Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First, Then Your Child's

If you're like me and love travelling, don't let having small children stop you from going on far away adventures. When it comes to raising children, I follow the basic motto taught by those perky stewardesses: Put on your own oxygen mask first and then your child's!

This blog is all about fun travels far and near with your kids, but most importantly, it's also about remembering to put yourself first and have some good adult fun too!

Take your kids on adventures beyond their wildest dreams and at the same time, let them experience other countries and cultures around the world. It will shape their perspective for years to come.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Phuket, Thailand with Kids

This is one of those trips that captures every kid's imagination--from feeding monkeys on the beach to swimming with colorful fish and riding an elephant!

Phuket is one of the main resort islands off of Thailand. It is an international destination with high class resorts and hence, very safe and clean for children. There are many family-friendly resorts on Phuket, but we stayed at Katathani Phuket Beach Resort, situated right on the secluded Kata Noi beach--one of the nicest beaches on the island.

Kata Noi beach is located further down the island, far away from the bustle and nightlife of Patong Beach. (Patong is where transvestites walk around with boas around their neck, not a place you really want to take your kid). But Kata Noi beach is secluded and wonderful, perfect for families. There is even snorkeling at the far end which was nice for my seven year old son. The renovated Katathani resort is located right on the beach so you can spend your time in between the pool and the beach. Or better yet, you can sit on one of the hotel lounge chairs in the shade and get a nice inexpensive Thai massage ($30 for a full massage) and watch your kids play in the sand! That's what I call vacation!

Aside from just hanging on your idyllic beach and resort, I would recommend the following itineraries:

Boat Trip to Ko Phi Phi:
You can book this trip through the hotel or any shop across the street from the hotel (better prices). This day-long boat trip takes you to the beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi with its stunning limestone cliffs; gorgeous Maya Bay where the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo Di Caprio was filmed; and Monkey beach where your kids can feed bananas to monkeys! They also stop on a little bar of sand, tiny Khai island, in the middle of the ocean where your kids can swim with schools of tropical fish! Vendors sell fresh coconuts with a straw for kids to try and also of course ice cream, which is just what you need after a day of snorkeling and hanging on the beach!

The only caveat about this boat trip is that they use small, fast speedboats. They can carry up to 30 people, but the boats are still smallish and you're out in the open sea (which is a tad rough). I would recommend bringing your own boat lifejackets for your kids. The Thai boat company seemed to only have adult lifevests. We packed our own boat jackets from the US. Proper boat jackets are important as they will hold up your kids' head if they fall in the water. You can ride bigger boats, but then you won't be able to stop on all the little beaches I just mentioned, e.g. monkey beach. This whole trip was really a highlight for the kids so just bring the lifejackets!

Phuket Old Town and Riding an Elephant:
Another recommended foray out of your resort is to check out the quaint old town of Phuket with its colorful 18th century Sino-Portuguese storefronts. The old town is full of cute shops like an old Chinese herb store as well as antique and batik fabric shops. The main renovated old town is on Thalang and Dibuk streets. We ate lunch at the China Inn Cafe, 20 Thalang Road which is in a beautiful renovated old Chinese house. The China Cafe also sells great antiques and serves a nice lunch in their courtyard garden.

You can also check out an typical Thai temple (full of gold and color) in the middle of the town. This outing to Phuket's old town is another great way to expose your kids to life in another country. Admittedly, my kids were a bit whiney since it was hot and humid, but they did get really excited when we decided to jump into a local Thai taxi. This taxi is essentially a little red truck which is open in the back for the passengers. It's mainly used for going around the town, not for longer trips. I think the kids thought it was some sort of amusement park ride! They LOVED it. It was another trip highlight!
On the way back, we stopped at an elephant farm where the kids jumped on an elephant and went on a short 30-min jungle trek. By the time we got back to the resort, it was hot and the kids were glad to jump in the pool and be back in la-la resort land, but still I'm glad we took them out to experience some of the local town.

More on Where to Stay: The Katathani Beach Resort. We found and booked the Katathani through AsiaWebdirect.com. It's a great website full of great details of all the different islands, beaches and resorts in Thailand. They are reliable and best of all, you don't have to pay the whole reservation upfront, just a small deposit. Our package deal was $260 per night for a Junior Suite in the Thani wing of the hotel with an ocean view, including breakfast and daycare. The suite was one large room with a sitting area which could be converted into a two kid beds. Make sure you book in the Thani wing of the hotel (oceanfront) rather than the Bhuri wing. The Bhuri wing is cheaper but across the road and I don't recommend it. Included in the package is also free airport transfers. The resort staff will meet you at the airport so you don't have to worry about any shady taxi drivers plus you'll get a cool scented towel and bottle of water for the drive! Finally, before you book any hotel (including this one because things change), I recommend checking Trip Advisor, where you'll find the most up to date reviews of every resort.

Daycare: The hotel also offers a free kids club daycare included in the package. We used the kids club to enjoy some nice romantic lunches at the famous Mama's Tri Boathouse restaurant for fantastic Thai food. We also walked to another restaurant perched on the cliff above the beach that was part of the Mama Tri-Boathouse Hotel. If you want to check out the crazy only-in-Thailand nightlife, the Katathani can arrange for a babysitter to hang in our your room.
Restaurants: The resort is your typical high-end place with lots of different restuarants to chose from and a wonderful breakfast buffet included in the room package. It's quite a spread! The Thai dinner buffet and classical dance show was good too. But even better, just across the street from the resort, are a few family-run local Thai restaurants. They were excellent and clean, and only $12 for a meal for the entire family. This really saves you from paying resort prices for your meals, plus you get your kids out of that resort la-la land and let them experience a bit of Thailand. Just ask the other guests which local restaurants they've check out for the best recommendations or check Tripadvisor.com for tips as well.

