Once safe in Lima we had to decide where to go next. All roads into the mountains, our preferred destination, were still closed due to recent landslides and continuous flood risks so we had to stay by the coast.
One of the few places not to have been flooded was the small coastal village of Paracas, 4 hrs south of Lima. We met a French couple in our hostel in Lima who recommended it and confirmed it was free from floods. Perfect! The next day we were there.
The main attraction in Paracas is the beautiful desert coastline that is the Nature reserve of Paracas and its close location to other interesting towns, ICA, Nasca, and a few km up the coast the larger fishing town of Pisco.
After spending 1 night in in a rubbish little hostel I went looking for a more spacious place to stay. After walking round for half an hour I founda nice cheap little hostel with great communal space, a clean kitchen and fridge, a cat, a dog, a kitten and a little girl called Cielo. Perfect for Scott! Also a little park close by where the local kids hangout with a great set of monkey bars. Perfect for Ingrid. All in all a perfect place to chill out for a few days.
Time to do nothing much
Schoolwork every morning or afternoon, followed by long walks on the beach, cooking together, playing in the park and going on little excursions.
There is an area in Paracas filled with luxury houses and hotels, so eating out is not very cheap but with not much in our schedule here we liked spending time buying ingredients and cooking. Ingrid got her mojo back after her tummy bug and was keen to help me cook. Scott as always loves helping with any meal. A huge batch of Chile con carne got everyone back in great sprits!
The beach in Paracas is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary but not great for swimming as there is quite a lot of seaweed in the water. Instead we loved long walks to the kite surf club and back among flamingos, pelicans, sea lions and many other beautiful wild birds.
Deserts and wildlife while waiting for the mountains
We had a great day swimming in one of the best beaches in Peru, a 15 min drive through the desert from Paracas at Mina beach.
We went there early in the morning after at stop to admire the red beach in the desert landscape along the way. Once at Mina, we climbed down the stairs to the sandy beach tucked away between 2 big sandy hills. Fresh, clearand sparkling clean water, what a great little place for a swim. We paid S70 (£15) for a private car to take us there and wait 3 hrs to then the us back plus S 40 to enter the national park.
Wealso did the mandatory boat trip to see the amazing wildlife our on the Islas Ballistas. The tickets cost S35 per person, but then just before boarding the boat they tell you to pay the national park tax as well S15 per person. 2 hrs of sea lions, pelicans, penguins and boobies with a great guide in a quiet and comfortable speedboat is well worth the money. The roaring herds of Sealions made the most amazing sound as we bobbed along the cliffs in the boat.
So even though we enjoyed our time here, some days hiding for the blowing sand in our room, we would not have stayed here more than a few days under normal circumstance. Given the trauma and illness over the past 2 week in Trujillo and Huanchaco, this was a good place for us to rest and recharge our batteries, just be together and not do too much. We are all ready and excited to finally go into the mountains in Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
We had 2 days on the beach in Huanchaco and a morning of wandering around town before the floods hit us in this town as well! We had tried to follow the unfolding Peru floods on the news, but its amazing how difficult it is to get information without access to the internet.
Through the owners of the hotel we found out that Trujillo, where the roof of our hostel caved in just 2 days earlier, had been badly hit with the first of 7 floods the day we left our hostel there. Everyone we met in Huanchaco were concerned about the floods but not expecting it to be a problem in Huanchaco a few km up the coast from Trujillo.
Worst floods in 30 years hit us in Huanchaco
When the river bursts its bank at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all the houses and business were caught unprepared. As muddy sludge started making its way down the main street, all we could do was to seek refuge on the roof and watch as the water continued to rise. In the distance we could see the sea turning brown from the outlet of the swollen river.
Mud and sludge filled the streets and the ground floor of our hotel and all the other houses along the water front wiping out electricity, water systems and all the local phone and internet networks.
I felt completely helpless and yet somehow strangely calm as we watch the water fowling and the sun setting over the flooded streets. Time to get our head torches out, cook some spaghetti on the gas cooker and play a game of cards. We went to bed hoping to get some sleep but sirens, rain and worry kept me awake while the kids slept an unsettled sleep and Paul resting but with a high temperature and in pain day 3 of his tummy bug illness.
Stocking up on water and food
The morning after the floods Paul was feeling worse, I was exhausted and the kids naturally stressed about the flooding and situation all around us. Most of the water had subsided and in the hotel, staff and the owners had spent most of the night trying to clear the ground floor of the mud and water. No electricity, no water in the taps but at least we had a gas cooker that worked. I set out to find and stock up on supplies.
With many shops affected by the floods those that were still open were limiting the what you could buy to make sure everyone could get something. I took our big back pack and went round looking for open shops stocking up on water and dry food to last us a few days. Spaghetti, tuna, tomato sauce, biscuits and crackers. I also got some eggs, flour, sugar and milk hey presto pancakes of breakfast to lighten the mood!
After the floods the real nightmare begins
…20-30 cm thick sludge and mud was covering everything where the water had flooded and then subsided…piles of dead fish, plastics, trees and rubble washed up on the beach and streets along with many damaged houses and buildings, some still under water.
Watching the news in a little shop I could see that Trujillo and nearby Chiclayo and many other places were still inundated and that all roads in and out of Trujillo and all of Northern Peru remained closed due to landslides and ongoing floods.
I realised our plans to go further into the mountains Cajamarca and Chachapoyas would not be realised. Disappointed of course as we had all been looking forward to exploring the less touristy mountains and ruins of northern Peru…but what can you do?
