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(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.)

I came across a link to Little Passports and was so intrigued by the concept. Jon and I used to travel a lot before the kids came along, doing the whole backpacking on a shoestring thing. Such wonderful experiences! We still have the travel bug in us and would love for the kids to see and learn more of the world and its varied cultures. But with kids, travelling can get expensive. So we are saving many many destinations for when the kids are older and better able to appreciate wherever we go, and better retain memories of those holidays. With Alyssa’s arrival our timelines have been pushed back even further!

In the meantime, Little Passports offers us a way to teach the kids about the world and to explore a new country each month. There are many monthly subscription boxes nowadays, but I’ve never subscribed to any of them. This one, however, really appeals to me and I can’t wait to try it out! Especially since the June holidays are almost upon us!

Each World Edition subscription (for kids 6-10 years old) comes with a little suitcase and a passport (how cute!), a map, letters from pen pals Sam & Sofia, stickers, activity sheets, and other things. Each month you receive a kit featuring a new country, with activities and collectibles. There’s also a world edition for younger kids (3-5 years) called the Early Explorers, and it’s a simplified version that’s more appropriate for that age group. And if you are really keen to learn about all 52 states of the USA, there’s a USA edition too.

The little suitcase and the things that come with the World Edition subscription (Photo taken from Little Passports site)

Each World Edition subscription comes with a map (Photo taken from Little Passports site)

If you, like us, love for the kids to learn more about the world, Little Passports could be for you. I think this will be a really fun June holiday activity with the kids! Perhaps you’ll find that one destination the entire family simply must visit in person for the December holidays :)

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More on Tanjung Jara Resort in this post!

The Service

Attentive. Discreet. Classy.

That’s how I would describe it. And I firmly believe it is because of the excellent work done by the General Manager, Philippe Cavory. It’s really a case of leading by example. He’s everywhere! When we arrived he was at the lobby to greet us as we were served Tanjung Jara Resort’s apparently famous Roselle Tea. When we chilled out at the beachfront, we saw him walking the grounds, adjusting the bins and pinning back the curtains at one of the cabanas since he saw them out of place – no task too small or beneath him. At the little Malay cultural event, he was there to chat with the guests. And one afternoon when we were in the room, we received a call from the front desk saying that the GM wanted to serve us complementary wine and hors d’oeuvres. Wow!

Our surprise!

Our surprise!

It’s the little things that really leave an impression. Serving guests who were along the beachfront iced water on a hot day (all beach hotels should do this!), delivering our room service meal in record time when we told them the kids were very hungry, helping to carry my bowl of noodles back to the table when they saw my hands were full with Alyssa.

Activities

There’s a whole variety of activities to keep you busy at Tanjung Jara Resort. I’d have taken part in more of them if Alyssa wasn’t stuck to me since I’m still her milk bottle at the moment. For starters, I’d have visited the spa. The treatments sound won-der-ful. Oh well. We had planned to go for a hike as well, but the kids were having so much fun at the pool that we decided to just stay put.

We did get to enjoy the Kampong Sucimurni Lifestyle event which is held weekly for guests, especially those not from the region, to experience traditional Malay village life. There were little stations for guests to try traditional games, local snacks and drinks, and there was even a monkey climbing trees to pick fresh coconuts that are opened on the spot. The kids loved the snacks. Ellery, in particular, made hundreds of trips to the snack table to help him to more keropok (crackers).

Kampong Sucimurni Lifestyle day

Kampong Sucimurni Lifestyle day

Coffee, tea, and Roselle water (a type of hibiscus)

Coffee, tea, and Roselle water (a type of hibiscus)

Monkey picking coconuts

Monkey picking coconuts

There’s also an island nearby that’s a good spot for snorkeling. My brother and nephew went for a day trip and saw a reef shark, a turtle, lots of fishes big and small, tons of sea cucumbers, and Nemo, Nemo, Nemo.

