Tag Archives: vacation

A Bucket List Day

In 2009, after watching the movie “The Bucket List” and after going through a full physical for the first time in my life(!!), I wrote my own Bucket List.  Number 1 on my list is: “African Safari – ride an Elephant, see Gorilla’s in the wild, see Victoria Falls (between Zambia and Zimbabwe).”  There are 78 items on my Bucket List and vary from the very simple (Number 12 – See a spectacular sunrise. This one is complete – it was the sunrise from top of Mount Haleakalā on Maui Island in Hawaii) to the hard-to-achieve (Number 77 – take off and land in a plane on an aircraft carrier in the ocean).  Number 25 on my list is “Go White Water Rafting”.

On Thursday August 15th in Bali, I managed to do 1.5 items off my Bucket List!  After a 45 minute drive from our villa in Seminyak to the Bali Adventure Tour center, we were shown to the locker room.  After stowing our change of clothes, we then went to get kitted out in helmets, life jackets and collect our paddles!

Ready to go!  Oliver & Isabelle with Wayan, our fantastic guide.  Life vest - check; helmet - check; paddle - check!

Ready to go! Oliver & Isabelle with Wayan, our fantastic guide. Life vest – check; helmet – check; paddle – check!

As you can see, they are used to children as young as Isabelle and Oliver as all their gear was sized for them.  There were about 500 steps down from the reception center to the River Ayung.  These are well built, with solid handrails and are wide enough to accommodate a couple of people.  It is just a long walk down – Owen and the kids had jelly legs at the bottom!

The view from half way down the 500+ steps

The view from half way down the 500+ steps

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

Isabelle and Oliver were a little bit scared at this point.  Time for a Family Jones Motto" Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway!"

Isabelle and Oliver were a little bit scared at this point. Time for a Family Jones Motto: “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway!”

Once in the raft, the action started.  It was just us 4 plus Wayan in our raft, so a very personalized and fun experience.  The rafts had safety ropes and foot holes and none of us fell out!!  We spent about 2.5 hours going down a 9.6km stretch of river, navigating through 33 class II and III rapids.  Superb unspoiled rainforest, rice paddy fields, waterfalls that seem to drop from heaven and the most spectacular 500 meter stone carving were our views for the entire ride.

Posing by a part of the stone carving.

Posing by a part of the stone carving.

Along several parts of our journey, Wayan stopped the raft so that we could get out and take photos and stand underneath ice cold waterfalls!  The picture above is just one small section of the 500 meter long carving in the rock.

Rock Carving

Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

More Rock Carving

Posing with another part of the Rock Carving

Posing with another part of the Rock Carving

Time to move on :-)

Time to move on 🙂

This ice cold waterfall appeared to fall out of the trees.  It was very powerful and none of us could stand under for more than a couple of seconds.

This ice cold waterfall appeared to fall out of the trees. It was very powerful and none of us could stand under for more than a couple of seconds.

Photo opportunity!

Photo opportunity!

Brrrr - this is cold Mum!

Brrrr – this is cold Mum!

At one point, at a particularly good rapid drop off, Bali Adventure Tour photographers took photos of us.  I love this set of 5 because you can see the surprise in the kids faces as we come over the rapids…..

Woo hoo - this is SOOOOO much fun!

Woo hoo – this is SOOOOO much fun!

Fun, fun, fun

Fun, fun, fun

Over we go.....

Over we go…..

Kids faces are a picture.

Kids faces are a picture.

And, repeat for 32 more times.  Awesome!

And, repeat for 32 more times. Awesome!

Once we reached the end of the rapids, we had to climb back up more stairs.  Another 500 steps and this time all our legs were jelly!!  Oliver, the charmer, was carried some of the way by Wayan.

Wish I had been carried too!

Wish I had been carried too!

When will we get to the top??

When will we get to the top??

The facilities were excellent with good showers (including shampoo and soap!) plus hairdryers.  Once we were all clean, it was up to the top of the building for a buffet meal and rehydration.  Great views over the rain forest and rice fields from here.  This was a very short turnaround as we needed to get in the bus to go to the Elephant Safari park, Taro, Ubud.  This park is an official member of the World Zoo Association and meets International Standards for animal care.  It is set in more than 2 hectares of eco tourism landscaped botanical gardens, surrounded by national forest.  Acclaimed as the World’s Best Elephant Park, the facilities include a full Reception and Information Centre, a comprehensive Museum, with a large collection of elephant memorabilia and the only Mammoth Skeleton in South East Asia.

