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Bangkok without the kids!

So after four years of not traveling without the kids, we finally decided to go for a no-kids getaway to Bangkok for 4 days.

Before we get to how the trip was (pretty great!), let me tell you about getting to the trip. Remember that time when we left all the kids at my mom’s house and went for Coldplay? It’s when I discovered that my threshold for not seeing the kids is like half a day max. Anything more than 6 hours makes me all antsy and twitchy.

I think it’s because I’m spoiled after being a stay home mom for so many years, having access to all the baby cuddles anytime I want. Like when I’m having a rough day, I can just stop and go hug my babies until I feel better. Anxiety coming on? Closing my eyes and inhaling some of that delicious baby smell makes it go away. My default stress coping mechanism is a rabid munching of chubby baby rolls, it always works.

This condition makes traveling without babies such a dilemma. I mean, I want to do it – I know that I’ll enjoy it when I’m there – but my baby withdrawal symptoms are severe. My brain is all “Just go! You need a break, no, you deserve a break so just take it, the babies will be ok.” but then my everything else will be like “84 hours without baby kisses and thigh roll munches? The babies will be fine but you won’t.” Underneath all the bravado, I’m just a huge pile of mushy baby-needing mess.

The night before we left, I was putting the kids to bed and smothering them with extra kisses to make up for my mom guilt when the realisation of my impending departure started to sink in for Finn and Theo. Truett and Kirsten were very cool, like “Have fun, mom! We’ll miss you so much!!“, but then the two boys were like “Wait, what?? You’re going to Bangkok tomorrow morning??? I did not agree to this!! Can I go to Bangkok too? I like Bangkok I will go wherever you go…

Both of them started tearing up with great big sad tears. “Please mommy please please please can I go??

I almost went online to buy 2 more tickets for the flight right then because I have no resolve. Just look at this face.

And this face.

Okay wait, I actually did go online with every intention of buying 2 more tickets but I discovered that the price for the extra 2 seats were 3 times what I paid for our original tickets so ummm, that’s a hard no. What am I, some kind of oil tycoon? They will just have to learn to deal with disappointment like us normal humans, with giant hugs and sobby whispers of “I’ll miss you so much!

//

Bangkok was excellent for a quick getaway. We went shopping, we ate Thai food, we went for massages, we sat in coffeeshops to read. I had time to finish two books while we were there: Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly. We took walks around the city like two people who didn’t have five kids. **Here’s where I should put up some pictures but we took a total of zero selfies. Sorry, zero points for blogging effort.

It’s a strange feeling to not be in mom mode for four whole days. There’s the silence, which I didn’t realise how much I had missed. We were on the plane and I turned to the husband to start a conversation only to see him enjoying this rare moment of silence with such bliss that I decided to enjoy some of it myself. Over the four days, we had fun conversations, but we also had long, glorious extended periods of silence and it was really nice.

There was also a constant sense that I forgot something. I’d be walking along Chatuchak market and there would be a flash of panic, thinking that I left something behind because why is my life so easy right now? Then I’d see a frazzled mom holding on to a sweaty, squirmy, screamy baby and realise that why yes, I did leave something behind and it’s called responsibilities.

Most importantly, we could only have done this with the help of my in-laws and my mom who had to watch the five babies, so thanks dad and mom and mom!

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Hokkaido 2017

As much as we loved Tokyo, I think the real star this trip was Hokkaido.

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure about Hokkaido at first because I always thought of it as a destination for elderly people and skiiers, of which I was neither. I’m a classic city girl who will take the bright lights and big cities any day. Besides, who brings a baby to Hokkaido in the dead of winter where it’s -5 degrees out on a warm day?

Turns out, me, that’s who.

And we loved it. I found Hokkaido to be breathtakingly beautiful, with her powdery slopes and laid back charm. In fact, we loved our time there so much that we’re in the midst of planning next year’s trip back, possibly with all 5 kids.

***

Our introduction to Hokkaido was exciting. So we knew that it was going to be cold and we were layered up all ready for the subzero temp. What we weren’t prepared for was a full on blizzard that welcomed us the moment we arrived in Sapporo.

