Saturday, November 15, 2008

Singapore, A Family Favorite

Despite a lot of opinions on Singapore being so "clinical" or "sterile," this place is actually a great destination for kids. Considering the size of the country, it has so much to offer the young and the young-at-heart.

Because we used to live in Singapore (and every family member has a good friend there), we might be a bit biased but according to the kids (aged 9, 7, 3), these rank top on their list of must-dos:

Science Centre Singapore
Located in Jurong, the Science Centre is unlike your regular science book. It presents the sciences in a fun and interactive way where kids of all ages can learn through discovery.

The Science Centre is a very good size for very young kids. It is small enough for them to possibly see everything in one visit, but at the same time, big enough to allow them the opportunity to experience lots of things. Among their favorite exhibits are "The Human Body" and the Tesla Coil Show at the Atrium.

As always, the IMAX movie at the Omni-theatre was a big hit. This time, we saw "Wild Ocean." Although the film's focus was environmental issues, having been filmed in South Africa, it gave the viewers a peek into the South African culture and beautiful landscapes. I'd say it's well worth seeing.

Snow City
Also in the compound of the Science Centre is Singapore's first permanent indoor snow centre. With temperatures of about -5˚C, the Snow Chamber is 2-storeys of snow where you can go snow-tubing, snow-boarding, or skiing.

Cameras are not allowed inside the chamber. But they do have their own photographers taking your photos as you slide down. However, if you have other areas in mind where you'd like your photo taken (eg. near the igloo), all you need to do is ask the photographer. Viewing of taken photos is by the exit without any obligation to buy.

It'd be important to note that it's possible to buy "combo" tickets for Science Centre-Snow City, depending on how you'd like to go. Recommended time allocation for the whole Science Centre (incl. 1 hour in Snow City): whole day. Operating hours: Science Centre 10am-6pm, Omni-theatre 10am-8pm, Snow City 9:45am-5:15pm. The whole centre is closed on Mondays except school and public holidays.
*note: Schedule correct as of time of publishing. Subject to change without notice. For more accurate info, please call the Centre direct.


Jurong Bird Park
Also in Jurong, the Bird Park is great for kids. For those who want to make the most of this place, one full day is recommended although it is possible to enjoy it for half a day. Before going, here are some tips to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable day:


  1. Ensure that kids have hats and sunblock; shades/hats for the adults to keep the glare away.

  2. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Although there's a Panorail, the best way to explore is by walking.

  3. Pack insect cream/spray. Singapore is very good at keeping mosquitos to the minimum but the park is situated in a secondary rainforest, so best to go prepared.

  4. Singapore has passing showers so an umbrella might come in handy.

  5. If you have small kids, strollers and wagons are available for rent.
While there, don't miss the Birds N Buddies Show at the Pools Amphitheatre (11am, 3pm) and the Birds of Prey Show at the Fuji Hawk Walk (10am, 4pm).

The Penguin Expedition is another highlight. Five penguin species can be seen swimming or just posing for your camera. And if you're lucky enough, you can catch them at their feeding time.

The Bird Park is open daily 8:30am-6pm.
*note: Schedule correct as of time of publishing. Subject to change without notice. For more accurate info, please call the Park direct.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vibrant Bali

The tropical island of Bali, one of the many islands of the country of Indonesia, is one of the better-known tourist destinations in Asia. Apart from the beaches, many tourists are drawn to the Balinese culture where religion, family, and community obligations play a vital role in everyday life.

Indonesia, with over 200 million people, has the biggest Muslim population in the world. But quite ironically, Bali has kept the Hindu faith, and the Balinese believe that Bali was a gift to them from the gods. And because of this, the entire island is quite interestingly lined with many temples and monuments...a clear reflection of their deep spirituality. That said, it is quite difficult not to like Bali.

Bali has a lot to offer tourists. At the end of the day, your kind of itinerary should follow what your idea of a great holiday is like. Having planned to be going around Bali, my family decided to stay in the busier area of Kuta which is a good central starting point.