For people who know me well, this chance to get up close and personal with these incredible animals is a dream.  I have collected elephants in all forms (except for ivory, of course) since I was little.  I have supported specific campaigns through Ele-Friends and the WWF to protect these magnificent creatures.  All of us had the opportunity to hand feed them, touch them, take photos with them, and then – best of all – ride on them in a night time safari.

Arriving, and I am so excited.  This is a dream come true for me.

Arriving, and I am so excited. This is a dream come true for me.

Oliver posing with a lovely statue outside the park.  Little did he know that he was just about to do the same thing with a real one!

Oliver posing with a lovely statue outside the park. Little did he know that he was just about to do the same thing with a real one!

This lovely gentle giant is 30 years old.  I fed him for about 20 minutes!

This lovely gentle giant is 30 years old. I fed him for about 20 minutes!

Owen feeding the Big Daddy!

Owen feeding the Big Daddy!

Oliver and Isabelle being presented with a garland.

Oliver and Isabelle being presented with a garland.

This elephant is resting her trunk on my shoulder and breathing down my back.  It was very ticklish.

This elephant is resting her trunk on my shoulder and breathing down my back. It was very ticklish.

This elephant was our favourite.

This elephant was our favourite.

There are 3 baby elephants in this Safari park and successful breeding is a sure sign of animal wellness.  The elephants in this park are the Sumatran elephant and is the smallest in the world, up to five times smaller than its African cousin (which are actually my favourites).  While they can be gentle and playful, they have strong and unique personalities and get bored and despondent if they are just hanging around.  They also need to exercise, so their rides through the jungle is a key to their happiness and health.  (The weight of two people is easily borne by an 800 kilo creature).  After we had fed a few of the elephants we walked over to the Mother and Baby.

So fuzzy, so cute!

So fuzzy, so cute!

The Mummy's poop contains partially digested food that their babies love and are full of nutrients.  YUCK!

The Mummy’s poop contains partially digested food that their babies love and are full of nutrients. YUCK!

Quite amazing to see these animals sitting down!

Quite amazing to see these animals sitting down!

There was a brief “talent show”.  3 elephants played football, basketball and walked along the beam that these 2 are sitting on above.  While an elephant skillfully kicking a soccer ball or wielding a paint brush may seem a little gimmicky (and made me a little uncomfortable), I have learned that in the wild they will often kick around coconuts, or use sticks, pebbles and leaves to make pictures in the earth.

Isabelle and Owen enjoying their elephant night time ride.

Isabelle and Owen enjoying their elephant night time ride.

WOW - that was BRILLIANT!

WOW – that was BRILLIANT!

BRILLIANT!

AWESOME!

End of the day and the kids could not resist a cuddle with 1 or 2 more statues

End of the day and the kids could not resist a cuddle with 1 or 2 more statues

Feeling sorry for the wounded, bandaged ele.

Feeling sorry for the wounded, bandaged ele.

The elephants are beautiful!  They certainly looked healthy and happy.  I believe that the wild is the best place for all animals, but due to human devastation, most of the Elephant land in Sumatra is now unavailable to them.  If you would like to see the elephants that we fed and rode on, then check out this link:

http://earthcam.com/indonesia/bali/?cam=bali1

Oh – I have now completed 19 of the 78 items on my bucket!  Number 25 – complete!  Number 1 – partially complete!

Summer Vacation Fun – Germany & UK

The summer arrived in Shanghai, school finished and that means – time to leave Shanghai!!  The kids last day of school was June 27th and on the 28th we were all on a plane heading back to the UK.  Both children had EXCELLENT school reports – which obviously made us very proud.  They are happy, excelling and trying their best at whatever they do – I cannot ask for more.

We arrived to glorious weather in the UK.  Blue skies, brilliant sunshine and heat!  We spent several days with family: my parents had celebrated their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary earlier in June so we had a family meal out to celebrate.  It was wonderful to see Isabelle and Oliver re-connecting with their cousins – they picked up as though it was only yesterday that they had seen them!

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

Happy Cousins: Oliver, Oscar, Isabelle and Maeve

I love this family photo: Back - Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara Front - Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

I love this family photo: Back – Owen, Emma, Peter and Sara
Front – Isabelle, Maeve, Oscar and Oliver.

We also had a brilliant day with my favourite Uncle and Auntie who live in a lovely village next to a Country Park that the kids loved.

Then it was off to Germany!  We flew into Munich and drove 1.5 hours to Steinberg am See in Bavaria, passing lots of hops growing on the way – it is beer country, after all!  What a wonderful reunion with Steffi!  Steffi was our first Au Pair in America and quickly became a part of our family.  She has visited us many times since she returned to Germany and we keep in close contact.  It was our turn to visit her, especially to celebrate the occasion of her wedding!  Even though we had not met her Fiancé, Heiko, before this trip, he and his family welcomed us although we were family members.  Both sides of our “German family” treated us so well and we felt like we were at home.

