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Orchids Resort: Boracay Beach Resort On A Budget

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort
White Beach awaits a short walk from Orchids Resort.

We are trying to travel on $100 per day or less as a family of four. That is an all-in budget and includes daily expenses as well as transportation costs like airfare.

We expect that in some places on our list, like Australia, it will be difficult or impossible to meet our $100 per day goal.

That means that in less expensive places we need to aim for even lower than $100 per day if we want to average out to that budget over the long term.

Accommodation costs are a major component of travel expenses. That’s why, when searching for a Boracay beach resort we were so excited to find Orchids Resort Boracay.

At Orchids Resort we were able to stay in our own native-style nippa cottage just a very short walk from the glorious White Beach for under $18 per night.

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort – Location

Orchids Resort Boracay is located near White Beach Boat Station Three.

For us this location was ideal for a Boracay beach resort, especially for family travel. Station 3 is far quieter and more laid back than Station 1 and 2. It’s also more budget friendly for food and drinks.

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort | Walking down the path to White Beach
Walking down the path to White Beach.

The resort itself is down a mostly sand pedestrian path just behind the beach. We never actually timed the walk from Orchids Resort to the beach, but it was easily under 5 minutes to the beach even with the kids.

Directly to the right as you exit the path onto the beach is a little place called Shantal’s Resto. Shantal’s became a favorite for us because of the super friendly service, 30 peso beers during happy hour (2-8 p.m. every day), and to-die-for mango pancakes.

There are several other awesome restaurants within a 5-7 minute walk including Hey Jude, Treehouse, and Mario’s Pizza. We’ll write about these dining spots in more detail in a separate post soon.

There’s a shortcut to the main road behind the resort. Continue along the walkway past cottage #20 (it looks like you’re going into a staff-only area but it’s ok) and through the gate to find a path up some steps, over the hill, and out to the main road. It’s a steep climb, but it gets you to the main road in just a couple of minutes (compared to 10-15 minutes if you walk down the beach). When you reach the main road from the shortcut turn left and you’ll find a pastry shop about 1 minute further walk with delicious rolls and buns for about 5 pesos each.

Overall we really liked the location of Orchids Resort. It had the convenience of being very near White Beach but still provided some respite from the hustle and bustle. Our dream Boracay beach resort!

Our Room

Our cottage at Orchids Resort was one of three similar sized detached units facing a pretty orchid garden. The cottage had one large main room and a small ensuite bathroom.

The main room included two beds: one twin and one double (great for family travel). There was also a desk with a chair in one corner and a small shelf with rod for hanging clothes.

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort | Cottage Interior

Our Orchids Resort cottage did not have air conditioning but we found it comfortable most of the time with the included oscillating fan.

[box] The windows had screens but there were several other pathways for critters to join us inside the cottage. Understanding this is a traditional style building meant to “breathe” we weren’t bothered by our visitors, but if the occasional creepy crawly will freak you out then maybe look elsewhere.[/box]

We hung mosquito nets that we brought from home which helped keep our beds bug-free at night.

The best part of the hut was the front porch. It was a big space with bamboo hammock, table, chair, and bench. We ate breakfast on the porch almost every day.

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort | Cottage Porch

 

The porch also came in really useful at nap time when we could put the kids to sleep inside and then go hang out with a couple of cold beers while they slept.

The bathroom was basic but functional. Nice hot shower and western style toilet.

The space was great for our family. There was a lot of room both inside and outside for us, our stuff, and for the kids to to run around and roughhouse without causing too much trouble.

The cottage itself and all of the furniture inside and out was made of bamboo. Pretty neat!

Orchids Resort Amenities

Orchids is a Boracay beach resort and the main amenity really is White Beach just down the path, but we did enjoy plenty of time relaxing at the resort itself.

Across the lovely orchid garden from the cottages is the “L” shaped main building which is two stories tall and houses several guestrooms as well as the reception area and kitchen.

Orchids Boracay Beach Resort | The view of the orchid garden from our porch.
The view of the orchid garden from our porch.

There’s a small patio dining area in the garden adjacent to the reception desk.

The staff can cook for you with some notice to buy ingredients, with the exception of breakfast which you can order without advance notice.

The Orchids Resort breakfasts were great. We had hot breakfast delivered to our porch table nearly every morning. Two plates of eggs, bacon, juice, and toast at 130 pesos each (about $3) fed all four of us.

Ask for the juice as powder-only (no water) and mix it with your own bottled water. We learned the hard way that they typically mix it with tap water and our fresh-off-the-plane stomachs were not up to the challenge.

Tea and coffee is free all day.

We love Orchids Resort Boracay.

We truly enjoyed our time at Orchids Resort. The staff, and Jerry and Junn in particular, went out of their way to engage with the kids and help us with whatever we needed.

We wanted a family and budget friendly Boracay beach resort near White Beach with some local character. Orchids Resort nailed that description.

Friendly and helpful staff, super location, and amazing value made us very happy we chose to travel to Boracay and stay at Orchids Resort. It was certainly one of our best family beach vacations!

If you’re after something different though, there are a ton of options on Boracay. Find yourself an awesome resort just your style and start packing!

Note: We were clear in our initial discussions via email with Orchids that we were travel bloggers and intended to write about our stay. We did not receive any compensation from Orchids, and we believe we paid the “going rate” for our cottage. From our observations of how they treated other guests we don’t believe we received any special treatment – we think they’re nice to everyone!

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7 Fun Things To Do With Kids In The East Bay

Things To Do With Kids In East Bay
Waiting to board.

We were right on track.

All the orange items on the to-do list (things that absolutely had to be done before we left) were checked off.

Kids were relaxing with a movie.

Bags were packed and sitting in the driveway ready to be loaded into the car.

All was calm.

Then, about 40 minutes before our ride to the airport was scheduled to show up, Aurora threw up all over herself, her clothes, and the bed she was sitting on.

We managed to bathe her, wash and dry all the clothes and bedding, and get out the door on time with smiles on everyone’s faces.

Then AJ threw up in the car.

And at the airport.

And on the plane. A few times.

Seriously. Welcome to traveling with kids.

The poor girl kept an amazing attitude through all this, and while she was certainly exhausted by the ordeal she was generally happy and soldiered through it.

Jasper kept up his end by holding napkins and passing airsick bags when needed. Go team!

Both kids passed out a few hours into the flight and all was smooth from there until we got to San Francisco.

Fun things to do with kids in the East Bay

Things To Do With Kids In East Bay
Waiting for the BART.

We found the East Bay to be a great base for exploring the rest of the Bay Area. Downtown San Francisco is a short BART ride away and it’s easy to jump on the freeway and head north to wine country.

We also really enjoyed spending time in East Bay itself. Mostly through great advice from our local friends we found some really fun activities that the whole family enjoyed. Here’s our list of things to do with kids in East Bay.

1. Temescal Farmers’ Market

The day after we arrived our amazing, hospitable friends and hosts Chudi and Nicole showed us around their beautiful East Bay neighborhood and we loved walking along the quiet streets lined with lush flowering trees.

Coming from an early onset of cold weather in New England we eagerly soaked in the warm temperatures and sunshine, though apparently it’s a little chilly for locals!

Things To Do With Kids In East Bay

We found our way to the Temescal Farmers’ Market, which was packed with vendors selling freshly made meals and delicious local produce.

We snacked on samples from a fruit stand including some sweet persimmons which we had never seen before. We bought a couple before our friends could tell us they have a persimmon tree in their backyard! What?! California is amazing.

We grabbed delicious tacos for lunch from one of the vendors. They had pork and tilapia varieties and we enjoyed a few of each. Combined with some fresh strawberry and mango juices it made for a terrific meal.

2. Smitten Made-to-order Ice Cream

After our lunch at the farmer’s market lunch we made a quick stop for ice cream at Smitten, where they custom make each order on the spot using liquid nitrogen.

I don’t know if it was the liquid nitrogen methodology or something else, but it was the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever tasted so they may be onto something.

There are several stations set up, each for one of the unique flavors available that day. The creation of each order of ice cream is accompanied by a big cloud of gas evaporating as the frigid liquid nitrogen is pumped through the tubes to put the “ice” in the “cream”.

Smitten - Things To Do With Kids In The East Bay

I highly recommend the “brown sugar with cinnamon cookies” flavor. The chocolate is pretty special as well, though super rich so a little goes a long way!

3. Oakand Public Library Story Time

We always loved the library programs at home, but the program at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library sets a new standard.

The program is scheduled to run for 30 minutes, but the one we attended actually lasted 45 minutes because the librarian storyteller and the children were so engaged. It included at least a half dozen books as well as interactive games and songs.

There is a program for preschoolers as well as one for babies and toddlers that run concurrently in different parts of the library. There are also additional programs on different days of the week.

See the links section below for more information.

As an added bonus, nearby the library is Rockridge Market Hall, a fancy market with artisan pasta (ever had squid ink spaghetti?), seafood, wine, and cheese among other treats.

Market Hall - Things To Do With Kids In The East Bay

We stopped in for a quick walk around and the kids thoroughly enjoyed snacking on the many samples available throughout the store.

4. Frog Park

This Oakland park is set along Temescal Creek in the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt. The greenbelt is a stretch of gardens, benches, and shady trees that runs for several blocks.

There are winding paths between creek beds and big boulders, with lots of areas for kids to run, jump, and play.

At one end of the park is a large playground with sandbox, train-shaped play structure, and several towers, bridges, slides, and tunnels.

Jasper and Aurora had a great time on the playground and searching for “treasures” (flowers, critters, coins, etc.) along the path while we walked.

5. Zachary’s pizza

After building up an appetite with all the running and jumping around Frog Park, why not grab a pizza for dinner?

Zachary’s in Oakland (also in Berkeley, Pleasant Hill, and San Ramon) serves up hearty Chicago-style deep dish pies that hit the spot for us on a Friday night when no one wanted to cook.

We tried a spinach and mushroom as well as pepperoni and mushroom. Both were spectacular.

These pizzas are dense, with lots of good stuff packed into that deep crust. We ordered one small and one medium pizza for four adults and two hungry kids, and we had plenty of left-overs.

6. Star Grocery

We picked up awesome sandwiches from the deli at this Claremont grocery store on the way to a local playground for a picnic.

There are a variety of selections available from the large chalkboard menu above the counter, or you can make a custom order to suit your taste.

Star Grocery - Things To Do With Kids In The East Bay

Both sandwiches we ordered came on delicious crunchy-outside-soft-inside rolls that were a cut above the typical sub roll.

The store also boasts all kinds of organic and local foods to supplement your sandwiches and round out a nice picnic lunch.

7. Temescal Regional Recreation Area

The Temescal Regional Recreation Area consists of both paved and unpaved walkways and large greenspaces around a small lake.

Lake Temescal - Things To Do With Kids In East Bay
Jasper peaking over the fence from the playground.

There are numerous picnic tables and charcoal grills available, as well as two playgrounds, a beach, and public restrooms. There’s also plenty of parking (free when we were there).

