Travelling with kids at different ages

Hoi An with the kids

In the next few weeks my current bout of travel anticipation will culminate in several trips – a roadtrip to Mudgee (NSW wine country), then a couple of weeks in my old home (and ongoing obsession!) Southeast Asia, with time in Bangkok, Koh Chang and Kuala Lumpur.

On these holidays, our kids will be 3 and 5. I have a feeling (fingers crossed) it will be slightly easier this time than last time, and the time before that and the time before that… after all, they’re older and therefore should be easier, right?!! Here’s hoping, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at some previous trips and compare the pros and cons of travelling with kids at different (young) ages.

Less than 6 months

Positives:

– They sleep alot during the day – this allows you to explore and eat out relatively easily. We had a surprisingly successful weekend in Singapore when our first was four months old – she spent alot of time in the day asleep in the stroller and we had a lot of opportunity to wander the Arab Quarter, Chinatown and Little India. It was easier then than it would have been a few short months later.

– They don’t need things sterilised if they’re breastfeeding exclusively and aren’t onto solids yet. Travel with a baby is much more simple before they move onto formula and food.

– They’re portable – they’re small enough be strapped into a Baby Bjorn rather than be carted around in a stroller, which makes things a bit freer and easier, especially in less developed places where strollers are harder to manoeuvre.

Negatives

– Sleep deprivation – with a newborn waking all night long, it makes it harder to relax and appreciate your surrounds (or be fully focussed on much during the day).

– The baby’s sleep routine  (if you have one) can be disturbed by getting in and out of different modes of transport all the time.

– They are at their most fragile, and susceptible to the heat and illness.

– They require frequent breastfeeding which isn’t always convenient, especially if you’re out and about in a heaving, hot and humid Asian city.

Between 6 months and 2 years

Positives

– Attention and help – at this age, kids are past the super fragile stage and are a bit more playful and smiley, so we found this was the time of receiving the most attention, hugs and whisking away by staff at cafes and restaurants. All our travel then was in Southeast Asia (where we were also living) so it might not be the case everywhere!

– Curiosity and learning – this was a time our kids explored and learnt alot, from roaming around temple grounds to sampling lots of different foods, like developing an appreciation for pho and snacking on dried river weed in Laos (mmm, green chips!). With all the curiosity came a relentless need to run around and a total inability to sit still anywhere, so this one hovers between being a positive for them and a negative for the parents!

Negatives

– This was the most intensive time in terms of sourcing milk and food, sterilising things, and needing ridiculous amounts of equipment. Between 6 months and one we had to source pureed food from restaurants and hotels, mostly in Vietnam. We would sometimes end up with strange, salty soups people would concoct for us, which was well meaning but sometimes not quite right. We found the best thing to do was to request boiled or steamed vegetables like carrots, then mash them up ourselves. Once they moved onto slightly more solid food, all things carbs became a godsend. Think baguettes and bowls of rice.

– They’re not quite old enough to appreciate things – this isn’t their fault of course(!) but sometimes we had travel experiences where we wished our kids were slightly older and able to enjoy certain things more. One example was a beach holiday in Khao Lak, near Phuket in Thailand, with our first when she was about 20 months old. We stayed at a huge resort with different pools and even waterslides, but she was a bit scared of the slides and favoured the smallest pool. We would love to be back in the same place now with our kids at 5 and 3, as we know they would absolutely love it. Another was when we were at an elephant park in Chiang Mai, when our oldest was 3 – we thought she’d be more excited, but she seemed a bit blase about the elephants and more focussed on the biscuits she was eating. Again, something that would’ve been better a year or two down the track.

Two kids: aged 1 and 3

When our kids were one and three, we’d not long moved back to Australia but were craving a return to Southeast Asia for a holiday (this may happen forever!). We ventured to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh and Singapore, and in hindsight realise this was a bit too ambitious with such young kids. We’d just be settled in one place then we’d be moving onto the next, when it would’ve been better to stay put in one place for the majority of the time. At these ages, I’d recommend a one-destination kind of holiday.

Positives

– Car hire! One of the best things we did was hire our own car in Chiang Mai, complete with a car seat for the one year old. We drove outside town to the zoo, to the hilltop temple Doi Suthep and out into the Thai countryside. It was easier having the kids secured in the car than holding onto them in a tuk tuk or taxi, and they managed to sleep while we drove and explored.