We had taken a bus to Susukino from Chitose airport, dropping off at the bus stop 2 streets away from our hotel, the Mercure Sapporo. Normally, that would be an easy walk (even with the suitcases, kids and baby) but with the blizzard, it felt like we were getting punched in the face with a block of ice, then being mercilessly pelted with a torrent of snowballs. To make things worse, the road was icy and slippery so we had to take delicate geisha steps to keep from falling.

For a moment, we just stood at the side of the road looking at all the luggage and the kids and the baby and the snowstorm and the icy road and started laughing because it was nuts. Should we wait it out? Should we make a dash for it? How were we going to get across in the blizzard with all of this stuff??

There was only one thing to do, which was to gather our resolve together with our belongings/offspring and make the impossible trek towards the hotel in the snow. It took a while but we managed to make it across the first street unscathed; so far so good. At the second crossing, we were halfway across doing our unglamorous geisha shuffle when the pedestrian traffic light turned red. In an effort to hustle, Truett slipped and fell spectacularly on his bottom in the middle of the road. He tried getting up, took one step, and slipped again on the ice. The cars were getting ready to move and my son was flailing in the middle of the road like one of them three stooges. So there I was, with a baby in my arms trying to hold up traffic by gesturing to the drivers not to run over my child while the husband tried to help Tru to safety.

The kids were like “MOMMMM DID YOU BRING US HERE TO DIE??? WE DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!!”

But I really like these kids, they just took it all in stride. Truett’s pants were covered in icy slush but he just got right back up again and even helped with the suitcases without complaining. I think they’re a large part of the reason why we do the crazy things we do.

***

After that exciting first night in Hokkaido, the rest of our time turned out to be excellent. If Tokyo is the flamboyant, party-it-up fashionista, Hokkaido is the suburban mom who wore sensible shoes. I do like me a good party but I feel like Hokkaido and I could really get along.

Over the two days we were in Sapporo, we enjoyed delicious kaisendon and crabs at Noji fish market, shopped a bit at Odori, explored the Shiroi Koibito chocolate factory (so gorgeous!!), and had a lovely time at Sapporo beer garden. It was all exactly my kind of charming.

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From Sapporo, we hopped on a train to Otaru for a night before heading on to Niseko where we spent the last 4 days.

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Niseko is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. The kids took one look at all the soft, powdery snow and thought they were in heaven. And they were probably right, it was pretty close.

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They had such a grand time building an ice fort, making so many snowballs, rolling around in the snow, and even managed to pick up snowboarding. Yes, snowboarding!!

Okay, back up a little. Snowboarding is one of those skills I never thought I’d be able to learn because a) it’s hard! and b) no, seriously, it’s ridiculously hard. I took lessons that one time at Mt Buller and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to learn. It’s like the physical equivalent of learning Mandarin.

But it is also very cool. Every time I’d see snowboarders blitzing down the mountain on their boards, I’d stop and ogle, I can’t help it. It’s the kind of life skill that makes you instantly more awesome.

So since we had 4 days up in the mountains, this was the perfect opportunity to finally master snowboarding. We arranged for lessons with a private instructor, rented the gear, suited up and got ready to level up our awesome. Within 2 hours, Truett and Kirsten were already cruising down the beginner slope like it was nothing. Especially Kirsten, who was a natural at it. Every time she got on her board, it was like BEAST MODE activated. Even the Japanese instructor was all “you’re a monster girl!!” approvingly when she nailed it. She made it look so easy it was annoying.

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Meanwhile, I took several days to finally get the hang of it. I fell so many times and so badly that my body was covered in huge bruises. By day 3, everywhere hurt so much. Like one time, I picked up too much speed and panicked so I went in for a toe brake and fell so hard I flipped over 3 times before ending up with my face in the snow. I don’t know what a concussion feels like but it was the only time I thought I got one so I just lay there with so much pain everywhere, afraid to even move. It’s discouraging to try so hard and fail so many times. I contemplated giving up because this is too hard and maybe I’m never going to learn this at the advanced age of 35, but if there’s one thing I have, it’s determination. Also, there’s a lot of pressure now that my kids are zipping down the mountain without breaking a sweat, I’m going to have to learn this one way or another. I checked to make sure nothing was broken, took a deep breath, got up and tried again.

