Kiwis in Bare Feet

Friday, April 5, 2019

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We spent 4 wonderful nights in Siem Reap. We fell in love with the culture, the people, the history, and much more. We know we will return in the future.

Fast Five Favourites:

  • Our accomodation- Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel. We seriously loved every aspect of this charming place. It is small, put popular. And with good reason! We stayed in the Premier Double room and it was gorgeous. Just outside our door, was a beautiful covered balcony-the perfect spot for morning yoga. The hotel is also extremely friendly on the budget, with rooms ranging from as little as $30-$100 a night.
  • Phare, the Cambodian circus- This is not your average circus. It has a great vibe and atmosphere and we love how it is transforming the lives of many Cambodian youth. It tells a story and kept Lilah engaged for the entire show.
  • Angkor Wat- Seeing the temples was our main reason for coming and they were incredible. Lilah has always enjoyed temples and called them tree houses so it was special to bring her to these magnificent beauties.
  • Bayon- This was our favourite. It was amazing to see all off the faces in many directions. 
  • Ta Nei- We asked our driver to take us to a temple with not many people around and we arrived here first thing in the morning and there was no one in sight. It really added to the experience being the only people here. 

Tips:

  • We visited Pub Street to eat lunch most days, mainly for convenience as it was close to our hotel so we would stop in after a morning at the temples. There was a nice massage place that was extremely child-friendly called Temple on one of the side streets. They gave Lilah a manicure while we had a foot massage and played with her too.
  • We seen the 4 main temples over 2 days, mostly as it was easier with Lilah to spend a half day at the temples instead of a long full day. She enjoyed this much more. Although you can easily see 4 or more temples in a full day and save on a multi day ticket. 
  • Angkor Wat- It was nice to experience the sunrise at the beginning of the day and it's beautiful to see. However, we think that we would have enjoyed the visit to Angkor Wat without making the sunrise and it didn't feel like a must do to us. It was just as magnificent at 10am! You also need to check the weather. We had unusual weather for the time of year (end of March) but some mornings there wouldn't have been a sunrise and there were thunderstorms. We would recommend purchasing tickets the day before so you don't have to line up before visiting.
  • Phare Circus-we booked premium seats but actually we don't think it would matter very much which seats you booked. It can get very hot in the theatre so take water and light clothing. We were also glad we had eaten before we went as we were not fussed on the menu there. Popcorn and ice cream snacks were good!
  • We were so inspired by Baby Elephant Boutique and their care for the environment, their staff and the local community. They had a small store with beautiful things, one being placemats made out of recycled plastic. We needed to see more of this and asked where they were from. You can find the Khmer wonder-women who make these pieces at f/RehashTrash. They are open everyday from 8am-5pm and even hold classes. We wish we had time to take part in one of these!
  • Laundry is really cheap to have done if you need it. We paid about $2 for a big bag!
  • We wish we had read Mum Pack Travel's blog post on Siem Reap before we left. Check it out here for some awesome tips!

Baby/Toddler on Board:

  • Look for accommodation with a pool if you are traveling with children. Baby Elephant had a salt water pool and we used it frequently after a day adventuring. We also were very impressed with the food at the hotel, it was delicious! This was important to us as we did not feel like taking a tired babe out for dinner after a long day. They also had a great kids menu which Lilah loved.
  • Siem Reap was not stroller friendly, especially the temples. Lilah likes to walk so she walked for the majority of the time. A carrier would be useful for a younger babe.
  • We could find all the food and necessities for a babe in Siem Reap.
  • Phare also has a 5pm show two days a week for those who do not want to go to the 8pm show. Just check out their website for shows. 
  • Lilah needed her sunglasses on the tuk-tuk as the road was often dusty and her eyes would hurt without them.
  • We used the same tuk-tuk driver for most of our stay. We like to do this as you build a nice relationship and also trust for the driver. We value this traveling with a babe.