Help! – Emergency call to the British Embassy
While the streets remained unsafe filled with dirt and water, Paul was getting worse, no electricity to help the kids pass time reading on the kindles, watch TV or a film…and as boredom kicks in.the kids decide to spend the morning making and running a beauty salon! I just love my kids!
With no means of leaving the flooded area or ability to check our options to fly out I took a taxi to the local little Airport to see if we could somehow buy tickets to fly out somewhere safe. No such luck….
Military planes were evacuating people, locals and gringos had been waiting at the tiny airport for up to 36 hrs to get on a plane to get out. With the airport in chaos and no information or help to be found.
I returned to Huanchaco disheartened and even more worried. Flights could only be bought on line or through a travel agent, but Internet was not working and all travel agents closed due to the floods….
When Paul started vomiting and shaking with 40 degrees temp, the following morning and with only $20 left in cash, no way of getting medicine or money and no where we could go I made a call to our travel agent in London on the hotel owners phone to see if they could help us buy some flights to get out …4 tickets suddenly became available to fly out the next day but Paul was way too ill to travel. Next available tickets were for 6 days later and costing us a small fortune….With the thought of 6 more days in the flood zone I feel panic kick in and decide to make contact with the British Embassy in Lima, to ask for advice and medical help in case Paul would get even worse.They tell me there is a place in Trujillo where ATMs are still working and a functioning private clinic we can go in case of an emergency….
After I made it to a shopping centre where there was still cash, Travel Nation confirmed our flights out 6 days later and I managed to find antibiotics for Paul I was feeling a bit better…that only lasted 1 day until Ingrid suddenly turned really ill as well.
This time I could get antibiotics quickly but was still worried sick about Ingrid who was vomiting and had diarrhoea for 2 days not being able to keep liquids down….I was counting down the days till we could leave…..
Unforgettable lessons in life
Since we started travelling we have, and especially me, practiced being in the moment and not worrying about things that could or might happen. During our 2 weeks in flooded Peru I had to work really hard to keep calm and not get worked up, agitated or frustrated about the situation is which we accidentally found ourselves. The kids are very resilient and adaptable but they take their queue from me and Paul on how to act ad react. Keeping calm and positive was essential for their wellbeing and peace of mind in this very stressful situation.
We help clean the beach
Walking through the aftermath
Scott found many interesting things- especially smelly shoes
We got a first hand experience of a huge natural disaster, it is not something I would wish on anyone but its part of life for many people and something we will never forget.
We were never in a life threatening situation even though some moments felt dangerous and scary. We have talked about it a lot with the kids, made drawings and write ups about it to help process the experience. It has also given us an amazing opportunity to talk about global warming, water flow and rivers, about flooding and city planning, plumbing, recycling, water, volume and the devastating effects of floods.
We wanted to explore and experience the word, show the kids that life in different parts of the world have different challenges. Ingrid and Scott have learned so much from this experience and felt first hand the fear it causes but also the importance of community and solidarity while helping clear up after the floods. I am glad we have managed to finally leave and sad that we didn’t get to see the beautiful north in its full glory, but looking back, its an experience I wouldn’t change.
In the centre of the Pacific strip of Nicaraguan territory, along the long volcanic chain that crosses the country from north to south, is a large and extinct crater. In the centre is one of the most beautiful lagoons in Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo.
We went to one of a handful of hostels located here for a day pass to their “beach club”. The entrance fee to spend the day is 6.00 dollars per person and 3.00 dollars for children from 6 to 12 years old. We spent the day relaxing in a sun bed overlooking the lake on one of the spacious terraces. We wentkayaking, swimming played ping pong and petanque, all which is included in the entrance fee. Getting here is easy from Granada by chicken bus and taxi or shuttle service that takes you all they way there.
Watching bubbling lava at the awesome Masaya volcano
We went with Erick tours out of Granada for a night viewing of the volcano. We spent a few hours exploring Massaya town before heading up the actual volcano just before sunset. There is a bit of a wait to get up to the volcano as they only allow 50 people at a time, but our guide, Alberto, was excellent. He spent the waiting time giving us information onNicaragua volcanoes & Masaya and the general history of Nicaragua.
Once at the top, the lava lights up the whole sky in a magical orange glow! Amazing view of the bubbling lava but strong sulphur fumes means you can only stay 15 min at the top. We were all seriously coughing by then and glad to get off the top of the volcano.
Rooftop ride to swim in the cool waters of Aguas Agrias
On the way from Aguas Argias we went to the Treehouse for an amazing dinner at sunset. The Treehouse is located half an hours drive from Granada, 200m up in the jungle.
Its is a wonderful place to bring he kids, although some might think its perhaps a bit dangerous for little ones. The actual house is built into the side of volcano Mombacho, surrounded by howler monkeys, complete with a fire mans pole, some swings and a 60 metre canopy bridge connecting the main house where you eat to a smaller house where you can sleep in hammocks. The kids have never climbed up 200m so fast before in their life. We stayed for drinks, a communal meal and a truly beautiful sunset.
Other things we enjoyed in Granada
Pottery class making our own eggcups out of red clay from are area of san Juan de Oriente. We all had a go under the instruction of the watchful eye of the master, Carlos. We were not very successful, but persuaded him to sell us the little creations we made. Eggcups!
Watching the annual parade at the global poetry festival
The International Poetry Festival celebrates poets from around the world (and is also the largest poetry festival in the world). We didn’t go to any of the poetry readings but enjoyed the many events that took place in Granada’s open plazas, parks, churches, and markets. The highlight for us was the Carneval which made its way trough the centre of Granada stopping at every street corner for a poetry reading.
