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Awesomeness at LEGOLAND – Part 2, LEGOLAND Theme Park & Water Park

December 30, 2014

After we did the slowly slowly thing on Day One of our getaway to LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort, and thoroughly just relaxed and enjoyed the hotel facilities and activities, you would think that we would start on our chiong-like-crazy (or dash like mad, for our non-Singlish folks) thing on Day Two since we were very kindly sponsored a Theme Park and Water Park One-Day Combo Pass.

It was really generous of LEGOLAND to give us a One-Day Combo Pass, but it did inevitably translate to some kind of rushing stress to make full use of every single hour of the parks’ opening, and cover everything we can to make the ticket worth it.

So again we had to consciously decide NOT to rush; to do the slowly slowly, and to even be prepared to buy tickets on the third day if we wanted to spend more leisurely time at the park.

We were sure hell-bent on doing the Slowly Slowly Movement for this trip.

So did we manage to enjoy two parks in one day? Yes, we did. And we didn’t rush like crazy and only because we did what we felt we want to do. This included returning to the hotel for a one-hour nap.

Here’s what we did, and how we did it:

1. We did make some effort to wake up earlier, instead of at anytime we wanted.

We woke up at 8.30 am, got dressed and prepped our day-pack with caps, raincoats and water. We slapped on sunblock and mozzie repellent, headed to the Bricks Family Restaurant (remember to factor in the wait to be seated!), ate our usual portion for breakfast (as opposed to going for many rounds even if it was a buffet!), did one toileting round at the hotel and headed to join the queue by 9.55 am.

2. We entered the Theme Park at 10 am sharp and turned right.

There was a human swell at about 9.50 am but the queues moved pretty fast the moment the gates opened. The moment we were inside, I rented a double stroller for RM22.50 (hotel guests get a discount, compared to the usual rental rate of RM45) and we turned right from The Beginning to head straight to Lego City. I’ve read on many blog reviews that the right side of the park was catered more for younger children, and since I have a 5, 4 and 2 year-old, it only made the most sense that we got them to enjoy what the park had to offer them. I’ve also briefly walked around the Theme Park when Ben and I were invited to preview the Star Wars Miniland Model Display earlier in September this year, so I was sort of familiar with the layout and map.

Picture Credit: LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort

Picture Credit: LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort

3. We only did things that we would all be happy doing together, including waiting for one another.

This meant queuing only if everyone agreed to join the queue (or wait for whoever who wanted to ride to queue and finish) and promising to wait patiently.

There was no queue for Junior Driving School (the first thing that greeted us at Lego City) and even then only Ben was game enough for it. The circuit was uncomplicated and the experience was completed in no time.

Ben at Junior Driving School

Ben at Junior Driving School

I say 5 is the golden age where a kid is game to try anything!

I say 5 is the golden age where a kid is game to try anything!

You can get a proper card license with your photo at RM20

You can get a proper card license with your photo at RM20

Say! Driver's license!

Say! Driver’s license!

We waited for his “driver licence” (which we paid a fee of RM20 for) longer than the drive and queue put together (had to fill in form for name, make payment, wait for print, etc), but it was a good warm-up for the kids to understand what it was like being in a theme park. Until now, the only theme park they have been to was Hongkong Disneyland, which I’m not sure whether they remember.

We queued at the Boating School for a bit, and steering the battery powered boat was one memorable experience.

Steering a powered boat for the first time

Steering a powered boat for the first time

It's nice to go boating

It’s nice to go boating

It was around then it started to get really scorching hot. The heat was beginning to get to us. And we were not even there for two hours yet. Although I’d rather the sun than rain, my family and I don’t really function very well under heat. If you follow this blog, you would recall how happy Ben and Becks were when it poured all through our 5-km walk for the Hello Kitty Run earlier in November.

So. Some people were gradually turning into grumpy pots by about 11 am actually.

Not so smiley anymore sitting on Santa's sleigh, as you can see

Not so smiley anymore sitting on Santa’s sleigh, as you can see

We then ventured into Rescue Academy to put out the fire and stop the robbers, and despite the fact that our family of 5 had to be broken up into two to take two fire engines, it was a really exciting activity for all of us. This, no queue at all.

There's a fire, and we headed for the rescue mission

There’s a fire, and we headed for the rescue mission; pity we didn’t manage to snap anything of ourselves moving the fire engine manually!

We then retreated into Lego City Stage for the show, When Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney, at 11.30 am; and I would be the first to admit that it didn’t really matter what I was watching. I was just so glad to have air-con.

So we learnt, that Santa got stuck in the chimney, and he's a real dude that comes every Christmas if you believe!

So we learnt, that Santa got stuck in the chimney, and he’s a real dude that comes every Christmas if you believe!

With the cast of the show

With the cast of the show

So we didn’t take the LEGOLAND Express (queue was too long), didn’t go for any other rides except Lost Kingdom and Beetle Bounce at the Land of Adventure, didn’t ride the roller coasters at Lego Kingdom and didn’t take the water plunge at Dino Island after the show. Many rides appeared too daunting for Nat and Becks, and it was always “No, don’t want”, when we asked if we should go for this and that. My little girl just sat on the stroller people-watching half the time, and Nat was pretty shaken after going on the Beetle Bounce. Ben was the only one game to try everything, but the heat by 12 noon got to us quite a bit, and we decided to play carnival games instead (which were all around in booths and very expensive!) and stop at Burger Junction for lunch.

Nat looking ghastly going for the Beetle Bounce drop

Nat looking ghastly going for the Beetle Bounce drop

After a nice lunch at Burger Junction, the kids were more game to take some pictures and were happy just to watch bigger kids play at the Build & Test site (it’s also air-conditioned), where they built cars and tested them in circuits and ramps. Ben and Fatherkao braved the heat to try out the Kids Power Tower which was really fun for all of us watching. We then played a few more carnival games and walked away with two stuffed tigers and a unicorn, and were happy to head back to the hotel for a nap.

Bigger boys playing at Build & Test

Bigger boys playing at Build & Test

Ben with Laval from Legends of Chima

Ben with Laval from Legends of Chima

Brontosaurus!

Brontosaurus!

And Nat's favourite - triceratops!

And Nat’s favourite – triceratops!

Video: Kids Power Tower

Ah, LEGOLAND. If only the trees around us were a little taller, wider and stronger. The heat made all of us more tired than we normally would be, and we had to go back to sleep a bit.

We were really glad to have the hotel room to escape from the heat.

4. We spent two hours at the Water Park.

When we woke up from our nap, it was about 4 pm. The next two hours spent at the Water Park was spent in a light drizzle (unpredictable weather, what’s new?).

But it meant the mood was cheerier because the air was lighter and the heat was gone. And I’d buy tickets to just enter this park instead in a heartbeat anytime.

Because?

Because even though these two couldn’t go on most of the slides, they were contented to sit for a long, long time by the wave pool. Chatting and laughing.

And it was such a joy to watch.

Just cautiously sitting together by the Wave Pool, Nat and Becks

Just cautiously sitting together by the Wave Pool, Nat and Becks

Talking and laughing...

Talking and laughing…

...And people-watching in silence

…And people-watching in silence

Although there were over 20 thrilling slides here at the Water Park, Becks and Nat were totally at home at the Duplo Splash Safari and the Wave Pool, while Fatherkao and Ben were happy to go again and again for Red Rush, Build-a-Raft River and Splash n Swirl.

Me? I was as pathetic as pathetic can be sitting around in the drizzle just watching everyone in action as I had to entertain a “visitor”. It was that time of the month. And alas, I looked around for tampons at the Medini Mall and found none.

LEGOLAND Water Park, I’ll come back for you.

On hindsight, we might have done better visiting the Water Park first with the combo pass, and head to the Theme Park later in the evening at 5 pm. But I’m not sure if that would have satisfied the Lego fans under my charge, because the Theme Park had a lot more Lego awesomeness than the Water Park. But, oh well.

5. Bathe at breakneck speed and go back to LEGOLAND Theme Park before it closes at 8 pm

Ok, this was the only thing we rushed our kids after the Water Park closed at 6 pm. We hurried them in the shower at the hotel, and almost ran back to the Theme Park (which extended opening hours to 8 pm in December). We managed to go on Project X, the 18-metre high roller coaster  – me, Ben and Fatherkao – twice in the cool of the evening, but that was it.

By the time we finished touring Star Wars Miniland, the rides at Lego Kingdom were closed (they shut down at 7 pm). We had hoped to go on the Dragon’s Apprentice and the Royal Joust when it was cooler in the evening, but didn’t know the rides shut at 7 pm. I don’t know why we thought it was 8 pm.

It's closed, the Dragon Apprentice, and we're really sad!

It’s closed, the Dragon Apprentice, and we’re really sad!

Nonetheless, we soaked in the sights of Christmas lights and the voices of Christmas carolling the last hour we were there at the Theme Park. After the drizzle that day, it was finally cool and the awesomeness of LEGO happened for us all once again.

Chrismas carolling

Chrismas carolling

The 9-metre high Christmas Lego Tree made of 427, 695 Lego Duplo bricks, decorated with hand-built ornaments: what a sight!

The 9-metre high Christmas Lego Tree made of 427, 695 Lego Duplo bricks, decorated with hand-built ornaments: what a sight!

***

Might I make a few suggestions, LEGOLAND?

