Tag Archives: travel

Harbin – Tigers, Snow and Ice Spectacular

We had a fabulous weekend in Harbin.  Friday January 18th, we collected the kids from school at noon ready to fly up to Harbin in the very north of China. In fact, any further north and we would have been in Russia!  Evidence of this can be seen in the town centre:

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

This was an “Emerald” weekend away as there would be 6 families staying in the same hotel and doing all the same site seeing!  We had travelled up with John, Jenny and their 2 boys: Daniel and Luke, and the others were arriving at different times during Friday and Saturday morning.  Once we had walked off the plane into the baggage claim area, we (along with every other person on the plane) immediately started to bundle up: ski gloves, scarves, additional layers.  It was cold, cold, cold!  We stepped out of the airport and felt the cold air on our faces.  It was only minus 27 degrees centigrade that night!  Luckily it was a short walk to the waiting car.  It was funny to see the inside of the car windows frost up during our 45 minute drive to the hotel.  Once we got to the hotel (Shangri-la – highly recommended in Harbin) it was time for dinner.  We dropped bags off and decided to eat in the hotel restaurant.  It was buffet style and the kids loved being able to help themselves.  We also met up with Marie and Tim and their 3 children: Cai, Lia and Seren.  They had arrived earlier this morning and had already done some sight-seeing.

We got up early on Saturday morning and began the long task of getting dressed. Layering up with thermals, long sleeves, 2 pairs of socks, sweaters and then ski coats.  Then add ski gloves and liners, hats, ear muffs, face warmers and scarves!!  Poor Isabelle and Oliver did not like wearing so many clothes and they weebled their way down the hotel corridor to the elevator!  They both look the Michelin Man!  We had arranged for a mini-bus to take us, John & Jenny + family and Tim & Marie + family to the Tiger breeding station first.

Tiger Breeding Organization

Tiger Breeding Organization

The Siberian Tiger Park covers an area of more than a million square meters (250 acres+) and it was set up as a place to breed and house Siberian tigers.  The Siberian tiger is the largest of the big cats.  The breeding program has been very successful, and there are now about 800 Siberian tigers (about 100 can be seen here) along with other large cats like lions and pumas.  This is amazing, since it is estimated that there are only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild.  Almost all of these wild ones are in Russia, and maybe 12 are in China.  The facility includes a museum, breeding areas, and cages/pens for the other large cats.  It is amazing to see a group of striped golden tigers walk and run together.   You can also have the option to buy some live animals to feed the tigers with:

Tiger Menu

Tiger Menu

We were full of good intentions to buy a chicken but by the time we had walked through to the bus, we had lost our opportunity.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.  Dan, Isabelle, Seren, Lia, Oliver, Cai and Luke.

Riding in the tiger cart

Riding in the tiger cart

Once we moved into through the gift shop, we got into the bus that would drive us through the large open areas filled with the tigers.  It was fantastic to be so close to these magnificent animals.  They are beautiful.

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger.  Quite Rare!

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger. Quite Rare!

So many tigers here......

So many tigers here……

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!  You can even see a feather hanging down near its mouth!

At the tiger feeding area - there must have been between 30-40 here.

At the tiger feeding area – there must have been between 30-40 here.

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

After spending a good few hours here, our feet and our faces were starting to get numb.  The temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade and you cannot stay out for too long!  We all got back into our lovely warm bus and drove back to the Hotel for lunch and to warm through!  After we were toastie again, it was back in the bus to check out the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park.

The Harbin Snow and Ice festival officially starts January 5th and usually lasts one month.  Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns).   Some of the most impressive ice sculptures are full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3 feet thick crystal clear ice directly taken from the Songhua River.

Sun Island Park Entrance

Sun Island Park Entrance

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

Snow sculpture

Snoopy Snow sculpture

more snow

Oliver and me by a beautiful sculpture.  This gives you an idea of the scale of a lot of the sculptures in this park.

Just the girls posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Park.

Isabelle, Lia, me and Oliver posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Island Park.

Getting ready for mass slide

Getting ready for mass slide

Slide executed!

Slide executed!

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Ludwig Beethoven in Snow!

Ludwig van Beethoven in Snow!

More music in snow

More music in snow

Amazing sculptures here in China

Amazing sculptures here in China

Snow egg

Snow egg

The sculptures are absolutely amazing.  Many of them are huge – towering above us.  They are all intricately carved with exquisite detail.  There was even a building with a slide.  We all rode down this on a rubber ring – it was thrilling!

Waiting to ride the slide

Waiting to ride the slide

Harbin - Snow and Ice Capital!

Harbin – Snow and Ice Capital!

The detail is amazing.

The detail is amazing.

I loved this simple design.

I loved this simple design.

More detail.......

More detail…….

Almost the same.  Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Almost the same. Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Cinderella shall go to the ball.

Cinderella shall go to the ball.  I laughed at the fact that Cinderella and Prince Charming cannot possibly get into this carriage!  Still a fabulous sculpture though!

Another wonderful sculpture

Another wonderful sculpture

Solider shooting in snow.

Solider shooting in snow.

The magic flute

The magic flute

We spent all afternoon here and as the sun began to set, the light was amazing and the photos that we took later in the day were spectacular.

Such wonderful detail

Such wonderful detail

And then the evening lights came on too!

And then the evening lights came on too!

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

We had been overwhelmed enough for 1 day!  Tigers and snow sculptures and we had been outside for most of it.  Our feet were cold and it was time for dinner.  All the other families from Emerald had arrived earlier in the day so we were looking forward to a lovely meal with everyone!

We had booked several tables at the back of the restaurant in the hotel.  All the boys gravitated towards one, while the girls took another and that left all the adults to enjoy an evening together at the main table!  🙂

The boys at Dinner

The boys at Dinner – Ethan, Oliver, Luke, Cai, Daniel and Harry (Joseph is missing from the boys table).

The Girls table - Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava.  Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.

The Girls table – Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava. Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.  Isabelle is getting quite good with chopsticks!

A selection of the adults"

A selection of the adults: Nick, Owen, Marie, Lin, Tim, Kevin, Jenny and Emma

Obviously towards the end of the evening......Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Obviously towards the end of the evening……Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Oliver, Seren and Ethan

Oliver, Seren and Ethan.  Oliver and Ethan both love Seren and she knows exactly how to make this work to her advantage!  All 3 play so well together and they are wonderful to watch.  They had a great weekend!

girls

Isabelle, Ava, Maddie, Lia and Amelie chilling out after dinner!

We had another early morning on Sunday so that we could go down to the Songhua River.  We wanted to walk on water!!  The kids laughed at this!

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The view from the top.  So many activities on the river.

The view from the top. So many activities on the frozen river.

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

And down we all went......

