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! 

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! 

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! 
  

My Tot Friendly Travel : Melbourne (Part 2: Hotels, Dining & Highlights)

I’ve covered our top family-friendly Melbourne activities in my previous post, in this one I will share our favorite eats, where we stayed, and tips for getting about.

 Starting with where we stayed, I believe that the hotel can be about 50% of the entire experience – from its location, which enhances or affects all the logistics, to the general enjoyment based on comfort and interaction with the city. So yes, hotels are extremely important to me, and the first thing I look at when I travel.

When I asked around, 9 out of 10 people who live in, or traveled regularly to, Melbourne heartily recommended the Crown Hotels (Metropole and Tower). It can be pricey, but is a very central and convenient place to stay. The other recommendation that came online for a family booking was the Stamford Plaza Melbourne. Both had great reviews on Tripadvisor.

We spent four nights in the Crown Towers (we stayed in and highly recommend the Suite, we booked on http://www.hotels.com and got the Suite for about AUD620 per night in peak season, the same price as my friend paid for a Deluxe room on another website for the same trip, the suite was twice the size and twice as nice!).

We also stayed three nights in Stamford Plaza, as we liked the location in Little Collins Street, literally a stone’s throw from all the hip eateries and main shopping belt. We recommend Crown Towers but found the Stamford Plaza unimpressive – rooms were dark and a little old, our room sliding door actually came off its hinge and there were insufficient windows so the place was dark. The rooms were also really small, too small to fit a cot or spare bed comfortably. We were more than happy to move over to Crown Towers after three days.

He settles in like a boss.    That view though!

 Don’t forget to bring your swimmers! There’s this gorgeous huge indoor heated pool, kept at about 30 degrees and with beautiful skylights so the place is filled with natural light but the water stays warm all year round.  Finally, enjoying a soak in the bath tub- his favorite pastime in hotels!

If you were looking for an alternative location though, the hotel we would recommend would be the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, along Collins Street. It had an unbeatable location right on the main shopping and dining stretch, and a nice buzzy cafe in front.

The first thing we did after we checked in was to make a visit to the Eureka Skydeck on Level 88. It’s the highest vantage point open to the public, and offers awe-inspiring 360 degree bird’s eye views of the city.


 The Eureka Skydeck is only steps away from the bustling and buzzy South Bank, and also where the Crown casinos are located. The best way to experience this beautiful waterfront part of the city is on foot (and stroller).

Hello seagull…   He got sleepy and grumpy halfway through (likely the 3 hour time difference which had him sleepy by 6pm) , thanks goodness we brought the stroller!
  Moving on to our Top 5 dining experiences (with toddler in tow):

1) Hardware Societe
So there’s this iconic little French breakfast-brunch place nestled in the middle of town on 120 Hardware Street, walking distance from Little Collins Street where we were staying. You can’t make reservations, I gather they’re pretty full most of the time. They have a limited number high chairs, we scored only one – but as many places in Melbourne don’t have high chairs at all, this wasn’t unexpected.

With a name like “Hardware Societe” I had expected a modern, industrial setup, a little of that factory-chic type eatery – but nope, it’s kind of a low-key, laid back rustic cafe with butterfly wallpaper and little marble tables. It’s not a big place at all, about 40 seats indoors and another 20 outdoors.
 The coffee here is freshly made, and so served one latte/ cappuccino at a time. Not posh, but served fresh and piping hot. Good stuff!  We ordered an iced chocolate for Bubu thinking we would get like, a milo with ice cubes in it… And this is what arrived!    OMG. Chocolate milk on a bed of fudge sauce laden with vanilla ice cream! Clearly not what I (as the parent of a two year old) envisioned for breakfast when I asked for an iced chocolate! Notwithstanding my iced chocolate expectations, he loved it of course! #supersugarhigh

     
Breakfast here was really really good! Traditional fare, nothing exceptionally new or creative, but just really fresh, hearty and well-done. We had the Baked Eggs and Chorizo, Lobster Eggs Benedict and Contintental Breakfast – none of the orders disappointed. Easy to see why this place is packed out. Worth the little wait!

2) Pure South Dining

We visited this restaurant located on Southgate at the South Bank waterfront (well there’s no real view of the water, maybe I mean on the main walkway) while staying in Crown Towers. It came highly recommended by a local, as his absolute favorite restaurant in the whole city, so we gave it a try.