When to go: It's a great winter trip. When it's cold and dreary in most of America, it's sunny and dry in Phuket--the best time to visit that side of Thailand. We went in early December 2008 before the Christmas rush (and prices) when the Scandinavians dominate the place. But January and February are also great times to go and you'll probably get even better ticket and hotel prices than December.

Getting there: This is an easy island to get to, you can fly direct to Phuket via most Asian cities. Although this is a long flight, the kids did great! During the time we were travelling, there was some political unrest and large demonstrations closed the airport down in Bangkok. We booked our ticket on EVA Air from Seattle through Taipei, Taiwan and then direct to the island of Phuket, avoiding Bangkok altogether. However, things change and the situation could escalate, I would suggest checking with the US State Department Travel website before you book your trip.

The average ticket price from Seattle-Phuket is $1200 per person, with a slight discount for children. But you can find deals. A friend found a flight for $450 on Expedia. So check the various travel sites for deals.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Portland with Kids

Portland is one of those American cities that doesn't feel American. Some visionary urban planners got their hands on the city's blueprints and turned its Pearl District into a kind of modern European city with outdoor cafes, plazas, fountains, bars, gardens, lofts and a trolley and light rail system that takes you everywere. Admittedly, it feels a bit utopia-like, with barely a sighting of any riff-raff or homeless person. It's a new city and it's small, population around 500,000. But it's funto explore for both adults and kids.


You're immediately on vacation as soon as you park your car for the weekend at the retro chic boutique hotel, The Inn at Northup Station, in Portland's NW cafe district. The hotel is whimsically decorated with a trolley theme in bright, playful colors. Once you've rid yourself of your car, jump on the trolley and you're good to go! And if your kids are like my two boys who LOVE trains, riding the trolley is part of the fun.

First Stop: Jamison Square in the Pearl District. This is a beautiful park surrounded by outdoor cafes, trees and a really COOL fountain-waterfall-wading pool. The kids loved it! While your husband watches the kids frolic in the water, go for a quick stroll and check out the Pearl District's many cool boutiques. When the kids are tired and hungry, grab homemade ice cream at Cool Moon opposite the square or sit outside on the patio of Fenouil and enjoy delicious French food. Happy hour prices before 6:30pm are half off and more kid-friendly. My kids enjoyed the salmon and the grilled shrimp!
Second Stop: Bar-hopping in the Pearl District. Bring your kids back to the hotel and book a sitter with Homewatch Caregivers, (503) 254-8343, a babysitting service in Portland that will send a babysitter to your hotel. Then with your spouse, check out the cool bars and breweries of the Pearl District! My husband and I went to Bluehour, a ultra-modern white bar and restaurant and Vault Martini for drinks afterwards. But just walk around the Pearl District on a warm summer night and you'll find tons of hip bars, outdoor patios and breweries. Then jump back on the trolley back to your hotel. No drinking and driving involved.


Breakfast at an Outdoor Cafe in the NW District: From the hotel, walk to the Vivace Coffee House and Creperie at 1400 NW 23rd Street and sit in their outdoor patio among leafy trees and enjoy some delicious crepes. The kids loved the nutella crepes with strawberries! After breakfast, check out the cute old houses and boutiques on the street.

Day at the Portland Zoo and the Japanese Garden at Washington Park: Ride the trolley and MAX light rail to the deepest tunnel and station in America at Washington Park. My eight year old kid, a science geek, loved this detail! Kids can see a sample of the layers of rock at the station. Walk around the beautiful Japanese Garden and let the kids participate in the scavenger/treasure hunt game. There is also a kids train that takes you to and from the Japanese Garden to the zoo.

Dinner at the Bridgeport Brewpub and Bakery in the Pearl District: Portland is famous for its brewpubs so you just have to check one out! This is another great restaurant that's kid friendly but also fun for adults. Order a sample of the brewery's beers. They also have great chocolate cupcakes for dessert at the adjoining bakery.


Day at the Oregon Science and Industry Muesem (OMSI). After you check out of your hotel, drive to the OMSI on your way out. This science muesem is one of the best I've ever seen. Kids can touch and see real dinosaur fossils/bones in the paleontology lab or build dams and rivers in the large sand/water play table. There is also a great ball room where kids can build their own ball shooters with all kinds of tubes and a whole indoor science playground. If that wasn't enough, there is also a planetarium and tour of a real submarine. decomissioned from the 1950s. There is so much to do, you need a whole day. The muesem is along the riverfront and has a great cafe with plenty of good adult food too.

After a great three days in Portland, we drove off and my five year old son started to cry. He said he felt sad he was leaving. He had such a good time!

Where to Stay: Inn at Northup Station, retro chic boutique hotel decorated in whimisical trolley theme, located in Portland's NW cafe district. Prices are good too, $169 per night for a large studio with balcony and full kitchen. It has a pull out couch for the kids. The trolley stop is right out infront of the hotel and they give you free trolley tickets.

When to Go: Summer, summer, summer. With all its outdoor cafes and public transit, it's the best time to visit Portland. You'll want to avoid the rain and cold of winter, spring and fall. Yeah, that's the rest of the year.