We had a couple of days to settle in, re-connect with Steffi’s friends and family, before all the festivities started.  First was the “official” wedding.  This event was in Regensburg at the Rat House (Town Hall) and was just for immediate family.  We were shocked and stunned to find that we were also invited to this celebration.  After a short ceremony, with Steffi and Heiko in traditional Bavarian costume, it was off to a lunch celebration.

Just Married (first time!)  In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Just Married (first time!) In Regensberg with Steffi and Heiko.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Immediate family (plus us) after the ceremony.

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony.  On our way to lunch!

Stopping for photos on a bridge in Regensburg after the Town Hall ceremony. On our way to lunch!  It was a lovely walk through the town and many people commented on the new bride and groom.

We were lucky with the weather here too, as they have had so much rain that many areas had been flooded.  But, it was sunny and hot with beautiful blue skies for our whole week in Germany.  The town hall wedding was on Thursday, with the church service on Saturday.  So, Friday we went to the “Moving Ground” which is a large play area by the huge lake.  There was so much for us to do there and we had a lot of fun on water slides, trampoline bungie jumping, normal trampolines and a giant inflatable bouncy dome.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the "Am See" part of Steinberg!  Fantastic things to do for the kids - big and small.

Enjoying the Moving Ground at the “Am See” part of Steinberg! Fantastic things to do for the kids – big and small.

We woke to another beautiful day for the wedding.  Rushed off to get Isabelle’s done – as flower girl/bridesmaid she had to look perfect!  Oliver also got his hair cut so he would look super smart in his new suit!

Gorgeous children!

Gorgeous children!

Posing by the wedding car.  The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

Posing by the wedding car. The flowers made it to the church, lake and reception!

The wedding was so much fun.  Even though it was all in German and I could only follow bits of what was going on, the atmosphere was terrific.  All of Steffi and Heiko’s friends and family were so open and friendly.  Steffi, of course, looked absolutely gorgeous – Isabelle thought she looked like a Princess.  After the church service, we went to a local cafe for cold cuts and beer.  This is when Steffi and Heiko were off at the lake having photos taken.  Meanwhile we were all socialising and enjoying the sunshine.  Once they returned we then drove in a long convoy to the reception hotel about 10 minutes away.  Even this was fun as all the cars were honking their horns and driving in a wavy crocodile fashion.

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The beautiful bride and groom with 2 wonderful children!

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi's nephew).

The flower girls, plus Oliver and Patrick (Steffi’s nephew).

There was traditional Bavarian music playing as we arrived and it was time for coffee and cake.  Heiko’s mum and Steffi’s mum had spent several days making the most gorgeous range of cakes for this part of the day.  We all ate several!  While everyone was enjoying the cake, the music kept playing and the dancing started.  Then it was time for the “Bride Stealing”!!  One of their friends stole Steffi to another location and Heiko now had to win her back.  We all walked to another restaurant to the bride’s secret location  and enjoyed some games while waiting for the Groom to come and rescue Steffi.  This was very different from any other wedding we have attended and we all enjoyed this part.  After several humiliations on Heiko’s behalf, he won her back and we returned to the restaurant for dinner and more dancing.

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame - it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

All of the guests had their picture taken with the frame – it will make a lovely photo album for the happy couple!

After more food, much dancing (I enjoyed learning some bavarian dances!) we had to leave as the kids were fading fast.  As it had been such a full, fabulous day, I was surprised that they made it to 10:30pm!  The party was still going strong as we left – such a brilliant event.  🙂

We spent the next couple of days enjoying the Moving Ground at the Lake, site seeing in Schwandorf and the Pony Hof in Steinberg.  Steffi and Heiko have delayed their honeymoon until later in the year, so we spent these days catching up with them and relaxing after all the lead up to the wedding.

We took some boats out on the lake – one even had a slide on it that the kids loved.  I had a go at water ski-ing which I had not done since living in America.  I had also never water skied on a cable system before so it took a couple of attempts to master the corners of that!  (I ached soooooo much the next few days after!)  Both children mastered the paddle boats while I was water ski-ing – displaying great balancing skills.  They had plenty of fun in Germany!

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko's boat.

Isabelle and Oliver had swam across to Steffi and Heiko’s boat.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Both of them stood up and could work these boards.

Water ski-ing!

Water ski-ing!

