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! 

Ocean Suite-Unforgettable Underwater Fantasy at Resorts World Sentosa 

The Ocean Villas are a series of 11 uber-exclusive duplex underwater suites located next to the Equarius and Espa Hotel complex at Resorts World Sentosa. 

To say that this is a room with a window to an underwater aquarium would be a major understatement. I’m not sure I can capture the intense wonder and incredible beauty of the experience in words, so I’m going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking!   

 We check in and the boys are mesmerized from the start at the thousands of fish and marine life they can see in this massive underwater aquarium, the largest in Asia by water-gallon size!

    The floor boards are removable and uncover a sunken bathtub, which Tyler immediately wants to sit in! We make him a fluffy bubble bath and he spends the next 90 minutes entranced in water play next to the ocean. 
  Daddy is equally captivated!

I would say that we are extremely frequent travelers, and have stayed in incredible luxury hotels around the world, but the Ocean Villa remains an experience unto itself! 

Upstairs, there is a living room, with a sofa that converts to a daybed, and a second bathroom with shower facilities. There’s a private outdoor deck and jacuzzi – perfect for a little water play or inviting a couple of friends over to chill!   

 Daddy and the boys cool down with a little water play!
The absolute highlight of course remains the underwater bedroom. It’s hard to take your eyes of the floor-to-ceiling window as the fish seem intent on putting on a spectacular show. I used to be an avid scuba diver, and was able to tell the boys that the fish and creatures we were seeing were a real treat – this is the stuff of scuba diving fantasy!  We see dozens of rays (giant stingrays eagle rays etc), sharks (nurse sharks, leopard sharks and a hammerhead shark), schools of trevally, tuna and even Manta Rays – constantly swimming by our window to peek in!  
 At some point, I figure they’re also checking us out, like Little Mermaid Ariel, I guess they’re curious about us too! It results in an incredible underwater experience, which I can only describe as a glorious symphony of aquatic life in your window, a full immersion into their underwater universe!  View from our bed, after closing hours of the aquarium (below), we have the fish all to ourselves, and we watch them well into the night, long after the boys had gone to sleep!  The suite was so stunning that we decided to invite a few friends over next morning to share the treat! We catered some juice, coffee and pastries, and the hotel did a pretty little setup for us.     

   Why wouldn’t you want to share a view this spectacular! 

The boys also really enjoyed that there was a buggy to take us around the resort – another highlight for Tyler!   Before checking out, they take us on a tour of Beach Villas, the sister category to the Ocean Suites (you can also enjoy access to this pool when staying at the Ocean Suites). Each Beach Villa has its own walk-in access to the free-form pool, a private deck and jacuzzi and shallow area with sun-chairs in the water! I’ve already started planning our next staycation! 

And the price tag? Well let’s just say I think the properties aren’t fully marketed because they keep them, especially the Ocean Suites for the enjoyment of the RWS casino high rollers.  

Rack rates are SG$2200, approx US$1600 a night for the Beach Villas and SG$3000, approx US$2220 for the Ocean Villas (in April 2016). 

Yes, eyewateringly expensive, but I can leave you with a couple of important tips: Book during off-peak (generally May, August, September -minus school holiday season, and late October to November) they offer special rates (I’ve seen as low as SGD$1,200 – around US$890+) online before for the Beach Villas, and below SGD$2,000 (US$1480) for the Ocean Villa. Oh, and if you’re going to part that pretty penny – try to get the best suites; room 0907 and 0908 apparently have the best view, directly opposite the viewing gallery. 

While it’s definitely pricey (comparable to Maldives over-water villas), I dare say it’s the experience of a lifetime, and even if you just stay for just one night, it will be something you remember for the rest of your life! 
  

Diggersite – Bob The Builder comes to Life! 

Like many three year olds, mine adores Bob and his machines, especially that yellow digger called Scoop.  We sprinted here after we came across Diggersite when a friend shared a link. They have no website (at time of post) but they have a Facebook page. 
   Diggersite is located at 1020 East Coast Park #01-04, between a Burger King and a Prawning place. He could hardly contain his excitement when he saw the diggers, and wanted to jump in one right away!   

There are a total of six diggers in three stations, two outdoors and one indoors. They are working small scale replicas of actual diggers.   We started at this the station where you try to swing the digger arm and knock down the bottles – or at least that’s what I thought! It hardly mattered, he was just excited to sit in one and rotate left to right (I will be uploading a video clip in my IG @tjinlee if you want to see this)!     His face when the ride stops. 

It costs $7 for a 5 minute ride. For a kid his age, it’s pretty similar to sitting in one of those $2 mall joy rides in a shopping center… But 100 times cooler! We bought 3 credits for $18 (then had to add $7 for his fourth ride)!
   We venture out into the excavation site where there were three diggers set around a sand pit filled with bricks and buckets.  

