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)! 

Jake’s First Birthday – It’s a Panda Party! 

Jake’s favorite toy is a simple black and white panda from Ikea. He has many fancy toys, but somehow Panda is his favorite. 

The one toy he hugs to sleep and carries around the house, his one true love.

For his first birthday we decided to throw a panda party, as that was something he could probably relate to.

After three very elaborate parties for big brother, and realizing that Tyler remembered nothing from those parties, I decided on a DIY party for Jake. It’s not so very difficult once you set a theme, to build a party around it.

We started with the dessert table. Once you have the cake and dessert table sorted out, that’s probably 50% of the job done! We got ours from Little House of Dreams. I found clippings of inspirations and ideas that I liked (just google your theme), sent those to the folks of LHOD and they turned out the gorgeous table that was the centrepiece of our Panda Party! 
Vanilla cupcakes Cake pops in mini comes Panda donuts 

The cake!

Voila! On my request, we added silver foil balloons spelling out his name and black and white pom poms – and the effect was exactly what I hoped for! 

I do have one party-planning tip though: The dessert table only contained sweets, and I did expect that some of my guests might want savories. To keep within a budget, I simply ordered savory mini tarts and a selection of mini croissants from Delifrance they have a little catering menu which is extremely affordable. I recommend that you re-plate them though. See how fabulous they look on simple wooden boards, square plates and cake stands! You can find most of these styles of boards and plates at IKEA.

Just have them collected an hour before the party starts, and with the help of a friend (or two), everything can be beautifully plated within 15 minutes! If you don’t know how many to order, just estimate that each adult guest could eat about four canapés, and that would be a safe number to order (eg 30 guests x 4 = 120 mini tarts).

Last note on F&B: Don’t forget pretty plates and matching napkins! It’s important to pay attention to details. These were also from Little House of Dreams.

 Next up – I love scattering gifts around the party for guests, almost like a little treasure hunt, which makes the event fun and engaging and carries the theme through.  I ordered black and white bibs, panda socks and panda hats, and even panda iPhone covers for the mums and dads- through Up Bub and Away. You can see some of the panda items in their Panda-themed gift set. They are also able to source according to specific requested themes if you contact them at least 8 weeks ahead. 


A big tip for kids’ party-planning, try to keep it age-specific; you can’t really have a party that caters from one to twelve years old. Kids at these ages enjoy different activities, and big kids in the same bouncy castle or ball-pit as small ones can over-run them. 

As this was a party for a one year old, I capped the guest list to kids two and below. I did plan an activity table to occupy their older siblings (more on that later), but I decided that our party should focus on babies and activities that they would enjoy. 

Another major success tip: The venue is all-important. An outdoor venue can leave your with hot, cranky toddlers and babies! 

We booked the Kids Atelier at Trehaus. The space has high ceilings and is filled with natural sunlight. They have affordable weekend rental packages, which can include  drinks and catering. 

I order six black & white baby walkers online, which work fabulously for babies who aren’t quite walking yet. The black and white walkers fit in perfectly with the monochromatic party scheme.

Little guests totally enjoying the walkers! Then I made a DIY ballpit with an inflatable float from ToysR’Us and filled it with ELC balls that I bought Mothercare (it takes about 5 bags of balls to fill a circular ballpit about 5 feet wide). 

As for making the guests feel at home, I rented black and white bean bags from Doob. They’re actually an awesome bean bag retailer, but they do also rent out bean bags for parties and events. 

As many of the little guests aren’t actually walking yet, and many are still crawling in fact. I decided to make this a no-shoes party to keep the floor clean for them (hence all the gift socks above… Aaaaah, now you see!), and the soft, plush and cosy bean bags were perfect for this occasion (and spill-proof)! 

To complement my all black and white theme, Doob threw in some Topiary bean bags which I absolutely love! 

Next up, the Panda adoption station. We bought a bunch of pandas from Ikea, identical to his favorite panda and others we ordered from Up Bub & Away

We bought ribbons from Jalan Sultan and index cards from Daiso and created personalized name tags for all the pandas!  We let big brother Bubu get involved by naming all the pandas, so many of them ended up wth rather eccentric names – Hoony, Teacup and Dudu among others.

Mayhem the night before, where Bubu wants to unroll all my ribbons and Jake is a little overwhelmed to see so many pandas! The finished result, our Panda Adoption station where all our little black and white friends found new homes!  

