Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween Expat Style

The Green LEGO Ninjago, Shy Guy from Super Mario Brothers and Space Girl

Whew! I've just wrapped up our Halloween festivities, and it's been a lot of fun. No, not all the kids are asleep, yet. They're still hyped up from all the excitement.

Malaysia doesn't celebrate Halloween very much. No one goes door-to-door through a neighborhood collecting candy from strangers. A few restaurants had Halloween brunches, there's a Halloween kids disco this upcoming Friday at The G Spot, and one mall was swarmed by trick-or-treaters this past weekend. 

It takes a lot of planning and creativity to pull off an American-style celebration. Last year, our first Halloween abroad, we trick-or-treated en masse to a few condos in our complex who had agreed ahead of time to hand out candy. Let me tell you, cramming 25-30 people into two elevators was more excitement than we really wanted. This year, we were inspired by Facebook posts from people mentioning trunk-or-treats and decided to try something along that line. (In Malaysia, you would call it a "boot-or-treat," but that doesn't have the same ring to it.) We rented out the recreation room in our complex and asked others to help out by hosting activity tables -- no car trunks for us -- or bringing food and candy. A few locals asked to be included since they are, to quote them, "very interested in experiencing this American holiday."

The preparations started a few weeks ahead of time with trips to the store. Cold Storage had a few very expensive bags of Halloween candy imported from the USA. Does US$11 for 10 ounces of Candy Corn M&M's sound pricey to you? Another store called Young Ones had a few decorations. Most of our decor was cut up black plastic bags and poster board or cutesy items I shipped over from Texas.

All in all, it's like how I picture the  American Halloween retail experience back in the 60's. We had our pick of angel, devil, fairy, ghoul, witch or pirate costumes. Nothing identifiable from any movies or TV shows was on the racks. And all the masks are the hard, molded plastic type with holes for the eyes and an elastic around the back to hold it on your head. My girl went with a hand-me-down outfit from her costume box, and my boys made their own. That green Ninjago hood you see -- it's a T-shirt pulled over his mouth with the back flipped over his head. He cut out pieces of green felt and safety pinned it to his shirt for extra snazziness.

A room with glass walls, tropical climate and no air-conditioning = A very sweaty Halloween

I think it's interesting that Singapore, just to the south of Malaysia, has a much bigger Halloween celebration. My Texas friend there expected over a thousand people to come by her home. She lives in an area with lots of Americans, so Singaporeans head to those neighborhoods on October 31. We were there last Saturday and were mesmerized by the number of people roaming Clarke Quay in costume. Many of these were dressed as zombies. I saw a couple zombie tours with one regular looking guide waving a glow stick and leading a pack of the undead down the sidewalk. Our restaurant was staffed entirely by zombies! Yet, we managed to ward off all attacks and made it back to Penang with our brains intact.

Where are those Bennet sisters when you need them?

Happy Halloween! Have fun trick-or-treating and have a piece of candy for me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Searching Singapore for a Taste of Texas

We've finally found good Mexican food in Asia at Cafe Iguana

I've just returned from a weekend in Singapore, and I must admit that food is one of the things I was really looking forward to. I first visited this country back in 1997, and I remember reveling in eating authentic Asian food while actually in Asia. This time around, after living in Malaysia for over a year, I was keen to dine on food that reminded me of my Texas home. I am not alone in this strange endeavor. When one of my Penang expat friends visited Bangkok for the second time, I remarked that she must have really enjoyed her first trip. She told me what she was really going for was the Mexican food since her attempts to convince the chef to move to Penang had been unsuccessful. Good Mexican food is impossible to find in Penang. Chili's Bar and Grill is your best option other than ingratiating yourself with your Mexican friends. I really need to work out a homemade ice cream for Cochinita Pibil bartering system.

Nom, nom, nom... Shredded Steak Burrito

A Texas expat recommended Cafe Iguana at Riverside Point by Singapore's Clarke Quay, so it was at the top of my list. A waitress brought us a small bowl of chips and salsa as soon as we sat down, and I cautioned the kids to savor it slowly since it probably wouldn't be refilled. (It wasn't.) I had to laugh at the overly complicated Margarita pricing system depending on the time of day, but the drinks were delicious. The family ordered quesadillas, chile relleno and shredded steak burritos. We loved every bite! I was initially expecting "good Tex-Mex considering you're in Asia"-level fare, but this restaurant could hold its own back in my Austin, Texas home. (Well, if they would only keep the chips flowing.) The steak burrito was loaded with meat, not mostly rice and beans as I'm accustomed to getting at Chipotle in America. I did have to augment it with a little salsa and Cholula Hot Sauce to give it the kick I wanted, though. We were quickly seated walking in at 8 p.m. on the eve of a public holiday, but they do accept reservations. I'm definitely headed back there the next time I'm in Singapore.