Our time in Granada, Nicaragua is soon coming to an end. Right now we are all really settled in and not looking forward to leaving our little house and all our new friends. Its been amazing to see how quickly Ingrid and Scott both got into their new school life and the normality and familiarity of it all. In many ways it feels just like home.
Our Typical day in Granada, Nicaragua
A typical weekday here is not that dissimilar to a day back in the UK.
Paul and I typically wake up at sunrise around 5.30-6 am. I have a coffee while reading emails and do some travel research while Paul goes for a run before the sun is up and it gets too hot. At 6.30 I wake the kids then we all have breakfast and leave the house about 7.30 for the 2km walk to school which starts at 8.
Our house, Casa Ranita!
At this time of day the sun is still low in the sky and the streets are pretty empty. We all really enjoy the the walk along the Calzada and across the main square to get there.
Usually I part with Paul and the kids halfway there to head off for a quick coffee before I go to Casa Nica for my 2hr Spanish class.
A lovely school experience in Nicaragua
Already on day one Scott was excited about going to school and making new friends and he has enjoyed going there every day since. The school is bilingual and half the class is made up of Nica children and the other half expat kids who mainly speak English. Its been wonderful for all of us to have the school experience for a month and to meet and get to know the teachers, children and and parents who have been travelling like us and those live here. It was hard to find a school that would accept us for 1 months only, which I wrote about in a previous post, but it one of the best things we have done on this trip so far.
Scotts typical school day in Nicaragua
Scotts school day starts with circle time and Spanish, followed by motor skills, snack & play in the park. After a play outside they focus on social development in Spanish then maths. School lunch is served at 11.30 and Scott loves it! At the end of the day they do science and play.
Scott really enjoys school here and have made so many new friends both with Nica and English speaking children. There are 12 to a class and they all mix the Spanish & English speakers during breaks to encourage them to practice the other language. His best friends are 2 girls, Brissa a local Nica girl and Gekko, an American girl from Texas.
They hang out every day playing mums and dads, zombies, tag and lots of other crazy games. Last week he went to his first Nica birthday party complete with piñata, clowns, cakes, ice cream and the best party bags ever!
Ingrid also loves school in Nicaragua
Ingrid has made some great friends too, but I think she enjoys access to the school library more than anything else. Every day she gets through 2-3 new books which she reads at home and in reading class and any other free moment at school.
She is doing great it both English and Maths and is studying both of these with the older children in year 4-5. Spanish is the hard one as she is far behind the rest of the class. However, they have a great system where the other children in her class takes turns helping her translate, read and write in Spanish class so although its a bit more difficult, she is picking it up slowly and its still something she enjoys.
Ingrid on her way to class
Inside Ingrids school
Science is taught with much debate and discussion here, right up Ingrid street. She comes home everyday with new ideas, telling us about all the fun discussions they have had in science class that day. Best of all, she got to see all other kids present their science projects at the school science fair, which she loved. We usually see Ingrids class head back from the park after lunch when we pick Scotty up at 1.
My typical day and Nicaraguan routine
While the kids are in school, I am in school too enjoying 1-1 lesson with a young Nica girl called Rebecca. The lessons are a mix of slow conversations, grammar run throughs, quiz games and picture cards to practice vocabulary and conversation.
I am by no means fluent yet but have come a long way with a wider vocabulary and the basic grammar and conversations with Rebecca. On the way home I get fresh fruit, vegetables and chiceron from the market.
Pauls typical day
Meanwhile Paul is deep into catching up on all our admin, planning our next stage of travel and our return to the UK in July. He also goes to the big supermarket at the edge of town to buy the basic groceries.
Sometimes we have some lunch in one of our favourite spots before picking up Scott at 1. Most of the time though we cook lunch at home after collecting Scott from school. Our favourite food to cook for lunch here is plantain with cheese, nachos and guacamole.
The 2km walk home from school with Scott usually takes up to 1 hour and I love it. There is no stress no reason to hurry him along, we just wander together take in the sights and chat about the day.
After school…lazy afternoons avoiding the heat
After picking Ingrid up at 3, we spend the afternoons in a similar way to what we would do at home. Ingrid typically gets a book out and chills on the bed while Scott plays with his toys or helps me prepare dinner.
One of his favourite past time these days is helping round he house, either cooking, mopping the floors or doing the washing up. At mealtimes we all help out either setting up and cooking or washing up and tidying up. After some initial resistance, now it all happens without complaints at every meal time.
Occasionally we have a playdate after school either at our house or at friends and sometimes later in the afternoon once the temperature starts to drop we go for a walk on the Calzada or head down to the park for a play.
One of the things we love about staying here is all the friends we have made. After 8 months of mostly playing with each other Scott & Ingrid both enjoy the break from each other.In fact we all do!
In addition to helping with meals, Scott has to read a book everyday and Ingrid does touch typing and updates her diary. Once all of that it done, the kids watch something on the laptop or play mine craft with Paul, while I do some work on the iPad. Early bed for an early start.
After sunset all the locals sit in the cooler air on the street outside their houses enjoying the free light (electricity is very expensive here) and animated conversation. Our neighbour Freddy often invites me to sit down and join them for a chat. A great way to practice my newly acquires Spanish and to get to know the people and the community a bit better. Its a lovely way to spend the evening.
Weekends in Granada, volcanoes and play
The weekends are also very much like our weekends at home. Paul goes out at 5am with a running group while the kids and I have a lazy morning. Ingrid makes pancakes then we do bits and bobs round the house, lego, a creative project, some mine craft.