We went in November, which isn't really their peak period but the main street of Kuta was bustling with people, mostly tourists, even at night. Here, restaurants are plenty and cheap. Whatever cuisine tickles your fancy, you will most likely find in this area.

Accommodation
Having learned that South Kuta beach was under renovation, we decided against staying at Bali Dynasty Resort (which also happened to have renovations of their own at that time) which is a good family hotel next to the beach. Instead, we stayed across the street at Febri's Hotel & Spa which has spacious family rooms (nicely fit 5 of us), a good-sized pool, a restaurant, an unsupervised Kids Club, and a Spa.

Like us, if you are looking at being out and about during the day, then Febri's would be an excellent value-for-money 3-star hotel. The family rooms are clean, spacious, and comfortable with a big refrigerator and a supply of free bottled water everyday. Anyone travelling with kids would only know too well how a big fridge makes a difference. It means you can store milk, juices, some bread, etc. without a problem. We hardly felt limited by the hotel's only restaurant because there were many options around.

If you have another accommodation type in mind, don't worry, Kuta, like the rest of Bali, is well served by many hotels and resorts.

Another consideration was the very popular Nusa Dua. Unlike the other areas, Nusa Dua is very upscale. This is the area of all the international hotel and resort chains. The beaches are quieter and nicer and water sports are widely available. However, it offers very little of the Balinese vibe and culture. Being close to the southern tip of the island, it is also quite far from other places of interest.

Getting Around
Although taxis are plentiful in Kuta, it is not the best mode of transport getting around the island...stories of taxi drivers ripping you off is not uncommon. The easiest way is to hire a car with a knowledgeable, friendly guide. As expected, there are lots of tour operators--a query at your hotel reception would yield a lot of results. The real important issue is where to go and which company to choose.

Luckily for us, we always wind up with good services and nice people. So, if you ever need a tour guide/driver around Bali, please call Suta at (+62 81) 239 82375 or at Bali Bagus Tours (+62 361) 780 2419, 842 2074 or email them at info@balibagustour.com. He has obviously been in the tourist industry for many years as he did not mind answering all our questions about culture, economy, religion, people, etc. He was even patient enough to answer the kids' questions.

Incidentally, the company, Bali Bagus Tours offers different packages. We started out with a fixed package on our first day but realized that we could tailor our own. So, the following days, Suta just happily drove for us, recommending where to go first, for how long, etc, etc.

Shopping
If night markets, street bazaars, beach trinkets, crafts, and souvenirs are your kind of thing, then Bali is the place to be. Strolling along Kuta, you can feast on bargains for clothes and souvenirs on street stalls. Legian, on the other hand, is an enclave of boutiques, both local and imported. Coming from the Philippines, however, where malls are in abundance and clothes come cheap, we didn't spend too much time shopping for clothes in Bali.


Instead, we asked Suta to take us to an excellent art gallery which featured traditional and modern-style Balinese paintings. We were very amazed at the talents of the different artists. Next, we were taken to the house of a wood-carving family. Being fans of wooden crafts, we bought some pieces depicting the Hindu deity Saraswati and the Balinese mythical character, Barong. We also had a chance to witness traditional Batik-painting and buy their finished products after.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and one of the largest national parks in the world.  It is located in the South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga.  

Here, one can find the Big Five, a term coined by hunters which refers to the most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. This group consists of lion, African elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard.

The great thing about Kruger park is that it has a wide variety of accommodation and safari options to fit every budget and type of adventure in mind.  Whether one chooses tent camping or luxury lodging the safari experience will be very similar since most establishments have radios where rangers share sightings and locations with each other.

There are usually two games drives per day and the exact time depends on the season of your visit.  But as a general rule, the first is a drive before sunrise and the second is a drive that ends after sunset.
Buffalo


Rhinoceros
Elephant
Leopard
Antelope


Do remember that most game reserves are malaria areas so it is important to take precautions.  From our experience, malaria pills have side effects and are a pain to administer to kids.  Anti-mosquito creams and bracelets seem to work very well with my kids.