hotel!

The Drawing Room tea lounge which is part of Ampersand Hotel where we stayed

It was really well-located in South Kensington, with friendly and great service staff, and a great base to visit all the museums and with the South Ken underground just across the street that’s a direct stop to many other attractions including Covent Garden, Leicester Square, British Museum (Holborn) and Tower of London (Tower Hill), to name just a few.

South Kensington Tube is a great base as it’s a direct train to many popular stations like Piccadilly Circus, which save you a lot of time changing trains

Lots of cafes and eateries at our doorstep, spoiling us for food choices!
Three museums at our hotel doorstep – Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A Museum

Being just a short walk from the London Natural History Museum and V&A Museum, we dropped out bags and headed straight out to explore the museums.

The British Natural History Museum remains one of my favourites. Not just for the dinosaurs and the blue whale, but the architecture in this gorgeous building has always been as much of an attraction for me as the exhibits. To be honest, some of the exhibits can be a bit dated, and our own Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore has as impressive (if not more, in some ways) a catalogue of animal and insect specimens. BUT, the experience of the British Natural History Museum itself, never gets old; this museum is a cathedral to animal and human science, nature and evolution.

We wrapped up with Tapas dinner in South Kensington (so many cafes to choose from).

27 June London

9am We started our day nice and early with breakfast and people-watching at Kensington Creperie

10am Next we headed to THE Toy Store – Hamleys on Oxford Street, take the train from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus, and a short bus ride will drop you at the doorstep of one of the world’s most famous destination toy stores!

Traveling with kids, this multi-storey toy store was filled with floors of all kinds of toys imaginable. It can be pricey to shop here, and they have loads of interactive demos and stations for kids to try the toys, it can be loads of fun, but you may end up going home with all kinds of toys you never knew you wanted (and wish you didn’t buy!) I suggest you go in the morning, we arrived at 1030am and it was entirely empty, just us… and thousands of toys calling his name.

HAMLEYS!!!!!!!!
In Covent Garden with Mommy

After our visit to Hamley’s we took a train to Covent Garden where he spent two hours in the London Transport Museum.

4pm By this time, Mommy was in serious need of a break from toy shops and museums, so we took a breather with traditional High Tea at Balthazar (next door to the Transport Museum)

7pm We ended our day with a Ghost Bus Tour (I was meh about this). Tyler loves stories and has a little boy’s fascination with the macabre. This had good reviews online, but I found it so-so for kids.

28 June London

10am Today was the day to tackle the Mother of All Museums – The British Museum.

This Museum is HUGE, housing a vast collection of art and artefacts from all around the world, and will take you at least four hours to see the exhibits with any kind of depth. We went for the Ancient Egyptian mummies, and of course the British Museum has mummies in spades.

The gallery can get pretty crowded, I would probably book the special morning pre-opening tour next time, which takes place before the crowd comes in, you can book it on the museum website.

The Museum also has a range of Family Brochures/ Guide and Activity books, which you can pick up at the information desk in the main atrium. They try to make the exhibits more kid-friendly, although to be honest, many of the incredible and significant artefacts in the British Museum are lost on a six year old. He can’t appreciate the Elgin Marbles, or the incredible Greek relics and Roman artefacts … I will return with him when he’s older, and when I’ve had time to read him the stories and legends of Greek heroes and gods. The exhibits would carry far more significance for him then.

We didn’t get to make it down to the Tower of London this trip, Tyler was tired out by the British Museum – but I left in the itinerary here, as I highly recommend it – again, as with the Roman artefacts, it helps to tell the kids some stories of the Kings, Queens, princes and prisoners who once populated the tower before the visit, it will make the visit much more interesting for them.

3pm We came back to the our hotel to try the Sci-Fi High Tea!

3-2-1 Blast Off 🚀 Love the delight on his face when the rocket smokes up! We enjoyed an out-of-this-world high tea session at our hotel, inspired by the London Science Museum just next door.

The set also came with a chocolate astronaut to dip into hot milk to make your own hot chocolate, as well as ingredients in test tubes and little beakers to mix and create your own drinks!

7pm Dinner at The Ivy, Chelsea Garden. Book ahead for dinner at this iconic dining destination! If you can, ask for a table in the outdoor garden in the spring or summertime. It was so incredibly pretty outdoors, and the food is not bad too.

29 June Windsor

We spent a whole day at Legoland at Windsor. Ok, getting there was EFFORT. We took 3 trains, and I won’t spend more time talking about this, because it was fun… but we do have a Legoland next door in Johore.

If the weather was nice, it might have been a total different experience. But as London was having a 33 degree heatwave that day, I might as well have been in Legoland Malaysia. So, it was fun, but with the long lines and the scorching heat, IMHO, not worth the effort of a day trip to Windsor, if you’re going just for Legoland.

30 June London

And just like that, it’s the last day of our trip! I booked the night flight to ensure he would sleep at least some of the way, and here’s how we spent our final day in London.

10am Science Museum- Head to Wonderlab on Level 3. It’s a kid-friendly interactive gallery where kids can make smoke rings, explore static electricity, chase the sun, make their own flying machines, play with magnetic art, go down three different friction slides… AND check out the Shake Bar on the same floor for milk shakes and ice creams!

Oh, the Mint Choc Chip milkshakes!

1pm We headed to Selfridges for our final lunch. I never leave London without a stopover at The Brass Rail in Selfridges for the must-try Salt Beef and Tongue Sandwiches!

530pm Finally we head back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and head to the airport for our flight home. It costs about GBP50 to take a car from London city to Heathrow, and well worth it on the final leg of our journey back home! The tube is quick, but be prepared to have to lug luggage up and down escalators and steps. We got the hotel to book a car, and got to Heathrow with a couple hours to spare, for the long flight home.

Goodbye Heathrow! See you again soon, mommy’s already planning our Europe 2020 return trip!

ITINERARY (Summary)

OSLO, NORWAY (18-20 Jun)

18 June Oslo

– Check into Grand Oslo Hotel

– Open-Top Bus

– Viking Ship Museum

– Options: Oslo Opera House and Stromma Train

19 June Oslo

– Breakfast at Unity Bakery

– Historical Museum

– Oslo Royal Palace (and Palace Park Gardens)

– Frogeland Sculpture Park (also referred to as Vigeland Sculpture Par

20 June Oslo

– Akershus Fort and Cast

– Departure to Iceland

REYKJAVIK- ICELAND(20-23 June)

20 June Reykjavík

– Elding’s Whale Watching Midnight Sun Tour

21 June Reykjavík

– Breakfast at Sandholt Bakery

– Whales of Iceland Museum

– Lunch at Icelandic Fish and Chips

– ATV and Blue Lagoon Tour

22 June Vik

All-day Photo shoot with Kevin Pages

– Skogafalls (with horse-riding)

– Solheimajokull Glacier

– Vik Black Sand Beach and Basphalt Columns

– DC plane wreck

PARIS- FRANCE (23 June to 26 June)

– Depart for Paris

– Check in to La Grand Bellechasse Hotel, St Germaine

– Retro Sidecar Tour

24 June Paris

– Tour with Julien (Golf Buggy)

– Eiffel Tower shoot with local photographer Meyrie

25 June Paris

– Paris Kids Tour with Valentina

– Lunch at Angelina’s

– Visit to Galeries Lafayette

– Optional – The Louvre, Paris open-top bus sightseeing

LONDON, UK (26 -30 June)

26 June London

– Paris to London (Eurostar)

– Check in to Ampersand Hotel

– London Natural History Museum and V&A Museum

27 June London

– Breakfast at Kensington Creperie

– Hamleys on Oxford Street,

– Covent Garden – London Transport Museum and High Tea at Balthazar

– Ghost Bus Tour

28 June London

– The British Museum

– Option: Burrough Market, Tower of London, Tate Museum of Modern Art

– Sci-Fi High Tea at Ampersand Hotel

– Dinner at The Ivy, Chelsea Gardens.

