Sunday, September 4, 2016

Rest in Peace to Anelen

Anelen was our first helper in Singapore. We moved to Singapore in July 2009. Many families in Singapore have a 'live in helper' - often a helper from The Philippines who will live in and help out with - well basically everything. I decided on moving to Singapore that I would embrace this! When we first arrived, we had a babysitter Lorena who would come once a week or so to our serviced apartment. This was such a luxury - Gary and I had a 7 month old and a 2 year old and all of a sudden we had time to actually go out together! Even better, Lorena would iron all of Gary's shirts while we were out and the serviced apartment would be amazing to return to. Lorena asked us if we were considering getting a live in helper. She had a friend who had been working for an Australian family but the family were moving back to Aus so this friend was looking for a new employer. We met Anelen a short while later and arranged for her to start working for us in September 2009.

We moved into our first condo - Queens and Anelen moved in with us. She taught us how things worked in Singapore and very quickly became an important member of our family. When I look back at our time with Anelen, I remember her teaching Tara how to walk: "Don't crawl - WALK!", her dealing with both kids toilet training, basically, she was an amazing 3rd parent to the kids. We had many evenings of sharing a glass of wine together and chatting - I'm sure unconventional but it worked for us. I remember her dealing with the day that Alex broke his arm and Gary, Alex and I rushed out the door to the hospital - she took it in her stride and kept Tara amused all day.

We moved to Aspen Heights in November 2010 and Anelen took that in her stride too - I'm not sure we would have coped without her there.

In late 2011, Anelen's work permit needed to be renewed. They do a random sample of helpers who will need a chest x-ray. She was chosen to have the x-ray. The chest x-ray revealed some issues - it was initially diagnosed as TB. She had to go to a clinic to take some medication and deal with the quite strong medication. A few months in, another x-ray was taken to see if the medication was working. There was no change and so she then needed to go to the hospital for a biopsy to see what the issue was. Sadly, cancer was diagnosed. She needed surgery. Anelen went home to The Philippines to have the surgery in early 2012. We thought there was a chance she would be able to come back to Singapore but sadly this wasn't to be the case.

We have kept in touch over the years and caught up on the phone and on skype. We were all really sad to hear that she passed away last week in The Philippines. She is very fondly remembered by all of us. Rest in Peace Anelen. Thanks to all you did for our family. xxx

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Wrap Up


It’s currently 9:00pm on New Year’s Eve – my 2015 wrap up is well and truly overdue – normally I manage to get it out by Christmas but this year it’s going to sneak its way into 2016. We are currently in Nottingham and tomorrow morning we will head off to Penzance. I hopefully will get this sent from Cornwall! Update – here it is January 5th and we spent a beautiful 2 days in Cornwall catching up with Harvey and Hannah-Jane – no time to sit around at the computer! We arrived in Dartmouth on Sunday night and we have another 2 nights here.



2015 was a significant year for our family. We finished last year with Gary between jobs having completed his contract in October. The start of the year was slow job wise and although there were a few nibbles nothing panned out in terms of a new contract. In March, Gary interviewed for a job at the Playford council. Playford is an area north of Adelaide – a massive drive from the Adelaide Hills – but having a job far from home is better than no job so when an offer came through, Gary accepted the position. It was a contract that was initially only for 3 months. As it turned out, Gary loved the job – the work environment and the people so that was excellent. The commute was hard work at over an hour each way – not ideal – especially when we live in the 20 minute city! The contract was extended for an extra 3 months with the promise of a potential 18 month contract down the line. On the strength of this promise, we booked our UK holiday – obviously with the nod from Gary’s boss. It had been 4 years since we’ve been to the UK as a family – Gary has come every year but we both thought it was really important for the children to see their grandparents again, especially with deteriorating health for both of them.



In August, a job came up at Walkerville Council and I knew the agent who was recruiting (this is Adelaide after all), so I dropped them a mail to say that Gary was my husband and that I thought he had the right skill set etc. A number of weeks later, they called Gary in for an interview (in fact we had both written it off in terms of a possibility). The interview was intense (over 2 hours!) and a week later, Gary was offered the job. He is now the Finance Manager at Walkerville Council – much closer to home – and so far he is really enjoying the job. It was a tough couple of years getting steady work in Adelaide.



