We have a long-time friend who had been a long-time bachelor. He had been living in Asia for several years and had ultimately ended up in Hong Kong. We had toyed with the idea of visiting him, but we had come up with a million reasons why we THOUGHT it didn’t make sense to take our kids there (fast forward…we were wrong…Hong Kong is awesome for kids). But when he brought his girlfriend to meet us in the summer of 2013, we told him, “if you marry her, we will be there!”
We are so happy he married her. Most importantly, we are happy because we LOVE her. But, we must also admit that their wedding gave us a phenomenal excuse to make the trip of a lifetime! Traveling to Asia was our kids’ first international trip. It opened their eyes to so much and made them more sophisticated and tolerant travelers. They were 10 and 11 at the time, great ages for absorbing and appreciating experiences. I know they will remember it forever. We still talk about history they learned, cultural experiences they had, people they met, etc., and I can see how the trip impacted their world view.
I told my husband that it made zero sense to go “just” for the wedding, and that we needed to check some additional items off on our Aspiration List! (he hates it when I’m right) We had always kept an Aspiration List for our traveling. By the way, I don’t like to call it a “Bucket List” because I don’t want to think about kicking the bucket any time soon. Anyway, on our List, we have indicated which destinations we think are best for our younger family, and which destinations we think are best for adults. Some of this evaluation is based on the food (my kids are such picky eaters), types of activities and entertainment, the history, how exotic the location, etc. My husband had never been to Asia at all, and I had only been to Hong Kong and a small part of southern China, so we really had a lot to choose from.
The wedding was at the end of June. Given school and sports schedules, we figured that we had a few days to travel before Hong Kong and about a week to travel after. In between, for the wedding and just to enjoy the city, we would have about five days in Hong Kong itself. When I started exploring flights, I found that flight patterns could help me determine how to visit extra locations in an economic way. For example, if I wanted to see Tokyo, a trip to Hong Kong would most likely require me to connect through Tokyo. With that same logic, I found that Air China would fly us through Beijing on the way to Hong Kong. We could stay a few days in Beijing and the price remained the same. It was SO much more affordable to fly with Air China (I’ll give you the scoop) than all of the other airlines, and we got a bonus few days to see a different place on our List!
Why Beijing? I did my senior seminar in college on China, so I was already interested in experiencing the historical sites. We weren’t sure, though, if it would be an engaging place to take our kids. We think it’s important for the girls to be motivated to see the places we visit. Otherwise, we are dragging them to all the sights…and that is not fun for them or for us. However, after discussing it, they really expressed an interest in seeing the Great Wall of China. So, with the kids on board, we slotted Beijing as our first stop!
We usually try to balance our trips with some adventure, some education, and some relaxation. We figured that after buzzing through Beijing in three days (jet-lagged no less) and then partying in Hong Kong for 5 days, our last week would need to include some relaxation. We evaluated three different options:
Singapore (Sentosa Island)
Thailand (either Phuket or Ko Samui)
Thailand and Bali were part of our Aspiration List for sure. However, as there are so many different options in Thailand, I thought that it could be a trip all by itself (Bangkok, Chiang Mai in the North, beaches, etc.). Also, I love Thai food, and I knew that the culinary experience could be fabulous. But, the amazing food would be totally lost on my picky eater children! They would just be eating plain noodles all trip! Also, I had read that June was monsoon season in Thailand and that Phuket could be extra wet. So, for all those reasons, I lobbied to visit Thailand another time.
Singapore was an interesting option because it is so close to Hong Kong and our friend said that a lot of Hongkongers (I looked up the spelling) go there on holiday (as they say). Sentosa Island gets great reviews as well, and overall, Singapore looked like a fun, family-friendly city. However, I felt like it would be too much like Hong Kong, and I wanted to diversify our experience as much as possible.
Bali quickly became my front runner. First of all, Bali just sounds cool…doesn’t it? And Julia Roberts was in that movie, so didn’t we all want to go there? But, until I researched it, I didn’t realize what a family-friendly location Bali is. The reviews from the hoards of Aussies that go there (found on TripAdvisor) gave the Balinese people really high marks on friendliness and service. Travelers also said that the Balinese, as a culture, really liked kids. In addition, between beaches, elephants and monkeys, there seemed like a lot of options to keep my kiddos entertained.
So our trip was laid out as follows…
Fly June 21 to Beijing
June 22-25 in Beijing
June 25-June 30 in Hong Kong
June 30 – July 5 in Bali
July 5 – 6 take the long journey back (foreshadow…not so fun)
Check out my next posts about each city to learn about the visits and see if we made the right choices! We had a fabulous time and will give a lot of great tips. But, we also had a few “thumbs down” experiences we can share.