Travel – Happy Go KL http://happygokl.com Family, travel and expat blog from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:40:54 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 http://happygokl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/helipad-1-554b53e3v1_site_icon-32x32.png Travel – Happy Go KL http://happygokl.com 32 32 Visit Jaipur With Kids http://happygokl.com/visit-jaipur-with-kids/ http://happygokl.com/visit-jaipur-with-kids/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 00:32:44 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=8968 Rajasthan is the largest state in India, with four major cities that are recommended for travel, namely Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. In terms of accessibility Jaipur is the easiest and gives one a flavor of what Rajasthan is!

Known as the ‘Pink City’, Jaipur is located around 260 km from New Delhi, and it holds the distinction of being the first planned city in India. Easily accessible, it truly is a glorious riot of color and splendor. Established in 1727, it gets its names from its founder Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Why Pink City? As with any folklore, there are many stories, but the most commonly believed one is that it was painted pink to celebrate the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876. The tradition is followed to this day.

Before giving you a quick guide on what not to miss:  most attractions have an entrance fee and you should keep cash in handy, as most places do not accept cards.

What to see in Jaipur

Amber Fort (also referred to as Amer) is located atop the Aravalli Mountain range.  Though the distance is only 11 km, it could take you upto 45 minutes to reach with the narrow winding roads. Being a popular tourist destination, expect crowds, especially during the winter months. Cobbled paths lead up to the magnificent structure, surrounded by  ramparts and numerous gates. Major attractions of the fort are Diwan-e-Aam (akin to the House of Commons), Diwan-e-Khaas (akin to the House of Lords), Sukh Niwaas (translates to House of Pleasure – it is said that the kings used to spend time here with their queens, sometimes mistresses, hence the name) and Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors).

It is roughly a 15 minute climb up to these attractions. Alternatively, you can opt for a jeep ride or an elephant ride. I was told that the condition and treatment of animals has significantly improved with the Jaipur government taking interest – but as a principle we recommend not to ride elephants. It is recommended to visits  Amer Fort early in the day (before 9:00 am) to guarantee a ride and avoid the queues, if one is really keen. Though audio tours are available, it is advisable to hire a guide, as there is a lot to cover and you could lose yourself in a labyrinth of lanes!

Sound and Light show: Not to be missed! The remarkable Sound and Light Show is the icing on the cake. History and anecdotes of Rajput Kings blend with folk music and light effects.
Timings for the English show are:
Summer : 7:30 pm
Winter: 6:30 pm
Timings and charges do tend to change, so do check and make bookings before visiting.

Enroute to Amber Fort you will pass the Jal Mahal, built in water, not on land, not even on an island- intriguing, isn’t it?

Jaigarh Fort : Can’t get enough of forts? Located close by and overlooking Amber Fort is Jaigarh Fort. It is is architecturally similar to the Amber Fort, and offers a panoramic view of the city of Jaipur. This almost-intact fort is surrounded by huge ramparts and is connected to called Amber Fort with subterranean passages. It was originally built to protect the Amber Fort and the palace within the complex. This fort also houses the world’s largest cannon on wheels, the length of its barrel being a little more than 20 feet!

The fort stands on a short diversion from the Jaipur-Delhi Highway, which leads to the cannon at the Dungar Darwaza, the same road leads to another important fort called the Nahargarh Fort.

Jantar Mantar  is nothing short of fascinating. It is mind boggling to see the precision with which the instruments found here work . I was truly amazed at the depth of knowledge of science, so many years ago. Located in central Jaipur, it was built in 1724 and is a scientific astronomical observatory. The Samrat Yantra (or solar clock) tells you the time of the day based on the shadow cast by the sun. There are two of them, with the larger one being accurate to a point of, hold your breath, 2 seconds! There are many other instruments that help calculate the zodiac month, sun signs and so on.

Timings: Open from 9am to 5 pm, all days

Do hire a guide or pick up an audio guide (English, French, Spanish, Mandarin) to make sense of the all the instruments on display.

Right across from the Jantar Mantar is the City Palace and Museum. Still owned by the Royal Family of Jaipur, they have opened out parts of it for public viewing.  Walk through the many gardens, courtyards and buildings that make up the City palace complex to view a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal Architecture.

The Mubarak Mahal (or Royal guest house) now house the Museum, which contains a collection of royal costumes. Not to be missed are the clothes worn by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I, who was 6.5 ft tall and 4 ft wide! He had 108 wives, wonder what husbands today would think of that?!

The Chandra Mahal (Moon palace) is still largely occupied by the Royal family. The Royal courtyard called the Pritam Niwas Chowk (courtyard of the beloved) is the stunner. The four gates found here, designed to represent the four seasons are spectacular.

Right opposite the Chandra Mahal is the Diwan-e-Khas, a hall for private audience with the King. An interesting artifact here are these water urns, called Gangajelies, used to carry water. They are officially the biggest sterling silver urns as per the Guiness Book of World Records – or so we were told by our guide. They were made for the Maharaja for his visits to London, where he would carry two such urns, each carrying 4000 litres of drinking water! Mind-boggling! The Diwan-e-Aam, a hall for public audience with the King houses a golden ornate throne. Not only was it used as throne, it also doubled up as a houdah while riding an elephant! Photography is not permitted here.

