Airport Review – Munich & Frankfurt

The Munich Airport has been given a 5–star rating by SkyTrax and with good reason and Frankfurt Airport boasts exclusive kids’ experiences. Shweta Markandeya agrees.

Here is her review from having traveled through there with her young daughter.

Play areas and open areas available for kids – everyone wants to stretch their legs during a lay over, and open spaces work very well. These don’t necessarily have to be “play areas”, but any safe, cordoned off area where the kids can toddle around with tolerance for their antics. Installation art, exhibits and a clear view of the airplanes landing and taking off can keep kids and parents engaged for quiet a while. Munich Airport’s award winning Terminal 2 (which serves Lufthansa & partners) has a clean and open design and installations and local shops that kept me and my daughter engaged on a 10 hour lay-over.

The Frankfurt Airport has unusual play areas located conveniently near the gates, a place to rent a stroller if you need one, and yummy food options with big and small portions.

Not your average play area - Munich airport
Not your average play area – Munich airport
Not your average play area Frankfurt Airport
Not your average play area – Frankfurt Airport

Availability and location of family rest rooms – Separate and roomy family rest rooms are a boon, especially for families with multiple kids and very young ones. It is a pain to change diapers or breastfeed a baby in a normal ‘loo’. A family rest room provides a dry space to change diapers and a clean and private space to feed the baby. Both Munich and Frankfurt airports have baby changing rooms. Germans are also very accepting of the fact that mums need to feed their babies, so breast-feeding in public is not a problem at all.

Mommy down time at Frankfurt Airport
Mommy down time at Frankfurt Airport

Preference for families in immigration and security – no one likes endless queues, but taking a squirming, frisky 18 month old through an immigration or security line is a pain for all – the baby, parents and everyone around. German airports score on these counts for immigration and transit security checks. The staff is trained to divert families to a separate queue. What is also helpful are hub airports and allied airlines that don’t through check in the stroller, but allow you to pick it up during transit – after all that’s one of the reasons why you are lugging the stroller!

Most helpful of all was the general attitude of the airport staff as well as the staff in restaurants and shops. At the Munich airport, all the shop staff was welcoming and usually had some kids activity book to offer the little shoppers

Shopping fun Munich airport
Fun being German

Some ideas to keep little ones occupied at the airport, that work for us

  1. Books – always a hit with all ages
  2. Activity books and sketch books
  3. Read up on airplanes and aviation, and watch the various systems in place
  4. Read the signages and the floor maps, and have a little game of treasure hunt
  5. Watch the planes take off and land

**update from the backpacking mama**

The German Airports have recently been a little difficult for Indians with a couple of cases of random checks based on racial profiling. I know of 1 person who missed his flight due to the checking and received no support from the airport staff. I would recommend reaching significantly early.

~~

After 10 years of climbing the corporate ladder in investment banking and corporate strategy roles, Shweta decided to call it quits and just “chill” with her now 5 and a half year old daughter. When not wandering on foot, she wanders in her mind by reading, writing and planning yet another trip! She de-stresses by running and sipping her glass of Riesling. She lists Greece, Northern California and Prague as her favourite destinations – she’d be happy to run a book cum coffee shop in Oia!

 

Munich Airport Facilities

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Frankfurt Airport Facilities

https://www.frankfurt-airport.com/de/faszination-airport/kids—family.html#map_copy

 

**update from the backpacking mama**

The German Airports have recently been a little difficult for Indians with a couple of cases of random checks based on racial profiling. I know of 1 person who missed his flight due to the checking and received no support from the airport staff. I would recommend reaching significantly early.

~~

After 10 years of climbing the corporate ladder in investment banking and corporate strategy roles, Shweta decided to call it quits and just “chill” with her now 5 and a half year old daughter. When not wandering on foot, she wanders in her mind by reading, writing and planning yet another trip! She de-stresses by running and sipping her glass of Riesling. She lists Greece, Northern California and Prague as her favourite destinations – she’d be happy to run a book cum coffee shop in Oia!

Top Tips When Traveling To Iran

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A follow up from the lovely piece on Iran from Fabian, incase you do plan to go there

**

Things you should know before you head to the country as a tourist.