Cuisine is best described as Modern Australian with a focus on fresh Australian and Tasmanian produce. I’m not much of a food reviewer so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking …Scallops

Fresh fish of the day


Seared tuna

Lamb loin  Beef steak

All in all, we really enjoyed dining at Pure South. They don’t have high chairs like many other Melbourne dining establishments, but food and service were faultless, and the other diners were welcoming of our occasionally fussy toddler, and didn’t glare at us once, instead giving him occasional nods and smiles.

3) Cumulus Inc

Located on Flinders Lane, this is another highly-recommended restaurant in Melbourne that doesn’t take reservations. We tried our luck on a Sunday evening, arriving at 6:30pm and found the place fairly empty. The restaurant has a great vibe with high ceilings and a bustling open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.

Again, they didn’t have high chairs but they were able to give us seating in the corner banquette area so the kids could sit on the sofa, and that worked out just fine.   The restaurant did get more crowded later in the evening, but not to the point where there was a long wait or line for anyone.

 We ordered sharing plates – Parma ham, Ox tongue, Sweet & Sour cauliflower and Tuna Tartare. All really good, we had seconds of the cauliflower, and the Tuna Tartare atop pea mash and goat curd which came highly recommended was indeed very tasty!

 

    Beef for the main course, and I can’t remember what dessert we had, but we demolished everything!  Heartily enjoyed and would recommend Cumulus Inc.

4)  Cutler & Co

Upscale restaurant in an old metalworks factory with an open kitchen, posh decor and a pricey menu, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Located in the arty and bohemian Fitzroy area, described as a “foodie Mecca” online, top 10 in Australia (#10 in Melbourne on Tripadvisor) – and one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

  Again, no high chairs but as you can see, the little ones settle quite comfortably into the banquettes (and when wedged between two adults, are quite well contained-phew!)   We ordered lots of plates to share – everything was really fresh, and exquisitely presented. My favorites were the pastrami on toast and the duck leg – Mmmmmmm!

    
  

5) Hammer & Tong 412

We can’t wrap up a Melbourne food journal without at least one more brunch/ brekkie place, which is what seems to be a signature of the  Melbs dining scene.

Hammer & Tong is an unpretentious little cafe (I would guess it seats about 50 in total) with an amazingly innovative menu and options that will have you wishing you could order for 5-6 people, as there are so many tempting dishes that you will want to try!

We waited 10 minutes for a table (decent), and 45 minutes for the food (not okay! The waitstaff apologized to us twice for the exceptionally long wait – but with a baby and a hungry toddler, it was just too long a wait for food). So I would suggest either not going on a Saturday morning, or not going with hungry kids – we ended up feeding Bubu gummy bears to keep his hunger at bay and he ate about 26 then wasn’t hungry any more!)

   The Soft Shell Crab burger and Ox Cheek Eggs Benedict are two of the signature dishes here. Both very very good. 

The ramen is another signature dish.

Signing off with another gratuitous Jakey photo…  And our entire itinerary below which may come in handy when planning!


Melbourne itinerary
Day 1

  • Arrive and check in
  • Chill out – Eureka Sky Deck

Day 2

  • 930am arrive collingwood farm
  • 10am Collingwood Farm – Cow Milking, The Farm Cafe is supposed to be good
  • 12pm Lunch at Abbotsford Convent
  • 2pm Diamond Valley Railway (11-5pm) 570 Main Road, Elkham Victoria – 30 min from Melbourne only open Sunday
  • Montsalvat Artists Colony (close 5pm)
  • 630pm Cumulus Inc Dinner – 45 Flinders Lane (no bookings taken)

Day 3

  • 9am drive to Belgrave (1 hour)
  • 10am Arrive, sort out ticketing, take photos, buy snacks and drinks
  • 11.10am Puffing Billy departure to Lakeside- 1 hour train ride) 1 hour Lakeside- Lunch
  • 230pm return train (1 hour return) Arrive back at Belgrave station around 330pm. Drive back to Melbourne 1 hour. Arrive back at hotel 330-4pm
  • 5pm Snack / Asian tapas at Chin Chin
  • 8pm Dinner – SuperNormal

Day 4

  • 9am Melbourne Zoo – Werribee Open Range Zoo – New toddler adventure trail program (only open Tuesday and Friday) – must call to book the safari. Book also Magic Moments with Koala (have to call) $12 per adult, 10 min up close with fave animal of your choice
  • Dinner – Pure South Dining