Food

The breakfast buffet at Di Atas Sungei features a mix of Western standards and – the best part – local delicacies like nasi dagang (rice steamed with coconut milk in leaves). One of the mornings they served a soup made from pure fish stock that was sooo good. The freshly baked croissants are good too. They bake trays and trays of them. Philippe is French, so I suppose that’s why he ensures good croissants are available!

The food at Di Atas Sungei can be quite pricey for dinner though so we didn’t eat there at night. We found a wonderful seafood restaurant less than 5 minutes away from the resort that served up excellent food at cheap prices. Cheap and good – Singaporean’s love to hear that! Restoran Seafood C. B. Wee has been around since 1983 and is popular among the locals. Interestingly a lot of them come here to eat the Western food, but for all the 3 nights that we went there we had seafood.  I think we went through most their menu.

Restoran C. B. Wee

Restoran C. B. Wee

There were 8 adults and 6 kids (not counting the baby), so we really had a feast each night. Steamed fish, chicken, squid, lots of veg, small prawns, medium prawns, and giant prawns. I love prawns, but have never tried the giant ones before. It’s so much cheaper there than in Singapore. A single prawn sells for upwards of $25 at Newton hawker centre. At C.B. Wee, depending on how good the catch that day, you cold get a whole plate of giant prawns!

Awesome food. If you stay at Tanjung Jara Resort you got to eat here.

Just a few of the dishes we ordered

Just a few of the dishes we ordered

Look at the size of that prawn

Look at the size of that prawn

Overall, Tanjung Jara Resort if a lovely place to stay if you are willing to make the drive up. My brother’s friend who joined us drove straight from Singapore to Tanjung Jara in 8 hours, and he drives fast. If you do come, you can be assured of a relaxing stay with good service and good food.

Some of the kids

Some of the kids

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The plan was to have breakfast at Restoran Hoi Yin again as we were not yet done with our curry mee fix, but unfortunately the place was simply too crowded for hungry bellies to wait, so we ended up at a prata place a few doors down.

After breakfast the boys couldn’t resist playing in the sea one more time before we left. They weren’t even dressed in their swimming clothes! From just dipping their feet, it became ankles, and knees. And when the waves splashed their pants, they just didn’t care after that and simply jumped into the waves. Ah well. That’s all part of the fun of a beach holiday :) I figured they could just live in their boardshorts for the next few days.

Playing at the beach

Playing at the beach

So, happy impromptu beach fun over, a quick dip in the pool, a quick bath, and we were off to our next destination.

Tanjung Jara Resort

Tanjung Jara didn’t look that far on the map but we took surprisingly long – 4 hours – because the traffic was heavier on this stretch. The entrance to Tanjung Jara Resort was just an understated carved stone wall with the name of the hotel on it. When you turn in, you drive along a narrow road lined thickly with trees and bushes – you can’t even see the hotel. It felt lush, secluded, and exclusive. When we finally saw the main building, it was like a secret revealed.

The hotel sign

What you see from the road

We were welcomed with three grand chimes of the gong – a sound we heard over the course of the next few days, ringing out in the background each time other guests arrived. I couldn’t help thinking it was like a reverse situation of the Hunger Games in that the gongs signified the arrival of more people, rather than the other way around.

You can get fish food from the reception to feed the fishes. The kids loved this!

You can get fish food from the reception to feed the fishes. The kids loved this!

The Rooms and Surroundings

The place was beautiful and calming. A sanctuary of peacefulness. Inspired by traditional Malay architecture, the hotel was designed to reflect the elegance and grandeur of 17th century Malay palaces. When you walk the grounds, you feel like you are in a lavish kampung (traditional Malay village). And indeed a lavish kampung it was. The interiors featured solid wood furniture with rustic, yet elegant, touches, and reached a level of comfort and luxury that YTL hotels are known for.