Finding ice cream in Singapore from my hometown Houston, Texas

Growing up in Houston, Marble Slab Ice Cream has always loomed large for me. I remember driving to Marble Slab with friends back in high school on a Friday night. After finishing a particularly grueling Freshman Chemistry exam at university, another friend and I treated ourselves to a Marble Slab double scoop waffle cone dipped in chocolate and rolled in Butterfingers. Like the exam, this dessert proved more than we could handle. Imagine how happy I was to find one in Central @ Clarke Quay, across the street from my hotel! It's like Texas was waving hello to me all the way in Asia. Even though we were stuffed from dinner, everyone got a scoop with mix-ins. It's going to be months before we see another Marble Slab, so I didn't mind splurging on money or calories.

At Singapore's Changi Airport, I made sure we stopped by Texas Chicken. It's the same company as Church's Chicken but has been renamed for the international market. Honey Butter Biscuits for breakfast? Yes, please!!

Fried Chicken and Honey Butter Biscuits at the airport

 The strangest part about my American-food-in-Singapore fixation is how much I looked forward to eating at Subway. They have this chain in Malaysia, but all the food is Halal (prepared according to Muslim dietary laws). That means there's no pork products at all. Also, Malaysian Subways offer a variety of breads, but inevitably, everything but the Italian is "finished already" whenever I go.  In Singapore, I discovered I could get a "real" Italian B.M.T. with ham, pepperoni and salami on 9-Grain Honey Oat Bread. It's not the filling I regularly order in America, but once again, I found myself making unusual choices after living in Malaysia. And they had Doritos!! It's been so long since I've seen Doritos. Rumor has it that you can buy Doritos in Kuala Lumpur, but they are nowhere to be found in Penang. Hubby thought it was strange that I didn't get a cookie with my combo meal. I explained to him, "I can make cookies. I can't make Doritos."

Lest you think that I spent my entire weekend chowing down on Western food, I'll confess that I also indulged in a few iconic Singaporean dishes. Jumbo Seafood is the place to go for Chilli Crab and was recommended to me by my Texas friend currently living in Singapore. The fresh crab flavor comes through even though everything is drenched in a yummy chilli gravy. (Not Texas chili, by the way.) I love sopping up the sauce with deep-fried buns called Man-Tou. Last of all, I finally had a Singapore Sling while sitting in Singapore. It took until my third trip here to accomplish this, and I thoroughly enjoyed every sip.

Related Post:
Singapore Sights: Part 1
Singapore Sights: Part 2

This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ipoh Road Trip: Lost World of Tambun Water Park

Cliff Racer slides at Lost World of Tambun

One of the great things about Malaysia is that you can comfortably go to water parks all year round. There's Carnivall at the Cinta Sayang Resort in Kedah and Bukit Merah Laketown Resort near Tai Ping, but my favorite one of them all is The Lost World of Tambun in Ipoh. Located about 2 hours from Penang, it's close enough for a day trip, or you can stay overnight and pair it up with a visit to Gua Tempurang Caves or white water rafting the next day before you head back. Lost World is more than just a water park, though. With a petting zoo, tiger valley, swan boats, tin valley and carnival rides, we spent the entire day there and didn't get around to doing every single activity.

Lost World impressed me with being much more organized than other Malaysian water parks and the attention they put into really setting the scene so that you feel like you're in some rediscovered lost civilization in the middle of the jungle. The natural beauty of the lush, limestone cliffs rising up around you are an added bonus. RFID (radio frequency ID) wristbands loaded with credit kept us from having to worry about carrying soggy cash around with us all day. Just scan it in at the restaurants or game booths. The locker room near the entrance was open air yet provided privacy for changing. Make sure you don't accidentally go into the prayer room. (Hey, it was labeled "Ladies", so the mistake is understandable.) The bathrooms were plentiful — one even had tadpoles living in the fountain. After my previous experience at Bukit Merah where I felt scantily clad wearing a conservative, one-piece swimsuit, I opted for a quick-dry T-shirt, swim shorts, and sports sandals for my water park attire this time. Since we were there with so many friends, my tween took off with some kids his age, and we didn't see him for the rest of the day except during their periodic check-ins.