29 June Windsor

– Legoland at Windsor

30 June London

– Science Museum- Wonderlab

– Selfridges Lunch at The Brass Rail in Selfridges (Salt beef and Ox tongue sandwiches)

– Depart for Heathrow

Bon Voyage!

Flying with Kids: All You Need to Know about Choosing the Right Flight, Airline and Route to Suit your Budget

Darling, let’s be Adventurers!

Travel is the best education I can give my kids, there’s nothing like witnessing and exploring in real life vs through textbooks and classrooms. It’s important for children to experience and see the world through different lenses, and understand that the world is filled with wonder and diversity.

Here are the best tips and hacks I can share on flight-planning having organised close to fifty trips with the kids. It’s not about spoiling the kids with luxury travel, but about finding the best way to travel that lets you have more space (and sanity), and giving you travel options you may not previously have considered.

Let us begin…

CHOOSING AN AIRLINE/ ROUTE

This is seriously, one of my favourite hacks, flying out to Europe. It’s also led us to discover many cool cities which we may not otherwise have intended on visiting.

It can cost HALF the fare if you’re flying out to “second-tier” cities, like Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki, vs busy, “in-demand” (read “expensive”) airport destinations like London, Paris and Milan. So do some travel research, scroll through the fares, and you’ll see for e.g Round-trip Q-suite tickets on Qatar Airlines from Singapore to Oslo were SGD4,400 each, comparatively, the flights from Singapore to London were approximately SGD6500 on Qatar (and about $7-8k on SQ).

Q Suite double bed on board Qatar Airlines

ONE WAY PLEASE

Different airlines have different policies on cost for “one way”, for eg I never book Singapore Airlines one way if I can help it because their one way fare is about 70% to 80% of their full fare, whereas Qatar charged exactly 50% of their round-trip ticket, for a one way fare from Asia to Europe.

Once you’re in Europe and USA, one-way tickets are very common, much like how Budget Airlines operate in Asia.

Ok, so now you’re saying “one way”- how would we get home? This is the best part!

Domestic flights within Europe are relatively affordable (eg flying to Iceland from Oslo costs SGD$250 a ticket, and to Paris from Oslo was SGD$360 a ticket). There are so many destinations within easy reach from airports like Stockholm and Oslo, eg we could have chosen Barcelona, Greece or Portugal, many for less then $300 each once we were in Europe!

Jake exploring the black sand beach of Iceland, only 2.5 hours flight from London

These are mostly short flights, 3 hours and below (like flying to Bali from Singapore). Another big tip – NEVER opt for business class for these “domestic” routes; you’ll pay twice the price for pretty much the same economy class seat, just the first 3 rows with a little curtain across and an empty seat placed in between (blocked out) so you have more space. They don’t serve you food (you get nuts and biscuits). They’re similar to Budget flights, even with carriers like British Airways, regional flights are like their version of Scoot.

Our first trip to Norway, and we got to discover Oslo as a stopover!

So, the biggest perks are, you get to fly and return from different destinations, and you get to see more than one city!

REDEMPTION HACKS

Now that you’re all caught up on tier 2 cities and the benefits of flying one-way… Don’t we all love it when scoring Saver point redemptions?

With cities like New York, LA, London and Paris, it can be a waiting game even when booking way ahead, like 10 months before flying. The biggest frustration can be one way confirmed, and you never know if the other one on wait list is going to come through. I’ve waited up to a week before a long-haul flight once, and ended up having to buy the tickets, and paying 25% more.

Anyway my point is, round-trip redemptions are unpredictable which can make it hard to plan ahead. The GOOD NEWS is one-way redemptions are much easier to come by (well, literally 50% easier to get one leg vs two on a hot destination). So what I did this trip was, first I tried to get round-trip tickets to London, as I knew that was definitely on my list, and when I saw I was cleared on the return half, I booked just that, using my points, and proceeded to book the flight up from Singapore to Oslo for the outward bound.

Jake flying first when we used First Saver points, which work out to less than Business Standard, London to Singapore

Another tip, although this should seem like common sense by now, redemptions are waaaay easier to less popular destinations, eg I could book Oslo Business Saver on SQ immediately when searching the fares 3 months ago (it’s probably a code-share as they don’t fly direct). I could have redeemed the flight to Norway fully, but I decided that I would much rather pay $2k per business class ticket getting there, and save my points for when I really need them.

So, this is how both Tyler and I flew to Europe and back on Business Class on top airlines for only $4,400 (on Q Suites to Norway, and SQ redemption home)!

Being first off the plane also means you get to beat long custom queues on arrival.

CHOOSE A GOOD TRANSFER AIRPORT

Of course I prefer a direct flight, when flying business class long haul, skipping the inconvenience of a transfer, but the significant savings make it worth the inconvenience.

In contrast, I actually welcome the stopover if flying economy, I get to stretch my legs. On this note, some airports are way more efficient and pleasant than others. It may help you to decide for example, to fly Qatar over Turkish Airlines (which IS incidentally Star Alliance, but that transfer in Istanbul nearly cost us our sanity with crazy, long transit queues as if 10 flights had just merged for transfers and were bottlenecked through one screening area. It was literally a war zone with people screaming out their onward destinations, all fearful of missing tight connections, some did). Doha on the other hand was a breeze, smooth traffic, clear signage and no lines. I also like Korean Air as an airport transfer option, they’re usually also about 20% cheaper on fares than SIA (eg I always book Korean Air to Niseko, as the airlines fly direct without you having to transfer luggage in a stopover, and the business class flight was a flat $2,000 which makes a big difference when flying red-eye) and the transit in Seoul comes with lots of kids play areas – like having complimentary Pororo Park-style play zones inside!

BEST FAMILY FLIGHT HACK

Okay, so Business Class is pretty costly whichever way you look at it; another relatively wallet-friendly option, and our favourite one, is to book an extra economy class seat when we travel longer than 6 hours.

We booked 2 extra seats when flying our whole family up to Zurich earlier this year, so Daddy and Tyler could have one row, and Mommy and Jake could have a row. As you can see, it makes a huge difference, you have so much more legroom and space to store stuff, and during meal service, an extra table to put things on, or space to access stuff without having to juggle trays. It’s also much less expensive than four business class tickets!

You can’t book an extra seat online, but you can call in to the airline to add on an extra seat or head down to their office. I’ve found it can make a huge difference, you’ll be thankful for it on a totally full flight. With more code-share flights these days, it’s become rare to see empty seats on planes. Rather than praying and hoping the seat next to you isn’t taken, I prefer to buy the extra seat as an insurance policy. If you calculate, 6 economy seats are also much less costly than 4 business class seats (approx $8k vs $24k when we flew to Zurich from Singapore earlier this year).

I expect I’ll be deploying this hack more and more often as the kids get older, as I don’t want them growing up expecting to fly business class. For now, it’s more peace of mind for mommy, and they can’t yet travel alone!

Blissed out with an extra seat each

So that about sums up a whole bunch of travel tips I swear by! I hope it’s helpful to you Jetset Mamas (and papas)! Getting to your destination is part of the journey, and traveling with under-fives can be a big challenge. I hope this inspires more of you to see that the flight doesn’t have to be something to dread, and that planning with new routes and unexpected destinations is actually part of the fun!

Now, go plan your next adventure!

Bon Voyage! This little one looks forward to our trips!

The currency I’ve used is SGD (Singapore Dollars, approx $1.38 to $1 USD at time of publishing.) Ticket prices and airline policies may also change over time, but these are all correct as of present.

How to be a “Good Mother” – by Someone with No Clue

I wrote this piece 4 years ago when Tyler was one year old for Prestige magazine. They said write about anything – it’s a column meant to provoke thought, an opinion piece. I decided to write about my then-struggle with motherhood. I found this story in my hard drive, and thought it was still very relevant today; there’s no perfect version of motherhood, only your best version of it. Everyone is different, and so is everyone’s version of motherhood. Let’s not judge others, we don’t know their backstories. Here’s mine.