We stayed in the Bumbung Sea View Room, which was on the upper level of a two-storey building. Extremely spacious, there was a king-sized bed, a day bed, two desks, a bench to relax on at the foot of the bed, and still lots and lots of space for the boys to play even after we put in the cot. Then there’s the bathroom. Gosh, it is about the size of my master bedroom at home, perhaps even bigger. I especially loved the dressing table which was perfect for use as a diaper changing station. With all the space, it was very comfortable for the 5 of us.

Our second-floor room

Our second-floor room

The first thing they do in any room - jump on the bed :)

The first thing they do in any room – jump on the bed :)

The other side of the room

The other side of the room

Nap time heh heh heh

Nap time heh heh heh

Kids stoning at TV time

Kids stoning at TV time

The changing table! This is just tone corner of the bathroom!

The changing table! This is just tone corner of the bathroom!

Two sinks, lots of counter space, and less just half of the bathroom...

Two sinks, lots of counter space

Our house was built away from the seafront, but it was just a short walk to the beach. The waves can get quite strong on windy days, so make sure you watch your kid at all times when they are playing in the sea. Asher got flipped over by the waves once and had a bit of a struggle getting back on his feet. Jon was by his side anyway, but this is just to stress how important it is to watch your kids like hawks here. Waves ‘crashing’, is really an apt description. But also because of that, it is extremely fun to play among the waves here.

The single-storey beachfront room

The single-storey beachfront room

Many beachfront cabanas to relax in

Many beachfront cabanas to relax in

Lovely spot to enjoy a book

Lovely spot to enjoy a book

On a calmer day you can walk quite far out and it's still shallow

On a calmer day you can walk quite far out and it’s still shallow

Jon and the boys :)

Jon and the boys :)

Alyssa enjoying her first beach holiday

Alyssa enjoying her first beach holiday

We loved the pool too. It’s next to the beach so you can hear gorgeous sounds of the waves, but swim in the relative safety of the pool – ‘relative’ because you should always watch your kids when they are in water anyway (yes, I’m harping on this point, but it’s so important!). On the third day we spent the entire day  by the pool. The kids had such a good time, stopping only for lunch, and when they were forced out of the pool by a sudden, blustery storm. The rain was torrential, and as we scrambled to find shelter at the nearby cafe, especially for the then 3-month old Alyssa, it was as if we were escaping a typhoon. The cafe certainly made a lot of money from the storm though, because all the guests started ordering hot chocolate, coffee, tea and snacks. Alyssa was wrapped up in a warm towel and sleeping soundly, completely oblivious to the raging storm outside. She only woke up when we got back to our room quite a while later.

Chilling by the pool

Chilling by the pool

My wrapped up baby

My wrapped up baby

Ellery loved scooping the water out of the big pots to wash his sandy feet

Ellery loved scooping the water out of the big pots to wash his sandy feet

More on Tanjung Jara in the next post!

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Been meaning to put up this post much sooner but for various reasons was delayed!

Our  family, my brother’s family and my parents headed up to Malaysia for a roadtrip at the end of July. It was a  long anticipated trip that was planned months before. It all started with my Mum coming across an advertisement for a SAFRA roadtrip to Lake Kenyir. It sounded interesting but the driving schedule was quite crazy, so we decided to form our own convoy and head up ourselves.

We met at 6am at my parent’s place. Any thoughts of how 6am was nutty quickly dissipated when we saw that the Causeway had no queue whatsoever. I tried to get the boys to continue sleeping in the car but they were much too excited. My mum had also lovingly packed a cooler box full of cold water, fruit and snacks for each car. The boys immediately tucked into the fruit and happily munched at the back of the car.

A chirpy hello to the grandparents at 6 in the morning

A chirpy hello to the grandparents at 6 in the morning

Lots of comfy cushions & pillows

Lots of comfy cushions & pillows

They were really happy to be chucked right at the back of our MPV. When they found out a few months before that there were seats hidden in the floor they were so surprised and kept asking to sit there. We decided to make the road trip more fun for them by letting them sit right at the back. It was like their little space, and it was just nice for the kid’s short legs :) In hindsight it did throw off the balance of the car somewhat, and my neck got tired from turning around whenever they called me, but they had a great time so that’s fine.