It’s funny, when you’re learning something, it’s hard until suddenly, it’s not. After 3 days of bad falls, I got it. I could come down the mountain without falling, I could heel brake, I could toe brake, I could do the turns, it was like my body finally understood how this works.

And it was exhilarating. I can’t quite describe the feeling of boarding down a mountain on soft, powdery snow. It’s everything I imagined it to be, even better.

**The kids made this video on their own – they took most of the pictures/videos themselves and stitched them together. :)

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Tokyo 2017

For this trip, we spent 4 days in Tokyo city and 3 days in Disney Tokyo, followed by a week in Hokkaido.

As with all our trips, the itinerary was planned with a little something for everyone. The understanding is that we would all get to do something we enjoyed and when it was time for someone else’s favorite activity, we would all partake in the fun together even if it didn’t seem all that appealing to us. This basically means that no one gets to complain when mommy is shopping for boring things because I just spent 4 hours watching you guys play with toys.

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And since we had baby Hayley along, we ditched the usual commando style touring and took things nice and slow because there was no way I could cover 15-20km a day lugging this chubby chubbs around.

We would visit an attraction, have a coffee break, snack break, playground break, another snack break, have lunch, check out the next attraction, have more snacks, head for dinner.

Did I mention the snacks?? Tokyo is the land of anyhowly-choose-also-nice-snacks. I didn’t meet a snack I did not like in Tokyo. Also, the food. Sadly, there will be no photos of the food because they all ended up inside my mouth before the husband could even whip out his phone. All I can tell you is that and lo, it was very good.

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While there’s a lot to do in Tokyo, it’s also a beautiful place to just sit by the river and have a cheese tart + coffee. On our first day out and about, we even brought a kindle along hoping to get in some reading time but that’s just crazy talk because with 2 kids and a baby, ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

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As for the places we visited, here are some of the highlights.

//We stumbled upon the “It’s A Sony” exhibition at the Sony building in Ginza while trying to shop for a camera and it turned out to be a brilliant detour. For an 80’s kid, this was a surprisingly fun stroll down memory lane looking at all the Sony products we grew up with. The husband was so thrilled to show the kids his first dreamcast, the playstations, the classic walkman, and even the short-lived minidisc player.

The kids were mostly incredulous, like “You mean this thing only plays music? And it only stores 12 songs at one time? WHY????

Urgh, kids these days.

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//Another gem was the children’s museum in Yotsuya Sanchome, two stops from Shinjuku. It was a real hit with the kids, even baby Hayley. Calling it a museum is a bit of a misnomer because it was less of a stuffy museum with see-no-touch kind of exhibits and more of a super fun play area stocked with some really beautifully crafted old school toys.

Baby Hayley had such a great time at the infant play area.

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This is baby Hayley’s idea of playing with toys, also known as how many items I can fit into my mouth at one time? I looked around and all the babies were all doing the same thing – busy gnawing on all the toys (while all the moms were frantically wiping everything down with antibacterial wet tissues).

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Babies are so adorable, it doesn’t matter if the toys can beam laser and speak 27 languages, all they care about is how this tastes when I stuff it in my mouth.

Mmmm, this one’s got leftover pumpkin with a hint of fennel…nom nom nom…oooh is that chocolate?? Let’s eat it!!!

The highlight for Truett and Kirsten was this magic show by a very enthusiastic grandfatherly Japanese uncle who reminded me a lot of my dad. His eyes had a twinkle to them and it seemed like he was having more fun than all of the kids combined, which made it such a joy to watch. I think when the kids are all grown up, I’m definitely taking up a gig hosting a magic show or story time with kids.

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//10 minutes from the children’s museum was a fire museum, so we stopped by for a visit as well. It was ok, a more typical museum exhibit viewing sort of experience.

Although the fire engines were pretty cool, and they had a great time simulating a rescue mission in a stationary helicopter.

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//For food and shopping, we spent some time at the usual favourites like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tsukiji Market, and Ginza. Oh, Daikanyama and Nakameguro were really nice too, in a trendy, hipster sort of way.

