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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Hampyeong’s Herptile Eco Park

hampyeong herptile eco park

Hampyeong which is about an hour away from Gwangju, Jeollanamdo, is well known across Korea for its annual Butterfly Festival. Few people, even locally it appears, know about Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park (함평파충류생태공원 ). It’s hard to miss though once you arrive into the area of the Eco Park as the building is shaped like a giant albino Burmese python (they have a live one inside!).

I have not been able to confirm this, but I believe the Herptile Park opened only a few years ago in 2013. The facilities are new, well maintained and clean. The temperature is closely monitored and so on a hot summer day it was lovely and cool inside! There is a collection of more than 600 local and foreign snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, tortoise, and lizards primarily housed on 2 floors of the main building. Inside the main building there is also a theater area but there was no information about shows when we went. There is a separate building outside for some anaconda as well and a nice petting zoo and park area in the back as well.

hampyeong herptile eco park

I am not a big fan of zoos but the animals in these habitats seemed to be well cared for and the workers professional. We arrived at Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park at 9:30am on a holiday Monday and were the only visitors there at the time. They were still setting up for the day and it happened to be feeding time for the pythons. Upon seeing our 3 year old son heading their way the workers discretely put away the bucket of dead mice until he had moved past. Had he been older I’m sure he might have been really interested but I appreciated that they were sensitive to his age.

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the downstairs area there is a small climbing wall, and play and activity area for children. There are also some animals for them to interact with:  couple of birds out on a tree, a horned lizard, some iguanas and a tub of frogs. The frogs were upsetting. I’m sure they were very stressed with the kids reaching in. There was also an area where children can use nets to catch goldfish in two tanks and then rerelease them. Poor fish! Several times a day the Burmese python is also brought out for people to take photos with and interact with. It’s a lovely snake and the handler is good but a lot of people coming to see the snake were acting like idiots, screaming and yelling. The caretakers really need to inforce more calm behavior so as not to stress the snake out! But other than those things, everything and everyone at the place seemed to be working towards making sure the animals were well cared for.

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the back of the building is a small petting zoo with sheep, goats, chickens, and rabbits. It was the cleanest petting zoo I have ever seen! It’s free to enter and for 1,000 won you can buy food to feed the animals. The rabbits seem to have figured out that parents tend to give the food to the children and so one rabbit in particular kept chasing after our son. He was completely thrilled about this rabbit who wanted to run races with him. On your mark, get set bunny. Go!

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park


Hours

0:900 to 18:00 (Regular)

09:00 to 17:00 (November to February)

Closed

Every Monday, New Year Day, Seollal and Chuseok

* If a public holiday is on a Monday the park will be open but the next day (Tuesday) it will be closed


Price (Discounts for groups)  
Adults 3,000
Children 1,000
Kindergarten 1,000
Under Korean Age 4 Free

Website: http://ecopark.or.kr/hp_snake/ (Korean)

Address: 전라남도 함평군 신광면 가덕리 306-1번지


Bus Schedule

* This schedule is subject to change. Call the Hampyeong Bus Terminal at 061) 322-0660 to confirm.

Hampyeong Bus Terminal → Herptile Park Herptile Park →Hampyeong Bus Terminal
6:50 7:35
7:50 8:35
9:05 9:30
10:20 10:45
11:10 11:50
11:30 12:30
12:00 13:35
12:55 14:45
14:05 15:35
14:30 17:05
16:20 18:05
17:25 19:40
19:00  

 

Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 2: Batibot

This article is part 2 on resources we have been using to help us teach our son Tagalog while we are living in South Korea and traveling internationally. These resources can help others teaching children Tagalog both in the Philippines and abroad Please check out part 1 here: Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 1: Flashcards and Books

Batibot

I know what you are probably thinking. "What?! Batibot is still around?" Well the answer is "Yes and no". Like many kids across North America I grew up with Sesame Street and it was also one of the first TV shows our son ever watched. Fun and educational with songs you remember for a lifetime. For many Filipinos growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the equivalent was Batibot! The show was based on Sesame Street and was even originally co-produced with the Children’s Television Workshop. It was on the air from 1985-1998 and then resurrected from 2010 – 2013 before going off the air again.

Try as we may though we have not found much more than a few blurry incomplete episodes on Youtube of Batibot. We have looked online, asked in the facebook groups, searched video hosting sites, and asked in book and video stores in the Philippines and nothing! We aren’t the only people looking. Plenty of online forums are full of parents searching for the show but to this date, despite the demand, DVD's of the series have not been released. The best quality videos you can find of Batibot are from the Batibot saYoutube channel but they only have 9 videos available and the channel hasn't been updated in 4 years. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be any sort of equivalent in an educational children’s show for young learners in Tagalog these days. 

Batibot Apps

In August 2015 an app based on the Batibot TV program aimed at children from kindergarten to grade 3 was released. There are currently 2 apps:

Cover art                Cover art

Batibot TV and Batibot Games.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of having a separate download for Batibot Games is since the same games are also included in the more extensive Batibot TV app. So, if you’re looking for just games that option is there but from here I’ll just write about Batibot TV. The Batibot TV app includes 4 sections Kwenteng Batibot (stories), ABC, Games and Karaoke.