While winding through the roads of Jaipur, you are bound to chance upon the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of winds.  Its bee-hive structure will be hard to miss, and its rose-coloured stone makes it so attractive you will definitely stop to take a look. The main reason for this structure was to give the royal ladies a place where they could sit and enjoy processions, as they were not allowed to come out in the open.

Chokhi Dhani , a Rajasthani village setting, located 20 kms from Jaipur,  serves to give you a glimpse of Rajasthani culture. While it has grown in popularity in years, it has become excessively crowded and commercial.  Traditional folk dance and song, acrobats, local games, puppet shows, palm readers feature, with lots of activities for children too. The entry ticket includes dinner, consisting of traditional Rajasthani fare.

Shopping in Jaipur

Last but not the least, shopping in Rajasthan in not to be missed. Even if you do not intend to buy anything, a visit to the local bazaar is a must. Colourful clothes, footwear, silver- the range is vast. Street shopping is usually around sight-seeing points, but do remember to bargain with vendors. To name a few, Bapu Bazaar is the best place to shop, and is located in the heart of the city. If pottery is what interests you, head to Mirza Ismal Road. If you’re standing awestruck looking at the Hawa Mahal, prepare to be awed further by Sireh Deori Bazaar, right across. Want more? Johari bazaar for jewellery and Kishanpol and Nehru bazaar for textiles. Some of the bigger shops which have attached workshops are even willing to let children try hand block printing with organic dyes!

Getting to Jaipur

There are multiple ways to get to Jaipur from New Delhi. We traveled by road from Gurgaon (one of the major satellite towns in the National Capital Region of Delhi) to Jaipur, a distance of roughly 240 km. With breaks along the way it took us about 5 hours. There are lots of branches of an aptly named Highway King restaurant along the way. Stop here to savour local cuisine, but do bear in mind a lot of these places usually cater only vegetarian fare. If that doesn’t interest you, there is the ubiquitous McDonalds!

The other options for travel include very convenient flights of an hour from Delhi, and bus or train to soak in a truly Indian experience!

Places to stay

Jaipur has a range of hotels to suit every budget. If you want to splurge, head to the Rambagh Palace or the Oberoi Rajvilas which start upward of RM1500 per night. The former is a palace which has been converted into a hotel. Alternatively, there are Havelis, which have been turned into B&Bs and home-stays that are easy on the pocket.

The best time to visit Jaipur is closer to or during winter, from October – February. Days are hot (around 26C) during winter but nights do get chilly, do carry a light jacket. Summer temperatures go up to 50C.

Local Transport: There are plenty of options from cycle rickshaws to autorickshaws. There are no fixed rates nor do they use the meter. As a tourist, it is best to check with your hotel for rates and operators.

A city created by visionary Maharajas, bathed in pink, it is creates impressions that last a life time and leave you asking for more.

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Sunway Putra Hotel http://happygokl.com/sunway-putra-hotel/ http://happygokl.com/sunway-putra-hotel/#comments Mon, 03 Jul 2017 23:43:52 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9839 We sometimes get asked for tips for hotels in KL from visitors or those hosting friends and family but can’t accommodate them at home for one reason or another. Those with reasonably thick wallets can always stay at the lap of luxury at the usual 5* suspects in the city centre, but for families who want to spend a bit less but want the facilities of a big hotel rather than an airnbn apartment, we haven’t had much to recommend. So when Sunway Putra Hotel invited us over for a stay we were more than curious.

The hotel, adjacent to the recently refurbished Putra Mall, has been around for a while but many parts have been given a facelift to match its shiny new neighbour. Parts of this hotel have fantastic views over the city.

We stayed in a family premiere suite with two bedrooms and a living area. One of the adjoining bedrooms had a recently renovated bathroom, but even the original one was clean and had a spacious bath tub for the kids. The furniture is not the most trendy, but the rooms were tidy and spacious. There are apparently also rooms with a kitchenette – handy for those traveling with babies and toddlers.

By sticking our heads around the corner of our balcony, we were welcomed with this view:

The kids had fun at the pool area, that also has a small kids’ pool and a jacuzzi. The gym overlooks the pool, and there is a small pool bar that serves simple drinks and snacks. For someone not living in the central KL having the city skyline to admire from the poolside was very cool, and I imagine visitors to KL would really appreciate it.

The location of this hotel is very convenient. It is adjacent to the shopping centre that has a plethora of dining and spending options, and one of the TGV beanie cinemas. Sunway Putra Mall’s food court is like a little town with loads of options: we were pleased to find Nepali momos, but the kids opted for a less adventurous Subway treat.

The LRT station is a few steps from the hotel, and the Chow Kit monorail a 10 minute stroll away. Friends of ours actually stayed at this hotel a few years back with young kids, and loved the fact that it was easy to get around on public transport.

At night we tried out the buffet at the Japanese restaurant Gen (RM98++/person). It must have one of the best views in the city: we were mesmerised by the border of old and new KL, and the hypnotising movement of the train on the track below.