***

The best part about traveling is that every time we visit a city, we get to know her a little more. With some places, you’re all like, “umm ok thanks for the memories, it’s been nice knowing you.” But then once in a while, you find a place that you can be really good friends with.

Which is to say that Japan, I think we’ll be seeing you again soon. :)

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Travelling with a baby

We’re back home after two lovely weeks of getting our bottoms frozen in Japan. It was amazing, I’d highly recommend the experience. If one has to get one’s bottom frozen, Japan is a most wonderful place to do it.

I’ll get to the trip soon but first, I feel like we need to talk about traveling with an infant.

You know all those articles about 20 tips to survive a trip with a baby with photos of a happy smiley baby on a flight like so?

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LIES. ALL LIES.

Here’s one tip from someone who has actually survived a trip with a baby: DON’T DO IT.

Unless you’re like me and you enjoy the finer things in life such as shovelling food frantically into your face in 15 seconds while standing next to your table rocking an angry baby in a cramped izakaya, or hoisting a squirmy sack of rice all day while strolling around the city, or spending your nights asking your baby repeatedly “Y U NO SLEEP, BABY???”, or feeling like you’re exhausted out of your mind every minute of the entire holiday, then go ahead and bring that baby along!! It’ll be a holiday you’ll never forget!

For starters, baby Hayley wasn’t too impressed with the cold. The big kids were like “woooo snow, awesome“, but the baby was all “WHY ARE YOU GUYS DOING THIS TO ME I’M JUST 8 MONTHS OLD I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS!!” even though we dressed her in super warm thermals, fleece footed jammies and a poofy coat. Poor baby would look increasingly miserable as the temperature dipped and if we wanted to know how cold it was, we’d just need to look at her face. It was actually hilarious because she would start shouting like “ahhhhh ahhhhh aaarrgghhh” whenever it got too cold, which would be our cue to duck into a mall or somewhere indoors to warm up.

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What’s the temperature here? Misery.

Speaking of the cold, as you know, I’ve mastered the art of breastfeeding the baby on the go and it was super convenient to just latch on the baby whenever she got hungry. It worked really well until we got to Niseko when I decided to just feed her at a quiet corner out in the snow because it was too much of a hike uphill to make it back to the hotel. I didn’t realise how cold it would be to breastfeed a baby out in the snow. Let’s just say that having a -10 degree arctic blast hit me right in the boob is something I’ll remember for a long, long time.

During this trip, I also discovered that baby Hayley does not like sleeping anywhere that is not her home. As it is, she already does not like to sleep much at home but when we were away, it was much, much worse.

She would struggle for an hour to fall asleep every night only to wake up every 30 minutes throughout the night. She developed a new rule of sleeping, wherein I had to lie down very close beside her and not move an inch. If I so much as twitched a muscle, she would immediately wake up and cry. So brutal.

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I’m not gonna lie, it was exhausting and there was more shouting than I was prepared for. But I don’t know, if I could do it all over again, I think I’d still want to bring the baby along.

We were at Sapporo Beer Garden one night just watching the snow fall gently around us while trying to walk off a particularly tasty dinner. The big kids were rolling around in the snow making snow angels and I had baby Hayley nestled against my chest. She looked around at the snowflakes falling like tiny crystals in the night, at all the pretty lights dancing along the street, then back up at me and her face broke out into the widest, happiest grin.

That was so much joy in her squishy little face I cannot even.

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She’s probably not going to remember that moment but that’s ok because I will.

I got to see my baby experience snow falling on her nose for the first time. I got to watch her eyes light up on It’s A Small World ride in Disneyland. I got to feed her the first bite of creamy Hokkaido soft serve (she went completely insane right after, flapping away frantically in the direction of the delicious ice cream. When we were done, she spent several minutes trying to eat the leftover taste of soft serve from my mouth like “what?? No more ice cream? I will have to eat your face!!“).

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My philosophy for traveling used to be that we had to pack in as much fun and enjoyment into every moment of every day. EVERYONE NEEDED TO HAVE FUN AT ALL TIMES! I’d get bummed if things went wrong or kids got tired and grouchy. That’s just too much pressure for any trip.

These days, I’ve learnt to take it for what it is – a time to get away and hang out with the people who bring me joy.