  • If you had night tickets like that of Universal Studios Singapore during the Christmas season (where you can choose to buy tickets only for entry from 5-9pm), I would gladly buy them. The heat may be a little unbearable for younger children.

 

  • To solve the problem of unpredictable weather, perhaps more tents and canopies? We were ready with caps and sunscreen and brollies, but still. It would be great if the park was more covered so we can have temporary relief from heat, or rain, for that matter.

 

  • Could we please have water points? Most theme parks do! I brought my helper along, and I was glad to have lugged her for this trip because the sole purpose of her being there was to help us with the water for the three kids and to make sure all of us were hydrated. I read from reviews there were no water coolers available, so I came prepared. I can’t imagine those who didn’t, and like me, have 3 young kids in tow. Can’t possibly be going around hunting for stores and snack bars to buy water, right?
  • Would you consider offering an Express Queue system? In the heat, I might gladly pay. So I might be able to ride more rides with less stress. And the adrenaline, instead of the heat and queuing, might get all of us going.

Apologies if I sound like such a wuss. Just some suggestions.

***

Having said all these, I am extremely, extremely thankful for this wonderful opportunity to be found in LEGOLAND Resort. Like the hotel, we love the details. We were wowed, especially at Miniland, by every single Lego-constructed mini monument and landscape. We were impressed at the awesomeness of seeing almost life-sized dinos, animals, people and things, constructed all by Lego. The fans in the house were very gratified, because that – that is the awesomeness of falling in love with Lego over and over again.

Beyond the rides and queues and carnival games.

Beyond the thrill of splashing down a slide for the third time or going up a roller coaster.

To us, the beauty of Lego is the ability to imagine and build, and has always been the reason why we love Lego.

Thank you, LEGOLAND Malaysia, for being such a generous host!

This was us, doing the L-E-G-O!

This was us, doing the L-E-G-O!

Disclosure: This review is in no way representative of the views of LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort. We were kindly sponsored a family one-day combo pass and meal vouchers for the purpose of this post. All opinions here, including experiencing heat and waves of awesomeness, are our own.

All this blog's PR Stuff Christmas happiness Going Out! Happy days Holidays! Reviews The Kao Kids

Awesomeness at LEGOLAND – Part 1, the Hotel

December 27, 2014
LEGOLAND Hotel Welcome

LEGOLAND Hotel Welcome

If Disneyland is the place where magic happens, then LEGOLAND is the place of awesomeness.

I must be one of the last few people from the island of Singapore to go to LEGOLAND at Iskandar Malaysia. Almost everyone I know can boast of a ‘been there, done that‘.

I’ve been biding my time, waiting for Nat to finally hit a height of at least 90 cm so he can be allowed to take some rides at the theme park and the time has finally come.

So to LEGOLAND we go! How can we not be found in a place of endless awesomeness of Lego, Lego and more Lego this holidays when I have ardent Lego fans in the house?

We checked out the LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort’s hotel, theme park and water park earlier this December, and here are the highlights (as well as the not-so-high ones, as you will read) of our short getaway by car, with three children aged 5, 4 and 2 in tow.

Presenting, Motherkao’s very own review on LEGOLAND Hotel, using the acrostics (what else?) L-E-G-O-L-A-N-D…

*drumroll, please*

Leaving Singapore for the LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort

The LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort is definitely nearer than we thought it was. It was a relatively smooth ten-minute drive the moment we set off after custom clearance at Tuas Second Link. It was easy to drive there (Tuas Checkpoint SGD3.20 using the cashcard and only one toll to pass in Malaysia at RM15, so prep your Touch ‘n’ Go card), and much more direct than we had expected. Basically, just drive till you see Nusajaya Exit 312 and follow the huge brown ‘LEGOLAND’ signs that point you to the direction of LEGOLAND.

It was that easy – drive straight all the way, exit at 312 Nusajaya, look for the brown. Totally idiot-proof.

Map from LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort Website. More directions here.

Map from LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort Website. More directions here.

We were going to be checking in to the hotel, so we parked at the hotel carpark. It’s free-of-charge for guests and RM30 if you’re not an inhouse guest. Parking is sheltered and the carpark has ample spaces for parking (two basements), with many cars parked backside in (so I assumed it’s pretty safe, considering we were advised to park head in in Malaysia).

Exchange and Fair Trade

The Wall of Minifigs at the LEGOLAND Hotel Malaysia

The Wall of Minifigs at the LEGOLAND Hotel Malaysia

Prior to making this trip, I learned about the practise of swapping LEGO minifigures (also affectionately known as minifigs, in Lego-speak) from Wacky Duo’s post. Apparently, it’s a tradition which began in LEGOLAND Florida in which a complete minifig can be exchanged or traded with any staff in the resort who has a nametag that reads’ TRADE WITH ME’ as frequent and as often as possible.

If you’ve read Wacky Duo’s experience trying to do the minifig exchange (that was in October this year), you’d have learned that it wasn’t as pleasant as they had hoped it would be. Nonetheless, I placed my confidence, albeit a little too early,  on this piece of press release by LEGOLAND and told Ben (the biggest Lego fan in the house and the owner of I-don’t-know-how-many minifigs) to prepare some for making exchanges. You know how those Lego blind packs work, right? How you can end up with the same figure five times after opening five packs.

So yea, I told him to fix up all his extras, pack them in his luggage and do his swaps should he find someone he wants to trade with.

At the hotel, we waited and looked around while playing at the lobby for exchanges to take place which we could witness. Nothing. No one did any. No trading was taking place. Curious, I asked the staff at the reception if the practice of swapping minifigs was scrapped. He smiled and said it still very much was ongoing, and asked if we wanted to exchange with him.

And then the LEGO-AWESOMENESS happened. My son, at 5 years of age, mustered his courage to exchange his first minifig, and there was no turning back.

Ben exchanged his minifig for a race car dude

Ben exchanged his minifig for a race car dude

Unlike what Wacky Duo experienced (the staff rejecting exchanges because minfigs were glued to their tags), everyone whom we subsequently asked, spoke with or even leaned close to just to examine their minifigs shared in the excitement of the minifigs trade. A very huge improvement since October 2014.

Ben then went on to exchange his second and third, and even gave his sister the courage to exchange hers.

She likes the funky girl on this lady's nametag - and mustered courage to ask her to trade

She likes the funky girl on this lady’s nametag – and mustered courage to ask her to trade

Sure, the lady said, and the exchange happened

Sure, the lady said, and the exchange happened!

Happy to have completed the trade successfully!

Happy to have completed the trade successfully!

And I had to join in the fun to exchange one, too. I was in LEGOLAND, for crying out loud, and I must do my part to keep this tradition alive, yes?

I liked his disco ball dude, so I exchanged my grunge guitarist; we kept the accessories cos' the 'Model Citizens' (the staff at LEGOLAND Hotel) do not have accessories to their minifigs

I liked his disco ball dude, so I exchanged my grunge guitarist; we kept the accessories cos’ the ‘Model Citizens’ (the staff at LEGOLAND Hotel) do not have accessories for their minifigs

Now, that’s some awesomeness there. We were happy owners of new minifigs, completely mixed and matched in randomness, and totally loving them.

Remember to keep the tradition alive and bring some minifigs for swapping the next time you come!

Goosebumped by some unpleasant birds at Bricks Family Restaurant

Gourmet Bricks Family Restaurant

Bricks Family Restaurant

The Bricks Family Restaurant is the place where buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. The LEGOLAND hotel has 249 rooms in total, so you can imagine what a feat it would be feeding all the hotel guests at breakfast.

Because breakfast time for most normal, functioning human families starts from 9am to 10am, the human traffic swells to an all-time high at this place at this peak hour. A wait of 10 minutes or more is usually expected before you get a table, which was fine by us, since the feeling of hunger can be easily forgotten by the distractions all around the entrance of the Bricks Family Restaurant, namely the soft Lego play pits and Xbox corner.

Clowning around the huge Lego sundae

Clowning around the huge Lego sundae

Stepping on soft Lego blocks

Stepping on soft Lego blocks

I’m ok with waiting (but not for too long) during my holidays, really. We didn’t really wait very long anyway. 15 minutes thereabouts to me is acceptable.

But I am not ok fending off crows.

The first time we had breakfast there at this restaurant, we were seated outside.

I know crows are nobody’s fault, but it was harrowing to be eating with crows watching us, ready to attack our food the moment we were gone. And since it’s a buffet, how many times would we be gone? And the thing with crows is that they are oblivious to young children. Smaller children are hardly humans they should be fearful of, and I constantly feared for our lives having that meal. I know I’m exaggerating a bit here but you get the drift.

I get goosebumps having a crow or two watch me eat. I am terrified of crows. And my children too.

Outdoor dining

I don’t have any pictures of crows to show you, but please tell the Bricks Family Restaurant folks you want to sit inside rather than out if you don’t like crows too. This is where we dined when we were watched by hawk-like crows.

On our second day we were assigned indoor seats, thankfully. And that was when I could taste my food a whole lot better, even though I was also constantly worrying for the children who were outside. Anyway, since I could taste my food a little better than the day before, I am so not glad to be saying that the food didn’t taste fantastic. It was mass cooked, for sure; and I wouldn’t blame the folks either because serving up breakfast to so many people everyday during crowded school holidays season sure isn’t an easy thing (the restaurant can seat up to 465 guests). Nonetheless, it was disappointing to not get good food in Malaysia.