We live across the road from a fantastic Japanese restaurant so are a bit spoiled when it comes to sushi. The Gen’s spread was varied and decent buffet quality – a good option for families if staying at the hotel. If you are ready to sacrifice the view, there are a few Japanese options at the mall downstairs, including a branch of Rakuzen.

The diverse clientele has been taken into account at the breakfast buffet and great local, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern options were available. Me and my daughter devoured the feta and hummus on offer, whereas the boys stuck to the eggs and sweet buns department.

Service was friendly and we enjoyed our little stay-cation. Sunway Putra Hotel offers great value for visiting families who want to enjoy facilities of a big hotel and be able to use the public traffic in the city. We didn’t have the lounge access but that option is available, too.



Booking.com


*We stayed and dined as guests of the hotel. Our opinions are honest and our own. This post contains affiliate links – if you book through them, we get a small commission that helps running this site, thank you!

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Xian with kids http://happygokl.com/xian-with-kids/ http://happygokl.com/xian-with-kids/#comments Mon, 29 May 2017 05:36:31 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9460 Just like the other travelers, we went to Xi’an to meet the terracotta warriors up close and personal. However, as a bonus we got a long weekend in this fascinating, well-organised city with many interesting spots to visit.

What to do in Xian with kids

Xian city wall

The city wall can be enjoyed on a gentle stroll or you can cycle around the 14 km wall. We hired tandem bikes from the organised rental place on the wall (with helmets for the kids). Our kids were too small to contribute to the cycling so in retrospect we should have turned back rather than finished the whole circle in the hot sun. It was fun, though. There are clean toilets along the way, regular kiosks that sell ice cream and drinks, and of course nice views across the city.

The Muslim quarter

Having read that this old trading quarter gets incredibly busy on weekend nights we came in the late afternoon. The streets were already getting packed with all kinds of food being prepared in front of our eyes – lots of it dishes that we had never seen before. Truly a fascinating walk!

The pagodas

The 1300-year-old Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous sights in town. Originally built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty, it was an important spot along the Silk Route and was a centre point for Buddhist scripts brought from India. Today the area includes temples and gardens as well as the imposing pagoda, and is a nice place for a stroll. The square outside seems to come alive especially in the evening. There is a daily light show inside the complex, but we didn’t manage to catch it.

The Small Goose Pagoda is not as famous, but we enjoyed our visit there perhaps more. It is more tranquil and when we visited on a Sunday morning, it was busy with local families and tourists. The kids were fascinated by the thousand-year-old, 10 tonne iron “morning bell chime” that used to mark the morning prayers at the Jianfu Temple but can now be rang by visitors.

The Xian museum is on the grounds of the pagoda. We didn’t have the energy to visit, but instead spent time practising Chinese characters in the gift shop, and taking selfies with replica warriors and other quirky props in the Traditional Culture Exchange area near one of the entrances. Foreign tourists can get free tickets to Small Goose Pagoda by showing their passports at the ticket office.

Eat dumplings

With our non-existent Mandarin we were too scared to enter the local eateries we passed but instead headed to the easy access dumpling house of De Fa Chang Restaurant in the city centre to try out the famous Xian dumplings. The kids were fascinated by the chick shaped bao and dumplings were enjoyed by all.

During the trip we also sampled rou jia mo – Xian’s version of a burger, a flaky bread filled with shredded pork -and the yummy flat Shaanxi biang biang noodles. The boys of the family couldn’t resist the fried scorpions – they were reportedly crispy and covered in spices.

Qujiang park

We stayed just a few steps away from this park so visited the lake and the nearby playgrounds a few times. One night we rented the four wheeled “lovers’ bikes” and pedaled along the path around the lake. The people in Xian must be incredibly fit – again we found ourselves completely exhausted after half an hour of cycling with these gear-less monsters and found ourselves gazing enviously towards the electric caddies ferrying people around. There is a monorail stop in the park, but nobody seemed to know when it operates – when we visited all the doors were locked.

Terracotta warriors

Obviously you are going to see them! We recommend hiring a guide. Read more tips for visiting the terracotta army here.

Other attractions in Xian:

We missed the mosque in the city – it is supposed to be one the most beautiful mosques in the world. We had planned a day trip to the Huashan mountain further away from the city but had to cancel due to bad weather. It is famous for the vertical plank walk but apparently makes for a nice day out with the kids even if you stick to the cable car to take you up and down. There are also a few museums in Xian for history buffs. Shaanxi opera would also be something to try with kids with a slightly longer attention span.

Getting around

Whenever we are traveling in China, we make sure we ask the hotel to write down any attraction we want to visit in Chinese. Also having the hotel card handy makes getting home easier. In Xian we managed to hail taxis in town with varying degrees of success. On one occasion it was starting to look like we would never find a ride home, a lovely elderly lady pulled out her phone and ordered an Uber for us despite the fact that we had no common language. She had more English than we have Mandarin and refused any payment. We were touched by here farewell: “Welcome to China!”