Negatives

– Too much travelling takes its toll. At this age, we should’ve taken the kids to one place rather than packed a lot in, but although it was a difficult trip we still don’t regret it!

– Kids just want a swimming pool – we made the mistake of choosing a small, boutiquey kind of backpackery guesthouse in Chiang Mai, which was in a great location but didn’t have a pool, which we thought didn’t matter. It did. We ended up checking out and having a few days in the super luxurious Shangri-La, complete with ginormous swimming pool. The kids were so much happier! Talk about high standards….

– Heat, dehydration and food and water hygiene are all still important issues at this age. Our kids came down with a bug in Phnom Penh which saw our one year old so dehydrated she was hospitalised for a few days once we reached Bangkok. Which sounds really dramatic but basically consisted of being hooked up to a drip and fed lots of rice porridge until back to normal again – after a few days she was good as new and we continued with the holiday. In the meantime, we took it in turns taking the three year old out and about and hanging out with friends who live in the city, which was really enjoyable. A positive is that the hospital situation in Bangkok for such incidents is really good –  we actually ended up back in the same hospital both of our kids were born in, so it was a bit nostalgia-tinged!

Two kids: aged 2 and 4

This time last year our kids were aged two and four, and we took them to Vietnam for a few days in Saigon and a longer stint in Hoi An. We managed to mix beach time with lots of food, exploring and culture in Hoi An’s beautifully preserved Old Town, and overall this was a far more successful trip than the previous one.

Positives:

– Our youngest was far more independent and able to run around and explore alot more than on previous trips, while our four year old was far more outwardly focussed and observant of the world around her. She noticed alot more, asked lots of questions, was more interactive with people and got much more out of travelling than when she was three. The difference between three and four was huge!

– The kids could play with each other alot more. The previous year, our youngest was essentially still a baby, but this time she could play with her sister on the beach and in the pool.

Negatives:

– The last days of nappies and strollers – we still had a bit of ‘baby’ equipment to lug around.

– Tiredness – the youngest still needed a day sleep and sometimes even fell asleep while out at an early dinner.

For our upcoming trips with our now 3 and 5 year old kids, I am anticipating the following:

Positives:

– No more baby equipment (yay!). This will be our first family holiday without lugging a stroller around, and with no-one in nappies (or even swimming nappies). Our youngest is out of a cot too, so no need to organise for our hotel rooms to have cots either. On Koh Chang, we are staying in a bungalow with two double beds so the kids have their own. There’s been a lot of bed sharing in the last few years on our family trips, so this sounds like a pretty good setup!

– Screentime on the plane – this time last year, our then two year old had zero interest in anything screen-related on a plane ride from Sydney to Vietnam. Which meant I had to think of other ways to entertain her the entire way. Did I mention I was flying alone with the kids on this trip (we met my husband there as he was already over there for work)? Fun times! At three, our youngest has changed immensely and actually has a concentration span. This time around, the kids will hopefully watch lots of movies and TV shows!

Negatives:

– Potentially carrying the kids around alot – although I’m excited about finally travelling pramless, it is inevitable we’ll end up having to carry the kids around when they get tired. Not so much at the beach, but in the cities where we’ll no doubt end up walking long distances.

– The kids are now old enough to fight with each other(!)

As for the rest, we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m hoping it’ll be our most successful trip yet. I keep hearing how between 6 and 12 are the ‘golden years’ of family travel. Only a few more years and we’re there!

Do you have any family travel tips for different ages? Or an age range you’ve found the easiest for travel? Please share!

{Delhi eats} Veda Restaurant

Veda – a taste of decadent Delhi

Veda – a taste of decadent Delhi

One of the most amazing meals on our recent India trip was at the gorgeous Veda Restaurant in downtown New Delhi. Located on busy Connaught Place, it features a North Indian menu with lots of familiar dishes and some with interesting twists. It inhabits an opulent looking space (think ornate mirrors and chandeliers, a shimmery, glittery ceiling and lots of red), like Moulin Rouge meets fine Indian diner.