And down we all went……

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right.  This was HUGE FUN!!!!!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right. This was HUGE FUN!!!!!  Of course, with Owen’s Army background he drove it perfectly.  I had to be rescued off the center divides several times!!!!!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

So. Much. Fun.

So. Much. Fun.

The ice is so clear.  It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures.  This block is almost 2 feet thick.  You can clearly see my victory salute through the this.

The ice is so clear. It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures. This block is almost 2 feet thick. You can clearly see my victory salute through this.

We spent hours on this slide.

We spent hours on this slide.  The only downside was pulling the tires back up to the top each time!  Eventually Isabelle had been down enough times with Owen or John, that she decided she was brave enough to do it herself.  There was no stopping her then.

Oliver posing!

Oliver posing!  So many layers on him!

Fruit on a stick

After all the fun on the river, it was time to warm up before going to the Ice Festival.  We saw this fruit on a stick display and the kids immediately wanted to try one.

Oliver's choice was huge.  He ate it all!!

Oliver’s choice was huge. He ate it all!!

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Tourist attractions again in Harbin.  They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

Tourist attractions again in Harbin. They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

We had found a Costa coffee shop and warmed up with coffee and hot chocolate.  After that, we needed to get from downtown to the Ice Festival and so jumped in a couple of taxis.  This was a very interesting experience as Owen watched our driver signing the driver of the other taxi (where John, Jenny, Luke and Daniel were) and then both taxis pulled over into a side road.  The drivers were trying to negotiate an exorbitant fee to take us.  Thank goodness for iPhone’s with maps as John saw that our hotel was right around the corner so we just got out the taxis and started walking.  A little bit scary and I was sad that we were targetted for a rip off (especially with young children with us).  Once back at the hotel, we (hotel concierge!) negotiated taxis to take us to the Ice Festival at Zhaolin Park and then wait to bring us back to the hotel when we were done!  A much better solution.

Ice Time!

Ice Time!

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures.  It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are.  This was truly a fantastic experience.

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures. It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are. This was truly a fantastic experience.

We tried the Harbin beer!  A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

We tried the Harbin beer! A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

Ice, ice and more ice.

Ice, ice and more ice.

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them.  Everyone enjoyed these - "big kids" and little kids!

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them. Everyone enjoyed these – “big kids” and little kids!

A mass tumble down this slide!

A mass tumble down this slide!

More slides

Oliver trying different moves down the slides

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Lots of different themes this year.

Lots of different themes this year.

...

Quite the view from the top of this one.

A slightly different angle.

A slightly different angle.

More ice

You can just see the top of Oliver’s hat on this slide.  The kids had sooooo much fun here.  We stayed until quite late and they had not even started moaning about being cold!  It was us adults that had had enough of the cold for one day!

The Temperate reads

The Temperate reads minus 26 degrees centigrade

People

Harbin is a very popular destination in January and February.  Even so, it does not feel too crowded as you walk around.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park.  There was also some cool rides down.  What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under.  There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park. There were also some cool rides down. What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under. There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.  You can just see me escorting Isabelle and Oliver up (dragging their tyres to sit in).  I then had to run down as I was too old to ride!!!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Owen and John inside an Ice Bar.

Owen and John propping up an Ice Bar.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.  Oliver immediately named Diego, Manny and Sid!

More Ice

More Ice

And more ice.....

And more ice…..

And even more ice

And even more ice (with some snow!)

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

I had to join in too!

I had to join in too!

Restaurants and bars were made out of ice too.

The Angry Birds sculpture.

Restaurants and bars made out of Ice.

The Angry Birds catapult!  This was a very clever sculpture.  There were people dressed up as the birds putting on a show every 15 minutes.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

Lots of very cool lights

Lots of very cool lights in very cool sculptures

Amazing

Amazing…….

It was all so wonderful.  So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

It was all so wonderful. So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

The scale of the layout

The scale of everything was over-whelming.

Me and my little chicks....

Me and my little chicks….

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar.  Oliver won that arm wrestle!

Family Jones - proof that we were there!

Family Jones – proof that we were there!  Only if you can tell who those people are underneath all the layers!

We safely returned to the hotel (not to be under-estimated, given our earlier experience with the taxi ride!)  It was hot chocolate all round before we all crashed into our beds.  An exhausting day with so much walking and the biting cold.  I definitely could not live in this climate!  We had decided to get up early again to take advantage of a couple more hours on the frozen river.  Our flight back to Shanghai was early afternoon on Monday January 21st and we wanted to make the most of our final hours.  Isabelle and Oliver both wanted to ride in the tanks again, do the tyre slide down a few more times and try out the ice bumper cars:

Bumper cars on ice!

Bumper cars on ice!  Isabelle and Owen having fun.

This was a fantastic, fabulous, wonderful weekend.  It would not have been on our “must see” list if it were not for Jane Steele, lovely Emerald friend.  She organised all the families, researched transportation, hotels, things to do and gave us the inspiration to go!  If you come to China in the Winter, Harbin should not be missed!

Sanya for New Year

After a very busy Christmas, we were all looking forward to a relaxing, sunny beach holiday in Sanya, Hainan.  This island is at the southern most point of China and is nicknamed the Hawaii of China!  Late afternoon on Thursday December 27th, we flew from Shanghai to Sanya.  We were greeted at arrivals by a very nice man from the hotel to take us to check in.  It was a 45 minute drive through roads with large brightly lit hotels and buildings – it reminded us a little bit of Benidorm!  We arrived at the Intercontinental hotel, checked in and then got on a golf cart to take us to our room.

Intercontinental Hotel

Intercontinental Hotel

The hotel is beautifully laid out and is a sprawling complex of 1 or 2 storey beach side rooms, restaurants and pools.  There is a high rise building behind all of this but it is tucked into the side of the mountain and quite unobtrusive.

Oliver & Isabelle on the balcony of our hotel room - it had a double lounger!

Oliver & Isabelle on the balcony of our hotel room – it had a double lounger!  In the background you can see the fabulous roof gardens on top of the single storey hotel villas.

The hotel rooms below us have gardens on their roof!  We are on the top floor - 2nd storey, overlooking the pool and ocean.

We are on the top floor – 2nd storey, overlooking the pool and ocean.

Our room is fantastic with the largest balcony I have seen. We have 2 double beds and a single.  The room is spacious even though it has 3 beds and has all the right AV connections for us to connect our IPads to the tv for movie time for the kids!!

Beautiful pool

Beautiful pool

We wake up on Friday to glorious sunshine, blue skies and 25 degree heat.  We ate breakfast in the club continental restaurant, after which we walked around the resort.  We checked out all the different restaurants, fitness facilities and kids club.  Both Isabelle and Oliver wanted to do some activities while we were there so we checked the times of their favourites.  It was back to the room to change into swim suits and go to one of the pools for the day.  We settled by the only heated pool which was also by the kids slide/kids pool.  Oliver immediately made a friend and the 3 of them were off sliding, jumping, swimming.  Owen and I relaxed by the pool for the whole day!!