We understand that foreign Uber accounts don’t work in China anymore but you better check this before you go.

Where to stay in Xian with kids:

We stayed at the Gran Meliá but also considered the Citadines Central in the old centre with reasonable prices and big apartments, the Westin just across the lively Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the intimate iii House in the centre.

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Redang – A Gem on the East Coast http://happygokl.com/redang-a-gem-on-the-east-coast/ http://happygokl.com/redang-a-gem-on-the-east-coast/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 07:09:40 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9471 Redang ticks all the right boxes in terms of being a tropical paradise – vast blue ocean with amazing snorkeling and diving to offer.

Getting to Redang

There are currently no direct flights to the island. MAS, Firefly, Air Asia and Malindo fly to Kuala Terengganu, the nearest airport. It takes about half an hour to get from the airport to Merang, where many of the speedboats leave from, or little less to Shahbandar jetty in Kuala Terengganu for the public ferry. If you take the public ferry you will arrive at Kampung jetty in Redang, and will have to transfer to another boat for the resort. The ferry transfers are often offered by the resorts.

If you do your research, you can get to the island quite cheaply if you don’t use the speedboat and take the ferry. The difference is that the speedboat takes 40 minutes and ferry drags on to an hour and a half.

We are already on the lookout for the upcoming option of using Pelangi Air, a chartered flight direct to Redang. During our recent stay at the Taaras, the staff informed us that it is expected to be slightly a more expensive, but not prohibitive option. At least there will again be the luxury of a direct flight!

If are a fan of road trips, the drive to Marang from KL is roughly 5 hours of smooth roads.

When to Go

Most resorts are closed during the East coast monsoon season from November to early March. For the rest of the year the beaches here are sun-kissed and the water is mostly calm, but it is advisable not to go into the water if it is too rough.

Things to do in Redang with kids

The diversified of ecosystem here definitely offers an unforgettable diving and snorkeling experience. If you are up to diving, I hear that the waters promise even more adventures.  PADI certified courses are available.

Of course, if you are looking for a place just to relax and enjoy without doing too much, Pulau Redang is just the right place. The water is turquoise blue and the sand is really white and powdery.  Something one can never have too much of.

The island is small and for the most part there is little to do or see except on or under water! Jungle Trekking is offered widely but we didn’t explore. It was too hard to tear ourselves away from that beach.

Most resorts are  child friendly. Very quiet, relaxing and very beautiful, but do take everything you may need, you will not get it on the island. The main village on the island is not too far, and there are a few shops selling basics and soft drinks. However, do stock up on snacks, goggles, sunscreen unless you are willing to pay prohibitive prices.

Where to stay in Redang

The range of resorts on Redang varies from budget to luxury, depending on how you wish to enjoy your vacation in the island. Bigger resorts have private beaches where you will get to enjoy the seclusion away from the more crowded parts of the island, and offer activities, like the watersports spotted at the Laguna Redang beach:

We recently stayed at The Taaras, read our review here.

A few years ago we stayed at the Wisana under the previous management – they offer a totally different, back to basics experience in a secluded setting right on the beach. Friends have also recommended Redang Kalong resort for a no-frills stay.

Other ideas

If you have a longer holiday, a few families we met on the island chose to take a taxi after a few days and head to Tanjong Jara Resort. Combining Redang and Tanjong Jara is a great idea for a double tropical paradise experience!

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Gran Meliá Hotel, Xian http://happygokl.com/gran-melia-hotel-xian/ http://happygokl.com/gran-melia-hotel-xian/#comments Wed, 10 May 2017 00:00:06 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9434 Gran Meliá is one of the top hotels in Xi’an, and also one of the newest. We had never experienced a property by this large Spanish hotel group before, and were excited for the opportunity to review it after having read the purely complimentary reviews on Tripadvisor. 

We were not disappointed – read on to see why this is a fantastic hotel for families and business travelers alike.


Photo credit: Gran Meliá

We were met at the airport by a courteous driver, the trip to the airport takes about 30 minutes without any traffic. The check-in was a breeze. The hotel lobby is impressively airy and a balanced mix of Spanish and Chinese influence. The kids were in awe of the grand piano surrounded by a “smoking pond” – a feature that had them mesmerised throughout our stay.

Rooms at Grand Meliá Xian

We stayed at an interconnecting family room with a spacious living room dividing the two already big bedrooms – it was bigger than the downstairs of our home! The kids had a field day in their room: toys and games from Ikea (a train set, board games, cones, little table and chairs, kiddie darts game), bath toys, and bed sheets with cartoon characters.

On the adult side we had plush velvet, an extremely comfortable bed and a spacious bathroom with rain shower and a bath tub with a tv. Wireless internet worked well. The hotel is huge so there is a lot of walking to and from the rooms. China is not part of the global no smoking culture, so whiffs of smoke hit you along the way, but our room was totally odourless. There is also a spa and an indoor pool, but we never made it there with any time in between sightseeing spent between the nearby park and the happy our at the lounge…

Food

We sampled different options during our stay. We had access to the Red Llevel lounge, so we tried out breakfast and early evening snacks – both were excellent. Special mention to churros and freshly pressed vegetable juices. Service everywhere was excellent, and the Red Level staff went the extra mile in answering questions and giving recommendations on what to do in Xian. The breakfast spread in the downstairs restaurant is fantastic, so head there if you want more choice.