All too quickly our time was up and we had to return to the UK.  It was a fantastic visit and so wonderful to be able to see our lovely Steffi get married.

Back in the UK and time to catch up with other family members and friends.  It is always a whirlwind visit and impossible to see everyone.  Mum and Dad babysat a couple of times so that Owen and I could enjoy adult nights out with Laurence and Mark & Sandra.  We also arranged for Isabelle and Oliver to see special friends from the UK.  It was a joyous reunion and Isabelle was especially thrilled to see her best friend again.  The 2 of them were thick as thieves, just like they had never been apart.

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Isabelle and Aimee spent the entire day in the pool!

Sam and Oliver - 2 buddies back together!

Sam and Oliver – 2 buddies back together!

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

The giggling did not seem to stop between these 2.

Happy chappies!

Happy chappies!

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.

Grandad soaking the kids in the garden.  He also got a little wet from their water pistols!

We had 1 scare with Oliver – a severe allergic reaction to something (probably peanuts) meant a visit to the A&E / ER to reduce the swelling and rash.  He is now going for an Allergy panel test to let us know exactly what we need to avoid.  He gave us all a scare though.

The weather really makes a difference to a British Summer.  When it is sunny and warm, it is so easy to fill many hours at the park, with the hose or at the pool.  That is all Isabelle and Oliver wanted to do, anyway!  The time seemed to fly by too fast.  Not enough time spent with my Mum & Dad or with Sandra (my BFF), never mind so many other people that I really wanted to see.  The downside of the Ex-pat life 😦

I returned to Shanghai after 3 short weeks away, leaving my 3 loves in UK.  It is heart-breaking to be apart and I miss them all dreadfully.  But, they would all be so bored in China as no-one is here.  So, I am busy working, working, working and trying to stay out of the blistering heat and humidity that is Shanghai in July and August.  It is countdown mode for me until they return.

A Naked Retreat Weekend

A lovely weekend at The Naked Retreat at Moganshan, outside of Shanghai. Owen had just returned from one of his UK medical trips and the kids were on Easter/Spring break.  We packed the car and then spent 2.5 hours driving for a lovely long weekend break.

The naked Stables Private Reserve is an exclusive resort in a protected nature reserve.  It is luxury accommodation in spacious Tree Top Villas or single bedroom Earth Huts, spread across a broad, secluded valley in the foothills of Moganshan. No motor vehicles are permitted inside naked Stables Private Reserve but you can get around the extensive estate by electric golf cart or by foot.

We had reserved a Tree Top Villa, “Owl 4” – a 2 bedroom villa with spectacular views across mountain tops.  The deck had a jacuzzi on and a barbecue grill.  We all loved the hot tub and were in it at least twice every day!

Our Tree Top Villa - Owl 4

Our Tree Top Villa – Owl 4.  That is Owen waving down to us.

Owl 4 - all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

Owl 4 – all the different areas are named after animals and birds.

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

The villas blend in so well with the trees and landscape

Now, this is the life!

Now, this is the life!

Relax, get active and get well.  Get ‘naked’.  Lounge on a sundeck beside your private jacuzzi, admire the mountains above the forest and watch the wild deer below, or take advantage of a range of activities from mountain biking, horse riding and hiking.  Cool off in one of our three swimming pools.  Get involved in cultural and culinary events in the evenings.  Children can be let loose in the supervised Little Shoots Kids Club.  For the restoration of mind, body and spirit, the naked Leaf Wellness Center, hidden in the forest, offers personal consultations and a range of treatments, holistic therapies, yoga and meditation, diet and exercise regimes that incorporate all sides of the resort.  It’s pure, private, naked luxury.

Owen and I spent a couple of hours in the spa while the kids played in the Little Shoots Club – it was a fabulous pampering experience.

We had booked both children in for Horse Riding.  Prior to this, Oliver was sure that he did not want to do it.  We persuaded him to try something new and once he was on the horse, he absolutely loved it!  We were so proud of him trying something new….

All suited up and ready to go!

All suited up and ready to go!

Loving the trotting!

Loving the trotting!  He could not keep the smile off his face the whole time!

Isabelle on her horse.

Isabelle on her horse.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The 2 of them walking and trotting around.

The horses at the Retreat are from all over China.  Many of them have had traumatic lives prior to arriving, but they are well looked after here.  One of the horses had given birth to her foal 6 weeks ago.  It was a wonderful creature:

Mummy and Baby

Mummy and Baby

There is quite a bit to do at the Naked Retreat.  I took photos of a tea picking activity:

Tea picking in the mountains.

Tea picking in the mountains.  Can you see them in the fields?