The Ocean was warm too!

The Ocean was warm too!

One of the pools

One of the pools

The infinity edge Club Intercontinental pool overlooking the beach!

The infinity edge Club Intercontinental pool overlooking the beach!  The Sea Pavilion restaurant is on the far left on jetty’s over the ocean.  Fantastic Chinese meal here!

That evening we decided to try the Sea Pavilion restaurant which is a group of buildings built over the coral reef.  We had the best Chinese meal that we have ever eaten in this restaurant.  Everything was beautifully cooked and presented.  We even had a bottle of imported Chablis to drink with it!!

Breakfast al fresco at Club Continental

Breakfast al fresco at Club Continental

Saturday was another day by a different pool and today it was Isabelle’s turn to make a friend.  We read books while the children played – they really are water babies and are totally happy to spend the whole day in the pool.  1 kids club activity to do – fishing off the jetty.  They came back with a bucket filled with a large eel, 3 large fish and a large crab.  They had also caught 5 shrimp but there was no evidence of these as they had obviously been eaten by everything else they caught…..  We took a couple of photos and then walked down to the beach to put them all back into the ocean.  We ate at Club Continental that evening.

Crab, eel, shrimp (now eaten!) and fish - not bad in 1 hour fishing off the jetty!

Crab, eel, shrimp (now eaten!) and fish – not bad in 1 hour fishing off the jetty!

Sunday – was a chilly day and we actually had to wear long sleeve t-shirts!  Kids had a couple of activities at kids club – pancake making (Isabelle burnt her hand on the hot plate) and they also made an alarm clock. They were supposed to go fishing again but Isabelle’s hand hurt too much.  Even though Isabelle’s hand burning was an accident (she touched the hot plate that they were making pancakes on), the staff could not have handled it better.  They immediately applied ice and gave us a special burns cream (burns are obviously a matter of fact in the kitchen!)  The next day there was no evidence of the burn and it was almost forgotten!  That night we ate at Mediterraneano and the kids got to play on a bouncy castle that goes up every evening.  Owen had delicious beef and I had lamb!  It had not been a pool day as it was too chilly for all of us.  It was a lazy movie day in our hotel room.

The water slide at the family pool.

The water slide at the family pool.

Lazing on the alligator in the Club pool.

Lazing on the alligator in the Club pool.

New Year’s Eve dawned a little warmer and we had to be early as Isabelle and Oliver were going off to hunt for seashells on the beach as a kids club activity.  Straight after they made shell necklaces.  We picked Oliver up after these activities, but Isabelle wanted to stay and play with a lovely little boy who would not let go of her hand at kids club!  (We later found out that he is the General Manager’s little boy!!)

We went to the pool and had lunch sitting by the pool. Although it was a blue sky day, it is still a little cooler than when we first arrived.  Our New Year’s Eve
Celebration dinner was a magnificent buffet at Mediterraneano that included baby lobster, crab, all sorts of meats, Chinese specialities and a chocolate fountain!  It was all delicious and we stretched it out as long as possible, but the kids did not make it past 10 pm.  Owen struggled through to 11.55 and then it was just me to make phone calls back home – slightly tiddly!!

Isabelle with her New Year's Eve hat on.

Isabelle with her New Year’s Eve hat on.

Oliver's New Year's Eve hat.

Oliver’s New Year’s Eve hat.

Me with my 2 lovely children celebrating at Mediterraneao

Me with my 2 lovely children celebrating at Mediterraneao

Garfield came to visit the kids at the restaurant.

Garfield came to visit the kids at the restaurant.

Tigger came too!

Tigger came too!

Tigger with Isabelle!

Tigger with Isabelle!

Walking back to our hotel room after New Year's Eve dinner.  We stopped by the fire pit.....

Walking back to our hotel room after New Year’s Eve dinner. We stopped by the fire pit…..

A fantastic family shot on New Year's Eve.  Owen worked out the self timer on the camera and we took some lovely photos of all of us on our balcony.

A fantastic family shot on New Year’s Eve. Owen worked out the self timer on the camera and we took some lovely photos of all of us on our balcony.

New Year’s Day was a beautiful day. Kids were off to kids club for t-shirt art and hand/feet art in the morning.  Owen and I sat and chatted with the General Manager all morning.  Jeff had arranged bikes for us in the afternoon so we rode to the opposite side of the bay where there is a large marina and we stopped on the way back at a fab playground park for the kids to play.  Dropped the bikes off and then headed to the pool……

We took 2 tandem bikes to the other side of the bay to check out the Marina.  This was the only time we ventured out of the resort!

We took 2 tandem bikes to the other side of the bay to check out the Marina. This was the only time we ventured out of the resort!

Kids by the Marina

Kids by the Marina

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was more of the same!  Pool, pool, pool.  We at least tried all the restaurants in the resort!!  We did not leave the resort – other than on the bike ride. We were all perfectly content to laze by the pools.  One afternoon the kids spent an hour or so creating art out of rocks.

Oliver Rocks!

Oliver Rocks!

Isabelle Rocks too!

Isabelle Rocks too!

Owen and I read books on our iPads and Isabelle and Oliver were in paradise, throwing themselves down the water slide or playing in the pool.  It is amazing how long they will play in the pool for.  They also made sand pictures and had a water gun fight in the pool as part of kids club activities.  One final highlight of Kids Club was an hour spent in the restaurant making cookies and muffins with Chef Alex.  They both absolutely loved that!

Chef Alex with his Sous Chefs!  The boxes contain cookies and muffins that they made in the restaurant kitchen.  They loved this!

Chef Alex with his Sous Chefs! The boxes contain cookies and muffins that they made in the restaurant kitchen. They loved this!

Isabelle and Oliver in the swinging bar seats by the beach.

Isabelle and Oliver in the swinging bar seats by the beach.

A beautiful Sanya sunset.

A beautiful Sanya sunset.

Owen with Isabelle and Oliver outside the Beer Factory restaurant.

Owen with Isabelle and Oliver outside the Beer Factory restaurant.  (Great Fish and Chips here!)

Trying to pick up the giant beer mug!

Trying to pick up the giant beer mug!

Alligators in the Club Pool!

Alligators in the Club Pool!

Blue skies, palm trees, sun and relaxation.

Blue skies, palm trees, sun and relaxation.

The general manager told us that the hotel was fully booked, but you would never have known it.  The pools were mainly empty (except for the heated pool!) and there was always room in the restaurants.  The resort is a paradise – a zen zone!  It has a very calming, peaceful atmosphere and we were very well looked after.
It was just what we were looking for after a busy end to the year.