We planted ourselves at a large table beneath a stand of redwoods adjacent to one of the playgrounds. There was a creek nearby too, and the kids entertained themselves for quite a while by throwing giant baseball size nuts that were lying around into the water.

It was too cold to use the beach during our visit, but it was a large sandy area that looked like it would be a lot of fun during the summer.

Overall we had a blast in East Bay. It is a great base to explore San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, but also has plenty to offer without ever crossing a bridge.

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7 Fun Things To Do With Kids In East BayEast Bay Kids Activity Links

Temescal Farmers’ Market
Smitten Ice Cream
Oakland Public Library Programs
Frog Park
Zachary’s Pizza
Star Grocery
Temescal Regional Recreation Area

Featured

Packing for Long Term Family Travel

How do you pack when you plan to travel with kids long term, even indefinitely?

Packing for a month is the same as a week.
Greece 2009: See that orange shirt Matt’s wearing? Hope you like it, because it’s one of just a few t-shirts I packed for our current adventure.

In the past we’ve subscribed to the idea that anything beyond a week or two is essentially the same from a packing perspective.

We packed about the same for a month in New Zealand and the Rarotonga as we did for two weeks in Greece.

In fact, if you go back and look at the pictures you’ll see we’re wearing many of the same outfits in New Zealand that we did in Greece almost four years earlier!

While that’s largely the strategy we followed to pack for this adventure, we came across a few complications due to our chosen destinations and the significantly longer time frame.

Packing for a month is the same as a week.
New Zealand 2013: Kat liked my shirt so much she got one too.

Traveling with kids for such a long period of time also adds a few more unique wrinkles to the planning… though hopefully not to our faces!

I’m not going to write a blow-by-blow of every last item in our bags. There are a lot of packing lists on the internet already.

But I will hit on some of the major items for us, and I’ll try to share a bit about our overall strategy to pack up our lives for the road.

How much stuff did we bring?

We know from previous (not that fun) experience that you can’t actually grow an extra arm when you’re trying to exit a plane with an overtired kid who refuses to walk at the one time when your hands are totally full with luggage.

With mental images of airplane aisle traffic jams due to overburdened parents we set ourselves a goal of packing as light as possible.

Light enough that we could always have one arm free even when loaded with all of our bags.

That means Kat and I each have one medium-sized backpack, one rolling suitcase, and one small daypack.

That’s it.

We intended both rolling bags to be carry-on size, but realized at the last minute that we couldn’t slim down quite that much.

This is all of our luggage.
This is all of our luggage.

So we have one carry-on size and one slightly larger rolling bag. We plan to check them both most of the time anyway.

The backpacks are all carry-on size.

To accommodate both backpacks simultaneously we’ll sling the daypacks on our fronts joey-style.

I practiced this at the airport on the way to San Francisco, and even added Aurora sitting atop the daypack, facing forward, with the best view in the house (I couldn’t see so well).

Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of this but next time we’ll snap one and post it for you all.

Starting with this idea of the total volume we had to work with helped us in limiting the individual items we planned to pack inside.

How do we decide what goes inside the bags?

Clothes

We jammed all this and more into our few bags.
We jammed all this and more into our few bags

We have learned well during our past travels that you just don’t need much clothing.

We’ve gotten pretty good at washing things in sinks and tubs, and being creative about finding places to hang clothes to dry.

You may get tired of seeing us in the same clothes in all our pictures though!

The key is to carefully choose items that:

  1. can go with everything else in your bag
  2. are easy to wash
  3. lightweight
  4. small to pack

The first item is personal style so whatever looks good to you is ok!

The last three are best accomplished with some of the technical fabrics specifically designed for hiking, camping, and traveling.

These synthetics are great because they are durable and very easy to wash.

Most times you can wash them in the sink in the evening, hang them over a door, and they will be dry by morning. They are also often stain and wrinkle resistant which helps when traveling.

Kids Educational and Entertainment Materials

Some of the educational materials we brought for the kids.
Some of the educational materials we brought for the kids.

This stuff is taking a lot of space in our bags, but we think it’s justified.

One concern we have with our plans is how we will keep challenging the kids and keep up their education.

Obviously they will learn from the experience itself, and it will be a unique “school” that few have the opportunity to attend. We appreciate that fact and it is one of the reasons we are choosing to follow this dream.

At the same time Kat and I value “traditional” education.

Kat did an awesome job of essentially packing a mobile version of the stations found in a preschool classroom.

Everything else.

Our pile of items cut at the last minute.
Our pile of items cut at the last minute.

Everything else in our bags has a specific purpose. We try to think through what a day on the road will be like and what challenges we’re likely to encounter.

But we can’t bring stuff for every “what if”  scenario, so where do we draw the line?

For every item we ask this question:

Is there any other way we could solve the problem with something else in our bags or something we could buy cheaply wherever we are going?

If the answer is yes then the item doesn’t go.

We ended up with a decent size pile of items that didn’t make the final cut.

Six bags.

Six bags. About 150 pounds of stuff.

That probably sounds like a lot to some people and not very much to others.

To us, when piled together it doesn’t look like much for a family of four traveling indefinitely. We’re proud of our packing efforts.

We definitely could have had even less though, and maybe we will eliminate the excess as we go along, and as we get smarter about what we actually need.

Of course we’re bound to bump into some amazing souvenirs along the way, which may take the place of whatever we jettison!

In the meantime, let us know how you think we did in the comments – and pass along any tips you may have!

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The Big Trek: We Sold Everything to Travel the World

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Soon to be trekking full time!

Big news: we’re going to be full time nomads! After months of preparation, we’re nearly ready to depart on an open-ended travel adventure to the other side of the world. Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand – we’re looking at you.

Since early this year we’ve been hard at work selling nearly everything we owned, including our house, furniture, clothes, electronics, tools, and most other material possessions that we’ve collected over the years.

We both recently left our jobs.

We’re ready to embrace the simplicity and freedom of the travel lifestyle.

Ok, so this is actually kind of a big deal.

We’re checking out of the 9-to-5 (or more realistically 7-to-7) corporate jobs and American Dream life that we’ve both worked basically our whole lives to achieve.

Why are we doing this?

We worked hard, got good grades, and went to good colleges. We got degrees in science and engineering. Then for good measure we got more degrees.

the-big-trek-beach-walk
It certainly wasn’t all bad – we tried to jam in some great experiences on weekends – like beach walks with kite surfers in the background – but this was the exception rather than the rule.

We worked for big companies internationally known for excellence in their respective fields.

We bought and renovated a lovely home on a spectacular piece of land in a desirable suburb with highly rated schools.

We had twins… the most perfect, charming, wonderful twins the world has ever known.

We bought a minivan.

But still something wasn’t quite right. Somewhere along the way we started living every day in the future. Always figuring out the next step. Making plans. The passion for life in the moment was too often missing.

We didn’t send much time in our lovely home. We worked all week and jammed life into the weekends. But after errands, housekeeping, and bill paying there wasn’t much time left for friends, family, hobbies, exercise, or even just reading a book.

On top of all that we were both working all the time to earn enough money to pay someone else to watch our kids just 3 days a week. The other two days? Yup, Kat pulled out her Hermione time warp watch and did both simultaneously.

We were stretched thin and feeling the strain. It occurred to us that travel might be the cure.

Why Travel?

We’ve always loved to travel. We’ve made travel a priority for as long as we’ve known each other and now we love to bring the kids along for the ride too.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Kat and the twins at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

We felt like we were bucking societal norms by taking “long” vacations (by American standards).

We traveled as a family to Ireland with the kids in 2012 for 3 weeks, and New Zealand and Rarotonga for a month in 2013. Kat and I went on several trips of two weeks to a month in duration before the kids too.

When we were in New Zealand we met several travelers who were on the road for a year or even longer. Suddenly our month-long trip seemed rushed.

One English gentleman we met had recently spent several months driving a campervan around the US and was in the middle of doing the same in New Zealand. He intended to be away from England for over a year.

We envied these long term travelers but without questioning we initially assumed such an adventure was something “other people” could do, but not us.

If only we were so lucky to be able to do that.

New Zealand Waterfall
Loving life in New Zealand. If only we could live like this all the time…

Realizing that assumption – that only other people could travel long term – was wrong was a huge step, and it took some effort.

Over the winter between 2013 and 2014 Kat and I alternately raised and dismissed the idea of quitting our jobs, selling everything, and traveling.

We noticed during this time of debate that nearly all of the photos in our annual Christmas letter were from those 3 or 4 weeks each year that we traveled. Most of the rest were from weekend getaways, special events, and family gatherings. Almost none depicted what we did on a daily basis.

Why were we spending 11 months out of 12 not living life as fully as we wished we could?

Travel indefinitely?

Selling our stuff at a tag sale.
One of the many tag sales where we sold and donated our stuff. Yes, most of what you see was ours. Scary.

Early in 2014 we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to do it, we could do it. It was our life and the choice was in our hands.

Of course would have to sell or rent the house…

…and quit our jobs…

…and sell most of our stuff…

…and we would need to save like crazy…

…but we could do it.

We started moving in the direction of long term travel by selling and donating the things we obviously didn’t need. Old clothes and items we never wore. Baby stuff we weren’t using anymore.

We sold at tag sales, listed items on Craigslist, and hosted our own yard sale.

It took several months before we totally committed and listed the house for sale. We’ve been picking up steam since then. The house sold quickly and moving out gave us even more incentive to simplify.

So what’s the plan?

Now we’re in the final countdown.

To be completely honest we still don’t know for sure where our first stop will be. We will book flights in the next several days and we’ll certainly post an update when we do.

We’re currently considering the Philippines, Bali, Thailand, and Vietnam as first destinations. In any case we plan to make a stop on the west coast of the US first to visit friends on our way to Asia.

Our rough plan is to travel slowly through Southeast Asia, followed by some time in the South Pacific (Fiji? Vanuatu?), Australia, and New Zealand.

We have no time line or itinerary. We have no reservations.

We’ll buy one-way tickets and move from one place to the next when we feel like it. We’ll come home when we are tired of traveling or when we run out of money.

Or maybe we’ll buy a beach house in Thailand.

How do you prepare for indefinite travel?

Start to finish it’s looking like about a 9-10 month process from when we first seriously considered the idea to getting on a plane.

Given the years that went into building the life that we have almost completely dismantled, that actually feels alarmingly short.

We’ll be writing more about what’s gone into the preparations over the next several weeks. We’ll get into budgeting and funding for long term travel, selling your stuff and simplifying your life, and lots of travel planning logistics.

How can you afford it?

Right now, we’re pretty good savers. We’ve been thrifty and made travel a priority for years. We’ll write a lot more about this strategy.

It’s also a lot cheaper to travel in most parts of the world than to live where we lived in the US. We will leverage this fact to stretch our savings.

Going forward, we’re hoping to make some income as we travel. We have lots of ideas of how we might make that happen so we’ll see how it goes and share our successes and stumbles. If we can keep money coming in we can travel for longer and just give ourselves more options.

Let the adventure begin!

Fruits of Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Looking forward to more of this!