Because Malaysia to me has always been about good food.

Other Hotel Facilities and the Slowly Slowly Movement

LEGOLAND Hotel itself deserves one full day of your time to explore and to immerse yourself in.

Legoland Hotel entrance, with a fiery dragon to welcome us!

Legoland Hotel entrance, with a fiery dragon to welcome us!

I will state from the onset that their check-in and check-out times will make a fool out of you if you’re a true LEGO fan – who would love any moment of admiring the details in Lego construction and pieces – and if you intend for your stay at the hotel to be only one night and not more.

Check-in is at 4pm and check-out is at 11am. Tell me, how to stay only for one night?

Most people that have done the hotel stay and park visits will tell you that the best way to experience the entire resort is to stay for at least two nights. I’m glad we did. We were very kindly hosted by LEGOLAND for our first night, and offered corporate rates for our second, complete with a  complimentary one-day Theme Park and Water Park combo pass for the entire family.

The kiasu mother in me had grand plans to make the best of our stay. The grand plan, like what most people’s itinerary (or so I heard and read), was to hit the road by 8am, reach the hotel to leave our luggage by 9.30am and then start our theme park fun the moment the park opens its doors at 10am. When it gets too hot and we need to cool down from the heat, we’ll adjourn to the Water Park just next to the Theme Park after lunch and spend the later part of the afternoon there. When the Water Park closes at 6pm, we’ll head back to the Theme Park for the Christmas programme and lights since it closes at 8pm.

Sounds perfect? Apparently NOT.

The husband learned of this plan and gave me two very specific instructions on what NOT to do for this getaway: rush everyone around like a mad mother hen; spoil the holiday by yelling at the kids.

And then he said, judging from the flow of my very packed itinerary, I was definitely going to do both. He requested for this holiday to be as relaxing and as fun as possible, and that there be no to-do-list to check.

So out of respect for the man who’s worked so hard the whole year long, we did the “slowly slowly”. Slowly slowly get ready and wake up anytime we wanted, slowly slowly drive to Malaysia (we avoided the AYE traffic by setting off at 10am), slowly slowly leave the luggage in the concierge, and then slowly slowly head to Medini Mall (next to Theme Park) for lunch. After lunch, slowly slowly explore the shops for old school snacks and take kiddy rides for RM1.

Then slowly slowly walk back to the hotel and explore the play pits at the lobby, building, stacking, building, stacking. Slowly slowly walk around to look for minifigs to exchange, and then try our luck for an earlier than 4pm check in, which we got, at 2.30pm.

Steering the pirate ship

Steering the pirate ship

Pretending to be imprisoned in the dungeon

Pretending to be imprisoned in the dungeon

Squatting next to a skeleton!

Squatting next to a Lego constructed skeleton!

Busy at the playpit

Busy at the playpit

Becks at Play

Becks at play

Big Boy at play

Big Boy at play

Weapon complete!

Weapon complete!

Weapon complete!

Weapon complete!

Ben at Play_Weapon Complete

Super weapon complete!

And then slowly slowly walk to the themed hotel room, admiring the details on walls, carpets, furnishing, decor and elevators along our way. This slowly slowly gig turned out to be extremely relaxing, and FUN!

Slowly slowly exploring the lobby and the intricate details in every Lego piece

Slowly slowly exploring the lobby and the intricate details in every Lego piece

Cannot miss the chance to do the elevator dance in all the themed elevators with disco music and disco lights! Awesome!

Cannot miss the chance to do the elevator dance in all the themed elevators with disco music and disco lights! This one can’t be slowly slowly, cos’ the music playing was YMCA! Awesome!

After we thoroughly checked out our hotel room (next point), we headed to the hotel pool for a leisurely swim.

Photo Credit: LEGOLAND Malaysia

Photo Credit: LEGOLAND Malaysia

The pool occupies a decent, peaceful space comprising an infinity pool (1.2m) overlooking the two parks and a children’s wading pool (0.6m). The kids had a good time slowly slowly splashing water and doing their dipping rounds, and it was all together completely relaxing once again.

It's nice to be on top of the world! Well, sort of.

It’s nice to be on top of the world! Well, sort of.

Before dinner, we walked around the hotel lobby again and realised that there were many daily activities taking place. There was a Build-a-Lego themed challenge daily, and for the month of December everyday, the best construction of something Christmassy wins a prize. All you needed to do was to use the bricks in the playpits and make something to the theme of Christmas and leave it at the reception counter. At the end of the day, all entries would be judged and a winner chosen.

That night we were there, there was also a ‘Guess the Number of Bricks’ contest in which we were invited to estimate the number of Lego bricks in a jar. Ben won that, that night, and earned himself a certificate and Lego brick keychain.

137 bricks was his guess, and of course, his father helped him estimate a bit

137 bricks was his guess, and of course, his father helped him estimate a bit

In addition to these things happening, we also slowly slowly checked out other play areas…

Kids spacing out

Kids spacing out

The lounging corner (where we watched a cartoon of the history of LEGO)…

TV Time!

TV Time!

And were treated to a good time of carolling by the LEGOLAND folks…

Christmas carolling at the lobby

Christmas carolling at the lobby

So much to slowly slowly do in one day!

LEGOLAND Hotel Room – We’re in a Kingdom!

Our hotel room. Ah, our hotel room! The highlight of our trip. Such details. Such awesomeness. How impressive!

Guess which theme we chose?

Guess which theme we chose?

We're in a Kingdom!

We stayed in a Kingdom Premium Themed Room!

The LEGOLAND Hotel has 249 themed guestrooms, following the three popular Lego lines – Pirate (think skulls and bones), Adventure (think Revenge of the Mummy) and Kingdom (think knights and armours). Each room can sleep up to 5 guests, with a king-size bed for adults, and a separate sleeping area for up to 3 kids, complete with a bunk bed, a pull-out trundle, their very own TV and a box of Duplo bricks for the young ones. The bathroom also comes equipped with a washbasin for children. What awesomeness!

Amused by Lego-inspired soap

Amused by Lego-inspired soap

But the best part – the best thing for me was the details in the room and that we had a room with a view. Everything was made to fit the theme, from the beds and the carpet to the wallpaper and even the Lego decor in the room!

Check this out, Ladies and Gents. This. This was the view from Room 323.

Check this out, Ladies and Gents. This.
This was the view from Room 323.

Nat Kao and the Frog

Nat Kao and the Frog

The details in the Children's Sleeping Area

The details in the children’s sleeping area

The entrance to the room

The entrance to the room

A Treasure Hunt and 4 Mystery Numbers

The highlight of our hotel stay, for my eldest son, the hugest Lego fan in the house, was the thrill that there’s a mystery box to unlock in the hotel room.

So we were told that there was a special sheet of paper to search for to get the questions for clues to unlock the mystery treasure chest. Ben jumped to work immediately, and wasted no time locating and counting the items that’s requested of him for his task.

I cheated by calling the reception for the code while he was busy at work so that I knew the code to unlock the chest before he did. Hurhurhur.

Understanding the task first

Understanding the task first

Solving the mystery of the hidden number and finding the clues

Solving the mystery of the hidden number and finding the clues

Nonetheless, the boy solved the mystery on his own, and was extremely elated to have found treasure inside the treasure chest!

Unlocking the chest

Unlocking the chest

Treasure!

Treasure!

It was his reward indeed, but one he gladly shared with his siblings because he is such a sweetheart – a Lego Spiderman magnet, a Lego Ninjago keychain and a Lego brick keychain!

Sharing is loving!

Sharing is loving!

Night time at LEGOLAND Hotel – A Beautiful Sight

I don’t know if you’ve done it. But we did. Take a slowly slowly walk in the still of the night and just soaking in the Christmas atmosphere and the idea that we’re in LEGOLAND.

The Theme Park at night

The Theme Park at night

The other entrance

The other entrance

Giant LEGO figs!

Giant LEGO figs!

The hotel lobby at night

The hotel lobby at night

The Castle at night

The Castle at night

Awesomeness.

Di Mattoni Restaurant

We were very glad to have found decent Italian fare at this restaurant in LEGOLAND Hotel, and that very much made up for the harrowing breakfast experience with the crows. The food here at Di Mattoni was extremely delightful, and we were really happy dining here. This restaurant deserves a mention especially, because despite being a place for fine dining and all, they catered completely for the kids – word search puzzles, colouring and Lego bricks to keep them occupied, you name it – while we waited for our food. Service was excellent as were the cocktails and dishes.

The entrance of Di Mattoni Restaurant

The entrance of Di Mattoni Restaurant

Glorious Italian fare

Glorious Italian fare and deliciousness

***

There you have it, a L-E-G-O-L-A-N-D review of the LEGOLAND Hotel, with more awesomeness than we imagined. So glad we initiated our Slowly Slowly Movement the first day we were there to thoroughly enjoy food, company, and LEGO!

LEGOLAND Hotel, we’ll be back!

***

Coming up: A review of the LEGOLAND Theme Park and Water Park

Disclosure: We were hosted by the good folks at LEGOLAND Malaysia for the purpose of this review for one night at their Kingdom Premium Themed Room, and offered a corporate rate for our second night. No monetary compensation was received for this post, and all opinions here, including being deluged by waves of awesomeness, are our own. 