Shenzhen – naps and squat toilets

Sunday night I travelled to Shenzhen in the south of China for a business meeting.  Shenzhen is only a 30 minute drive from the border to Hong Kong.  It is another huge city – 20+ million people, but a fairly new city.  in 1979 it was still a small village!  It has greatly benefited from massive foreign investment and is designated as a Special Economic Zone – one of the most successful in China and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.

The customer I was meeting is a large Chinese multi-national company.  The morning went very well and then we broke for lunch.  It was off to the canteen at lunch for a delicious buffet lunch.  After which, our team returned back to the meeting room but I was amazed that all the lights were off.  And, you could hear a pin drop! It is nap time at the office.  I had never seen anything like this.  The staff pull out thin mattress pads, pillows and blankets from under their desks or storage lockers.  Some people even have a low cot/lounger bed.  They then go to sleep, usually with their heads under their desks.  I could even hear snoring!

People were OUT COLD.  I so wanted to take a photo but refrained as I did not want to be disrespectful to our customer.  I tiptoed past the cubicles trying to ensure that I did not disturb this patchwork quilt of sleeping.  At 2:00pm, the lights again come up to full power and it is back to work!

At this same multi-national global company, I was amazed to find that the ladies toilets were all squat toilets.  Oh my goodness, I would actually have to use one of these.  I have successfully avoided them to date, often in discomfort, but still unwilling to try.  Well, there is no choice this time – I have been drinking bottles of water like it is going out of fashion and I REALLY have to go.  Mission accomplished, is all I am going to say on that subject!

Chengdu Panda’s – Bamboo, Apples and Cuddles

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding facility is a fantastic place that has great success in breeding pandas – 7 have been born in the last 3 months alone.  They also loan Giant Pandas to facilities around the world to help with the re-population of this magnificent animal, including a male/female pair to Zoo Atlanta (that has resulted in 3 successful births).  The park is set in over 1000 hectares with plenty of room to replicate the natural habitat.  As someone who is generally against animals in captivity, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this environment is built and maintained.  There are huge areas for each Panda and Panda family and we arrived early enough in the morning to see plenty of activity – they feed and actively play in the mornings when it is cooler.  After doing some research, this is also the best time of year visit.

Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding

The main driveway up to the Panda area

So excited for the day – lots and lots of Panda Bears to see!

Pandas playing in the trees

The Research Facility is huge and there are electric “trains” that take you to different areas of the park. It is a very natural looking environment to help with the re-introduction into the wild.

One of the pandas- Mei Lan, had special significance for us as we had seen her as a baby panda in Zoo Atlanta when she was the result of a successful breeding in 2006.  There are fewer than 1000 Panda’s in the world, so the breeding successes in Chengdu are critical to the Panda’s survival.  They simulate as natural environment as possible as the goal is to release them back into the wild.

We walked around some of the areas and took some fabulous photos – they are such lovable animals.  As well as giant pandas, this facility is also home to the Red Panda which actually looks more like a raccoon.

By the Red Panda area

Red Pandas!

Our first visit was on Sunday morning and we strolled around the different areas, took many photos and oohed and ahhed at the babies in the nursery!

Very cute baby Panda Bears in the nursery. These 2 were born in September. (Another 3 were born in August – we saw these in a separate nursery).

Unfortunately, the “Panda Experience” was not open so we made the decision to return the following day.  As well as Giant Panda’s we also saw many Red Pandas playing – all of the animals were very active!

Peek a boo!

So playful, wonderful gentle giants.

A lot of information about the Panda is given. It is so nice to read their story, learn where they get their names from and get a better understanding about these fantastic animals.

On Monday morning we went back to the Chengdu Panda Base for the “Panda experience”.  We arrived at the Sunshine nursery at 9:30 to be told to come back at 10:00 with a donation of 1300RMB per person to have an interaction experience – truly a once in a lifetime event.

After we had paid, we watched a video of the Panda life cycle from birth to fully grown, saw pictures of Pandas from birth to adulthood and got an education on their diet (no meat for these bears) and then we were escorted into a back room. We were given blue surgical coveralls to put on, plastic covers for our shoes and plastic gloves.  We gave our camera to the lady in charge and then they brought out the most gorgeous panda. Her name was Zhen Zhen,  and she is 1 year old, weighing 100lbs.  They had attched an apple to the end of a bamboo stick and she happily followed along to the bench.  She was helped up and then was fed some apple slices and given some bamboo sticks dipped in honey.  It is true that bears like honey – Winnie the Pooh shared that secret many years ago!!

Zhen Zhen just arrived at our Interaction area. 1 year old and already 100lbs.

Yummy bamboo dipped in honey!

Owen was the first one to sit next to her. He could not keep the smile off his face – and the same was true for all of us who followed!  Oliver was a little apprehensive and did not want to sit as close as Owen had done, but quite happily stroked her and smiled for photos.  Isabelle was next and she loved her, scooching up close for a cuddle with feet curled up on the bench.  It was not long enough for Isabelle who had to move to make way for me.  I could not believe that I was sitting next to this marvellous gentle creature whose fur was so soft.  Throughout all this interaction, Zhen Zhen was happily munching her way through sticks of bamboo and oblivious to all the attention.  We finished off by having some family photos taken as a fabulous reminder of a truly wonderful experience and well worth the money, in my opinion.

Owen was first.

Kissy, kissy! And a scratch behind the ears……

Oliver was not too sure to start with.

But he had cuddles too!

Isabelle absolutely loved her cuddle “She is so soft, Mummy!”

Truly wonderful

I don’t think she could get any closer!

My turn at last!

I am speechless. I cannot believe that I am actually cuddling a Panda Bear.

We will never forget this experience

The rumours are that they will be stopping this after next year so we are grateful to have had the opportunity to get so close to one of natures most beloved animals and such a recognisable mascot for China.

I love this sign!

Golden Week Holiday! Final Stop – Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

After another quick 1 hour flight, we landed back in Singapore at 2.00pm.  We had cleared immigration and were walking out with our luggage at 2.10pm – super efficient.  We took a luxury hotel shuttle bus to the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is the hotel with the boat on the top.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Largest Ferris Wheel in the world.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Largest Ferris Wheel in the world.

View from the Top

View from the Top. Owen is wearing Oliver’s new hat!

Looking down to the ocean and gardens

Looking down to the ocean and gardens

As we had arrived at check in time of 3.00pm, the line was very long, but after collecting our keys we rushed up to our room on 39th floor, changed into swim wear and then raced up to 57th floor and the pool.  It has an infinity edge, so it appears that you could jump out of the pool to the ground below.  It was a little chilly in the pool for Owen and I, so we only stayed long enough for photos!!  The kids enjoyed and hour or so of swimming.

The infinity pool at the top is very cool.

The infinity pool at the top is very cool. The kids thought they could jump out from there to the ground! There are several feet and 3 barriers to prevent this, but it is a great illusion!

My turn for photos!

My turn for photos!

And, Daddy's turn for photos

And, Daddy’s turn for photos!