We’re taking a big leap into the unknown, a leap towards a reinvigorated life. We want to share that with you and hopefully give you the confidence to make your own leap.

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Photo Gallery: Ireland and Northern Ireland

We circled the Emerald Isle in 2012, starting and ending in Dublin with about three weeks of welcoming people and stunning scenery in between.  These are some of our favorite images from the twins’ first international adventure.

On this trip we brought our Canon Rebel XT DSLR with the kit lens (the XT is a few years old, here is the current entry level model), and a Canon 70-200 telephoto zoom lens. Some shots also with iPhone 4.

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Photo Gallery: Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga holds a special place in our hearts.  I don’t think we’ve ever been more relaxed than we were lounging on our bungalow deck steps from Muri Beach.  We had to pry the kids (and ourselves for that matter) away from the lagoon each night, but were lucky enough to wake up to more paradise each morning.

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Things To Do With Kids in Charleston, SC

Though our time in the city was short, we ended up with a good list of things to do with kids in Charleson, SC.  However, we didn’t start out that way.

The plan for our South Carolina trip was pretty simple.  Kate was going to attend a chemistry conference in Charleston for the first part of the week, so the kids and I tagged along to see some sights while Mommy learned about molecules and stuff.

Continue reading “Things To Do With Kids in Charleston, SC”

Curacao Family Vacation Tips

Curacao is a family vacation paradise in many ways. The small island nation, not far from Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea, was our destination for a two-week escape from this past year’s prolonged New England winter (actually they’re all long). It’s taken most of a year for us to get our blogging act together, but we still wanted to share a few Curacao family vacation tips from what we learned.

Blue Bay Beach

Curacao boasts gorgeous beaches as you might expect given the Caribbean location, and fun snorkeling to go along with the above-water scenery. There are lots of fun activities to keep families entertained when they’re not at the beach too. Family friendly accommodations are plentiful and we scored a terrific, spacious villa walking distance to the beach.

First: How to Say Curacao

As Kat and I started talking about going to Curacao we came up with all manner of wacky pronunciations, usually a different one each time we said the word.

Eventually I Googled it, and this video came up. We’re pretty sure this is the correct pronunciation!

Getting to and Around Curacao

We flew from Boston to Curacao via Miami on American Airlines. There weren’t any direct flights from Boston when we were looking, which might make other Caribbean destinations a bit more appealing for us in the future. The two 3-hour flights ended up taking a full day of travel when combined with getting to and from the airports, etc.

No great pictures from the airport… so here’s one from the beach!

Arriving at the Curacao airport and going through immigration was mostly painless. For whatever reason we didn’t get the immigration forms on the plane, and there were none at the immigration tables when we got off, so we had to wait a bit for them to go find more. But otherwise we were processed through quickly.

The Curacao airport is quite small and we soon found ourselves in the main lobby. The rental car counters are to the right as you exit and we headed there to get setup with our car. We arrived late (about 10pm) so we had the place mostly to ourselves, and the guy at the Alamo desk hooked us up with an upgraded car to fit our now-larger crew and all our stuff.

After bumming around the island for two weeks we are very glad to have rented a car. I briefly floated the idea of using public transit to Kat during our planning, and she promptly shot me down – she was right. There are some buses, but a lot of the fun places are a bit out of the way, and especially with kids having the flexibility of your own car is critical.

Driving in Curacao is pretty straightforward. Cars travel on the right like in the U.S. and traffic is generally pretty light. We found the drivers to be pretty aggressive though, so you just have to keep that in mind and let them do their thing.

One thing to watch out for are all of the roundabouts. We have plenty of these in New England too, but we’ve decided that the rules should be the same at all of them. Not so in Curacao… so pay attention to the signs to see who should yield to who in any given situation.

Where to Stay in Curacao – Blue Bay Resort

We stayed at Blue Bay Resort on the Curacao south coast, just west of the capital Willemstad. We found this location was perfect for exploring around the whole island. We settled in there for our whole stay on the island, so we can’t offer comparisons to other places, but Blue Bay was great.

We rented a 3-bedroom villa on Airbnb and it was exactly right for our family. At Blue Bay there are a bunch of similar villas, most two-story with one unit up and one down. They all have epic wrap-around furnished decks with several seating areas. There are huge sliding doors that open up to the main living area, creating an awesome indoor-outdoor space.

Game time on the deck

Our villa was particularly excellent due to its location overlooking the swimming pool. We were in the pool almost every day, and being so close made it really convenient for those 15-minutes-before-dinner “can we go to the pool pllleeeaaaasssseeeee!!?!?” requests.

All of the villas are in a neighborhood of meandering paths going up the hill from the beach. Ours was about halfway up, and the walk to the beach took about 5-10 minutes even at our toddling 1.5-yr old’s pace. The paths wind through beautiful tropical gardens that we would come to find out are quite different than the typically arid landscape of the island.

A highlight of our stay for me was taking “nature walks” through the resort with the kids. The flowers and plants are beautiful, but the real attraction is all of the wildlife. We saw tons of iguanas and other lizards, including some colorful bright blue ones. The birds were amazing – hummingbirds, green parrots, and many other bright colorful varieties always flying and hopping around.

There’s a population of stray cats that roam the property too. This is a blessing and a curse I guess. The kids liked them, and for the most part they were friendly and not a problem. One in particular made a habit of stopping by our villa every morning and evening hoping for a snack. I wasn’t a big fan myself, as it scratched at Piper a couple times and I’m generally not a cat person, but the kids enjoyed our rent-a-cat for the 2 weeks.

Blue Bay is located just west of Willemstad on the south coast of Curacao. It takes about 15 -20 minutes to drive into the city, and most attractions are within about a half hour. Westpunt and the Christoffel National Park are more like 45 minutes.

There’s a supermarket, Centrum Market, located less than 5 minutes’ drive from Blue Bay. It’s convenient and stocks most items you’ll need for your villa. If you’re used to grocery stores bagging your groceries for you, be aware that the guys at Centrum will expect a tip if you let them bag your items. They’ll also bring them to your car though, so with some kids in tow it can be a nice service!

Just a few minutes further is the Sambil mall, with a big food court and all kinds of stores. 

Things to Do with Kids in Curacao

Obviously the beach is a big draw on any Caribbean island, and Curacao is no different. We spent a lot of time at the beach, both at our “home” beach at Blue Bay and some others around the island.

Blue Bay Beach is lovely and very resort-y, with lots of bright orange lounge chairs, umbrellas, and palm trees scattered around. There are a couple of restaurants and bars right on the sand, and you can get served from the comfort of your lounge chair if you wish. There’s decent snorkeling close to shore, with lots of colorful tropical fish, though the reef itself is mostly dead (typical everywhere we went on the island).

Further afield we checked out Cas Abao Beach. About 30 minutes from Blue Bay, Cas Abao is also a cobalt blue lagoon nestled into a rocky cove. The beach itself is long and has a few trees providing shade, as well as umbrellas and some chairs to rent ($2 per day). There’s a restaurant and bar, restrooms, and showers. Admission was $6 for the car. Snorkeling here was similar to Blue Bay – fun but not spectacular.

Soaking up the sun at Cas Abao

After a day at Christoffel National Park we were looking for a place to cool off and stumbled on Playa Grandi in Westpunt. The beach itself is more local flavor than postcard perfection, with a fishing pier and fishermen cleaning and selling the day’s catch.

The side benefit of the fishing operation is that it attracts sea turtles! We had a bunch of super close encounters with turtles of all sizes, sometimes two or three together as they scrambled for a chunk of fish guts cast off by the fishermen. This was some of the most fun snorkeling we’ve ever experienced.

Don’t miss the ostrich farm. The tour is hilarious and informative, and the food (ostrich-heavy of course) is excellent. Plus kids get to feed ostriches and stand on ostrich eggs. Can’t beat that.

Skip the aloe farm unless you’re a huge aloe nut. It’s just a bunch of plants. No real tour or exhibits.

The Curacao Sea Aquarium was excellent. We spent a full day there and loved it. You can feed flamingoes and watch a variety of entertaining presentations on local sea life. There a bunch of touch tanks too which the kids really liked.

Some other fun activities include the Hato Caves (a good stop on your way to the airport), and just exploring Willemstad (Rif Fort is particularly nice). During our trip the floating market was completely gone. The Rode markt next to the former floating market location is OK for some quick souvenir shopping.

Rif Fort
Hato Caves

Curacao’s Secret in Plain Sight

So there’s one weird thing about Curaçao that was certainly not obvious to us until we arrived: there’s a giant oil refinery smack dab in the middle of the island. The Refineria Isla PDVSA is a bizarre sight. Giant smoke stacks spewing black clouds and belching fire into the sky right next to some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen.

Other than this jarring juxtaposition the refinery didn’t really impact our trip at all. As giant as it is, you can’t see it from most places on the island. The long term environmental impact is concerning, but as a short term tourist it’s just… weird.

Curaçao Wrap-Up

Hopefully some of the tips above are useful if you’re planning a family vacation to Curaçao. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and we’ll try to answer!

 Wrapping it up with some sunset pics

Munich with Kids: The Quick Guide

Looking for things to do in Munich with kids? We were too! After flying into Germany from Oslo, we spent about 36 hours exploring Munich on our way to our good friend’s wedding in a small town north of the city. We packed a lot of fun into that short visit and of course focused mainly on family activities. Here’s our quick guide to Munich.

Getting Around Munich

We weren’t scheduled to pick up our car until the morning of our last day in Munich, so we mostly relied upon public transportation.

Getting from the Munich airport to the city center is pretty simple using the S-Bahn. There are signs in the airport to lead you to the station.

You may need a little assistance buying the tickets at the machine (we did) but just keep in mind that a group pass is probably most economical even if there are just 2 of you. There was a DB (Deutsche Bahn) staff member at the machines helping folks when we were there, so just look for someone in uniform if you need a hand.

Once in the city we used the U-Bahn underground system to get everywhere. The system is really straightforward with its U# lines and clear maps. We used the Here Maps app on my iPhone to get offline transit directions (we downloaded the Germany map pack before leaving home) when we were trying to plan our routes. It seemed to work better here in Munich – we had a bit more trouble using it to get around Oslo.
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Things to Do in Munich with Kids

Of course with limited time we tried to cram in as many family activities as we could during our short stay. Here’s our list of things to do in Munich with kids.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Walking in the Gardens

BMW Welt & Olympic Park

The BMW Welt (free entry) is an epic car showroom with gleaming beasts from BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce. You can get up close to the vehicles and no one freaks out if your kids lean up against them or touch them with their candy-covered hands.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - BMW Welt

There are several video game driving simulator stations setup around the showroom too. Aurora and Jasper were instinctively drawn to these.

We were exhausted after traveling from Oslo so we didn’t do a lot of exploring in Olympic park, but it’s a beautiful area to walk around. The cherry blossoms were out during our visit and Jasper collected a lovely bouquet of them for his sister.

Marienplatz

The Marienplatz is tourist central in Munich, but for good reason.