Five things the photos do not show:

  • On our final morning, we decided to book a car to the airport so that we had more room and weren't dusty for our trip to the Maldives. BIG mistake :) Apart from being double the price of a tuk-tuk, there was a massive truck blocking the road to the airport that only scooters and tuk-tuks could get past. We were so close to missing our flight!
  • It is hard to photograph just how beautiful the people are. We felt so well looked after and the locals were amazing with Lilah.
  • People were just hilarious running to the perfect photo spots for the Angkor Wat sunrise. Sometimes, it seems that the photo is more important than the experience. That is something we thought of often and we made sure to just enjoy ourselves.
  • Lilah called the tuk-tuks funny, funny bikes until our final day when she learned tuk-tuk. She absolutely loved this mode of transport and was adorable every ride!
  • This stay was sponsored by Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, but all opinions are our own and we would stay again in a heart beat! We truly believe our stay here enhanced our experience of Siem Reap.

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    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    Beijing, China

    Beijing is the capital of one of the oldest and most traditional cultures in the world. We can only now appreciate the immense culture and history after having visited.

      Fast Five Favourites:

      • Great Wall - The reason we wanted to visit Beijing. An incredible place to experience.
      • Temple of Heaven - The temple is magnificent and the surrounding park filled with locals going about there day made it even more enjoyable. It's so unique that it didn't feel like we were just visiting another temple.
      • Forbidden City - Taking a step back in time to the home of China's many emperors was a fascinating experience. It's so vast it seems like a small city once you are inside the gates. It was especially interesting to visit after seeing the Forbidden City.
      • Hutongs and Old Beijing - We loved exploring the Hutongs, just north of the Forbidden City.
      • Markets - It felt like a must to experience the markets of the world's largest manufacturer of goods.

      Tips:

      • We decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. It is about a 2-hour drive from the city which means that it is not as busy as sections closer to the city can be. Our private driver picked us up at 7am and we were able to beat the morning traffic before enjoying the Great Wall with nobody around. It was magical.
      • We used a private driver from Miles Meng. They were excellent to deal with and the car was new and comfortable. The driver offered very good service. For a slight premium to a taxi, it was well worth it.
      • At the Great Wall, our driver purchased all of our tickets and dropped us near the entrance. We decided to take the cable car up one end and travel down by toboggan on the other end. This route is mostly downhill if you are traveling with young kids. If you're up for a hike you can spend the whole day enjoying one of the great engineering masterpieces. Lilah was actually not allowed on the toboggan as she was too small. We walked back to the entrance and it was enjoyable.
      • Many people visit areas of the wall that are not as rebuilt and made for tourists like Mutianyu. When Lilah is older we might revisit the wall with her and perhaps stay a night or two near one of the less known areas of the wall.
      • Both the Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City are places you could spend a whole day. There's so much to see and take in. Being with Lilah, we were happy with spending half a day at both places.
      • We hired a guide at Forbidden City. This was money well spent. The stories from the time of the emperor are very interesting and bring the place to life. It's best to purchase tickets beforehand. We arrived early and there were no lines but there were a lot of people! The best viewpoint is from the park just outside the city, and you can also visit Tiananmen Square located on the opposite end.
      • The Hutongs to the North of the Forbidden city were amazing. We loved experiencing some of the more authentic areas and some of the more modern areas. There are a couple of lakes where you can enjoy a leisurely walk before visiting the Hutongs. We would definitely explore them more next time. There were also Hutongs to the East and South of the Forbidden city that we didn't quite have enough time to see. We had the most amazing hot pot in this area and would recommend trying one.
      • We spent 4 nights in Beijing and October was a nice time to visit. The climate was not too hot or cold. We did not have time to visit the summer palace so one more night may be necessary if you wanted to fit this in without rushing too much. We would recommend staying near a subway station.
      • The pollution was fine apart from our last day there. The smog was so strong that we didn't spend much time outside at all. It's probably not something you can plan for but we were glad that we got to see the blue skies of Beijing mostly.
      • Make sure to try the famous Peking duck and the hot pots!
      • Using the subway system is easy and convenient. It's probably a better option than driving as the traffic can be very busy.

      Baby on Board:

      • We used our stroller mostly everywhere we went and it was fine. A stroller that you can easily fold up would be convenient for the subway.
      • On the Great Wall, Lilah walked most of the way. This worked well as we were going predominantly downhill. If you're up for an adventure and a longer hike, a carrier would be a good option.
      • Obviously, the pollution is something to keep an eye on with a baby. We were very aware of the levels using the AQICN website. We also had a face mask for each of us just incase.
      • The locals may want a photo with your little ones. We didn't mind but there was one time when we asked a lady to leave Lilah alone when she clearly wasn't in the mood to be in her selfie.
      • There were many food options. Lilah was able to eat everything that we did.