Veda Restaurant, New Delhi

Veda Restaurant, New Delhi

We went with a local friend who ordered an amazing spread of curries but insisted we try one thing – a whole leg of lamb on the bone, cooked in the tandoor. If you find yourself Delhi-bound, you must must must eat at Veda and order this dish! After a waiter dramatically set it alight as it was served, we tucked into succulent, slow cooked, charcoal-imbued spicy meat. The best lamb of my life.

Tandoori lamb leg at Veda

Tandoori lamb leg at Veda

The other standout must-order and a Veda signature dish is their crispy okra. We ate alot of okra in India but it was usually stewed or sauteed, however in this dish it was finely sliced, tossed with spices and a liberal amount of salt, and deep fried into crispy more-ish discs.

Veda is the perfect place to experience decadent, date night Delhi, or a world far removed from sightseeing in the heat. For more Delhi restaurant ideas (and there’s many – I needed more nights for Dum Pukht and Gunpowder!) see these round-ups by The Culture Trip and Travel + Leisure.

Veda Restaurant, 27 Outer Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi, +91 11 4151 3535, (website currently down).

Eating out with kids in Vietnam

Hoi An - great for families

I was recently interviewed by Rachael from All Abroad Baby on my best tips for eating out in Vietnam with kids. If you’ve been reading since A Girl in Asia days, you may know we lived in Vietnam for a couple of years, moving there from Cambodia with one baby then having a second towards the end of our time in Vietnam. We definitely did our fair share (and then some) of eating out in Vietnam with babies and toddler in tow, and enjoyed taking them back this time last year for a holiday (especially great as they were (just) over that stage of having to explore every restaurant instead of stay at the table!). Overall, I highly recommend family travel in Vietnam – there are so many wins, from fresh, wholesome food to kind, tolerant people.

Read on for my tips and thoughts on food issues in Vietnam, from hygiene fears to ordering options to attitudes to kids in cafes:

What options are there for eating out with kids?

So many! From street-food stalls to high-end restaurants and five-star hotels, and everything in between. There are a lot of family-run restaurants, but if you’re new to the region and a little unsure, a good start is a Vietnamese chain, like Pho 24 or Wrap & Roll, which have a fantastic selection of spring rolls and other local snacks served up in a clean environment.

Of course, there are restaurants running the gamut of most popular international cuisines, but if you’re in Vietnam for a short time you should probably forego pizza for phở (noodle soup) or steak for bò lá lốt (beef wrapped in pepper leaf).

Is it safe for kids to eat out in Vietnam?

In our time living in Vietnam with a baby, and eventually, a toddler and a newborn (and when we returned on a family holiday late last year), we were lucky to not have any food or drink-related illnesses (though this has occurred elsewhere in South East Asia and it’s not pretty!).

Generally, food is prepared hygienically, ice in drinks is manufactured from bottled water and ingredients are extremely fresh, with most people shopping daily for meat and fresh produce. Even my much-frequented ‘pineapple lady’ at a local market used to sit carving sweet, juicy pineapples wearing disposable gloves, preparing the fruit on a meticulously clean table (despite the dogs, flies and muddy surrounds!).

In fact, contrary to some travel advice, the street food in Vietnam is some of the freshest, healthiest options as the dishes are mostly cooked to order, prepared in front of you and using just-bought produce. Once, when our first baby was about eight months old, a Vietnamese friend bought some quail eggs and noodles from a street vendor and started feeding her without me realising! And guess what? She was totally fine!

What kind of kid-friendly foods are available?

It depends how fussy your kids are, but spring rolls – either fried or fresh – are often winners, as are the many Vietnamese noodle dishes available. Bánh xèo is a crispy pancake filled with prawns, pork and bean sprouts. It’s delicious and not spicy at all (before condiments are added). Our kids have enjoyed this at local restaurants.

Grilled meats can also be a hit. And of course, there’s rice! Lots of western-style cafes have things like dips with vegetable sticks and healthy sandwiches, or the old kid-friendly standby – fries. Most kids will love the array of fresh juices on offer too, which are so much healthier than the preservative and sugar-laden manufactured kind. For hydration on a typical humid day in Vietnam, a coconut sipped with a straw is novel and delicious for most visiting children.

What are people’s attitudes to kids in cafes and restaurants like?