Playing with their own things

Playing with their own things

Pillow fight!

Pillow fight!

Jon the driver, and Alyssa behind him

Jon the driver, and Alyssa behind him

Going in our own convoy was a good idea especially with so many little ones. Between toilet breaks and diaper changes we had to make quite a few stops. Food stops, less than expected because of all the snacks we had packed. Plus, we were looking forward to curry noodles in Kuantan.

Mmmm. I remember this curry noodles from when I was a kid! I think I was 9 years old when I first went to Kuantan with my parents and brother. I distinctly remember eating at the curry noodle shop every day, and that it was very good. We arrived in Kuantan around 2pm and the first thing we did was to head to Restoran Hoi Yin for a bowl of curry noodles. We were the last customers there and they had run out of chicken. But even just the curry gravy with lots of tau pok, fishcake and fish balls, it was delicious! We were fortunate to get some noodles at all because they are extremely popular. It’s something about the food in Malaysia, is it the quality of the ingredients? It just tastes so good. The texture of the noodles was just right, the fishcake and fishballs had a lovely bite. Yum!

(Fyi, Restoran Hoi Yin is at No. 31 Jalan Telok Cempedak, 25050 Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia)

Restoran Hoi Yin

Restoran Hoi Yin

Preparing our bowls of noodles

Preparing our bowls of noodles

Finally! After many years of waiting to eat this again :)

Finally! After many years of waiting to eat this again :)

Each a bowl (kids ate non-spicy kway teow soup)

Each a bowl (kids ate non-spicy kway teow soup)

We stayed the Hyatt Hotel in Kuantan, which was apparently the same place we stayed at when I was a kid. I can’t remember much about the hotel, but I’m guessing they hadn’t changed it much. It looked quite in need of some sprucing up. Our room was really disappointing in terms of cleanliness. I’m ok with small rooms, simple, old fashioned decor, and even some less than perfect housekeeping. But I really couldn’t bear the room we were given. It was sticky! Everything, every surface was sticky. Not sea salt sticky. It was like some kind of solution, or oil, or resin kind of sticky. Everywhere! The floor, the tables, the cupboards! Eeewww! And the boys were running around, then climbing onto the bed. I tried to get them to not step on the pillows but they’d sometimes forget. I used to be quite OCD about cleanliness, but my standards dropped drastically after the boys came along. Still, this was a bit too much. Despite all that I was willing to stay on in the room.

However, after the boys came back from swimming and I was going to shower them, we found that the bathtub (the only place to bathe) got clogged up! That was it. I really didn’t want to bathe in dirty water, step on a dirty floor and then sleep on a dirty bed. Not for the price we were paying.

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Beach area at Hyatt Kuantan

Our sticky room

Our sticky room

Thankfully the front desk staff were understanding and they arranged for us to change to a different room. They actually did it quite readily, which made me wonder if other guests had encountered similar problems before. The room we were given in exchange was completely different. It was like we had gone to a different hotel. The decor was different, the layout was different, and even the toiletries were different! I think we were given a recently renovated room. If so, Hyatt should quickly renovate all their other rooms!

The added perk of our new room was that someone lit fireworks at the beach in front of our balcony, so we got to enjoy a surprise fireworks display.

We turned in fairly early after a long day, and in preparation for another day of driving. We were heading up to Tanjung Jara next.

Playing at the beach

Playing at the beach

Happiness is picking seashells

Happiness is picking a bucketful of seashells

Playing 'monkey' in the pool

Playing ‘monkey’ in the pool

Enjoying the sea breeze together

Enjoying the sea breeze together

Sunset from our new room

Sunset from our new room

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We went for a family holiday to Australia along with Jon’s Dad for 10 days.  The plan was to spend most of our time in Sydney and a couple of days driving out to the Blue Mountains area.