My work situation has been quite steady – I have been at The Beachouse for 18 months now and I still love it. My boss is fantastic – he is quite entrepreneurial and always looking for new opportunities. My work is extremely flexible and I now work a full day from home each week which provides more flexibility in terms of the kids and schedules etc. In July, I completed study to become a BAS agent – this was quite straightforward and nothing too onerous at all but something that I thought could be great to start my own business working from home, helping people out with BAS and bookkeeping services. Shortly after I finished my qualification, I snagged a job – it was a bit of a chance happening – someone put a post on Facebook asking for some training in MYOB – I sent them a message and got the gig. As it turned out, their bookkeeper then left so it has turned into an ongoing job – it’s a hair and beauty salon in Mount Barker and I do around 4 hours a week for them – just their payroll and BAS but I love it – it’s flexible – working from home and helping people out in their own business to hopefully do things in a more efficient smarter way. Ideally, I would love to get another 1 or 2 clients in 2016 where I can help out with bookkeeping, BAS and payroll for small business but I expect this will happen as time goes on – I haven’t actively marketed my business yet!



Alex was in Year 2 this year. He was in a year 2/3 combined class at Rose Park Primary and he seemed to really like it. Alex is quite involved with his friends and friendships and these are really important to him. I really liked his teacher – she didn’t seem to tolerate bad behaviour and I thought she was really good – she had a massively challenging class with mixed ages and a number of non- English speaking kids. Alex had a good year and has now finished at Rose Park – he is heading to Pembroke which is where Tara has been going for the past 2 years.



Tara was in Year 1 this year and seemed to settle in well with year 1. The resounding comment on Tara’s report card was that she has grown in confidence. Tara is naturally shy but once she warms up, you would never know it! Her teacher commented when she saw Tara interacting with Alex that this was a side of Tara she had never seen before. We are trying to work on her confidence and I think she is coming along really well. 2016 will be a challenge for her as she is in a class without her best buddy from Reception and Year 1. The great thing is she seems fine with this and we’re hoping that it will build her confidence.



One significant thing this year was the kids both started scouts. They both initially begun in Joeys which is for 5 – 7 year olds and then in term 3, Alex moved up to Cubs which is the next level up. Scouts has been fantastic for both of them. Tara has grown massively in confidence – so much so that at the end of year ceremony she was the Joey who along with a Venturer (18 year old scout), carried the flag around the circle. Alex has made a number of new friends and as scouts is run through the school (Pembroke), it has been great for Alex to feel more comfortable about changing schools. He has a couple of kids from scouts in his new class for 2016 so this should definitely help with the transition to the new school.



Holidays in 2015 – we began the year with a week by the beach in Normanville – a coastal town in SA – which was lovely. We caught up with our long standing friend Fitzy and his kids along with Anita (over from Singapore) and her brother Hobby. We spent Easter in Normanville again. On Easter Sunday we headed off to a different beach (Second Valley) and ran into people we knew from school – typical Adelaide – so we went for a cup of tea and hot cross buns at their beach house which was great fun.



In July, we took advantage of the frequent flyer points and flew up to the Gold Coast in Queensland.   We hired a car and spent 5 nights at Burleigh Heads – a beautiful part of the world. I even got my bathers on and went in the water and it was only 21 degrees but after the Adelaide winter, it felt massively warm! We also got to take the kids camping at Mount Remarkable, we have camped as a family before but this was the first exposure real exposure to the Outback. We are hoping for more camping in 2016.



Our trip to the UK has been our big holiday this year. We left home on Christmas Eve at 10:30pm – we then spent most of Christmas Day on the plane. The kids were both great on the flights – although Alex probably had a bit too much screen time! We spent our first night at the airport at Gatwick before hiring a car and beginning our tour around the UK. This is very much a tour of catching up with friends and family. After Gatwick, we headed over to the Hilton at Cobham where we also stayed on our last trip. It was lovely to be somewhere familiar and also not far from our old house in Walton on Thames. We caught up with Clare and Nick – friends from Singapore on Boxing Day for a fabulous meal. On the Sunday, we drove to Surbiton and caught the train to London. We managed to catch up with Ann – an Adelaide friend who is also visiting the UK. We then took in The British Museum – a fabulous exhibition on Celts. We caught up with Liz and Mark on Sunday night at their house in Woking for another great dinner. On the Monday, after visiting our old house in Walton, we drove to Bushy Park for some exercise and a geocache along the way. I then caught up with Mary – a friend from Singapore who is back in the UK now. Another lovely catch up.