Overall, Vietnamese diners are extremely warm and welcoming of children, often noticeably more than at home. In terms of facilities, some high-end or westernised restaurants may have highchairs available, but many don’t, so if you have older babies or toddlers, you may like to bring a fabric tie-on seat to use. On a holiday when our youngest was just over one, it was the most useful thing – no squirming toddler on our laps while eating, and she felt secure and comfortable (while the attention span at the table lasted anyway!).

Generally, young children are doted on in public places in Vietnam, and if you have a baby, people may want to touch or hold them, which can turn out to be a useful thing! Your kids may also be given free things to eat as ‘treats’ by well-meaning strangers, and these will usually be something sweet, or packets of chips!

What if I need to change my baby’s nappy or breastfeed?

Nappy changing facilities are few and far between, so you’ll have to improvise with a portable change mat (another recommended must-bring). Unlike in Australia – or even places like Singapore – it’s rare (or even impossible) to find a dedicated breastfeeding space, so again, improvisation is necessary.

I never felt entirely comfortable breastfeeding in public in Vietnam, unless I had a big sarong or scarf covering my baby (which was awkward and hot). I think it was because I never saw local women breastfeeding in public, like it wasn’t the done thing (Vietnamese women have a long period of rest at home after having a baby, and many switch to formula quite early, believing it to be better for the baby, from what I’ve heard from Vietnamese friends anyway).

Any cafes in particular that you recommend for families?

Generally, most places (aside from trendy wine and cocktail bars with restaurants or very high-end establishments) are kid-friendly, though even some of these are fine if you go in the late afternoon! Some standout venues include Snap Cafe in Saigon, complete with outdoor playground, yard and kids menu, and Dingo Deli in Hoi An, which as you can probably guess has an Australian influence (it’s run by an Australian/Canadian family). It features a fantastic wooden playground structure, a sandpit, swings, and even a flying fox.

Parks with playgrounds are few and far between in Vietnam, so cafes with playgrounds are a godsend for small kids to let off some steam. At beach destinations in Vietnam, there are often places to eat right on the sand, which kids (and adults) love. Generally, most cafes cater to kids in some way, though you may need to explain what a babycino is (and you’ll often receive a cup of hot frothless milk if you do!). Overall, Vietnam is exceedingly family-friendly, and you may even find eating out is less of a hassle than it is at home!

This post was originally published on All Abroad Baby.

{Travel tips} How to make India an easier experience

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India is undoubtedly one of the most challenging places you can travel, yet many believe the challenges are more than compensated with the rewards. After my first trip there – an extended backpacking adventure – I didn’t feel this way. I experienced the touts, the ripoffs, the oppressive heat and crowds, the whole cliched runaround, complete with Delhi belly. But my recent trip back was an entirely different experience (hint – there were no backpacks involved this time!).

Here are five tips on how you can experience all the amazing bits of India while minimising the hassle factor:

1) Pre-organise transfers

If you’re a hardcore, independent backpacker this may seem like a soft option, but on reflection, dealing with touts when arriving in each new city or town was the number one worst aspect of my first India foray. In India, finding a ride is a huge source of stress, and transport hubs can attract the worst kinds of touts. There is nothing nicer than being whisked away from the crowds in an air-conditioned car which takes you straight to your accommodation, no negotiating necessary! If there’s anywhere in the world you should book a transfer, India has to be it.

2) Lower your expectations

Know that in India, you will witness unparalleled poverty, beggars, slums, cow poo on the street and many a street dog. (But in contrast, there is majestic beauty, stunning architecture and many perfumed and delicious smells!). The more you can prepare yourself for what you might see and experience in India, the better. If you expect conditions in India to even be comparable to those in other developing countries, you may be sorely disappointed. Case in point – a Vietnamese friend ventured to India, her first trip outside Vietnam, and was absolutely shocked at the rubbish on the streets and the living conditions she witnessed. Expect the worst and you may be pleasantly surprised, like when you discover immaculately maintained gardens surrounding temples and monuments, offering precious respite from the chaotic streets.