All this blog's PR Stuff Christmas happiness Getting all sentimental now Happy days Milestones and growing up The Kao Kids

Capturing a moment in time this Christmas with Orange Studios

November 28, 2014

Christmas is, without a doubt, our favourite time of the year.

It’s a time for reflecting, sharing, giving and loving.

It’s a time to take stock and to give thanks.

And it’s a time to look back at how much my children have grown.

2011: Christmas with family

2011: Christmas with family

2011: My little Santarina Becks

2011: My little Santarina Becks

2012: Keeping our tradition of getting a real fir tree!

2012: Keeping our tradition of getting a real fir tree!

 

2013: Look at the presents, and how much the kids have grown!

2013: Look at the presents, and how much the kids have grown!

This year, Orange Studios invited us to capture 2014’s Christmas through pictures we would want to keep for a lifetime.

Pictures like these, to remind us that time is but fleeting and every year is a year of change that must frozen in time by photography to be kept alive in our hearts:

Orange Studios Christmas_2

Orange Studios Christmas_1

Orange Studios Christmas_6

Orange Studios Christmas_3

Orange Studios Christmas_5

Orange Studios Christmas_7

Orange Studios Christmas_4

Oh, how quick my babies have grown!

Another year, another Christmas. Here’s to more happy times and jolly cheers!

xoxo

Just for Motherkao readers:

Orange Studios is offering a mini Christmas Photo Shoot so you will never forget this Christmas!

The following are the dates for the sessions:

Nov: 24 – 27, 30 (limited slots remaining for 30 Nov)
Dec: 2 – 4, 9 – 14

Quote [Motherkao] and for SGD180 (U.P $200) you will enjoy the following:

– a 30-minute studio Christmas photoshoot session
– all soft copy photos (8R resolution) returned with light edits

Terms and conditions:
– The above rate is for up to 4 pax. Top-up $15/pax for additional participants.
– Maximum 2 outfits.
– $30 surcharge for weekend sessions.
– Soft copy photos will be provided in a DVD, by self-collection. Top-up $4 for postage (i.e. normal mail).

Contact them at 8606 6950 or contact@orangestudios.sg for enquiries or bookings. Connect with them via Facebook for more updates!

Disclosure: We love Orange Studios, and were super stoked to be invited by them to share this offer. No monetary compensation was received for this post, and all opinions here are our own.

Going Out! Happy days Holidays! Milestones and growing up Parenting 101 The Kao Kids

Our many firsts at Berakit’s Bukau Lodge, Indonesia

August 29, 2014

Over the National Day weekend, we did the most un-patriotic thing. We left the country and scooted away to a place where no wi-fi was available and only human connections were allowed, and where sunshine, sand, sea and seafood were abundant.

And no, we didn’t go for a beach holiday at the finest of resort destinations. We went back to nature, back to the basics and back to simplicity – at a kelong in this place called Berakit, about 25 km away from Bintan Island in Indonesia.

I’ve always wanted to have the kids rough it out and experience what it’s like to remove ourselves from city-living, and this trip would be the first of the many to come. Before the kids came, the husband and I did a bit of backpacking and we were often amazed to see children backpacking with their parents, on foot, by train and at the youth hostels where we stayed. Those kids were older, of course, but they were tough and resilient. These are kids who will grow up knowing that it’s a big, big world out there and that the world so doesn’t revolve around them. Fatherkao and I have always wished as a couple to do this one thing with our kids this side of heaven, and that is “to suck out all the marrow of life” as Henry David Thoreau aptly puts, and get them to go out and explore the world.

So.

I’ve always wanted Ben, Becks and Nat to have a live-in-the-middle-of-the-sea-on-a-kelong kind of experience, which Fatherkao and I have had the pleasure of experiencing on several occasions before the kids came. It was an experience, I felt, that any person living should have in his or her memory bank, like a ‘been there, done that’ kind of thing to boast about someday when you are old.

Blast from the past: this was us in 2006

Blast from the past: this was us in 2006

With our friends, with whom we had such a great time with in this kelong in Sibu Island

With our friends, with whom we had such a great time with in this kelong in Sibu Island

And so to Bukau Lodge at Berakit we went, where we experienced many FIRSTS together as a family. Our friend and his wife built an extension-lodge to an existing fish-rearing kelong in Berakit some time back which was meant to accommodate family, friends and dive groups, so we followed them out to sea on their speedboat for a 3-day-2-night trip.

To the kelong we go

To the kelong we go!

Bukau Lodge

Bukau Lodge

We had such a blast, and I know for years to come, we will continue to talk about our first kelong trip with much, much fondness.

Here goes, our ten FIRSTS being at Bukau Lodge, Berakit, Indonesia:

1. First speedboat ride

To get to our destination, we hopped onto ‘Hannah and Hazel’, our friends’ boat christened after their daughters, two of the sweetest girls I’ve ever known. It was an incredibly long ride (about 4 hours there, and 4 hours back), and I was worried the kids would get seasick travelling so long on the boat. But at the speed we were going, motion sickness was nearly impossible. It just constantly felt like the operator operating a theme park’s ultimate roller coaster ride refusing to let you out and making the roller coaster go on repeat mode. For the unpredictable thrill factor, I say the sea’s better than a roller coaster anytime. And surprise, surprise, the kids actually fell asleep the moment the boat started moving off, in spite of the crashing waves.

These are tough kids, I tell you. Complaining not even one single time being on the speedboat, which can be quite scary at times!

These are tough kids, I tell you. Complaining not even one single time being on the speedboat, which can be quite scary at times!

What an experience being so close to the sea indeed. We even saw jumping fish, which was altogether breathtaking.

2. First balancing act

We're in a kelong, and there's water everywhere

We’re in a kelong, and there’s water everywhere

So it’s a kelong afterall. Which is actually a Malay word describing an offshore platform built predominantly on, yea, you guessed it, wood. The entire kelong is fashioned out of wooden planks and poles, and so at any point, walking around the place felt like you constantly have to remember to walk properly – and keep your balance – because you don’t want to have the giant tiger groupers chomp you up or be pinch material for the lobsters, depending on which pool of water you fall into. Plus, the sea is all around us, and as we’ve discovered (see #3), there’s no ground to touch if you’d ever fall in like you would in a pool.

This was the tiger grouper pool which was teeming with groupers 10 to 15 kg, I hear. They eat up all our discarded food waste, and can chomp down the hardest bones and toughest fruit. Like Becks' apple which accidentally fell in.

This was the tiger grouper pool which was teeming with groupers 10 to 15 kg, I hear. They eat up all our discarded food waste, and can chomp down the hardest bones and toughest fruit. Like Becks’ apple which accidentally fell in.

My kids can’t swim by the way, so you can imagine this mad mother constantly screaming and nagging her kids not to run, push or monkey around.

But it’s a whole new experience altogether – walking deliberately and carefully, every minute we were there. How’s that for really slowing down?

Gives a whole new meaning to 'balanced and barefoot'

Gives a whole new meaning to ‘balanced and barefoot’

3. First plunge into the deep blue sea

The kids have yet to learn to swim. They have been waddling, waddling, waddling, like little ducklings on floats in swimming pools. I have tried getting them used to being in water for close to a year now, so they are happy to be in chlorinated water or warm bath tubs if you throw them in.

But the sea. It was nothing they had expected. It was nothing I had expected.

The platform where we all took the plunge

The platform where we all took the plunge

The first day we were there we swam in front of the lodge with a group of adults and children (our couple friends’ extended family members, whom we had the pleasure of meeting – there were 14 of us adults in all, and 7 kids), and while it was an exciting thought to be jumping into the sea with so many people, we so didn’t prepare for the strong winds and currents that came, which meant that no matter how hard you swim, you would still be at the same place.

We had some drama that afternoon, with Ben’s float suddenly deflating (and thank God we found that out before he jumped in), Becks’ life jacket floating up which meant she was getting no buoyancy due to the strong currents, and Nat refusing to let go of my neck which meant he was strangling me while I treaded water furiously looking for something I could hold on to for dear life. All these happened while I was trying to swim to my daughter, forgetting completely about my  drifting eldest son and being gripped in the neck by my youngest. And Fatherkao wasn’t even in the sea yet as he needed to keep his camera. Thank God we went with one bunch of fun-loving people who were seaworthy and extremely strong swimmers, and all the uncles and aunties came to help with our kids. We didn’t swim long in that strong current, and ended up making friends with everyone instead over hot milo and snacks after that ordeal.

4. First swim-with-fish experience

So you would have thought we gave up the idea of swimming in the sea. I thought I would too, until my friend said she’d replicate an ‘Adventure Cove’ experience without the strong currents for us.

Here in this “pool”:

Fish "pond" protected from waves and currents

Fish “pond” protected from waves and currents

So we thought, Well, it’s netted, it’s going to protect us from strong currents, why not? and we jumped in. We didn’t manage to snorkel but we did put our head in with goggles and saw some fish swimming around and all.

Totally awesome, still.

Nat and Becks were too frightened after the open water experience, so we swam with other children and Ben instead!

Nat and Becks were too frightened after the open water experience, so we swam with other children and Ben instead!

It was only when we got up and looked down into this pool of seawater had we realised – holy smoke’ – we were swimming with friggin’ huge-ass mamas and a sea turtle. I so should have brought or borrowed a snorkel!