I spent my early childhood wishing I were a boy. Two of four girls, I never liked playing with dolls or dressing up. I was the kid on roller skates chasing cars with scraped knees, fishing in the drain, building a rocket out of cardboard boxes. Life was wild and wonderful.

In my teens I was the dreamer, forgetting schoolbooks, writing stories and spending too much time in school corridors, banished by irate teachers. I wished I was a boy, they seemed to have more fun.

In my 20s, I tried to toe the line, got my first job, learned to dress like a girl, talk and act like a girl. But I never really could think like my peers, there was always a streak of the renegade I could not shake.

In my 30s, entrepreneurship was a marvelous thrill. All those traits that made me a poor student and a rebellious worker, were the very strengths that made me a dauntless entrepreneur. I excelled in creative pitches, in the field of large-scale event management, where my competitors were all boys. I clicked joyfully through boardrooms in high heels, smiling past the all-boy teams who would say, “Oh no, its her.” I loved the chase and the hunt. I loved the win, and to beat the boys at their game. I was fearless, taking on the ambitious projects that others said would fail. And I was good at it.

The company evolved, the team grew, we won accounts and awards, and we thrived. And then I had a baby.

Life stood still.

Are we expected to unlearn the fast pace of warfare that is modern-day business? The boys did not need to change when they started families, they carried on without pause. But I stopped dead in my tracks – for a moment that seemed an eternity, while I contemplated the confounding dilemma of motherhood.

It is true, that being a business owner granted me the flexibility to build my time and schedule around my son. Yet that was not the greatest stumbling block that stood in the way of blissful motherhood.

The truth was, I did not know how to be a good mother. The very qualities that made me a bold entrepreneur were the very traits that stood in direct conflict with good, responsible motherhood.To be nurturing and motherly, which seemed to come so easily to my sisters and girlfriends, seemed in fact, to stand in such opposition to everything else I was or had come to be in my 40 years before motherhood.

I adore my son – everything about him, every hair on his spiky little head, to his round cheeks, bright eyes and chubby small toes. I love him more than I have ever loved anyone or anything. But I only wanted to play with him. My husband shakes his head, and tells me that just playing with him, taking my one year old on fun and adventurous outings does not count as spending quality time with him.

I cannot put him to sleep, he wants to play when he sees me, and runs crazily from one end of his cot to the other laughing like a manic monkey. I could not see why I should not delegate tasks like diaper changing or feeding – I cannot name one person who can remember a single time someone changed their diaper. Strategic outsourcing and task-delegation are just two key things you learn in business leadership.

In time, I overcame the guilt and accepted that I was never going to be very good at conventional motherhood. No one has it all, nobody is perfect, and motherhood will be an individual journey that we should not judge others for. I am always going to march to the beat of a different drum, and it is what I believe will make me an amazing mother when my son is older.

I will draw and tell him stories, we can ride roller coasters on Tuesdays, catch tadpoles in drains, chase cars in roller skates and build rockets out of cardboard boxes. I will teach him to be brave and fearless, he will love life and adventure. My little renegade will march to the beat of his own drum.

One day, hopefully, he will meet a woman who clicks joyfully through a boardroom in high heels, and he will say, “Oh yes, it’s her!”

And they live happily ever after, raising my unconventional, renegade grandchildren.

Work-Life Balance? Let’s Start with some Self-Care!

Hola Mamas, this post is for you. I recently spent three nights at a beauty and wellness retreat with Creme Simon, recalibrating my life and defining my own version of modern motherhood.

I brought my little boy on what was supposed to be a girls’ trip because part of my Self-care, is about spending one on one time with each of my boys. With multiple businesses, numerous projects and pitches, social causes and campaigns in progress, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything. People ask, “How do you do it? How do you make it all work?” They want to talk about this elusive unicorn, called “Work Life Balance”.

How do I juggle my two young kids (age five and two), the nine businesses, multiple roles and responsibilities…

The honest answer is – I don’t even think about it. I do remember a time when I first started the business 18 years ago, where I didn’t have a life (I also didn’t have kids). I never thought about “Work Life Balance”, I only worked incredibly hard to build my business, believing one day it would lead to a life I could only dream about.

There were months where I would start work at 8am, go home at 3am and repeat. There were years where we made huge losses and I had to fight to keep the company afloat.

There was even one day where I stepped out of the office in the sunlight once and said, “Wow, how nice it must be to have a day where the sun is still out where I can actually enjoy some free time…” or a night-off (leaving at 8pm) felt like a guilty luxury. I hustled hard, planted seeds watered with sweet and tears, I chased those dreams.

Over time, my business grew a sound reputation, I built an awesome team, found partners… and one day, I realised I could take the day off – a whole day! And the company would still be running without me. That was the day I realised I had finally built a healthy business, and was no longer “self-employed”.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that story because I don’t want you to think that I got here today without hard work and sacrifice. I didn’t inherit the money or marry rich, I built my own dream company, steering it from scratch through nearly two decades of risk and evolution. Last thoughts on that : Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle (Jon Acuff).

Now that we’ve established I’ve gone through two decades of grind and back-breaking career-building, let me share some of my biggest learnings on motherhood and making it all work.

How to find your Self, and how to be happy in your own version of modern motherhood. It’s different for everyone, find YOUR version of happiness. Here are the 3 big ones:

1. Find a Tribe of Like-minded Mamas (or a Mentor).

Good vibes only! Community support can be hugely important. It can be a simple WhatsApp group chat of 3-5 mothers that have kids the same age, that you feel can be a positive influence. There’s a lot we can learn from each other.

There’s a saying that you’re the sum of the five people closest to you, and there may be some truth in that. If you surround yourself with negative people (who have a problem for every solution) or who love to do nothing more than complain without actually seeking solutions, you’ll find yourself dragged down.

One simple way to get started: Set up a group chat (eg ours is called Weekend Brunch Club) with a few like-minded parents who enjoy similar activities as you. Some of our activities now include family travel, red wine tasting and card nights. You don’t have to be defined solely by your children. Life may revolve around them, but you may find yourself looking forward to the child-free nights out with your “Mom-gang” too!

How awesome is this tribe of mamas, on a work-vacay with Creme Simon!

2. Prioritise You.

Make time and space for yourself. Motherhood doesn’t mean martyrdom. If you find yourself constantly sacrificing and always putting the needs of others above your own basic wishes and desires, then I would re-evaluate.

With rising national depression rates, it’s easy to understand why motherhood contributes to stress. Working motherhood is stressful – that struggle to find time and balance, feeling constant guilt at not being there for your kids, worrying if they’re getting good childcare, fear of missing out on all their developmental milestones, how are they doing in school etc.

Stay-at-home motherhood is equally stressful – the pressure to be the best mom possible to justify the sacrifice of your career, the endless multi-tasking, feeling unappreciated or marginalised, feeling envy towards peers who have managed to climb the career ladder, getting left behind…

You can’t fill the cups of others if your own cup is empty. If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, or a sense of hopelessness, take a step back from it all, look at it from a birds eye view… things are usually not as bad as we think they are. Then make some changes to prioritise yourself.

Self care is important. Cut away everything, every “obligation” that isn’t truly necessary, learn to say NO to things or people that don’t add value to your life. You may not be perfect, but you’re the only mama they have, so be the best one you can be.

Claim some time to find yourself, nourish your soul, refresh your mind. It can be as simple as a time-out coffee in the middle of the day (grab a cuppa, put away your phone and watch the world go by), a no-kids day at the spa to unwind, or a girlfriends staycation at a beach resort.

Let go of the guilt, you give 365 days of yourself to your work and family, no one will begrudge you 5 days off! That’s less than minimum annual leave… and you may find that even taking off one day a month, can be a balm to the soul.