At several times each day the Rathaus-Glockenspiel goes off high above the Marientplatz. Hordes of tourists crane their necks and train their smartphones on the jerkily moving characters acting out the show. It’s cliche but totally fun.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Marienplatz

The areas around the Marienplatz are also full of entertainment, and worth wandering around.

St. Peter’s Church

At St. Peter’s Church you can climb many many steps to the top of the church tower for some panoramic views of the city.

It’s a beautiful view but keep in mind that the way up is narrow and jam packed with other people trying to see the same view. If you’re claustrophobic it may not be for you.  We definitely had the added challenge of not only the twins but also Kat’s belly to maneuver up the many, many stairs!

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - St. Peter's Church Things to Do in Munich with Kids - St. Peter's Church

Viktualienmarkt

The Viktualienmarkt adjacent to Marienplatz is full of delectable treats to tempt your appetite.

We picked up some cheese, bread, olives, pickles, and fruit to make a nice picnic lunch. There’s a beer garden in the center of the market where you can sit. Some tables have tablecloths and it looked like you should buy a beer if you sat there. We found an area of tables without cloths where it seemed like you didn’t need to buy beer, and no one bothered us about it.

There were also lots of stands selling the legendary Munich white asparagus. We didn’t get to try any until later in our trip, but once we did we couldn’t get enough!

Residenz

The Residenz is a massive sprawling palace complex built and utilized by the Bavarian kings. Oozing opulence it’s probably the most impressive palace of its kind we’ve ever seen, just for its sheer size if nothing else.

We cruised through it, even taking the “short” route at a junction that had “short” and “long” path options, but it still took us nearly an hour to walk through. That was the right amount of time for Kat… I mean Aurora and Jasper… but you could easily spend much longer.

At the same site there’s also the Treasury where you’ll find the monarchy’s jewel collection (a major highlight for Aurora) and a very fancy theater. Both are worth seeing and you can get a discounted pass for all three together.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Residenz

The treasury probably takes 20-30 minutes minimum, but an hour is more realistic for interested adults. The theater is a quick stop – say 15 minutes.

Hofgarten and Englischer Garten

The Hofgarten directly north of the Residenz is a carefully manicured formal garden. We walked diagonally through it, passing some bocce games around the perimeter, and then through the tunnel below the road to get to and from the Englischer Garten (English Garden).

The English Garden is less formal but much bigger. We explored only a tiny corner of the English Garden, mostly around the duck pond near the southern end. Watch out for the angry swans!

Both parks are beautiful areas for a walk and definitely good for kids to burn some energy.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - English Garden Duck Pond
That swan was way meaner than it looks in this picture!!

Around Munich: Flight Museum

While Kat took in the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (I had seen this during a trip in high school & this site is definitely not recommended for small children) I brought the kids to the nearby Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim.

The flight museum is about 15 minutes away from Dachau and located at an old airfield. It basically consists of a bunch of airplanes that you can walk around, look at, and in a few cases get inside.

There are planes from the beginning of aviation up through the two world wars, the cold war, and contemporary planes.

In the last hangar there are a couple of cockpits that kids can climb into. Aurora and Jasper absolutely loved flipping the switches, turning dials, and pushing pedals – barking out commands to each other to avert imagined imminent crashes or collisions.

I had to drag them out of this place.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Flight Museum Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Flight MuseumThings to Do in Munich with Kids - Flight Museum

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Where to Stay in Munich

We rarely book hotels ahead of time but in Munich we did at Hotel Olympia. Located about a 5 minute walk from the end of the U3 metro line at Fürstenried West stop, it was a good choice.

Our first impression wasn’t great as the lobby smelled very smoky, but after that everything was excellent. We got upgraded to a family room at no charge (and they didn’t even know we write about this stuff on the internet).

The family room actually had two separate rooms – a bedroom area with 3 beds, and a sitting room with table and chairs, sink, and a 4th bed. There was a shower in the room, but you had to use the shared toilet which was just the next door down the hall.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Hotel Olympia Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Hotel Olympia

The included breakfast was terrific and included typical continental fare plus scrambled eggs. You could also order any type of coffee drink you wanted (like cappuccino or espresso) in addition to regular coffee or tea.

There’s a large parking area, but it’s very convenient to the metro so really no need for a car while you’re exploring the city. We definitely recommend this place for families looking for a good value.

Where to Eat in Munich

Since we had such a short visit we didn’t get a big sampling of the Munich restaurant options. We ate breakfasts at our hotel, and other than that mostly grabbed small meals at markets like the Viktualienmarkt described earlier.

One place we tried and really liked was Bratwustherzl a couple of blocks from Marienplatz. They had great bratwurst (of course) as well as a good selection of beers (including non-alcoholic). Very friendly family atmosphere.

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Bratwustherzl

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Bratwustherzl

Munich Quick Visit

We spent about 36 hours in Munich and felt like we saw a lot without feeling rushed. There’s obviously a ton more to the city, but we are really happy with what we experienced in the time we had.

Do you have favorite stories from Munich, or know of great Munich family activities? Let us all know!

No spam, just family travel updates direct from us to your inbox!

Things to Do in Munich with Kids - Residenz
Besties!

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families

This post is all about Oslo vacation ideas for families, including how to get to Oslo, where to stay, where to eat, and things to do. Maybe we are just becoming city people (unlikely) but we loved Oslo. There are tons of great family activities, it’s easy to get around, and it’s cheap and easy to get to.

We’ll give you some tips to stay on budget for your Oslo family vacation. It is an expensive city once you’re there. But if Norwegian Airlines keeps offering cheap flights to Oslo, the overall cost is manageable.

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families

We did not immediately think of Oslo when we were considering a Europe family vacation. But when looking at flights we found that flying through Oslo was the cheapest way to get to Germany, where we were heading for a wedding.

We decided to stay a few days and we’re so glad we did. Here’s our carefully curated advice for Oslo vacation ideas for families.

How to Get to Oslo

We found it really easy and cheap to get to Oslo. Total cost for flights from Boston to Oslo was $122. Yes, that’s a $122 transatlantic flight from Boston to Oslo.

Add in about $70 in round trip fare on the Flytoget high speed train from Oslo airport to city center and total total transport cost to/from the city from Boston was $224 per person. Not bad.

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Waiting for Norwegian Air Flight

Fly to Oslo on Norwegian Airlines

Kat is becoming a low fare ninja and scored us those $122 flights from Boston to Oslo on Norwegian Airlines.

Norwegian is a relatively new low cost carrier and the route to Boston just opened up (Editor’s note: this was written originally in April 2016). They fly to several other US cities as well, on both coasts.

Similar to Spirit air in the US, everything is an extra. Your fare is literally just your seat and one small and light carry on luggage.

Heavy carry on? Checked bag? Food? Seat assignment? All extra.

Even water on board is extra.

We planned ahead and kept our carry on bags light (less than 10kg each, about 22 lbs). We also packed snacks and water (after security) so we wouldn’t be tempted by the high on board food prices.

All the Norwegian planes are new, including fancy 787 “Dreamliners” on the transatlantic routes. The 787 is really cool and pretty comfy as far as cramped flying tin cans go. It has fun lighting that’s constantly adjusting with various colors, and electrochromic windows that you can adjust the tint electronically (instead of the old school plastic shade).  There is also personal media centers which helped to keep the minis entertained.

Getting from the Oslo Airport to the City

There’s a new looking, comfortable high speed rail link between the Oslo airport and the city center called Flytoget. One way fares are about $17 and kids are free with a paying adult.

The Flytoget train goes to both Oslo Central Station and Nationaltheatret (not all trains) every 10 minutes. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Oslo Central Station

Getting Around Oslo – Ruter#

Oslo has a pretty well developed and comprehensive public transit system called Ruter (you’ll see the Ruter# signs all over the city). There are subway trains, surface trams, buses, and boats.

Figuring out the tram and bus systems can take a little effort but it is worthwhile. We got off at wrong stops and missed stops several times, but overall were very happy to save some steps and keep warm.

Our best advice is to ask locals if you’re not sure about the route to a certain destination. People at the stops and the drivers themselves were all friendly and happy to help us out-of-towners figure out the network.

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Oslo Ruter Map

Don’t rely on apps with offline directions like Here Maps, as we found the directions often led us astray. Perhaps Google Maps would be better, but we did not have a data plan in Oslo and did not pre-download the Google maps.

Buy your ticket ahead at a 7-11 store or Ruter station rather than on the trams to save some money. Also, if you plan more than 3 trips in a day get an all day pass.  Also helps for when you get off at the wrong stop!

The Oslo Pass includes unlimited Ruter so take advantage of that if you get an Oslo Pass (which we definitely recommend – see our post about things to do in Oslo with kids for more info).

Where to Stay in Oslo

We lucked out with our stay at Saga Hotel Central, quite literally. We actually thought we booked a totally different hotel, but realized some time before we arrived that our booking was with Saga Hotel Central instead (language confusion and similar looking websites threw us off).

We’re glad we ended up at Saga, though, because it’s got an awesome location right in the center of downtown and we scored a super rate (about $70 per night for a quad room). You may not be able to duplicate the rate, as we heard from the front desk that our low rate was due to a computer glitch charging per room versus the normal per person (woohoo!), but the location is still phenomenal.

Saga Hotel is referred to as a “poshtel” – a posh hostel. That’s pretty accurate, as the sharply appointed lobby belies the spartan but clean and totally functional rooms. It was quiet and the staff were great.

Best of all, there is a huge delicious breakfast included with the room rate. Eat up at the free breakfast, or you’ll wish you had when you see the prices at restaurants around the city!

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Aurora with Saga Hotel Central Artwork

Things to Do in Oslo

Check our our whole post about things to do in Oslo, geared specifically towards families and kids activities.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Oslo City Hall
The iconic Oslo City Hall

Where to Eat in Oslo

We also have a whole post about places to eat in Oslo, again aimed at families.

Cheap Food in Oslo

Oslo Family Vacation Summary

We loved our Oslo family vacation. The city way totally manageable for our family of 4+ (mom, dad, 2 four-year olds, and baby-on-board).

In the course of just a few days we found a bunch of fun things to do in Oslo with kids, some good cheap food, and a prime location affordable hotel.

Have you been to Oslo? Let us know your own Oslo vacation ideas!

No spam, just family travel updates direct from us to your inbox!

Oslo Vacation Ideas for Families - Oslo Troll
Fun with a Troll

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids

The first 5 days of our spring 2016 Europe vacation were spent discovering awesome things to do in Oslo with kids, as well as good Oslo cheap food spots and some beautiful sights. In this post we’ll focus on the kids activities – there are a lot of them!

Oslo has a lot to offer for families, including tons of outdoor spaces to walk and run around, museums to learn and get out of the cold and snow, (moderately) easy to use transportation that is an attraction in itself, and more.

In this post we’ve collected a bunch of our favorite things to do in Oslo with kids. Most are either free or included in the Oslo Pass.