On Tuesday morning, we checked out of the Hilton and headed off to Nottingham. The drive was good and we arrived at exactly our anticipated time. We checked into our house in Sherwood which we got through Airbnb – it was fantastic. It was a great location for visiting Ann and Jim (Gary’s parents) and also really handy for the Sherwood high street. We stayed in Nottingham for 3 nights – we visited Gary’s parents each day and also managed to catch up with Holly – Gary’s eldest sister and 3 of her children whilst we were there so this was a fabulous thing. Tara turned 7 on New Year’s Eve and had her first ever winter birthday. On New Year’s Day, we had a final quick visit to the nursing home where Ann and Jim are. It was really sad to say goodbye to Ann – she and Gary have always been close and she is someone I am really proud to call my mother in law. After a teary farewell, we set off for our long drive to Cornwall.



We had organised to call in to my friend Karen’s place in Gloucestershire on the way – Karen and I shared a flat 15 years ago – actually at the start of Gary and I being together so she was significant to both of us. We met up with Karen and her husband Pete and their daughter Ellie. What a fantastic visit – tea and croissants and non-stop talking! We then headed off to Penzance. The traffic was very good and we made it in good time. We headed over to Harvey and Hannah-Jane’s for dinner – Harvey and Gary were school friends and have kept in touch over the years. On Saturday, we went back to Harvey and Hannah Jane’s place in Penzance and they drove us around Cornwall. What a fabulous day seeing the sights – St Michael’s Mount, Portlethen (massive waves!) and then Falmouth for a walk and a bite to eat followed by shopping. We then headed back to Penzance where the kids were able to have a spa! What a fabulous catch up.  



On Sunday morning, we checked out of our Penzance accommodation and after a quick geocache we started driving to Street in Somerset to catch up with Gary’s cousins. It was a bit of a crazy day – we got caught with roadworks on the A30 heading out of Cornwall and we had tickets to Peter Pan at 2:30 in Street. The GPS kept on changing times in terms of our ‘anticipated arrival time’ – from 2:11 to 2:41 and we ended up getting there around 2:22 – not a lot of time to spare but we made it! Jo and Sarah – Gary’s twin cousins had bought us tickets to the Pantomime which Sarah was actually in as well as her 9 year old daughter Megan. It was fabulous – such a fun show and the kids are still quoting lines from it. After the show, we headed off for a meal with all of the family – 13 of us in total which was fantastic. So good to reconnect with family after quite some time. We then left Street and drove to our accommodation in Dartmouth where we are now. It was a bit of a crazy day – we arrived at Kingswear at 9:40 – those of you who have been to Devon will understand the Devon roads – arriving at night was a bit of an adventure but we made it – thank goodness for GPS. Yesterday (Monday) we had a family day and today we drove into Torquay to catch up with Lucy – Gary’s sister. It was lovely to catch up – I haven’t seen Lucy since Alex was 9 months old so nearly 8 years.



We now have 5 days left in the UK – we will head to Hampshire on Thursday – we will hopefully catch up with Gary’s aunt and uncle and also some friends from Adelaide and then off to Watford on Saturday to go to the Harry Potter Studio tour. On Sunday morning we have Eurostar tickets to Paris. We have 3 nights in Paris – our plans are for a day at Euro Disney, and a day seeing the sights – Eiffel tour and maybe the Louvre – we will have to see how the kids are travelling as we are staying out near Disney which is a bit of a trek from the centre. We fly home on Jan 13th from Charles de Gaul and arrive back in Adelaide on Jan 14th at 8:30. So far it’s been a great trip and really important in terms of connecting with family and friends.



My niece, Brigette has just moved in with us – she is from Port Augusta and finished year 12 in 2015. She plans to go to Flinders Uni in 2016. I think it will be great having her there – the kids are both excited to have a young adult staying with us. Brigette moved in just before we came away and the poor thing has had to deal with one of our chooks dropping dead on her! Fingers crossed she has a smooth 9 days till we get back.



We plan to get a new family member in 2016 – a yellow Labrador – he was born on December 9th and we will get him when he is 8 weeks old so around the first week of February. We are all very excited to have him join us – I’m sure this will be a great adventure.



Wishing all of our family and friends a fabulous 2016. Please do come to visit us – even though Brigette has taken up residence in the old ‘spare’ room, we still have numerous options for people coming to stay and we love having visitors. The Adelaide Hills are beautiful – any time of year!



Apologies for the lack of photos this year – travelling has made this so although I will try to update the blog with some photos when we are back at home.



Jo, Gary, Alex and Tara xxx

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 2014

 


Seasons Greetings to all of our friends and family.

 

I’ve just had a read of what I wrote for our 2013 news and am trying to think back and reflect on what 2014 was for us. 2014 saw much less adventurous travel than 2013 – that was always on the cards though with us moving home! We still managed to get in a number of holidays and had a great time.