   Batibot TV- screenshot

Kwenteng Batibot

Kwenteng Batibot currently includes 14 videos to download. The stories are about 5 minutes long and feature simple animations or puppets along with the narrator. Our son enjoyed all of them even though he couldn’t understand them all fully. There seem to be some glitches with this section still. You need to download all of the free stories individually which can take a long if your internet is slow. Even though we have already downloaded all of the stories I often get a pop up asking me if we would like to download our first story. When I click back and enter the story section again the stories are all loaded. Other times I need to re-download “Ang Tinapay” and/or “Paalam”. In general though this section is kid friendly and educational.

ABC

The ABC section has all the letters of the Filipino alphabet. The letter name is said and a word starting with that letter is given. Some of the words, seem to be strange choices for very young children. For example, for “C” the word is “cadena de amor”. Most though are great examples of words related to Filipino culture. There is also a section where children can practice writing the letters with their fingers and an alphabet song video. In the background as children are exploring the letters, part of the Batibot theme song is playing. I love the Batibot song as much as the next person but after listening to it repeat over and over and over as my son explores and slowly writes 28 letters I start to go a bit crazy! There really needs to be a way to turn off the background song or some variety in background music would be nice.


   Batibot TV- screenshot             Batibot TV- screenshot

Games

Unfortunately the Games section which we were most looking forward to has been our least favorite. I hope they have more games in the future. This app is supposed to be for children who are kindergarten aged to grade 3 but our son is 3 years old and even he found the games to be quite easy and a bit babyish. Right now as I’m writing this the “Games” section stopped working and I had to restart it but usually it works pretty well. There are 4 games available.


   Batibot Games- screenshot

Pares-pares is a 6 card memory matching game. Flip the cards to find the matching pairs. Alin ang Naiba shows 4 pictures and the child must choose the one that is different. It starts off very very easy. For example, it will show pictures of 3 frogs and a robot or 3 groups of marbles and a pie. It then moves into more difficult concepts though like running shoes, sandals, boots and a jeepney. Pagsama-Samahin requires the child to sort the objects. Again it starts out very easy with two groups of very different things like robots and eggs that all look the same but gets more difficult like sorting fruits and vegetables or clothes and toys. Finally there is Pagsunod-Sunurin. The child must choose which picture is next in the pattern like: doll, bear, doll, bear….you got it! Doll! Then it moves onto sorting 3 things from small to biggest, biggest to smallest or putting 3 letters from the alphabet in order.


   Batibot Games- screenshot

Karaoke

The karaoke section has 10 songs like Pa-Pa-Parisukat below. Like the story section you need to download each song individually. The ABC song is the same song as the ABC song in the alphabet practice section but the others are original songs with live video, animations or photos. Our son enjoyed all of the songs. In particular, as a family we really liked Isang Linggong Pagkain but the video for this sonng annoyed our son. The image changes very quickly over and over again to the music and he found it difficult to watch which is a shame because he liked that song best.
 

Katuwaan sa Batibot​

I haven't had a chance to check this out yet as I only came across it while writing this review. It appears that there is also still in publication a Filipino activity book for children called Katuwaan sa Batibot. It promises pages to color, games, mazes and counting exercises. It can be purchased through Anvil Publishing

katuwaan sa batibot

Da Nang, Vietnam: Now is the Best Time to Visit!

DaNang Vietnam Vacation

Early morning in Da Nang

Da Nang, the fifth largest city in Vietnam is an up and coming tourist destination. Clean, white sand beaches line its coast and many Vietnamese will tell you it is the friendliest city in the country. With more international flights flying directly to the city over the past few years it is more accessible than ever but it still retains a lot of its original charm. The city is not as busy as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and many of the major international fast food restaurants are still absent but high quality hotels at a good price can be found all around the city. The 2017 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings will be held in Da Nang and the city is preparing to meet the demands of this event. Construction of new buildings can be seen all along the coastline and many of the big name hotels are moving in. This also means that they are working hard to crack down on corruption and scams. It’s a great time to take your DaNang Vietnam Vacation!

At the Airport – Flights, Visas and Taxis

Da Nang is home to the third busiest airport in Vietnam after Hanoi and Ho Chi Min. While it is of course possible to fly domestically to Da Nang from other cities in Vietnam, there are currently direct flights from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Macau, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China. Korea offers nonstop flights from 3 different cities and China offers nonstop flights from 13 different cities. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of tourists in the city from these two countries!

As Canadians my son and I both required visas to visit Vietnam. You can click here to find out if you also require a visa to visit Vietnam. Visas can either be obtained directly at a Vietnamese Embassy or through a visa on arrival service. A visa on arrival service can only be used when traveling to Vietnam by air. Since we live 4 hours from the Vietnamese Embassy in Korea we decided to use the visa on arrival service through Vietnam-Visa.comI was really impressed with this company! We paid $36.50 (USD) total to submit the application for the two of us and got the approval letter returned to us the same day! They were very professional and clear about what we needed to do when we got to Vietnam.