The flight there was tiring.  We had hoped that by taking a night flight the boys would sleep on the way there.  Asher was still pretty alright, though he slept much later than usual and woke once.  But Ellery woke often, refused to be put down in the bassinet, and Jon and I had to take turns carrying him the entire flight.  In contrast we took the evening flight home, and it was much better.  We settled their dinner on board and basically ran through the night routine on the plane.  So by the time the lights go out it’s about time for them to sleep too.  Ellery was also much easier to handle and allowed us to put him in the bassinet for quite a large part of the flight such that I actually got to watch the rest of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (I watched the first half on the way up), Friends with Benefits, a few random episodes of kids cartoons, and still managed to get a little sleep.

Sydney was fun!  We checked out several kid-friendly sights like the Sydney Aquarium and Australian Museum, did the harbour cruise, checked out a couple of street markets, walked the Rocks and the Royal Botanic Gardens, played at the relatively new Darling Quarter playground twice, and took a trip to Manly beach.  We only had half-a-day each day because of the jetlag.  By the time the kids were up it was about 11am Australian time, but we didn’t really want to push them to adjust.  We were prepared for a slow, relaxing pace, and let the kids adjust in their own time.

Our roadtrip was hit by bad weather which prevented us from catching the views of the various Blue Mountain features.  The first day was bright and sunny when we were at the Featherdale Wildlife Park.  We thought the next few days would be equally sunny since the previous 4 days in Sydney were blessed with beautiful weather too.  But we found the next two days in the mountains utterly dreary.  It rained non-stop, the temperature dropped to a low of 7 degrees celcius (it had been 27-28 degrees in Sydney!), and there was even sleet at one point!  Piled clothes onto the kids to keep them warm, though I was less worried about Ellery since he’s normally a sweaty monster in Singapore.

Instead of waiting out the rain (which would have been futile anyway), we went to explore the Jenolan Caves – apparently the best in the Southern Hemisphere.  Perfect.  Temperature moderated place that’s unaffected by the rain :)  On the last day we also went to the ZigZag Railway for a ride on real steam engines a la Thomas!  It was freezing that day, and we could even see the mist on our breathe.  But we huddled in the carriage and munched on snacks to keep warm.

Overall it was a good trip. Very relaxing and enjoyable.

There was one horrific experience we went through though. Ellery had a little cold that he’d caught from Asher before the trip and the phlegm was difficult to blow out.  On the first night at our Blue Mountain cabin (where we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness), I was feeding Ellery when I suddenly noticed he was looking at the wall behind us.  Then I asked what he was looking at and realised he was not responding.  I picked him up and found he was absolutely limp!!!  Rushed out to find Jon and we saw he was turning blue.  I tried very hard not to panic but I was very scared.  Then he started to have fits!  We prayed and prayed, and pat and pat, hoping the phlegm would come out – we assessed that it was probably that which was blocking his breathing.  After I don’t know how long, the Ellery suddenly coughed up the phlegm.  His eyes started to move but could not focus for a good many minutes more, and he still did not respond.  He’d be looking at me but not registering anything!  Prayed and prayed some more.  Thank God that he eventually started to mumble something, and regained his colour, and started to be responsive again.  What a fright!!!  What a horrific experience!!!  It was only after the kids were settled into bed later that I felt the stress of it all and cried to release the tension.

We concluded that he’d had a blocked nose, but at the same time was very hungry and wanted to nurse and couldn’t stop drinking.  As a result all his airways got blocked.  It was especially shocking because just a few minutes before he was perfectly fine!

We were just so thankful he was ok.

So yes, it was an eventful holiday.  One good thing that came from the trip was that when we got back to Singapore the kids were kind of on Australian time so they slept much earlier, giving me more time in the evening :)

Ok, think I’ll share more on the individual aspects in a few posts over the next few days.  This was just an overview.

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We had been trying to get train tickets to Malaysia for quite a while.  Jon wasn’t able to take some leave, so we just wanted to do a day trip to somewhere nearby, maybe to Kluang or just JB.  But the problem was, tickets for short-distance rides could not be booked in advance and would only be sold 24 hours before departure.