Day 5

  • 9am Breakfast – Hardware Societe
  • 10am Melbourne Museum (10-5pm open) – Real dinosaur bones
  • 1pm Botanic Gardens Lunch – Jardin Tan (botanic gardens observatory building – child friendly) and Children’s Garden
  • 7pm Dinner – The Meat & Wine Co

Day 6

Yarra River Day Out

  • 10am Healesville Sanctuary – Koala Bear experience with Magic Moments booking
  • 12pm Lunch and wine tastings – Coombe Farm on Melba Estate
  • Yarra Glen Adventure Playground
  • Yarra River Chocolaterie and Ice creameries – free tastings

Day 7

Brunswick street in Fitzroy- Bohemian place for street culture, art and gelato

  • 12pm Lunch at Cutler & Co Explore Fitzroy neighborhood
  • 3pm Visit to Myers and David Jones toy department
  • 7-11pm Luna Park

Day 8

  • 930am Breakfast at Hammer & Tong
  • 1pm Shopping and Lunch at Chapel Street
  • Check out and fly home

P.S. Almost forgot to share my tip for dealing with a very long line at customs when you first arrive (we arrived along with two other flights and had an Express pass but people told us near the front of the line that they had been waiting two hours!) . You can either get an Express Pass from your airlines at disembarkation (given to business class passengers and travelers with infants, they don’t automatically offer it to you if you have little ones but the customs officer told me you could ask for one from your airline). He also gave me a tip, that they bring to the front of the line those people who have children “in distress” – so if your baby is crying or fussing, they let them join the Express line. Hmm, beats waiting in line for two hours with fussy little ones!

IMG_3279

Last tip: This pram! The Mountain Buggy Nano folds up small enough to bring on the plane, and still rugged enough to go on farm trails and garden paths with ease. Best travel pram ever!

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Penang, Malaysia

So we’ve just spent a weekend (3 days and 2 nights) in sunny Penang, a short one hour flight from Singapore, but truly a world apart. Here are my photos and tips on how to make it a junior-friendly excursion!

Stylish boutique hotel Macalister Mansion may not come to the top of mind as a family friendly location, but it was an awesome experience that exceeded all expectations, and one reason we really enjoyed our experience in Penang.

Here’s the entrance, with a modernist sculpture at the arrival (which Bubu refers to as “Big Head”) as you drive up the sweeping driveway to a graceful colonial style mansion.  “Big Head” also makes an awesome photo opp … If only Bubu didnt get scared and run away!

 

This is a boutique design hotel set in a heritage mansion with only eight rooms. All the rooms were unique and had different layouts, I recommend booking way ahead to get the room you really want. Two of the rooms are adjoining if you are traveling in a larger family party.

Being a family of three, we checked into Room 3 which is the largest room with its own huge balcony, sitting area and a massive room-sized bathroom.

He had fun exploring the room, it was a good family size with a super king bed that fit us all comfortably.
Bubu LOVES the bathroom, the look on his face says it all!The bath tub is the highlight of the hotel for him. I considered for 10 seconds to let him sleep in it because he climbed right into it and lay down right away (and because Macalister isn’t entirely baby-friendly, they don’t provide extra beds or baby cots).   Spot the Bubu below…

This is Room 2, the only room with a four poster bed, hmm… probably better for couples.

Next we proceeded to explore the grounds and various nooks and crannies in the hotel, and found…

The Living Room- A gorgeous breakfast hall – which served equally gorgeous breakfasts that  were included in the room rates. The must-try here is the unagi and scrambled egg on toast…mmmmm.

Quaint and quirky design touches can be discovered all over the hotel if you take the time to explore. The cafe had beautiful wall murals which echoed the street art in Penang.  I highly recommend brunch at the Living Room (open daily 8am to 10pm) even if you don’t stay in Macalister Mansion. The food is great, the space is pretty and the coffees are satisfying!

The cafe and gift shop space
The quaint curated offerings in the gift shop 
Just next to The Living Room is a room which houses the gift shop, and has a big central table that doubles up in the evenings as a pool table. The gift shop sells all kinds of cool curios like these funky porcelain cups. I also bought some beautiful  hard-cover children’s classic books – Peter Pan, Secret Garden and Frankenstein-  to decorate the boys’ rooms with, and hopefully become cherished keepsakes as they become older.