3) Feign total disinterest in touts

One huge lesson I’ve learnt is not to engage with touts, whether it’s an auto rickshaw driver you don’t want to use or a postcard-selling kid who won’t stop pestering you. This may seem obvious, but what I mean is to not engage in any way, positive or negative. Once upon a time I was stupidly polite to such people – ‘Oh, no thanks, not today’. This can be seen as an opportunity for further dialogue, that you’re sort of interested or are an easy target who may give in. But the alternative isn’t to be rude either, as that can also result in further harassment. The best reaction if followed by a relentless tout is to feign total disinterest. Look bored beyond belief, maybe give your head a slight shake, and don’t even make eye contact. Keep walking. There is no comeback from the tout if you don’t offer a one-liner, and they’ll quickly move onto another tourist more willing to chat back. Also – never, ever try and deflect any kind of seller with ‘Maybe tomorrow’, as your gentle let down may be taken literally. You will be hunted down and harassed the next day!

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108 Shiva temple in Kalna

 

4) Venture off the beaten path

A huge difference to your India experience may be made if you veer off the well-trodden tourist trail to lesser visited regions. Outside, say, Agra or the main cities in Rajasthan, you may find people are warmer, friendlier, less ‘out to get you’. On this trip, I visited some small towns and villages in West Bengal where people were smiling, friendly, welcoming, or simply went about their daily life. They weren’t so used to tourists, so either ignored us or excitedly engaged with us, with no agenda other than to have a chat, pose for a photo, or snap photos of us with their own camera phones (in a non-threatening way). Visiting places beyond the big drawcards provides a refreshing antidote to negative interactions that might damage your perceptions of Indian people. ‘Real’ Indian people are friendly, hospitable, interesting, funny and wonderful. I now know this.

5) Stay hydrated, cool and clean – when you can

It’s no easy feat to avoid the discomforts that come with travelling in extreme heat and humidity, and sightseeing in crowded, not always clean places. It’s also inevitable you’ll get an upset stomach in India, unless you have a digestive tract of steel. Some things you can do to maximise comfort include carrying a small packet of tissues, as many public toilets at tourist sites are of the squat variety with no toilet paper, use hand sanitiser, particularly before eating (hand wipes or baby wipes are useful too), toting and drinking water all day long (coconuts are also great, if available), sticking to vegetarian food in establishments you’re a little unsure of, and carrying a small umbrella for both unexpected downpours and to shade you from harsh midday sun. I also found a cotton scarf draped around my neck doubled as something to protect my neck from sunburn and soak up the endless outpouring of sweat.

Have you ever travelled to India, or do you dream of going? Do you have any tips to share on how to make travel in India (or anywhere else) ‘easier’? I’d love to hear them!

Return to India: impressions then and now

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Without wanting to sound too cliched (or like I’m channeling Sarah MacDonald in Holy Cow – which does happen to be one of my favourite books, and is still #1 on the bestseller stand at Delhi’s airport bookstores!) I didn’t really love India the first time I visited. The touts, the beggars, the crowds, the constant haggling and the non-stop staring all ate away at me until I had to hightail it back to my beloved Koh Chang for blissed out beach time (after turning into a crazed, bitter, jaded and slightly screamy version of me, complete with raging fever, churning insides and rider of hellish bus journeys while so ill I was bordering on hallucinatory). But that was a decade ago and some things have changed.

I’m so pleased to report that this time around I’m feeling a whole lot more love for India! The chaos and the sensory assault of all things India don’t seem as intense as they did before. It’s somehow not as intimidating. I don’t feel like I’m being stared at or harassed as much as I was previously. I see past the decay, the mess, the crowds – I see colour and life and beauty.

I’m loving genuine smiles, cute kids, stunning saris, intoxicating colours, wafts of incense, mutual smartphone photo-fests, where it’s hard to tell who is more curious about who, faded, crumbling buildings full of charm and potential, religious icons – everywhere, stalls laden with colourful garlands brightening dusty streets, schoolgirls in immaculate white uniforms weaving their way through chaos on their bicycles, sugarcane stands, chai wallahs, religious and historical monuments on a grand, mindblowing scale. Mosques and churches and Hindu temples and minarets and the call to prayer and Hindu chants and blessings and offerings. Sandalwood oil massaged into my hair and charcoal mixed with ghee pressed into my forehead by a Hindu priest. I’m seeing India with my eyes, head and heart wide open.