Lots of hot tubs and soaking pools if you just want to relax

The water park seemed to have something for everyone. The steep Cliff Racer slides were the most thrilling. Consider yourself forewarned that these use different tubes (free) than the ones you rent for the rest of the park. If you leave your rental tubes at the bottom, there's a chance they won't be there when you exit. I'm a big ole scaredy cat, so I skipped the Cliff Racer but enjoyed the long Tube Raiders slides. A pirate ship watery playground proved great fun for the younger kids. Adventure River was so slow it should have been called the Catatonic River, although I'm sure my daughter didn't mind the relaxing pace. The wave pool was quite popular but large enough that we didn't feel too crowded.  Numerous hot springs soaking pools (37C to 43C), a steam cave, and the too-hot-for-me reflexology foot spa were options for those who really want a slower pace.

You'll feel like you're floating through an ancient civilization's jungle on Adventure River.

If you're tired of splashing around, you can try the animal encounters. At Tiger Valley, Siberian Tigers are feed publicly twice a day. Watch the pair wander around their enclosure in the mean time. We didn't make it to the Petting Zoo, but our friends who did seemed to enjoy it. They came face-to-face with rabbits, turtles, snakes, birds and marmosets. The star of the zoo is Ruby the Raccoon. Coming from Texas where raccoons are considered a nuisance, getting the chance to pet one seemed funny to the adult expats.

All I could think of was Richard Parker's encounter with the goat in Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Swan Lake is next to Tiger Valley. Here, you and a partner can lazily paddle the darling swan boats around the tiny lake. I thought I spotted a faux historical village on the other shore with men in flattened conical, straw hats hard at work. When I reached that side, I realized they were just regular workmen putting together a dragon or some other decoration. Hah!

Both real swans and swan boats float on Swan Lake.

For me, one of the more fascinating parts of Lost World is Tin Valley. You can learn a little about the tin mining that was a major industry in Malaysia, once one of the world's top sources for this metal. Try your hand at panning for tin with a shallow, wooden pan downstream from the sluice boxes. If that's not enough to occupy your kids, there's always the faux elephants nearby for them to climb on. Long ago, these animals were the only way to move the heavy tin ore from the mines to the depots. We didn't have time for the Team Building activities such as the ropes course, para jump and ziplining just beyond Tin Valley. Perhaps next time.

The kids try their hand at dulang washing (panning for tin).

We ended our day riding the carnival rides and playing games. The carousel and train are perfect for little kids while those who want a little more excitement can take a spin on the Dragon Flyer or the giant swinging pirate ship of Storm Rider. My kids and their friends enjoyed winning prizes at the game booths. Just before closing time, we made our way back to the locker rooms to change into dry clothes and head into Ipoh for dinner and our hotel. All in all, it was a great weekend escape.

Dragon Flyer at Lost World of Tambun

Trying his luck
Tiekets available online for slighly cheaper than at ticket office.
RM 38.25 for Adults
RM 32.30 for Children (12 years old and below)and Senior Citizens (55 years old and above)
Free for Children under 90cm tall.
Team Building Activities and game booths are an additional cost.
Check website for additional packages.

Operating Hours:
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Public Holidays and Malaysia School Holidays
6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Hots Springs and Spa by Night with separate admission price
Closed on Tuesdays except for Public Holidays and Malaysia School Holidays

No. 1, Persiaran Lagun Sunway 1
Sunway City Ipoh
31150 Ipoh
Perak Malaysia

Related Posts:
Bukit Merah Laketown Resort and Tai Ping Night Zoo
White Water Rafting in Perak

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Week Among the Japanese

One of the best parts of international travel is getting to see what people in other countries are like. How are they different? How are they the same? After spending a week in Japan, here are my (admittedly superficial) observations about the people of Tokyo and Kyoto.