Chillaxing on the water sun beds!

Chillaxing on the water sun beds!

Messing about on the water sun beds!

Messing about on the water sun beds! This was many minutes of fun: splash, laugh and repeat!

Going......

Going……

Going......

Going……

Gone!

Gone! Splash!

Soaking wet and loving every minute!

Soaking wet and loving every minute!

A quick change out of wet into dry so we could go to dinner.  The Shoppes at Marina Bay is a mall filled with designer, expensive shops.  The mall looked quite busy so I guess singapore must be full of rich people with money to burn.  There were a few celebrity restaurants and we had chosen Bistro Moderne.  Owen had a truffle/short rib burger, Isabelle and Oliver shared a Yankee burger and I had prime rib.  Loads of ice cream for dessert.  All delicious.

We love you Daddy and what a fantastic meal!

We love you Daddy and what a fantastic meal!

Aaah!

Aaah!

We went back up to the roof after dinner to see the skyline lit up. And from our room we watched an amazing light show against water jets as the kids were getting ready for bed.

Singapore at night is amazing.

Singapore at night is amazing.

Up early so we could get to the airport in time for breakfast.  Nice airport with big kids play area.  X-ray machines are by gates – what a fantastic idea!  No long lines waiting to clear security….  I am amazed that no- one has thought of this before.  5 hour flight back to shanghai, ready for work/ school tomorrow…

Golden Week Holiday! Malaysia, Club Med at Kuantan Beach

After our short flight to Kuantan in Malaysia, we were the only flight to go through customs and immigration – it is a tiny airport!  We had a little delay with the transport to Club Med at Cherating Beach, (we were just about to take a taxi, but then the transport arrived!)  When we arrived we were greeted by several people waiting for us in a welcome party!  On the 40 minute drive from the airport, I was amazed to see cows in front gardens, like you would see dogs anywhere else.  We saw monitor lizards and monkeys on the driveway up to reception.  75% of the resort is jungle and so we have been warned about keeping doors and windows locked to keep monkeys out (apparently it is not enough to just keep them shut, the monkeys have worked out how to open unlocked doors and windows!)  We have connecting rooms in a building on stilts (built in local style)  so better sleeping accommodation than at Sentosa Island.  The resort is built on unspoilt coastline and we walked along the beach once we checked in.  There was no-one else on the beach and the kids found some wonderful shells.

Walking on the empty beach - our footprints were the only ones there.

Walking on the empty beach – our footprints were the only ones there. The kids had fun collecting some amazing seashells.

Kids collecting shells with Daddy

Kids collecting shells with Daddy

After  beach time, it was pool time!  The pool is very kid friendly and there were plenty of loungers and cool places to hang out when it got too hot…..

Just chilling by the pool in a cabana made for 2

Just chilling by the pool in a cabana made for 2

Playing in the water jets at the main pool

Playing in the water jets at the main pool

Club Med is all inclusive so meals are buffet style.  There are so many nationalities here (Japanese, French, Malaysian, Chinese, Korean, American and us!) and the buffet selections reflect this.  So, it was a wonderful opportunity to try new types of food.  After dinner, the kids club were putting on a fashion show, which Isabelle and Oliver loved watching and then the staff performed  Mama Mia.

Mama Mia by the Club Med Staff

Mama Mia by the Club Med Staff – pretty good for an amateur show!

There were tigers everywhere to scare the monkeys!

There were tigers everywhere to scare the monkeys! Cuddly ones as well as statues. We saw the staff use the cuddly ones to get the monkeys away from people – very effective!

The pool in the evening - beautifully lit up

The pool in the evening – beautifully lit up

After a wonderful buffet breakfast (so much choice) on Wednesday morning – the kids went off to kids club.  They were going to spend their morning doing archery, tree topolis, pool games, beach games and circus school (learning how to fly on a trapeze).  Meanwhile, Owen and I had a wonderful Balinese massage.  The beds were next to each other in a cabana overlooking the beach and ocean.  It was so relaxing – we booked another session for Saturday!!

Our massage room - views to the beach!

Our massage room – views to the beach!

At lunch, we saw a group of about 20 monkeys climbing over the roof – they are so cheeky here, they can open patio doors and windows.
The resort is a series of locally built structures (no more than 2 storeys high). They are all on stilts, built of wood.  It is a very Eco-friendly place with recycling, limited bottle water and electricity conservation in all rooms.  They have huge bottles of shampoo and body wash in the bathrooms instead of little giveaways.

Oliver on our walk from the pool to hotel rooms

Oliver on our walk from the pool to hotel rooms

Isabelle and Oliver in the grounds of Club Med

Isabelle and Oliver in the grounds of Club Med

Beautiful flowers all over

Beautiful flowers all over

We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool, reading on our iPads and missing the kids!!  At about 3:45, we saw them coming back from an activity, and thank goodness, they were ready for some Mum and Dad time!!  Another couple of hours flew by in the pool.

On Thursday we were up early so we could get on the bus to go into the jungle and elephant sanctuary on a “Safari tour”.  It was a 2.5 hour bus ride during which we learned lots about Malaysia: they produce 47% of the worlds palm oil which is used in cosmetics and soap; they export bio-diesel.  There are huge palm tree forests all over the region we travelled through.  The population is 60% Malay, 30% Chinese, 7% Indian which means a country full of differing religions – Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – all of which peacefully co-exist here.
Traditional houses are built on stilts out of wood.  However, newer homes are now built out of concrete so don’t need to be on stilts.  There are no fences or boundaries between different homes, extended families look after each other….. it still is a community that is responsible for the next generation and takes care of everyone.  According to tradition, a coconut tree is planted for every child that is born.  There are 13 states (used to be 14, but Singapore became independent in 1965).  There are 9 regional Kings (Sultans) and every 5 years they take it in turns to be the national King.

Our first stop was at deer Park where we hand fed the deer and an ostrich.  We saw peacocks, parrots, rabbits, pheasants and other birds.  I had a snake around my neck!!

First stop on our "Safari" was at Deerland

First stop on our “Safari” was at Deerland

Tropical birds at Deerland

Tropical birds at Deerland

Owen hand feeding the Ostrich

Owen hand feeding the Ostrich

Sara and Oliver feeding the Ostrich (raw potato)

Sara and Oliver feeding the Ostrich (raw potato)

Oliver enjoying feeding the deer

Oliver enjoying feeding the deer

Isabelle making friends with the deer!

Isabelle making friends with the deer!

This deer wanted to kiss Owen, in exchange for food!

This deer wanted to kiss Owen, in exchange for food!

Both kids got brave feeding the deer through the fence

Both kids got brave feeding the deer through the fence

Isabelle did not want to get her hand pecked by the Ostrich!

Isabelle did not want to get her hand pecked by the Ostrich!

But she loved stroking the deer......