A toast to travel

Pinot Noir

Disclaimer: the wine products featured in this post were generously supplied by online wine distributor Wine Selectors. Despite this, the opinions are totally honest, and of course, 100% my own!

I don’t know about you, but I feel like something is missing when I don’t have a trip to look forward to. So much so, that while on one trip, we usually start talking about and planning the next. If there’s nothing on my travel horizon, I fill the void with daytrips or urban adventures to far-flung suburbs in search of something new and delicious to eat, or to experience a window into another culture. But lately this hasn’t been enough. I need ‘real’ travel!

Enter – real travel plans! This time next week, I’ll be soaring away to India, to explore the Ganges and Hooghly Rivers by boat, with time in Delhi, Varanasi and Calcutta, plus some far-flung villages in between. And a few months later, we’re Southeast Asia-bound, for city fun in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and some family beach time. Cue – major excitement and cause for consuming bubbles (err, any excuse will do!).

Wine Selectors have released the Chef Series range of wines, with each wine matched with dishes by some well known local chefs. The wines were developed in conjunction with some highly regarded, handpicked wine producers to culminate in a carefully curated wine range. The Alistair Macleod Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV, by Tasmanian producer Josef Chromy, offers the perfect celebratory drink. Think a beautiful light straw colour, sufficiently dry yet with enough of a hint of fruit flavour, and the ideal match for Brisbane-based Alistair’s rock oysters suggestion (his recipes are available on the Wine Selectors site). This is a serious contender for my new favourite local sparkling, and makes me wonder why we sometimes fork out for actual champagne when quality Australian sparkling can be so good?!

We also tried a Tasmanian pinot noir from the range. I’ve had a slight obsession with Tassie pinot this year after an amazing long weekend in Hobart, so drinking it now reminds me of our Hobart restaurant and bar hopping, and a sunny afternoon spent soaking up all things MONA at their adjoining winery and bar. Bliss. The Ian Parmenter Pinot Noir 2011 (also by Josef Chromy) was up there with the best I’ve tasted – smooth, delicate, intricate and highly drinkable. Ian is a cooking show presenter and director of the Tasting Australia festival, and has matched this wine to a dish of roast pork with prune and macadamia stuffing. It also goes wonderfully well with a cheese plate.

Our Hobart sojourn provided a taster of Tasmania’s amazing wine and produce, and I’m loving discovering more Tasmanian wines from afar. I think a return trip might be brewing…something to think about on the plane to India perhaps!

Living in Asia: What’s it really like?


During the almost three years I’ve called Asia home, many friends, family members, acquaintances and well-meaning strangers have asked me lots and lots of questions about what life here is like. They range from the really general and sometimes hard to answer “so, what’s it like?” to the just-don’t-get-it “but what do you EAT there?!”. Then there are the skeptical questions like “you had a baby in Bangkok, what was THAT like?!” (with nose screwed up). I’ll do my best to clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about life in Asia (as an expat), though this is by no means an exhaustive list of the questions I get asked (or other expats) get asked:

Q:Are there many other expats there? (By the way, these qs pertain to life in both Phnom Penh and Saigon)