 

This time last year we were living in a rental property in Stirling and looking to buy somewhere. We had missed out on a few properties but just after Christmas we saw a property that had been on the market for a while but had changed agents. Gary had viewed it (in August 2013) but I had never seen it. We checked it out on the net and then organised to come to see it with a private viewing in January. We both loved the house and had a 2nd visit on a 37 degree day in February where the wine cellar seemed to be a balmy 22! After some negotiating with the agent, we signed a contract in February with a settlement date set for April. Finally after 6 months of intense looking, we had found our family home! We are so happy to be here and to finally unpack fully. The house is set on just over 3000 square metres of land and is on quite a steep hill (where the garden is). We have grand plans in terms of what we will do with the garden, and there is a bit of work to do on the inside, but it is really liveable and will give us some projects to go on with over the coming years when cash flow will allow it! We are all quite settled here and really do feel like we have our home.





 

 View from our balcony….

 



Responsible parenting – allowing the kids to climb trees in gumboots….

 

During the year, we had our first camping trip – just for 1 night, in February. The kids both loved it and are keen to go again. It did seem to go well. We will get there again – there just seems to be so much on – the issue of life – too many things to do and not enough time!

 

In April, we went for 4 nights to the beach – a beautiful town called Normanville, not that far from Adelaide on the coast. We had a great little apartment and had the pleasure of a visit from Leone and John – friends from Singapore who now live in Victoria and were on their way to Kangaroo Island.

 

In May, we had our first and only trip on a plane for the year – we headed to Sydney to go to a family yoga weekend. It was a beautiful and relaxing weekend – much enjoyed by all.

 

In July, we went back to Normanville with the Walsh family – we had 2 apartments side by side which was a fabulous trip despite it being winter!

 

In August, Gary had a quick trip home to the UK to see his family – the direct flight from Adelaide to London via Dubai working out really well. The kids and I coped with Gary being away pretty well except for the fact that we were late for school nearly every day – thankfully Tara’s class were pretty relaxed about start time and also, we weren’t the last ones to arrive (which made me feel slightly better!!) Gary managed to catch up with his parents and his 2 sisters in the UK.

 

We have a week by the beach planned for next week which should be really relaxing too.

 

The beginning of the year saw Tara begin ‘big school’ for the first time. She had a great time and it has been amazing to see her progress through the year. Alex finished year 1 this year and also had a great year at school. Both kids seem to be really blossoming at school which we are really thankful for. Alex turned 7 in July and discovered a new found love of AFL (Aussie Rules Football) during the year. Due to the influences at school, he decided to go for Hawthorn – I am still working on him supporting the Adelaide Crows but he was delighted that Hawthorn won the grand final! Tara will turn 6 in 1 week – she enjoyed doing dance through school and also joined with me in supporting the Crows (that’s my girl!)



1st day of school – 2014 (for Tara).
 

My 1 year contract at my old job finished in July of this year and I was lucky enough to find a new job which is part time – this has always been my dream since having the kids and I was lucky enough to be offered a new role at The Beachouse at Glenelg. It is a really flexible role and I tend to work my hours around school hours. I work with an amazing team and have a great boss, so I feel really fortunate to have this opportunity.

 

Gary was working in a contract role till October and is now on the lookout for something new. Fingers crossed something interesting will come up for him workwise in the New Year.


We made our first foray into pet ownership in August getting 4 12 week old chickens. The ‘girls’ are now laying pretty regularly and they are very confident – always looking for scraps and loving human interaction.

 

I am very grateful that we have all been very healthy this year – long may it continue! I hope that your Festive season is a good one and that 2015 is a good year for you all.

 

Love Jo, Gary, Alex and Tara xx

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014


To our family and friends,

 

Happy Belated Christmas and here’s to 2014!

A quick recap on our 2013. We started off the year in Singapore, having received the news in mid November 2012 that Gary’s job would be winding up sometime in 2013. This news was met with great excitement for us as we both felt that it was time to come ‘home’. Singapore had been very good to us and we had a brilliant 4 years there, but it felt like the right time to move on. It was a fantastic experience – Asia for beginners and Singapore will always hold a very special place in our hearts.

