24 Hours in Singapore: An Amazing Day at Gardens By The Bay

gardens by the bay

Taking your kids to a garden for the day might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when planning a fun filled day. Visiting Gardens by the Bay though was our top choice this summer when we talked about where we wanted to go. Our son had seen a video of the Supertrees and the more we checked out Gardens by the Bay the more excited we got about visiting the whole venue! We actually ended up making our way back to Gardens by the Bay several times during our stay in Singapore. It is completely free to enter Gardens by the Bay but some attractions do require an additional fee. We really appreciate that Gardens by the Bay invited Family in Faraway Places to visit!

Morning

OCBC Skyway

We started the day at the OCBC Skyway. We wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the area and we figured it would be super-hot later in the day. The OCBC Skyway is a 22 meter high and 128 meter long walkway among the Supertrees. It’s a narrow walkway and you’re only allotted 15 minutes at the top to allow other guests time. I’m nervous about heights and while I wished we could have had more time, I really appreciated that it wasn’t overly crowded. At one point I was taking a photo and a woman shoved me out of the way to go in the opposite direction (the path is only one way). One of the Skyway workers stopped her immediately and came over to make sure I was ok. I was so impressed with the care they took.  Amazing views to match as well! You can see much of Marina Bay as well as the gardens from up top. Though we started our day on the OCBC Skyway other popular times are at sunset and when the Supertrees are lit up.

Admission:
Adult: $8
Child (3-12 years old): $5

Hours:
9 am – 9 pm


Cloud Forest

Gardens by the Bay’s cool mist conservatory, Cloud Forest is kept between 23°C and 25°C.  That alone got us in the door! Cloud Forest showcases plants from tropical highlands. The exhibit around a 35 meter mountain and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall! The waterfall is SO cool. Make sure to look down because there were some pretty great rainbows in the mist of the falls when we were there.

After checking out the falls you can take an elevator up to the top of the mountain and then make your way back down along walkways through the mist. We really liked the little display of Lego carnivorous plants. Keep your eye out for them!

Admission (to get into both the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome):
Adult: $28
Child (3-12 years old): $15
Discounts available for local residents.

Hours: 9 am – 9 pm
Mist Timings: 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm


Far East Organization Children’s Garden Playground

Bring your swimsuit! In the Far East Organization Children’s Garden there is a splash pad and water play area for little ones.  There are water play and playground zones for both toddlers and older kids. The 6-12 year old playground has two rain forest tree houses with bridges swaying among the trees!


Lunch – Mc Donald’s

I know. I know! We’re in Singapore and eating at Mc Donald’s. There are several dining options around Gardens by the Bay but the fast food giant is also there and is in a very central location. We wanted to grab just a quick bite to eat before we continued on our way.


Afternoon

Flower Dome

We were feeling pretty sleepy by now so we headed over to the Flower Dome. Like Cloud Forest, the Flower Dome is also a temperature controlled area so it’s a great place to take a rest and cool down. The Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world and is divided into different geographical regions from Mediterranean and semi-arid parts of the world. We wandered around and ended up resting for a while in the olive grove under beautiful big trees.  The succulent garden though was our favorite by far!

Admission (to get into both the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome):
Adult: $28
Child (3-12 years old): $15
Discounts available for local residents.

Hours: 9 am – 9 pm


Far East Organization Children’s Garden Playground

We visited the water park in the morning and the playground in the afternoon. See above.


Dinner – Satay by the Bay

We were really looking to try some local dishes in a kid friendly environment that wouldn’t make me sick. (I always get sick when we travel!) We were really surprised to come across a place like Satay by the Bay at Gardens by the Bay. At Satay by the Bay there are 19 food stalls which serve up local dishes, and 6 satay carts as well as a bar and bistro. The prices are cheap, the food is good, and the environment casual.


Evening

Kingfisher Lake, Water Lily Pond, and Waterfront Promenade

After dinner we spent some time walking around Kingfisher Lake, Water Lily Pond and the Waterfront Promenade. Despite being in the city there is plenty of wildlife to be fond here. We found turtles in the ponds as well as fish, monitor lizards along the promenade, and all sorts of birds and bugs.


Supertree Light Show

The whole reason we originally wanted to come to Singapore was to see the Supertrees! Twice a day Garden’s by the Bay puts on a FREE Supertree light show to an arrangement of musical theater show tunes.  Just pull up a spot on the grass lawn for a wider view or you can sit on the pavement right under the trees. During certain celebrations throughout the year the light show is also performed to different music arrangements. Check Garden’s by the Bay’s website to find out when there is a special arrangement.

We loved the show! We liked it so much in fact that we came twice during our stay and if we had had time we would have come again. Our son couldn’t stop talking about it and even now that we’re home in he goes on and on about the Supertree show whenever he sees a photo.  Garden’s by the Bay and the Supertrees are definitely worth the trip to Singapore!

Admission: Free
Performances: 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm daily

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Japan Itinerary: Our Two Week, Kid Friendly Japan Guide

This Japan itinerary contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Japan itinerary are my own.

Japan itinerary

Our Route from Osaka to Tokyo

When we travel with our son we take a slightly slower pace than we did before we had kids. If we try to fit in too many activities in the day, it is a surefire way to overwhelm him. So, we usually head out fairly early in the morning (he’s an early riser) right after breakfast and come back to our hotel around lunch time. He’s 4 now so he doesn’t usually need a nap anymore but quiet play time still helps him to recharge his batteries. The in the late afternoon or evening we head out for a while closer to our home base.

For this Japan itinerary we visited Osaka, Koyasan, Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo and Narita. So we didn’t have to double back we flew into Osaka and out of Narita. Our visits to Koyasan, Nara and Narita were just day trips but longer overnight stays would be fantastic for longer itineraries.  Our son enjoys visiting temples and traditional sites, especially if he can have ice cream! He’s also HUGE fan of technology, vehicles and robotics so this Japan itinerary was a balance between the old and the new.

Do You Need a JR PASS for Your Japan Itinerary?

Whenever there is talk about traveling to Japan people of course recommend the JR Pass. The 7, 14 or 21 day JR Pass allows visitor to ride many JR group trains, and buses but there are limitations. It is a good idea to enter your Japan itinerary route into a Japan Rail Pass Calculator like this one (there are others available online as well). We found that for our Japan itinerary we would not save any money getting the JR Pass. We also chose to take the Nozomi Shinkansen between Kyoto and Tokyo and at this time it isn’t covered under the JR Pass.

Days 1 to 3: Osaka Plus a Daytrip to Koyasan

Osaka Castle

The 5 tiered Osaka Castle is the symbol of Osaka and a must visit for anyone coming to the city.

Not only is the castle beautiful but it is surrounded by large grounds and Osaka Castle Park. It is a great place to stretch your legs after a long flight. There are also a fair number of food trucks set up inside the gates as well. You can also find people feeding the pigeons which our son thought was great.