We also tested out the buffet at the Mercado restaurant. There was a wide selection with lots of seafood, local delicacies and a particularly yummy bbq section. The Spanish specialties were a nice addition to the usual hotel buffet spread.

The kids appreciated the candy buffet and chocolate fountains. There is a small play area next to the desert section, perfect for those traveling with toddlers to buy extra time at dinner.

On the last night we rewarded the kids for their efforts in trying out the local dishes and headed to Gran Meliá’s Spanish restaurant, Duo. It was a quite a bit fancier than we had assumed, but the portions were a good size and absolutely delicious. We ate most things from the tapas menu and although the bill came to RM400 (with two glasses of wine) we felt it was not extortionate considering the quality of the food.

Location

Located in the new district of Qu Jiang, the Gran Meliá is about 20 minutes drive to the old city wall and the Muslim quarter. We didn’t mind since we had planned day trips out for most days, and it was easy to get out of the city from the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised that one of the best parks in the city is just outside the hotel! There is a great playground and the Qujiang parkQujiang park is just minutes walk away. The monorail that has a stop in the park was not running (nobody knew why) but we did rent four-wheeled bicycles and toured the park.

The hotel is adjacent to an apparently new commercial area booming with restaurants and cafés. Tang Paradise theme park is just around the corner but we didn’t try it out after reading some bad reviews online. In the evenings there are kids’ rides on the square outside, and we even spotted and indoor trampoline park in one of the buildings!

As seen from this letter that my 6-year-old wanted to hand over to the reception staff at the hotel, the kids – and us – were super impressed by this hotel. (And no, I didn’t ask her to do it, she is currently in the “letter writing stage”, if there is such a thing).

The little extras made it special for them, while the adults appreciated the excellent customer service and fluent English spoken by most staff. We would recommend this hotel for families – it is obviously very luxurious but still extremely family friendly, making it a welcome oasis from all the exotic sights in Xian. The fact that you can just take the kids out for a stroll or play in the park is another huge plus in our books!

A quick check on Booking.com got me the lowest price for a double room for early June of under RM500 – a great value for a true 5 star property. The high end hotels seem to be quite a lot cheaper in China than in many other countries. Check the current prices here.

We were hosted by Gran Meliá Xian in exchange for a review. The opinions are honest and our own, this is a fabulous hotel! This post contains affiliate links – by booking through them we earn a small commission – thank you!

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Terracotta warriors, Xian http://happygokl.com/terracotta-warriors-xian/ http://happygokl.com/terracotta-warriors-xian/#comments Mon, 08 May 2017 00:42:53 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9453 The pieces of terracotta statues discovered in a field outside Xian in 1974 changed the course of Xian, also spelled Xi’an, a second tier Chinese city with a population of almost 9 million. When we told people we are headed there on a school holiday, we mostly received blank faces – you know, when they expect you to utter words like “Bali” or “Phuket” but you say “Xian” instead. We were pleasantly surprised by Xian and would recommend you spend a few days to experience this welcoming and well-running Chinese city and will share our tips later. But of course, the terracotta warriors are the superstars!


This guy is fake, scroll down for the real deal.

We had arranged a guide to take us to the terracotta army sitea guide to take us to the terracotta army site in advance, and the fantastic Bryanbai lived up to all the great reviews on Tripadvisor. He recommended an early start and we just managed to get everyone ready by 7.30. The site of the terracotta army is under an hour’s drive from the city, and we arrived spot on for the opening time at 8.30. The tour buses start pouring in soon after, but we had a good half an hour of quality time with these guys before we needed to start using elbows to get a good view:

The warriors stand in orderly rows in their original spots, many still without having been reunited with their heads. In a nutshell, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the unifier of China as it is now known, seemed like a crazy visionary. He not only had plans for the region that seemed outlandish at the time, but he also wanted to live forever and spent much of his life and resources trying to make it so. Apparently it took decades to finish the terracotta army, and hundreds of thousands of craftsmen worked on the soldiers, horses and other characters that were a part of this heavenly army and court. Those who were too familiar with the location of the underground city, did not see tomorrow, we were told.

The emperor died and was buried in 210 BC – hence the warriors and their horses have been buried underground for over 2000 years. No two soldiers are the same, and the level of detail is incredible. They all have different hairstyle, facial features from different parts of China, shoes that tell the rank of each soldier and even lines on their palms. It is mind boggling to imagine the process of making them, and the fact that they are an actual surviving testimony of what people wore, looked like and did thousands of years ago. The archeologists have not yet excavated the tomb itself in the fear of doing irreparable damage, although that must be every historian’s wildest dream.

When the statues were found, they were broken in small pieces. The painstaking work of the archeologists is visible in the pits that showcase different stages of reconstruction. This part was referred to by our guide as the “terracotta warrior hospital”.