 

Since moving back to Adelaide, we have had a relatively busy time. We moved back to our family home in Dulwich and knew that we would try to sell it within 6 months. By the time we had moved in, and unpacked – in fact, just 6 weeks after we had moved in, we had the house on the market and our first open inspection. We were very fortunate in getting a number of offers after the first weekend and we accepted one on the Tuesday. Settlement was set for mid November. We then started looking in earnest to buy a new property – our preferred location being the Adelaide Hills. We had 2 properties that we were quite keen on and both got sold the weekend we sold ours. Obviously not meant to be! We then bid at an auction in mid-October, but again, it wasn’t meant to be. Time was ticking on, so we ended up getting a rental property in Stirling with a 6 month lease. We are still looking – my biggest fear at the moment is that we won’t find the right property before our lease expires – but hopefully this won’t be the case! Moving isn’t that much fun, however, the kids handled it with ease – in fact I think they are of the opinion that moving is something that happens with a reasonable frequency – we hope we can dispel this notion after our next move.

 

So we have been in Adelaide for 6 months now and it is great to be back here. I think all in all, everyone has settled in really well. Alex started school 3 days after we landed – he came home on his first day beaming from ear to ear and announcing what a great day he’d had. He did just over 2 terms in Reception at Rose Park Primary. His teacher Belinda was an absolute superstar – she is truly gifted in her chosen profession and I think we were so lucky to have Alex placed in her class. He really blossomed through the year and has loved school so that has been a great start.  He turned 6 in July and is into Lego in a big way as well as lots of imaginary play and Star Wars! 
 Not looking so happy here for first day of school but it did go well!

 

 

 Playing outside kindy.

 

Tara started at kindergarten 2.5 days per week in term 3 and also did 1.5 days in childcare. She seemed to enjoy both although kindy was a definite preference and she also loved Thursdays which she called “Daddy and Tara days”. She will begin school in January and I think is definitely ready for the structure that will come with that. She turns 5 today – New Year’s Eve and is very excited about her birthday, which we are also making a big deal over. She ran into our room this morning shouting “I’m 5!”

 

I started work in June back at my old work – I was lucky enough to pick up a maternity leave cover contract so that was fantastic timing. I am there till the end of July and will see at that time if there’s anything else available. It has been really nice being back somewhere familiar – although doing a different role. Gary has been kept pretty busy running the house, getting Dulwich ready for sale, and then getting us moved and settled into our new temporary home. He has also been looking for work although not too actively till the past month or so. He will begin a new contract role in the new year, so life will change again, with 2 of us working and no helper at home to do the cooking and cleaning!! We were spoilt in Singapore with fantastic domestic help. It will be a challenge to juggle 2 jobs in Australia but hopefully we will both have a degree of flexibility.

 

We had a few nice holidays in 2013. We started off the year going to Bintan for 5 nights just before school started. It was a favourite destination – January was our 3rd visit there. We all had a brilliant time and it was sad to leave. Alex got his first wobbly tooth whilst we were there – it proceeded to be wobbly for 10 weeks finally falling out in the last week of term 1! In January, I also managed a girl’s weekend away to Bangkok with my friend Karen (Gary is so good to me, I am so very lucky to have him) – (obviously Gary’s editing!!). Oh, how I do miss those cheap flights from Changi! Karen and I had a brilliant couple of nights there, staying in a Club room at the Novotel – we made full use of the bar and canap├ęs on offer! Many massages were enjoyed and quite a bit of shopping.

 

February saw the Chinese New Year break so we used the opportunity to come back to Adelaide and sort out a number of things. It was a bit of a house swap as Allisa was in Singapore so we made use of her house in Adelaide (and her car) whilst she stayed in our Singapore apartment. We then got to catch up properly with Allisa when we got back to Singapore so all around it was a win win situation. For Easter, Gary was off to Melbourne for a course. I decided I didn’t want to be in Singapore for the long weekend without him so researched cheap flights to go somewhere easy with the kids. We decided on Hoi An Vietnam as the flight was reasonably priced and direct. The day before we were due to go, Tara came down with a vomiting bug. The GP advised that it was a 24 hour virus and not to cancel the holiday. The next day, Tara was on the mend, but Alex had a fever. We got on the flight and by the time we arrived in Vietnam, Alex was looking very pale – he then proceeded to vomit in between customs and the taxi. Hmm, I was questioning my sanity in going away with the kids by myself – but it ended up being a good trip – the kids were both a bit tired – recovering from the virus but they swam every day and we had a pretty low key visit – still fun.

 

Gary finished work in April  (April 19th) and then headed back to the UK on the 21st of April for a couple of weeks to visit with family. This was a fantastic trip and all rather epic. Family ties reforged and old friendships celebrated! I had 2 of my nieces come to visit from Adelaide at the same time.



Gary, Holly, Lucy, Ann & Jim – what a great family reunion!