Make plans with your mom-friends or girlfriends now, don’t delay – they may be feeling just as stressed as you. Just set a date (even if it’s 3 months from today) – you’ll have something to look forward to. The spa pool at Pangkor Laut, an oasis of serenity and calm!

3. Discover your own Balance. Don’t compare yourself to others.

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy – Theodore Roosevelt”.

And Roosevelt never had to deal with social media! I believe that one of the biggest contributors to envy and depression today – is social media.

Everyone else’s life looks better than our own? – the luxury holidays, fine dining, fun times with friends, glamorous parties. We forget that we are watching someone else’s “highlight reel”. Nobody shows their behind-the-scenes, which can include late nights in the office, a deep mortgage or bank loans (to fund that IG-lifestyle), depressed kids (they only brag about those high PSLE scores), marriage troubles (how often have we been surprised to hear of this or that couple getting divorced and say “Oh, I didn’t see that coming… they always looked so happy”) – well, that’s because social media can be deceiving!

Count your blessings and stop comparing!

Reminder of the day: Don’t believe what you see on social media, it’s not real. It gives regular people FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it can make one feel like they’re getting left behind. Well, you’re not alone. If you peek behind the scenes of those perfect Instagram accounts, those dream wardrobes are often on loan, those delicious waffles shot from the next table, and there’s the classic “fake laugh” shot. Anyway my point is, don’t compare your reality with someone else’s highlights reel.

I wanted to say thank you to Creme Simon for having us at Pangkor Laut and giving me the time to reflect on all the above. Having my son along, meant I had less time to sleep, spa and relax between shoots and interviews – but that’s ok, because spending one on one time with my boys is part of my personal self-care needs. Everyone has different needs, discover your own!

(This isn’t a sponsored post, I wasn’t paid to write it… I just enjoyed the experience of bonding and sharing with a tribe of positive, like-minded mamas so much, that I thought I should share the joy. Hope you got some helpful insights!)

Why You Should Never Make a Day Trip to an Orphanage – And What You Can Do To Help

I first visited Cambodia ten years ago, and was very moved by my experience there. The country’s gripping history, thousand year old temples and impoverished countryside make it a place rich for self-reflection. It is one of those destinations that can change the lens with which you see the entire world. 
I always knew I wanted to help, and I knew I wanted my children to have a broad world view, to be open-minded, socially-aware and compassionate. 

I decided to bring the boys on a trip to Cambodia, to show them another side of life, to understand that what we are accustomed to isn’t something we should take for granted, and to instill in them a sense of compassion and empathy, a desire to share kindness, to give and help where able.

Jake was two, much to young to learn anything (he also napped through most of the experiences, tuk tuk rides seemed to put both boys to sleep), but Tyler was four, and soaking things up like a little sponge. 

Tyler soaking in new experiences 

Jake napped through everything

The trip was eye-opening, thought-provoking and also heartbreaking. I had gone with blundering good intent and naïveté, of having the boys donate their extra toys and clothes to children who were in need. I wanted them to have a first-hand encounter, to open their eyes and hearts to the plight of others with whom we share this world. 

We collected about a hundred pieces of clothing, packed up a box of toys which Tyler picked out himself, and embarked on our journey to Siem Reap. 

I narrowed the options to visiting a school, instead of an orphanage, with the purpose to visiting to find out how we can help them. I knew that I didn’t want to go to an orphanage, as orphanage tourism is a very bad thing (it likens visiting children in orphanages to visiting animals in a zoo; visitors wouldn’t be allowed to pop in to gawk at vulnerable orphans in first world countries, so why should it be any different in developing countries?).

After consideration, I decided to work with the local tour guide to choose a village school (SCHOOL, not orphanage – big difference, the best place for children is with their families, not placed in institutional care). I requested for an introduction to a school in a community that needed help, perhaps one that was neglected and off the beaten tourist path, as I didn’t want the kids to be exposed to exploitation. 

We were brought to a rural school near the village of Pluek, which had recently experience an HIV outbreak from infected needles (village Doctors re-used needles due to lack of medical supplies), with over a hundred cases of HIV diagnosed. They are a farming community, and there were 300 children in the school. They needed toilets (there are only two in the entire school), water filtration, ceiling fans, didn’t have a canteen or a playground – but there were 300 shy, smiling and playful little faces. 

What happened next, is something I share, as it’s not what I would recommend anyone do. I left feeling despondent, that our visit was like a drop of water in the ocean. Our aid impossibly temporary – how many biscuits, balls and notebooks can you give? We didn’t have enough for 300 children, and they would be happy for only a day – what happens when all the biscuits are eaten up in two days? In truth, we would have done more harm than good. This is NOT how to help. 

It was also a terrible idea to have Tyler give away his toys. He brought his box of planes, cars and buses. Perhaps it would have been better to hand them to the teacher, we checked – but he gestured that we could hand them out.  Tyler approached the school kids shyly and started handing out his toys. Of course he didn’t have enough, and when he ran out of toys, he felt awful, and I felt worse. He went back to the van and tried to snatch the toy out of Jake’s hand to give to the kids! Who gave us the right to play Santa Claus (no haters please, we learned our lesson). We declined the tour guide’s offer to round up the children for a group photo – they’re not zoo exhibits (did they have a choice?), and how can we take these pictures to look like we actually did help, when we haven’t done anything yet.  

Unless you have the ability to make a real impact, access or means to raise funds or sustainable donations to the school, it can be harmful and misguided to think a visit can make an impact, you could do more harm than good. 

I did more online research on volunteerism during the trip. I was searching for how to help. To be honest, I was disheartened when reading the articles I found. 

The content was correct, what they stated was true, but the tone of most of these articles were damning, harsh and vitriolic, levelled against well-intending people who didn’t know better how to engage and make an impact. 

There were many Dont’s. Don’t give money to street children (they should be in school not trapped in a cycle of dependency). Don’t give money to random orphanages (many are exploiting the children and are tourist traps). Don’t volunteer (it can do more harm than good when you leave after teaching for a month as the children have attachment issues, and are you even qualified to teach?). Don’t spend your money on volunteer tourism (eg painting a school on a paid trip to the countryside as you have no experience, will probably do a shoddy job as a painter, and the money you parted with to go on that excursion in the first place, could have gone to a local painter and helped to feed his family). Don’t ship items from home (Shipping is costly and it would be cheaper to just buy flip flops in the country itself if that’s what you wanted to donate and you could support local businesses, plus many people use these donation drives like a dumping ground and give away shoes and clothes that end up in a landfill)… 

There were so many Dont’s, I combed the articles on the topic, trying to find some with a Do. Most diverted me to a website to donate cash to existing efforts. While that’s a good thing, I knew I wanted to make a more personal impact, and I wanted my boys to be involved, and to learn from the experience. 

I would suggest – you’re welcome to bring your kids to Cambodia, or any country in need of aid, if you want to show them how much help is needed. They can see with their own eyes how different life already is, from where they live. Don’t seek out the orphanages or schools, where the kids are vulnerable, descending upon them as rich foreigners doling out used things and spare dollars – you will do more harm than good to the community.

The only consolation was that we were there to find out how to help long-term. With the assistance of our guide as translator (the principal spoke no English), we were able to discover that their greatest needs were for toilets, water filtration and ceiling fans. We were heartened to hear that they were getting electricity generators by the end of the year. The principal also shared that the children could use more bicycles, as they don’t have a canteen, so they break from 11am to 2pm so the students can go home for a meal. The lucky ones have bicycles, the poor ones have to walk fairly long distances to go home and back to school. I also learned that bicycles were surprisingly costly in Cambodia (US$100 for a new one and US$50 for a used one) as they import them from Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and China (this makes no sense to me, why wouldn’t they have a factory that produces bicycles for locals; there are foreign ones that produce fancy bicycles for export not local use, but it’s what both my Tuk-Tuk driver and our waitress at lunch told me. So even if it isn’t true, it’s what the locals believe – that they have no access to cheap bicycles). 