1) It helps if you can speak or understand Farsi, or are travelling with somebody who does. Compared to most countries, the prevalence of English is a lot less amongst the average person, and this includes broken, half-gesture-quarter-funnyface-quarter-mutualfrustration English. You may think this is not that different from a lot of non-English-speaking countries, especially the rural areas, but even in such places you are likely to scrape by using basic words. In Iran, it was sometimes difficult to explain ‘sandwich’.

Also, except for roads and the tourist spots, the signage is all Farsi.

Our suggestion: Do keep a handy list of essential items and services you may require, or keep a translation app at the ready. It also helps if you know Urdu or Hindi, because once you account for it being a different language, it’s amazing just how many words you can understand (and through it, sentences).

2) Iran was also the first country we had been to which almost completely ignores the Georgian calendar. Except for official and international stuff, they just use the Persian calendar. It was astounding how often people had to stop and think for a moment to remember it was ‘September’ or ‘2016’.

It was doubly surreal for us because that is the same calendar the Parsis follow in India (for religious purposes), and which nobody knows about except the Parsis. Here, everybody did.

3) Things aren’t cheap as you might expect. Thanks to the sanctions, Iran’s inflation has been running fairly high, and while there are some bargains to be had, foodstuffs in particular are at par with more expensive countries.

Also, we were regularly and insistently informed that it’s cheaper to buy Persian carpets outside the country, so sadly our Aladdin fantasies didn’t come to fruition.

4) The cabbies don’t use meters. Be prepared to bargain. It was like being in Dilli or Bangalore, except the drivers don’t scratch so much.

5) If you’re going to be eating out, and you’re a vegetarian, be prepared for finding one option in main courses (if you’re lucky). If you’re a vegan, givvup only. Although it’s possible to live just on the fruits (oh yes!).

6) US dollars beshht (although pounds and euros come close). All major currencies are changeable officially, of course, but if you’re stuck without local money and need to exchange some/make an urgent payment, it helps to have some dollars handy.

7) The inter-city buses are quite good. There are flights, but not so many, and the trains run on some bizarre schedule of their own. The buses, however, are the lifeline for those without personal transport – they are relatively cheap, are airconditioned, have reclining seats, and you’re served a full snack-kit at least once. Unfortunately, they do insist on playing at least one film during the journey, and there’s no real way to mute the sound.

8) Women do need to be dressed in a certain way. If you’re travelling from India, you can get away with wearing kurta-pyjamas/ salwar-kameez – although it will mark you out as a tourist immediately.

**

Seema and Fabian Bhatia-Panthaki are the new parents of twin canine girls, whose demands mean long-distance travel is now a luxury. This Iran trip may have been their last joint foreign outing for some time to come. To keep their scampering scamps in the manner they have become accustomed to, Seema works in the field of International Development, while Fabian functions as an editor. 

Iran Unshrouded

You likely have some nascent impression of Iran, probably aided by the occasional report that pops up in the media when something big happens in the country. The Revolution of ’79. Religious orthodoxy. Persepolis (the city, the graphic novel). Sanctions. Its nuclear ambitions.

Before our visit, we read a lot of current-news stories and followed a few blogs about the country to get some idea of what to expect. Despite this, we imagined that all the years of wars, sanctions, and religion would have resulted in mid-level infrastructure and a conservative public culture.

But the country turned out to be quite different. Yes, it lives up to some clichés, but it belies many more.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

A lot of Iran is unpopulated, hardscrabble terrain – either mountains or semi-arid scrubland – and dotted with lots of small towns and very few villages. And, most strikingly, few farms. But at least the highways were awesome.

The big cities however are a different scene altogether.

For starters, they’re quite modern. The buildings are well-designed, well laid-out, and spacious. There are swanky shops everywhere that stocking international brands (with an almost-zero presence of malls and hypermarkets, which made shopping that much more interesting).

Who needs ugly malls when you have bazaars like this (Teheran)
Who needs ugly malls when you have bazaars like this (Teheran)

Public transport is widely used (if not as widely available as it should be). There is new construction everywhere, but there are far fewer ugly-glass monstrosities than you would expect, and far fewer high-rises as well.

