Monthly Archives: October 2011

A lucky find (Ko Lanta, Thailand)

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One taxi, a passenger ferry, one coach, one minibus, two vehicle shuttle ferries, one minibus and 10 hours later we arrive in Ko Lanta. At the start of our trip a 4-hour coach journey used to be our limit, but after being on the road for almost 3 months we’re far more confident in tackling longer journeys in one day.  Trains are the easiest mode of transport as you have the freedom to move around with your baby. But if longer journeys are split across different modes of transport and there’s a bit of time for your baby to have a crawl/walk around between transfers, then it’s actually far easier than we anticipated.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' at Trang bus station, Thailand

Our minibus driver wasn’t the friendliest chap and on finding out we had no accommodation booked wanted to drop us in the main town. After a little negotiation he reluctantly agreed to drop us at Klong Dao, the first beach on the West coast. Where, we didn’t mind, so he stopped the vehicle half way down the 3k bay so that we could hunt down somewhere to stay.

With no idea where to try we plumped for the closest resort, walked up the track towards the beach and were greeted by a super friendly lady who showed us her last chalet, available for 600B (£12) per night.  For the reasonable price it included far more than we expected, en suite, air con, cable TV and a fridge. Sold.  The chalet was located 10 metres from the beach, next to the beach side restaurant and the adjoining beach shack bar.  After many a weekend spent staying in basic beach huts and soaking up the relaxed atmosphere on Palolem beach in Goa, this hit the spot, but it was the staff that made the biggest impact.

After an hour of arriving they’d already taken ‘the boy’ under their wing. He was entertained, walked around the beach and then the owner (Pop) fed him his dinner whilst we enjoyed ours. Now this was a treat. Thanks to our grumpy minivan driver I think we might have stumbled upon a gem of a place.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

The relaxed beach huts at Ko Lanta

Top tip of the day:
If you prefer to book your accommodation in advance then look for beach chalets rather than hotels. The accommodation tends to be spread over larger grounds so there’s more green space for you baby to play on.

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A little rant (Langkawi, Malaysia)

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We’d heard mixed reviews about Langkawi and were unsure whether to make the trip there, but on researching travel options into Thailand we decided that it would be a natural break in the journey and would a sensible stop on our route to Ko Lanta.

Being a typical holiday resort the accommodation costs are typically higher than the mainland and after reading contradictory reviews on Trip Advisor we decided to find accommodation on arrival.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Swimming with Daddy

After finding a shady base at a beach café for ‘the boy’ and I, my other half went off to hunt down a room. We’ve stayed in many different places over the last 10 weeks. Hostels costing £7 a night containing nothing but a bed, basic beach huts with no hot water and guesthouses with communal toilets and showers. All different, but with one thing in common – they’re all clean.  We often opt for the budget options as I’ve never been a fan of mid range establishments. I find they offer the worst value and often lack care and attention, particularly when it comes to cleanliness.

Unfortunately in Langkawi the hostels tend to cater to the younger partying crowd so didn’t seem like the ideal option for us late thirty something, early to bed, early risers.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

An afternoon at the aquarium

After only half an hour the other half hit jackpot finding a modern chalet close to the beach and with mod cons – a TV, fridge and air con (mod cons on this trip anyway!). Housekeeping were in the process of cleaning it so we were told to come back in an hour. It all felt very painless.

An hour later we check in.  It all looked very nice on first glance, in fact a step up on our ‘normal’ accommodation, that was until my other half noticed that the bed cover looked dirty and pulled it back to reveal that the bed sheets hadn’t been changed. Now, I’ve experienced this before when living in India, bed sheets that look clean, but don’t smell fresh, but these were different. These were covered in hairs, sand and smelt of the previous holidaymaker’s body odour.  Now I’m no expert on the hospitality trade, but surely changing the bed sheets is a basic requirement and if they can’t manage this simple necessity, then what hope is there that ANYTHING has been cleaned properly?

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sunset cuddles

Unfortunately we’d had to secure the room with a deposit, so after some stern complaining and some fresh bed sheets (which had to pass my sniff test before being used) we had to stay the night. The next morning I was out of the door at 8am to search for somewhere who had a clean sheet policy. I found somewhere tucked off the main road, basic but spotless and far cheaper.