I would like to help this school, and it’s earnest, barefoot children. In truth, many people want to help those less fortunate, but we mistrust associations and organisations we aren’t familar with, and suspect that large percentages of what we donate are squandered on bureaucracy or internal costs, when what we really want is to put the money in the hands of the needy. Yet, there are many articles which tell you not to give money to the people directly, as it breeds dependency (not good), jealousy in a community if only one family benefits (even worse) and entitlement (worst of all).

I have come to realise through my work in years of dealing with corporate sponsorship and fundraising, that even big companies are often happy to give product, lots of it, but are often reluctant to part with cash. The psyche isn’t much different for individuals, you’ll find plenty of people willing to donate items (eg clothes, toys, bicycles) but if you ask them to part with cash, you’ll find many are more resistant. It isn’t that they don’t want to help, it’s that they mistrust how the funds are spent. People want to give, but on their own terms. We can preach idealism of where and how they should give, but if it doesn’t strike a chord with them, it remains only an unfulfilled wish to help, and nothing gets done.

It’s been only a few days since my visit to the school, and I am still thinking through the best way to help. In truth, if you are reading this story, then perhaps I have already made some small impact. 

Over the next few months, I will have to make another trip, and we hope to do the following for the school we visited:

1. Start a donation drive for lightly-used footwear and clothing for the children (which are climate-appropriate for Cambodia). If you’re donating, please be mindful that volunteers spend a lot of time sorting through donated items and this isn’t a dumping ground, please be respectful of the volunteers and the recipients, and give away clothes your children have outgrown, not what you would use as dish rags. How you can help: if you know any one in freight or logistics who can help us as a collection point and with delivery, I would be happy to have them as partners. Next step would be the actual clothing drive.

2. Start a bike registry where we find a local partner able to give us bikes at goodwill price (less than US$15 a bike, as that’s about the price at which it becomes cheaper to ship donated bikes via container instead) OR start bicycle drive to collect children’s bicycles for the school over here. How you can help: Similar to the Clothing Drive, we would need a logistics sponsor/ partner who is able to help store the bikes in the warehouse while we aim to collect about 50 to 100 bicycles for the school, and eventually send them over to Cambodia once we’ve hit our target, or filled our container.

3. Raise funds or find partners who can help us build the toilets that the school needs. Check World Toilets to see why it may seem like a small thing, but many girls drop out of school for lack of sufficient toilets. 

4. Improve on the Water-filtration system, by building and installing biosand water filters, household units that produce clean drinking water directly from contaminated sources.

5. Install ceiling fans. Start a registry towards items that the school could use, much like a gift registry as I know people don’t like to give cash, unless it translates into something tangible. The fans should of course be purchased from local businesses and installed by local workers, its good to give business to the community, but we could raise funds to help with the purchase and installation. 

6. Courtyard and Playground – Construction of a sustainable , flood resistant multi purpose courtyard that could double up as an assembly area as well as a basketball / futsal sports facility. The kids don’t currently have a playground.

7.  Provide English lessons at the school. I strongly believe that one way to break out of the cycle of poverty is through education. The gift of language is one I believe would help create new opportunity for kids in the rural areas. So many people in Cambodia are enterprising but they lack ability to read and write (can’t email) so that holds them back. Being able to speak, read and write English in a country like Cambodia will open up doors to new opportunities in tourism and hospitality, help them break the cycle of poverty. Perhaps this can be done through technology, virtual English Teachers or programs How to help: Donation of old technology, eg iPads and tablets, and access to programs for virtual learning to teach English could be helpful! 

There are bigger ways to help, but that requires greater resource and investment. More needs to be done with infrastructure, job opportunities provided, local co-ops started, which can provide sustainable employment and training (or maybe a bicycle factory?) etc. I wish I could do all that, but let’s start by making impact with a few, and touching the lives of some we can help, before we take greater strides to help more.

Here are a few articles and links which I found helpful and enlightening.

On orphanage tourism 

Why You should Say No to Orphanage Tourism (Huffington Post)

Child Safe Org (why you should never visit an Orphanage and a list of organisations you can help 

On Volunteering with Kids in Cambodia  (How you can do more harm than good in http://www.movetocambodia.com)

Orphanages in Cambodia are not Tourist Attractions (article by Michael Aquino in http://www.tripsavvy.com)

Thank you for reading my story, and feel free to share any of my links about orphanage tourism and why volunteer tourism can be harmful to the community. Educating others and keeping the children safe, that’s definitely one way to help!

Maybe I have done little so far…

“Yet opening the eyes of those of us wealthy enough to afford the luxury of travel to the realities of inequality is a necessary first step if longer-term solutions to poverty, housing and food insecurity are to ever be found. 

And nothing can bring home the emotional reality of these challenges quite as well as engaging with them for yourself.” 

– Excerpt from Richard Stupart’s CNN article

It’s a good start that you do want to help, to open your eyes and heart to those in need, with whom we share our planet. I’ve always believed touching even a few lives in my lifetime, is better than doing nothing at all. The question was always “How?” 

Let me get the ball rolling. This will be a journey of discovery that may leave you more changed, then even the lives you touched. Now let’s do this together, and help the right way.  If this works for one school, we could do it for many. This is just a beginning…

Please stay tuned!

Glamping at The Canopi 

Yes, the lagoon really is this shade of blue. The Canopi isn’t The Aman, but if you manage your expectations on service and dining options (this is still Bintan, after all), you’ll be just fine! 

We stayed for three days and two nights, and the kids REALLY REALLY enjoyed themselves. The Canopi is extremely family-friendly, with a range of activities for junior, from toddler to teens. 

First up, the tents, which is what this “Glamping” experience is really all about!  The photos on The Canopi website are accurate, the tents and interiors are as they appear. We booked as a group, a Garden Tent (no Jacuzzi), a Lagoon-view Tent and the bells-and-whistles Glamping Deluxe Tent.  

The Canopi is really affordable, with weekday prices starting under SG$200, we booked our stay on Booking.com It does get about 30-40% higher (and much more crowded) on weekends. Take a day off if you can and go on a weekday, we had the whole resort to ourselves on Tuesday (photos coming up)! 

This is the view of our Deluxe Glamping Tent… best of all (IMHO), it came with its own electric scooter for the duration of our stay! 

Fully air-conditioned, comfortable bedding,  our tent was clean and felt pretty new (we stayed in Tent 95). I think it’s part of a new wing at Canopi, because it feels much newer and in better-condition than the Garden and Lagoon-view tent (Tent 12 and 23) that our friends stayed in. The boys enjoying mid-day ice cream in front of Tent 12, which came with a sheltered outdoor Jacuzzi.

On that note, it’s probably not that important to book Lagoon-view as there really are no windows on the tents. They do give more proximity to the lagoon, but that doesn’t make a huge difference as the compound isn’t that large, and the tents at the back (like 95 where we stayed) were allocated scooters for getting around. I have to say I was impressed with the outdoor Jacuzzi bath-tub in our Deluxe Glamping Safari tent (bigger than the one we got when glamping in The Aman hah!). It was massive, and unexpected for a $300 a night room. It was a good-quality Jacuzzi, the kids loved splashing around in it, which was a good option for afternoons when the mid-day sun can get blisteringly hot. 

Yes, it’s open at the top to the outdoors, but I didn’t see any insects or mozzies; it was blissfully creature-free. Just remember however, that you signed up for ‘Glamping’ so do expect that there’s something of the outdoors in The Canopi. 

Next up, and this was one of our favourite things about the resort, was all the various fun modes of transport around the resort! ​

From buggies which took us to our rooms and around the resort…… to these cool vintage-look Ford Model Ts which ferried us to the Activity Centre…… and my favorite was the electric scooters which we were given for the duration of our stay! The kids loved the scooters, they’re electric-powered and capped at a top speed of 20kmh. They do provide helmets, which prudent parents would put on their kids (and on themselves)….  then there are those that love to feel the wind in their hair and prefer fedoras to helmets (don’t judge, please)! 