No ordinary fish pond

No ordinary fish pond

5. First poo-watch

Clean water for bathing from the tap, and a toilet bowl for small and big business!

Clean water for bathing from the tap, and a toilet bowl for small and big businesses!

There was no flush in the toilets. Why would you need one in a kelong?

Clearly, the showtimes for fish feeding was whenever anyone was done pooping. We didn’t manage to catch every show, but we did catch the one with Ben’s poop one morning because he had made a loud announcement that he needed to move his bowels.

I bet he now knows that the way to avoid a crowd waiting near the toilet is not to say anything. Hurhurhur.

6. First bat watch

I have never seen bats fly, and even more so seen so many bats fly from their roosting place and disperse. Apparently, the desolate, uninhabited island near the kelong was a roosting place for bat colonies, and we were told that at 7pm sharp, there would be bats in the sky. I was half expecting some cute little creatures flapping their wings but to my horror they were as huge-ass as the fish we swam with in the day and it was a full-moon night. Gives freaking out a whole new meaning (and bringing back memories of all the Gothic Literature I did in JC), but fortunately for us, we were assured that they never congregated at the kelong.

Would drive me batshitcrazy for sure, if they did.

We didn't manage to capture the bats at dusk but my husband took this awesome picture of the night view from the kelong. This is unfiltered and unedited. Gorgeousness.

We didn’t manage to capture the bats at dusk but my husband took this awesome picture of the night view from the kelong. This is unfiltered and unedited.
Gorgeousness.

7. First fish from the sea

I’m not a fan of fishing. Before this trip I had thought fishing was all sitting by the lake for hours feeding mosquitoes. Until our friend’s uncles showed us how much fish that can be caught just by throwing a line from the kelong. These men were reeling in pail after pail of fish whenever they cast their lines, and that thrilled the kids much.

And this was how much that could be fished on a morning the boat took the fishing enthusiasts out deep sea

And this was how much that could be fished on a morning the boat took the fishing enthusiasts out deep sea

It poured heavily on the second day we were there, and there was this peaceful, tranquil calm after the storm. Which meant only one thing for the fishermen in our midst: deep-sea fishing. We tagged along in the drizzle and watched as the fishing enthusiasts reeled in barracudas, sail fish, mackerels and groupers. Ben and Fatherkao tried their hand at fishing while I minded the other two, and they managed to reel in one I-dunno-what-fish which we ate for lunch the next day.

8. First rainbow of our lives

The kids have never seen a rainbow. They’ve heard me sing ‘The Rainbow Connection’ many times and are familiar with the story of God’s promise of a rainbow after the Great Flood, but that’s pretty much it.

And how He must have loved us all so, because while we were out deep sea fishing, this – this was what we witnessed right before our eyes.

This picture, taken with our friend's phone, will never ever do the view we had justice. The rainbow was beautifully arched, clear in all its colour, and set against the backdrop of a beautiful horizon

This picture, taken with a phone camera, will never ever do the view we had justice.
The rainbow was beautifully arched, clear in all its colours, and set against the backdrop of a beautiful horizon

We witnessed this for the first time as a family. How magnificently awesome is our God.

9. First FRESHEST seafood dining experience

How fresh can seafood get when all you have to do is goreng and steam what has just been caught! We’ve had the freshest of fish for those three days, and even had the tiger grouper the kelong was rearing for steamboat dinner. The kelong sells this special breed of  groupers to restaurants and a wide Chinese clientele, but offered us a special rate – so we even carted two 5-kg fresh groupers home on our last day!

Catching our dinner

Catching our dinner

Waiting for the fish to put in the steamboat!

Waiting for the fish to put in the steamboat!

So the kids had chicken wings and bbq-ed marshmellows while waiting

So the kids feasted on chicken wings and grilled marshmellows after the steamboat

The tides were low the following morning and our friend went picking crabs - which meant we had steamed crabs for breakfast!

The tides were low the following morning and our friend went picking crabs – which meant we had steamed crabs for breakfast!

10. First time on a private beach

Just 5 minutes away on a sampan lies this pristine private beach, which was the highlight of our kelong trip. The sand was soft and moist, totally perfect for some thorough exfoliating (free spa!), and the waters were oh-so crystal clear. We spent hours lazing there, sitting by the beach, watching the waves and soaking in the sun, sand, sea. The kids built sandcastles, picked corals and seashells, skipped pebbles and chased little fish.

We were there on Day 2 and Day 3, and we always wished we didn’t have to leave. And when we finally did, we were totally sunkissed.

Picture-perfect on a perfect beach

Picture-perfect on a perfect beach

How much fun took place while we were there? Enough for the kids to ask when we are going back again!

How much fun took place while we were there? Enough for the kids to ask when we are going back again!

So much to do with sand!

So much to do with sand!

~~~

Those three days we lived deep. No phones. No TV. No iPads.

We were at sea. We looked out to sea.

Where the horizon was, there was the sky. We looked out to sky.

The view from the lodge was always changing – when it rained, when night fell, when the winds blew, when the clouds moved – and it was always, always gorgeously awe-inspiring.

What a view in the morning

What a view in the morning

Those three days we relaxed and rested. No fuss. No anxiety. No heaviness. We returned home refreshed, and with so much gratitude in our hearts for being with wonderful people and having a wonderful God who created wonderful things.

I can't put a word to this, but we felt a huge sense of happiness being there.

Refreshed and ready for home: I can’t put a word to this, but we felt a comforting sense of happiness being there those 3 days

Bukau Lodge, we’ll be back.

~~~

P/S: If you’re curious how we bunked as a family, we stayed in a private room like this. But in the kelong, everything is pretty much communal and we left our door and windows wide open while we slept, with the wind in our face, literally. Shiok.

The room in Bukau Lodge

The rooms in Bukau Lodge

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Stealthy, steady success for a 40th birthday bash – Part 2

August 20, 2014

So the husband turned 40 earlier this August, and was given total VIP treatment by me, the kids and the good people at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport.

And because Changi Airport, particularly Terminal 3, is our family’s favouritest place in this country, it was especially special for us to be celebrating Fatherkao’s birthday there, staycating at one of the ‘World’s Top Ten Airport Hotels’.

From my stealth liaising a month before the birthday surprise to the day we checked out, my family was warmly hosted at Crowne Plaza. The Marketing Manager was fully attentive to the needs of our family of five as she arranged for us to check into the 36-square-metres Deluxe Twin Club Room with an extra rollaway bed so we could all sleep comfortably. And when she learned that the entire staycation would be a surprise birthday celebration for Fatherkao, she gamely offered to place a cake in the room so I didn’t have to run around the airport with kids in tow to hunt for one prior to checking in.

Crowne Plaza Deluxe Twin Room: Two little people are getting comfortable!

The Crowne Plaza Deluxe Twin Room: two little people are getting comfortable!

Checking out the room, and lazing on the rollaway bed

Checking out the room, and lazing on the rollaway bed

The glass panelled bathroom! And so we thought we'd be in full view of everyone when we shower, until we found blinds!

The glass panelled bathroom! And so we thought we’d be in full view of everyone when we shower, until we found the blinds!

I did nothing but turn up, check in, blow the balloons and light the candles with the kids to create some party atmosphere for the birthday boy.

This was special delivery, arranged by the Marketing Manager, who thought it'd be nice to have a cake at check in

This was special delivery, arranged by the Marketing Manager, who thought it’d be nice to have a cake at check in. The Lobby Lounge has one of the best cake selections, in my opinion. Because this cake was absolute heaven.

We were also given exclusive Club Lounge Access, and there, the kids got juice, the adults had coffee, and we all spent a lovely afternoon together after the cake-cutting, watching Fatherkao teach Ben how to play a game a chess.

Ready to lounge!

Ready to lounge!

First, some chess. Then, some juice!

First, some chess. Then, some juice!

The Club Lounge at Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport was such a respite. At the lounge, we could look out and see the bustling city traffic on one side and a calming rainforest pool view on the other. The best part of it was, we had the place largely to ourselves.

City view from the Club window

City view from the Club window

Pool view from the Club window

Pool view from the Club window

We checked out the pool after we were done with our lounging, and I must say, I haven’t seen so much open space for a while in concrete jungle Singapore.

A pool with a view

A pool with a view when you look out and up

I’ve never swam in a pool like this, amidst lush greenery and wooden sun decks. It was like being in an island resort while in a city. I loved the space I could look out to, and the planes I could look up at. The kids enjoyed exploring the pool in their floats, although the water was extremely cold and being in it made our teeth chatter so much we had to head to the bathtub in the room immediately after for a warm soak.

I think the kids had the most fun being in the bathtub in full view of us looking in from the room on our beds. Give these kids warm water any time. They haven’t learned to swim yet so they’d much prefer the safety of the tub.

Before dinner we headed to the Club Lounge again, which was on the same floor as our room and the pool – and oh how so convenient to just pop by whenever we wanted – to enjoy evening cocktails, mocktails and canapés. I loved that at 5.30pm when we were there, there was absolutely no one (the hotel folks say the tourists usually head out to town and weekends are quieter than weekdays). We had the entire lounge to ourselves, and were given such royal treatment, getting served drinks of our choice, snacks and then getting our photos taken.

Oh the spread of canapes! This was like dinner for me!

Oh the spread of canapés! This was like dinner for us already!