Dotonbori

Best seen at night, Dotonbori is Osaka’s well known downtown area. It is full of great places to shop but most people come to see the brightly colored neon billboards and quirky signs of giant sea creatures which line the canal.

It is also home to quite a few well known restaurants. The lines to get into these restaurants can be incredibly long so it is best to get there early or try your luck at one of the less known places. We ducked into a small ramen restaurant and it was great as well! There are also sometimes free concerts along the canal in the evening. The day we visited we happened to catch Kamen Joshi.

Koyasan – Day Trip from Osaka

The UNESCO world heritage site, Mount Koya is home to more than 100 temples as well as Japan’s largest cemetery Okunoin. More than 200,000 monks have found their final resting place in Okunoin. This incredibly sacred place is also hauntingly beautiful. Green moss covers the grave marker and thousand year old cedar trees tower overhead.

Koyasan is approximately 2 hours from Osaka so it is an easy day trip. In bad weather though, it is best to check that the cable car is still running. We ended up traveling during one of the heaviest snowfalls they had seen in ages and ended up with more excitement than we bargained for!

Other Fantastic Sites in Osaka to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Osaka Aquarium
Universal Studios Japan
Shitennoji Buddhist Temple
Osaka Science Museum

Day 4: Nara Daytrip between Osaka and Kyoto

Nara is close enough to both Osaka and Kyoto to make it a daytrip from either location. We decided to stop over in Nara as we traveled from Osaka to Kyoto. There are places to store your bags in the train stations and at the Nara City Tourist Information Center.

The ancient city is home to some amazing sites such as Todaiji and Yakushiji temples. Nara is best known for the more than 1,200 deer that roam freely in Nara Park. I was a little worried about bringing a very excited 4 year old to see the deer but they were perfectly gentle. Vendors sell crackers that you can feed the deer but expect to get swarmed by a group of deer if you bring out a snack for one.

Days 5 to 8: Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple

As pretty as the Golden Temple is we felt a bit underwhelmed because there were massive crowds. We just happened to arrive exactly when several tour busses pulled up. You enter the gates and everyone must follow the same route shuffling along with the group and leaning over to take photos the best they can. It was just our luck that the sky completely clouded over when we went through. We stopped to grab some ice cream and suddenly the sky was bright blue and the crowds had cleared.


I don’t know if going back in a second time is allowed but I was able to duck back in and get a few more photos.  There isn’t much else to do at the Golden Castle but it is an iconic site so worth the trip. It is best to arrive early or later in the day to avoid the crowds. Or you can try your luck waiting for a break in the tours because as quickly as they come, they are gone just as fast.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Along with tourists to this popular site, worshipers have been visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha since around 711.  Inari is the patron of businesses and the god of rice. The shrine is well known for it’s bright orange torii (arches) and fox statues (messengers).

Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine was so much bigger than I ever expected! We arrived early and made our way to the first set of torii (the red orange arches). Everyone around us was getting frustrated trying to get a great photo. Little did we know that there are pathways all the way up to the top of the mountain with torii galore! We tried to make the two hour hike to the top of the mountain but turned back about 30 minutes from the top. We realized that we were going to have to make it back down with a 4 year old in tow and we were all getting tired. The assent is gradual though and it is easy to explore.

Gion and Geisha (Geiko)

The reason I wanted to go to Kyoto was to try to see a REAL Geisha (or Geiko as they are called in Kyoto). We were successful our second night! You can read more about how we were able to find Geisha in Kyoto here.

geisha
It takes a lot of patience though so we made sure to allot several nights to exploring the Gion which is Kyoto’s famous entertainment district. Even without Geisha, the Gion has many beautiful old buildings and is very atmospheric at night especially in the Shimbashi area.

Kyoto Train Museum

The Kyoto Train Museum is the largest railway museum in Japan with a stock of 53 trains and train cars. It is a 3 story museum with lots of interactive displays and hands on exhibits.


It also has Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional fee you can take a 10 minute ride on one! It is by far the most memorable museum we have visited in Japan.

Other Fantastic Sites in Kyoto to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple
Nijo Castle
Monkey Park Iwatayama

Mount Fuji

On past trips to Japan we had seen Mount Fuji from a distance on clear days in Tokyo but we wanted to see it more closely. We also had no desire to climb it and how long can you spend looking at Mount Fuji with a 4 year old really? We found the perfect solution! The Nozomi Shinkansen which we had also been wanting to experience goes right past Mount Fuji on the way from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can see Mount Fuji for about half of the trip and the train passes by closely enough that you can get a pretty decent photo.

Days 9 to 13: Tokyo

Odiaba

We love Odaiba! During our visit to Tokyo we visited nearly every day. The Odiaiba area of Tokyo is a man made island which has been developed as a shopping and leisure destination. The Yurikamone elevated train ride across to the island is quite fun itself as there is great views of the harbor and Rainbow Bridge as the train track loops over the water. If you are really lucky, try to get the first seat in the first car for a drivers view!

Once in Odaiba there is plenty to keep you busy for days. Odiaba is perhaps most well known for being the home of the life sized Gundam statue which was taken down on March 5th 2017. A new one will be erected in the fall of 2017 but until then there is still plenty to do and see on the island. At Decks Tokyo Beach you can find a Legoland Discovery Center and Madam Tussauds wax museum. Toyota Mega Web is a Toyota showroom, and museum with attractions including test drives.


Right next door is one of the world’s biggest Ferris Wheels. The National Museum of Emerging Science (Miraikan) where the robot Asimo puts on daily displays is also in Odaiba. The list goes on and on so click here to read more!

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market really isn’t kid friendly. It’s a busy and active wholesale market and it really isn’t set up for tourists. The famous tuna auctions happen very early in the morning and are limited to 120 people per day who have applied in advance. Danny is a chef though and wanted to at least check it out. After 10 am when the majority of the sales have been finished the public is allowed to enter into the wholesale seafood area. By noon though most vendors have packed up and gone home leaving a very short window of time to visit.


I’m glad we went just to be able to say we have been. The vendors were very nice to us and we were given some free samples as they were cleaning up for the day. The area is wet, messy and there are forklifts and such rushing about so we opted to carry our son on our shoulders. The outdoor market is open to the public any time and is easier to navigate with little ones.

Asakusa District

Nakamise shopping street lines the way through the Asakusa district of Tokyo to Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple). The shopping street is primarily made up of souvenir shops and little snack places. This is where we ended up trying black sesame ice cream! The dark grey color was awesome and the taste OK but it’s not going to end up being on my top 5 list.


At the end of Nakamise shopping street you’ll find Asakusa temple which was built in the 7th century. Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) is probably the best known image of this temple with its giant lantern. This is a very popular site so during holidays and weekends it gets incredibly busy. Kannonura Street in Asakusa is also one of the few areas where you may be lucky to spot a Geisha in Tokyo. If luck is not on your side when you visit, Konnonura Street is still a beautiful and historic area.

Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree

There are two towers in Tokyo which you can visit to get a great view of the city. The original bright orange Tokyo Tower is 333 meters high and is the tallest self-supported steel tower in the world with observation decks at 150 meters and 250 meters. The newer (2012) Tokyo Skytree is 634 meters tall and has observation decks at 350 meters and 450 meters.


We chose to visit Tokyo Tower. Though the views at the Skytree are of course more impressive it was the cost that made us decide to visit the original Tokyo Tower instead. To visit the first observation deck at Tokyo Tower it only cost us about $8 USD each, whereas the Skytree was going to cost us about $18 USD each.

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center – Half Day Trip From Tokyo

About a 45 minuet train ride from Tokyo is JAXA Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba city. You can join a tour of the KIBO (the Japanese science module for the International Space Station) Flight Control Room and the astronaut training facility. Advanced reservations for English speaking tours are recommended.


There is also a nice Space Dome museum on site. It is small but it has some nice mock-ups of real space equipment.

Other Fantastic Sites in Tokyo to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Tokyo Disneyland
Ghibli Museum
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Sanrio Puroland

Day 14: Narita

Narita Omotesando and Naritasan Temple

A lot of people go to Narita only for the airport. Just by chance we stayed at a hotel one night a bit away from the airport because we had an early flight. Bored and wanting to just get out and walk a bit we were suddenly walking along Narita Omotesando (path leading to a temple).


The narrow one kilometer street is lined with old buildings now housing souvenir shops including traditional foods and handicrafts, and restaurants. It twists and turns until it reaches Naritasan Temple (Narita-san Shinsho-ji ). Built around 940 the temple is and grounds are quite large and very popular. It’s a great place to spend a few hours before your flight!

Check out our other Japan Guide on the best places to find cars, trains, robots and rockets here!

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Bagan Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Your Next Trip to Myanmar

This Bagan travel guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Bagan travel guide are my own.

bagan travel guide

Much of our trip to Myanmar was focused around trying to find a connection to my family who had once lived there as part of the British Colonies. We visited Bagan though purely as tourists. We have traveled to Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia but there is something uniquely special about Bagan. There are more temples to explore than at Borobudur and it currently is much less touristy than Angkor Wat. Find some great tips in this Bagan travel guide.

family atop a temple in bagan

Tickets

Before we went to Myanmar we read a lot of posts from people online suggesting that tourists should not buy the entrance tickets to Bagan. The writers offered tips on how to avoid paying and they promised that no one would ask to see your ticket when you traveled around the city.

monks at a temple in bagan using cell phone

It’s still true that you probably won’t be asked to show your ticket. In 5 days we were only asked to show it once. There are now ticket booths before the exit from the airport in Bagan though so skipping out on paying the fee is not as easy as before. You would need some careful planning to avoid it and at a reasonable 25,000 Kyat or $22 USD per person (our 3 year old son was free) it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. We lined up, got our ticket and were out the door in less than 5 minutes.

ananda temple bagan in the mist at sunrise
Pagoda Phya That Gyi at sunrise bagan myanmar
small white temple with flowers bagan myanmar

Temples

Throughout the desert landscape of Bagan there are more than 2000 temples and other religious structures still standing from the 11th to 13th century. Some of the smaller ones can even be found in the backyards of homes with kids playing soccer around them. The atmosphere around the temples is pretty relaxed and visitors can climb up or go into, nearly any that they wish. But these are still places of worship and religious significance for many. Therefore, shoes must be taken off before you set foot on or in a temple out of respect and to help preserve the monuments.

sunrise temple bagan myanmar

Ananda Temple in bagan myanmar

On August 25th, 2016 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Bagan damaging many of the temples. Restoration is underway and looks like it will continue for quite some time to come. With the devastation a bit of a silver lining has emerged for the city. Much of the damage that occurred was actually restoration work from the 1990’s which had been done quickly and not using original materials. As a result, Bagan did not qualify for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Aung San Suu Kyi has insisted that the process of restoration be taken slowly and under the guidance of UNESCO. Hopefully when the work is done Bagan will be better than ever and will hold the much deserved status!

shwezigon pagoda at sunset father carrying son with manduca baby carrier bagan myanmar

Temples in the mist bagan myanmar sunrise

Getting Around

Getting around Bagan is pretty easy and economical. We stayed in the Nyaung U area which is within walking distance of quite a few restaurants, shops, and some smaller temples.  You will need some sort of transportation to visit the big temples though.

cows and cart in bagan myanmar

Many places rent bicycles for less than $2 USD a day and some accommodations proved them for free. The area is very flat and so it is an easy ride if you set out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When the sun is high in the sky the city is incredibly hot and options like e-bikes (around $6 a day) or a car with a driver (around $15 for half a day or $35 for the whole day) may be better options. There is even the popular option of taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples as the sun rise!

Many tourist sites recommend that you spend around 2 days in Bagan but we were there for 5 and we left wishing for more time to explore!

Htilominlo Temple hot air balloon bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew returning after a morning flight

Bagan with Kids

We found Bagan to be really kid friendly! The side streets were quiet and our son joined other kids chasing bubbles and playing. People in Bagan love kids and they went the extra mile to make sure we were all ok. A group of men even showed him how to play a board game during their lunch breaks. Some hotels in the area have swimming pools as well so kids (and adults!) to cool down a bit from the afternoon heat.

board games street men

Going into and around the temples with kids is very easy but climbing up them is much more of a challenge. The many of the steps are very narrow and you have to walk down some of them sideways! We used our Manduca baby carrier to get our son up and down some of the more steep temples. Even then it was a bit precarious. Not all of them are this difficult though and it is completely doable especially if you just take it slow and steady.

temple stairs bagan myanmar

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Borobudor Sunrise Tour in Beautiful Yogyakarta, Indonesia

borobudor sunrise tour
Before we traveled to Indonesia I knew embarrassingly little about the country. I knew about Jakarta because we know some people from there. I had of course heard of Bali but actually hadn’t realized for the longest time that Bali was part of Indonesia. And I knew about the fantastic Komodo Dragons. I had never heard of Borobudur. We came across it while planning our vacation and instantly knew visiting it was going to be the highlight of our trip. Amazing as the 9th century Buddhist temple is, it’s eve
n more amazing at sunrise so we decided to plan a Borobudor sunrise tour.

borobudur statues temple

 

Options for Seeing the Sunrise

There are a large number of tours that go to the temple from Yogyakarta which is around an hour from Borobudur. They tend to start off from your hotel around 3:30 am and arrive at 4:30 am at Manohara Hotel within the grounds of the temple. Another option is to stay at Manohara Hotel itself so you just wake up and go. Since we were traveling with our son we decided to stay at Manohara Hotel. He’s an early riser (he was getting up at 4 am most days then) but we thought that waking him up at 3:30 am and then driving for an hour to the Borobudor sunrise tour would be pushing it.