Now we know I’m big into personalization, as that’s what people really remember. I created personalized Panda gift tags for all the kids, which doubled up as Luggage/ School Bag tags. 
I ordered mine from Lugo Co which are a cool little business I discovered on Instagram. You can DM or drop them a Line and they made all my Panda tags within about 10 days. Loved these! They turned out so well! Now to fill these gorgeous goodie bags with something memorable… I worked with Carda to create personalized stationary for all the little guests. Each guest received their own custom note cards (which came with elegant envelopes, which are perfect as Thank You and Birthday Gift note cards that are sure to impress!

As for party entertainment, I decided to forego the usual magic show and balloon-twister as the kids are really too young to appreciate these. Instead, I ordered Panda walking balloons for each kid to take home as a fun souvenir. These worked really great, because the kids loved them so much they dragged them out to play right away, and filled the space with much happiness  and laughter. 
You The other main activity was the sensory table we booked with Tickle Your Senses. The awesome ladies there created a custom panda themed station for is, where kids got to create their own Panda on a mountain with real bamboo leaves, using hand-made play-dough, and play with black and white water beads. 

This activity station was a huge hit, and best of all, kept the bigger kids occupied for the whole two hours! 

Who doesn’t love beautiful photos of their kids? Tempting as it is to have daddy shoot it all on his iPhone or point-and-shoot camera, this was the one thing I didn’t cut costs on, because the photos are all that your one year old is going to have, to remember his first ever party by. Make sure the photos are good. A dedicated photographer can also help you work the room and make sure all your guests are captured.

No stress, so daddy can also hang out with his friends! I booked both an event photographer and photo station (which they can design to your theme) from Instangraphy. They took most of the lovely photo I used here, as well as family portraits for my guests, against a black and white striped background. 


I thought the stripes worked well as opposed to a cutesie panda backdrop because you still want these to be photos your guests can keep as family portraits, and not just as party favors. 

Lastly, I’m a fan of dress codes as that can give you great party pictures!  With a panda theme, this one was easy – Black and White, of course! Here’s a wonderful photograph below of all our guests and their little ones dressed in theme!

That about sums up everything we did for Jake’s first birthday party! 

Perhaps I’ll leave you with a final tip!  We booked a Cake Smash and photo shoot for Jake. I think it’s a lovely “new tradition” (oxymoron?)! It’s a great opportunity to capture the historic milestone of Jake’s first birthday, and create keepsakes to cherish and share with him when he’s older. We booked ours with Little House of Dreams and Studio Loft who have a Cake x Studio Shoot package available. 

We also used the cake smash image as a birthday party reminder, using a simple design/layout app to add the text (I used Rhonna on this one).
And that’s all folks! Happy planning – enjoy every minute! It was a fair amount of work, but also so much fun! I’ve begun planning for his next birthday already 😉 

Pororo Park Singapore – Indoor Amusement Park for Toddlers

The first thing that may strike one at the entrance of Pororo Park – is how pricey the tickets can be. But by the time you’re standing in front of the park, with all its bells and whistles – a real train on a track, a brightly colored play area in the front entrance… It can be challenging to deny your excited toddler access to the park. The question may be whether it’s worthwhile to check it out – here’s our experience. The park features a few activity stations, and can appear smaller than you expect once you’re inside. It is however, really good for younger children and toddlers who don’t need big spaces to run and play and there are a lot of activity areas catered to that age group. I would recommend this for kids from 10 months (Jake’s age at time of visit) up to about four years. 


The activity tables in front feature a variety of vehicles and a set of car ramps – nothing exciting in itself, but it captivates Tyler and it takes me ages to pry him away from this table to explore other areas. He has many similar toys at home, including exactly the same toy ramp, but somehow for kids it’s always more fun when it’s not your own toys. 

One of the highlights of the indoor park is this lovely blue and white ball pit with a shark feature where you can “feed” balls into its gaping maw. It’s a good sized ball-pit and both boys enjoy having a roll-around in it. Not to mention it’s right by the window where there’s loads of natural sunlight, so it’s a great place to take happy photos of the little ones! 

Near the entrace, there is a tiny supermarket corner, which Jake really likes sitting in. It has a few tiny supermarket carts, with fruit and veggie props and two checkout counters. It’s small, and suitable for younger kids. Jake is happy to crawl around and fiddle with the brightly colored props.Next up, there is a toddler-friendly padded play course with a slide, a couple of observation pods and nooks for crawling and climbing. 
It’s not a very big play area, relative to play parks like Fidgets and Amazonia, but it’s adequate and very good for babies and under-twos. At three, Tyler was able to navigate with confidence around this course by himself, which of course is plus points from a parents’ point of view = less convoluted contortion, adult-accompanied crawling and climbing.  