Most startlingly, the roadworks were some of the best we had seen anywhere in the world. Seriously, anywhere. Mostly because they’re well-thought out and, well, typically Persian – graceful flyovers, benches everywhere on proper pavements with ramp access, little drain-lines across alleys and roads running downhill to carry off excess water. As a bonus, the actual roads are also really good.

Proof that urbanisation and beauty are not mutually exclusive
Proof that urbanisation and beauty are not mutually exclusive

And most importantly, there’s an attempt to green whatever open space is available. You certainly learn to value plants and trees when you have a water crisis and desert all round. The riverbed in Isfahan was completely dry when we visited, yet the city somehow managed to cultivate lush gardens that looked like they were rained upon every other day.

Dry river bed in Isfahan
Dry river bed in Isfahan
Lush gardens of Isfahan (despite the drought)
Lush gardens of Isfahan (despite the drought)

And yes, there were lots of women wearing the full chador, but they were outnumbered by the number of women with gold-painted fingernails, leggings, floral Manteaux, and translucent headscarves. Fashion seems to have become the primary form of rebellion for women – to assert their identity, confidence, and a love for all clothes light and bright. It seemed that the future is at least orange and will expand to prints and other colours. With the election of the current government, women have become bolder and more willing to take fashion risks. The standard uniform for young Iranian women consists of tight jeans or leggings, multi-coloured sports shoes, an unbuttoned manteaux, and a headscarf casually flung over your head. Tops layered with cropped tees (yes, you read that right) have also started to pop up.

The manteaux is no longer that long, austere, shapeless coat designed to slaughter your inner temptress – it can simply be a long shirt dress, sometimes made risqué by its flimsy material or lace insertion that lets a viewer see what lies beneath. Or it can be a fitted trench coat style jacket.

Yes, most men are bearded, but these are beards that look like they were groomed for a fashion show in Milan. And yes, alcohol is officially banned, but there’s a thriving underground market and who needs it when there’s Istak Lemon. Besides, much as we hate to sound prohibitionist and pro-government, but not having to worry about leery and rowdy drunks made evenings in public places a far more enjoyable experience. And yes, there’s non-stop propaganda on state TV, but everyone has satellite dishes and is instead watching BBC and CNN on their giant LED screens.

Astonishingly, the thing that struck us most was that five days in, we realised how relaxed everybody – including ourselves – were in terms of worrying about the possibility of a public terror attack. For the first time in a long, long time, we found ourselves not looking over our shoulders, not scanning for exit points or keeping tabs on suspicious-looking characters, and not being subconsciously tense in expectation of such an event. And it wasn’t as if there was a heavy security presence. The whole thing was particularly surprising given all the chaos going in neighbouring Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

It was truly a moment of staggering realisation, that this country that is seen as such an unsafe zone was in fact the only country we had been to in decades where we were most at ease.

Yes, a lot of this is nascent liberalisation grown over the last few years, and Iran does remain quite conservative overall. And there was a sense that the momentum could shift back any time if the old guard feels too threatened, but Iran felt like it was at the cusp of a cultural shift.

What it needs is a lot more people from a lot more different countries and cultures to keep touring it and interacting with the person on the street. It’s the only way to break down the decades of distrust and misinformation, and perhaps encourage more of them to fight more for their liberties.

If you have ever dreamt of visiting the country, or were planning a trip, don’t give in to the fear – just go. Because a country is not its government.

Iran in pictures

A regular evening at Nashq-e-Jahan (Isfahan)
A regular evening at Nashq-e-Jahan (Isfahan)
They sure love their gardens (Tehran)
They sure love their gardens (Tehran)
Zoroastrian Dharamshala - Shiraz
Zoroastrian Dharamshala – Shiraz
The intricate designs true to Persia
The intricate designs true to Persia
These gorgeously intricate designs
These gorgeously intricate designs

**

Seema and Fabian Bhatia-Panthaki are the new parents of twin canine girls, whose demands mean long-distance travel is now a luxury. This Iran trip may have been their last joint foreign outing for some time to come. To keep their scampering scamps in the manner they have become accustomed to, Seema works in the field of International Development, while Fabian functions as an editor. 