Isabelle and Oliver loved the hot tub.  They were in it at every opportunity!

Night time hot tubbing!

Night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

More night time hot tubbing!

The Kids club was

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Indoor and outdoor activities at the Kids Club,

Isabelle and Oliver enjoyed spending some time at the Kids Club.  They came back with beautiful paper flowers and stories of falling off the hammock!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf.  The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The pool shaped like a tea leaf. The upper pool is heated, but the lower pool is not and was very cold!!

The restaurant served “free” afternoon tea with lots of delicious delicacies.  It also had a lovely buffet breakfast and lots of yummy evening menu items.  The ceiling had an unusual design…..

Ceiling design

Ceiling design at Kikaboni restaurant

The story behind “The Naked Retreat”:   South African Grant Horsfield, the founder of naked Retreats, came to China in 2005.  He wanted to identify a product that he could import and sell to the infamous ‘China market’, the untapped maker of fortunes that has attracted so many speculators for so many years.  Grant is selling an idea, and he has found a vast market for it – while he was working in the bustling city of Shanghai, Grant missed the open spaces of his home country.  He was brought up on a farm, the Veldt and mountains were his playground.  Much like anyone, he found the pace of city life, the pollution, the stress, debilitating. He started looking for an escape, a rural retreat.

After several scouting trips by car and bicycle into the hinterland west of Shanghai, Grant came upon Moganshan, a bamboo clad mountain that was a popular heat retreat in the days of Shanghai’s foreign concessions.  Just below the mountain’s peak and its surviving foreign-built villas, he discovered a farming hamlet called Shanjiuwu, also known as ‘395’.  The houses were old, rundown, and mostly abandoned. A small, aging community grew tea and vegetables on smallholdings and harvested bamboo.  Grant had found his idea – with immense difficulty he tracked down the owners of the neglected farmhouses, he roused the village chief and approached the local township authorities.  His proposal was equally difficult for them to understand, let alone approve and enact.  Grant wanted to rent some underused farmhouses and convert them into guesthouses. He prevailed, and naked Retreats Home Village was born. The year was 2007. The eight guesthouses have been all but fully booked ever since.  Grant, with partners Gabriela Lo and Evan Lai, and his wife Delphine Yip, has built naked Retreats into a well known, successful company and brand.  In October 2011 they opened naked Stables Private Reserve, a purpose built collection of Tree Top Villas and Earth Huts at the foot of the valley below 395. naked Retreats are now looking further afield, yet always within a few hours of a major city, for places to create their unique retreats for the vast, untapped market of urban China.

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant.  These chairs are fabulous!

One of the private rooms at the Kikaboni restaurant. These chairs are fabulous!

The cabins are tucked in the mountains.....

The cabins are tucked in the mountains…..  You can barely see them when walking around.

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver.  The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

Look at the Bamboo forest behind Isabelle and Oliver. The whole mountain is covered with bamboo and tea!

A lovely relaxing, peaceful weekend.  We all enjoyed this wonderful place and will try to get back again before we leave China.

Vietnam for CNY – Tunnels and Beach

Getting off the plane in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, I was very nervous again, especially when I saw a sign with my name on once we got off the plane. The man took my passport and paperwork and told me to take a seat. The rest of our group went off to get their visas processed.  This was a very worrying time for me as I thought I was about to be put on a plane back!  It was a long process of waiting for the officials to get all the paperwork done.  Eventually we made it through and our driver with our minibus was waiting to take us to the hotel.  We stayed at the Renaissance in down town Ho Chi Minh City which has a fabulous pool on its rooftop!

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

View from the rooftop pool area - across down town HCMC!

View from the rooftop pool area – across down town HCMC!

And looking the opposite way - down the Saigon River.

And looking the opposite way – down the Saigon River.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

"Happy New Year" in Vietnamese

“Happy New Year” in Vietnamese – Year of the Snake

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby.  With 2 beautiful children!

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby. With 2 beautiful children!

We all enjoyed a delicious lunch at the hotel – I love Vietnamese Pho, which is a noodle/bean sprout/beef soup that is divine.  I think I will be living on that for the week!   The best thing about Pho is that you can have it in so many different ways and you control the flavor.  It is usually served quite simply with the rice noodles submerged in special meat broth with your choice of meat on top.  A separate side plate allows you to add as many or as little of the bean sprouts, onions, basil leaves, lemon, chilli and coriander to your liking.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Off to explore the city in the afternoon – we walked from the hotel around alot of the streets and into the main Lunar New Year display (can’t call it Chinese New Year in Vietnam!!).  Of course, many places were closed because of this celebration, but everywhere had beautiful flower displays and therefore, good photo opportunities.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Kids by the flowers

Kids by the flowers

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display.  This is how rice grows!!