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Doing Tokyo with 3

After spending 2016 at home, we’re in Tokyo with kids 1, 2, and 5.

The plan is to eat up all of the food we can stuff into our faces, do a bit of Disney and then head to Hokkaido for some skiing. We briefly considered bringing all 5 kids along for this adventure but that would have been hardcore level masochistic and I’m only moderately masochistic so we’re here with just 3 kids.

How do we choose which kids get to travel? It involves a very scientific methodology called “How Many Can We Bring Without Killing Ourselves Or Losing Any Kids”.

At this point, baby Hayley = Finn + Theo in terms of high maintenance quotient, so we had to choose either the baby or the two boys and since baby Hayley needs her food delivery system in the form of my boobs, she gets dibs this round. We could probably have done kids 1, 2, 3, 5 or 1, 2, 4, 5 but that would mean leaving either Finn or Theo at home, which would be super sad and lonesome for the one who doesn’t get to go. This way, they will both be slightly less sad and not at all lonesome.

It’s like that riddle where the guy has to cross the river with the fox, chicken and corn, except instead of animals and food, we have babies.

Truett and Kirsten are thrilled to have each other for company and they’re having a blast. I was like “if you guys could pick only 1 sibling to travel with, who would it be?” and they immediately shouted “OF COURSE KOR KOR/KIRSTEN!!” They are usually very politically correct with these pick-a-favourite-sibling/parent dilemmas I like to dish out but this time, there was no hesitation.

If we go with the small kids, we will be so busy taking care of them, it’ll be like hard work. With each other, we can just relax and play,” they explained.

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Fair enough.

//

More to come soon, but Tokyo has been a delight. I think Japan is becoming one of my favourite places to visit.

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Keepin’ it real at Kidzania

I need to tell you about last weekend when we brought all 4 kids to KL to visit KidZania. I know, all 4 kids!!! Out of the country!! This is called level-up parenting, wherein we attempt a test run somewhere manageable before considering something really crazy.

We’ll talk more about this later, but first, KidZania KL. 

When we first found out about Kidzania 2 years ago during a trip to Bangkok, it was one of those “woah, how do I not know that this place exists??!!” kind of moments. Because how did a place this fun just fly under the radar without me hearing about it?

The concept is great – it’s sort of like a cross between a play area and a real-world experience where kids get to have a go at different occupations. And the place is huge, with 90 different activities to choose from, ranging from popular occupations like doctors, pilots, firemen, to lesser known ones like travel agents and HR consultants.

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//I’m jumping the gun here but how adorable is this? I’ll say right now that if this is my courier delivery guy, my online shopping situation is going to be out of control.

Okay, so each kid starts off the day with 50 kidzos, and every station offers an opportunity to earn more cash or to spend it. At the end of the day, they can use their kidzos to shop for memorabilia at the department store. They can also choose to save it for use at a later time (and at any KidZania around the world).

This is great for teaching the kids about economics and wealth accumulation. Now that Truett and Kirsten have a better understanding of how savings work with their pocket money, they were very diligent with how they spent their kidzos.

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Here are all the things you need to know for a visit to KidZania:

1. Go during off-peak periods. 

This is one of those places where the kids’ enjoyment is inversely proportional to the number of kids there at the same time because more kids = more time spent queueing = less fun. Unlike theme parks where there are filler shows/parades to spread out the crowd, all the kids will be spending their time queueing for one of the popular activity stations.

2. Not all activities are created equal. 

You’ll soon realise that the some of the stations are far more popular than others and you’ll either want to head straight to the pilot/fireman/paramedic station first thing in the morning or spend an hour in the queue later in the day. These activities all had hour-long queues the 2 days we were there.

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Other occupations like mobile phone consultants were consistently empty the entire time. Clearly kids don’t see it as a viable career alternative.

3. Have a strategy.

There’s no right way to tour the place, but depending on your child’s age/preferences, they’ll adopt a different strategy in their activity choices.

Like if they are all for earning the most money, they’ll want to choose the stations that have the highest payout vs time-spent ratio and instead of spending an hour learning to be a pilot, they might do 3 manual labor stations to maximise their earnings.