We definitely recommend the Oslo Pass if you plan to see more than a couple of these sights. The pass gives free admission to most attractions and provides unlimited transit use, including the ferry to Bygdøy Peninsula.
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Things to Do in Oslo with Kids

In no particular order, below are our recommendations for kids activities in Oslo. Use the table of contents to jump to specific sections – we tried to cram a lot of Oslo kids activities into this post!

Table of Contents

Vigeland Park

Touring the Vigeland Park is a great thing to do in Oslo with kids. First, it’s a big open outdoor space so if the weather is nice it’s great for kids to run around. One huge added bonus is there is a giant playground right by the park entrance.

Many life-size sculptures depicting various aspects of the human condition are set along the main pathway leading into the park. The display culminates at a monolith up on a hilltop, with sculpted figures reaching towards the sky.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Vigeland

Sadly for us the weather was less than ideal and we fought through a large snow squall during out visit. Had we dressed appropriately it might have been OK, but with Jasper recovering from a cold, Kat and I wearing flip flops, and Kat unable to zip her jacket due to baby #3 on board – it got cold fast, and we moved on to Plan B.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Vigeland

The park is free to enter and easily accessed via Oslo public transit, either by Metro or tram. The Metro stops at Majorstuen, just a few blocks away form the park. The tram is even better, with the #12 tram stopping directly in front of the park.

We probably spent almost 2 hours but would have stayed longer if the weather were warmer (or we were dressed more appropriately).

Riding Ruter – Oslo Public Transit

Shivering, we boarded the #12 tram from the station right in front of the Vigeland Park. Immediately everyone’s spirits brightened as the tram sped away. We were warm, cruising smoothly along the tracks, and enjoying some beautiful scenery of colorful Oslo.

Perhaps not your first thought for an Oslo family activity, the Oslo trams are a great way to quickly see different parts of the city, all from a comfortable seat. The trams run along surface streets, so you don’t miss anything like on an underground subway.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Oslo Ruter public transport

Sorting out which tram goes where can be a bit of a challenge to be honest and we missed stops and took wrong trains a few times. Part of this was due to construction blocking typical routes, and part of it was us just not knowing the system. We used a combination of posted maps, offline transit directions in the Here maps app (we didn’t get a data plan in Norway), and help from locals. Asking the locals was by far the most successful tactic!

Single-ride tickets are 32 Kroner and a 24 hour pass is 90. It’s more expensive to buy passes with cash on board. Our 4 year olds were free.

Oslo Waterfront

The waterfront is picturesque and lively. There are some sculptures in front of the Oslo City Hall, many boats lining the docks, and some food trucks parked around lunch time. Lots of space to run around and be loud – perfect place to hang out in Oslo with kids.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Oslo waterfront

We stopped in at a cafe (Kaffebrenneriet) here for a delicious cappuccino, scones, cookie, roll, and chocolate croissant.

Take a tram to Aker Brygge.

Akershus Fortress

Akershus Fortress sits high on the cliff above Oslo harbor. Inside the thick stone walls there are ramparts overlooking the city, canons, and an interesting museum inside the castle itself.

The grounds are free to explore, but the museum charges for admission (included in Oslo Pass). We spent a couple of hours wandering around. Kids love castles right? Couldn’t draw up a better Oslo family activity.

The complex also houses a Norwegian military academy. They were doing some type of training exercise while we were there, laying down wires, barricades, and setting up armed bunkers. It was a little unnerving actually – felt like invaders were expected in the city at any moment!

Bygdøy Peninsula

We took the ferry to Bygdøy Peninsula for a full day of museum touring. Perhaps not your first thought when looking for things to do in Oslo with kids.

But the museums we went to had enough interactive exhibits and places to run around that Aurora and Jasper stayed engaged pretty much the whole time. The hardest part for them is all of the walking.

We had time for 4 stops during our day trip: the Viking Ship Museum, Norwegian Heritage Museum, Fram Ice Ship Museum, and the Kon Tiki Museum, in that order.

Getting Around Bygdøy Peninsula

We walked from the first ferry stop to the Viking Ship Museum, then walked to the Norwegian Heritage Museum.

We took the bus from the stop right in front of the Heritage Museum to the stop right at the Fram and Kon Tiki Museums, which are also adjacent to the second ferry stop (so you can head directly back to Oslo city center from there).
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Viking Ship Museum

Located on Bygdøy Peninsula, the Viking Ship Museum contains the remains of three actual viking ships. There’s not much left of one of them, but the other two are impressive. It’s amazing to think that vikings crossed vast oceans in these open top vessels.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - viking ships museum

Plan no longer than an hour to see this museum with kids – they won’t last much longer and it’s fairly small. Admission is included with the Oslo Pass.

Norwegian Heritage Museum

The Norwegian Heritage Museum is a really fun thing to do in Oslo with kids. The indoor displays are interesting, but the enormous outdoor area is what kids will really love.

There are dozens of huts, store houses, barns, and other structures from various eras. Some have turf roofs, some are covered with giant slabs of stone, and others clay tiles. Most have walls made of huge timbers – like life size Lincoln Logs.

During the warmer months we understand they have folks dressed up in period clothing and playing the appropriate roles in the different buildings. Unfortunately this wasn’t happening during our visit.

There are more modern buildings too, including one that has a bunch of apartments outfitted from various periods through time.

There’s also a small playground (“can we go back to the playground now?” was a constant refrain). A truth from all of our travels: playgrounds = winning.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Norwegian Heritage Museum

We spent about 3 hours here and the admission was included in the Oslo Pass.

Fram Ice Ship Museum

The Fram Ice Ship Museum was the consensus family favorite of the Bygdøy Peninsula day, and one of our favorite things to do in Oslo with kids.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Fram Ice Ship
Jasper not so sure on the way in… but he loved it, as did everyone else!

There’s a video to get you started and give everyone the quick summary of what the ships are about. Then you can explore various exhibits related to two big ships designed for travel through icy arctic waters.

The best part is walking on the decks and through the cabins of the Fram, a ship that made historically significant voyages contributing to exploration near the north and south poles.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Fram Ice Ship

There is an area with interactive exhibits designed for young kids as well as a short “adventure” onto a ship breaking up on the ice and through a frozen tunnel in the glacier (watch out for the polar bear).

We spent about an hour and admission was free with the Oslo Pass.

Kon Tiki Museum

The Kon Tiki Museum has two rafts used by Norwegian adventurer (and crazy person) Thor Heyerdahl to cross the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Heyerdahl floated across the Pacific from South America to the Polynesian islands on the balsa wood Kon Tiki in 1947. He apparently had no seafaring experience prior to the journey and could not swim well!

In 1970 Heyerdahl crossed from Africa to the Caribbean islands on Ra II, a similar raft made from papyrus rather than balsa wood. This was after the original Ra sank the year before! Whoops.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Kon Tiki

There’s a short movie in a loop and the kids liked looking at the rafts. We spent about an hour.

Free with the Oslo Pass.

Oslo Fjord Boat Tour

At the same Aker Brygge dock where you pick up the museum peninsula ferry you can get tickets for a 2 hour boat tour of Oslo Fjord.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Fjord Boat TourThings to Do in Oslo with Kids - Fjord Boat Tour

The tour takes place on a large sailing vessel (using motor power) with seating on the large open top deck. There is a tarp that they apparently cover the deck with when it’s rainy. It was very cold during our late April cruise, so luckily there were faux bear skin mats to sit on and piles of cozy IKEA fleece blankets.

The boat tour was a terrific Oslo kids activity because 1) boats are exciting and 2) no walking required. The no walking was key after a couple days of heavy museum touring.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Fjord Boat Tour

The cost was 485 NOK ($60) for 2 adults (our kids were free) including a 15% discount with the Oslo Pass. In the summer this tour is included with the 3 day Oslo Pass (3 day pass isn’t offered off-season).

Oslo Opera House

Not to be outdone by Sydney, Oslo has its own architectural masterpiece opera house. The marble-clad wedge climbs out of the water along the Oslo waterfront, and visitors are welcome to climb up the steep slope and onto the roof.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Oslo Opera House

The views back over Oslo are impressive, and the angular lines of the building make for fun photos. A&J got a kick out of climbing on the roof.

Some of the slopes are pretty steep and while there are parapets, keep an eye on little ones near the edges. Otherwise this is a fun Oslo kids activity – and totally free. Free is good, especially in pricey Oslo!

Dronningens Gate and Oslo Central Station (Jernbanetorget) are both within a few blocks walk.

Oslo Royal Palace

The Royal Palace sits atop a hill overlooking Karl Johans gate and a beautiful park. You can’t go inside (unless invited by the King) but the view from outside is pretty nice.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids - Oslo Royal Palace

This is just a quick stop for a photo and a look around, though if the weather is nice you could hang out in the park for a while.

The Nationaltheatret tram stop is close, as is Inkognitogata. Nationaltheatret is a bit closer, but the walk from Inkognitogata is downhill, then you can hop on at Nationaltheatret on the way out.

Free to walk around outside.

Nobel Peace Center – Skip

We’d recommend skipping the Nobel Peace Center with small children (though the gift shop is nice and you can use the restrooms without paying for admission). The downstairs exhibit focuses heavily on war and violence, and the upstairs exhibit is too reading-heavy to keep young ones engaged.

Things to Do in Oslo with Kids Summary

There are tons of awesome things to do with kids in Oslo. We easily filled a few days and could have spent much longer – if we could afford it! Much of Oslo is very expensive, but a lot of the kids activities are cheap or free. So if you can find a reasonable place to stay (we’ll help with that in the next post) and find some cheap food in Oslo you can make it work!

Have you been to Oslo? Live in Oslo? Please let us know your favorite things to do in Oslo with kids!!

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Smugglers’ Notch Family Vacation: Thanksgiving 2016

Hello Trekking with Twins readers! Sorry that we’ve been absent from our various online homes for some time, but gut renovating a house and welcoming a new baby tend to fill up your days (and nights).

One of our goals for 2017 is to breathe some life back into Trekking with Twins and keep sharing stories of the fun stuff we do as a family. It won’t always be far flung paradise beaches, but we’ll try to tell some good stories and share lots of good photos!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday this year Nana and Papa invited us to visit with them in “Stowe”, Vermont. They had scored a “bonus week” deal at a three bedroom condo and wanted to us to join them.

At first, honestly I was skeptical. Why drive 4+ hours to make Thanksgiving dinner in a small kitchen without all of the tools and ingredients readily available at home? Stowe, to me, is a ski town, and I didn’t expect to be doing much skiing in November. I don’t have much sway around here though, so we went anyway.

Luckily for us, winter started early this year and the Stowe area was blanketed with over a foot of snow in the few days right before Thanksgiving. So we rushed to throw snow tires on the Mini’s Van and proceeded to completely jam pack it with all of our winter and ski gear in addition to the normal payload of toys, games, baby paraphernalia, and food.

Smugglers' Notch Family Vacation - In the Car
Packed and ready to go.

Come to find out we weren’t actually going to Stowe. Nana apparently was referring to the greater Stowe area, as the condo was in fact at Smugglers’ Notch (apparently called Smuggs by those on nickname basis with the mountain).