They are light enough so that I could ride around with my little ones. The scooters were great for traveling with ease around the resort. This is the restaurant where we have the hotel breakfast. The food selection is mediocre, but there’s an egg station and their mini pastries are actually pretty good! There’s also a sandy little playground in front of the restaurant.

In addition to all the buggies, scooters and electric cars, there are also land activities like ATVs and these 2-seater UTVs which you could rent (about $45 for a 40 minute tour). The little ones below 7 weren’t allowed on the ATVs so we had to be content with these buggies, which were also worth a spin, although….

… I must have the only kid who could fall asleep on an ATV! Amidst the dust, roaring engine and bumpy road, my son falls asleep. … he did wake up at the very end, and shouted “That was fun!” Hmmm.  Oh, bring sunglasses, maybe a scarf for the dust, and wear sunblock! The UTVs aren’t for small toddlers, Jake didn’t get to ride at all, but there are plenty other things you can do with the littler ones.

Now we get to the highlight of The Canopi, which is really that azure-blue saltwater lagoon in the middle of it all. You can rent floats (for fun and photos) about $6 an hour and these little paddle boats $10 an hour. … Daddy Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo.

The kids had so much fun, although they tired of the toys after 15 minutes, and by day two, they really just wanted to splash around and enjoy the water. The lagoon was very well-maintained when we were there. They keep it meticulously clean, trawling with nets every morning, and had lifeguards stationed around the lagoon. It was also surprisingly empty. Even on Sunday afternoon, there were never really more than 4-5 groups of other people around us at any point of time, and on Monday and Tuesday, we were often the only people visible in the whole lagoon. 

I do have advice to share on the best times to enjoy the lagoon. It gets blisteringly hot very early on, with the sun in full blaze by 9am. As Bintan is an hour behind Singapore, we started with early breakfast at 730am (830am SG time) and hit the lagoon for a dip at 9am when the activities first open. 

There are inflatable playgrounds and bouncy castles, some are free to Canopi guests and some are payable. These activities are also open to the public under Treasure Bay, but we didn’t see anyone here at all on Monday and Tuesday – like on this insanely fun bouncy water slide with a shallow pool, which was great for toddlers, and no one was here except us! 
It’s very strange that they start their activities at 9am and close at around 5pm just as the weather gets beautiful, they start to deflate all the floats and pack up all the water toys 😦 

My advice is to start at 9am, head back into the shade before 11am as it gets intensely hot and there’s so little shelter around the lagoon (we got burnt as pink as peaches), and to come out again around 4pm. The sun starts to ease off at 430pm so you can hit some activities from 4-5pm and just stay on to enjoy sunset in the lagoon even after they have put away all the toys. 

Apart from the lagoon, there honestly isn’t a whole lot else to do at The Canopi. We scootered around a few times, tried all three restaurants (mediocre at best, plenty of other reviews on these online, so I won’t go there… manage your expectations on dining, like I said), so by Day 2 we headed out to see what else there was to do. 

Five minutes away by car is Lagoi Bay, where you can find the ghost town that is Lagoi Plaza. There are only a handful of shops open in what could have been a really pretty promenade mall. On the weekday afternoon that we were there, there were only two restaurants open (not a great lunch place), but the kids loved the little train ride which only cost about SG$1 to ride. 

We also discovered this awesome lantern park at Lagoi Bay which featured endangered species and sea creatures. It was a magical experience, even for us adults,  with larger-than-life animals and ocean denizens lighting up the park. There were elephants, rhinos, sharks, dolphins, manta Raya and many more. Post check-out on our last day, we made a visit to exclusive resort The Sanchaya next door for ice cream and coffee. We stayed on this property when it first opened three years ago, and found it as posh as ever. Making himself right at home! The Sanchaya is a great escape for luxury lovers, expect to pay top dollar. Having stayed at both resorts in Bintan, I’d have to say that The Canopi is much better if you’re traveling with kids. The Sanchaya is certainly Insta-worthy, but it’s not a place I felt I could freely let my rascals run around without disturbing the other guests.  It’s a pretty place for a stopover, but you need to have your hotel call ahead if you want to make a visit as they don’t take walk-ins. 

All in all, we enjoyed our two night stay at The Canopi, barring the service hiccups, and lack of dining options.  

One last (big) tip on arrival timing – we took the 8am Ferry out of Singapore, and got there waaaaay too early. Perhaps if we had arrived on a weekday instead of Sunday morning it might have been possible for an early check-in. But it seems we arrived at peak occupancy (the Saturday night guests hadn’t checked out yet). We asked for a lift to the activity centre and had to wait over 10 minutes for a ride, there were a few miscommunications, and when we tried to feed the kids at 950am, we were told the restaurant kitchen closes at 10am and that they wouldn’t serve food again until 1130am. I asked where I could feed the kids, and they told us, “Sorry, we don’t have food until 11:30am”. This was so not cool. My suggestion would be to take the noon ferry out which should get you in closer to check-in time, for a more pleasant experience. 

To wrap it up… The Canopi is a great little escape, just manage your expectations… it’s good value for money, and great for Bintan!

KEEP CALM & GLAMP ON! 

Three Nights in Malacca : Trip with Family & Friends

Malacca is only three hours away from Singapore (door to door by car), but it’s a world away from our bustling, urban metropolis. It’s as if time stood still in this quaint little town, with its old world traditions, tastes and trades.

The Hotel

We checked into the Majestic Malacca, a beautifully restored old mansion constructed in the 1920s by a Chinese tycoon, and converted into a small luxury hotel in 2008 by the YTL Group (the same folk behind the Pangkor Laut Resort). The boys loved the complimentary traditional snacks in the lobby (we were probably single-handedly responsible for depleting their jar of kacam putih peas and those little round biscuits with the colored icing)!

The hotel is centrally located within walking distance of The Shore (Mall and kids activities) as well as Jonker Street.  We traveled with a group of friends and found Majestic ideal for both families and couples. We booked two deluxe rooms for our family, and managed to get adjoining rooms on the top floor (901 and 902).  

The rooms were clean and spacious, and each had a charming claw-footed bath-tub which the boys enjoyed nightly bubble baths in, and an open-concept bathroom which also offered privacy with its wooden sliding doors drawn. The boys loved the room so much, they refused to leave when it came time to do some sightseeing, so we left them behind (we brought their nanny along, which was a good thing, as there were some things I don’t recommend for kids, which I’ll share later)! 

The only drawback to the hotel is that they didn’t offer room service! Oh well. 

General Sightseeing

We set off exploring Malacca on foot the first evening, and found many quaint merchants, cafes and bars in little back lanes. One of the group’s favourites was Sin Hiap Hin – an authentic  little hole-in-the-wall bar which sold moonshine, I mean rice wines and liquor, manned by a bar-auntie in her 60s whose family has tended the bar for five generations.
The little street that the bar is on is worth visiting, it has an authentic heritage charm to it, and the coolest old world barber shop opposite. 

Food is plentiful in Malacca, but an eatery I recommend a short walk from our hotel would be TaChi Nonya House, where we fed the boys right after checking in. We enjoyed it, not only because it is quaint and uncrowded, which makes it family-friendly, but for the hearty Nonya fare (we had the Nasi Lemak with rendang chicken, curry noodles – super hot!- and otak otak), all were yummy. But I especially liked the old-school rattan high chairs they provided which fit both boys, including my gigantic four year old! Post-lunch (and without the boys), we walked by the river, and found many charming cafes and bars, like this spot which featured a row of vintage car boots and trunks that turn into a marketplace on weekends.You can take a seat in a VW bug for a meal at the Discovery Cafe, right outside Jonker Walk.When we hit Jonker Walk, the main tourist strip in the late afternoon around 4pm, we found it bustling but not over-crowded. Featuring a row of heritage pre-war shophouses crammed with local snack-sellers, knick-knack shops, fashion boutiques, tiny cafes and a Mamee Museum, we found the Geographer Cafe a good place to have a break. Set smack in the middle of the Jonker Street stretch, it’s about this point that the daddies might crave a cold beer, while I enjoyed my Gula Melaka iced milk tea. I must also share that I found a great toy shop about seven doors down from Geographer Cafe in the direction of traffic (I forget the name, Poh something). The toys are well-priced in Ringgit, and we came back three times to shop! 