But she loved stroking the deer……

Oliver had a special way with the animals and were happy to settle by him

Oliver had a special way with the animals and were happy to settle by him

Oliver did not want to get his hand pecked either!!

Oliver did not want to get his hand pecked either!!

Even the mature deer loved getting petted by Oliver

Even the mature deer loved getting petted by Oliver

This weird looking bird reminded all of us of a Vulture

This weird looking bird reminded all of us of a Vulture

Making friends with Rabbits

Making friends with Rabbits

Wasn't too sure to start with, but this snake was calm

I wasn’t too sure to start with, but this snake was calm. I tried to get photos with Isabelle and Oliver standing next to me, but neither of them would come close!

Onto lunch in the jungle – fish (tilapia) wrapped in leaves and barbecued (delicious), barbaeque chicken cooked in bamboo, vegetables and rice.  Ripe, juicy melon for dessert.

Chicken in the bamboo and fish wrapped in leaves.

Chicken in the bamboo and fish wrapped in leaves. All delicious!

Then onto the elephant sanctuary.  This was so disappointing for all of us as we had paid for elephant rides and swimming with them, but the law changed TODAY and contact is no longer allowed.  We still got to feed them with peanuts and fruit but it was a bitter letdown after our expectations had been set.  It was all the more disappointing because it was a 2.5 hour bus ride each way to experience what we could have done anywhere, and certainly would not have signed up for that trip for just feeding……

Arriving at the Elephant Sanctuary

Arriving at the Elephant Sanctuary

On our way to feed Elephants at the Sanctuary

On our way to feed Elephants at the Sanctuary

Feeding the elephants with peanuts

Feeding the elephants with peanuts

What a wonderful, beautiful creature

What a wonderful, beautiful creature

So soft and gentle.....

So soft and gentle…..

The kids got good at feeding them all

The kids got good at feeding them all

Elephants

Elephants. The sanctuary takes orphaned and wounded elephants, nurse them back to health and independence and then they are returned to the wild.

After a long, bumpy 2.5 bus ride back to the resort, it was time for dinner.  The day had taken its toll on Owen so it was just me and the kids.  It was circus theme tonight and the same staff that had performed Mama Mia last night, were now performing a Cirque du Soleil type show with a spooky theme (it is almost Halloween, after all!!).  Again, another great amateur performance.  Afterwards, they had us exit through the “ghost train” which was actually a spooky scary walk through.  I was a little bit scared with the witches, ghosts and spooks they had created and the kids were really frightened at the end.  I wish they had warned us that it would be so scary, as dealing with 2 scared kids at 10:30pm was not a pleasant experience……  I had to remind them that it was just people dressed up and in make-up.  I hope they dream of elephant feeding and not scary spooks……..

The staff greeting us for dinner and promoting the evening's entertainment

The staff greeting us for dinner and promoting the evening’s entertainment

Lots of activities for the kids

Lots of activities for the kids. While waiting for the show to start, other staff are keeping the kids happy…..

This monkey was waiting right outside our hotel room!!

This monkey was waiting right outside our hotel room!! Definitely a cheeky monkey!

We spent all of Friday morning by the pool.  After lunch we jumped on the resort electric tram to go to Cherating Beach which is unspoiled, natural and very quiet.  It was a lovely afternoon taking kayaks out on the gentle warm ocean, hunting for shells and generally relaxing.  The kids found loads more wonderful shells.

 

On the tram to go to the Beach

On the tram to go to the Beach

Unspoilt Cherating Beach

Unspoilt Cherating Beach

The other side of the Beach is Jungle!

The other side of the Beach is Jungle!

Tiny crabs everywhere - can you spot the 2nd one??

Tiny crabs everywhere – can you spot the 2nd one??

We had so much fun with the kayaks

We had so much fun with the kayaks

Lizard sunning itself on rocks by the Beach

Lizard sunning itself on rocks by the Beach

End of another perfect day.....

End of another perfect day…..

Club Med realized that we were incredibly disappointed with our elephant experience the day before, so had offered us compensation in the form of a nighttime river boat ride to see thousands of fire flys.  So after a quick dinner, we were jumping in a taxi for a 10 minute ride to the river.  What an absolutely fantastic experience and what a treat!  Isabelle and Oliver both caught some and held them in their hands. They were all over us – hair clothes etc.  It reminded us all of the scene from the Disney move “The Princess and the Frog” and both kids were calling out for “Ray” and “Evangeline” to come to them!!  Both Owen and I tried to get photos and videos of this unique interaction – unfortunately nothing came out.

Ready for the Firefly experience

Ready for the Firefly experience – 1000’s of them lit up the sky around us.

At the Firefly dock

At the Firefly dock

We got back to the Resort, just in time to see 10 mins of tonight’s show on Brazil.  It was only 10 minutes because of 2 very tired kids today……

The staff greeting us for dinner and promoting the Brazil show

The staff greeting us for dinner and promoting the Brazil show

The staff are super good with the kids!

The staff are super good with the kids!

Saturday – oh what a morning of pure indulgence!  Owen and I went back to the spa and had a floral foot wash, body scrub, then shower off and straight into the biggest deepest bath I have seen. Then it was Balinese massage time, followed by a fantastic foot treatment for Owen and facial for me.  3 hours of peace, relaxation and quiet time.

The deepest bath either of us had seen.

The deepest bath either of us had seen. 3 hours of pure indulgence for us!

Beautiful sunset through the local style buildings

Beautiful sunset through the local style buildings

The kids were back in kids club doing trapeze skills, pool games, beach, tree topolis and arts and crafts.  The weather can be so changeable in rainy season.  This morning was brilliant blue skies, but suddenly at 2.30pm down comes the rain accompanied by thunder and spectacular fork lightening.

And down comes the rain.  2 hours later we are back to blue skies and sunshine!

And down comes the rain. 2 hours later we are back to blue skies and sunshine!

By 4.00pm it was over and blue skies were back again.  The pool was reopened and time to get the kids!!  Oliver’s late nights were catching up with him, so Owen took him back to the room for movie quiet time.  5.00pm came and we were back in the pool for final hour of the day.  After a quick shower for us all, we were ready for Rembulan restaurant on the beach (a reservation only restaurant at club med).  We had a lovely meal which Oliver slept through!!   We had a spectacular light show over the ocean as there were storms in the distance so the lightening over the water was truly spectacular.  Isabelle is proving to be quite the young lady – apple juice in the wine glass,  helping herself to the salad bar and enjoying the finest lamb dish.  Watching the other Asian kids in the restaurant, I was really proud of her behaviour and manners.

Remulan Restaurant

Rembulan Restaurant

Owen and Oliver went back to our room (sleeping boy to get into bed) while Isabelle and I enjoyed the last evening show of our holiday.   It was a comedy cabaret and Isabelle was in the front row with a friend from kids club.  I could her laughing throughout the entire show!  Another late night night for her as the show did not finish until 10.30 (she wanted to stay for the disco!!!!!)