Enjoying the sunrise from the top of a hill outsider Granada
Pauls running buddies
Early morning run up the hill
In the afternoon we go exploring, head to the park down by the lake or go for an ice cream.
Sundays are our typical day trip days with visits to volcanoes, museums etc. Our favourite spot so far is Laguna de Apoyo, the volcano crater lake, we you can go swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding in lovely clean and fresh water.
Just like home….enjoying the simple things
So, with the exception of adapting the time of our activities to the hot climate here, our days are very similar to many days back home in London. After 8 months of being together 24/7 it is nice to have some time without the kids where we can get on with our plans and think about our return to the UK. Usually this is something we can only really do before the kids wake up or after they go to bed.When travelling is quite hard to find enough time to get it all done.
We would all be happy to stay here longer, in fact we have talked about it. The town, the country and people are very easy to get on with and to enjoy. Its been nice having the space to be able to do separate things. So far on our travels we have spent most nights together in 1 little room all going to bed and waking up at the same time. The simple pleasure of being able to go to bed and get up at different times, cook if and whenever we want to and even do separate things during the day is not to be take for granted.
There is a great local and expat community with plenty of opportunity to make a real impact in Nicaragua together with the locals. In the end, we have decided to continue to the coast for a few days of surfing before a quick stop with friends in Miami then onwards and upwards to Peru.
We’re thinking that we could always come back to Nicaragua sometime after our round the world trip!
Swapping expensive Costa Rica for a more affordable stay in Nicaragua
It was only in the last few weeks of our time in Asia that we actually started looking at the next phase of our travel in Central and South America. As we got more into the details of travel blogs and websites we realised that the initial plan of spending a long time in Cost Rica would be difficult for us as the cost of food, accommodation of and travel is pretty much on par with Western Europe. Too expensive for us!
Searching for ways to make or time cheaper we started looking at Nicaragua as a potentially cheaper option. In the end, we decided we would go either to Costa Rica or Nicaragua as long as we could find a self catering place to stay in close to somewhere all 4 of us could learn Spanish. We had always planned to do a Spanish course at the beginning of our 6 months in Central and South America, to help us get around more easily, to fully enjoy our time in this part of the world and to be able to talk to people beyond Hello and Thank you.
Finding a school for Ingrid and Scott
The 2 weeks of rest in Koh Chang was invaluable for us in researching Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I spent many hours trawling through blogs and FB groups to find some contacts that could help us with affordable AirBnB or other self catering place where we could settle in and lay low for a few weeks. How hard can it be to find an appropriate school that can take the kids in for month and to help them learn Spanish. VERY!!
Family time in Thailand
Ingrid and Scott are too little to benefit form 1-1 classes in Spanish and just throwing them into a local school for a few weeks is simply not giving them the time to learn enough Spanish to make friends and understand anything the teachers say.
I contacted lots of bi-lingual schools (English & Spanish) in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and eventually got some leads through a closed FB group for travelling families and some closed Expat groups for people living in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I contacted one of the schools recommended and finally found a little school willing to accept both children, for 1-2 months at a cost. As luck would have it, the school was located in the heart of Granada, the first town we were planning to go to in Nicaragua.
Preparing for school in Granada
We arrived in Granada on Friday night and Ingrid and Scott would spend their first day in school on the following Tuesday. A quick visit to the school on Monday to see Miss Beth, the Head mistress and director who helped me getting the children into the school via FB and email, to get all the paper work sorted. Ingrid and Scott also got a chance to see some of the children who go there, helping them mentally prepare for the official school start the following day.
The pre-school where Scott is going is spacious and creative with 4 classrooms set up for the different ages and needs. It also has a big open room for play during break time and a little park just across the road for a run around when the weather is not too hot.
Inside courtyard in Scotts school
Completely bilingual school and curriculum
The school has about 80 students in classes 1-7 from the age of 6 and up and the adjacent pre-school run groups with children aged 3 to 6. Classes have a maximum of 16 students with a great mix of native English and Spanish speakers and all teachers are bilingual too.
English, Maths, Science and Social studies are taught in English and Spanish. All students have Spanish class every day and in addition, English or Spanish as a second language depending on which native language they speak. The school day runs from 8 till 3, an hour longer than school in the Uk.
In pre-school all classes are also bilingual but with more focus more on learning through play and social interaction. Here there is also Spanish class for the English speakers and vice versa every day. Scott’s school day is slightly shorter than Ingrids and finishes at 1 .
Miss Beth and her staff were super friendly and welcoming. Ingrid and Scott were both excited and nervous about starting school the following day.
First day in Nicaraguan school – one month to go
I picked up the school uniforms at the local market after visiting the school. When I saw the kids putting them on the next morning, getting excited my heart simply melt and filled with pride at their ability to take it all in a stride. Scotts nervousness made him worried and upset he wasn’t looking cool enough and Ingrid was very quiet…..Pancakes for breakfast much earlier than we’re used to and then we were ready to go.
After a 20 min walk in the warm sunshine we arrived at school. At the sight of his teacher, Lauren, who reminded him very much of Miss Lavander, his first teacher back in England, he happily went in and waved good bye.
As we approached Ingrids school round the corner she went all serious, looked at us and said, ” You are not coming in. I am not related to you!”. This was the first but definitely not the last time she was worried about her parents embarrassing her!
Im excited to find out at the end of the week what school is really like and how the kids get on. Im sure their Spanish will be better than mine and Pauls by the time we leave Nicaragua!
