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Vagabond Kids: April 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Malaysia with Kids: Batu Caves- Or How the kids hiked up 272 steps in Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.

At the top of 272 steps is Batu Caves, one of Malaysia's (or at the least, Kuala Lumpur's) most famous tourist attractions. The caves are located about 13 kilometers from downtown KL and can be reached by bus, taxi or hired car. Last spring the vagabond kids and vagabond dad accompanied me while I spent a week for work in KL. One of the highlights of the trips was by far the morning spent at the Caves. Batu Caves was even featured in Season 11 of the Amazing Race!

Batu Caves is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Murgan (the God of Victory and Kundalini in the Hindu faith) and is one most sacred sites for Malaysian Hindus. Every year in late January, early February, the temple becomes filled with devotees during the Thai Pusam festival where Icons are carried up the temple steps (remember there are 272 of them) and devotees often pierce their skin and tongues and carry these heavy idols up the stairs as a test and form of self sacrifice to the gods. (For more information on Thai Pusam click here).

Inside the caves Indian Idols and Mythological Creatures abound.

The day the kids and Vagabond Dad went was a nice morning in June. While at the temple they were able to get blessed by a Hindu priest, visit the petting zoo in front of the temples and visit the caves filled with Hindu idols and religious mythological creatures by way of paintings and statues filing the caves. The kids had a blast watching the Hindu dancers practice dances and even invite tourists on Stage too. I heard that Vagabond dad was invited, but the kid's don't have any photographic proof and he denies that he was a dancing fool!

Dancers at Batu Caves

The day was finished when the kids hiked back down the hill, tired and hungry and they retreated back to the hotel for lunch and a swim in the pool. Batu Caves is a place that as an adult, my first trip was underwhelming. Looking back and looking at it from the kids perspective I realized I missed so much. What a great place to visit and catch a glimpse of Indian Culture and Religion (in particular that related to the Tamil people). When we travel back as a family to KL this summer I plan on doing Batu Caves again with a whole new mindset!

After being blessed by the temple priest.

A note of caution about the temples and the stairs, the steps are steep and it does take a while to climb and I don't recommend taking toddlers as there are many places a little one could fall and or trip around this area. Also, as you can tell the idolatry around the temple does contain half dressed semi-human forms. Finally, there are a number of Macaque monkeys around the temple and they are very aggressive if you are carrying fruit or snacks (particualrly in plastic bags) as many of the locals feed the monkeys and they have become accoustom to begging and stealing food.

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Photo of the Day- Phuket

Vagabond Declan

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Photo of the Day- Sunset Ceremony

Sunset Ceremony JW Marriott Phuket
Originally uploaded by Farflungcraft

JW Marriott Phuket

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taiwan with Kids Guest Post by Julie K

My pal Jaylene K, surfing on a spoon in Ying Ge

It has been one of those weeks, traveling alone, without the vagabond kids. So, when that happens and life gets in the way of me posting regularly, I plan to feature friends and fellow travelers on this blog. Today's post is from my dear friend Julie K in Taiwan. Julie is a Canadian who traveled to Taiwan, fell in love with a wonderful man and now is making her life in the suburbs of Taipei with her husband and two cutie kids.

Ying Ge is a great town in the northern part of Taiwan, just a short drive from Taipei. Here is a great post on Ying Ge (the town) and following is Julie's post about taking her children to this great little spot. Definitely a wonderful place to hang with your kids as you travel around Asia while getting a taste of real Asian culture and heritage.
Here is Julie's post on Ying Ge the pottery town in northern Taiwan.

Ying Ge Pottery Town
April 12, 2010

We love to visit Ying Ge, and I wish we could do it more often. We went
there recently to make some bowls and I’ll share a sneak peek of them with

This was Jayden’s first time making pottery and he loved it.

Ying Ge also has a fun park with larger than life teacups, saucers and

If you could make something from clay right now what would it

For more about Taiwan, living as a parent in Taiwan and some great creative kids projects visit Julie's blog and check out her Flickr too!