I had already gone down twice but left empty handed.  I decided to try again.  Went down around 1030am to try and get tickets for the next day’s 8am or 1pm train.  When I got there the 8am train was already sold out, and sales for the 1pm train hadn’t started.  It was still 2 hours to 1pm, and I wasn’t sure whether I should wait or not.  I decided to think about it over lunch.  Jon and I often go to the train station for dinner/supper, so each of the times I came to try and get tickets I made sure to eat there too.

Yummy Mee Goreng!

It was 1130am.  To wait or not to wait?  By then a separate queue for people wanting to buy 1pm tickets had formed, but no one was sure whether it was a queue that would be recognised later.  There was a lot of confusion.  Then suddenly, at 1150am, I heard someone offering to sell his extra ticket.  1150.01am, I realised I knew that person!!  It was Jon’s friend, Tim!  11.55am, we found out under 3s don’t need tickets. 11.57am, I was off running to the car with Ellery in my arms.  In my head I kept thinking, “bird in hand better than two in a bush!”   

If I managed to get tickets I was supposed to get 3, one each for me, Jon and his Dad.  But since the aim was to let Asher ride on the ‘real’ train, and there were only 30 tickets for the next day’s 1pm train and I wasn’t at the front of the queue, and here was one ticket for me, and I could bring them myself, and there was Jon’s friend with me so I’d have some help if necessary so Jon doesn’t worry, I jumped at the opportunity.  Wheeeee!! 

On the way home I hatched my plan.  Getting back to the train station in 1 hour would be a challenge.  I was literally running everywhere.  Ran home, quickly gave Ellery his feed cos he was starving.  Ran back to the car, zoomed to Asher’s school.  When I told Asher we were going to take a real train, he was soooo excited he was literally jumping around.  It was particularly funny because his teacher was about to shower him so he was stark naked and I had to remind him to put on clothes!!  We can’t take a train naked!! :)

He was especially happy cos we took a cab to the station.  I figured it’d be faster to take a cab since I won’t have to look for a parking lot.  Left his school bag and the car at this school.  The taxi driver helped by really being very speedy.  Then, horrors, a jam had formed at the Keppel exit of AYE!  We inched forward.  1245pm.  1247pm.  Called Tim, maybe will be late.  Maybe you go first.  Was thinking what a waste if we can’t make it cos we can see the train tracks and the platform! 1252pm I hopped out of the cab at the bus stop, carried both boys, and raaaaannn!!  Thank goodness Tim had kindly come out to try and meet me halfway, so he carried Asher and we ran to the platform.  Went through customs just in time.  The whistles were blowing, the passengers were running, we got on…safe!  We made it!!!

This must be the closest thing to backpacking I’ll be doing in the next few years.  It was sooo fun :)  I love impromptu adventures!!

Managed to squeeze in a quick shot before boarding

Passing by my old school!  I remember sitting on the track with my track & field teammates watching the train go by in the dark.  If you stare at just one spot in the trees it almost feels like you are in the train watching the lit houses go by. 

Sharing a seat

Crossing the bridge over Bukit Timah road.  Brings back memories of when my friend and I on a spontaneous (andin hindsight, dangerous) desire for adventure, we ran across the bridge :)  Thrilling!  But of course now I’m the responsible parent, I might scold my kid for being so impulsive.  Or will I join them?  Hmmmm…. ;)

We got off at Woodlands station, took a bus to Marsling, an MRT back to Redhill, changing train once at Jurong East.  I think we took every available form of public transport that day!

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How’d you like my new header picture?  It’s a picture I took when Jon and I went on a roadtrip to Devon and Cornwall during our sojourn in UK in 2007/08.  Those were truly the leisure days.  The days when I first set up this blog.  Of course, leisure now means different things to me.  Right now, this very moment, having time to blog is leisure.  Holidays…weelll…give it some time :)

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