We sneaked out while the littlest was napping to have some snacks and drinks

We sneaked out while the littlest was napping to have some snacks and drinks

I had a mocktail, he had a Singapore Sling!

I had a mocktail, he had a Singapore Sling!

Can you tell? The birthday boy was one happy camper, and was savouring every minute of his 40th birthday.

Later in the evening, we were hosted by Azur, the award-winning restaurant at Level 2 in Crowne Plaza for Fatherkao’s birthday dinner, and had some of his closest buds join us for more celebration over food, wine and laughs. At the restaurant, we talked and laughed over a good buffet spread of Eastern and Western cuisines – something which we haven’t done so with our friends for a while.

And what an even more pleasant surprise to find that there was yet another surprise for the birthday boy with yet another birthday song and cake.

Everyone's really making sure the birthday boy realises he is 40!

Everyone’s really making sure somebody realises he is 40!

Fatherkao was more than happy to be eating cake again. Not before he tried to clean off the zero in the ‘40‘ which was piped on his plate.

So he cleaned off the zero, and wished he was 4 instead

So he cleaned off the zero, and wished he was 4 instead

Still in denial, this man.

After dinner, the men continued with more wine and talk, while their wives and kids lazed in the cosy hotel room. Nothing would have pleased my husband more than this: to be able to enjoy good wine with his buddies whom he has known for decades and to cheers to more good years ahead.

The best things in life: food, friends and family

The best things in life: food, friends and family

Someone once said, “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar but the best improve with age.” I certainly married someone that’s turning into fine wine at 40.

You’re not old, dear. You’re just mature. 

——-

Thank you, everyone that came to make Fatherkao’s day, and Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport, for your hospitality and impeccable service. You’ve made this birthday really special and have set the standard for all the other staycations to come, because Fatherkao says it’s the best one he’s had so far. We’ve done A LOT of staycations since 2004, and if he says so, you’re truly something!

——–

Disclosure: Crowne Plaza Hotel Changi Airport sponsored our 2D1N staycation-and-birthday-celebration for Fatherkao, and hosted us at Azur for dinner. We had exclusive access to the Crowne Plaza Club, and had our breakfast there the next day as well. I did not receive any monetary compensation, and this post was a result of the wonderful experience we’ve had celebrating a milestone and being pampered silly. This may be the most unlikely place to consider having a staycation, but I tell you – the SPACE you get! Being away from the crowd and having such exclusivity is totally worth it, if you’re someone like me who is tired of too many malls, too many people and  too much noise.

This was our breakfast at the Club Lounge - we had the place all to ourselves on a beautiful Sunday morning

This was our breakfast at the Club Lounge – we had the place all to ourselves on a beautiful Sunday morning

Entrance to Crowne Plaza

The entrance to Crowne Plaza

More details:

Crowne Plaza is connected to Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 via a seamless, air-conditioned link bridge that gives you easy access to the shops and F&B outlets that operate round-the-clock.

A 2D1N stay in a deluxe room on a weekend starts from SGD263 and includes breakfast. The deluxe rooms feature an ergonomic workspace, comfortable beds, ensuite bathroom with separate rainshower and bathtub, and free WiFi connection.

Overnight parking is available at the airport for SGD20.

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Stealthy, steady success for a 40th birthday bash – Part 1

August 19, 2014

Fatherkao at the Club Lounge

I’ve known this man for 14 years, and ever since he became my husband 10 years ago, I have never kept a secret from him.

Not until I had to plan a birthday surprise for him this year.

Fatherkao was getting all pensive and in a totally reflective state about turning 40 (and the worst hit came when he received the letter for Eldershield, hurhurhur), and I’d thought that a birthday party was in order to turn turning 40 into an occasion to celebrate.

I started a secret whatsapp chat with all his buddies (who incidentally have also turned 40 a few years ago) and amidst jokes that they would all be getting him Salonpas Pain Relief Patches for his birthday present, they all agreed to come and spend the day with him because there was nothing he would appreciate more than good company and wine. I changed the passcode to my phone and operated completely by stealth to liaise with the wonderful folks at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport who were so extremely kind and generous to host us for a staycation and dinner. I packed everything for the stay, including his, only on that morning of the staycation day itself (while Fatherkao was out) and told him that I’ll be whisking him away for a holiday – and so he had to meet me and the kids at the airport.

Our plan that day was to check into the hotel room before meeting him, prep the room with balloons, and take him there to surprise him with cake.

I knew he knew the impossibility of me taking him away for a holiday by plane even though his birthday fell on a Saturday, and I was sure he even suspected that we were heading for a staycation, but I was glad he played along any way when I asked him to meet me at T3. He loves the airport, and since Terminal 3 has always been our favourite place to hang out as a family he had nary a grumble when I told him we’ve missed the plane and lunch at Pasta Mania would be his birthday treat instead.

And then when lunch was over, I told him we would be heading to the hotel lounge at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport for desserts (the first time I lied so blatantly in front of the kids who have already checked in with me way before lunch, blew up balloons and prepped the place). The kids and I were doing our best to keep the secret of a staycation in, although the excitement was already building up to such a level we could hardly contain it! Fatherkao kept asking the kids what was going to happen, and they were so game to play along by telling him it’s all a secret.

Until I gave the secret away. Unknowingly.

We walked past Bata at B2 on our way to Crowne Plaza and Becks asked when I was getting her the pair of princess shoes she’s been wanting to buy, and I said, “Tomorrow, k? Let’s buy it tomorrow.”

Fatherkao turned to me, and asked with a grin, “So… staycation, right? Cos’ tomorrow we’re coming back here to buy shoes.”

BUSTED.

Still, with the secret out, we managed to give him a really pleasant surprise by bringing him to the hotel room, getting him to walk in with his eyes closed, and having the loveliest raspberry and chocolate mousse cake ever together – oh, the decadence!

Despite my slip, it was still a big surprise for the big boy who blew out four big candles on his big four-o.

Surprise

Blowing out the candles

Cutting the cake

Decadent raspberry chocolate mousse cake

Fatherkao and the Kao kids

The secret’s out, you’re 40, happy birthday, my love!

———

More about our awesome birthday celebration and staycation at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Part 2 here, and why this staycation has set the standard for all the others to come.

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Ten things we loved about our recent vacay

June 24, 2014

I can’t believe I savoured a piece of heaven last week and I’m still feeling a little dreamy about that wonderful place we had our short getaway. You would think that you’d only find such tranquillity and untouched beauty in Bintan, Bali, Boracay or the Maldives (and those by the way, are in my bucket list). But no.

We were in Batam.

Say what?

And although the run down Batam Ferry Terminal, the army of mozzies and the putrid stench of diesel and cigarette smoke lingering in the cabin were the less than perfect things that threatened to mar the perfection for just a wee bit, one only needs to endure it for half an hour (ok, maybe 45 minutes plus the waiting and all) before one arrives to witness this:

View from our villa

Everybody say,” Omm…”

This is Montigo Resorts at Nongsapura. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal followed by a 5-minute drive to the resort. I’m a sun, sea and sky person, so to be taken away from the madness that goes on in our home to be right here made me a very happy person.

Here’s a list of ten things that made me really happy being there:

1. A&W at Nagoya Hill

We gain an hour being at Batam, so when we arrived at 12.45pm, it was only 11.45am Batam time. Since check-in was at 3pm, we paid about SGD40 for a 45-minute taxi ride to Nagoya Hill.

To do what is the most important thing to do when in Batam.

Eat here:

A&W

But is it me or does the food not taste as wow as when I was a kid? The root beer float tasted kinda funny.

Still, it was nice being there, and I was happy to introduce what our childhood was like to the kids. Well, at least for me, this fast food restaurant was memorable because I got to eat curly fries and have a root beer float as a treat if I did well in my exams.

2. Spa, spa, and more spa

At Montigo, I was pleasantly surprised and extremely touched that I had my spa booked in advance. My husband gave me orders to disappear into the spa and emerge a happy person.

I obeyed.

I went for a Javanese Lulur Spa Experience, which involved some deep tissue kneading and a scrub, had a pedicure and a traditional facial the day after.

It was all very rustic, calming and soothing – being there, walking on bamboo and listening to gamelan playing from the speakers with the sound of waves not too far away. I also repaid a few hours of sleep debt.

Spa

Four words about the pedicure though: Cannot expect too much. It was basic and the Spa Ritual polish they used were inferior compared to the OPI I am used to. And it was a good thing I didn’t go there with gelish nails. They wouldn’t be able to soak it off at all.

3. Private infinity pool

Oh need I say more? We went into the pool in the villa whenever we wanted to, however we wanted to. We soaked, we splashed, we swam.

Infinity pool

I jumped. And played a fool.

Jumping Mama

Jumping Mama again

Jumping Mama again and again

And made the kids laughed.

Their father? He dunked them all with clothes on in the still of the night.

In the pool with Dada

And then there was laughter everywhere.

4. Showering under the clouds

I’ve never done this. Have you? Sit in a shower and look heavenwards towards God. Most amazing experience ever.

View from the tub

Most humongous tub I have seen ever.

Bath room and bath tub

5. In-villa private BBQ

We had a chef come in the second evening and fill the whole villa with smells of barbequed seafood and meat. It was another first for the family, sitting by the poolside, enjoying food grilled and served to us on the spot. We ate and ate till we were bursting in the seams, and then we ate some more.