Isabelle made it onto the stage for the final show of our stay!

Isabelle made it onto the stage for the final show of our stay!

Sunday – up early for breakfast and then speedily got packed.  In the same way that we had many of the staff to greet us when we arrived, we now had the staff waving goodbye to us all as we got on the coach to take us to the airport.  As I said, Kuantan airport is tiny with only 2 flights a day – 1 to Singapore at lunchtime and 1 to KL in the evening.  Needless to say, not much to do at this airport!!

The staff waving us goodbye - we are on the bus to go to the airport

The staff waving us goodbye – we are on the bus to go to the airport

Golden Week Holiday! First Stop – Shangri-La, Sentosa Beach, Singapore

On Friday September 28th, the kids finished school at noon.  1 short hour later we were on our way to the airport to fly to Singapore for the start of our 10 day holiday over Golden Week.  We flew China Eastern Airlines (I have previously flown a couple of times with them domestically), and this was a different experience from British Airways and Delta – both of whom we are frequent fliers with.  China Eastern Airlines ran out of food and drink when we were only half way into the flight!  The flight was full of people escaping China for the holiday week and the economy seats felt much smaller than in BA or Delta!  It is a 5.5 hour flight from Shanghai to Singapore and I know that for Owen it felt like 15 hours!  Once again, I was proud of our kids who were so well behaved.   Singapore airport was a welcome sight – so clean, so organized and so quick!  No lines to get through immigration and our bags came off rapidly too.  Once through customs, there was a very nice driver waiting to take us to the Shangri-La Sentosa Beach resort.  It was now after 10pm and our 2 kids were fading fast……

We drove in a fancy people carrier which the kids loved.  Owen and I just wanted to get to our hotel room at this point!  Check in was fast – a lovely open air lobby on the 5th floor (road side) and then we rode the elevator down to the first floor to our family garden terrace room by the pool.

Shangri-La Sentosa Beach Resort

Owen’s back was so painful after the travel day and so for our first full day Owen did not leave the hotel room.  Isabelle and Oliver were oblivious to either parent as there was a huge pool with water slides!  They were perfectly happy to be here for the whole day and they quickly made friends on the water slides.   Our international move has been so good for the kids confidence (especially Isabelle, who can be quite reserved initially) as they are both proactive now at introducing themselves and making friends.

Checking out the beach by the hotel

Checking out the beach by the hotel

The pool was a kids paradise!

The pool was a kids paradise!

Oliver chilling with the frogs by the pool

Oliver chilling with the frogs by the pool

"Look Mum, I am peeing!!"

“Look Mum, I am peeing!!”

Later in the afternoon, I realized that I did not have any Singapore $$’s so I booked the kids into Cool Zone (kids club) for 30 minutes so I could get the tram into beach station to find an ATM.  I was so glad that I did that as I saw lots of good things to do outside the resort.  Also, Isabelle and Oliver loved the Cool Zone and begged to go back later!

Outside the Cool Zone

Outside the Cool Zone

I came back to get them so we could see some of the activities that they might want to do – the Luge, Mega Zip wire, Beach, Trapeze.  On the way down we saw a couple of peacocks, a big lizard and lots of monkeys!  We had been warned to keep our terrace patio doors closed as the monkeys will come in to steal things!  During our stay we witnessed a cheeky monkey leap from one balcony to another with something glittery in his hands!  Of course, the kids thought this was hilarious.

The peacocks made them jump!

The peacocks made them jump!

One of the largest trees on Singapore

One of the largest trees on Singapore

Oliver and Isabelle by the big tree

Oliver and Isabelle by the big tree

Please don't feed the Monkeys!!

Please don’t feed the Monkeys!!

Isabelle and Oliver on the Silosa Beach letters

Isabelle and Oliver on the Silosa Beach letters

After a really nice dinner – we are all inclusive so dinner was buffet, but what a choice and all great quality.  I like the concept of eat as much as you want too!  Isabelle and Oliver loved going to all the different stations to try new food.  After dinner, they both wanted to spend a couple of hours in the Cool Zone, so Owen and I took advantage of that to enjoy an adult drink and conversation.

Sunday was a much better day for Owen’s back pain so we rode the tram into Beach Station.  First item on the agenda was the Luge!  – we all had a couple of go’s on the luge.  First it was a ski life ride up to the top – our ride’s were attached underneath us.  My stomach dipped a couple of times riding this and we were not that high up!!  What a rush on the Luge!  There were 2 runs down, and once we had completed one, we were back on the ski life to do the other run!  Isabelle rode with me and Oliver rode with Owen on the first run, and on the second run, Isabelle wanted to do it by herself so Oliver rode with me.  As it requires a little arm strength to control the brake and turn capabilities, half way down the second run, Isabelle had enough and rode the rest of it with Owen.

Beach Station

Beach Station

The ski lift ride to the Luge run

The ski lift ride to the Luge run (seen from the top of the Merlion)

Waiting for ride number 2!

Waiting for ride number 2!

Finishing the Luge!

Finishing the Luge!

Too cool!

Too cool!

After the Luge, we rode the tram up to the next stop where the Singapore Merlion is.  We all climbed the Merlion and took photos from the top – you could see all of Sentosa from there, including Universal Studios!  We all stood in the Merlions mouth for more photos and discovered that it actually has 16 teeth and not 4 that you can see from below!    We took a leisurely walk back to Beach Station and then caught the tram back to the hotel.  After another lovely dinner, the kids begged to go back to Cool Zone so Owen and I had another lovely evening enjoying a couple of cocktails before we collected them at bedtime!

Playing with the Octopus outside the Merlion

Playing with the Octopus outside the Merlion

Sitting in the fish outside the Merlion

Sitting in the fish outside the Merlion

Sitting on the water feature by the Merlion

Sitting on the water feature by the Merlion

The Merlion

The Merlion

The Legend of the Merlion

The Legend of the Merlion

In the mouth of the Merlion

In the mouth of the Merlion and pretending to be roaring lions!

The beautiful sculpture seen from the top of the Merlion

The beautiful sculpture seen from the top of the Merlion

The kids loved this water sculpture

The kids loved this water sculpture

The sand sculptures at Beach Station were wonderful

The sand sculptures at Beach Station were wonderful

On Monday morning we booked the kids into the Cool Zone as Owen and I wanted to do iFly (skydiving inside) but it was fully booked!  So we took a leisurely walk along the beach and relaxed by the pool for the rest of the morning until it was time to collect the kids.  Once we picked them up, we went straight to Mega Zip which is most definitely the longest Zip line I have ever seen and…. OMG what an experience!!!!  Soooooo much fun.  Isabelle was scared at the top so we told the guys just let us go and once we were on our way she enjoyed it.  Owen and Oliver went down together and Isabelle and I went together…..