Although it wasn’t my intention to leave the boys in the hotel, I was glad I hadn’t brought them along, especially as it grew increasingly crowded as the night progressed, where there was no room but to shuffle back to front against the heaving crowd. It would have been very challenging to push a pram through the narrow walkways, and I saw many flustered parents with their hot, wailing infants, and have to say that this Jonker weekend market is really not a place for toddlers. As it may not be an option to leave the kids behind in the hotel, my suggestion would be to do Jonker Walk earlier in the day, and skip the night market (which starts at 7pm) if you have babies or very young children. You can see from my photos above that it can be quite unpleasant for a toddler to brave the heaving sea of people. The shops are small and narrow, many set on steps or over ledged doorways which would make it hard to navigate a pram. 

My solution: I booked a private trishaw tour (RM50 for an hour) and had it customised to my own schedule and itinerary for the kids. We made it down Jonker in the relative comfort of a trishaw (Tip: you CAN ask for them to turn off that blaring music)! More on that below.

Tyler’s Hello Kitty airplane cost me RM180 (about SG$60) and the Jurassic World dinosaur was RM35 (about SG12), we also bought a pack of eight small dinosaurs with jointed, moving parts for RM25 (about $1 a dinosaur).Look mama! The boys were super-excited with their new toys. 

Kid-Friendly Activities 

Having left the boys behind last night, I made up for it the next couple of days with activities for the kids. 

We started with the Submarine Museum where we got to view and board a real-life submarine! The monolith looks like a beached whale, and hurray! – it’s air conditioned inside. It’s a decomissioned sub used for training that can house 35 men at one time. Once inside, Tyler was a little scared as it can be dark, cramp and not for the claustrophobic. It was an eye-opener to be in a real submarine, to view the living conditions and cramped quarters. Watch out for the creepy mannequins! 

In addition to the submarine, there were also two old fighter jets on display, which the boys enjoyed, of course. As the Submarine Museum is not centrally located, it’s about 20 minutes from town by car, it’s a good idea to ask the taxi to wait. You’ll take about 30 minutes to complete your explorations (and take some cool photos). 

Next up, the Toy Museum at The Shore. This was an incidental discovery as I was actually at The Shore looking for the Oceanarium.  This is good for half an hour of entertaining the kids. It’s definitely fun if your young kids are into Iron Man or StarWars. I probably wouldn’t have made the effort if we were a group of adults, or teenagers, but for kids under 6, it’s probably quite fun (and maybe a little scary as well)! Tyler was apprehensive about walking through this tunnel of Storm Troopers…  A little nervous, he poses in Tony Stark’s Iron Man lair, and gives the Hulk his most fearsome pose.There was a little table of dinosaur toys, which didn’t have a Do Not Touch sigh on it. I assume it was for interactive play, so I let him pet the dinosaurs. Entry was RM35 for adults and RM25 for kids above three (Jake is just under two and gets in free). It wasn’t the cheapest in Malacca, but we found it entertaining and the boys enjoyed it. 

Housed in the same building, just one floor up, is the Oceanarium. Mainly, we were there for the turtle-feeding. I had got the boys all excited about the Turtle Conservation beach, and when we found out they were closed over the long weekend (aargh! I’ll have to come back for this) I met their clamours to see turtles, by bringing them to the indoor Oceanarium. What was most unique about this Oceanarium was there range of interactive touch experiences. Kids could get up close to quite a few species of fish, starfish and even stingrays. I couldn’t get any photos as I had my hands full carrying Jake so he could pet all the fishy fishy.

I did get a photo of Tyler dipping his hands into this tank, where the little pink fish come up to nibble your fingers. They probably think you’re feeding them, and are playful and curious. The boys were so excited to interact with them! They had a few small Sharks, a big turtle tank with various species including a pair of giant frogs, seahorses etc (the usual aquarium denizens) and a 3D movie where you can watch a short movie about a turtle. But best of all for the boys, the turtle feeding pool at the end of the Oceanarium journey.

We spent close to three hours at The Shore covering the two museums with a lunch break in between. It’s a great place to spend half a day. 

Located in The Shore as well, is the Sky Tower. You can take a lift up to Level 41, and climb the steps up to Level 42 to view the city from its highest point. 

When we arrived at Level 42, we saw a ticketing counter where you have to pay for the walkabout and a big tour group ahead of us. So we decided to give this a miss. Instead, I spied looking over the Level 42 balcony that there was a restaurant and bar just one floor down that would pretty much have exactly the same view… so I brought the boys downstairs instead! 

Ok, apart from the very Insta-worthy birdcage booth seats, the food is mediocre at best. The view isn’t anything to hype about. You can see the river snaking through the town, but overall the view was pretty underwhelming. At least I got to hold a Mojito in my hand, instead of queue upstairs and jostle with the crowd.Wrapping up our activities in Malacca, probably wouldn’t be complete without a touristy trishaw ride! Part of the fun for Tyler was spotting all the different themed trishaws. There were a lot of Hello Kitty, Frozen and Pikachu trishaws, but I managed to score a Minion one and took it back to the hotel so my boys could take a spin on it! We had so much fun that I decided to do a custom tour the next day, and got the hotel to call us a trishaw for a one hour tour. 

Here we are, all ready for our trishaw adventure! Each trishaw can take two adults and a kid or an adult and two kids, but it was just Mommy and Tyler as Jake was napping before our drive back to Singapore later in the day.

The trishaw picked us up from from the doorstep of our hotel, and I asked the Uncle to take us to eat Baskin Robbins, then whiz by our favorite toy shop in Jonker, and surprise me with a little street art – which he did! One happy little boy. We got to choose from a wide variety of Baskin Robbins flavours while the trishaw parked on the curb right outside (this Baskin Robbins is located on street level facing the taxi drop-off of the Pahlawan Megamall). We took our take-out ice cream and carried on our journey through town! It was much more enjoyable for Tyler to see the streets whiz by in a trishaw than doing it on foot.  We also did a little stop by a back alley with some 3D street art that was off the beaten path. Here are our masterpieces! The journey home, where we rode through Jonker and the old town to show Tyler the sights and sounds, before being dropped off back at the hotel! 

To be honest, the trishaw ride in traffic, going off the tourist track probably isn’t for the faint of heart. Our driver took shortcuts and rode through traffic going in the other direction a couple of times. I was a little nervous at first, but he assured me that drivers in Malacca are accustomed to driving around trishaws and giving way to them. 

If you’re not for riding in traffic, stick to the tourist routes, there are areas cordoned off where only foot traffic and trishshaws are allowed. There were harrowing moments, but we didn’t mow down any pedestrians after all.

We definitely enjoyed Malacca more than we expected to. We initially thought we would be bored stiff with three nights in this sleepy little town (we went over a long weekend), but were pleasantly surprised! 

In fact, we didnt get to do all that I wanted to do, I would come back for the  Padang Kamunting Turtle Sanctuary where you can visit the hatchery on a gazetted conservation beach and even release baby turtles back into the ocean, as well as check out the Huskitory, a husky cafe near Jonker where you can have coffee and enjoy cuddle time with more than 20 huskies! 

Looks like we’ll be back! 