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display. This is how rice grows!!

A boat!!

A boat!!  We had many tourists behind us taking photos of these lovely children!

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself!  Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself! Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

So colourful.

So colourful.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares.  She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy.  No wonder she is sitting.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares. She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy. No wonder she is sitting.

Balloon Man.

Balloon Man.

New year decorations are just like our christmas lights but with flowers, corn, and other symbols to highlight the start of spring.  It was wonderful to see everything lit up – it really does extend the holiday season!  It is very hot in Vietnam and the kids had had enough after 2 hours so it was back to the hotel to take advantage of the roof top swimming pool.  All 4 children had plenty of fun here – they are all water babies.  The hotel recommended a restaurant for dinner for us and it was very good.  We ordered a lot of dishes that we could all share and everything was delicious.  Isabelle and Oliver were adventurous and tried some new things too!  We were even entertained by a local playing on a musical instrument.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Night time lights.

Night time lights.  Check out all those scooters.

The following morning, our driver picked us up to start our 90 minute drive to the north of HCMC to visit the tunnels at Cu Chi.  It was a bumpy ride as the roads are terrible!  One of my over-whelming memories of Vietnam will definitely be the scooters and motorcycles.  They outnumber any other vehicle by at least 20-1 and they crowd the roads loaded with everything from huge packages of toilet paper, plants to live animals to families of four with joyful toddlers and sleeping babies who manage to stay on these 2 wheeled vehicles with apparent ease.   I was very happy to see that 95% of all riders were wearing helmets.  Many of these were also wearing masks or had wrapped their heads in towels or sheets too!

Family of 4 travelling around.

Family of 4 travelling around.  I love the high heels on the Mum, matching outfits and helmets for the girls, plus all the masks.  I was quite pleased with this photo as it was taken from our moving car!!

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam!  They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam! They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

The tunnels of Cu Chi are a network of connecting underground tunnels located in a district to the north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that span across the country.  It is rumoured that the tunnel network is over 250KM.  The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of many military campaigns during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War) and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.  The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.  The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success.  For the Viet Cong and Vietnamese locals, life in the tunnels was difficult.  Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin.  Most of the time, Vietnamese soldiers and fighters would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and only come out at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle.  Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time.  Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds.

This was an incredibly moving experience.  I could not believe the engineering, architectural miracle that was created over many years.  In some places, the tunnels are 4 levels deep and include deep fresh water wells, cooking, sleeping, and even hospital set ups.   The secret tunnels, which joined village to village and often passed beneath American bases, were not only fortifications for Viet Cong guerillas, but were also the center of community life. Hidden beneath the destroyed villages were underground schools and public spaces where couples were married and private places where lovers met.  There were even theaters inside the tunnels where performers entertained with song and dance and traditional stories.   Having previously held the belief that these tunnels were created during the Vietnam War, it was eye opening to discover that the network was actually started decades earlier during the French occupation of Vietnam.  The tunnels were extended and built out during the conflict in the 1960’s.  Even more amazing to me was the fact that this complex system was built with bare hands and bamboo shovels.

An example of the tunnel network.  4 levels with ingenious ways to get fresh water, cook and live.

An example of the tunnel network. 4 levels with ingenious ways to get air into the system, fresh water, cook and live.

It was horrendous to see the traps that were set for the enemy – so evil with lots of bamboo sticks, covered pits and nasty ways of trapping people.  Having lived in America for so long and interacted with many US Vets of this war, it was also interesting to hear the other side.  As in any situation there are always 3 versions – his story, her story and the truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.  In summary (in my humble opinion), this was a horrific period in time with no real winners, a tremendous loss of life and has left a lasting impression on both sides of the world.  Even in times of peace, the tunnels continue to serve as an enduring tribute to the sheer human will to live and Vietnamese peasants’ wartime ingenuity.

One of the trap doors into the tunnel system.  You can see the size of the opening compared with Isabelle’s shoes.

Going into the tunnels.  Oliver is behind me to go next......

Going into the tunnels. Oliver is behind me to go next……

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill.  Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill. Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Coming out from the "banquet" tunnel.  We were so close to many bats - the kids thought that was really cool!

Coming out from the “banquet” tunnel. We were so close to many bats – the kids thought that was really cool!