There are also some smaller guesthouses that have been popping up just outside of the temple. If you stay in one of them you can wake up closer to the start of the Borobudor sunrise tour, bike over to Manohara and join the sunrise group. In hindsight, I wish we had done that. Some visitors try to be there right at 6:00am when the gates open and then make their way up to the temple without the sunrise tour. Depending on the time of year, the sun may not be completely up yet and it is possible to climb the temple in time to see the sun rise in all its glory. When we visited, “blue hour” occurred around 5am. Then around 5:50am there was a pastel light of dawn, followed nearly right at 6am by a brilliant orange sky. The dramatic colors only lasted less than 15 minutes though, so on the day we went you would have really had to run from the front gate and then up the stairs to catch it with a 6am start.

Hotel Options

We flew from Bali to Yogyakarta and stayed at the Hyatt Regency for a night. The hotel was a bit beyond our price range for the trip but considering it is a Hyatt hotel, the price (around $70 USD a night including buffet breakfast) was very reasonable. We did have an issue with a double booking that was eventually cleared up when we got back home but we were there for the pool and the pool is spectacular! This was our peace offering to our son for dragging him around to a bunch of temples. There was a huge winding pool in a garden setting accented with buildings in the style of Borobudur.  The waterslide even came out of a temple! There were stone bridges, a basketball net, and even a waterfall. The pool alone is worth the visit!

hyatt regency yogyakarta pool

The following morning we were picked up by the driver we had arranged to take us to Manohara Hotel. It was pouring rain. Absolutely pouring down and we were starting to feel a bit worried about our sunrise tour. The streets were flooded and it didn’t look like the rain was going to give up any time soon. Our driver assured us though that we had nothing to worry about and that after a big storm, the sunrises were always spectacular.

We arrived at Manohara Hotel and were checked in quickly. The grounds were beautiful and there right outside the dining area was Borobudur in all its glory. It was still raining so we didn’t explore the temple much that day.

Borobudur Manohara Hotel Rain

The hotel itself though was less than spectacular. They have a monopoly in the area and it seems like the owners are taking advantage of the fact. Our bathroom was filthy with hair and dirt everywhere. Our shower had hot water for less than 2 minutes. I’ve since read other reviewers have mentioned this as well so it wasn’t the first time it had happened. The staff acted very surprised and said they would come and fix it but never did. There were ants everywhere in the room. I left my toothpaste out on the counter and when I woke up in the morning there were hundreds of ants covering it. We continued to find ants in our luggage for days after we left the hotel. The food in the restaurant was also overpriced and poor quality. Our stay at the Hyatt outside of Yogyakarta had been cheaper so we were really quite annoyed.

Borobudor Sunrise Tour

The convenience of just being able to roll out of bed and go straight to the Borobudor sunrise tour was fantastic though. We got out of bed around 4 am, gathered our things and met the people coming from other hotels joining the Borobudor sunrise tour at the front desk by 4:30. We were given flashlights, put our son on my husband’s back in our Manduca baby carrier and followed our escort to the temple. There was nearly no light at all as we walked up to the temple but luckily there are railings going along the steps that you can hold on to. 

Borobudur Sunrise tour

It stayed fairly dark for about 15 minutes more until blue hour came and we started to take photos. While there is plenty of room to get a great photo without anyone in it, the light from all the people using their phone’s cameras can get really annoying when you are trying to set up a shot.

Borobudur temple blue hour   Borobudur temple blue hour

Blue hour faded into a pinkish dawn as we listened to the morning prayers being broadcast on loudspeakers and watched the mist roll through the trees.

borobudur dawn temple statue
mist fog borobudor sunrise tour
We had been up at the top of the temple for about an hour and the sun was quite high in the sky. People were starting to make their way back down the stairs and though it was pretty we were feeling a bit let down. Our driver had promised a spectacular sunrise. Suddenly at almost precisely 6:05 am the sky changed to brilliant oranges, reds and yellows! We were told that it was the most spectacular sunrise they had had in a month.borobudor sunrise tour temple   borobudur temple sunrise tour

The brilliant colors lasted less than 10 minutes but we stayed for another hour just watching and listening.

borobudur temple sunrise tour   borobudur temple sunrise tour


Hours

Open hours:  6 am – 5 pm

Cost

Foreign Visitor: 280,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 30,000 IDR per person

Borobudur Sunrise Tour or Sunset tour (via Manohara Hotel)

Foreign Visitor: 400,000 IDR per person
Hotel Guests: 250,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 270,000 IDR per person 
Kids 1-5: Free
Kids 6-10: 50% the adult price


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Japan Guide: Where to Find Cars, Trains, Robots & Rockets!

This Japan guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All opinions in this Japan guide are my own.japan guide
There’s no denying that Japan is the place to go for technology lovers. Our son is a fan of absolutely everything mechanical so on the latest of our family vacations to Japan we decided to plan our trip as a balance between traditional Japanese culture and machines. In this Japan guide find out where to go on your family vacations in Japan to see cars, trains, rockets and robots!


Cars

Toyota Mega Web

In the Odaiba area of Tokyo just across the Rainbow Bridge you can find Toyota Mega Web in the Pallet Town shopping area. The car “theme park” is divided into the Toyota City Showcase, Ride Studio, History Garage, and Ride One.

Toyota City Showcase and History Garage

Toyota City Showcase is free to visit and has on display around 60 of Toyota’s current model cars. A really nice thing about this area is you can actually get inside many of the cars to check them out, even if you are 4 years old and not planning on buying a car for a couple of years! We could have left our son there all day as he dreamed of being a race car driver.

family vacations

On the second floor is the Toyota Gazoo Racing Garage with serval cars from the Toyota Gazoo racing team on display and a motor sports simulator. The simulator allows visitors to play the Playstation 3 game Gran Turismo 6 for free for about 5 minutes. There is a line but we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for our turn when we visited. Even though there is a height requirement of 135cm in order to reach the pedals, we were allowed to play the game with our son on our lap.

If you love classic cars you are going to want to check out the History Garage. The first time we visited Mega Web we completely missed it since it is not in the same area as the City Showcase. There are some really nice cars including a DeLorean which made mommy and daddy happy but this area is less interactive so our son was ready to go back to the showcase area quickly.

Ride Studio and Ride One

Ride Studio allows kids to give driving a try in their own kid sized cars. There are several different tracks and cars that kids can try out depending on their age and height. The price ranges from 200 – 300 yen. We visited a bit after 6pm one evening and they let our son try out one of the cars for free since they were getting ready to close up for the day.

Kids under 12 require a guardian’s signature to drive the cars and the rules were quite strict. Our 4 year old struggled to understand the traffic rules and daddy had to stay right with him the entire time on the course to make sure he followed the traffic lights. But he still enjoyed the chance to drive!