If you’re ever in Langkawi and you appreciate clean sheets then never stay here.

http://www.adinamotel.com/

Rant over! And breathe…

Top tip of the day:
I would highly recommend doing thorough research on the beaches you plan to stay at. Cenang beach is marketed as a family friendly beach. However, we found this not to be the case. The beach had no demarcated safe areas for swimming and therefore the sea was a chaotic mix of swimmers, speedboats, banana boat thrill rides and jet skis. It was an accident waiting to happen. It also meant that later in the day the beach became a thoroughfare for vehicles collecting their boats – not ideal with children or babies toddling around.

A little breakthrough in Georgetown (Georgetown, Malaysia)

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On first glance Georgetown doesn’t look that special, another Chinese influenced town with lots of local roadside cafes, busy streets and little bit rough around the edges. However, after a few days we really warmed to it. It’s small enough to explore on foot and has a relaxed feel about it with some pretty little streets housing quirky cafes, art galleries and unusual guesthouses.

Georgetown was also the place where I made a breakthrough. The place where I was able to propose a trip to the shopping mall and get a positive response from my other half. In the U.K. such a proposition would be dismissed without hesitation. “Why would I want to spend an afternoon in a shopping centre?” he would say. “It’s my idea of hell”.

Backpacking around asia with a baby

'The boy' gets yet more attention in the local park

In a country with 35-degree intense heat, a running baby and dirty streets, shopping malls have a different appeal. They’re clean, spacious, fully air conditioned, have nice seating areas, food courts with high chairs, oh and plenty of shops.

When the temperature’s soaring, shopping malls have now become a haven away from the sun. ‘The boy’ has a clean environment to roam around and mummy gets some time to window shop (unfortunately there’s not much room in the rucksack for extra purchases).

I never thought I’d see the day when my other half would suggest a trip to the mall but I think it may actually become a reality soon, very soon…

Top tip of the day:
Unlike shopping mall food halls in the U.K. the ones in Asia have a good variety of healthy options and at reasonable prices. It’s a good option on a very hot day as we find that our baby eats very little when in the hot and humid roadside cafes.

A gap in the market (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

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Having visited KL back in 2009 when we were living in Mumbai, we were intrigued to see if our initial love of the place had changed. It hadn’t.

KL has the best of East meets West. Modern shopping malls with a good choice of shops, local markets and bazaars, green areas & parks, efficient public transport, great social areas for eating and drinking and the most amazing choice of food to suit any budget.

KL was to be our base for 4 nights and I wanted to make the most of being back in a big city.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Kuala Lumpur

Kuala lumpur street

First thing to tick off the list was to try and buy ‘the boy’ some new shoes.  Before leaving for Asia I’d taken ‘the boy’ to Clarks to be measured and proudly bought him his first pair of shoes. Unfortunately, he was more interested in pulling them off and as he was still at the crawling stage when we left the UK I packed them in the bottom of my rucksack to reveal again once the legs were fully in action.

That day arrived, the shoes came out, but they didn’t fit. In fact they were tiny in comparison to his feet. I couldn’t tell you how much he weighs now, but I can tell you that his feet have grown about ½ inch since leaving the UK ten weeks ago! Unfortunately Asia isn’t the greatest place for buying good quality children’s shoes and given the choice of making him wear a pair of cheap plastic sandals from a local street store or roam bare foot, I chose the latter.

After 4 weeks of ‘the boy’ looking like a street urchin and having to avoid any burnt sole incidents on the hot pavements (almost impossible in 30 degree heat!) we can finally buy him some shoes.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur street and the new shoes...

‘The boy’ and I head to one of KL’s premium shopping malls. It has a floor dedicated to baby/toddler shops so I figure that this should be an easy task. I was wrong. First things first I needed to get the width and length of his feet measured, a simple but necessary procedure for small developing feet. However, judging by the looks I got when I asked each store if they had something to measure them with, I soon realised that t his was a very strange request. Instead, shoes were sourced from the back of the store based on his age. Now, maybe there is method in this madness, but I can’t see it. Take some of ‘the boy’s’ playmates from Wales. Although average in size, he was one of the smallest in his gang due to some super tall baby friends who had equally large feet. Same age, yes. Same size feet, no.