He was not so enthused when we were told it was advisable for me to ride with him, as he was too little to really operate the digger.  

 (I’m not in my builder attire as we came straight here after a day of back-to-back work meetings for mama – my attempt at work-life balance, and highlight of my day.)

We attempt to operate our digger and were able to rotate the machine, lower and raise the digger arm and scoop and pick up and dump sand. It revealed to my son that his mother is not terribly coordinated nor good at remembering  which lever swiveled which way to go up, down, tilt or rotate…  

Meantime, in the digger opposite us, a far more coordinated father-son duo were busy and efficiently scooping sand into the little buckets in the sand (show offs)!

After 5 minutes of riding with me, I decided to let him have his own ride. He enjoyed just sitting in it and pushing all the levers around, looking like a real pro! 

  

  There are bricks scattered in the sand so you can also attempt to pick those up with your scoop. 

After two rides on the excavator diggers, we head indoors to try the claw digger, which is like a giant version of the amusement park claw machine. 

I coerced him into wearing the construction hat (there’s also a vest but he’s not that cooperative), which you can loan without charge when playing with the diggers. 

   
    
  It’s really hard to operate these indoor diggers if you’re three years old – or maybe my son just inherited his mother’s lack of coordination skills. As before he just really enjoyed sitting in the digger and pulling all the levers, so it was great fun nonetheless! 

   

His face (again!) when it stops.

The biggest tip I can give you is to come on a weekday. I read that they are really crowded on weekends, and it can be a very long wait for an excited toddler who can’t wait to jump in a digger, to have 3-4 other kids queued up before his turn.

Diggersite opens from 10am to 10pm, and there are floodlights at night ensure the place is bright as day, without the scorching heat and sun. 

We had an awesome end to the day with OJ at Burger King, followed by the discovery of these four seater family bikes in the rental place next door where toddlers can sit up front with their own steering wheel…But that’s another story.  

 

Sensory Play Exploration – With Tickle Your Senses

Which kid doesn’t like playing with dough and making their own gooey slime! Sharing an awesome experience that we had with Tickle Your Senses when I discovered them at a pop-up event at Trehaus a couple weeks ago. 

These Sensory Play enthusiasts create workshops (and can even run activity stations at kids parties and events)  and sell cool, thoughtfully conceived toolkits that include water play beads and their own hand-made dough (which smells divine like essential oils, unlike commercial play dough).  He starts out by watching the fun, before getting his own bowl to make his own lovely slime!

   With the help of the sensory play specialists and founders of Tickle Your Senses, Felicia and Chiao Chyi, they pour in the ingredients that make up the slime and Tyler has a fun time stirring and mixing it all up!  

You can choose the color of your own slime, and we opt for the bright turquoise. 
Add the color into the paste and mix it all up…  

 Stir and stir until it develops a gooey consistency… Voila! Blue slime!     It’s a fun activity that kids can enjoy individually, with adult help, or in a group. 
  These two cousins enjoy making goo together (I think I should send them for cooking classes soon!)  

  You know what’s really awesome about the goo, it can even blow up into a balloon!  

Alas! I didn’t get any pics because Tyler hasn’t quite got the hang of blowing a balloon yet, but I saw some of the older kids doing it! Huffing and puffing… 
  Apart from goo, kids can also play with the dough, and buy the home play sets which come with rollers, cutters and stencils. 

Look at the cute packaging- this set below comes with body parts so you can make your own Mr Potato type characters.  They also make great gifts ($22.90 for the play dough tool kits, variety of themes to choose from including Farm animals, Alphabets etc).  

 He also really loves the Water Beads set ($18.90) that we bought. We didn’t play with them in the session at Trehaus, but we brought those water toolkits home for hours of endless water play that’s not too messy!   

Finally, I must share with you the Storytime Workshops that these awesome folks organize. Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site is one of Tyler’s favorite story books.  

 I can already imagine the fun he’s going to have – getting to make slime, play with construction vehicles that he loves in the muck, see, hear and feel his favorite story! 

    
 Check out their website now (above images from Tickle Your Senses) or find them on IG @tickleyoursenses for details on the 12 or 19 March sessions. I’ve already booked Tyler into the 19 March session as he had so much fun… And best of all, it’s also a DROP OFF workshop (for kids aged 3 to 6), so I’m going to chill with coffee at Jewel Cafe downstairs while my little monkey enjoys 90 minutes of Storytime and sensory play… Aaaaah, I’m looking forward to it already!

Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, follow @trehauscowork on Instagram and Facebook to find more quality family-friendly  activity coming soon to Trehaus Kids!