      Five things the photos do not show:

      • The smog was crazy on our last day! You could literally see no more than a few meters in front of you. Thankfully it is something that the government is addressing.
      • Lilah thought we were in "vagina" the whole time. Luckily no one was listening to her close enough or able to understand her running around the airport before we left in Korea. She did end up being able to say China by the end of the trip. She loved it so much she keeps asking when we are going back.
      • The number of people everywhere! It is what you expect with a population in excess of 20 million but it's a different feeling seeing it.
      • The internet as we know it is non-existent. Instagram, Facebook, Google, Youtube are all banned. Make sure to purchase a VPN beforehand, and even then it is going to be glitchy.
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      Tuesday, November 27, 2018

      Xi'an, China

      With its close proximity to Beijing via the high-speed train and the Terracotta Army, we couldn't look past Xi'an on our first trip to China.

      Fast Five Favorites:

      • Terracotta Army- Dubbed the archeological find of the century, it is absolutely mindblowing to see 100s of the perfectly crafted warriors that make up the Terracotta Army (8000 have been recovered to date).
      • Mount Huashan- We didn't originally plan to visit the mountains here but a well-traveled friend said that it was one of the most beautiful places he has ever traveled to. We were not disappointed. It is spectacular!
      • City Walls- Perhaps one of the most underrated places we have visited. The ancient city wall of Xi'an is a whopping 14 km long. A unique and amazing way to experience the city.
      • Muslim Quarter- Xi'an was one endpoint of the historic Silk Road. Muslims have settled here for generations. Their influence can be seen in the architecture and the goods being sold in the markets.
      • Street Markets- Visiting on a Saturday night, the markets here were some of the liveliest we have visited. We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was delicious.

      Tips:

      • The Terracotta Army is a premier attraction in China. With over a billion people living in China, it’s important to get to these places early. We were there around 8:30 am and were able to enjoy it before the wave of tour groups (there are a lot!). It was easy to take a taxi and purchase our tickets at the entrance (I can imagine long lines in peak season, or at midday). We went to the main pit first to enjoy it with only a few people around. If you’re there early enough it might be worth visiting the less popular pits and the museum before seeing the most famous and best pit.
      • We booked our high-speed train to Beijing prior to our trip with China DIY Travel. They were excellent to deal with and we were comfortable knowing we had our seats booked (it’s not easy to book trains in China over the internet). The small commission was worth it.
      • Mount Huashan can be a big day trip so we made it as convenient as possible. We took the subway to Xi’an North station and then purchased a high-speed train ticket to Huashan (about 30 minutes). You can take a shuttle bus to the mountain entrance, but for convenience, we took a local taxi (20 RMB). He also got all of our tickets at the agent near the train station (by the way it’s quite expensive to visit!). A short ride and we were at the entrance. From here we took a bus to the west peak cable car (about 90 minutes) and the cable car to the top (about 30 minutes). From here we hiked to the South Peak, East Peak, and then North Peak (where there’s a shorter cable car ride to the bottom and a 30-minute bus ride back to the entrance). It is a lot steeper beginning from the North Peak if you fancy it! We went back to the train station and we purchased a high-speed train to Xi’an. The trains are frequent so it’s probably best to book when you get there as it’s not easy to know what time you will need it. All up we were on the mountain by 11am and left around 2:30pm. This was enough time to do the route and have lunch/enjoy the views (We did not go to the top of the East peak). Of course, take some water and snacks, but there are places to eat.
      • You can even stay on the mountain and watch the sunrise! Or walk the plank along the side of the cliff (get there early for this as the line forms quite quickly).
      • The south entrance of the city walls is the most convenient to get to by subway. The entrance is just above the station. From here you can bike the entire wall or leave your bike at one of the other main entrances.
      • The street markets at night had a lively vibe and atmosphere. You can also see the Bell and Drum towers lit up. They are the symbols of Xi’an and quite a sight. The beef inside small buns at the markets were amazing!
      • It’s easy to get around Xi’an by subway.
      • Keep an eye on the air pollution. It’s best to download an app or check a site like AQICN. We did notice it at times and one evening we decided to stay in with Lilah.
      • VPN - if you didn’t know China blocks a lot of sites like Google, Instagram, and Facebook. They can be important when traveling for various reasons so it might be a good idea to download a VPN before visiting. We asked our friend who lives there and he recommended ExpressVPN which we found to be good.
      • We found 3 nights was okay for us to do what we wanted to do, but wouldn’t have minded another day just to explore. October was also a nice time to visit temperature wise.
      • We stayed just out of the city walls at the Sheraton. The best thing was that it was right next to a subway station. 
      • Not many places would accept our cards and we found that we needed more cash than we are used to carrying while traveling.