Ride One is the adult version of Ride Studio. Adults with a valid Japanese driver’s license or an international driving permit can test drive a vehicle of their choice around a 1.3 km driving course for 300 yen. There are a large variety of cars to choose from but advanced reservation is encouraged.

Other Japan guide places to check out cars:


Trains

Kyoto Railway Museum

The Kyoto Railway Museum was by far our favorite museum! It is a quite new museum that opened in April 2016 with lots of trains on display and to explore as well as interactive exhibits. It is a bit expensive. Adults pay 1,200 yen, teens 1,000 and kids 500 but it was worth every yen. It is the largest railway museum in Japan and you can easily spend the day there.

The 3 story museum has trains on display both inside and outdoors. There is a rolling stock of 53 trains and train cars including steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, Shinkansen, EMUs, DMUs, coaches and wagons. The outdoor roundhouse displays Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional 300 yen visitors can take a 10 minute ride on a steam train.

Ride the Nozomi Shinkansen

Riding the Nozomi train between Kyoto and Osaka was the perfect accompaniment to our train museum visit. The Nozomi is the fastest train service in Japan on the Takaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines and reaches up to 300km/hour. For a portion of the trip the tracks pass right by Mount Fuji giving a fantastic view for quite some time!

Other Japan guide places to check out trains:


Rockets

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center

To be honest, I think my impression of this museum was influenced by the fact that it took us so very long to get there. It is only about a 45 minute train ride from Tokyo if you take the express train. Make sure you take the express train! If you don’t you’re looking at a very slow train that stops at every station and takes hours. Want to make a guess as to which train we accidentally took?

So, when we got to the museum we were tried and grumpy. We walked into the Space Dome and wondered “Is this it?” The Space Dome is only one large room but it is free and has some interesting items on display.


Our son enjoyed the full sized mockup of “KIBO” the Japanese science module for the International Space Station and insisted that daddy help him to “float” like the astronauts. Kibo alone kept him occupied for about 30 minutes. There is also a full sized rocket in the museum grounds that you can walk around and a nice little gift shop with some astronaut ice cream which we all love.

If you’re in the area it is a nice little museum but I wouldn’t make the trip there a second time with a younger child. Older children and adults though can take part in a guided tour of the KIBO Flight Control Room and the Astronaut Training Facility.  The 70 minute tour includes seeing real-time operations of KIBO which sounds pretty cool! Advanced reservations for English tours are recommended since it is not always available.

Other Japan guide places to check out space technology:


Robots

ASIMO at Miraikan

We visited the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation(Miraikan) to meet one of the world’s most famous robots, ASIMO.  Four times a day ASIMO puts on an approximately 10 minute presentation. He walks around, waves, runs and kicks a soccer ball among other things. We were quite surprised by how smoothly ASIMO moves and expected much more jerky movements. We really wished that the presentation had been a bit longer or that we had been able to see ASIMO up close. After the presentation ASIMO disappears back behind a door. There are a few other robots and/or androids on display at Miraikan as well which you can get more up close with.  They also have a really good gift shop with ASIMO merchandise and all sorts of robots for every ability it seemed.

Gundam at DiverCity Tokyo

Gundam is not technically a “robot”. Gundam are mobile suits which are vehicles controlled in a cockpit by humans. But since this article does not have a “mobile suit” category and Gundam have “robotic” characteristics, here it is!


In Odaiba at Diver City Tokyo Plaza stands an 18 meter, life sized RX-78-2 Gundam…or at least it did until March 5th 2017. The Gundam statue has now been removed and by the first week of April the Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba Hotel Gundam theme rooms as well as Gundam Front Tokyo will also be closing. Our family has a lot of great memories visiting the Gundam statue. On our last trip to Tokyo we visited maybe 5 times. I remember the very first time in 2014 that we suddenly saw Gundam come “alive”. We hadn’t known about the performances and were thrilled that Gundam moved and had a light show! We are quite sad to see the RX-78-2 Gundam go.


But fear not! In the fall of 2017 the original Gundam is being replaced with a 24 meter RX-o Unicorn Gundam and The Gundam Base Tokyo will be opening as well. We may need to make another trip to Japan to meet this new Gundam!

Other Japan guide places to check out robots:


Are there any other great places we should add to our Japan guide where you can see cars, trains, robots and rockets? How about some other sites to check out awesome technology in Japan? Tell us what you think about this Japan guide in the comments below!

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Hue Vietnam Travel Guide: Tombs, Towers and Tanks

hue vietnam travel guide

Things To Do In Hue Vietnam

Once the national capital from 1802-1945, Hue Vietnam is home to the ancient Imperial City (Citadel) and the tombs of several emperors. The ancient sites around Hue Vietnam are spectacularly beautiful and it was well worth the visit. Learn more in this Hue Vietnam travel guide!

Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)

Emperors of Vietnam once lived in this walled fortress and palace. Much of the structure was damaged or destroyed by battles with the French in 1947 and American forces in 1969 with only 20 out of 148 structures surviving but it still remains an impressive complex with ongoing restoration.

Hours: 8am – 6pm

hue imperial city citadel
hue imperial city citadel

Hue Vietnam Provincial Museum (War Museum)

This small museum doesn’t appear to even get a mention in the guidebooks but if you are visiting the Imperial City next door and are interested in military exhibits it may be worth a quick visit. The museum is in bad repair. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages and there are large holes in the pavement leading down to the drains below. Staff scurried to turn on fans and lights when we walked in like they weren’t expecting visitors. Inside the museum some photos, small weapons and other wartime paraphernalia can be found.

The only reason we visited (twice!) is that out in front of the museum there is a collection of tanks, a helicopter, a plane and other military vehicles from the Vietnam War.  Each vehicle has a plaque with the name of the vehicle as well as the year and place it was captured from. Our son was THRILLED to see a helicopter so close for the first time and excitedly ran back and forth between each vehicle.

Hours:  8:00-11:00 am, 2:00pm – 5:00pm (closed Sundays)

Hue provincial war museum

Hue provincial war museum

Thien Mu Pagoda

Built in 1601, Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. This seven story tower is part of the temple complex on Ha Khe Hill just outside of Hue overlooking the Perfume River.

thien mu pagoda

Not only beautiful, the pagoda has strong historical, political and religious significance in the region. In 1963 the Buddhist Crisis in Vietnam saw the Catholic government cracking down on the Buddhists majority (70-90%) in the country and Buddhism. The crisis began when 9 unarmed Buddhist were shot by the army in Hue. Thein Mu Pagoda became a major organizing point for the movement.  In protest of this crackdown and the government’s refusal to meet calls for religious equality, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon on June 10th, 1963. There in front of onlookers, reporters and supporters he conducted self-immolation by setting himself on fire.

]Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

In the background of this world famous image by Malcom Browne the car he drove can be seen. It is presently on display at Thien Mu Pagoda.