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Singapore with Kids: Kampong Glam-

We are really lucky to live in Singapore. Yes Singapore can be very regulated, very controlled, very well um, very ....
Singabore. But what we miss in terms of the rock and roll lifestyle has been replaced by all of the very awesome places and things that Singapore offers families.

Kampong Glam

First, Singapore is safe and clean. Second,it is a major world class city with all of the arts/entertainment and infrastructure that surrounds it. Third and the point of this post, is that it is a cultural milieu that allows us as a family to travel around parts of the world without even leaving this 255 square mile island (which by the way is only 26 miles wide thank you very much!) Many of our long time expat friends call Singapore Asia light or Asia 101. There is so much cultural opportunities for children to explore and experience all within a 20 minute car ride from our house.

Today, let me tell you all about one of my favorite parts of town- Kampong Glam

Haji Lane

Back in the "day" of Raffles and his successors, Singapore was divided into specific sections of different cultural groups. There was a Muslim part of town, which at the time was home to the Arab traders and Malay natives. This part of town, known now as Kampong Glam is a great little corner getaway in Singapore. During the day time, Arab street is filled with Persian Carpet (and lots of Indian carpets) shops, fabric and lace trims and a real working district. One street over is Singapore's narrowest lane, Haji Lane which today is home to an eclectic mix of retro shops, up and coming new fashion designers, in fact it was featured in Time Magazine's list of 10 things to do in Singapore.

The cultural landmark in Kampong Glam is the Sultan Mosque. It was built in 1928 (at least this one, earlier ones were replaced with this bigger better version. Families can tour the mosque during most days (Fridays are the day of prayer and tourists are not allowed in). Men must wear long pants or at least those below the knee. Women are also asked to wear long skirts or pants that cover the knee, but free robes are available to borrow if you forgot or can't be bothered to bring long pants.

Sultan Mosque

The mosque has English guides that explain the history of the mosque and just down the street in one of the neighboring shops is an Islamic bookstore carrying books written in English explaining the Islamic faith if you are interested in learning more about the worlds second largest religion.

As you continue to wander down the streets, there are perfume shops that can make any scent you like, using essential oils (this is due to the fact that strict adherents of the Islamic faith will not wear commercially made perfume as it contains alcohol). You can also find shops that sell custom made beaded slippers (Peranakan Style) a post in its own right for the future, and great little cafes where a simple meal of rice and mutton can be had for a few dollars. Many of the food stalls in this area are Muslim food so no beer or wine can be found... but at night...a funky scene pops up with Sheesha shops selling flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe (Sheesha) with snacks and some sell beer. It is mostly a young persons crowd at night, but for adventure seeking families an evening stroll is a great cultural lesson about middle eastern style night life.

Kampong Glam also is home to the Malay Heritage Center, in the former Sultan of Singapore's final "palace" Istana Kampong Gelam and its grounds. There is really a whole post about the history of the Istana I think I will save that for next week! Let me say you could easily spend an hour or two with the family learning about one of the most fascinating Asian cultures.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @vagbondkids for real time updates of where we are traveling or become a fan on Facebook

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mapping out our travels-Asia

I have been playing a bit with Google Maps, trying to mark the locations that we have visited around Asia (and a few in the US) . While the map is not yet done, I hope to try to link it to posts later and add more detail to the actual places we have visited. I think I have captured the "big" spots and will need to add more details later. For example we have visited Phuket 3 or 4 times with the kids and have stayed in a few different hotels.

Fun for a start anyway~

View Vagabond Kids' Travel in a larger map

P.S. We are setting up a Facebook Fan page check it out here as well as follow us on Twitter @vagabondkids

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Photo of the Day A Famosa- Malacca

Malacca Malaysia

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Travel Tuesday Photo of the Day-Petronas

An unexpected treat looking up when entering the office towers at Petronas Twin Towers in KLCC.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

ZhuJiaZhao China circa 2002

ZhuJiaZhao China circa 2002
Originally uploaded by Farflungcraft

One of our first trips from Taiwan to China with the first Vagabond Kid

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Photo of the Day- Angkor Wat

Angor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Photo of the Day-Raffles Hotel