The Great Indian Road Trip – Rajasthan

People think twice about a Rajasthan road trip with a kid in tow, but here is a fellow travel happy mom, Shweta Singhal, showing you how its done with a special recommendation for Suryagarh.

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The plan to visit Jaisalmer has been on the cards for the past 8 years, ever since we moved to NCR. But never happened since it demands more than a long weekend. And with a child who hates car rides and is only open to overnight train rides, it increasingly looked difficult. And then, when the plans finally got in place like a neat stack of cards, I was overjoyed! My husband, R and I were going to do Jodhpur – Jaisalmer – Bikaner by road, while my in-laws with daughter would fly in and out of Jodhpur. Everyone is happy…well, almost.

The pre-planning to get all the 5 suitcases in our SUV required military attention, but it got done. We started off at about 715 am to make the best use of the morning time. Our first stop was directly in Jaipur, where we reached at 1130 am. We had planned to eat at Sharma dhaba, and catching up with a cousin of mine. She informed me, though that no dhaba would be serving lunch at that time. So we ended up at a relative’s house to enjoy a veritable feast for lunch, not a smart idea when about 340 km more needs to be done. We finally left Jaipur at 130 with enough gajak, mathri and kachori packed for the next 7 days! That’s marwari khatirdari for you J

Jaipur – Kishangarh – Beawar – Jodhpur – this route suggested on google maps takes one through excellent roads, even though there are some 7/8 odd places to stop for toll. I wanted to take a coffee break around 5 pm at Chatra Sagar in Pali. But putting pali dam in google maps took us to a private property near chatra sagar, with almost an hour wasted, we turned and continued onto Jodhpur. Pali has to wait for some other day. The evening drive for an hour after sunset (at about 6 pm) was the toughest, with no street lights and oncoming vehicles using high beam. We reached our hotel in Jodhpur, quite exhausted at 7 pm. Shower – dinner – sleep.

After a lazy morning breakfast at the hotel and a second one for local treats at Janta Sweet Home, we picked up parents and daughter from the airport and started onward to Jaisalmer. We weren’t expecting a 4 lane highway like the one from Jaipur to Sikar, but the road to Jaisalmer was worse than expected, with a lot of construction going on in parts. We took a much needed break at about 5 pm at Heritage resorts. They have a nice garden and clean loos. We crossed Jaisalmer town and I got the first view of the Jaisalmer fort. It looked beautiful, all lit up in the evening. Our hotel was 15 kms away from the town towards sand dunes. And much before we reached it, we got our first sight of a fort palace on a hill top. Even if you have visited Jaisalmer before, Suryagarh is reason enough for a re-visit. It is a stunning newly built fort palace hotel.

suryagarh-pretties-itself-with-lights

<The evening, when Suryagarh pretties itself up with subtle lighting>

K loved Suryagarh. Her favourite part was the morning lavish breakfast spread. The hotel has many pets, all of who come to the courtyard and she delighted in that – petting the baby donkey, seeing the sparrows (non pets!) come to the table and drink water from our glasses, getting close to the resident peacock strutting about and playing with the white masakalis (pigeon-like).

 

We spent the next 2 days leisurely soaking in the desert atmosphere and hospitality there. A visit to Jaisalmer fort is a must. However, what we didn’t anticipate was the strong sun and the heat even in the third week of December. We hired a guide to show us around one of the largest inhabited forts in India.

jaisalmer-fort

<Jaisalmer Fort, the largest inhabited fort in India>

jharokha-in-the-fort

< The fort has lovely jharokhas with jaali work>

Then we went to Trio for lunch, spicy and decent food. I couldn’t convince everyone to see the patwon ki haveli and we came back to the hotel after the fort visit. The evening cultural program, the leisurely meals in the open courtyard, the endless nooks and corners to read a book, the organic garden behind with rows of neat herbs and other plants – so many ways to relax at Suryagarh that the night and the next day quickly passed by.