The experience of crawling through these tunnels was unforgettable.  Even though the tunnels at Cu Chi have been “westernized” – made larger for western people to get through and with low level lights installed, it was still a heart thumping, stomach churning adventure.  Oliver did one tunnel run and then did not want to go back down.  Isabelle and I (along with Jenny, Dan and Luke) went down as many as our guide showed us.  Some of them were long, dark and required getting on hands and knees.  It was claustrophobic, dirty, dark, dusty and muddy.  I highly recommend it!

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

Displays of bombs and missiles!

Displays of bombs and missiles!

I hope they all un-armed!

I hope they are all un-armed!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Engaging with the

Having fun with the kids by pretending to “chat” to the Vietnamese

The "souvenirs" that are available for the tourists to buy.

The “souvenirs” that are available for the tourists to buy.

One of the nasty traps that is on display.  It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

One of the nasty traps that is on display. It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks.  If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks. If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

A bombed out cave.

A bombed out cave.

After the tunnel adventure it was time to wander back through the jungle to meet our driver.  Along the way we had the opportunity to see a local making flip flops out of discarded tyres!  We could also try some of the simple food that was eaten during the War.  All of the kids loved the fresh coconuts here!

Next stop was at the Firing Range (a very short drive from the tunnels).  We wanted to have a go at firing AK47’s.  It costs about $1 per bullet to fire and so we bought 8 bullets to share among us.  Oliver was too small to reach and John did not want to go.  That left the ladies, Dan, Luke and Owen.  As Owen had fired many of these when he was in the Army, he was very helpful in setting everything up for us.  It was very loud!!

At the firing range.

At the firing range.  Putting ear plugs in to wear underneath the defenders.  Even so, the shots were very loud!

Fire!

Fire!

Our hotel had recommended and booked a restaurant for us to have lunch at.  This was about 30 minutes from the tunnels on the way back to the hotel in HCMC.  Our van pulled up into an idyllic place and we were very excited about more local food.  Especially me, as I cannot get enough Pho!!  We were a little suspicious that there were no cars or people around.  True enough, once we walked over the bridge to the restaurant, a man came out and told us he was shut because of Lunar New Year.  Our driver tried to explain that we had a reservation that had just been made that morning, but it was obvious that we were not going to eat there that day!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

We decided to go back to the hotel for a very late lunch and more pool time to relax.

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

A New Year money tree.  You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time.  I am sure that most of Asia  that celebrates this new year does the same thing.

A New Year money tree. You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time. I am sure that most of Asia that celebrates this new year does the same thing.  Red is a lucky colour in this part of the world.

The next morning was the start of our relaxing break at the beach.  The only thing that stood between us and that was the long, boring 5 hour car journey.  It is only 114 miles (according to Google Maps) but because the roads are so bad, the entire trip was done at about 35 MPH at top speed!  We had considered taking the train, but colleagues of mine who have travelled extensively in ASIA, advised against this in Vietnam.  Apparently, the local kids all throw stones and rocks at the passing trains so all the windows are boarded up.  You cannot see out and you are stuck for an equal length of time to a car journey with many other people.  At least, when we had a driver we could stop at our request and also see some of the beautiful scenery of this lovely Country.

There are rest areas set up at regular intervals along the road.  Each of these has a shady hammock sleeping area.

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping.  Another photo taken from our moving car!

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping. Another photo taken from our moving car!

Our driver was constantly on the horn – beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, every time we overtook a scooter/motorcycle.  As I already said that these outnumber cars by 20 to 1, the horn feels non-stop and became quite irritating.  We stopped for lunch where I had …….. Pho!!

Eventually we got closer to the ocean and passed through some lovely little villages.  There is much evidence of a land trying to re-invent itself and compete in the 21st century.  It is obviously still a very poor nation and it is hard to see so much of that on the sides of the roads.  But, the Vietnamese people are wonderful – very friendly, always smiling and a warm, welcoming race.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere.  You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere. You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

The things you see on the road are amazing!  This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

The things you see on the road are amazing! This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

We arrived in Mui Ne on the coast in the late afternoon and met the owner of “Villa Panda” who showed us all the facilities of this lovely Villa on a golf course by the ocean.  This would be our home for the next 5 days.  He also took John and I shopping to buy some staples to keep us going.  He kept a running commentary going with restaurant and bar recommendations, shopping and beach access.  Once back at the Villa we quickly unpacked and settled in.  Time to explore!

Tourism has transformed Mui Ne into a resort destination since 1995, when many visited to view the total solar eclipse in 1995.  It has many resorts on the beach, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes.  Mui Ne is a popular destination for Russian tourists, and many of the restaurants and resorts are Russian-owned.  The strong sea breezes make this the kite surfing capital of the world.  None of the beaches are crowded and I love that feeling of space when you are relaxing.