What better introduction to a work of an archeologist than watching them collect pieces of statues from the muddy pit as the first part of that seemingly never ending puzzle! Apparently many areas are left intact on purpose. The warriors were originally intricately painted, but when uncovered and getting in touch with oxygen, the paint rapidly faints. Hence they have decided to leave some of the statues in the ground until technology becomes available to help in preserving the paint.

The bronze chariots and horses on display in the modern museum, the Qin Shi Huang Emperor Tomb Artefact Exhibition Hall, are also incredible and lifelike. Some high-ranking officers are also on display for a closer look. Part of the items in the exhibition are replicas, as our guide pointed out.

Practical tips for visiting the terracotta warriors

  • We visited the terracotta warriors with a guide and would recommend doing so to anyone. There is some information in English onsite, but we learned so much more from the guide than we would have without him. When traveling with kids, a good guide is also invaluable in knowing where the western toilets are, shuffling through crowds and pointing out the things the kids find fascinating (like the skinny warriors done by apprentice craftsmen).
  • It is a good 10 minute walk from the entrance to the pits. The site includes numbered pits where the warriors are on display, and an indoor museum of the (very impressive) bronze chariots, weapons and other items.  There is fair bit of walking involved, so come with a sling or a light stroller if you have little ones in tow. Our 8 year old appreciated the history and significance of the site, that was perhaps lost on our first grader.
  • Pit One is the largest and most impressive, with most warriors on display, and is the most crowded with tourists. We got there early so had a good half an hour to admire the statues in relative peace. Our guide told us that later on in the day there are so many people is practically impossible to secure a spot next to the railing. By the time we got to the bronze chariots it was so crowded you needed to elbow your way to get a glimpse of the exhibits. Apparently lunch time is a bit quieter.
  • There are loads of shops and restaurants around the site, including Western chains like Starbucks. Our guide walked us through the main street to a small restaurant where we had a cheap and cheerful meal of typical Shaanxi biang biang noodles, dumpligs and a local burger consisting of yummy greasy bread and shredded pork. And some scorpions, but more about that later.
  • The shops around here are a rip-off, as can be expected. We picked up a set of miniature warriors from the city centre for 10 yuan.
  • All hotels offer guides or transport to the warriors, but you can also get there by public transport or taxi. We had combined other sights to our day and really enjoyed having a driver and guide for the day, and found it good value compared to the service offered through the hotel.

This photo by the Children’s museum is a good starting point for kids that are curious about the terracotta warriors:

 

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The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, Redang http://happygokl.com/the-taaras-redang/ http://happygokl.com/the-taaras-redang/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 00:02:51 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9430 With palm fringed beaches and amazing underwater coral, Redang is a fabulous getaway in the East coast of Malaysia. We had a lovely family holiday over the Easter break. I won’t call it a hidden gem as we had a fairly busy beach but no doubt this is one of the best places to swim and snorkel on the Peninsula side of Malaysia.

We stayed at The Taaras  which is probably the best resort for families on the island. The setting, the beach and design is lovely and of course, and the highlight is that Redang truly is a snorkeler’s paradise.

We flew to Kuala Terengganu and took the speedboat transfer from Merang jetty which is around 35 minutes from the airport.  Most resorts in Redang provide full board packages that includes boat transfers, accommodation and meals.

Our transfer was arranged by The Taaras. The transfer worked for us as we wanted a lounge to relax for the few hours we would have to kill on our return journey to KL. If taking the ferry, you leave via Shahbandar. There is a compulsory conservation fee at the jetty. We found this site useful to plan our transfer times but do call your hotel and check about timings, just in case.

We were told that the monsoon lasted longer this year and hence the bumpy ride to Taaras. After arriving at Redang jetty, a minibus was waiting to take us the very short journey (less than 10 mins) to the resort.

The Taaras is tucked in the Teluk Dalam (Deep Bay) beach area. Most other resorts are at Pasir Panjang (Long Beach) or Teluk Kalong. These stretches of beaches are probably the most spectacular in the whole of Malaysia and truly worth going. The sand is powder white and very fine. The water is breathtaking and shines like blue glass under the sun. Amazing giant turtles were a few minutes away by boat.

Food and activities

The children spent most of the time body boarding and playing soccer on the beach. There were lots of kids of similar age and easy soccer sessions were formed almost instantly! As mentioned, don’t expect an empty beach. If you are looking for a truly secluded getaway, the Taaras may not suit you. We truly enjoyed the family atmosphere and my kids made a few good ‘holiday friends’ which was very nice!

The facilities within the resort are good and we spent hours after dinner at the games room playing foosball and carom, and even spent one evening playing tennis.

The hotel offers various snorkeling trips which we utilised. I here good things about Jo Glamour’s services.  He is located just outside the hotel and offers snorkeling, fishing and turtle watching for a fraction of the prices.

As for the food, we enjoyed all our meals. We took different options : ala carte, buffet and one night even signed up for the ‘fine dining’ option. It was all well made but on the expensive side. The kids managed, but as most kids are with food during travel, there were some hits and misses. We did walk out one afternoon for a local lunch at Aima’s which we truly enjoyed.