Next, we wandered into The Dining Room- a beautiful wonderland of a restaurant which featured an elegant all-white tree as its centerpiece and a baby blue and pink deer. Such a dreamy space for an intimate wedding dinner – love! 

Bubu would greet the animals in the little courtyard outside the restaurant each morning, with a VERY LOUD “Hello Bear!” – thankfully, with only 8 rooms, we had the whole property pretty much to ourselves (another perk of staying in a very small hotel)!

 

“HELLO BEAR!”

Giant book on the landing which shows Macalister  Mansion among other cool design hotels from all around the world.

 

(Almost) Reluctantly, we leave the sanctuary of this beautiful Gatsy-inspired mansion and head out to Penang for the real reason we are here: Street Food! 

There are many foodie blogs which detail where to go for the best this and that – so I’m not going to do that here (Don’t be lazy, do a bit of your own research!) … But I will say that the best Or Luak (oyster omelette) can be found at Lam Ah kopi tiam (opposite the fire station) and the yummiest Penang Char Kway Teow (fried seafood noodles) can be found at Pulau Tikus. Most of these local eateries do have high chairs, and they are very cute, old-school 80s style antiquities (read: bring wet wipes!!!).

Now my favorite part, the street art in Penang. So most of you will be familiar by now with these iconic wall murals. The most famous and original ones were done by artist Ernest Zacharevic – we found a series of three – the swing, the basketball and the bicycle, all in the Jalan Pantai area.

You may be asking how to find them, and in all honestly, I couldn’t exactly tell you, they’re not really side by side, as I expect they were designed to be part of an exploratory trail.

The swing is my favorite, as the bicycle can get very crowded being in the middle of a busy weekend street market which despite being closed off as a pedestrian throughfare still had cars and bikes going through.  I will tell you later though exactly how we found them, and that’s one good way to explore.

The swing was tucked away in a small side alley, no one there but us. Don’t sit on the other swing for the photo, it will block the little painted kids which are the highlight, unless your tot is so tiny he/she doesn’t go past their knees.

The basketball mural – daddy takes a shot!Other murals can also be discovered along bustling Jalan Pantai. So a good place to drop off if you want to explore the area on foot would be at China House. It looks fairly unassuming like a regular shophouse from the outside (look out for some flags on the exterior which help you locate it), but the inside is a long, snaking series of gardens and cafes.

  Inside the gorgeous interiors and escapes of the China House (with my grumpy Bubu).  Graffiti covered walls make for a subversive cool arty/underground vibe.
There’s even a pretty pond and garden inside – so unexpected.  Cake spread at the cafe inside Asia House.

There are so many fun and memorable photo spots- Enjoy yourself scouting them all out and interacting with them to create your own Penang Family Album!

It can get uncomfortably hot for tots in the afternoon, the best time to probably have gone would be about 4 or 5pm as the sun is still up, but it wouldn’t have been as hot and humid, and the market and street life would start to transition to evening.
Bubu starts to get grumpy about 20 minutes in, and and clamours to go back to the van, even though there’s so much to see and buy, that I was wishing I had brought the pram!
I really wanted a small hand-knit Totoro, but made the mistake of taking a photo first and when I turned around – it was gone! Many of the things in the market are one-off or hard to find again, so if you see something you love, just buy it first!
    Another place we loved for having uber cool decor was the Awesome Canteen. Being stuffed already, we didn’t get to try the food and drinks, but it’s on my must-try when we return list.  Check out the photo below, it’s like dining in the sunny courtyard of a heritage house.

 We find lovely photo corners all around Jalan Pantai.

That pout though…   

Grumpy Bubu…
Spoiling my photos!
  Three men and a (grumpy) baby.

Bubu finally gets happy again when we get back to the van!

Next we head on to Penang Hill to catch the train that takes you to the top of the hill, one of Penang’s most popular attractions.

  Waiting for the train…On board the train with the “aunties and uncles” as he calls them. We traveled in a group of 7 adults and Bubu,  and I’m happy to share that Penang if well-planned (like having a van with a driver that fits everyone), is a fabulous group destination that can accommodate both adults and kids.
The journey by train takes about 10 minutes up and down either way.  If I’m honest, I don’t see a lot to do at the top of the hill- unless you’re big time into scenery, and maybe it was the haze, but it wasn’t all that clear, and Bubu got bored after about 10 minutes.