A: Yes – thousands and thousands, from all over the world! So many no-one ever seems to know the exact number (and of course, it’s ever-changing). Phnom Penh has many, many foreigners working for NGO’s (from outrageously high paid staff at the UN etc. through to volunteers at grassroots organisations). Then there are embassy workers, English teachers, bar owners, and a growing corporate/business community involved in all sorts of industries from hospitality and tourism to banking. In Saigon there’s a hugely diverse mix too, though the expat community seems to be more business oriented than Phnom Penh’s. So basically, no, I’m not a lone western female eliciting curious stares and I’m not considered special or unique – there are many of us!
Q: So, what do you EAT there?! (one of my favourite questions – hilarious don’t you think?)
A: Um, what don’t I eat?! It’s Asia – not another planet! For starters, I still cook at home alot and make similar things I used to make at home (but take advantage of the great local produce so lots of things using coriander, lime, lemongrass, mint etc.). In both PP and Saigon there are restaurants of every (well, almost) cuisine under the sun, plus an abundance of local eateries from cheap street eats through to classy, high-end restaurants showcasing the best of Khmer or Vietnamese cuisine. There are western-style cafes, French restaurants, pizzerias, kebab shops – you name it! And no, it’s not all food poisoning and tummy troubles (the once or twice we’ve ever been sick living in Asia was from western restaurants, not local! And never from street food!). Which brings me to my next point…
Q: You can’t drink the water there, can you?
A: Well, I don’t drink the tap water but I’ve heard of a few brave souls who insist the water in PP and Saigon is absolutely fine to drink and don’t seem to be any worse for wear for it! Most people (myself included) have a water cooler at home – the kind you find in offices – and get refills delivered. Others just boil and cool the tap water and this is fine too. You just get used to it and when you go to a western country it actually feels strange pouring a glass of water out of the tap! Oh and as for the ice question – that you should be wary of ice in restaurants is rubbish – ice is made in factories in Asia from purified water, it’s totally fine! Trust me!
Q:What about going to the doctor? Is it safe?
A: It depends where you go. There are western standard (and trained) doctors in Phnom Penh and Saigon and it’s just like going to the doctor at home. Then there are some dodgy local clinics that are rife with misdiagnosis and shoddy hygiene etc. but only the stingiest of expats would put their health at risk by going somewhere unreliable for health matters.
Q: You had a baby in Bangkok – what was THAT like?!
A: Yes, I did and it was great! Well the childbirth part was no picnic but the medical facilities, great staff and level of care were amazing! I had my baby in Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok, which not only has hotel room-like recovery suites but shops and cafes in the lobby – you can even ring and order Starbucks and dim sum (and more) and have it delivered to your room. If it wasn’t for the having a baby part, it would have been like a holiday. Oh and the other question relating to this I get asked is, “So is your baby Thai now?” No – while it’d be cool if she got dual citizenship she was only eligible for Australian citizenship (the rules!).
Q:So what’s it like there? (the ultimate question!)
A: How to sum up?! It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s enjoyable, it’s sometimes frustrating and challenging, it’s sometimes cheap, it’s sometimes expensive, it’s chaotic, it’s peaceful, it’s close to lots of other great places to travel, it’s an adventure some of the time and it’s mundane and ‘normal’ at others. It’s also what you make of it and often about the people you meet and spend time with (one of the absolute best parts). It can be addictive, and it’s something I’m really glad I’m doing – I totally recommend it to anyone considering a move to this diverse, crazy, amazing continent called Asia!
Do you (as an expat or long-term traveller) have any questions about your life you’re always answering? And for non-Asia dwellers, is there something you’ve always wondered about what life in Asia is really like?

Cafe crush: Kita Coffee House


Kita Coffee House seems to fly under the radar a bit when it comes to Saigon’s western-style cafes. Others like Au Parc, Juice and La Fenetre Soleil are justifiably popular and you always see them mentioned in local mags and guidebooks, but Kita’s – not so much (it is fairly new though). It serves really great, healthy sandwiches and salads (especially yum – the goat cheese and roast red pepper salad on brown baguette), a deli counter for takeaway gourmet goods, and excellent Lavazza coffee at slightly cheaper prices than the norm (30,000 dong for a cappuccino or latte – a bit less than US$2). I really like the decor too – it’s fresh, contemporary, bright (yellow/white/browns) and tiny. I’m obsessed with tiny places at the moment – I guess it’s the cute and cosy factor, which Kita’s has in droves. New favourite!

[Update: as of February 2010, Kita can no longer be described as tiny! It underwent extensive renovations that transformed the decor from contemporary to Parisian, plus the ground floor was expanded and two more floors were added!! While it’s no longer a cosy bolthole, it remains one of my favourites, retaining the same great menu with new additions. And the coffee’s still the best!]

Kita Coffee House, 39 Nguyen Hue, D1, Saigon

Saigon eats: Chilli salt prawns

Chilli salt prawns have to be one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes sampled so far. I had this dish for the first time at the excellent Quan An Ngon – a Saigon must-do (a collection of the country’s best street vendors all stationed in one indoor/outdoor restaurant with a colonial building in the centre – it’s amazing).

The above picture was taken at a local seafood restaurant we went to recently called Bon Thien. The prawns were coated in a spicy chilli salt mixture and grilled, which made eating the shell essential to take in the flavour. We also dipped the prawns in a mixture of pepper, salt and lime juice for an even greater flavour boost (not that they needed it!).