In early May, just after I had finished work in Singapore, we had the amazing chance to have a long weekend in Hong Kong without kids. We met up with Adelaide friends – Natania and Colm to celebrate Nat’s 40th birthday. The Langham Place hotel was amazing and we had a fantastic weekend. Thanks Nat for giving us the excuse and thanks Anita for helping out in Singapore with looking after the kids – despite the fact we forgot to leave spare keys with her (to some this would have been a drama but she just breezed through)!

 

May saw us packing up the apartment, saying goodbye to our wonderful helper Marina who went to a new family (she is very happy there) and heading to Changi for our last time as Singapore residents. We boarded our flight to Yangon Myanmar and bid Singapore farewell. We had a great few weeks travelling before landing in Aus. We had a week in Myanmar, a few days in Thailand catching up with Gary’s family (Neville, Ann and Rachapon), and then 10 days in Sri Lanka. The kids are brilliant little travellers – they are really very adaptable and had a great time with all of the new experiences.


 Our last day at Aspen Heights…

 Posing with the locals – Yangon

 Myanmar – Lake Inle

 Yangon city

 Taxi on the way to Yangon airport.

 Bangkok – so great to see Neville again.

 Riding an elephant – Sri Lanka

 We climbed Sigiriya – Sri Lanka – well done to the kids!

 Galle Fort – Sri Lanka

We now haven’t been on a plane for 6 months – an absolute record! It has been really nice settling in though and I haven’t got itchy feet (yet)! 2014 will no doubt see some less adventurous travel – we hope to take the kids camping for the first time and will do a couple of driving holidays rather than anything long haul. Depending on what happens for both of us workwise, we may try to sneak in a family trip back to the UK to see Gary’s family but this is all up in the air – of course we now need to consider school holidays also.

 

We hope that 2014 will see us settling down properly with buying a new house (hopefully the house we will live in for many years) and putting down roots in Adelaide. We had a great 2013 and as always we are grateful for the support of our family and friends who make life a great journey. When we get set up in our new house, we are hoping that it will be somewhere we can have lots of visitors.

 


Legoland Malaysia – our favourite daytrip from Singapore.

Guess who loves roller coasters? In fact, both the kids now love them too!!

 

We wish you a safe and prosperous 2014.

 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Journey to Inle

Journey to Inle

Thursday May 23rd saw another early departure (better though at 6.45), for the short transfer to the airport for our 2nd Air Mandalay flight to Heho. At the airport I discovered the bank there (which I didn't notice on the way in), had better rates than the shop in town, but hey ho!

We put our bags through the x-ray machine whilst the guy operating it ignored the screen resolutely staring the whole time at our kids. We then waited for our flight to be called. This flight had 'free seating' and this time we had 2 stops before arriving at Heho, but both were very short flights - around 30-40 minutes each.

At Heho airport, the taxi driver said 25000 kyats to Villa Inle but then as we were getting in, informed us it would be 35000 as it would be an additional 10000 from the main town. We tried to find someone else, but to no avail, so decided we had to go with this. On arrival in town, it was more negotiation on the boat price. The boat price was going to be 15000 then unless we agreed to use the boat for an excursion the following day. With the kids with us, we were in the situation of needing to agree this without the power to walk off and check the competition. However, as I had read a bit on trip advisor, I knew the boat price he was quoting for the excursion was reasonable and so we ultimately agreed 55000 kyats for transfer 2 ways, use of the boat the next day to tour the lake and return taxi to Heho airport on the Saturday. I knew from trip advisor our hotel was charging $35 for a 1 day boat tour and $70 for airport transfer so figured we were doing ok with our man from Sons of Inle.

The longboat trip to the hotel was good fun, but I got slightly burnt due to leaving my hat in the luggage. 

We checked in to Villa Inle and our room was stunning. It was huge with a freestanding bath in the bathroom, a rainfall shower and a large double and large single bed.

On our first day, we didn't end up doing much, apart from relaxing and exploring the grounds of the hotel. We were planning to go to visit Red Mountain winery but the hotel wanted $20 each way plus $20 per hour for the driver to wait. $60 for a 2 hour excursion wasn't striking me as great value so we declined this. The exorbitantly priced transport was an open air truck! I guess they have a captive market so can charge what they like.