Tombs in Hue Vietnam

There are 7 imperial tombs just outside of Hue but the most commonly visited are the Tombs of Emperor Minh Mang, Emperor Tu Duc and Emperor Khai Dinh. We did not have a chance to go to Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb but made it to the other two. When visiting the popular tombs it is best to get there early in the morning before the tour groups arrive or later in the afternoon when they have gone. It can get crowded! We visited Khai Dinh tomb before 9am because there are a lot of steps and we wanted to avoid climbing them in the heat. By 9:30 the tomb was packed with tourists arriving in tour buses. We then went to Minh Mang tomb and even around 10:30 the tour groups were just starting to arrive. Any driver you hire should be able to advise you on what times to go to beat the crowds.  The tour groups seem to have very set roots.

Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Before his death he visited France resulting in the tomb being a combination of both Western and Eastern styles. Khai Dinh’s tomb is the last of the large imperial tombs in Vietnam.  The dragon sculptures along the sides of this temple were the largest dragons in Vietnam though the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang likely now holds this distinction.

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

Minh Mang Tomb

The construction of this tomb began in September 1840 but by January 1841, Emperor Minh Mang had passed away. The tomb was fully completed by 1843 under the watchful eye of Emperor Thieu Tri.  The burial grounds include landscaped lakes, and canals as well as beautiful architecture.

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

Is Hue Kid Friendly?

hue vietnam

We went to Hue when our son was 3.5 years old. In Da Nang, Hoi An and Hanoi we saw a lot of kids his age and some even younger but in Hue he seemed to be one of the youngest. There aren’t a lot of activities aimed at children in Hue and there are no beach resorts so it’s less appealing to parents traveling with really little ones. It seemed to be more popular with families that had kids 8 years old and up.

That being said, Hue is not unfriendly to kids! Many of the sites are free for younger kids. The Imperial City and Tombs offer a lot of space for kids to stretch their legs and to explore and as a vehicle lover our son really enjoyed the small war museum. We would go out early in the morning and then spend our afternoons in our hotel’s pool or playing indoors in our room. There’s a lot of walking so a good baby carrier that allows you to carry little ones on your back like the Manduca baby carrier can be a life saver if your infant to preschooler is too tired to walk. But short early morning trips, ice cream and swimming pools made Hue a great place to visit with a little one.  If I were to go back through it would definitely be in the winter months! It was 38 degrees the entire time we were there in July!

Getting In And Out

Private Car

We traveled to Hue by car from Hoi An through Da NangHoi An to Hue it is about a 3 hour drive and Da Nang to Hue around 2. The driver can take the route either along Hai Van Pass or through Hai Van Tunnel. At a length of 6.28 km, Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia and it can save you between 30 minutes to an hour on your trip between Da Nang and Hue. Hai Van Pass though is much more scenic winding up the mountain and along the coast.  Most drivers and tour buses choose to dive the route along the coast and stop at the top for a break and to enjoy the views. There are shops and restaurants at the top as well.

Cost for a private car:

Around $60-$75 USD

Plane

There are direct flights to Hue Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat and Hanoi. The flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi arrive daily but Dalat only has flights every other day. We decided to drive into Hue and then flew to Hanoi.

It is also possible to book a local bus, train or a tour bus between the two cities. Tour buses seem to be most popular with group tours that are only going to Hue for the day but your hotel should be able to help you make arrangements.

Getting Around

Walking

We were in Hue in July and it was HOT. Even in the evening it was hot so we didn’t walk around too much. They do though have a nice park and walkway area along the perfume river. In the evening little shops and restaurants open up and it’s a lovely place to take a stroll.

walkway along river hue vietnam

bridge across perfume river hue vietnam

Taxi

Taxis in Hue are cheap and your hotel can easily arrange for them to pick you up. When visiting the sites it is quite common to arrange a set price and have the taxi driver wait for you while you visit. This means that many of the taxis you see waiting may not be available.  A couple of times we did not make these arrangements and were unable to find another available taxi despite being in the city. We did not run into any large problems with taxis in Hue but twice we were brought to the wrong end of a site even though our hotel had arranged the pickup.

Private car

We arranged a private car to visit the tombs outside of the city and to take us to the airport. I wish we had used them our entire time in Hue! They were absolutely fantastic and reasonably priced. There are several companies in the area but here are two we had contact with.

We used this company both times. We were picked up on time (actually the driver was early) in a fantastically clean SUV. Our son was thrilled since he had never driven in a large SUV like this before. All 3 seatbelts in the back were working. Our driver was safe, friendly and knowledgeable.  We decided to use the same company when we went to the airport and had the same experience the second time as well.

Website: http://www.stopandgo-hue.com/
Email: stopandgocafetours@gmail.com

We did not use this company but I was very impressed with their customer service. Their reviews on TripAdvisor are also high. We needed to make a last minute reservation and they were very quick to respond. They also have baby car seats available for small children. Unfortunately I was not able to connect to the internet at our hotel in the evening and when I finally got through to them they were fully booked for the time we wanted to visit the tombs. They offered us a discount if we would go later in the day or offered to take us the next day instead. We were short on time though and wanted a very early start to beat the heat so we went with a different company.

Website: http://www.tourfromhue.com/
Email: tourfromhue@gmail.com

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Visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen japan
I don’t like zoos. I went to several really bad ones when I was young and have really disliked them since. Before our son was even born I had decided I did not want to take him to a zoo (my husband was more flexible on the topic). Instead we would try to introduce him to animals in the most natural settings we could manage. It is a noble idea but in reality we’ve found it a lot more difficult and expensive then we considered. We still make an effort though and Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan was the first trip we made with our son to see animals in their more natural setting.

Jigokudani Yaen-Koen is a wild snow monkey park and the only place in the world where you can find Japanese Macaque (snow monkeys) bathing in the hot springs. In the winter the monkeys make their way down the mountain to the hot springs to relax and bathe. The park is open year round but in the warmer months the monkeys are fed to keep them in the area.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano
We took the train from Nagano to Yudanaka Station and then the bus to Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop. From the bus stop is it about a 30 minute walk to the snow monkey park. Before our trip we had decided to invest in some good hiking boots…just in case. Were we ever glad we did! The park is in the mountain, it’s quite cold and there is snow. At the same time there are natural hot springs everywhere.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen
This combination means that absolutely everything is covered in ice! Buildings are covered in icicles and the mountain path, though not a very difficult climb, is covered in ice. The pathway is narrow in places. On one side you have mountain and on the other side of the icy path is a steep drop down to the bottom of the mountain.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano
We took our time and went slowly and carefully. My heart was pounding the entire walk with our son but we weren’t the only ones with small kids on the path. A lot of people seemed to not be too concerned about the conditions. We even saw a few women in high heels and miniskirts making the trek! We also saw some people fall and get hurt. It’s not the easiest place to get to with a small child but if you wear a good pair of boots and take your time you’ll be fine!