      Baby on Board:

      • Huashan was a big day trip that we had to think a lot about. Taking the most convenient transport meant it was fine with Lilah. Having a good carry pack is important (we use the Phil and Teds carrier) as well as lots of snacks and water.
      • There are no baby bikes on the city walls. We improvised having Lilah in her carrier with Riki biking. It worked fine for us and was a good workout!
      • Apart from booking the high-speed train beforehand, everything else we booked on the day.
      • We had read on Instagram someone recommending a stroller for the Terracotta warriors and were glad we took ours. It’s quite a walk from the entrance and back through different paths and shops.
      • We had masks but we were very lucky with the air pollution during our stay. We would recommend taking one just in case.

      Five things the photos do not show:

      • Lilah explored a lot in her pajamas. This was the best way to visit the night markets as she could go straight home to bed. She loved it as she’s not often out at night.
      • The cliffside hiking on Mount Huashan was something else! Some of the paths are along sheer drop-offs and it’s known as the scariest hike in the world. It’s actually fine if you stay on the intended routes and we never felt unsafe with Lilah. We were feeling a little nervous being up that high in the cable car.
      • Our taxi driver to the Terracotta Warriors dropped us at a point quite a distance from the main entrance as he was trying to get some commission from a friend who was a guide. It would be fair to say we were pretty annoyed at having to walk back to the entrance with Lilah. 
      • When we arrived at the city entrances, we realized we did not have enough cash to purchase entry tickets. Riki went to find an ATM and by the time he got back, they had decided to close that entrance for some time (exact time could not be communicated). We needed to walk 25 minutes to the next entrance and it was stressful because we were worried we would be too late to enter or rent bikes. We were happy to get on our bikes!
      • The look on people's faces was hilarious as Riki rode past on the city walls with Lilah on his back in the carrier. We tried to video their reactions but it was too tricky and Sonita was a hazard trying to capture while biking!


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      Monday, October 22, 2018

      Living in Busan

      Living in Busan has been one of the best decisions we have ever made for our family. This city feels like home and we love everything about it! You are never too far from both the mountains and beaches. We strongly believe that we have only scratched the surface of this city in just over a year. We will add to this blog post as we find more gems.

      Fast Five Favourites:

      • Gamcheon Cultural Village - Our favorite place to take visitors. The colorful houses, winding alleys, cafes, shops, artwork, and beautiful views make for a nice day out.
      • Temples - We’ve been to Haedong Yongunggsa many times as it’s near Haeundae where we live. It’s unique as it’s located on the ocean which means you can enjoy the temple along with the ocean views. Beomeosa is great for autumn colors, and Swamgangsa is the best place to see all of the lanterns leading up to Buddha’s birthday. 
      • Hikes and walks - We like to venture up to Hwangeongsan mountain often. From the carpark, it’s about a 10 minute walk which makes it very accessible. The 360-degree views over Busan and to the ocean are amazing. On a Sunday morning, it is not very busy. It has the most stunning night time views too! Jangsan peak and Igidae coastal walk are two other famous hikes in Busan that we would recommend. 
      • Nature - This has a lot to do with the time of year. The cherry blossoms in Spring (late March/early April) are incredible and so are the autumn colors (late October/early November). A highlight of our year has been the pink muhly grass.
      • Beaches - Haeundae is the main beach. This means it can get busy, particularly in summer. But it is also where most of the action and events are. Grab something to eat at one of the beachfront cafes and enjoy the ocean views. Songjoeng is not far from Haeundae, where you can also enjoy a beachside walk and coffee. We like this beach as it is less crowded. For a quieter city beach and vibe, head to Gwangalli. 