When you arrive in Da Nang you need to line up to get your visa stamped at a window on the left just before you exit to collect your baggage. They collect your application paperwork, photos, passport and $25 (USD) for the visa (this was the price for Canadians).  It is important to have the exact amount as they may not be able to make change. Less than 10 minutes later everything was finished. When we arrived we came on a flight from Incheon, Seoul. Since South Koreans do not need a visa to visit Vietnam for 15 days, there were only around 6 people in line applying for a visas on arrival with us.

Being Filipino, Danny did not need a visa to enter Vietnam. People from the Philippines can stay in Vietnam visa free for 21 days. Relatively few Filipinos do travel to Vietnam for travel though so there was some confusion when we arrived about whether or not he needed a visa. A senior immigration official quickly cleared it up for the younger officials though!

Before arriving we were warned about there being scams at the airport with taxis. We had a late flight and didn’t want to be worrying about that kind of thing so we arranged for an airport transfer. Since it was around 2am we ended up paying about $15 (USD). Their rates were much cheaper and around $5 during the regular hours. In hindsight I don’t think the airport transfer was necessary. The airport has the fixed taxi fare to different tourist destinations clearly displayed on signs at the taxi waiting area. There were also attendants helping tourists and explainin the rates to them even at 2am.

The Beach

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A certain 3 year old REALLY wanted to go to the beach so that is the first place we headed when we woke up. We visited both My Khe Beach and Bac My An Beach during our stay. The distinction between the beaches though is nearly negligible as the white sand coastline continues even past Hoi An! This beautiful stretch of white sand was what the Americans referred to as “China Beach” during the war. More locals can be found at My Khe Beach in the mornings doing their exercises and such and Bac My An Beach has more of a tourist crowd. There are areas along the beach where you can also tryout a jet ski, parasailing or take a banana boat ride.

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Something that we loved about the beaches in Da Nang was that there are sign boards up and down the beach with prices clearly marked! No matter where we went along the beach the price of a coconut or chair was exactly the same and there was no haggling. There were people selling sand toys near the entrance but not once did anyone pressure us to buy anything.

There ARE jellyfish in the water. Some hotels will insist that there aren’t because they are afraid that it will drive tourists away. Every day we went swimming in Da Nang and Hoi An we saw jellyfish. They are fairly large, slow moving and near the surface though so they are easy to avoid.  They are also in the deeper water. These are not the kind of jellyfish that can kill you or cause a severe sting. If you touch them you may feel some itching for a short time.

20160705_13121220160705_131154Our son was THRILLED to see jellyfish and so each time we went swimming, we actively went to find them. If you aren’t looking for them like we were you may not even come across them. We did feel some itching occasionally but it was so mild that we were never sure if it was from the jellyfish or just the salt water. Our son never complained about it. We had one day where suddenly around 11am a group of maybe as many as 20 jellyfish came into more shallow water. The locals told us that it was unusual and we didn’t see it happen again in the time we were there. Even then though we just slowly got out of the water and came back later.   

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Han River

Running through Da Nang is the Han River. There are a fair number of people around the river during the day but it really comes to life at night. Along the river are beautifully kept walkways. Children ride rented bicycles and self-balancing electric scooters, couples can be seen on dates and groups of men fish along the shore. Boat tours of the river can be arranged and there are a lot of good restaurants overlooking the river and on the streets behind. Our favorite feature of the river though was its fantastic lit up bridges. Both the Song Han Swing Bridge and the Dragon River Bridge are lit up with multicolored lights each night. The Dragon Bridge was by far our favorite! Unfortunately we visited (several times) during the week. On the weekend the dragon breaths fire followed by clouds of water vapor.
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Marble Mountain

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About 9km from the city center of Da Nang are the Marble Mountains. This group of 5 marble and limestone mountains have numerous caves, tunnels and temples tucked within them that are great to explore! During the war the Marble Mountains were a Viet Cong base and bullet holes can be found in some of the rocks. It is also said that in the large Huyen Khong Cave the Viet Cong had a hospital.  On the way to the mountains from Da Nang you can also still see the aircraft hangers from the US base which was there. Before, during and after the war though the Buddhist monks remained in the mountains.

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The site does have an elevator for those who would like to avoid climbing up some of Thuy Mountain to the sites but it is not wheelchair accessible. There are steps and if you wish to explore the caves and tunnels it can get quite steep. If traveling with children older ones should be able to climb most places easily but with younger children it would be much easier to navigate the tunnels with a baby carrier than a stroller. We brought our Manduca back out in areas to explore this site even though it was hot! There are plenty of places to sit in some shade though and vendors selling drinks with only a small markup.

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Also Nearby

Da Nang is also a great place to start off from if you plan to explore other cities of interest in the area! 

Da Nang is about 2 hours from the ancient capital city Hue and about 40 minutes to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An .

 

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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