Rooms at the Taaras

Our room was excellent and literally a hop away from the beach.  Access via buggy was also always available.

We loved the Taaras. Service was somewhat slow but this is after all a place where one needs to slow down, spend days watching the waves and the kids playing with wild abundant. Bliss.

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With Kids in Khao Lak, Thailand http://happygokl.com/with-kids-in-khao-lak-thailand/ http://happygokl.com/with-kids-in-khao-lak-thailand/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 00:20:59 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=8806 Khao Lak, just under two hours’ drive from Phuket is like a quiet oasis compared to the bustle of Phuket. This strip of the coastline was devastated by the tsunami, but Khao Lak has re-emerged as a charming string of stylish resorts scattered fairly spaciously along that seemingly endless stretch of golden sand.

While it has no particularly impressive sights or activities, we thought it was a lovely family holiday destination. But as most parents know, there is always somebody in the family that needs a bit more than swimming and naps for an ace holiday. We did a bit of digging before our trip, and this is a list of activities in Khao Lak that may help you make the most of your Khao Lak holiday.

Kid-friendly activities in Khao Lak

Island tours – Similan and Surin

Similan and Surin islands are famous for their sea life, and snorkeling and diving trips can be booked practically everywhere in Khao Lak. These are all-day trips though with an early start and involve a speedboat journey of roughly 1,5 hours and up each way, so may not be suitable for the youngest of fish fanatics.

Surfing and bodyboarding on Pakarang beach

The majority of Khao Lak’s beaches have just enough waves to make your inflatable donut rock gently, but especially between March and November good waves can be caught on Pakarang Beach. We went at Christmas time and had enough waves for the kids to have fun on their bodyboards.

Memories Beach Bar has sun loungers on the beach. It gets extremely hot during the day, but at sunset it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a cold drink. We were not overly impressed with the food but they have an extensive menu. There is another, similar place next door. Apsara Beachfront Villas & Resort is located on this beach, if you are looking for accommodation nearby.

Turtle conservation

The Royal Marine Turtle Sanctuary at the navy base at Tab Lamu is about 20 minutes from Khao Lak, and the larger Marine Conservation Unit at Thai Mueang about 45 minutes away. More info here.

Tsunami museums

The tsunami memorial at Baan Nam Khem, just north of Khao Lak is simple, beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. There is also the Tsunami Police Boat Memorial

Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok is perhaps the most famous national park in Thailand, and can be visited on a day trip from Khao Lak – or you can book an adventurous tree house accommodation in the park. Kayaking, river trips, hiking and limestone caves sound all fantastic – we hope to do this trip next time.

Waterfalls

There are a few lovely waterfalls in the area, all within easy access by car and a short walk – more info here.

Klong Koo Restaurant – Dine in the river

This is something our kids thought was pretty cool. This small restaurant is something of a tourist attraction in Khao Lak and all they’ve done is put plastic tables and chairs in the river. But it works! The food is the usual Thai fare, but the kids had a good time paddling in the river and it definitely was an experience to have little fish nibble at your toes while you’re having your lunch.

Tours

The hotels arrange the usual range of tours and activities such as cooking and Thai boxing. Given the rampant mistreatment of animals, we would stay clear of stopping on a random elephant camp in Thailand. If you want to experience a family day out with elephants without riding them, consider the Phang Nga Elephant Park about an hour’s drive away. When we visited some time ago we were told they are working hard to make their operations responsible and are moving away from rides – you can read more about our trip in this post about a family trip to Krabi. For tours and rental of baby equipment check out Raya Divers in Khao Lak and Phuket.

Best hotels for families in Khao Lak

Manathai Khao Lak
We stayed at the Manathai and cannot fault it with anything, if not a slightly remote location. You can read our review of the Manathai here, but in a nutshell we would recommend it to families who are looking for a nice, modern hotel with a beautiful pool and a great beach.

Based on our research, these would be also great family hotels in Khao Lak:

JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa
JW Marriott seems to set the bar for family resorts in these parts, and the facilities do look amazing.

The Sands in Khao Lak
This newish hotel with a more minimalist look offers family rooms with a kids’ area, a slide and bubbles in the pool.

Mai Khaolak Beach Resort & Spa
A family friendly with new section with water slides and a fab looking pirate ship playground. It even has an internet room for teenagers! Many reviewers note that it is a used by large European package tours, though.

Pullman Khao Lak Katiliya Resort
A true 5 star option has all the bells and whistles!

Centara Seaview Resort Khao Lak
An older, large hotel near restaurants and shops. A pool with a slide and lots of action for kids.

X10 Khaolak Resort
A brand new resort with slides and a splash play park, family rooms and a kids’ club.

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Bengaluru Again – Palace Road http://happygokl.com/bengaluru-again-palace-road/ Wed, 05 Apr 2017 00:09:49 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9010 We made another pit stop in Bengaluru recently. Like most large Indian cities, it is always chaotic, dusty and very interesting! As we have been around Bengaluru before and our main purpose this time was to visit some friends, we had little time to capture the sights and sounds but what we discovered was charming.