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano photographers
Once we finally got to the pool we were greeted with monkeys both in the pool and climbing the snowy mountains around us. We had been around monkeys in India, Thailand and the Philippines before this and these monkeys were much more chilled out and relaxed. They just kind of sat there in their bath ignoring all of us.  There are so many great photo opportunities in the park but the day we went the hot steam kept blowing towards us and it was nearly impossible to get a really clear shot. Even so, some photos turned out pretty well!

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano tourists

Unfortunately for one photographer, this wasn’t enough. He was trying to antagonize one of the monkeys so that she would show her teeth and perhaps lunge at him! His partner told him right off when she saw how concerned everyone around was getting but until she did, he had been completely clueless. These are wild monkeys and I didn’t notice any park staff around. Respectable caution needs to be taken. Most visitors though were great.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen japan
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen japan
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen japan
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano onsen japan

There isn’t much else around the park to do but the monkeys alone are worth the trip! After we visited the monkeys we made the hike back to the bus stop. Along the way there is a small rest stop with snacks and restroom facilities. There are some onsen in the area that can be visited and a few accommodations but most people just go to the area as a day trip. Before you head up to the park it is a good idea to check the bus schedule for the return trip. We forgot to and ended up waiting in the cold for about 30 minutes for a bus to arrive. Luckily the scenery at the bus stop is quite beautiful!

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nagano

How to get there

  • From Nagano Station take the train to Yudanaka Station (about 1 hour)
  • From Yudanaka Station take the bus to Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop (about 10 minutes)
  • Walk to the snow monkey park from Kanbayashi Onsen (about 30 min)

Hours and Cost

  • 8:30-5:00 April to October
  • 9:00 – 4:00 November to March
  • 800 yen

7 Must See Places Near Gwangju this Fall

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This summer has been a long and unbelivably hot one but fall is in the air! Maybe you're looking for a place to see the fall colours or somewhere to visit over the Chuseok holiday. The Damyang House, Compass Korea  and Family in Faraway Places  have you covered with our favorite places to visit near Gwangju, Jeollanamdo during the autumn season in Korea!

1. The Gwangju Lake Eco-Park (광주호수생태원)

eco park 3

The interconnecting boardwalks and walkways inside the Eco-Park offer spectacular views of the lake and are designed to accommodate visitors of all ages.  The park is very popular and can get busy, especially on the weekend during mid afternoon.  The secret is to arrive just before dusk when 90% of the visitors are leaving, sneak in a bottle of wine and your dog, and enjoy the sun setting behind the mountains on the far side of the lake.  Better yet, arrive in the afternoon and explore the rice paddies adjacent to the park before catching the sunset.  Follow the service road behind the 7-11 in the parking lot into the rice paddies and enjoy the uninhibited views of Mundeung National Park and the surrounding mountains.  Not only are these small farming service roads pet friendly, they are virtually empty except for the occasional farmer.   Even still, for some of the best views of the lake and Mudeung Mountain, you can walk up road 887 (main road following the lake) and find one of several trails used to access the lake by the local fishermen.  Bring your camera AND your fishing rod because the bass fishing is just as good as the views.  


damyang

Check out more about Gwangju Lake Eco Park, from The Damyang House here!
Fishing Trails


2. Baegyangsa (백양사)

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Part of Naejangsan National Park, Baegyangsa was established in 632 AD. Once you arrive it is a short and easy walk from the parking area to the temple. The walkway takes you along the river and past little shops selling fresh persimmons and roasted chestnuts in the fall. As you approach the temple you are greeted with the spectacular image of the temple at the end of the river with a backdrop of red, orange and yellow leaves framing the mountain’s rock formation. This spot is a favorite location for tourists and locals during the autumn season and during the best weekends to view the fall colors it can get busy! There is plenty of space to find a nice little quiet place to yourself and paths to hike but take the crowds into consideration. The first time we went we were a bit naïve about how bad the traffic would be on a peak weekend. The trip that usually takes 35 minutes to an hour, took us nearly 3 hours! Arriving early or on weekdays can help you to avoid the crowds nearly all together.


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Check out more about Baegyangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
Baegyangsa


3. Guemseong-Sanseong Fortress (담양 금성산성)

Damyang Country 11

I’ve hiked and traveled all over South Korea – and lots of Asia – and the Geumseong Fortress in Damyang is a spot that continues to impress me to this day. I can still vividly remember climbing out the trees the first time years ago – not knowing what to expect – and coming face to face with the imposing stone gate towering over me. Just awesome. The appeal of Guemseong is that the reward is so high for such a short hike. After 30-40 minutes on a gradual ridge you get to explore an impressive mountain fortress. I definitely recommend it to everyone coming to the area.


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Watch a video of Damyang and the Geumseong Fortress by Compass Korea here! 
Geumseong Fortress


4. Shikyeongjung (식영정)

shikyeongjung 3

Shikyeongjung is a small group of pavilions just across from the Eco-Park and right next to the Poetry and Literature Museum.  This small park doesn’t look like much at first glance, but keep in mind these are functioning pavilions.  Grab some snacks from one of the cafes or a bottle of makoli from the 7-11 and find an empty pavilion to relax in and enjoy the fresh air.  The pavilion on top of the hill even has a working Hwangto-Bang during the colder months (red clay brick room heated via small cast iron stove under the floor).  This park is especially popular with the local photography clubs during the fall months when the trees offer a colorful backdrop for the traditional pavilions.  What most visitors don’t know is that there is a pet-friendly trail behind the aforementioned pavilion on the hill that leads up the mountain to a scenic overlook offering beautiful views of Mudeung National Park and the surrounding valley.  It’s a steep 25 minute climb, but well worth it.  


damyang

Read more from The Damyang House about what you can find around Shikyeongjunjg here!
Jishil Valley


5. Suncheon Bay (순천만습지)

SuncheonBayBoat

One of the best day trips in all of Jeollanamdo is to explore the beautiful eco park of the Suncheon Bay. Stroll on boardwalks just above the mudflats and listen to miles of reeds swaying and rustling in the breeze. In the summer the six-foot reeds are a vibrant green, but in the fall, when the feathery seed heads are full, they change to brown and gold, looking more like wheat than tall grass. Plus, if you go in the fall you get to see the flocks of migratory birds that rest and feed in the Suncheon Bay.


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To see Suncheon Bay upclose, watch this video by Compass Korea here!
Suncheon Bay


6. Songgwangsa (송광사)

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Songgwangsa is one of Korean’s best known temples! Found in Jogyesan Provincial Park, the temple is only about a 45 minute drive from Gwangju and is a popular destination to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday, join a temple stay program or to just enjoy the autumn scenery. When you arrive at the parking area you will find some small restaurants and vendors where you can grab a meal or a snack. The main gate where you purchase your ticket is also there but the temple is about a 15 minute walk away! We were not expecting such a long walk but the pathways follow a beautiful river and take you through a quiet pine forest. We found ourselves wishing that we had packed a picnic lunch to enjoy under the trees like many hikers were doing. Songgwangsa is quite large with many buildings to explore and lots of space to spread out in and so it never seemed crowded. 