The slide isn’t very big, but it’s a good size for kids two and below, and Tyler also really enjoyed it. 

For Pororo fans, there’s a Pororo house inside, where you can crawl inside to see the kid-sized furniture and rooms including a bed and shower. We didn’t spend very long in there because there were other things that really caught their attention…

…in case you’re wondering where he’s sprinting towards – the highlight in Pororo Park, is this “life-sized” actual train which goes in a loop near the front window. 

It’s definitely the feature that draws many to the park. It runs on a schedule (every 60-90 minutes or so), so you don’t really have to worry about what time it runs as your visit should overlap with at least one train run. 

Jake really REALLY loves the train, and he can ride it five times in a row without getting bored. He’s able to sit by himself , there’s a seat belt and and an attendant walks next to the train. (This was the main reason we signed up for the annual Silver membership- more on that later).  His face (below) when we tell him he has to out now!

It’s also pretty cool that I’ve never seen a line for the train, even when the park is crowded, we are usually able to board without waiting for more than one train load. In fact, once most kids have ridden it once, they seem happy to move on to other activities, so while there’s a rush for the train when it first starts, it runs for half an hour each time and by the last few rides, most carriages are empty and Jake gets to go round and round without getting off as there’s no line at all. 

There’s a cafe in Pororo Park, where mums and minders can sit and hang out. The menu isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s bright and cheerful, a pleasant enough place to sit with a cup of coffee (and a laptop)!

Jake seems to really enjoy the cookies! 

Munching, chewing and smizing…

So Pororo Park is rather pricey, compared to other indoor play parks. I suppose to answer whether it’s worth its steep entry price ($33 per entry + $6 per accompanying adult) – it depends on how old your kids are, and how much they love engaging with the space.  

I’ve brought Jake to other indoor play spaces (average price $22-$25 per entry), but many were not catered to babies and toddlers. I also like the central, family-friendly Marina Square location.  

It’s not about how big the park is, but really whether the activities offered really interest your kids (eg that activity table with the cars looks like a waste of space especially compared to slides, ball parks and train rides – but that’s what my threenager loves MOST and was able to play there for over half an hour) – so my little ones really enjoyed Pororo Park and instead of shelving out $70 per visit (which is what it would cost approximately for 2 kids and accompanying adults), we decided to look at the membership packages. 

In the end, we opted for the $499 Silver membership (25 visits in 12 months, entry waived for two accompanying adults) – so that the grandmas and nannies can take the kids there too. 

It seems pricey upfront (way more than our Universal Studios Annual Express pass which is only $288!) – but at the end of the day, to be practical – I have a toddler and a baby, and I’ll be using my Pororo Park membership way more than my Universal Studios annual pass… Did I mention indoors and air-conditioned … Enough said! 

Spa Escapes: ESPA (Resorts World Sentosa)

We (my two girlfriends and I) were looking for an afternoon escape, somewhere to lose ourselves – no kids!- and decided to take a half day off our hectic work schedules to check into ESPA at Resorts World.  

So THIS is the sight that greets you as you enter the green sanctuary that is ESPA. We feel an amazing sense of calm, as if we have entered an oasis a thousand miles from every day cares.

We start off with healthy juices at Tangerine, the spa cafe, unwinding before our treatments. The cafe is really pretty, filled with sunlight, set in a glass house nestled amidst a backdrop of water, nature and greens. They encourage us to wander out in our spa robes, and because it’s such an exclusive setting, we hardly see another soul, we are quite happy to do so! 

This is the Tea Lounge (below), where they pick you up for your treatments. It overlooks the heated Rock Pool- where you can enjoy an outdoor onsen-style experience pre or post-treatment. 
This is me (above), totally blissed out… We still can’t believe this is actually in Singapore – just 15 minutes away from the central business district!…and check out these awesome pods in the Sleep Lounge! They resemble First Class suite beds, and come with reading lamps for some quiet time. These would be so amazing if we were doing a full-day at the spa, or if you were just a frazzled, harassed mama who wanted to escape for an hour of total silence.

The spa treatment rooms aren’t as spectacular as the outdoor pool and lounge areas. The rooms are small and don’t have much of a view, but the skilled therapists and quality of our massage (all three of us compared notes after) – had us agreeing we could have done an even longer treatment (we did the 90 minute personalized massage). 