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Or if they’re like Finn, who wasn’t big on the whole kidzo-earning bit, they might choose to spend their kidzos on fun stations like the burger-making or to express their artistic side. While Tru and Kirsten were off working hard for some extra dough, he chose to spend 6 kidzos to be all tortured artist at the paint studio.

Kid knows what he wants in life, that’s for sure.

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4. Make your own food and eat it. 

The best way to spend kidzos is at the food-making stations. We usually have to fork out additional cash to buy food during visits to theme parks or playgrounds, but food is already included in the cost of admission to KidZania.

Here, the kids can learn to make food like chicken burgers, wraps and Vitagen, and then eat it so you save on the cost for more overpriced food. Also, you get to see your baby wearing a ridiculous hair net, which FYI, is priceless.

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5. Bring the baby!

Even though all the activities are designed for kids aged 3 and above (that’s when they can follow instructions without a parent present), there’s no need to leave the baby at home because there’s an entire area for toddlers to play in while the big kids are off doing their thing.

Theo had a great time at the baby area with all the toys.

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There are also some stations that allow for some baby participation, like the courier delivery service.

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I couldn’t get a clearer photo of this because my ovaries had spontaneously exploded while watching my 2 little boys delivering packages. True story.

*Bonus tip: You’ll need more than one visit to KidZania.

There’s so much to do that it’s impossible to finish everything in one day. This means that there’s a lot of revisit value before the kids get bored.

And for the best part, KidZania will finally be opening in Singapore come April, so there’s no need to haul the family to KL or Bangkok just for a visit.

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The best for last

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Our last stop for the trip was in Los Angeles and there’s a lot to like about LA – Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, In & Out Burger, The Grove, the palm trees, the glorious sunshine, spotting famous people…it was the best way to round up a visit to California.

We thought it’d be fun to spend a few nights in Hollywood and what better place to stay at than the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel? It’s where the first Academy Awards was hosted and the hotel has seen guests ranging from Clark Gable to Scarlet Johansson. Later, we found out that it’s also the favourite hangout place of Marilyn Monroe’s ghost, so that was um, interesting.

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LA is the sort of place that feels larger than life. If you consume enough movies and TV, you’d recognise many of the places and it’s fun to go on a spot the scene tour around the city.

So here are all our favourite things to do in LA.

The Grove + The Original Farmer’s Market.

The Grove is an excellent way to spend an afternoon even if you’re not of the hardcore shopping variety. I was sort of expecting it to be like an outlet mall style setup but this was one of the prettiest outdoor shopping experiences I’ve had. The whole place was decked out all gorgeous in christmas cheer and everything was so festive. Best of all, when night time came around, the streets would be covered in tiny flakes of fake snow and the kids understandably went nuts.

My kids aren’t fond of shopping but they had so much fun here they were all “you guys should do more shopping!” just so they wouldn’t have to leave.

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Venice Beach + Canals Walkway

LA isn’t typically known as a beach destination but we discovered that it has some very spectacular beaches. Such as Venice Beach, which is already gorgeous on its own, but it gets even more street cred when you realise that’s where a very buff, shirtless Edward Norton shot hoops on American History X.

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Steps away from Venice boardwalk is a charming little place called the Venice Canals Walkway. It’s a row of houses along a little canal with picturesque bridges and boats.

Kirsten was like “you mean people live here in these houses?? Like everyday they stay here??? Why don’t we bring baby Theo here to LA and then we can all stay here, that’s a great idea right?”

Not a bad pitch by a 7-year-old.

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Santa Monica Pier + Boulevard

I have a soft spot for Santa Monica because one of the best memories we have of our honeymoon was walking down Santa Monica Boulevard listening to a guy play this mesmerising tune on the saxophone. I still remember his name – Sha Shaty. We were there for a long time, just sitting by the sidewalk and holding hands, being all newlyweddy and in love.

Over the past 8 years, in good and bad times, we’ll still often talk about that time we were in Santa Monica listening to Sha Shaty on the saxophone. It was like our moment. That’s definitely core memory material, and one of the very best ones.

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Well, that just about wraps up this little travel series, thanks for sticking around. Regular programming will resume shortly!