sunrise-before-cycling-trip

<Sunrise the next morning, just before our cycling trip>

The next morning, we did end up having a small adventure. The hotel does have few unadvertised bikes for guests, and while the staff said they couldn’t be taken out of the hotel premises, the hotel manager was perfectly fine with our request. So, dressed warmly and with 3 small water bottles stuffed in our side pockets (since the bikes have no holder for a bottle), R and I left for a cycling trip. The idea was to do a short trip, not more than 10 – 15 kms. I googled Bada Bag, a picturesque cenotaph and the map gave me couple of options. I selected the closest one and after cycling for 5 kms, landed near a stone quarry. The weather was nippy and it was lovely to see the open wide landscape, with nothing but gigantic windmills dotting all over.

bada-bag2

cycling-across-a-windfarm

<cycling across a windfarm>

We asked a local near the quarry and got redirected to Ludarva, another site that showed as about 10 km away. We gamely cycled till there. What we didn’t realise was that the route back to the hotel would be another 25 – 27 km!! Soon, we ran out of water and enthusiasm to cycle. R who is used to cycling was game for this, but the last 5 km was sheer torture for me. We had started our trip at 710 and my watch showed 1010 am, the only thing that kept me going (for the last 5 km) was the thought that the lavish breakfast spread at the hotel would end at 1030!

roads-maintained-by-bro

<beautiful straight empty roads in most parts, maintained by BRO>

balcony-at-suryagarh-fort

<Breakfast at Suryagarh in the open courtyard was a sublime experience with this artist playing from one of the balconies>

The last day in Jaisalmer was spent at Damodra Desert camp, an excellent choice to spend the night in the desert. We had an early light lunch at Suryagarh and left for Damodra. We reached the campsite, we were shown into our tents; had some tea / coffee and set off in a jeep towards the dunes. Half an hour later, we were transferred to camels which I loved, so much so, that after getting off everyone on the dunes, I asked the camel guy to take me solo with the camel running. Exhilarating, a bit scary only when the camel decided to run down a dune in full speed!

My daughter, K loved the Thar desert as well. Not every kid (or adult) enjoys a camel ride and K hated it. But no child can resist running up and down the dunes, trying sand boarding and enjoying the dramatic sunset.

 

It’s a great way to spend the evening. We were back at the camp post sunset. All the rolling around in the sand required a bath, which delayed us for the evening cultural program. The camp hostess had mulled some wine in true Christmas spirit and gave it to all the guests. Great way to start the evening. Good food, great cultural show and the most magnificent sky with a canopy of stars that I had seen in a while.

The next morning, post a quick breakfast, we set off back to Jodhpur. A quick lunch at Samsara resorts (much grander than our stop en route to Jaisalmer), and we reached the city around 330 pm. We decided to visit Mehrangarh fort before checking into our hotel. The fort perched on its own hilltop looms majestically and can be seen from almost everywhere in the old city. The entrance gates, the vast expanse within, the artefacts showcased in the palace rooms all make for a stunning experience. But it is quite a walk and we were really tired after the journey from Jaisalmer and the tour of the fort.

Since this was our last night in Jodhpur before going back home the next day via Bikaner, my husband and I wanted to make the most of the night. Dinner was at Pal Haveli rooftop, with stunning views of Mehrangarh fort lit up in the evening. (Another great spot in the old city is the restaurant at Raas, but that was all reserved for in-house guests).

mehrangarh-fort

<view of Mehrangarh Fort from Pal Haveli roof-top restaurant>

Another quick stop at Janta Sweet Home, this time with parents and my daughter, and then we were off to Bikaner.

K loved Rajasthani sweets especially the halwa at Suryagarh and jalebis at Janta sweet home (besides the firangi chocolate pastries). But She found Rajasthani food at restaurants quite spicy. We usually ordered pasta or pizza for her outside the main hotels.

A bit of the earlier day repeat – 4.5 hour car trip to Bikaner city, parking the SUV in the old city then a mad dash in an auto to reach Junagarh Fort before the last entry at 430 pm. We made it! After the crowds at Jaisalmer and Mehrangarh forts, this one seemed almost empty at that hour. Which is a shame – this is one of the most beautiful palaces from inside, with stunning work done on the walls and ceilings in several rooms – anoop mahal, music room etc. We then made our way to the newly opened Narendra Bhawan, a beautiful residence of the last king of Bikaner, now converted into a hotel.