Dad took us to a perfect hotel in White Sands beach, Koh Chang where he has stayed before. The only hassle was the length of time it took to get there. Our initial destination was a simple 5 hr train ride away whereas the journey to Koh Chang was much longer. 6 hr bus, 1hr minibus & tuktuk to the ferry, 1 hr waiting about, 1 hr on the ferry then another 30 min to get to the hotel.
We left at 8 in the morning and arrived just before 7 at night. Needless to say we were all tired and grumpy on arrival, but at the same time excited to be with my dad andhave 12 days on the beach together here.
A perfect spot for well deserved travel break
Alina Grand Hotel is situated at the southern end of White Sands beach, just above the main road, 1 min walk from the beach. We woke up tired but relaxed in a big double room with a view of the great pool at the back of the hotel. Finally a chance to unpack our bags, something we had not done since Australia back in October.
Koh Chang beach at sunset
Just the thought of not going anywhere for almost 2 weeks was enough to get us all in the right mood again after a long day of travelling.
A typical day in Koh Chang White Sands beach
A morning stroll followed by breakfast at Monkeys or milk and cereal on the balcony. The room in Alina had a full size fridge in the room, which we used a lot forour breakfast milk & cereal, drinks and fruits. After breakfast around 9, we had some pool time with Grandpa with swimming, playing on the swings, building lego on the sun beds and reading. 11-13 school time then lunch.
We usually hit the beach in the afternoon around 3 when the temperature started to cool down. You get a lovely sunset here which you can enjoy in the calm and beautiful sea or with and ice coffee or beer in the Reagge bar. We found a couple of favourite restaurants where we went for dinner. Paul and I also had our first sunset and dinner without the kids in 6 months here and enjoyed watching the sunset just the 2 of us with a cocktail at Thors.
Here are some of favourite places to eat and drink in White Sands beach Koh Chang
The prices of food and drink here was higher than what we had paid anywhere else in Thailand. We typically paid 600-900 Thb for a dinner/lunch for the 4 of us £12-£18, but then again White Sands is a more upmarket area than the places we usually stay. And since the hotel stay was very nice Christmas treat from my dad, we were more than happy to pay slightly more for the food.
The trip is good value for a nice day out on a boat but do not expect to see many fish. The price includes, transfer from hotel to Bao Bang, lunch and snorkelling masks. The snorkelling spots are quite far out so half the time between 9 and 2 was spent on the boat going out and between the islands.
Compared to other snorkelling we have done the water was not as clear and there were not many fish about. We still had a lovely day out on the boat and would recommend it for a day trip anyway.
We also took a Songtang trip to Khlong Phlu waterfalls where we had a great time. It is also well worth a visit. We went there on acloudy morning padi 400 Thb return trip for the 5 of us from our hotel.
Its a 500 m walk to the waterfall which the kids really enjoyed. Once there you can get into the pool at the bottom and swim with the fish who live there. I took the opportunity to get my hands cleaned from climbing skin by the nibbling fish. A bit freaky but a lot of fun.
.After almost 2 weeks here we had totally recharged our batteries and were ready to travel to the other side of the world for more adventures.
We only had a week to spend in Cambodia before meeting my dad in Bangkok and wanted to spend most of it in Ankor Wat to explore the ruined temples. With that in mind we only had 1 day to spend in Phnom Penh. Had we had more time, we would have loved to stay in Cambodia longer and in Phnom Penh at least for another night or 2 to explore the many streets, markets and little cool shop here.
We liked the relative child friendliness of Phnom Penh with play grounds for the kids, outdoor gym by the river where families hung out and the open and friendliness of the Cambodian people. As it is the capital, outside the main tourist drag there are also many quirky little shops and cafes where the locals go.
Ingrid and the local kids playing by the riverside
Great playground in Phnom penh
We enjoyed the cheap street food, got some bargains in the central market and spent time playing about with the kids. Everyone travels by tuktuk here which is a very cheap, quick and comfortable way to get around. You pay for everything here in dollars in cash and her change back in Cambodian real.
Heading into Siem Reap for an Ankor Wat adventure
After a day here we got the 6 hr bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We had 5 nights booked here in Jasmin home stay . A tiny room made up for by a good sized pool and good breakfast. After a full day of recovering from the past few days of travelling by the pool we were ready for 3 days exploring Ankor Wat.
3 days exploring magical Ankor Wat
Once in Siem Reap we found that here are many ways of getting to and round Ankor Wat. You can go by tuktuk, bicycle, scooter, bus tour etc. On our first day around Ankor Wat we opted for a private tuktuk to take us to some of the smaller temples.
We left at 9 and were back for lunch at 1 with a dip in the pool afterwards. This worked out beautifully.
First day in Ankor Wat exploring Ta Prohm and one of the worlds largest swimming pools
Our first stop if the day was Banteay Kdel, a smaller and moderately interesting temple with some stones to climb on. Pretty quiet with few hawkers, stalls and tourists so a good place to go if you want to avoid the really touristy ones. Outside this temple is the Kings swimming pool, a good spot for a sit down and a drink before continuing to the next stop.
The kings swimming pool
Next we went to Ta Prohm , definitely one of my favourites. Beautiful light makes the ruins overgrown by ancient trees look almost magical, like a real life fairytale. It is not very big, but pretty busy with people queuing up to take photos by the main sights. We spent around an hour here marvelling at the amazing trees snaking their way over the ruined temple high up in the sky. Its good to be here in the early morning or late afternoon to catch the best light.
Before heading back to the hotel our tuktuk driver took us to Ta Nai, a small and very secluded temple that was barely marked on the map. Completely unrestored and not as spectacular as the previous 2, but both Ingrids and Scott’s favourite as they could climb around on the rocks and ruins like little monkeys.