Something's smoking

In villa dining

BBQ Yum

What a life!

6. Cooking while watching the kids swim

Kitchenette

There’s a kitchenette in every villa, and some really basic utensils for cooking over an induction cooker, so we thought we’d do some cooking. There’s only a medium-sized frying pan and a small pot (and they were all badly scratched and no longer Teflon coated) but we managed to make aglio olio, french toast, creamy pasta and wok-fried instant noodles which meant we settled four meals in the villa. We brought a pair of kitchen scissors (should have also brought a paring knife), canned tuna, 3 packets of pasta and our own salt and pepper. While at Nagoya, we grocery shopped for garlic, tomatoes, onions, fresh milk, cheese, ham, bread, Indomie and eggs. There’s only a bar fridge in the villa, so do plan purchases wisely. I thought there would be a freezer and ended up throwing away a box of mini Cornettos I bought for the kids.

It was all very satisfying to be making simple meals and looking out at the pool and the sun, sky and sea those days I was there.

7. Free wifi

I guess if you’re not living under a rock, free wifi is going to make you happy. All our thumbs got quite busy and it was satisfying to be able to stream videos (we watched Running Man on the first night, heh), check FB and post pictures on Instagram.

8. Beautiful sunsets

I shared in an earlier post that witnessing the sun setting and disappearing into the horizon was one of the most magnificent moments I could share with my kids. And you know what I got them all to do? We closed our eyes and pretended to paint the sunset, “ate” cotton candy clouds and imagined the clouds to be what we thought they could be.

Sunset 5

How many moments like these would I be sharing with the kids in my lifetime?

9. Sky terrace

The third floor of the villa leads to a sky terrace that has plenty of space to run and look out into the hues of blue that’s before our eyes. Here, we take deep breaths and say a million wows, just like being on top of the world.

Sky terrace

10. Happy kids, happy husband, happy helper, happy me

Needless to say, we’ve all had a great time (even the helper had fun) and this goes down in our memory bank as a beautiful vacation that we’ll remember for a long time.

P/S: This is not a sponsored post nor a review of Montigo Resorts. This is me reminiscing the vacation, feeling grateful for everything and sharing with all those who’s been asking us to tell them more about that wonderful place.

PP/S: For more pictures of sunsets captured by the husband, see them all in my first post here.

Going Out! Happy days Holidays! Motherkao loves... The Kao Kids

Of sunsets and beautiful moments

June 23, 2014

We just returned from a short getaway at a place you would least expect a piece of heaven.

There, at our vacay villa, we witnessed the most gorgeous sunsets for three evenings in a row, watching the golden sun dip into the horizon right before our very eyes.

We’ve learned the last three days that no two sunsets are ever the same. That’s how marvellous the God who created all these would paint each of His masterpiece.

Sunset 1

Sunset 3

Sunset 2

Sunset 4

We were very blessed to have someone so generous towards our family extend an offer to stay at this beautiful home away from home for four days. Who would have expected to find this piece of heaven just half an hour away from bustling Singapore?

For four days here, we made beautiful memories as a family together.

In the pool with Dada

Good times

Great times

Holidays! I ♥ lists Motherkao loves... The Kao Kids The real supermom

10 tips to survive Hongkong with small children

September 19, 2013

Now that I’ve gone to Hong Kong and back, and have survived a holiday with three kids, I guess I am somewhat qualified to write this post. I learned some stuff the hard way, and these lessons involved some sweat, a lot of tears, and even blood. If you’re heading to Hong Kong with toddlers or young children, you might want to keep some of these in mind.

1. Get the Octopus at the airport instead of the MTR station when you arrive

We had originally planned to buy our Octopus cards on the second day at the MTR station nearest to our hotel but I was really glad we purchased them together with our Airport Express tickets at the Airport Express Counter at Terminal 1 after touching down. We arrived in HK on a Saturday evening and the second day for us was a Sunday – which means everyone, I mean, everyone, was out on the streets. I think there were at least a few thousand Filipino domestic workers out that Sunday we were there, as well as hordes of tourists from Mainland China and HK’s own people, who love visiting the malls on Sundays.

So boy was I glad to have gotten the cards at the counter at the airport where there was no queue and zero jostling.

Octopus is accepted all over Hong Kong and can be used for transportation (we used it for the MTR, Star Ferry and the tram) and parking, at retail outlets and self-service machines. You can pay for stuff you buy from 7-11 with the card, which is really convenient.

2. When the menu in HK restaurants reads ‘steamed rice’, the rice is really steamed

When we arrived in HK on Saturday evening, the first thing we did was to travel by Airport Express to Kowloon to catch the free shuttle service to our hotel at Yau Ma Tei. That took close to an hour, including the 15 minute wait for the shuttle bus, but it saved us quite a bit of money (taking a taxi would have cost 3 times as much). By the time we checked in at The Cityview, a four-star hotel in Kowloon, we were famished. Three starving children is never a good thing, so we headed to The Balcony, a restaurant at the hotel, for our dinner. We ordered the set dinner and asked for the rice to be served first.

Who would have thought asking for rice first to feed my very hungry children would be our most frustrating wait ever.

The dishes came, one after another, but the rice didn’t, and the children remained hungry and whiny. 18-month-old Nat needed rice as his staple but the rice which was part of the set wasn’t served together with the dishes! We waited close to 20 minutes, only to realize that when the piping hot bowls of rice appeared on our table, they were not rice scooped from the rice cooker. The rice was steamed, bowl by bowl! Every grain was fragrant and steamed to perfection, and well, it was a case of better late than never for us.

So my advice to you if you’ve got really hungry kids: order fried rice or noodles or something that they can cook up quick to tide them over the hunger pangs. Steamed rice is really steamed in Hong Kong.

Rice is here! Can't wait!

Rice is here! Can’t wait!

3) People give up seats on public transportation, so learn to say thank you in Cantonese

Sunday was horrendously crowded in Hong Kong and people were packed closer than sardines in tins on their MTRs and trams (Star Ferry was less crowded). Despite that, it was amazing to see men and women giving up their seats for me, who was wearing the baby, and the two older kids. Despite the jostling and shuffling, there’s a whole lot of civility and consideration on public transport.

I made a mental note to myself that I need to teach Ben, Becks and Nat to say thank you in Cantonese the next time we’re there.

4) Don’t drink the soup

My children are soup kids. They love ban mian, which they call ‘ikan bilis noodles soup’ and all the soup versions of noodles we eat here in Singapore, like sliced fish soup, wanton mee and ba chor mee. For breakfast on the second day, we gave up waiting for a table at Lin Heung Kui and headed to one of those eateries along the street for some wanton noodles (wan tan min in Cantonese). When the noodles were served, I dished out three portions of noodles, complete with soup, for the kids.

Which was a big mistake.

Turns out that humble eateries like these don’t make broth. Their ‘soup’ is just yucky lye water (alkaline salts, or what we call kee in Hokkien) and horrible! And they don’t have wanton noodles in version dry: chilli with tomato sauce, tyvm, the way I like mine, which was a bummer.

So unless it’s a restaurant and the noodles are cooked in broth, don’t drink the lye water when you eat your yu dan min or wan tan min. Just give the kids the noodles and the dumplings.

5) Bring along children’s cutlery and food scissors, and always go to a restaurant that can strap your baby in on a baby chair

It’s impossible to get eateries and restaurants in Hong Kong to provide you with children’s cutlery and plastic plates and bowls, unless it’s Disneyland. I was well-prepared for this and brought along many kiddy spoons (the ones for soup too) and forks. My kids are 4 and 3 and 19 months and the tablespoon, soup spoon and table fork are still a tad big for them. I also brought two pairs of food scissors to cut the noodles, veggies and meat (ooh, love the char siew there!), as well as hand-and-mouth wipes (Pigeon’s wipes contain 100% food grade ingredients, so I feel at ease cleaning the scissors and cutlery with those wipes).

A note on the food scissors: remember to leave them in your check-in luggage, else they would be confiscated at the security check at the airport.

What I didn’t brace myself for, was that some restaurants don’t even have a decent baby chair to strap an active toddler in! Ben can sit still and wait for food, and so can Becks, if we make sure she’s got stuff to do, like scribble on serviettes (I always have pens in my bag), eat peanuts or play scissors-paper-stone with someone. But to make Nat wait even a minute without strapping him on a baby chair at a table with breakable ceramic and child-unfriendly everything (think sharp table corners, hot teapots, musty carpets and peanuts) is to ask for trouble.

And ask for trouble we did, on the second night.

This restaurant apparently serves great shabu shabu and yakitori grill but it was a huge mistake taking the kids there. Even if we had asked that the grilling be done for us in the kitchen. They had absolutely zero baby chair. So when I took my eyes off Nat for a few minutes (I need a vision break too, yes?), he cut his lip and chin while playing peek-a-boo with himself with the mirror behind the bench he was seated.

I almost fainted from seeing so much blood coming out from inside his mouth and the area around his chin. There was a cut (it looked like a cm long) that was gaping and for the moment there I thought he might need stitching. His lip was swelling and his teeth started turning red with blood mixed with saliva. Thank God the two cuts closed quickly with prayer and an ice cube.

So yes, this lesson was learned with blood.

If you have an active toddler, remember to ask the restaurant if they have a baby chair for his safety.