The National Gallery of Modern Art and Bangalore Palace have a locational advantage that actually allows you to spend half a day comfortably on Palace Road – where both attractions are situated. This is a particularly good option because navigating far flung places of interest with the never ending traffic can be quite a task. We also realised that most places of interest or buildings tend to open after 10 a.m. Now, this is a challenge if you have little people who stare at you wide-eyed at 7:30 in the morning, so do plan accordingly and try to stretch the breakfast at the buffet!

National  Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Located in a heritage building on Palace Road,  NGMA is a calm and serene way to spend a few hours. It is housed in an old royal residential building, Manikyavelu Mansions, a white washed building which by itself is beautiful.

NGMA has a nice collection of  modern Indian art and paintings including a few treasures by Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil. Exhibits are spread across the mansion spanning two floors. You could cover all of it in 1-2 hours. The exhibits are divided into broad categories – according to different time periods, art schools and by artists.

We were interested in buying a few reproductions but sadly, the museum store carried a threadbare selection.

National Gallery of Modern Art, Manikyavelu Mansion, Palace Road, Vasanth Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560052

Bangalore Palace

The palace  is built in mish-mash style with some Tudor influences complete with manicured gardens. The Bangalore palace, we learnt, was built by the Wodeyar Hindu dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. Now, I hear that Mysore palace is a sight to behold but the Banguluru edition is definitely a nice spot to spend a few hours.

Home to many interesting artifacts, beautiful paintings and a truly maximalist approach to design, it was a walk back in time to a bygone era of hunting kings and maidens fair. As proof of their hunting spoils, an elephant head in all its formaldehyde glory greets you at the entrance of the palace. Stools made of elephant feet, vases made of elephant trunks, and trophies of elephant hunting are also at display!

The interior of the palace is decorated with floral motifs, cornices, wood carvings as well as stained glass. A staircase leads to the elaborate Durbar hall on the first floor. This grand space functioned as an assembly hall for the king. The hall is beautified with Gothic-style stained-glass windows, with profuse bursts of yellow on the walls and chairs!

There is an open courtyard on the ground floor, which is covered with blue ceramic tiles and adjacent is a ballroom suitable for royal parties.

Enclosed by beautiful gardens, this palace not only attracts tourists in large numbers, but we understand that it is also a destination for cultural programmes. The entry fees and other charges are collected for the maintenance and upkeep of the palace.

We did not make it to the nearby amusement area called Fun World so cannot comment on that. Do share if you have been there!

Few facts:

  • An audio tape is provided with headphones (charges included in the entry fee) which gives a detailed narration about the history of the palace.
  • Strangely, you have to pay to take photos. You are not allowed to take any photos until you buy a token from the counter inside the palace.
  • There is an amusement park, Fun World, situated nearby. 

Bangalore Palace: Near Mount Carmel Institute of Management, Palace Rd, Vasanth Nagar, Bengaluru. Visiting Hours – 10:30 AM – 5:30 PM

Where to Eat on Palace Road

Shangri-La Chai Club  We had a tea break here at the lovely Chai Club, which also has some lovely nibbles for the kids.

Vasant Nagar The other option is to take an auto rikshaw to nearby Vasant Nagar for a hearty Indian meal, lots of options here.

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A Morning at the Army Museum of Port Dickson http://happygokl.com/a-morning-at-the-army-museum-of-port-dickson/ http://happygokl.com/a-morning-at-the-army-museum-of-port-dickson/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:19:31 +0000 http://happygokl.com/?p=9012 Port Dickson is a quick drive for a weekend at the beach, some spa relaxation or simply, to discover new hiking trails. It is not a surprise that we keep going there, and this time, stopped by the Army museum.

 

The Army Museum is located right next to the Sri Rusa military base, a short distance from Port Dickson town. It is managed by the Malaysian Royal Armed Forces. The museum houses information on military achievements, memorabilia, uniforms and weapons and covers decades of history.

 

There are two blocks of buildings housing four galleries each, taking visitors from era to era. One of the galleries is dedicated to the era of the Melaka Sultanate, providing a nice overview of how life must have been in the ancient empire. Another gallery tells the tale of British Malaya, and the various local heroes and freedom fighters that had put up resistance to the colonial rulers throughout their time in the power. Other galleries are dedicated to the time of the formation of the Malay army, the time of the Japanese occupation and the communist insurgency.

 

 

For those seeking an adventure, there is also a replica of the underground tunnel in Betong, Thailand, used by the members of the Malayan Communist Party (1968), although this one is a lot shorter at 142m. You take a staircase underground and enter a dark tunnel which has a communist sentry, mock surgery room, mock operations room and ammunition store. This was truly a highlight for me as I am fascinated with the communist insurgence and going down the tunnel was quite a moment!

 

We really enjoyed the morning at the museum and it was a great introduction to Malaysian history for the children.

Army Museum in Port Dickson:

Kem Sri Rusa 71050 Port Dickson Negeri Sembilan
Opening time : 10:00am – 5:00pm from Wednesday – Sunday
Entrance Fee : FREE
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