After our treatments, we roll out like pampered poodles to enjoy the hot rock pools, then jump into the cold plunge pool (gaaaaaaaah… such a hair-raising experience – chilling but super refreshing!). We also loved that there was a separate ladies only hot pool (picture below) and cold plunge pool connected to the changing area; the gentlemen have their own pools attached to their respective change areas.

We wrap up with a three-course healthy dinner at Tangerine, featuring cuisine by award-winning celebrity chef Ian Kittichai, who is renowned for mixing classic flavors with a range of innovative cooking techniques. While the menu at Tangerine is very small (only 2-3 options each for appetizers, mains and dessert), the dishes do not disappoint. See below – as yummy as its pretty!

To us, the highlight of ESPA is actually its lush resort-style design and ambience, set around a pond amidst a natural, tropical forest setting. With its outdoor pools and luxe lounges. I can’t imagine any city spa could give the same sense of complete escape.

I believe it’s very important for moms to have their own ‘me’ time. Sandwiched between the demands of work, family, kids and everything else – there’s very little self-time left. This spa getaway – even if just for a short half-day was like “chicken soup for the soul” – healing, rejuvenating, pure ‘me’ time to recharge and reconnect with old friends. 

It’s hard to say goodbye, and after just four hours here, we leave already planning our next Spa escape. 
Note: Prices for a 60 minute personalized massage start at SG$200 – but that would give you access to all the pools, lounges and facilities. Parking can add up to quite a lot for half day, but fortunately you can fully redeem parking with a minimum spend of $400 treatments at the spa.
 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Hong Kong Disneyland

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there lived a little girl who fell in love with a Magic Kingdom called Disneyland.  Such a joyful place of happy music, fun rides, glorious lights and fireworks… But above all, she treasured the beautiful moments with her family. 

My earliest happy travel memories are from being with my family in Disneyworld in Florida, and I wanted my little princes’ first experiences of this special place to be just as magical. 

Tyler is not Disneyland newbie, as he has visited Paris Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, all under the age of two. But it’s only been on our last two trips, now that he’s three, that I feel he’s now really able to appreciate and understand what’s going on on the park.

Tyler in Paris Disneyland (18 months)
Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of all the Disney parks in the world. It even has a tiny little castle, which looks more like a turret than a castle, when compared to the soaring Disney palaces in Paris (the prettiest) and Orlando (grandest), but it’s still a Disney castle!

“It’s Disneylaaaaaand!!”

In terms of rides, the park can be covered in one day. There are only two thrill rides – Space Mountain and Grizzly Gulch, so this probably isn’t too exciting a park for teenagers, but it’s great for toddlers as many of the rides don’t have height limits or can accommodate toddlers – such as Dumbo, Cindarella’s Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Mad Hatter’s Teacups (Fantasy Land), Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear, Autopia (Tomorrowland), Slinky Dog and Parachute Drop (Toy Story Land).  

Autopia (where he can drive his own little car on one of two circuits, the height limit to ride with adults is 82cm).

Orbitron (below) which is like Dumbo, but the line moves slightly faster as each flying saucer can take four guests. 

 

Cindarella’s Carousel – a classic Disney favorite.   
  The carousel in Disneyland Hong Kong has short wait times, I’ve never seen the line longer than 15-20 minutes even when it was crowded in the park.   Dumbo is the ride with one of the longest lines. I’ve never seen it shorter than 45 minutes, the quintessential classic ride, which makes of course for iconic photos.

Your first question is probably how much time do I need to cover the park, should I stay in a Disney Hotel?  

The answer is – if you’re there for the rides and just to take some photos, a day is enough, but if you’re there to really soak in the buzz and enjoy that Disney Magic –  I would stay overnight, and I’ll tell you why. 

I’ve done the day trip version of HK Disneyland, arriving in the morning to try to do all the rides, shows and catch the fireworks. It felt hectic, like we were constantly rushing place to place in FOMO mode. I didn’t enjoy it as much. It wasn’t about the queue for rides – you’ll find that if you’re lucky, like I’ve had friends visit in September and October that said they walked on to all the rides and there was no queue at all – HK Disneyland doesn’t have the extremely long over-an-hour wait queues like Tokyo or Paris Disneyland can have. 

