Words: Calgary Avansino
When we decided to pack our bags and take our three children on a 100-day adventure around Australia and Asia, we had no idea what the future would hold. What would we learn? How would we hold up? How would our children handle all the travel and how would we all change? Having only been back a week, we’re still processing all our experiences, but the one thing we do know is that it was absolutely the best thing we have ever decided to do as a family. Here are a few of our child-friendly packing tips and five of our favourite destinations and hotels.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Offering the ideal combination of culture and relaxation, Hoi An is a historical UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Vietnam that the whole family will enjoy. The old town, which is pedestrianised during certain hours each day, presents an authentic view of Vietnamese life, with bustling food markets, adorned temples, and a thriving community of vendors and cafes. Don’t miss the covered Japanese Bridge (first built in the 1590s!), and it’s also worth getting a tour guide on your first day. The Four Seasons Nam Hai, which is about 10 minutes away from the old town (they have shuttles), is situated on the beaches of the South China Sea. In addition to an A+ kids’ club and a warm kids’ pool, there are daily activities exploring Vietnamese culture, such as lantern making, mask painting and fan decoration. While your kids are enjoying themselves, you can do the same at the spa set on a peaceful lagoon, chill by one of the pools or work out in the expansive gym. It is a win-win in every way, for everyone.
TOP TIP: Try to plan your trip around the full moon – the lantern festival is unforgettable.
You might not think of a big, boisterous city as being the model family destination, but Bangkok surprised us. Yes, it is chaotic – but it is a beautiful, exciting chaos with hidden gems at each turn. There is the Grand Palace and Reclining Buddha to see (take the public boat, it’s such an experience), but don’t stop there: visit the Temple of Dawn, hire a canal boat to explore the back waters, take the MRT trains to discover new neighbourhoods and visit the Siam Paragon Mall. The ultimate hotel is The Mandarin Oriental, abutting the Chao Phraya River in all its splendor, offering every convenience imaginable and elevating service to new levels. Having a luxurious tray-served lunch by the pool is a must, as is a visit to the Thai cooking school, which taught us fresh techniques and introduced us to new ingredients. Also book in a session of Thai boxing at the hotel gym.
TOP TIPS: When Thai restaurants say “spicy”, they mean spicy!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand is probably best known for its southern beaches but Chiang Mai in the north offers a majestic mountainous getaway as well as vibrant city adventures. Don’t miss a wander through the old town to visit the temples, markets and monuments. It’s an easy area to navigate with children and full of visual delights. The Four Seasons Mae Rim, about 45 minutes from central Chiang Mai, is nestled among rice paddies, a roaring river and lush bamboo forests – a haven for families wanting to experience both culture and tranquility. Set aside some time to drive up to the Botanic Gardens and the highest nearby peak, Mon Cham, to take in the expansive view. However, if you wish to stay at the property, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with, including meeting water buffalo, planting rice, enjoying me-time at the spa and yoga deck, taking cooking classes or simply relaxing by the pool as your children splash about.
TOP TIP: Shop for vintage fabrics and clothing from the hillside Hmong tribes at the Warorot Market in central Chiang Mai.
Known as the forgotten island, Sumba is an untouched paradise that will transport you to a different world. It is raw and pure, seemingly unchanged by modern times. You will witness wild, unadulterated nature and watch the daily lives of this unique native Sumbanese culture. The only place to stay is Nihiwatu, a former surf camp that has been transformed into an ultra-luxe resort without abandoning the heart and soul of its roots. This rare property hovers over the spectacular coastline – alone – and embraces some of the best surf beaches in the world. A stay at Nihiwatu is special in every way and feels a million miles away from your average holiday. Where else would you reside in a tree house, release baby turtles into the ocean, ride horses on the beach, do yoga in the treetops, enjoy spa treatments overlooking crashing waves and make new friends at every meal? Nihiwatu has crafted a community, not just a deluxe hotel, that families are drawn back to over and over again.
TOP TIP: Don’t miss the opportunity to join The Sumba Foundation on their weekly visits to feed children lunch at the local schools and malnutrition centres.
Luang Prabang, Laos
This magical destination set in the mountains of peaceful Laos is quietly spiritual and welcoming. We went on the recommendation of a friend without knowing much, and we left madly in love with the people and their culture, eager to return again. Buddhism is ubiquitous, authentic and vibrant here (don’t miss the sunrise alms-giving with the local monks), and it rubs off on every aspect of life. To say the Luang Prabang night market is an atypical South-East Asian market is an understatement. It’s the most peaceful, safe, organised market you will ever see in Asia. The place to stay is the Belmond Residence Phou Vao, perched above the town with serene views of the main stupa in the distance. Every element of the hotel, from the genuinely warm staff and the Baci ceremonies they offer (book one!) to the exotic food and incredible cocktails (the best we had on our whole trip) complement the powerful atmosphere of this special place.
TOP TIP: Go to one of the Buddhist temples at 6pm for chanting and meditation. It’s mesmerising.
- Invest in 360-degree rolling bags so kids can easily roll their own bags, even when they’re heavy and you’re rushed at the airport. They’re life-savers.
- Buy packing cubes to separate your kids’ clothes by type so you can quickly pack and unpack only what you need. For example, in cities, you can unpack the city appropriate clothing or vice versa.
- Try everything on beforehand – I had bought my seven-year-old some new shirts, which turned out to be itchy and we abandoned them halfway through the trip.
- Involve your kids in the packing edit – it’s always best to see what they roll their eyes at before you leave. Be honest with yourself about what your kids really like to wear (not what you like to see them in) and pack that. Holidays are not the place for wardrobe arguments.
- Always pack sunsuits/rash guards – you never know how strong the sun will be. And splurge on an underwater camera for hours of fun.
- Be resourceful about the clothes you bring – we cut our toddler’s pyjamas twice around the neck and the arms so they continued to fit as he grew.
- Kids feet grow fast, so pack as many open-toe shoes as possible – they’re easier on extending toes than trainers.
- Even if you’re heading to the sun, avoid anything white or light coloured – it always ends badly. We packed bright colours and lots of prints, which camouflage spills brilliantly.
- If you’re heading to Asia or anywhere ‘buggy’, get your kids used to the idea that they will be wearing long-sleeved pyjamas to bed. It’s a good way to protect against bites in addition to a mosquito net, which I packed for our little guy’s crib and pram.
- Be sure to pack tried and tested sun creams, bug sprays and toothpaste, which your kids like (or tolerate), so you’re not out trying to find replacements in random pharmacies.