After scouting around every store I gave up and reverted to a simple trial and error method. Get as many pairs of shoes out at once, let ‘the boy’ try them on, toddle around for a few minutes and I’ll try and work out which once fit best by using my eyes.

It took a while, but ‘the boy’ is now a proud owner of a pair of red sandals.

KL’s great, but I think I’ve spotted a gap in the market.

Top tip of the day:
If you’re planning to go travelling for a few month plus, ask a reliable store at home to recommend shoes that you can take with you in a size bigger. There’s certainly more choice at home and you’re more likely to get a better shoe with width and length fittings.

*************************************UPDATE – March 26th 2012**************************************

We’re now living in Kuala Lumpur and I have found a Clarks shoe shop that has the facilities to give your child a proper fitting. The shop is located on the first floor of Bangsar Village shopping mall – one, in Bangsar (there are 2 malls next to each other, one and two, with a link bridge between them). It’s a couple of miles outside the city centre, but only costs about £3 to get to in a taxi.

Who pimped your ride? (Melaka, Malaysia)

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If Bandung is known as the Paris of Asia (for reference, it was nothing like it!), then I’m going to award Melaka with the title of ‘the Amsterdam of Asia’, but in this case there are some similarities.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Malaka

The old fort - Malaka, Malaysia

Melaka was where colonial forces first made contact with Malaysia and the British, Dutch and Portuguese influences are evident in the historic forts, churches and towers. The key similarity to Amsterdam is the winding river that splits the city centre. Numerous boats carrying tourists chug slowly up and down the water, day and night, meandering past the waterfront bars and cafes.

It has a relaxed vibe about it and the sort of place you can wander around at ease, even with a buggy.  The laid-back vibe continues into the evening when the night markets set up for business and the many food stalls come to life.

We were lucky to find a superb hostel right in the centre of the old town. It had huge communal areas, perfect for ‘the boy’ to run around, a room full of toys and a T.V. that was scheduled to show the France v. Wales rugby game. Not top of my list, of course, but ticked a few boxes for someone I know! At £10 a night including breakfast it was a great find.

http://www.melakaguesthouse.com/

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Malaka

The tricycle rickshaws in Melaka are very understated

The thing I loved most about this quaint place was its unique mode of transport. Tricycle rickshaws are common in Asia, but not like these ones. These bikes had been pimped. They’re covered from top to bottom in brightly coloured fabric flowers, tinsel, coloured ribbons, bright lights and if you’re lucky, a huge speaker that blasts out tunes from the 80s! They’re brilliant and ‘the boy’ enjoyed his ride almost as much as me.

One more overpriced mode of transport to add to ‘the boy’s’ growing list!

Top tip of the day:
A small dark coloured travel umbrella is perfect for giving shade on boat trips and when using the sling. We didn’t bring one with us but we were able to buy one out here.

Lock up the limes! (general)

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This was going to be one of my ‘top tips of the day’ but I’ve decided to give it a blog post of its own as its something I think mothers should be aware of whether you’re travelling, planning to travel, or on a holiday in a sunny climate.

A few days ago we noticed that a prominent red mark had appeared on ‘the boy’s’ left hand. At first we thought it was a small patch of sunburn where we’d missed applying his sunblock. We kept our eye on it, but over the course of the next few days the mark got darker and begin to blister. It was then that I noticed a few similar marks on my left arm and small markings on my legs.

Backpacking with a baby Phytophotodermatitis

'the boy's' hand showing the Phytophotodermatitis caused by lime juice

My other half used ‘Google goggles’ (A visual search application from Google that identifies objects by taking their pictures.) to try and determine what it could be and the result was Phytophotodermatitis (also known as “Berloque dermatitis).  It’s an inflammatory eruption resulting from contact with light-sensitizing botanical substances such as fresh lime juice. The markings take 24 – 72 hours to appear on the skin and are often mistaken for chemical burns. It looked like this could be the diagnosis.