A quick stop for lunch near Ankor Wat where we discovered that the very expensive prices on the menus here were actually negotiable so rather than paying $7 per dish as set out in the menus we paid a very resonance $ 3. Happy days.
Sunrise at Ankor Wat – an Ebike adventure
On day 2 we wanted to go and see Ankor Wat by bicycle. However, wandering around Siem Reap the night before we didn’t find any bikes with a packet holder seat for Scott or a good small one for Ingrid so in the end we decided to rent electric bikes instead. First practice run in the dark back to the hotel was a bit exciting. Me with Ingrid on the back and Paul with Scott in front of him we felt ready for the ride in the dark to Ankor Wat the next morning to catch the sunrise.
On our little bikes in the dark we joined the train of hundreds of tuktuks heading out to the ruins to see the sunrise. The road was a bit bumpy in the dark, but it was such a nice feeling riding the bike effortlessly with the breeze in my hair and Ingrid hanging on just behind me. Im glad I didn’t actually have to pedal in the end!
The sunrise in itself was a bit disappointing to me. A huge crowd with iPhones in the air blocking everyone’s view and unfortunately clouds in the sky blocking the actual sunrise…. It was well worth it, we all still enjoyed it but not the spectacular sunrise we had hoped for. To avoid the sightseeing crowds lingering here after the sunrise we headed straight for Ankor Tom instead with a plan of properly visiting Ankor Wat again just be fore sunset.
As we were at Ankor Thom and Bayon temple just as it opened it was almost empty and glowing in the magical early morning light.
The Bayon temple is a beautiful temple full of magical faces quite similar to Ingrid and Scott.
By 9 o’clock we were finished ready to head back to our hotel for a delicious breakfast of baguette and eggs….or so we thought.
The sheer wight of Paul and Scott on 1 bike meant Pauls bike ran out of battery on the way home. Luckily the bikes were equipped with charging cables so after finding a little house by the road side, we spent 30 min there with the bikes plugged into the owners garage… Once topped up we just made it back before breakfasts closed.
Ebikes around Siem Reap and Ankor Wat
We made to most of the bikes this day and so after a swim and a rest we took the bikes into central Siem Reap for a late lunch in one of the many cheap eateries around the central market. A quick change of batteries at the ebike shop and then we were off to Ankor Wat again. The afternoon was much better for Angkor Wat sightseeing. Fewer people around and a bit cooler too. 1 hr of exploring then we decided to head back to Siem reap before it got completely dark.
Grand tour by tuktuk on our last day in Cambodia
Day 3 here was our last day in Cambodia with our fight for Bangkok leaving at 10. As we had bought a 3 day pass to Ankor Wat we decided to spend the last day here doing the Grand Tour to the less famous.temples farthest away in the Ankor wat area. I’m glad we did this tour as we saw one of my favourites, Preah Khan, and a small but magical temple in a lake.
Ankor Wat – a family adventure I highly recommend
Ankor Wat is a really great place to explore as a family. Many temples are not restored and so make interesting playgrounds where the kids can run and climb around without being told off. Its easy to get around by tutktuk and by doing 3 half days rather than 1 or 2 full days, you can make sure everyone are enjoying themselves not getting tired or bored.
It was a good decision in the end not to cycle. We met quite a few people on bikes completely exhausted by the bike ride getting there not enjoying walking around the sights as a consequence. I also recommend the Ebikes as a safer option than scooter if you travel with smaller children.
We were totally happy about one week in Cambodia and glad we made the effort to get here. It truly is a wonder of the world that anyone can enjoy.
Siem Reap town is not that interesting. We avoided the very busy pub street and the main tourist drags and at at our usual favourite places just outside the centre.
Grey, rainy, polluted and not always friendly – cutting our stay in Vietnam short
Grey weather in Cat Ba
Smog in Hanoi
We did not enjoy Vietnam as much as we did other countries in South East Asia. I think it’s a combination of suffering from travel fatigue, the grey and rainy weather, a lack of genuine friendliness and hospitality in some of the places we visited, a feeling of constantly being ripped off and perhaps also false expectations in comparing Vietnam to Thailand. Therefore, 2 weeks into our Vietnam stay, while in Cat Ba we took the decision to cut our stay here short and head back to spend our last 2 weeks in we Asia back in Thailand.
Bus, boat and train from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh city
To get back to the mainland from Cat Ba you have to take a bus, a speed boat and then another 4 hr bus to Ninh Binh. Originally we had planned to stay here for a few days but as we wanted to get out of Vietnam quicker than planned, we only stayed 1 night at the Viet Nhat Hotel before continuing the train further south. Ninh Binh town has nothing to offer in terms of sights really. The main attraction people come here for is the amazing surrounding karst mountains. Due to our long train trip, we opted not to go exploring them and spent the morning doing school work before catching the 16hr night train to Hoi An.
16 hr night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An
The N1 train at 15.48 was very basic, old, small and rickety. Scott and me slept in the bottom bunks with and ingrid and Paul in the top.
There was basic food for sale on board but we know from previous night trains that it’s not very appetising so had brought our own snacks and fruit to last us the journey. Pork baguettes purchased at the hotel, biscuits with sweets for a late night snack did the trick.The worst thing about night trains is always the toilets and this one was no exception. It is dirty and smelly, but when you have to go you just have to go. Grit your teeth, hold your breath and get on with it.
3 days of rain with new friends in Hoi An
We stopped in Hoi An for 3 nights and were looking forward to warmer sunnier weather. Unfortunately it had been, and still was raining much more than usual this time of year. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left the rain did not stop.