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Check out more about Songgwangsa from Family in Faraway Places here!
Songgwangsa


7. Sosaewon (소쇄원)

sosaewon 2Descriptions of this private garden tend to be overly dramatic, but the fact that's it's 500 years old, has been passed down for 15 generations, and the current owner lives in our village just two doors down is pretty impressive.   It’s also included on just about every “top 10” list focusing on Damyang so it’s worth checking out.  The entire garden is surrounded by a bamboo forest and is split by a small stream, with pavilions on either side.  Small walkways and bridges connect everything and guide you through the park.  It's not big and is unfortunately made even smaller by the unusually large crowds.  Sosaewon is only about 1km from Shikyeongjung, but walking along the main road isn’t always the most comfortable.  To avoid this, start your afternoon here and after checking out the park exit Sosaewon via the little-known and underused back entrance.  This trail will follow the ridge up the mountain and around the valley and take you to the overlook previously mentioned and ultimately down to Shikyeongjung and the Eco-Park!  


damyang

Check out more near Sosaewon, from The Damyang House here!
Rice Paddies


A big thank you to The Damyang House and Compass Korea for collaborating on this article!

Manila, Philippines for your Next Family Vacation!

Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation …really! I know what you’re thinking. It’s busy, crowded and the traffic is bad. There are no beaches. When I told my husband I was going to write a post on why Manila is a great place for a family Philippines vacation he made that same face that you are probably making right now! Which is exactly why I had decided to write this post.

We’ve spent a few days here and there in Manila on several occasions over the years and other than the shady taxi situation at the airport we have never had any problems. On our last trip to the Philippines though we actually planned some vacation time in the city with our son and we had a fantastic time (which my husband DID end up remembering)!

The Manila Jeepney

Thanks to the Tagalog for Kids Flash Card set we have at home “Jeepney” was one of the first vehicle words our son learnt along with car and truck. On our first trip to the Philippines to meet his lolo and lola we arrived around midnight in Manila. We pulled out of the airport in our taxi and there it was: “Jeepney!” He was only 21 months old at the time but it was a dream come true. Everywhere he looked, there they were. The taxi driver found it more than a little amusing that there was this little boy pointing out and yelling in excitement “Jeepney! Jeepney!” over and over. The next year when we visited we kept our eyes open for the brightly painted icons of the city, added additional toys to his Jeepney collection and even got to “drive” a Jeepney.

DRIVE

Driving a Jeepney on display at Manila Ocean Park

Kids love Jeepneys and so do tourists on their Philippines vacation! The Jeepney is to Manila like the streetcar is to San Francisco. Though you can still track down some fantastically styled Jeepneys for your little car lover to marvel at they are becoming increasingly less common. Or at least the painted ones are.

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The most impressive Jeepney we saw in Manila. They are becoming less common.

I’ve heard two different takes on why this is. In the media I read that it is getting too expensive for drivers to decorate their Jeepneys. This may be true but I find it hard to believe. There are companies out there that offer to sponsor decorations and the more attractive Jeepneys tended to get more business in the past. When we were in Manila several different taxi drivers told us that the real reason was because of tension between the drivers of the decorated and not decorated Jeepneys. They said that the drivers of the non-decorated vehicles were unhappy that they were getting less business and that rules may have been put in place to discourage the decoration to create a more equal playing field. Whatever the reason, our son loves the Jeepney and the decorated ones even more so. Hopefully measures are taken to preserve this part of the Filipino culture and tradition.

Hotel H2O and Manila Ocean Park

On the way to the hotel our son fell asleep. We checked in, went to our room, placed him on the bed and waited. When he woke up he slowly sat up in bed and looked around unsure of where he was and then…fish! An entire wall of our room was a giant aquarium! We couldn’t have planned the surprise any better.

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He doesn't know yet that he's sleeping in an aquarium!

Located in Luneta, Manila behind the Quirino Grandstand and actually situated on Manila Bay, Hotel H2O features aquarium themed rooms. There are rooms that have beautiful views of Manila Bay but what we were after was the “Aqua” themed room. In the Aqua rooms an entire wall of the room is an aquarium. The fish are not confined to your room but rather the aquarium goes between the rooms so your visitors are always changing. We spent ages excitedly waiting for “Dory” to make her appearance in our room again. Twice a day the fish are fed in your room so each guest gets to see a great display of fish gathering at that time.

philippines vacation

Feeding time. We found Dory!

On the same grounds of Hotel H20 is Manila Ocean Park. Ocean Park is an 8,000 square meter oceanarium which features a 25 meter long underwater walkway, the tallest musical fountain in the Philippines, numerous tanks of fish and other underwater sea life, a penguin exhibit and a sea lion performance to name a few.

When we stayed at Hotel H20 we had just returned from a trip to Apo Island and Oslob to see the sea turtles and whale sharks so we were not very interested in visiting Ocean Park. I have heard mixed reviews of Ocean Park. Some people love it and others not so much. It really seems to depend on what you are expecting and which exhibits you attend.

Manila Ocean Park, Birds of Prey Kingdom

We did though check out Ocean Park’s newest attraction the Birds of Prey Kingdom. Our son loves birds and we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to see some up close. I think perhaps we didn’t read the description properly but when we saw that it was BirdS of Prey we thought there would be a variety of birds. Instead there is only the Brahminy Kite (the Lawin or Banog). The enclosure was also smaller than expected and we lost interest after about 10 minutes. We only bought tickets for that attraction. If you have purchased a pass it is worth checking out. A great chance to see a beautiful local bird up close and they seem healthy and well cared for.

Rizal Park and Intramuros

Probably about a 5 minute walk from Hotel H2O is Rizal Park. Traveling with a VERY active child we went there many times during our trip to Manila just to run and play. The thing that really struck me about this park is how alive it is. Early in the morning as the sun is rising, joggers run around in the cooler morning air and around noon people from local businesses gather to have their lunch. You can catch a ride around the park on a kalesa (horse drawn carriage). In the evening the park is full of families playing together, students practicing their dance routines and couples on dates. It was one of our favourite places to go as a family in Manila. In the evening they also have a fairly impressive light and music show at the fountain. FAQ.ph has an interesting post on some of the historical and national highlights at the park.

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The kalesa ride 

The light and music show at the fountain at night

A 15 minute walk from Rizal Park is Intramuros though you might want to opt for the 7 min taxi drive instead. The walking route was poorly marked and whenever we asked for directions the people in the area surprisingly didn’t seem to know the way or sent us in the wrong direction. Our walk ended up taking us over an hour!

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Intramuros is the oldest district of Manila and the historic center of the city. Once you get there though there are ruins, old churches and buildings, walls, and prisons to explore and discover. Kids (and parents!) can get swept away pretending they are soldiers of Fort Santiago and imagining where the gold from the legend of Yamashita’s Treasure might be hidden!


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