Smugglers’ Notch and Stowe share the same mountain for their ski trails, but are on opposite sides. Unfortunately for us, coming from the south, there is a notch that is impassable in winter between them. So while only a few minutes apart in the summer, we needed to drive an hour or so further around the mountain to get to Smuggs.

Smugglers’ Notch Family Vacation

On the plus side, once we got there Smugglers’ Notch was amazing! We loved the resort itself, all the activities on site, and fun day trips to Burlington and Stowe.

Smugglers’ Notch Condo

The 3 bedroom condo was huge and comfortable. The 5 of us shared one large bedroom which had 4 single beds and plenty of room for Piper’s pack-and-play. Nana and Papa had the master, and the 3rd bedroom was for Kat’s brother Erik.

 

Smugglers' Notch Family Vacation - Condo View

The large outdoor deck was a perfect spot to store our turkey soaking in brine and other T-Day meal items that wouldn’t fit in the fridge (the Canadian freezer as Uncle Ryan would say).

Early Season Skiing at Smugglers’ Notch

While the condo was slopeside, the part of the mountain that was open was further up. So we did have to drive about 5 minutes up the road to find the base lodge and lift. If you come later in the season you would be able to ski from your front door.

When we went to buy our tickets we learned that the mountain was offering $20 off per ticket with the donation of a non-perishable food item. Definitely check the website for any deals on lift tickets before you go. Kids were free so the 4 of us skied for about $60.

Smugglers' Notch Family Vacation - Ski Lift

Perhaps “skied” is a generous term. The one lift that was open went all the way to the top of the mountain. Now Jasper and Aurora are decent skiers as far as 5 year olds go, but they’re still learning and this was their first time hitting the slopes this season. As it turns out, the top of Smugglers’ Notch on a cold blustery day early in the season (=icy) where all the skiers are concentrated on one trail was not the ideal time to advance their skills.

We spent about 2.5 hours inching our way down from the top. Ski patrol stopped by once near the top and offered us a ride, which we declined, still full of confidence. At one steep pitch about half way down I was carrying both kids at the same time while Kat tried to take both sets of their skis. Luckily a friendly gentleman took pity on us and gave AJ a ride while I took Jasper.

There was a lot of crying and snow-pounding tantrums but we made it. Kat and I were a little afraid of a “what are you doing to those kids?!” reaction from Nana and Papa but J&A reported only great times and fun when they returned to the condo! They couldn’t wait to ski again and have since made huge strides taking lessons at Ski Ward and a couple of days at Bretton Woods.

Other Smugglers’ Notch Resort Activities

In addition to the skiing we had a blast sledding on the slope right outside our Condo. The kids had those little plastic disc things, but we forgot to bring our big toboggan.

Uncle Erik and I wanted to participate too, so Uncle E tried to improvise by using a big black trash bag. As you may be surprised to learn, this did not work.

I took a few runs on Jasper’s green plastic disc, which worked great until it shattered into several pieces under my heavier-than-a-5-year-old weight. Sorry Jasper.

Besides sledding, the resort also offers a heated indoor pool that we visited almost every night. There was an outdoor heated pool near our condo as well, but we didn’t have a chance to check it out. There are also two big indoor hot tubs at the indoor pool area.

In the evenings there are a variety of family activities at the Smugglers’ Notch Resort too. One night the Smugglers’ Notch mouse (no idea why they have a mouse) served hot chocolate around a campfire. Another time the resort put on a big bingo game which Jasper especially loved, mostly due to the macaroni pieces used to mark the squares!

In addition to all that we had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and spend a lot of great family time playing Mexican Train (fancy dominoes) and Legends of Catan (as Uncle E puts it “like the last 15 minutes of Monopoly, but the whole time).

Smugglers' Notch Family Vacation - Thanksgiving dinner

Day Trips from Smugglers’ Notch

Kat and I escaped for a day in Burlington with Piper while Nana and Papa watched the (bigger) minis. We had a blast eating delicious crepes at the Skinny Pancake, tasting craft beers at Magic Hat (free tasting room!), and chocolates at the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory.

On the way home we stopped in Stowe village for some shopping and lunch (Butler’s Pantry). We swung by the Trapp Family Lodge to remind us of our spring 2016 trip to the Alps (future post on that trip), and hit the Ben and Jerry’s factory too indulge in a giant bucket of ice cream.

All in all it was a spectacular weekend of charming New England winter vacationing. Good thing no one listened to me and we agreed to go!

Cheap Food in Oslo – It Does Exist!

Where to eat cheap in OsloWe found really cheap flights from the US to Norway, but we quickly found that finding cheap food in Oslo is a challenge. Even before we left, an Oslo native at the airport in Boston warned us that we should be prepared for $40 per person meals.

Undeterred, we found some good options for delicious, reasonably priced food that kept our family of 4 (with #5 on the way!) fed for an average of $56 per day total.

A big part of our strategy was to lean heavily on the free breakfast included with our hotel room, go for a very light lunch and some snacks, and then an early dinner.

Also, just about every restaurant has glasses and pitchers of tap water available at no charge, which is what we drank almost exclusively.

Cheap Food in Oslo

Below are some ideas for where to eat cheap in Oslo (or as inexpensively as possible).
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Verona Pizza Og Kebab

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Verona Pizza Og Kebab is a hopping counter service place near the Brugata tram stop. As the name implies they offer kebabs (in the form of shawarma/gyros) and pizza, and we knew it had to be good by the big crowd of locals inside.

Very popular with families, we fit right in with the twins. No worries about being the loud ones!

We ordered one kebab plate (comes with fries and a salad) and one by itself, as well as a falafel plate. It was more than enough food for four people, and it was delicious.  We didn’t try the pizza, but lots of other people were ordering it and it looked good too.

Total cost for those three dishes was 287 NOK ($35), and we would have been fine with just two plates so it could have been less.

Kaffebrenneriet

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

We stopped in at the Kaffebrenneriet on the waterfront near the Aker Brygge tram stop to warm up and grab a light snack lunch. Various rolls and pastries are about 20-25 NOK (about $2.50-3.00) and a cappuccino is about 40 NOK ($5).  This cafe is a chain so there are various locations around the city for a quick bite.

It was a nice relaxed atmosphere and good way to recharge before heading back out into the cold.

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Mangiamo

One evening we headed out to the Olaf Ryes Plass area looking for Mogador, a place recommended in this post for good meze dishes. Sadly we found out it went out of business and had been replaced with some type of bar, which was also closed that evening.

Wandering about, we came upon Mangiamo and had a really nice Italian meal. Perhaps not exactly cheap at 320 NOK ($39) for a pizza and a pasta dish, it was quite delicious.

The pasta was excellent and tasted homemade, and the pizza had a crunchy thin crust.

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Free Breakfast at Your Hotel

A key part of our cheap food Oslo strategy was the generous free breakfast at our hotel, the Saga Hotel Central.

We’d read that this was a good way to save a buck and happened to luck out in that the Saga Hotel has a really great spread including everything from scrambled eggs and toast to pickled herring (nothing like pickled fish to wake you up in the morning).

7-11

Hit up one of the numerous 7-11 or other convenience stores throughout the city to grab supplies for light picnic lunches and snacks. Avoiding restaurant meals is an important part of eating cheap in Oslo, so grab some fruit, bread, or pastries for your backpack.  7-11 is especially good on days where you are visiting the museum peninsula or going on a boat tour – where food is limited and pricey.

Kaffistova

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Kaffistova is a counter service restaurant near Stortinget, the home of the Norwegian Parliament. Serving Norwegian fare such as reindeer cakes and salmon, the prices are fair and you don’t have to worry about gratuity as it is counter service.  You can also add sides to your main meal (or even an extra reindeer cake) for minimal costs – so food sharing is easy.  If you have purchased the Oslo Pass – this entitles you to a 10% discount at this restaurant (and others that are advertised in the brochure or online).

Kaffistova is also a good bet for families with young children because it’s quick (no waiting for servers to take your order, prepare the food, etc.) and the atmosphere is very informal. The kids ate the lingonberry sauce by the spoonful.

Total cost for us was 286 NOK ($35).

Punjab Tandoori

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

We love Indian food so we stopped in at this place right across from the Grønland Metro stop.

The counter service area is fast and furious, at least at the rush time we were there (right about 5:30 p.m.), but the staff are friendly and were happy to help me out as I clearly looked confused.  This place is clearly very popular with locals as a cheap option.

Chicken tikka masala and a lamb curry were both excellent, as was peshawari naan. It’s a miracle they can keep anyone’s order straight, but when your’s is ready they flag you down and you go pick it up at the counter.

270 NOK ($33) total.

Pastel de Nata

Where to eat cheap in Oslo

Aurora and I grabbed take out from this cafe across the street from our hotel right after arriving on our red eye. Vegetable quiche, squash soup, and a ham and cheese toasted sandwich hit the spot. Everything was very flavorful and fresh tasting.

225 NOK ($27).
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Grønland Area

Our Oslo friend that we met in Boston did tell us that our best bet for cheap food in Oslo was the Grønland area.

Two of our suggestions above are in the neighborhood (Punjab Tandoori and Verona Pizza Og Kebab) but there are dozens of other spots you could try. Competition is good for the consumer right!?

Eating Cheap in Oslo – Can it be done?

Well, between carefully choosing where we ate and taking advantage of food we already paid for (breakfast at the hotel) we did OK. Oslo is no Boracay as far as eating out, but there are still plenty of places to grab a bite for a reasonable price and enjoy the culinary offerings of the city.

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Don’t Miss This Day Trip from Chiang Mai

Early last year we were enjoying the amazing northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, and had just returned from an awesome day trip from Chiang Mai to some of the surrounding countryside attractions. The photos from our tour recently popped up in my Google Photos “rediscover this day” so I figured it was a great time to share some of them.

A Day Trip from Chiang Mai

We lived in Chiang Mai for about a month last year. During our stay we found a bunch of great kids activities, took a Thai cooking class, did way too much shopping at the night markets (Kat may disagree), learned about Buddhism at a silent retreat and many spectacular temples, and even visited an elephant rescue center.

One day that still stands out for us though is our day trip from Chiang Mai to attractions in the surrounding countryside. These types of tours are very popular and almost any tuk tuk or red truck (songthaew) driver offers them, as well as various tourism offices, hotels, hostels, etc.

We weren’t totally happy with any of the standard tour packages though, as they each hit some of the spots we wanted to see but not all. So we solved that problem by hiring a whole red truck for the whole day.

We were traveling with Nana and Papa at that point so it made even more sense to get the whole truck. We could spread out in the back, the cost wasn’t that much different from renting a car (and I wouldn’t have to drive in crazy Chiang Mai traffic), and we could completely set the agenda.  Plus being able to jump off at each location and not spend the time trying to find a parking spot also saved us a lot of time during the busy day.

Songthaew - Day Tour from Chiang Mai

I realized halfway through this post that I actually already wrote about these activities in our post about Kids Activities in Chiang Mai. But I included a bunch more photos here, so I went ahead with posting it anyway. I’ll write about Cambodia or Vietnam or someplace new next time!