And finally the long journey back to Gurgaon.

~~

Shweta also shared her Vietnam adventures with us, you can find that here. 

 

 

Vietnam with Kids

Over 2000 miles of coastline with some fantastic beaches. No hordes of tourists (as yet) like some of its neighbouring countries. Great fresh seafood (not withstanding some of the articles about mercury poisoning in the fish). So don’t let the violent patches in the country’s history keep you away. The country is changing rapidly. Go to Vietnam now, and take your kids with you.

North Vietnam – Hanoi & Ha Long bay

We started our trip, like a lot others, in Hanoi. The city, despite the hot and humid weather that we encountered in June, is beautiful and stately. (The immediate comparison to Lutyen’s Delhi comes to mind while Ho Chi Minh City is more like Mumbai).

We took a connection via Bangkok and after the night flights, reached in the morning, checked into the hotel and promptly crashed. Alas, I had messed up Rule #1 – never plan anything on the first day post night travel! I had booked a really interesting and unusual tour with HanoiKids Voluntary English Club  and with great reluctance, husband (R) and daughter (K) got out of bed. These are university kids who take you to see places in the city, all for the chance to practice their English and to get some insight into your culture (you can find them on FB, but best to e mail them at hanoikidsvn@gmail.com with the sites you want to cover).

Our first stop was very interesting – The Temple of Literature is a sort of place where Confucius is worshiped and the place of the first university in Vietnam.

museum-of-literature
K posing within the Temple of Literature

But after an hour or so within the complex, the heat sapped our energy. K had slept off and it was getting increasingly difficult for R to walk carrying a sleeping child. We ended up cancelling the visit to Ho Chi Minh palace / museum post this and were happy to go to a little hole-in-the wall café in the old part of the city. We were so glad we didn’t give the old quarter a miss. While R was happy with the local beer, I tried the egg coffee – thick, creamy, intense, and a complete delight. K slept through the coffee break peacefully on a bench.

egg-coffee
Egg coffee, what a find!

With energy restored, we meandered through the French quarters, took in the beautiful buildings in that area including the Opera House and called it a day. Our hosts were so keen to show us a typical book store, talk more about education, lifestyle, culture in India (that can take months!) but we bid goodbye and decided to have a drink at the grand Hotel Metropole before heading back to our hotel.

Ha Long Bay. – A UNESCO heritage site with over 2000 lime karsts rising out of the water.

halong-bay

halong-bay

halong-2

K really enjoyed this part of the trip. This may end up being a bit difficult with kids, but she thought staying in a boat cabin was heavenly. The road trip to reach the bay was a different matter altogether. It takes 4 hours from Hanoi – through some really dilapidated and un-scenic parts and in my opinion, this is worth only if you are going for a night stay. It is too crazy to do this for a day trip! We booked ‘Dragon Legend’.

dl

Also the bay is loveliest in the evening when all the other junks (yes, that’s exactly what they are called!) that carry day trippers have gone.

After a hearty lunch, there was an option to visit a small beach via a smaller boat or a kayak. We opted for kayaking. We all got a quick theory session on dos and don’ts and a stern warning about the presence of jelly fish in the water in parts. Our guide, an expert kayaker, offered to take the 5 year old daughter in his kayak, leaving us to enjoy in a separate one. K was a bit psyched about being alone with a stranger, but she stayed calm and kept us in her vision.

kayak
K with the expert guide in a kayak

The destination was super fun for her – she thoroughly enjoyed the pristine beach, making sand castles and frolicking in the bay. We took the boat back to our catamaran.

sandcastles-halong
We can never get enough of making sandcastles

Central Vietnam – Da Nang, Hoi An & Hue

Central Vietnam with its endless beaches and the charming town of Hoi An is a delight for kids. There are several beach resorts at Da Nang, and this would be an ideal place for families to stay.