However, I would still recommend this place because of the stupendous train ride.

Here’s the million dollar tip: Sit at the very front of the train coming down. Pay the RM30 extra for the express ticket – there seems to be less of a queue going up than down). We saw the snaking, long queue that would take about three train loads to clear – not great with small kids, so we bought the express pass at the top for the return journey, which gave us access to an air-conditioned waiting room and the privilege to board the train first. Of course we made a beeline for the first row with a huge window overlooking the track directly – and this totally made the trip worthwhile (best SG$10 you can spend to make sure baby and you get the best sears in da house)!

After a day of eating and sightseeing, we carried on with more gluttony into the night, dining at the Jetty Restaurant in Bukit Tambun. It’s not as scenic as it looks in these photos, mainly smelly fishy water and it took us an hour to drive out to the mainland. The food was so-so, I would give it a miss traveling with young ones, especially if you’re on a short weekend trip. 

Getting back to the hotel, we spoil Bubu with a bubble bath before bedtime. He really enjoyed himself and is still saying “Bubu go bath tub”- two whole days later! 

Good morning Macalister Mansion!  Note, Room 3 is the only one with a balcony and it has quite a low railing, so if you’re traveling with more than one tot, or unable to keep an eye on your little one all the time, lock the door leading to the balcony- that’s just safety common sense.

That view though! We check out the pool before heading out for the day. Good news! It’s baby-friendly with shallow splash areas, and also daddy friendly with a bar built into the pool. We headed out for a spot of shopping on Gurney Drive, where you’ll find big shopping centers like Paragon and G Plaza next to the iconic Gurney open-air hawker centre. Another highlight for Bubu, we found a kids amusement area on level 4 of G Plaza where we changed RM20 (about SG$7) worth of tokens and he rode on all the car, plane, helicopter and train rides to his little heart’s content!

Tip: make a video on your phone of him riding each ride if he’s the kind of kid that loves to watch his own videos. Bubu has been reliving the joy of these Gurney Plaza rides over and over again – RM20 well spent indeed!

We wrapped up a busy weekend with high tea  at the E&O Hotel. It’s kinda like the Raffles Hotel of Singapore… Ish. The pool was super crowded when we checked it out, and the hotel can smell a little old and musty- but it’s still a grand old dame, and you can have lovely tea and scones there if that’s your cup of tea! (Note: they are purist about their colonial style high tea. We asked if we could have coffee and were met with a snooty negative!… I would take the Living Room at Macalister Mansion for tea in a heartbeat over stuffy E&O for a fraction of the price).The waterfront at E&O is a little hazy and grey.   Still in the mood for  taking fun photos, these canons are part of the heritage setting at this historic hotel.   High tea at the E&O (I did say it looks a lot like Raffles Hotel).   Bubu is grumpy because he still wants to go back to the van!

Happiness!

Okay, so I wanted to end by sharing that apart from the standout experience at Macalister Mansion, the tip to ride at the very front of the train coming down from Penang Hill and the Or Lua at Lam Ah – the best tip I can give you is to book a driver and car (in our case a van) for getting around. First, a good driver comes equipped with local knowledge on where to go, and won’t take you to the tourist traps, and he will be able to take you straight to all the fun street art and murals (even those tucked away)!

I am happy to recommend my van driver, Mr Ong +60 16 473 2138. He was patient, friendly, always nearby and knew all the places we wanted to go to. He collected us from the airport, dropped us off, and charged RM500 per day for 10 hours , and always had a smile on his face. This could explain why Bubu was always asking for the van! If you are a smaller group traveling and don’t need a van, you can call Mr Teh +019-411-9703.  Mr Teh was recommended by a friend of mine who swears by his services, and Mr Ong was his introduction when we needed a van.

One last note: there can be quite a lot of walking in Penang – with the street markets, walking trails etc- if you have a grumpy (and extra heavy) toddler like mine, a pram could be a lifesaver! I can’t recommend enough a pram that folds up small enough to hoist into an airplane overhead compartment, cutting out the wait on arrival where even if you are first to exit the plane, you are last to reach the customs. This one is the Mothercare XXS, smallest pram in the world (and check out the funky leopard print)! Clocking in at a mere 3.9kg, it still supports my giant baby at 20kg (even though we are over the recommended weight limit); we actually bought it for future travel with Baby Jake, and I foresee a lot of use coming out of this little lifesaver!