Kite surfers galore

Kite surfers galore

Tranquil beach.  So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

Tranquil beach. So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

The town has a Florida feel to my mind.  It is very casual and relaxed.  Our villa is lovely – 4 double bedrooms, so perfect for our 2 families of 4.  The kitchen and living room are spacious and open.  We could walk to the beach but it would be a long uphill return and it is only a 5 minute car journey.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The golf course has a 5 star hotel which has a luxury recreational area with a pool system of 5 interconnecting pools.  Our next few days were spent alternating between the beach and these pools.  It was very relaxing.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck!  And, he loved it!

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck! And, he loved it!

Fun in the sand

Fun in the sand

Jenny and I bought some boogie boards for the kids.  These were a big hit and not only with the children.  All the adults couldn’t resist either.  The waves were perfect for this – large enough for fun for all, without being too rough for our littlest man!

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Luke, Isabelle, Dan and Owen catching a wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Owen riding a wave.

Owen riding a wave.

My turn to drink the ocean!

My turn to drink the ocean!

My 3 favourite people - watch the wave behind them......

My 3 favourite people – watch the wave behind them……

.....And Splash!

…..And Splash!

Love this one!

Love this one!

And this one!

And this one!

The hammocks were all over the resort - not just at rest stops along the road.

The hammocks were all over the resort – not just at rest stops along the road.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

The slides were fun for everyone.

The slides were fun for everyone.

Good sharing of the hammock.

Good sharing of the hammock.

When Mr John was "checking the fishes" Oliver pushed him in.  He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

When Mr John was “checking the fishes” Oliver pushed him in. He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

"I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!"

“I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!”

Oliver,  Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara.  Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Oliver, Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara. Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant.  All the boys here.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant. All the boys here.

All the girls.

All the girls.

After a very relaxing stay in Villa Panda in Mui Ne, it was time to return back to HCMC for our flight to Hong Kong.  John & Jenny and their kids were an absolute delight to be away with and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

It was another horrendous 5 hour trip in the car, but this time we started it at 4.30am to make our flight time.  It was lovely to watch the sun come up and see so many people going to church at 5:00am – they were packed.  I was very surprised to see so many Christian churches – I guess that is the consequence of prolonged European influence.  The French baguettes in Vietnam were also some of the best I have tasted!  We passed field after field of dragon fruit growing.  I thought this was marijuana as all the plants had lights around them!  In stopping for the toilet on the way back, it also is apparent that squat toilets are not unique to China!

A fantastic Chinese New Year for all us!

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.

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

Vacation in UK – Olympics, Family & Friends

I arrived in London on August 2nd to a Country and family gripped with Olympic fever.  It was a fabulous time to be back home as the national pride was so strong and the atmosphere was electric.  I guess the home advantage really does work on the human spirit and resulted in the UK’s best results in over 100 years and ending up 3rd in the medal table.  I have never felt so proud to be British and so happy to be in the UK.

It was also fantastic to see my family – Owen, kids and my Mum and Dad!  The kids had made a banner to welcome me at Heathrow and I was over-whelmed.  Isabelle had lost a tooth while in the UK and Oliver seemed to have grown a foot!

First priority – shopping!!  After my disastrous shoe shopping fiasco in Beijing, I decided that I needed to stock up while I had a choice of styles and sizes!  Success – 3 pairs later, it was on to finding school shoes for the kids.  BISS had warned us before school broke up for the summer that it was almost impossible to find school shoes in Shanghai.  I just hope that the kids feet don’t grow too much this year!!

A lovely day was spent with my best friend and her family, again a gorgeous sunny, warm day.  When the sun shines in the UK, it is a beautiful place to be 🙂  We spent the afternoon in the garden, where the kids all played traditional “sports day” games and got spoiled by James and Madeleine.

Isabelle turned 7 while we were back home and she celebrated twice!  Details to follow!

Peter and Emma came to my Mum and Dad’s for a few days and we had a fabulous day out at Knebworth.  All of the kids enjoyed the adventure playground, the dinosaur trail and the maze – it is a great family location.

Emma & Maeve, Sara & Isabelle, Owen & Oliver, Peter & Oscar - all kids on the slide.

Emma & Maeve, Sara & Isabelle, Owen & Oliver, Peter & Oscar – all kids on the slide.

We finished the week off with a birthday celebration lunch at a pub and met up with friends and family.  Wonderful to see Jez & Caroline, Kim & Harley, Mark, Sandra, James & Madeleine for a yummy pub meal, a few drinks and more lovely sunshine.

The week flew by and all of a sudden, we were packing up ready to come back “home” to Shanghai.