Our first day was spent lazing by the poolside and doing pretty much nothing all day. Bliss! In the evening, we took the hotel shuttle to go visit the Hoi An town. It is a nice stroll within the town where cars have been banned. However, It can be quite crowded on some streets in the evening so make sure you hold on to your kids / toddlers. Hoi An has some amazing restaurants (the best food in Vietnam according to many travellers) and kids would have love the dishes, be it vegetables, fish or meat. My personal recommendations for the restaurants – Morning Glory, Mango Mango.

As an aside note, my daughter only eats fried fish, not steamed or poached or even pan fried. Morning Glory has some amazing food and very different local recipes to enjoy. But there was no deep fried fish on the menu. However, once we explained what we want to the staff, they were more than happy to get us de-boned fried fish with some vegetables and chips.

The next day, we were all set for our countryside cycling tour. We took a taxi to the Heaven and Earth Tours shop in Hoi An town. They had our bicycles ready – one for R with a seat behind to comfortably seat our daughter and another one for me.

First the cycles had to be loaded onto a boat and we crossed the river to the other side. In many places, nets were pulled out of the water, seemingly sunning themselves. Our guide explained that the nets are lowered in the water mornings and evenings to catch the fish.

bike-on-bridge
Happy to pose once I had crossed the rickety bridge. R took a different narrow road, didn’t want to take a chance with K riding pillion

 

The cycling trip began once we reached the other side of the river. This is a beautiful way to experience the countryside and the village life. It is not strenuous at all, with breaks to visit a traditional house in the village, see an old woman weave a mat, see how rice liquor is made (you may wish to keep your kids outside the room where rice is being fermented!), see how a coracle is painted and even take a joy ride in a coracle. A bit like a typical Kerala village life, I think.

ricewine
Rice being fermented for the wine. Not a nice smell!

We had booked a day trip to Hue the next day. The 3 to 4 hour journey would be more convenient to travel in an air-conditioned car. For some reason, we thought it would be a hoot to travel in an old topless jeep (probably left behind by the US army).

jeep
The US Army jeep. (we had a driver, he was the one who took this photo)

The Hai Van pass (which you cross en route to Hue) is the highlight of the road trip and has some stunning vistas. Overall, it is a beautiful drive – with me constantly surprised by the quality of the highways.

american-bunker
A short stop to capture the American bunker in the background. At this point, we were entering into North part of Vietnam

Our guide suggested a break at the Elephant waterfall. While a nice stop for the locals to cool in the water and spend the day picnicking, I wished we hadn’t taken this detour – it meant getting into Hue much later than what I had planned for. My daughter thought completely the opposite. She loved getting in the cool water and it took quite an effort to get back on the road.

ss-nam
The Elephant waterfalls, I was carrying no change for K, but she was delighted to be in the cool water nonetheless

We finally reached Hue, had a quick lunch and went to visit the main attraction of the city. The citadel, from where the Nguyen emperors once ruled is a really large complex. Too large to explore in half a day. While open with beautiful buildings and trees-laden pathways, it can be challenge to explore on a hot day. After exploring the To Mieu Temple complex, R and K decided to laze on a bench while I explored some of the other buildings and gardens.

citadel
One of the main buildings in the immense citadel. Never seen so many lotuses blooming in the moat outside this one
pathways
Beautifully decorated pathways connect buildings

We decided to ditch the jeep and come back via a car. The journey back was on a different route, and there is loads to keep you engaged looking out the window – the coastline, green fields, the rows of boats where people cook and live.

We rounded up the stay at Hoi An with a day spent entirely by the pool side and the beach, before flying to Ho Chi Minh city.

South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh city & Con Dao island

You could do away with Ho Chi Minh City from a family holiday itinerary without feeling the pinch. North & Central Vietnam have much more to offer to kids than this. It was a short break, 2 days before going to Con Dao island. We decided to skip the war museum in HCMC as friends suggested that some of the stuff / information displayed would be too gory for a 5 year old. But we did go to Cu Chi tunnels with K. And I think she was fine with all the American Vietnam war information – over-whelming in parts – that is available there. Cu Chi tunnels are out of the city and a good 1.5 / 2 hour drive one way. So stock up on water and snacks for the journey. The jungle, though largely sanitised for tourists, is quite thick and dense and its scary to imagine the guerrilla war being carried out there. There is a good documentary film shown and a model on display that shows the various tunnels at various levels. Guides who take a small team of tourists through a well-marked path on a regular basis are well informed.