The longest wait I saw this trip (and we went in December which is a peak season) was 50 minutes. The rides that will likely have queues are Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh and Autopia, but none exceeded an hour. You can also plan your day to avoid the crowds and use the FastPasses, but it will still be tiring – honestly a little too intense to be enjoyable or fun, especially with a toddler in tow.

So, if you decide to stay overnight in a Disney hotel, there’s only one I would recommend you should stay at – The Disneyland Hotel.  

The view from our room at the Kimgdom Club (below.It’s a gorgeous Disney hotel, much nicer than the Disney Hollywood Hotel where some of our party stayed, then when they came over and saw the Disneyland Hotel, they regretted not paying that little bit more for the upgrade. 

There’s the Enchanted Garden with the hedge maze by the sea, there’s a playroom with soft play areas, a boat, a mini cinema (ok, a big TV, I’m a little partial to Disneyland!) where they play Disney films and cartoons and an activity corner where they have programs where the kids can learn to draw Mickey Mouse etc.    

The Kids Club playroom (below).


    

If you’re a huge fan of character photography and want to meet all the classic Disney stars (like Mickey, Minnie, Goofie, Pluto etc), I suggest you book the Character Breakfast at the Enchanted Garden in Disneyland Hotel (two seatings per day with one at 730am and another at 930am). The characters come to your table while you’re having breakfast, and cover the room methodically so you just sit tight and wait for them to approach you. The minders do shoo you back to your table if it’s not your turn, so manage the expectations of your little ones who try to run up to Mickey or Minnie to give him a big hug. And you’ll constantly hear this “Boop Boop Boop Boop” call nearby, as the photographers seem to use it to attract the attention of errant babies and toddlers who fail to pose for photos.  

Laser death stare at Minnie Mouse.    Whaaaaaat. 
Jake succumbs to the “Boop Boop Boop Boop” … But Tyler isn’t having any of that.  

Our earlier trip was in December last year so all the characters are in Christmas costumes. This time round (April trip), they were in their regular clothes.  

  “Hey boy, I like your T-shirt!”   They’re also insistent on taking photos of you and your kids on their own camera, as their goal is to sell you their pics (which they leave on your table all printed out in glossy folders, and I expect they’ll charge you if you walk out with them), but you don’t have to buy their photos, they do also help you take pics with your iPhone. 

The Princess characters aren’t as easy to locate. They take photos with guests at fixed times in Fantasyland (next to the Disney Castle). They weren’t able to tell you exactly where to find each princess until the morning of each day itself. So if you were looking for say Sophie or Belle, you would have to try your luck and just check with information desk when you arrived in the park, as there’s a different roster every day (I suppose based on which princess showed up for work haha)! Anyway, we scored photos with Anna and Elsa – bumping into them just before they closed the queue. 

Shy guy.On several visits to the park, we booked the VIP Private Tour.  This was to ensure we got to try all the rides and experience the park without losing time on lines (or grumpy toddlers). The tour allows direct access (via the exit) to all rides, and takes up to six people – kids under three don’t count, and goes for three hours. It costs HK$4688 or about US$600 (SGD850) and can be worth it if you share between 2 or 3 families. The best time to book the tour is to plan it on a three hour block ending at the start of a show time as they reserve the best seats in the house for guests on the VIP tour. I wouldn’t do the shows during the three hour tour itself (they’ll take up about 45 minutes each between seating and show times), so I recommend you check the show timings before booking the tour (you can choose from two shows – Lion King or Mickey’s Wondrous Book). Timings may change depending on time of booking, so best to check before you travel on the Disneyland Show Schedule and coincide the end time of your VIP tour with the start time of the shows you can then maximize your time on rides instead of  sitting through shows. Note: the VIP tour doesn’t let you cut the lines for character photography, you still have to wait your turn for those. 


Even if you do not to book the tour, I can share some useful tips from our tour guide. 
First, if you want to avoid the crowd and hit the park early, start by turning left of the castle, towards the Jungle and Adventureland area. Our guides shared that everyone usually starts by turning right towards Tomorrowland (I guess most people are right-handed so it’s a natural instinct to turn right instead of left?)! Strange, but these insiders believe you can avoid the crowd pattern if you work the park backwards from what most people are doing! 

Another big tip… There’s a secret spot to catch the “Paint the Night” show (not the fireworks which are at 830pm, but the electric float parade that comes just before the fireworks, at 730pm.  Instead of joining the crowds that line the streets, head to the area just next to the theatre that’s currently playing Mickey’s Wondrous Storybook. Just on the right (if you’re facing the theatre) there’s a gate where the parade starts and all the floats will come out of here. 