On Friday morning we had breakfast in our room. There was a slight delay - some mixup with the ordering, however when it came, it was tasty and filling. We then headed to the jetty to meet our boat driver from the previous day. We went out on the longboat and after an hour stopped at a village. It was quite rural and we followed our driver through the village where we ended up at a house where some people were dressed up (seemingly in traditional dress). As our driver didn't have much English, it's difficult to say what the occasion was, it felt a bit strange with us sitting on the floor surrounded by locals. We ended up leaving there and heading back to the boat. Next stop was a weaving factory. We had a bit of a 'tour'. Some of the stuff they made was really lovely, but very expensive. I looked at a scarf and it was marked 100 - I later realised this was $100 US! We continued on to a place called the Inle Heritage Centre which had 36 Burmese cats and a lovely cafe. We had snacks and drinks and then sat out the rain (although we were travelling in monsoon season, this was our only rainy day and even then it was short spurts).

After this we headed back to Villa Inle for packing up and getting ready for our Saturday departure and dinner. It was a really nice relaxing day on the lake.

On Saturday, after breakfast we headed down to meet our boat driver to head back to town and to Heho airport. We had settled the bill at the hotel and then one of the staff was saying that we needed to pay for chips from the mini bar. We told her we hadn't had anything from the minibar. A few minutes later we were presented with an opened 2/3 full tub of chips. We again said we hadn't eaten them (and checked with the kids too). It was an awkward end to an otherwise lovely stay. We interrogated the kids later and I'm completely sure it wasn't them either. The chips were actually placed on a high shelf so it would have been very tricky for the kids to reach them. The mystery of the opened overpriced chips - they were $12!

Our boat trip back to town was good and the taxi journey was also fine. We got to Heho airport around 40 minutes before our flight and checked in. Our last Myanmar domestic flight was with KBZ and it was direct - what a bonus. The flight left 15 minutes before its scheduled departure time (everyone must have been there so why not?) and we were soon in Yangon again.

We caught a taxi to the Traders and checked our luggage in with the concierge. We then headed to the Yangon market, which was really good. Prices aren't stupidly inflated (for the few things we looked at). 

Back at the Traders, we headed to the Traders Cafe for lunch - a buffet called 'Crazy Saturday', with kids' entertainment. What a great spread. The buffet included free flow wine - an added bonus we didn't know about before. We all had a nice time - Gary and I eating and the kids playing. We then headed by taxi back to Yangon airport for our 5.50pm flight to Bangkok.

Myanmar was an incredible place to visit. It is just opening up to tourists and I can imagine it will be very different in ten years time. The accommodation we stayed in was great. Relatively speaking, it's an expensive place to visit compared to other South East Asia destinations. However, I'm really glad we had the opportunity to visit and see it when we did. Thailand and Sri Lanka next!

Bagan - Temples Everywhere

Bagan - temples everywhere!

On Monday morning (May 20th), we had a very early alarm call due to a flight scheduled from Yangon for a 6:20 departure. Thankfully, we weren't completely adjusted to the 90 minute time zone change so waking at 4.30 wasn't so much of a hardship, despite our neighboring room waking us at midnight when they rolled in. We checked out of the Traders and received 3 'breakfast boxes'. They were full of fruit, pastries, boiled eggs and sandwiches. No one was going hungry! The trip to the airport at 5am was quick and we checked in without any drama and sat down to eat our packed breakfast. No such thing as nothing over 100ml of liquids on this domestic flight - it all seemed very casual. Soon enough our Air Mandalay flight was called. We walked up and headed to a bus to take us to the plane. On the flight, we actually had assigned seats - something we didn't get on our other domestic flights in Myanmar. What we didn't realise was that the flight wasn't direct, so on its first landing, we got up until we were told this wasn't our stop. 20 minutes later we took off again and landed 35 minutes later in Mandalay. Another 20 minute stop - it was a bit like catching a bus or train. A further 25 minute flight and we arrived at Nyaung U which was our stop. Hooray!

We wandered out and got a taxi without an issue and headed on the short journey to our hotel for the next 3 nights - the Hotel at Tharabar Gate. We were very grateful to get straight into our room and rest a little - it was only 9am! Later that morning, we headed out for lunch to the Vegan restaurant "be Kind to Animals". Good food, but a little trickier for the kids - we ordered fried rice, but it was spicy. On the afternoon of our first day in Bagan, we went for a wander and were inundated with offers of horse and cart. One entrepreneur offered us a free ride back on the condition we use his services the next day. After a swim in the afternoon, we headed to dinner to a restaurant next door to the hotel. Then an early night for all! 