The hotel we stayed at, Botanic Garden Villas had great airy rooms, 2 swimming pools and a pool table. It also offered free cooking course which Ingrid and I attended.
Unfortunately we never got to try out the pool because of the poor weather. We did however discover a great little deli , Dingo Deli with a playground and play room where we spent the afternoon with our new Canadian friends and their 2 children enjoying delicious coffee while the kids played.
The persistent rain and flooded streets meant that we did not really get the opportunity to properly explore this beautiful town. When the weather is nice I can imagine it’s a great place for cycling and walking, especially round the old town. It is also a place to get tailor made clothes and shoes at rock bottom prices.
We spent our 3 days here doing schoolwork in the mornings and hanging out with our Canadian friends in the afternoons. Great for the kids to have some friends to play with and for Paul and I to have some adult conversation with people other than ourselves.
It was fun and useful discussing the ups and downs of travelling for a year with kids, great to get some new ideas as how to do it and to just talk about all the practical issues and opportunities of leaving your life behind and planning to come back with fresh eyes a year later.
On our last day in Hoi An Dec 30th we had an amazing meal together at Morning Glory and finally got a taste of how amazing the Vietnamese food really can be.
TRain from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh
The following day we spent New Year’s Eve on the 16hr , clean and modern, train to Ho Chi Minh city followed by a 6 bus to Phenom Penh. A lot of travel in 24 hrs but we were keen to spend the first day of the new year in Cambodia leaving a grey and wet Vietnam behind us.
After a total of 26 hr travel we finally arrived in Phenom Penh excited to be back in the warm sunshine surrounded by friendly people eager to see what this country had to offer.
Poon hill trek – a child friendly classic Nepal trek
Ghorepani Poon hill trek is one of the short trekking routes in the Annapurna region that can be done in 3-5 days. After some research we decided this would be the best route for us. It is long enough for Paul and me to enjoy, at 3210m, the altitude in not too high for the kids, and if done in 5 days we were hoping the daily treks would be short enough for Ingrid 8, to be able walk all they way.
Over 5 days, this trail takes you through beautiful local villages and rhododendron forests with panoramic views of Nepal’s most famous peaks from Poon Hill– Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri and Annapurna South. The trail can be congested in high season October – February, but was almost empty when we were there in August, at the end of the monsoon season.
Its a 1hr drive from Pokhara to Nayapul, the starting point of the trek. From there you make a circuit over 5 days from Nayapul to Hille (near Tikhedunga), then Ghorepani and Poon Hill followed by Ghandruk and Landing before finally returning to Nayapul and Pokhara.
Basket case solved – gaffa tape saves the day!
In order for us all to enjoy this trek, the most important thing we had to consider was how to keep Scott happy and motivated to walk as much as possible. Scott is physically strong and usually happy to walk for about an hour or so most days. Unfortunately, just before starting the trek he was really ill for a week with a tummy bug and had to take 2 course of antibiotics to recover. Needless to say, we were a bit were worried about how he would cope in the hills after being so poorly.
Scott full of beans in Nepal
Veryill with a tummy bug
In planning or trip to Nepal, we had already considered getting a porter to help Scott round the trail and with the recent tummy bug illness we decided at the trip could only be done with a porter that could help us carry Scott all the way round the trail.
We booked our team consisting of 1 guide and 2 sherpas, through Funnys travel in Kathmandu. 1 sherpa would carry our big backpack and 1 would carry Scott in a traditional Nepalese basket.
As we arrived in Nayapul, ready to head off it became clear that the typical basket we had agreed that Scott would be carried in did not exist. The guide and sherpas suggested they could carry Scott on their back and shoulders for 5 days, which was not what we had agreed nor would it be safe or comfortable. We watched in disbelief as the team set about constructing a make due carrier basket, which promptly broke.Without a safe carrier construction for Scott we would have to go back to Pokhara and try again in a few days once it had been sorted out to our satisfaction……not ideal.
Its amazing what you can do with a pocket knife and some gaffa tape.Paul finally took charge, bought another basket and made a safe, comfortable and strong carrier with gaffa tape, some rope and a bit of insulation material ….finally 2 hrs later we were ready to go.
Day 1 – Up, up and away
We started our first walk up from Nayapul to Ghorepan on a trail initially made up of an old gravel road. Eventually we were crossing streams, passing rice paddies and teahouses on lingering stony path that slowly took us up higher in the mountains into slightly cooler and more manageable temperatures.
Typical paths on day 1
Beautiful scenery on the Poon hill trail
It was not a difficult walk but the very hot and humid weather made it hard work still. Scotty was in the basket most of the time, snoozing while Ingrid walked every step with a smile on her face. She had been looking forward to this trek for a long time and was happy to finally be on our way.
Finally after 5hrs walking, at Ingrid pace, we were pleasantly surprised to find our accommodation for the night. A large and clean teahouse with comfortable beds in twin rooms with delicious food onoffer.
After a quick dinner and some games with our sherpas we called it a night getting to get some sleep in preparation for the early start and long trek the following day.
Day 2 – Stairway to heaven,4080 steps to be exact
After a good night sleep and and eggs and pancakes for breakfast we set off on 8hrs relentless climbing 4080 steps, 1300m elevation. to Ghorepani. Thankfully it was overcast most of the day and we all felt strong and excited to climbing up ever higher and higher in the mountains into the cooler air and the lingering clouds.
After enjoying a typical vegetable Thali lunch and a couple of tea breaks along the way we finally arrived at our overnight stay in Ghorepani, 500m below the peak of Poon hill. A lovely warming wood burner at the centre of the common space in this teahouse made it a lovely and cosy place to hangout and a good spot to dry damp socks and shoes. We were all exhausted after the 8hr trek and had a very early night.