The renowned Raffles Hotel in Singapore

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Health Care on the Road-Malaysia

I am on the road, as a vagabond mom, without kids or my spouse this week and am suffering from a killer backache. I am not one to normally whinge about these types of things, but this one is so bad I have been unable to sleep and almost thought I needed to check myself into the hospital.
The backache has bugging me for a while, but is getting progressivly worse, so I broke down and went to the doctor while I am here in Kuala Lumpur. But, more on that in a minute
One of the questions family and friends often ask is how do we handle health care while we travel. Do we buy insurance? Do we load up on shots and stash away tons of medicines before we go to each new spot. Generally the answer is no to both. When the kids were younger we tended to travel to less "exotic" places, places where we had either been before or that we knew there were hospitals in the area. Now that they are getting older we are expanding our scope and traveling farther. I do have one caveat. Kiera has allergic induced asthma. We do carry her medicine with us when we travel. Other than that we just wing it. Why? In my 12 years of traveling around Asia I have found the hospitals and doctors to generally be well trained, efficient and very inexpensive.

I will give you two examples: First, my back, here in Kuala Lumpur-

The thing about my sore back is that the pain has been localized and getting worse and stretching, massage, water and enough over the counter painkillers to choke a horse have not stopped the pain. It was time to visit a doctor. The company that I work for happens to have an on-site doctor and I was able to visit her and get some treatment for RM 36.
Now skeptics may say, your cheap doctor visit is because it is a subsidized rate. Well, the truth is because I am a contractor, and not an employee of the Malaysian facility so therefore I pay full market rates. I would have paid the same amount at a clinic almost anywhere in KL. So, the doctor looked at me, gave a good once over and figures I have one of two possible things going on. Either something is wrong with the intercostal region between my ribs, or more seriously I could have Gallstones. Either way, I got a solid checkup, some topical analgesic, some muscle relaxants and pain killers for the total cost of RM 36.00 (That is 10 US) plus photo therapy for 30 minutes. Seriously, the cost for that visit would have been 10X in the US if I had no insurance.

The second example is my daughter's health care in Singapore. Singapore is one of the most expensive areas in the region for health care, but again when compared to US rates, the price is very reasonable. My daughter had an asthma attack about 2 years ago and we could not get her oxygen levels back up to normal rates using her inhalers or medicine. We took her to the emergency room at Singapore University Hospital. She spent 3 hours undergoing treatment in the emergency room (we only had to wait 30 minutes to be seen) and after 3 nebulizer treatments they determined they should admit her overnight, just to be safe. We got a private room so I could sleep with her and the doctor visited her 3 times through out the night.
Even the ER doctor came up to check on her before his shift ended at 3am. The following day, her allergy doctor came and checked on her, as well as the physician on staff that day. She saw 3 doctors, had nurses attending to her all night, had neb treatments every 2 hours for six hours (a total of 6 treatments in all). Total cost of this little overnight visit to the hospital, a private room and emergency room? Three separate doctors? 6 doses of medicine? Thinking because Singapore is a first world country this maybe would be $5000 US? $10,000?

Did I say we were uninsured? My husband was between jobs at the time so we had to pay out of pocket. As non-Singaporean citizens we did not receive a subsidized rate. Total Cost. $600 Singapore dollars. That is around $425.00 US. First class health care at seriously good prices.

Really, we don't tend to worry too much about health care with the kids when we travel. We have heard stories of excellent health care in Bali, Phuket, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai. We have personally used the system in Taiwan. So, if health care concerns were stopping you before, what's stopping you now?

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Photo of the Day-Monkey Business-Singapore

Long Tailed Macaque- Did you know that Singapore has the World's second largest urban rainforest?-Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is located a 5 minute walk from my home in Singapore and we are blessed to see these funny little creatures all the time.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Budget Your Trip-Kuala Lumpur

Trying out this new site to get estimated costs of travel. There are lots of cities in Asia that are under represented. Let's see if I can't help add some data!

I will give you all a review of this site when I get back as to functionality. See you on the back side kids!


Planning for a Weekend Trip-Penang?