You can have the best view from here as its not crowded (the general public haven’t seemed to figure out that this is the starting point of the parade), so you should have a front row view and the little ones will have a fantastic time seeing their favorite floats and characters up close!  Here are some of our favorite floats, from our view at the gate where the parade begins (Photo credits for the series of night shots to my friend Mark Shaw) 

  
    
On our last trip to Disneyland (April 2016), we also discovered the best way to watch the “Disney in the Stars” fireworks. As I mentioned earlier, the Hong Kong Disneyland castle is teeny-tiny… Which means it’s hard to get an unobstructed view of the castle where you can also see the video projections that accompany the fireworks. If one or two inconsiderate people stand up or put their kids on their shoulders for a better view, it blocks the view of every person behind him.  Many people sit and wait early in a designated area right in front of the castle.  This can fill up with squatters an hour or more before the show, but it can be hard to sit and wait out there with restless toddlers in tow, so that wasn’t an option for us. 

And then we discovered that there was a special, reserved space with an amazing view, right in front of the castle (just behind the designated seating area), in an area cordoned off for VIP guest viewing.  You get access to this area if you take up the Fireworks VIP dinner package. It was pretty good value, like a 6-course Chinese dinner at the Maxim’s-operated Plaza Inn (the Chinese restaurant), and you get a wrist band that gives you access to this cordoned-off VIP area which isn’t crowded at all. We rocked up fifteen minutes before the fireworks and got an awesome spot with a dead-centre, 100% unobstructed view of the castle and fireworks. 

Worth every penny of the dinner! 

A final tip- Do HK Disneyland when the weather is cool if you can, I can vouch that it’s a much more pleasant experience. It can be so uncomfortably hot in the summer months.  We went in April and December when it was fairly cool, and found it much more enjoyable than a previous trip we made in the hot summer months.  High summer temperatures can make toddlers sweaty and cranky- and it may not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone, so do check on the average temperatures before you go, if your little one like mine, gets  grumpy when it’s hot. 
Until our next Disney trip then… (We are planning LA year – this time with Jakey too, who will then be 18 months old).

…and the two little princes love the Magic Kingdom, it became a special place of joyful family memories and they all lived happily ever after… Once upon a dream! 

TYL3R Squadron Takes Flight! 

Which three year old boy doesn’t love airplanes! Mine was no exception, so we planned a party celebrating his love of all kinds of airplanes!   

 We booked the gorgeous event hall at Hort Park, which had a big enough space to contain the motorized airplane rides we rented, and also a lawn where we placed the plane-themed merry-go-round. 

The setup featured a long runway, a video screen to play his favorite Super Wings videos, a plane-themed bouncy castle and baby ball-pit and slide for the littlest guests, oh and not forgetting an X Box PlayStation with an air-combat game for the daddies!    

   

   Especially loving his Super Wings fondant cake topped with his favorite airplane Jett, from Little House of Dreams
 Airplane themed dessert and canapé table designed by Luxe Catering.  Sky blue and red theme for the dessert table. 

 

 Aren’t these propeller cake pops adorable?   I also got these cool aviator hats which were really popular with the little guests and looked great in photos! 

   Baby brother Jake enjoys the rides too! 
 Tyler’s flight suit is from an online store called Fly Boys, where you can choose the suit and the different patches to decorate.   

I ordered personalized Ts and luggage tags for the kids who came from the Tyl3r Squadron party-  Who doesn’t love personalized keepsakes!

    Don’t forget to create a nice spot for photos!
 

  A sky-print photo wall where guests can take photos!    The little ones love this airplane roundabout! 

    
  Venue rental includes a huge lawn where the older kids can play. One big tip: Don’t try to cater to kids of ALL ages. The best parties focus on kids within an age range, there’s no way you can entertain everyone from a 2 year old to a 10 year old, so I kept the party mainly to kids his age and capped it at six years of age. Big kids get bored easily and can play rough around small kids, so I find its best to focus on kids of a certain age and keep it tight – after all, it’s your little one’s party, not yours- and it’s all about his experience on his big day!   We did however, have a PlayStation on site for the biggest kids! Keeping the daddies happy helps everyone have a good time! 
   

    

Here we all are! Airplane themed party for my fly little guy … Now on to planning Jake’s first birthday party in 3 months!

Note: I can’t take the credit for planning the party, I had the help of my awesome team at Mercury Events… And if you love the photos, look for John at Episode Photography