Nat's a tough one, this boy: smiling even after a fall

Nat’s a tough one, this boy: smiling even after a fall

6) Check the weather, and leave those raincoats at home in September

Download the app MyObservatory. My good friend who lived a year in Hong Kong told me that she referred to it every day before she headed out. The app provides personalized weather services, and users can get the latest weather information specific to their locations and an overview of a week’s forecast of HK’s weather.

I should have trusted the info on the app and left the raincoats at home. What was I thinking, bringing the raincoats and windbreakers and jackets! It didn’t rained a single bit while we were there. In fact, it was scorching hot and humid in September!

7) When at Disney, be prepared to be a slave

We spent close to 10 hours in Disneyland and I’m sure the kids were very glad they did minimal walking. They only stood when we had to queue and that was all the walking they did. You can rent strollers for HKD 90 at Main Street in Disneyland – and we rented three of them. Unfortunately, the strollers cannot be remote-controlled and the poor exhausted adults had to push these kiddos everywhere we went.

It was also HOT, HOT, HOT and there was very little shade. Bring a brolly and slather sunblock generously. I’m telling you, SPF 25 is NOT enough. I got sunburnt still. Go for SPF 50 and more. I slabbed copious amounts of that for the kids and they were saved. Oh, plus the fact they sat on strollers that had a little canopy that covered their heads.

Slavery begins at Disney

Slavery begins at Disney

8) Not everything you see in the gift shops can be found in Main Street. Or at the hotels. Or at the airport.

So I read from some blogs that you can get souvenirs from Disney almost anywhere. There are souvenir shops in the two Disney hotels and one huge one at the airport. And they say whatever you see in those little souvenir corners, shops and carts in all the various lands in Disney you can be sure to see the same stuff at the mega huge shop at Main Street.

Nope, sorree‘!

See this Pluto stuffed toy here?

This Pluto is special cos' it's lying on its tummy!

This Pluto is special cos’ it’s terrycloth material and Pluto’s lying on its tummy!

Ben fell in love with it when he saw it in Fantasyland. I told him, naa, we can buy it at the hotel, I’m not gonna lug this all the way and it’s like what, only 5pm, and I’m here to announce to you that we searched high and low for it after we left Fantasyland and couldn’t find it anywhere else. Nope, not even at the airport! In the end, I had to go to the Disney Store at Nex back in Singapore, and even then the Pluto we got in Singapore looked different.

A word of advice: never ever leave the buying of souvenirs to the end of the day before the park closes (after the fireworks, that is). Buy them if you want them when you see them. At the corners. From the carts. At those themed stores after your rides. Whenever. Wherever. The stores at Main Street after the fireworks suddenly turned into the all-so-familiar scenes of frantic buying and grabbing as if an apocalypse was going to wipe Mickey and Friends out from the face of the earth forever. There was way too much pushing and shoving (I tried to go find Pluto) in the souvenir shops; and it took me a long while to jostle my way out.

9) Bubble tea is not everywhere – when you see it, tapao!

I’m a hopeless addict to bubble tea. I have it without the bubble though; I need the tea to function normally on a daily basis. So there was no *Share Tea or Drink Tea or Koi where I went. I did see a ComeBuy, and I was ecstatic. Just minutes ago before seeing ComeBuy, I was at a cha chan teng trying to psycho myself that HK milk tea could somehow remotely taste like bubble tea. Good thing I didn’t down the nai cha. I couldn’t be happier to be sipping my ComeBuy Milk Tea.

I also found a Gong Cha near the hotel we stayed. Should have tapaoed one and kept it in the fridge. Needless to say, I was zombiefied at Disneyland because there was no bubble tea.

(*Share Tea, Drink Tea, Koi, ComeBuy and Gong Cha are the names of bubble tea shops. My favourite has to be Drink Tea!)

10) Toilets are hard to find. Forget pull-up pants.

One of the things that was extremely difficult to locate, besides bubble tea, was the toilet! We could hardly find public toilets and even despite asking so many people at the MTR station where the toilet was, we couldn’t find one in the station or near it to help Ben answer nature’s call. At Ladies’ Market and Electrical Appliance Street, we searched for toilets everywhere and there was none in the malls! I kept having to tell Ben to hold his pee in and even wanted to put on the diaper for him at one point, because it was just all too frustrating to be searching for a toilet for a boy needing to pee A LOT.

Of course, clean toilets are aplenty if you hang out at the more upmarket malls in Hongkong Island. Where we were at Kowloon, we always needed to get a drink at a cha chan teng or wait till meal times at restaurants to use the toilet.

Fortunately, Becks and Nat had diapers on the whole time. I’m not about to put myself in a situation where I have to bring three kids to pee. At different times. All the time.

On hindsight, I should have made them wear the Velcro ones instead of pull ups. Pull-ups are supposedly convenient to remove (just tear sides – easy if it’s not soiled) but difficult to put on. Especially when the kids are wearing jeans and socks and shoes. To pull up the pull-up, they’ve got to remove their shoes and socks and take off their jeans. Very tricky if the toilet floors are wet and dirty. If I’d brought along Velcro ones, they’d be easier to remove (just unfasten Velcro). And to wear them, all I need to do is to get them to remove their pants to knee level without taking their legs out and fasten the diaper with them in a semi-squat position (it takes skill to wear it for them standing up, but then again, I’m a mom of three!).

So just for the record, I need to say that it was hell changing Nat’s poopy diaper on the plane. He refused to lie down on the changing table. He was wearing a pull-up. He stood while I removed a diaper bomb of yesterday’s dinner. There was some turbulence. He refused to stay still while I cleaned. Let’s just say shit happened. If he had worn a Velcro one, it would have been much easier to remove, roll up and dispose. This tearing-a-pull-up’s-sides business always leaves you with a mess especially in a confined space.

And of course, may I also add Tip#11 for mums like me who have three young children? Don’t be a hero. Bring your maid. Bring a troop of babysitters. You need all the help you can get.

You’re most welcome for these tips.

Holidays! Motherkao loves... The Kao Kids

The Kaos go travelling – Hong Kong!

September 14, 2013

Finally I have a tag and category that says Holidays! on the blog.

It comes with an exclamation mark though.

So, we just returned from Hong Kong after spending 4 days and 3 nights there, with me doubling up as maid. Yes, you heard that right. In my infinite wisdom, I had made the call to travel 1600 miles away without my domestic help. Fatherkao was away for a week in Sweden and I’d thought ah well, my parents and sister, who came along on our trip would make excellent babysitters. They were, don’t get me wrong about that; they perfected their skill of distracting my kids so I can get things done / eat / poop / catch a 3-minute shut eye to a master shifu level they deserve another holiday just to unwind from this holiday. My sister commented that she’s never worked harder and never felt more tired than all of her worst days at work put together. Isn’t that master shifu level already, for someone with no kids?

But I was the one who had to handle the never-ending packing + feeding at mealtimes + making milk + washing bottles + cleaning poopy backsides + bathing and drying + brushing teeth + tucking in SINGLEHANDEDLY. For all three of them, thanks to the absence of my tag team partner, also known as the maid. Not to mention the miscellaneous motherly duties like holding hands, beco-ing the not-so-baby-anymore baby, disciplining the kids when they misbehave, capturing holidaying moments with my Olympus Pen, and answering the questions that come fast and furious from being in a foreign land and experiencing new sights and sounds every single day.

Still, I’m appreciative of the fact that my dad had sponsored our vacation so that I could finally go somewhere after staying home for six months, and the kids would be on their first plane ride ever. I was also missing the husband so bad that heading out was a good distraction for me. Paradoxically, I stayed sane from missing Fatherkao in the midst of all the insanity tending to the three kids.

The kids had fun. The highlight of their trip was being in the hotel room where tv and bath tub water was free flow, and of course, Disneyland! I had fun seeing them having fun, and thoroughly enjoyed soaking in, breathing and eating Hong Kong. I’d spent my whole life devouring TVB serials and it was magical for me to be listening to Cantonese (and trying to speak in it, haha!) and savouring everything Hong Kong about Hong Kong – the dim sum, the cha chan teng, the MTR, the crowd, the wet market, the congested roads, the hilly slopes and cobbled streets, the night markets, the street performances, everything!

Cha chan teng

Tram

HK night scene

Street performances

So yes, there are plenty of reasons why the category Holidays on my blog gets an exclamation.

All three kids took turns to poop when I was about to have my in-flight meal on our way there! I walked carrying the 11kg not-so-baby-anymore baby for hours and the back didn’t break! The left ankle (which was injured some months ago) didn’t give way! The ko yo (medicated plaster) from HK was fantastic! I had roast goose! We got lost after taking the tram – yay! We explored with kids in tow from Kowloon to Central to Wan Chai! The kids kept asking when they could return to the hotel to hibernate – argh! Nat jumped around on the second day at a restaurant that had no baby chair and fell! He cut his lip and chin and bled for a good five minutes! I almost fainted at that from trying not to panic! I survived 10 hours in Disneyland in 31°C weather with three kids! Without my maid! Nat couldn’t keep still on the plane on the flight back, thanks to the big cup of bubble tea I had!

We had a holiday! Still !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Harbour view

Walking uphill

Wet market

Disney_Dumbo

Disney_Minnie Mouse

Disney_Dumbo ride

Disney_Chef Mickey

Hollywood Hotel_Car

Hollywood Hotel_Garden