Wat Doi Suthep

We started at Wat Doi Suthep, a spectacular glistening temple overlooking Chiang Mai. The road up to the temple is really windy. Pack the Dramamine if you get motion sick, especially if you’ll be in the back of a pickup truck with limited visibility like we were!

The temple is worth it though. You can climb a tall set of stairs (intended as a meditative exercise) or take a funicular car to the top once you reach the parking area.

Glistening gold in the sun, and surrounding by other photogenic statues and shrines, there’s plenty to take in.

Bhubing Palace

The second stop on our day trip from Chiang Mai was the Bhubing Palace, which is actually more of a garden than a palace. Apparently there’s something of a palace somewhere on the grounds, but the draw really is the beautiful landscaping and flowers. Aurora especially liked this place and ran around with my iPhone snapping photos nonstop, lost in photographic glee.

Siam Insect Zoo

After Bhubing Palace we made our way to the Siam Insect Zoo. Here you can hold all kinds of insects and learn about their cool characteristics that help them survive. We got to hold onto a giant scorpion (that got our hearts racing) as well as stick bugs, and a variety of lizards.

Mae Sa Waterfalls

After a day of bouncing around in the back of a hot pickup truck, we completed our day trip from Chiang Mai and cooled off at the Mae Sa waterfalls. From the parking area it’s a short walk to a small but very pretty waterfall (there’s actually a series of them) and swimming hole. The water starts shallow and calm, so it’s great for kids.

After our long day of touring Kat and I took full advantage of having Papa and Nana visiting. We had the songthaew drop us off at the mall and we had a great date night of Korean barbeque dinner (where you grill the food at the table) and a movie (50 Shades of Gray – which was clearly toned down somewhat by Thai censors).

Date night after our day trip from Chiang Mai

We also found a well stocked grocery store in the basement of the mall – full of western delicacies like bagels! and Pepperidge Farm cookies! and red wine!!

Date night after our day trip from Chiang Mai

Overall our day trip from Chiang Mai was an action-packed memorable experience. Of the weeks we spent in Chiang Mai it’s one experience that still stands out clearly.

Even if you’re only visiting for a short time, take the opportunity to explore out of the city. Don’t be afraid to set your own itinerary too, we were very happy we did!

All told it cost us about 2,000 baht ($62) for the songthaew and driver for the whole day. Bhubing Palace was 100 baht ($3), the Siam Insect Zoo was 400 baht ($12), and Mae Sa 430 baht ($13) – all prices for the 4 of us. We visited in February 2015, so prices may be a bit different today.

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Chiang Mai Night Markets

Chiang Mai Night Markets, Chiang Mai, ThailandWe’re in Europe now and some current posts should be flowing soon… in the meantime, flashback to January 2015…

The Chiang Mai night markets – “walking streets” – were some of our favorite pastimes during our visit to this northern Thailand city. Over the course of a month in Chiang Mai, we visited the night markets 3 or 4 times and always enjoyed ourselves (ok Kat always enjoyed herself; I mostly enjoyed the food – I can only look at so many Thai silk scarves).

Chiang Mai Night Market – The Walking Street

The idea of the walking streets (Chiang Mai night markets) is that for one evening a week, a section of the city center is shut down to vehicular traffic and opened to vendors and pedestrians. There are what seem to be endless booths selling t-shirts, toys, arts and crafts, fresh cooked food, delicious Thai tea and other drinks, and more.

There are two main walking streets in Chiang Mai, each held once a week – one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Chiang Mai Night Market

Chiang Mai Night Market Food

I mentioned the food. Delicious. The food was my favorite part of the walking streets.

Chiang Mai Night Market

Along the streets you will see that you pass several monasteries. Well, most of them have food markets setup inside their walls, with a variety of different stands selling all kinds of amazing freshly prepared meals for pocket change.

Food Tip: I found the Chiang Mai walking street food markets some of the best spots to get a tear-inducing spicy green papaya salad. Go for 3 chilies. Just do it. Worst case is you’ll really entertain the Thai chefs and merchants.

Chiang Mai Night Market
Green papaya salad stand. This lady cracked up when I said yes to 3 hot peppers – you can see her smirk in the photo!

Chiang Mai Night Markets with Kids?

The night markets, at least on the early side, are great for kids.

Check out some other great Chiang Mai kids activities.

The Chiang Mai walking streets feature tons of booths selling all kinds of toys, many hand made and all interesting. The shopkeepers will interact with the kids (of course trying to hook them into making you buy a toy).

We had one big toy quest during our night market excursions. Over the course of several nights we searched high and low for the right price for a couple of “gooey bears” that J&A were desperate for (they came up with the name).

These novelties, essentially balloons filled with flour and adorned with facial features that can be molded into funny shapes, were an obsession. Which is too bad, because about two days after finally finding them for the right price, AJ’s exploded all over our hotel room.

Chiang Mai Night Market
Tense gooey-bear negotiations.

If you do want to buy anything at the walking streets don’t forget to negotiate. Just do it with a smile and have fun and it becomes an enjoyable part of the experience.

Wat Sri Suphan

Besides the shopping and eating, the Saturday walking street is a perfect time to check out the Chiang Mai silver temple – Wat Sri Suphan.

This temple, on a side street just off Wua Lai Road, is spectacular at night as colored lights reflect off the silver-clad walls. It’s a really unique change of pace among the myriad of gold-clad temples around Thailand.

Wat Sri Suphan - Chiang Mai Night Market

Wat Sri Suphan - Chiang Mai Night Market

Night Market Caveats

The Chiang Mai night market walking streets are not for everyone. If you are overwhelmed by (or just don’t really like) crowds, then I’d stay away. As the evening goes along the streets turn into a shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian logjam. Street performers set up right in the middle of the road as well, making the flow of humanity slow to a crawl every 40 feet or so.

If you go right at the beginning of the evening the crowds are less intense. Also, avoid bringing bulky backpacks or other bags, as they make it harder to move around.

Chiang Mai Night Market

It’s best if you can walk to and from the market as well. The one night we tried to take a red truck taxi back from the far end of the Saturday walking street we had a hard time not getting gouged on the price. There are tons of people wanting rides and few taxis, and the drivers take advantage.

But taken in small early-evening doses we found the walking streets to be a lot of fun, and we are still enjoying many of the souvenirs we found wandering those booths!

Note: We visited Chiang Mai in January and February 2015. We got a little behind in writing about our experiences… then got further behind… and well somehow a year went by. So if you’re visiting Chiang Mai check the current details before heading out.

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Wat Sri Suphan - Chiang Mai Night Market

Hello? Are You Guys Still in Malaysia?

So our last post from June 23, 2015 was all about fun things to do in Penang, Malaysia. Then… nothing. Sorry about that. Kat has been good about keeping things relatively current over on Facebook, but the blog has been badly neglected! So what’s the deal? Time for a quick update.

Well, for one, we’re not traveling at the moment. We returned to the U.S. in July after about 9 months of awesome, spectacular, life-altering travel adventures around Southeast Asia. Since we’ve returned we’ve been busy feathering a new nest and reconnecting with friends and family. More on that in a bit.

Also, though our last post was about Malaysia, we weren’t actually in Malaysia at the time. The blog was always behind our actual geographic location, but it grew waaayyy behind as time went on. We were just having too much fun and experiencing too many amazing places. Here’s the full itinerary:

So if you’ve been reading along on the blog you know we wrote a bunch about the Philippines, some about Thailand, and a little about Malaysia. We have TONS more stories, not to mention thousands of photos and videos.

Here are just a few quick highlights:

Petrosains Discovery Center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur was a paradise for families. We had our fill of amazing family activities here including what has to be the world’s largest playground, and great interactive activities like this fossil excavation at the Petrosains Discovery Center

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Of course we had to see the Petronas Twin Towers with our twins!

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
We fell in love with Cambodia. Siem Reap turned out to be one of our favorite stops of the whole trip. Here are the kids at Angkor Wat.

2015 Da Nang International Fireworks Competition
Our timing worked out perfectly to catch the 2015 Da Nang International Fireworks Competition in Vietnam.

Citadel, Hue, Vietnam
Walking through the Citadel in Hue, Vietnam.

Caving in Phong Nha, Vietnam
Caving in Phong Nha, Vietnam was incredible. These vast natural temples are worth the trip from anywhere.

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
Singapore is unreal. It’s like being transported into a real life Jetsons episode.

Bali Beach
We spent almost a month in Bali, mostly between Ubud and Amed which were so peaceful and beautiful. Oh, and Matt got in a fistfight. Yeah, you want to hear that story.

Tokyo Disneyland
We capped off our trip with a stop in Tokyo and of course Tokyo Disneyland. What a way to end!

We also have a lot to share about why we came home, what we’ve been up to since we got back, how the trip has impacted our lives at home (hint: life is way more awesome now), and what it’s like returning to the United States after months living in Asia.

So that’s the nutshell version. Basically we loved the full time traveling and it was absolutely the right thing for us to do at the time. But it wasn’t what we wanted to do forever. Now we’re back with friends and family, back into some routines (trying to focus on the good ones and avoid the ones that burned us out before), and overall really enjoying life with a whole new energy.

And of course, we’re planning the next trip…

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14 Fun Activities for Kids in Penang

Penang is a great spot for family travel and there are dozens of awesome kids activities in Penang. We spent about 3 weeks exploring the island, including several days with Nana and Papa visiting, and we found tons of fun Penang attractions and things to do as a family.

Things to do in Penang with Kids

There are some really excellent lists of Penang kids activities out there (like this one from our friend Sharon). We had a blast in Penang and wanted to share our own list of things to do with kids in Penang too.

Table of Contents

  1. Penang Municipal Park (Youth Park)
  2. Penang Hill
  3. Orangutan Island and the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort
  4. Monkey Beach and Turtle Sanctuary
  5. Teluk Bahang Forest
  6. Kek Lok Si Temple and Turtle Pond
  7. Search for Street Art in Georgetown
  8. Horseback Ride on Batu Ferringhi Beach
  9. Henna Tattoos
  10. Visit the Clan Jetties
  11. Dinner at the Golden Thai Seafood Village
  12. Eat at Hawker Stalls
  13. Batik Factory
  14. Penang Botanical Gardens

Penang Municipal Park (Youth Park)

Penang Municipal Park is one of the coolest public parks we’ve been to. This was definitely our favorite Penang kids activity.

Not only are there several big playgrounds, but also a series of cascading swimming and splash pools to cool down in. The pools are clean and clear, and surrounded by fountains for kids to play in (like in the feature image at top of this post).

The pools and two playgrounds are near each other in one part of the park. In this area there’s also changing rooms and bathrooms, as well as a snack stand where we got our ice cream fix. This part of the park is lush with lots of shade. We got lucky one day and a troupe of monkeys made their way through the area too.

Penang Youth Park - Kids Activities in Penang
You Park not just for youth.