The Singapore Air Force Museum – Up Close Explorations

We had no expectations at all, when we made our trip out to the Singapore Air Force Museum, as there’s little coverage on it online. I expected a couple of old airplanes and a helicopters, instead we discovered an expansive playground full of vintage airplanes (about 10-12 real planes and helicopters) which the kids could touch and explore. 

There was also an indoor gallery (air-conditioned, thankfully) with touch screens, airplane simulator games, lots of little aircraft models, a mock control tower panel overlooking the “airfield” downstairs and more. It’s not a big museum, but the boys loved it, especially as four year old Tyler is an airplane addict! 

We had some difficulty finding it (400 Airport Road), there are no signages (only one little signage which is pointing in a confusing direction) and if you take a wrong turn you could end up on a KPE or PIE which takes a lot of long U-turns to get back. It’s actually located next to, just after, the Paya Lebar Air Base.

Once we got to the gates of the Museum however, we were delighted by the visual display of all kinds of helicopters and fighter jets in the carpark area, and it only got better from there. 

The carpark, which had many lots (all empty on the day we visited) with free parking.Helicopters in the carparkThe boys were ecstatic to see the planes and couldn’t stop dashing about from exhibit to exhibit. There was no one around at all, perhaps a guide to explain what the planes were about might have been helpful. The boys had so many questions about the aircraft, I confess I made up a lot of answers (and the boys now think the airplane missiles are all engines hahaha) ! So much to get excited about! Most of the planes seem to be from the 60s, 70s (my hubby says) and and are decommissioned aircraft. Don’t expect the modern planes that you see in Army Open houses, but given that there were no queues or crowds at all, and the boys didn’t have to jostle for even a glimpse of a plane or queue up to take a photo – this was paradise for them. Hands-on fun and exploration. The open-air area is sheltered and was breezy on the day we were there. Plenty of space to run and explore! Nose to nose. They may not be the newest aircraft but to a four year old and a one year old, they were the most fascinating planes in the world! He finally gets to see where the wheels go when they fold up. Reaching for the sky! No one to tell us not to touch this or that, like in many museums. The boys had a blast! Climb up on to the platform and peer into a twin cockpits of a Skyhawk So many airplanes to run around (and under!)We headed into the indoor galleries to check out the exhibits. An afterburner Flight simulator game Pretending to be paratroopers inside a C130 “Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door”. In the flight seat. Like being in a control tower where you could view all the airplanes. So cool. Wish the museum would just place a child-friendly stool on it as he was just a little too short to see the window and I had to carry him up. He got upset when I put him down…  hope someone from Mindef can read this and spread the word…

A thrilling morning out for the boys. We spent about 90 minutes here, but the boys were upset when we were leaving. They had never got so up close to real military planes (or any kind of planes on the ground, really). There was no one there, but us – maybe one other lady just walking around and taking photos… Spy? Haha… and an old caretaker who was so excited to see actual visitors he insisted we sign into his guest book. He told me visitorship numbers were low (not surprising as there’s little publicity). 

The Air Force Museum was a wonderful escape for the June School holidays, where every other museum was packed with school groups. It’s free entry, free parking and opens from 830am to 5pm daily (except Mondays and public holidays). 

Definitely worth a visit, and next time, I will return with the kids’ scooters (which may or may not be allowed, but given there was no one else there at all, and so much open space), it could be a lot of fun! 

So much fun that they didn’t want to go home…..

Nooooooooooooo! 

Tyler’s 4th Birthday Party

Tyler turns four! This happy, cheeky little fellow is still loving airplanes, so we decided to do another airplane-themed party – but with a change from last year. The party this year focuses more on Airports and Travel; where last year he was a fighter pilot, this year he’s a plane captain!  

First, a quick look at the venue. We discovered the MOCA Cafe driving past in the Dempsey area, where I spotted an all-glass restaurant in a lush, green setting.  We stopped by to take a look, and it was blessed with plenty of beautiful usable outdoor space, which parents could see from within the air-conditioned glass cafe. It was perfect for the kids party I had in mind! In front, we parked the Air Force fleet. Eight mechanized planes, with a full runway setup in the outdoor space. We used masking tape to create runway markings and stationed blinking yellow lights (picked up from the Beach Road Army Market) to create the effect of a real runway! Captain Tyler Lim is ready for take-off! A wide-angled view of the space with the MOCA Cafe in the backdrop. Little guests had so much fun zipping around on the motor planes! 

Moving indoors… Let’s start with that stunning 3D feature wall. 

Yes, it’s amazing! It’s a 3D cut-out airplane with a pop-out control tower and runway that actually lit up! This statement backdrop was designed and produced by Fairy Floss Party and provided the “wow” factor. Not to mention, it lit up my little birthday boy’s face like fireworks in a night sky.  It also made for great party photos! Little party-goers had so much fun with all the pilot-themed props like aviators and headphones! 

The other stars of the party, are of course the dessert table and THE CAKE. This beautiful fondant cake (notice the details all around) with a 3D plane character (Long Long from Airport Diaries) and Control Tower was created by Little House of Dreams.

Taking a closer look at the gorgeous dessert table….I loved the stylish red and blue spread created by Fairy Floss Party.  Featuring suitcase macarons on a luggage belt, bottles “jet fuel” for hydration, chocolate suitcases and many delightful little details. Macarons on a luggage belt Flight-themed cookiesChocolate wrapped like suitcases Cupcakes on arrivalBottled jet-fuel for refuelling!

One of my favorite elements in party-planning is to have awesome gifts! I ordered 25 ride-on Trunki luggage (for the kids aged between 1 to 5) and let the little passengers choose their own design – between Unicorns, Pirate Ships, Yellow Taxis, Red Buses and Bluebell Broncos – half the fun was in choosing their favorite ride-on luggage!  Once they chose their Trunki, they were able to claim it with personalised embroidered flight tags. 

I placed the name tags on the entry table where they were able to pick up theirs, choose a coloured carabiner, and voila! – a cool name tag for their Trunki luggage, travel suitcase or even school bag. I got these made at the Beach Road Army Market. It took about a week, I gave them all the names and they produced the tags which are in a nice thick canvas belt material with an embroidered airplane. Here’s an up-close look. The tags come in many colours and you can also choose different font colours (like red, organs or neon yellow which I thought was cool) but I chose the white as I wanted the kids to be able to choose coloured caribiners. Captain J Lim greets the passengers! Once they collected their Trunkis, they got to fill them with travel and pilot-themed goodies ranging from Aviator shades to passport covers, pilot headphones and even a co-pilot buddy bear! This little guy is all kitted out! We tied floating airplane balloons to the luggage, so it looked like jet-liners filled the sky above! 

One simple and very effective thing I did to entertain the kids, was to order four of those IKEA coffee tables (the square white ones that are $12 each) and joined them to make a giant play table that was just the right height for the kids. I ordered a runway poster online and placed two airport sets on it to create our very own Airport Experience Table! This was very popular with the kids, from 1 year to 6 years, providing them with quiet time for hands-on imaginative play, in between activities like getting air time in the bouncy castle and riding the little jet planes outdoors.

Another big treat for the little guests was the sensory table operated by Tickle Your Senses. They’re super creative and can work with any theme you come up with! Check out these amazing personalised name stamps that they came up with! In addition to the personalised name stampers, they got to take home their own play doh kits, and make lave lamps with airplane toppers. Highly recommended sensory play that entertains both younger and older kids (about 2 to 7 years).

Finally, one of my favorite details from the setup was this retro airplane seat, complete with movable arms, seat belt and tray table! We rented it from Lorgan’s Retro store along Pasir Panjang Road, they deliver and pick it up, service included in the rental fee (about 30% of purchase price).The in-flight Steward demonstrates the seat functions! As expected, the kids love sitting in it! A great place for friends and family portraits! 

Thank you everyone for flying with Captain Tyler for his 4th Birthday Party. Hope you had as much fun sharing our party details as we did putting it together (#OCDMom)!