On day 2 in Bagan, we decided we would take a horse and cart for the morning. After some negotiation, given how hot it was (we were melting the previous day), we decided we would take 2. We agreed a price of 10000 kyats each (I'm sure overpaying however as I've got older, my willingness to bargain has diminished!) We headed off to a number of temples. They were all pretty impressive. Alex and Tara particularly liked the old palace where they went up some stairs and found a viewing platform. Being low season, we weren't hassled too much by touts, however sand paintings were available everywhere. There were some very young kids selling too. The temples are plentiful (they are everywhere you turn) and also beautiful. It was a great half day. We finished our horse and cart tour at lunch and ate at Star Beam (very impressive bread). That afternoon we headed back to rest and go for a swim before dinner.

Day 3 in Bagan was spent resting in the morning. We ordered a taxi to take us into Nyaung U- the main town. We left around 11am, with the intention of exploring the markets - however, it was really hot already and we were all pretty hot trudging through the markets. We bought a couple of t-shirts for the kids (less than $3 each with no bargaining), and some mangoes for 200 kyat (around 20cents) each. We then decided we should get some lunch and headed to a place called Bagan Beach Bar. It was on the river (which was really low). It was huge inside, but we were the only customers initially (us and many flies). Food was ok, nothing to write home about. We then went in search of a taxi and found an old uncle with a taxi sign on top of his station wagon who would take us. No seat belts and the car had seen better days but we made it back ok - we had to stop for roadside fuel on the way. He was very friendly (as most Burmese are).

Later that afternoon, I went to go to the money changer at the local store that our horse and cart driver had taken us to the previous day. Tara and I were accompanied by a young boy who chatted to us the whole way. He told us he was 9 years old and learnt English at the monastery where I think he went to school. On our return journey he wanted to sell us some postcards. The previous day, kids at the temples were selling 10 for 1000 kyat (just over $1). My young friend mocked shock when I suggested 1000 and said no madam, these are 2000. I think he expected me to bargain, but the grin on his face when I handed over the 2000 kyats was worth it. He was very good company for Tara and I on our short walk and later on when we ventured out or dinner greeted us like old friends.

Bagan was a great place and somewhere I could see us returning to 1 day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Myanmar Musings - Yangon

After a few emotional farewells, we left Singapore on Saturday May 19th, bound for Yangon - the first stop on our 3 week holiday before our return to Adelaide. We were at Changi with time to spare so grabbed breakfast at the airport (pancakes and milo for the kids, local coffee and kaya toast for Gary and I). Alex was impressed with the speed of getting his pancakes and declared it true fast food. Our flight to Yangon was good and we landed around 10 minutes ahead of schedule. First impressions were of friendly people - everyone was smiling.

We got a 'taxi' to our hotel. It was a sort of van, without working seat belts (a common theme here). The driver tried to sell us some tours for the next few days which we politely declined. As we got closer to Yangon centre, the traffic got much busier so it was a sense of relief to see The Traders hotel.

Check in was smooth and we were soon up in our room. We had paid for an extra bed - something that hotels here charge a lot for - in this case it was $65 US and when we arrived no bed was there, but it was soon delivered - along with an extra bottle of water and an extra towel!

Our travel agent arrived and I went to meet her and collected flight tickets etc which was all very smooth.

We ventured out for lunch and tried to find a recommendation from the LP - Aroma Cafe but it was closed, so we ended up at the East hotel - which was very pleasant. The rest of the first afternoon was spent at the pool and we went for an early dinner to Pa Pa Pizza, which was excellent.

On Sunday, after a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, we decided to try the LP Yangon walking tour. About 300 metres into it, Tara declared we were walking "so far"! Ah, the delights of travelling with kids. We stuck to the walk for a bit and then decided to take a look at the ferry. We were sent to a window / room for foreigners. The fare for foreigners was $2 US each way but they did a 'discount for the babies'. This meant the kids were free. One thing in Myanmar is they often refer to the kids as 'babies'. The ferry was very local but some fabulous photo opportunities. There were all sorts of vendors on there and some young boys tried to sell us all sorts of things. It was very interesting. Over the other side of the river, we got off and decided to go for a drink and a sit down to watch the world go by. Gary commented that it felt like a mixture of India and Thailand. I have to agree it did feel like that!

On Sunday afternoon, after a swim at the hotel, we headed by taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda. It was very golden and very  impressive. Tara and Alex were tolerant about their photos being taken numerous times. Tara especially is also getting a lot of people touching her face or arms, but she is very good with it.

On Sunday evening in Yangon, we decided to try a local restaurant recommended on Trip Advisor which was just across the road from the hotel. This was Takifuji - with some Western choices for the kids, and local food and beer for the adults, everyone was happy! We had a very early start the next day so headed to bed pretty early in anticipation of our 4.30am wake up call!