One highlight for those who are not claustrophobic is to experience the thrill of going through a short or a long tunnel. I tried the short one – no steps to climb into, you can get in and do a short drop. I could walk standing up but not the American tourist behind me who was 6 ft 4 inches. It is clean except for some dried leaves / twigs and gives you a good sense of what it must have been for the Vietnamese soldiers / villagers to live, plan, cook in these tunnels. R tried the long tunnel later but here the guide leads.

tunnel-0
You can experience going into a tunnel. It is quite sanitised – no creepy crawlies.

There is also a section at the end of the walk before the souvenir shop, where you can try your hand at an AK-47. We didn’t try because of K.

The last leg – Con Dao island

We had researched and debated a lot before deciding on Con Dao island as the last leg of our holiday. Na Trang is for the party goers and Phu Quoc for both couples and families but this sleepy island where nothing much happens suited us perfectly.

Con Dao – a penal settlement used by the French and the Americans to house prisoners once upon a time – has been off the tourist track for so long that its really pristine. A small airplane service from Ho Chi Minh city connects to this island in the south on a daily basis. The plane was small, trembled violently in the rains, and was largely full of local tourists.

4 days of R & R is what we went for at this island, so the rains in the first 2 days didn’t bother us as much. The island is perfect for mountain biking and scuba diving (and also hiking) and we tried both once the rains stopped. K had decided – very conveniently for us – that the lady at the resort’s kid centre was her best friend and that she didn’t want to see her parents much.

 

The town centre is really tiny and we tried a café, but compared to the dining options at our resort – didn’t care for it much. One can go to visit the prisons used at one point of time, but we decided to give it a go

We flew back to Ho Chi Minh city and spent a day there before heading home. This last day was spent in shopping and trying out a bohemian café in the city.

Vietnam is not a natural choice for a lot of Indian families. We don’t know anyone from our circle of friends and acquaintances who has been there with kids. And after the trip, we kept wondering – why not? Great beaches, stunning scenery, fresh food, good resorts and no crazy crowds unlike its neighbours – whats not to like.

~~~

This is a guest post by Shweta Singhal.

Shweta is a corporate executive, mother of a 5 year old, generally enthusiastic to plan and try out new things in life. Loves to read and of course travel. She’d like to believe she is NOT an adventure junkie but has tried sky diving, rappelling, glacier climbing, trekking, para gliding, mountain biking, scuba diving.

Throwback Monday: Safari

Somebody once told me that “If there is something so creative for you that you lose your sense of time pursuing it, then it is indeed your passion”
I believe photography ( along with cricket and running ) is that passion for me .

Hence, I try to take couple of trips a year ( or as many my employer and my bank balance allow) to pursue my passion .

Here’s one of my recent pictures from one such trips – a safari into the heart of Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This is a guest post by Shubhashish Beura. You can see more of his work at  Https://Instagram.com/wanderer_shubh

Related Links

Though I wouldn’t recommend a jungle safari with kids under five and we have not gone for one yet, here is a resource of the child friendly stays with the option of a jungle safari.

http://www.kidsstoppress.com/2015/05/11-wildlife-holidays-in-india-with-child-friendly-stays-you-will-love/

What is Throwback-Monday?

What better way to beat the Monday-morning-blues than to think about vacation. Believe me some weeks it’s just the memories of old vacations and plans of the next one that keep me going.

So here’s a way to beat ’em blues with posting a vacation photo every Monday, right here.

  • Post a photo of your vacation, with or without kids. Of course it should be suitable for public viewing.
  • The focus of the blog should be the photo. You could write a bit about it, or not.
  • It need not be a professional photo, but who needs to be a professional. With a great phone camera and some imagination, the stage is yours.
  • Link back here so that your readers can see all the other great Photo Monday posts.