Down the road a bit there’s a separate area with another giant playground specifically designed for kids in wheelchairs. This playground is quite new looking and really nice – our kids loved running up and down the ramps. The one downside is there is no shade, so bring water, hats, and sunscreen.

Penang Municipal Park is free to enter.

Penang Hill

For our kids anyway, the funicular ride up Penang Hill was probably the best part of this activity. At the top there’s also a small playground, a Hindu temple, a mosque, a couple restaurants, and various other minor attractions.

Penang Hill - Kids Activities in Penang
Posing at the wall of love locks.

We had lunch at Cliff Cafe which was fine and reasonably priced. It’s basically a food court with several options including both Western and Malay food. We followed that up with a stop at Bellevue Hotel where they have a small aviary and gorgeous gardens. They talked us into staying for a quick tea which was worthwhile for the view alone.

The funicular cost 30 Ringgit ($8) roundtrip per adult, kids were free.

Tip: angle for the seats near the top (going up) or bottom (going down) of the funicular car for the best views.

Penang Hill - Kids Activities in Penang, Malaysia
Posing on an old funicular car at the top of Penang Hill.

Orangutan Island and Bukit Merah Laketown Resort

Technically this one isn’t really in Penang, but it’s easily reachable from the island and makes a good day excursion. We drove to Bukit Merah ourselves and from Batu Ferringhi it took about an hour and a half each way.

Orangutan Island is part of the larger Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. The resort as a whole also includes a water park, “ecopark”, games, restaurants, and two hotels on the shores of a large lake.

The Orangutan Island portion is a sanctuary in the middle of the lake designed to provide a safe home for orangutans, and allow scientists to study them. You can take a little ferry from the dock at the Laketown Resort across the lake to visit the island (72 Ringgit, $20 for all of us).

Once on the island you are guided into a cage tunnel to see the orangutans. On this island the orangutans are free and the humans are caged. We saw several of the fuzzy orange monkeys and found them really endearing. One in particular was shy, hiding beneath a leafy branch when we came near, but peeking out occasionally to see the crowd.

Orangutan Island - Kids Activities in Penang

After returning to the main resort area we ate in the food court area. Options here were a bit limited if you didn’t want local (very local) Malaysian food so perhaps think about bringing food if you’re particular. There’s also a café with more western fare, but it’s expensive and Nana reported not very good.

We then spent the afternoon at the waterpark (70 Ringgit, $19 for all of us). While a bit run down by western standards it was a blast and a great way to end the day. There’s a big kids play area with smaller slides and fountains to splash around in.

There are also plenty of bigger slides for adults, including a completely insane U-shaped tube slide that is pretty much guaranteed to give you whiplash. Kat had a big audience of locals laughing at her for this one, but none of the girls in their group dared try it. Loud and proud!

Monkey Beach and Turtle Sanctuary

Monkey Beach is part of the national park at the north end of Penang island. To reach Monkey Beach you hire a boat at the national park entrance. Negotiate the rate directly with the boatman. We paid 160 Ringgit ($43) for the whole boat for the day. You will also need to register with the national park office (no charge).

Having your own boat is awesome because you can set the itinerary. We ended up hanging out on Monkey Beach for a long time but it was not problem because no one was rushing us back. This is perfect for traveling with kids.

Monkey Beach is a nice piece of white sand that also happens to have a population of curious monkeys that come down from the jungle to snag tourists’ food. Most of them were friendly enough, though some got a bit aggressive so keep alert. They’ll go after food on your table or in your bags if you’re not paying attention.

Monkey Beach - Kids Activities in Penang

Monkey Beach - Kids Activities in Penang
Enjoying the rope swing at Monkey Beach.

We saw a ton of jellyfish in the water on the way to and from Monkey Beach, but our boatman told us it was safe to swim at the beach itself. It was hot and the water beckoned so we gave it a shot. While the water was quite cloudy we didn’t encounter any jellyfish.

As part of our boat trip we also stopped at “Meromictic Lake”, which was almost completely dried up during our visit. When it’s not dried up it’s composed of layers of fresh and salt water that do not mix.

Not far from the lake we also stopped at a sea turtle sanctuary. This was a major highlight for the marine biologist (Papa) and his protégés (Kat and the minis). Besides some displays on the walls there were several tanks with live turtles. The best of these was a small pool right in front with a bunch of just hatched baby sea turtles.

Monkey Beach - Kids Activities in Penang

There’s also a beach at the turtle sanctuary, but there are TONS of jellyfish here. So definitely no swimming!

Teluk Bahang Forest

Teluk Bahang Forest is a fun Penang kids activity that’s similar to Penang Municipal Park, though honestly not quite as nice. There’s a small playground and several swimming pools carved out of a natural creek.

A main difference here is that since it’s a natural creek the water isn’t treated. There are signs warning against waterborne illness so keep that in mind. We swam and didn’t have any problems.

Teluk Bahang Forest - Kids Activities in Penang
Local kids were fascinated with Jasper at Teluk Bahang Forest.

A big benefit of Teluk Bahang Forest, if you’re staying in Batu Ferringhi, is location. Just an easy 10 minute drive west from Batu Ferringhi, it’s a lot easier to get to than the Municipal Park.

Teluk Bahang Forest is free to enter.

Kek Lok Si Temple and Turtle Pond

Kek Lok Si Temple - Kids Activities in Penang

Aurora and Jasper have certainly had their fill of temples during our travels. In general they’re not the biggest fans, but mostly still enjoyed this one.

The highlights for them were climbing the steps to the top of the large pagoda, the funicular ride up to the giant Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue (12 Ringgit, about $3 for all of us), and the turtle pond at the base of the temple complex.

At the turtle pond you can pay a nominal fee for some bunches of leafy vegetables to feed to them (1 Ringgit, about $0.25 per bunch). There are dozens of turtles and it’s really entertaining to watch them clamber over one another to get at the food.

Kek Lok Si Temple - Kids Activities in Penang
So many turtles.

There’s a decent restaurant right in the basement of the temple where you can get an inexpensive lunch. We got more than enough food for the 4 of us and it cost under $6.

It costs 3 Ringgit (less than $1) to park at the temple.

Kek Lok Si Temple - Kids Activities in Penang

Search for Street Art in Georgetown

We spent the better part of a day roaming the streets of Georgetown checking out the awesome street art. We wrote a post about it, including a bunch of photos, here.

Horseback Ride on Batu Ferringhi Beach

Horseback Ride on the Beach - Kids Activities in Penang

We stumbled into this Penang kids activity on our way to dinner one night. After parking our car in a lot near the beach we decided to walk over and check out the sunset. Just as we stepped on the sand a man with a horse offered us a ride.

Kat was able to ride with both kids which was cool, and made for some great pictures. The horseback ride cost 40 Ringgit ($11).

Henna Tattoos

Ok so this isn’t specifically a Penang kids activity, but it’s fun. We stopped at a little stand in the Batu Ferringhi night market after dinner and got family “ink” done. The henna is cool because it just lasts a few days (supposed to be couple weeks, but it seemed to wear off the kids faster).

You have to be careful with squiggly little ones though – before the ink dries it’s very easy to smudge, and the smudges can’t be erased.

Tattoos for the 4 of us cost 35 Ringgit ($10).

Henna Tattoos - Kids Activities in Penang
Aurora waiting patiently for her tattoo to dry.

Visit the Clan Jetties

This is a classic Georgetown attraction and you shouldn’t miss it with kids, especially slightly older ones. While Aurora and Jasper were a bit young to get the history and architectural interest here, they did find it interesting to see people’s houses out over the water.

It’s free to walk around the jetties.

Clan Jetties - Kids Activities in Penang

Dinner at the Golden Thai Seafood Village

This restaurant on Batu Ferringhi beach serves up delicious (and expensive) seafood, but the big reason it qualifies as a Penang kids activity is the huge collection of tanks in the front where you pick out your dinner. Jasper and Aurora were both excited to the point of doing laps back and forth in front of the tanks, pointing out which aquatic delicacy they planned to order.

Golden Thai Seafood - Kids Activities in Penang
Picking out dinner.

The restaurant is huge, and open to the beach on one end. So the kids were able to run around a bit and even play on the beach while we waited for our food.

Nana and Papa treated us to this one (thanks guys!!), so we don’t know the cost, but it’s definitely a splurge.

Eat at Hawker Stalls

If you’d rather not see your dinner swimming around before it hits the grill you might prefer one of the awesome Penang hawker markets. These are basically food courts with a variety of stalls from which to pick your meal. You’ll find mouthwatering Malaysian, Thai, Indian, and more.

Our two favorites were Long Beach in Batu Ferringi and the one on Gurney Drive, pictured below, near the Gurney mall (we parked at the mall).

At Long Beach, if you sit in the back left corner by the river you may get to see monitor lizards along the banks or swimming in the water.

Long Beach is also a popular place for expats and we met some fellow family travel bloggers for dinner one night. It was quite a scene with all of our kids running laps around the tables, but no one minded and it allowed the parents some time to relax and talk with other adults.

Either Gurney or Long Beach are great for families with kids because it’s no problem to be loud and everyone can choose his or her own meal.

Hawker Stalls - Kids Activities in Penang

Hawker Stalls - Kids Activities in Penang

Batik Factory

The Batik Factory is just a short diversion, but worth a stop if you’re driving to the national park or Teluk Bahang Forest. You’ll see signs along the road.

At first glance it’s just a store with racks upon racks of gorgeous batik fabrics made into sarongs, skirts, shirts, and more. There are also batik art pieces hanging on the walls.

But the reason to stop is the quick tour of the workshop in the back where they are actually making the patterned fabrics.

Using melted wax and colorful dyes, skilled workers transform plain cloth in front of your eyes. It’s a really cool educational experience, and only takes a few minutes.

Batik Factory - Kids Activities in Penang

Penang Botanical Gardens

While not the most amazing botanical gardens we’ve seen, the Penang version was still a fun stop for a couple of hours and a good kids activity.

Most of the displays are compartmentalized in a series of greenhouses or caged areas. The easiest way to see all of the displays is by hiring an electric tram as they are quite spread out. It’s 10 Ringgit (under $3) per adult for the tram ride. Kids are usually 3 Ringgit, but we negotiated ours for free.

In addition there’s a peaceful Japanese garden by a gurgling river, and a nice formal flower garden.

Penang Botanical Gardens - Kids Activities in Penang

There’s apparently a shooting range adjacent to the Botanical Gardens parking lot, and the gunfire certainly diminished the tranquility of some parts of the gardens. We don’t know if it operates every day.

You can grab lunch at the small café on the opposite side of the parking lot from the shooting range. We had some delicious Indian food (4 Ringgit for chicken, 2 Ringgit for noodles), though the proprietor told us they only make the hot food on Saturday and Sunday. There are some other food stalls there that may be open other days but we were there on a weekend so we’re not sure.

Penang Kids Activities

As you can see there’s tons of activities for kids in Penang. It’s one of the more family friendly places we’ve traveled in Asia.

Find an awesome Penang hotel on Agoda.

Have you tried other family activities in Penang? Let us know in the comments!

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