We love living in Singapore. One of the clear winners on our front is the rise in budget airlines flying in and out of Singapore. Coupled with my frequent travel around the region for work, Jeff's flexibility using a work from home model and the wealth of travel options around Singapore (don't believe me, check out Wild Junket's post on 10 New Ideas for a Weekend Getaway).

The last trip we took, to Yogjakarta using hotel points and budget airlines was a super bargin at around $800 US for 4 nights five days at a 5 Star Hotel. We want to travel but we want to do it on the cheap. Our plans for our next trip usually start within days of our return from the last trip. We end up spending time dreaming and surfing the net looking for fun spots to visit, we look at my work schedule and where I need to travel over the next few months and then finally we look at the kid's school schedule to see when they have time off. The next logical determination is can we combine the two?
I am needing to do a trip to Penang in order to train some of the employees we have in our North Malaysia office. This training needs to be done sometime in the next few months so I confirmed that the first week of May works for the staff in Penang and the last day of April is a holiday in Singapore so the kids get the day off. So putting two and two together. Looks like we have a weekend we can get away. Our last trip to Penang with the family was in 2005. Lots has changed since then, we know much more about Penang and were to go and what to do. I was back in Penang last year for work and had a blast visiting tons of great foodie spots. As our little creatures are beyond just the beach at this age- we can't wait.

Now, we are looking into flights (Air Asia is looking to be a winner again) our current booking looks like it can be done for around $350 Singapore Dollars (about $250 US). Next step is to find some hotels. We often look at to check prices and then we compare them against either rates I get from my corporate accounts or from membership deals. If all goes as planned and the deals can be done we should be hanging on the beach at Batu Ferrenghi and having some most awesome Chicken Rice soon!
Pictures of the kids from 2005.

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Photo of the Day- Kota Kinabalu Markets

Market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia (Borneo)

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Photo of the Day Satay at Suzi's Corner-KL

Originally uploaded by Farflungcraft

I am about to head up the road again for a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Will be having a spot of dinner here at Suzi's I hope.

Photo from last year's photo a day challenge.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Traveling with kids in Yogjarkarta

Our latest trip was a two hour flight from Singapore on Air Asia to the city of Yogjarkarta (aka Jogjakarta) Indonesia. For short those in the know call it Jogja.

Pool at the Sheraton

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel and loved it. The room was pretty spacious (big enough for a roll away bed) had a nice little deck overlooking the pool and the pool itself was frankly amazing.

The trips to the temples themselves are going to be posts for a later time, but they are amazing works of art. UNESCO has listed them both as world heritage sites and while they are fascinating for adults, I was a bit worried that the kids would be board. In order to try to offset this potential, we got the kids cameras. Probably the best move yet. For about 99 Sing dollars each we outfitted the kids with 9 megapixel Fuji point and shoot cameras. Let me just say that the cameras were used to the full extent of the trip.

Making of Indonesian Shadow Puppets in the Kraton

Highlights of the kids trip included a tour of the Kraton. The kids and Jeff were able to tour portions of the Sultan's home and the surrounding Kampong village. The also were able to visit the bird market and view all of the odd and unusual creatures. The kids also road on one of the horse drawn carriages around the city for a 15 minute tour to nowhere. The kids both say this was a total blast!

Bird Market

Another highlight of the trip was probably the discovery of Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken) Jogja style. We ate at a few places, but the Suharti was the best. The staff's English skills were a bit lacking, but the menu had English and we mostly got what we ordered, which was the Fried Chicken and two bowls of chicken soup. We didn't get the veggies, but hey who needs that anyway? The link above was from one of my all time favorite food writers in Asia. Robin Eckhardt from Eating Asia. I have yet to have a bad meal if Eating Asia reviewed it! Our kids also found the Sasanti Restaurant to have amazing food, great decor, wonderful staff and even appreciation for a certain little girl who turned 7 that day. All and all we would definitely hit both places again.

The city was fun, easy to get around, inexpensive and close to Singapore. When you combine that with tasty food, cheap beer and places to tour again and again, I am sure we will be back again.

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