      Tips:


      • Make sure to follow the stream up to Jangsan peak. This is the most scenic way up with the lowest incline. There are other tracks that are a little steeper and off the beaten path if you like that. This hike is about 3 hours return on average. 
      • The temperatures are nice in June and the sun is usually out (late June to late July is typically when the most rain hits). July-August is typically when the humidity and heat is the highest and it can be unpleasant at times. From December to March, winter has set in and it can get quite chilly. 
      • Depending on what you would like to do, about 5 nights would be a good amount of time to spend in Busan. It’s a big city and you could easily stay a week or two. 
      • Some of our favorite places to eat: Bake House (at the top of Dalmaji Hill), Smokehouse and Lable (located in Pale De Cz on Haeundae beach), Dal Thai (not far from the Bake House), Hurgsiru traditional duck restaurant in Gijang (about 25 minutes from Haeundae). Make sure to book a day before to order duck. This is a unique experience where you eat in traditional yellowstone caves. Gimbap and Korean BBQ are our favorite local foods. We get Gimbap at the shop above Jundong station, and there are many BBQ places around (Anga near Jundong station is where we often go as it’s close by). OPS is our favorite chain bakery if you need something quick to eat on the go.
      • Dalmaji road all the way to Songjeong beach, Hwangeongsan mountain, Samik apartments in Gwangalli, and Oncheonchon stream are our favorite places to see cherry blossoms. You can find pink muhly grass near the airport at Daejeon Ecological park. View our cherry blossom blog post here.
      • Start at the end of the Igidae coast where Oryukdo Islands are for more of a downward hike, and make sure to follow the coast all the way along. It’s about 3-4 hours. 
      • Markets - Jalgachi market is the largest seafood market in Korea. There’s all sorts of fresh seafood and be prepared for a cultural shock! Haeundae markets are small, but located by the beach and have a nice local feel. Nampo-dong is where you can find the main markets in Busan (and a lot of modern brands and shops). During the festive season in December, the streets are lit with beautiful lights everywhere.
      • Shopping - We often head to Shinsegae (where most of Busan shops). The shopping is great and so is the food court. Lotte outlet mall (near Haedong Yongungssa temple) is also a great place to shop. 
      • Feel like a workout? You can find many outdoor gyms at parks and public spaces. They are free to use and a fun experience.
      • Feeling brave? Head to one of the Jimjilbang for a unique experience at the spa. There are many baths and many naked bodies. It is a cultural awakening for sure. 
      • Buses and trains are an easy and affordable way to get around. It’s the cleanest subway we’ve used in the world. Taxies are also very reasonable. If you need an English speaking taxi driver, send us a DM!
      • The UN memorial is one of the only and the biggest UN cemetery in the world. It’s the most important site in the city where you can appreciate the history of the Korean War. 
      • Favorite websites for local happenings: Dynamic BusanHaps KoreaExpats in Busan FB page.

      Baby/Toddler on Board:

      • Busan caters to children extremely well! The kid's cafes here are on another level! You can relax and enjoy food and drinks while your little babes play. Our regulars are Kid's President (across from Emart), Chouchoubonbon (near Marine City), Tayo Kids Cafe, Lilliput, Jumping On, and the kid's playroom in the Science Museum (located in Gijang). There are also many outdoor playgrounds around the city. Most of the larger apartment blocks will have a playground and we use these often with no problem.
      • Lilah calls all of the temples tree houses so she loves to play there. 
      • The beaches are very child-friendly and easy to swim in with small waves. They close the beach to swimmers in September (officially) which seems very early considering how warm it still is. People still swim but you may be told to get out of the water, something to be prepared for.
      • We have been able to find everything that we need for Lilah in Busan. Costco and Emart are our regular one-stop shops. 

      Five things the photos do not show:

      • Busan has been recently voted the best destination in Asia by Lonely Planet.
      • English is not a common language in Busan. It can be frustrating at times but our advice would be to embrace it and enjoy the ride. We live in Haeundae where there are quite a lot of foreigners but we will often go to dinner and need to communicate with nods and smiles.
      • We have had many friends and family members come to stay with us in Busan. It is very special to show them around our new home.
      • We are fortunate to work for a wonderful school who helped us a lot with settling into Korean life. Lilah is learning Korean faster than us!
      • We escape Winter for three weeks each Christmas to go home to New Zealand. After living in Saudi Arabia, for three years we really felt the cold last Winter! We definitely prefer Spring, Summer, and Autumn.
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