Backpacking with a baby Phytophotodermatitis

3 finger marks on my arm

We tried to think of a logical explanation and remembered that a few days previous, whilst still in Ubud, we’d been out for morning drinks with our friends Paul and Laura. My other half ordered a lime based drink and the lady who’d made it had been playing with ‘the boy’ behind the café counter. I had also squeezed a lime into my coconut and must have shaken the drops from my fingers onto my leg and then folded my arms. 30 minutes later we walked back to our bungalow in the sunshine, and although we couldn’t see anything at this point, the damage had been done.

Post reading the information online we took ‘the boy’ to the local pharmacist who confirmed our suspicions and prescribed some steroid based cream.

Backpacking with a baby Phytophotodermatitis

Morning drinks with our friends, Paul and Laura, who we met in Java

Phytophotodermatitis doesn’t affect everyone but if you are prone to it then it can cause permanent scaring. We’re using the steroid cream daily and hope that over time ‘the boy’s’ marks will fade (we’re lucky it’s not on his face).

The long and the short of it is, if you’re on holiday or exposed to the sun and come into contact with lime juice or segments in drinks, then wash your hands thoroughly before touching you or your baby’s skin.  I had never heard of this reaction before, but now you have you could avoid it happening to you.

Traveller’s karma (Singapore)

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I believe in Karma, traveller’s karma – a destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.

Those of you in the backpacker / traveller space will be aware of websites such as ‘couchsurfing.com’. It’s a volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travellers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice. In short, if you have a room, space for a tent in your garden, or even a couch, you can offer it up on the site for backpackers. In exchange, you have access to a worldwide network of free accommodation ready for your next backpacking trip. No money exchanges hands and providing you have a good experience, whichever side of the fence you’re on, everyone’s a winner.

Over the last few years we’ve helped out a number of fellow travelling friends and friends of friends. In St Albans our lovely Aussie mates came and crashed for a few weeks whilst they got acquainted with the area and subsequently decided to stay and found work. In Mumbai our friends friend from America completed his 3 month backpacking trip around India with a 4 night break with us, complete with guided tours and lots of good food (the poor guy had lost over 13kg during his trip and looked in desperate need of being nourished) and on another occasion a friend of a friend crashed with us for a night on her way back from Goa.

Backpacking with a baby around SE Asia - Singapore

Kiwi Dan

I have to say that over the last 2 months we have received a huge amount of generosity from our friends in this part of the world, even more generous as we now come with a baby.  We can no longer claim to be the guest that “you won’t even notice we’re here”. If we’re here you’ll know about it, particularly if ‘the boy’ is teething or leaving a trail of destruction with his newly found walking skills and inquisitive hands.

On arrival in Singapore, our friends from Mumbai, Dan and Susie, very kindly let us stay with them, on not one, but two occasions (on arrival and post Tioman island). They had the bum deal as not only did they have to share their flat with a backpacking baby novice, but also a baby suffering with jet lag AND a bad bout of teething!

More recently, a few days ago in fact, our friend Jan and her hubby Howie made us very welcome in their home in Singapore. Over the course of a few fun packed days Jan and ‘the boy’ struck up a firm friendship and bath time, playtime and meal time duties were assisted by his new friend.

Backpacking with a baby around SE Asia - Singapore

Jan and 'the boy' say "cheers"

In Ubud our friends Jo and Sven flew in from Perth for a holiday. Jo a seasoned backpacker (we met in Australia and backpacked around Western, Central and South Australia together) appreciating the budget constraints of backpacking long-term generously treated us to two top-notch meals.

Backpacking with a baby around SE Asia - Singapore

A night out in Ubud (spot the buggy!)

So there we have it – travellers karma.

Thank you Dan, Susie, Jan, Howie, Jo and Sven. If you’re ever in our area our door will always be open for you. Which area, we don’t know, but hopefully in the next few months we’ll find out….

Top tip of the day:
Today’s top tip is going to be given a blog post of its own entitled ‘lock up the limes’….