Tea at the tea house
Day 3 – Above the clouds at the break of dawn
Ingrid and Paul had decided to climb to the Poon hill peak to catch the sun rise over the mighty Annapurnas.
Ingrid getting ready for her 4am start to climb Poon hill
They set off at 4 pm in the dark with puffer jackets and head torches while Scott got some more sleep and rest ahead of the days longish walk. The climb to the top in the dark took about an hour.
After watching the sure rise we all had a breakfast together, chocolate pancakes and eggs.A quick rest and then we set off on a 7 hr walk up and down on winding trails through the clouds forest.
After a tea break and then lunch in a beautiful spot along the river we had to get raincoats and umbrellas out for the last hour walk to our over night stay number 3 at Ghandruk.
Wet leaves and vegetation meant leeches were out and about. There are lots of warnings about leeches on the trails in August in the guide books and on the internet. However, we found the leeches to be few and far between, very small and pretty harmless. Once we found them on us they were easy enough to flick off without causing much pain or discomfort. Scott was actually very excited to find one inside his trousers. Must have got there during a pee break.
The over night stay in Tanipani, was our least favourite.Dirty and smelly toilets in the teahouse and a pretty rough restaurant made us all a bit uneasy. We were too tired from walking to think too much about it and enjoyed clear views on the Annapurnas when we woke up the next day.
Day 4 & 5 all downhill from here
Our first clear view of the snowcapped Annapurna range at the breakfast table at Tanipani gave us the energy we needed to walk the days trek 5 hrs downhill. Trails were wet and slippery after a rainy night but Ingrid did great and Scott walked his longest distance so far despite a big leech bite on his leg. We enjoyed a slow lunch at a beautiful village of Thadipani on the way down.
Beautiful scenery and coours along the
Our last days walk down to Nayapul was our least favourite. Part of the trail was along the main dirt road through some larger villages with a lot more people and even cars along part of the way. Typically this was the day with the best view of the mountains. What a great way to endthis amazing 5 day trek!
Poon Hill – a great trek for mountain lovers with kids
The Ghorepani Poon hill trek is not the most adventurous mountain experience if on your own, but with 2 young kids in tow is a great mix of hard walks on easy trails broken up by tea and lunch breaks along the way. The walk itself is interesting as it follows part of the old Trans-Himalayan Salt Trade Route.
Most of the the trail is made up stone slabs and staircases that head from village to village and some of the time you walk on simple trails and across small streams and through rain forest like foilage.
We quickly slipped into a pleasant rhythm of eating, walking, eating, playing cards, drinking tea and sleeping.
Poon Hill trek can easily be done without a guide just following a good map. Also, in high season there are lots of other trekkers on the trail that are all going the same way. If we had done this trail without the children, we would have done it alone. As this was our first big adventure in he mountains with the kids we felt safer having a guide with us.
Packing is simple, since you don’t need to carry tents, sleeping bags, or food but can enjoy sleeping and eating in one of many lovely teahouses along the way. We packed 1 large backpack with a change of clothes, micro towels, silk liners, games and electronic essentials that the sherpa carried and a smaller day pack with water, snacks and raincoats, which we took turns carrying. We left our big bags at our hotel in Pokhara as we would return tenth same hotel after the trek.
There are plenty of teahouses along the way of Poon Hill trek where you can stop for food and drinks and to stay over night. The overnight teahouses are like simple, clean guesthouses with basic beds and food on offer. Some of the smaller teahouses along the way just offering tea, coffee, drinks and snacks.
August is the end of the monsoon season in Nepal. While on the trail we had rain most nights night and 2 days with half hour long showers. We also had leeches, and some cloudy days. However, if you want enjoy the quiet time in the mountains,walk at your own pace and if a bit of rain down not bother you then end August is a good time to go.
If you like walking in the mountains and want to introduce your children to this fantastic adventure then Nepal & Poon hill is the way to go!
Qatar air from Sweden to Nepal via Doha was quite good and kids were very excited about the over night flight but managed to sleep at least some of the way to Doha. They loved watching the latest kids movies and they got an activity bag each which helped keep them busy for a while.
Leaving the airplane in Doha was like stepping out from a fridge and into a hot oven. 36 at 01 o’clock in themorning. The cold air inside the plane looked like smoke as it crashed into the hot air rushing in from outside.This was our first walk in the clouds..2nd would be in the Annapurna mountains.
One interesting thing we noticed as we boarded and left the airplane in Kathmandu was that `being polite and waiting for your turn means never actually getting anywhere. Here its all sharp elbows to get ahead.
The same was true when we got out of the airport and into the car to get to the hotel. The pre arranged hotel driver, quickly told us there are no traffic lights or road signs in Nepal, you push ahead and simply beep to let people know you are coming. I was glad I was not the one driving. Its a good idea to arrange a pick up from the hotel, as it takes a lot of stress away upon arrival when everyone is tired and grumpy. We simply email the hotel through our confirmation email received from Booking.com and that has worked well so far.
Looking out of the taxi window at the dusty road, crazy traffic, hoards of people feeling hot tired and sweaty suddenly a holy cow appears and that pretty much summarises my emotions at the time. Holy Cow!
18 months of talking about it, 12 months of making a plan, 6 months of ticking off the long list of things to do, 12 weeks to finalise our itinerary, 6 weeks of leaving parties, 4 weeks packing up the house, 4 days packing the bags, 4 hrs until the flight from London…..