Waiting to do the Mega Zip line ride

Waiting to do the Mega Zip line ride – it is very high and the kids were a little nervous!

On our way down the Mega Zip line

On our way down the Mega Zip line – Weeeeeeeee……..

Hanging about at Silosa Beach

Hanging about at Silosa Beach

More swim and slides time at the pool when we got back.  After dinner, the kids again, begged to go back to the Cool Zone.  Owen and I had always thought that kids club were dumping grounds for parents who did not want to spend time with their kids – it never occurred to us that the kids would actually beg to do it!!  When we passed by the window (on the way to enjoy another evening cocktail!), they were both wrapping one of the workers in toilet roll like a mummy!   They have had so much fun at this resort – we would definitely come back and it is highly recommended.

Tuesday meant an early breakfast as our taxi was coming at 9:00 to take us to the airport for our flight to Kuantan in Malaysia.  Singapore airport is a lovely airport – clean, spacious, lots of lovely shops, big play area for kids and best of all, the x-ray machines are by each gate!  What a fabulous idea to reduce long security lines!  It was an uneventful short 1 hour flight on a little prop jet plane.

The lovely Shangri-La Resort at Sentosa, Singapore

The lovely Shangri-La Resort at Sentosa, Singapore

Train to Hangzhou

On Wednesday night I travelled by train from Shanghai to Hangzhou.  I was very nervous I was going by myself and was not even sure on the pronunciation of Hangzhou to ensure that I ended up on a train going to the right place!!
Driver Fu dropped me off outside the station, which is clean (smoke free – amazing in China, where you can still smoke almost everywhere), modern, easy to navigate and super efficient.   Once through the security (x-ray for me and luggage, but not as rigorous as at the airport) it was off to find somewhere to buy a ticket.  I had looked up train times online – here is the best timetable and related information!  www.chinatrainguide.com. For all it’s efficiency, I was frustrated to find that tickets can only be bought online 3 days in advance.
Everyone had warned me that the station would be busy as it is just a few days before a National Holiday (Golden Week) and that everyone would be travelling.  But, I only had to wait in line for about 10 minutes and the station is so open that I was surprised by the lack of people.
About 5 minutes before departure, the gates opened and everyone was allowed down to the platform. Watching the train come into the station was quite the experience as it seemed to go on for ever! I think it was the longest train I had ever seen before. I did not realise on the outward journey that I actually had an assigned seat in a carriage (I could not read the ticket!!) I just got on and sat in an open seat – and the carriage was quite empty. Watching the train come in, I could see that there were several buffet carriages, and a couple of different classes – I had booked the cheapest ticket. Even the cheap seats were spacious and comfortable. (The UK could learn a lot from this train service!!). And, one of the coolest things was a special foot pedal that turned the row around 180 degrees, so if you were travelling as a family, you could face each other!
The station at Hangzhou was not as modern or clean as Shanghai, but still easy to navigate around. Straight into the taxi queue to make my way to my hotel and here was my first issue of the night….. the taxi driver did not understand “Dragon hotel”! It was a good job I had a local contact on speed dial so she could explain to the taxi driver where I needed to go!
This trip was for me to present at a conference – another first for me in China. It was strange to be presenting in a room full of people listening to me talk through headphones! My presentation was simultaneously translated into Chinese so all reactions were slightly delayed. My colleague said that I had great praise after I had finished (but I guess I will never know for sure!!)
The train ride back to Shanghai was a different experience again. It was VERY busy and now I had to take my assigned seat! Lots of people travelling to be with family for Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday. It was a little bit confusing trying to connect with driver Fu as the station in Shanghai is huge with 4 different exits. Eventually I found him and made it back home.
The train experience was so good, that Owen and I are now thinking about this for our trip to Chengdu in November.

What the mice did…..

The Ex-pat community in Shanghai appears to evaporate during the Summer school holidays.  Once we realized that Isabelle & Oliver’s friends would all be in their various home countries for 2 months, and that I had a huge amount of travel for work during July, we decided that the UK might be a better place to be for an extended time.

On July 9th Owen, Isabelle and Oliver flew to London for 5 weeks of British living.  The plan included me meeting them at the beginning of the August for a week of sanity before returning to China.

Owen, Isabelle and Oliver started at Grandma and Grandad’s.  While there they surprised Owen’s Grannie at her 95th birthday celebration – she was thrilled!  It was off to Auntie Kim for a few days before heading to Owen’s Mum and Stepdad’s house in Wales.  A lovely week was spent there with several days at the beach.

Fun at the Beach in Wales!

Fun at the Beach in Wales!  Fantastic boat built by Daddy.

Auntie Kim joined them in Wales too for more fun at the beach and with family.  They were lucky with the weather and had some gorgeous sunshine:

Chilling at the beach in Wales

Chilling at the beach in Wales

On the way back to Grandma and Grandad’s, they stopped off at Peter & Emma’s. Isabelle and Oliver love playing with their cousins, Maeve and Oscar, especially because when the weather is so good and they could enjoy huge ice-creams.

The boys getting mucky

The boys getting mucky

The girls getting sticky

The girls getting sticky

Once back at G&G’s, it was days out at the park, feeding the ducks and shopping – some normal British things to do in the summer.  They visited good friends John & Andrea and their kids and also Sandra & Mark and their kids, but other than that it was time to relax a little.

I missed them all dreadfully.  I have not been apart from my children for that long before and I do not want to do it again.

Travel Woes – update

We finally took off and arrived in Beijing at 3.00am.  However, none of the passengers on our flight had their luggage, including me.  I had travelled in jeans, t-shirt and flip flops – not the attire for business meetings!  I thought that my bag would make it the next day, but no such luck.  I was in Beijing for a large customer conference and many of our very Senior Executives had travelled to China to attend this.  I had met some colleagues in the convention hotel bar and to my dismay, most of these Execs were in the same bar.  I am now at the end of Day 2 wearing the same outfit (and flip flops) and not exactly dressed for Executive interaction.  However, after explaining my predicament, no-one held it against me!

Still no sign of my bag and Cathay Pacific were so unhelpful with no opinion on where my bag was, never mind when it would be delivered.  So, off to the mall for some shopping for me.  Everything was so expensive and I needed so much for just a few days – make up, toiletries, underwear, shoes and a couple of outfits.  The worst thing was not being able to find any shoes that fit me and I do not have big feet!!  I ended up spending 3 times more than I have ever spent on a pair of shoes.  Even worse…… they are so uncomfortable and I am not sure I will wear them very much!!!!

Finally, on Day 4 (at 2.00am, so just about Day 4) there is a knock on my hotel door to let me know that my bag has been delivered.  Thank goodness, my feet would have some relief with my favourite comfy shoes.

Perhaps this is a lesson to not check a bag when travelling. 🙂