They are incredibly kind to lost travelers.
On two different occassions in Tokyo, someone asked us if we needed help finding something as we stood there staring stupidly at a map. The first time, an impeccably dressed woman asked us where we were headed. She didn't immediately know where the place was, but searched the map until she could point it out. The next day, another kind stranger whipped out his iPad to look up and show us the route to our destination. How's that for acts of kindness? Thank you to those Japanese strangers!

Ladies in kimonos at Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple

Women actually wear kimonos
Whenever I tell people that I'm from Texas, they automatically assume that I was surrounded by cowboys wearing boots, ten-gallon hats, chaps and spurs. Ummm... no, not unless it's rodeo time. So I kind of thought that, similarly, no one in Japan actually walked around wearing kimonos. I was wrong. These folks were in the minority, but I saw a few kimono wearers every day. Part of it may be that cherry blossoms blooming at a temple is the perfect backdrop for a photo in traditional Japanese clothes. But I did see women walking around downtown Tokyo dressed this way, too.

Masked Tokyo salarymen stride past a busy sidewalk smoking lounge.

Tokyo's Men in Black
A black suit with a white shirt is definitely de rigueur for the Tokyo office worker. Well, I noticed one daring young career woman wearing a pinstripe charcoal pantsuit, but that was as crazy as it got. Conformity seemed to be key. The one thing that stood out was how many people wore surgical masks covering their mouth and nose. At first, I thought they were sick and thoughtfully keeping germs from spreading. A guide later informed me that the pollen count was high, and this was their way of keeping allergies down. Can you imagine Texans doing this when Cedar Fever hits? Everyone would think you were about to rob them.

Salarymen relaxing in Ueno Park at an office cherry blossom watching party. Not exactly Casual Friday.

Pedestrian Scramble at Shibuya Crossing
My husband wanted to know why I just had to go to Shibuya Crossing. "Because it was in Lost in Translation," was my reply. That didn't really seem to be a compelling enough reason for anyone else in my family, but it was good enough for me. After months living in Malaysia where jaywalking and crossing lanes in a Frogger-like way is the norm, Shibuya was simply amazing. Everyone, both cars and pedestrians, followed the rules! Crowds of people built up on the sidewalks waiting until the crosswalk lights turned green. As soon as the cars came to a halt, they flooded onto the streets in the busiest, all-directions, pedestrian scramble crossing I have ever seen. For a whole minute, it's sheer madness. Then, the crosswalk lights turn back to red, and the walkers actually stop entering the street. It's really something to behold. Our vantage point was the Starbucks overlooking the intersection. It's rumored to be among the busiest in the world, and the staff doesn't seem too keen on people taking pictures out the window. (Just sayin'.)

Pedestrians and cars take their turn at Shibuya Crossing.

Youth Culture in Harajuku
In Harajuku, you'll find a bold contrast to somber attire of the white collar workers. Youth culture rules here, especially on Sunday afternoon at Jingu Bridge. This is when the Cosplay (short for Costume Play) subculture comes out in droves to see and be seen. Looking at these kids in their truly elaborate get ups, I wondered how many years would go by until they morph into one of the black suited, toe-the-line salarymen I had seen in other parts of Tokyo.

Harajuku girls and boys

Can you guess which ones are the tourists visiting Harajuku?

Kyoto's Style is Flirty and Fun
Kyoto Station is a supposedly a must see for it's modern architecture, plus it's the biggest transportation hub in town. But what I loved most about this place is the vast shopping mall stretching out underground. I almost told my family that they could look at temples without me, and I would just shop my way through the day. (For some reason, hubby was opposed to this plan.) If you're familiar with the American store, Anthropologie, it's pretty much an entire mall based on that style. Everywhere I looked, I saw flirty, fun, romantic fashion. On the subways, I noticed that the women's clothes were much more colorful, flowing and embellished than those in Tokyo.

One day, were were visiting the International Manga Museum where one of the temporary exhibits was on Manga's Influence on Fashion. In walked three of the best dressed ladies around. They put my jeans, sneakers, and zip-up hoodie to shame. If you compare their outfits to the cosplay participants in Tokyo's Harajuku, I'd say that sums up the differences I felt between the two cities.

Sweet cosplay styles in Kyoto

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.  Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Long Term World Travel Inspiration for Families

Last weekend, the kids and I were invited to a gathering of a fascinating group of people. They are families who are taking open-ended trips around the world. For a few days, they converged in Penang to share their experiences and meet face-to-face instead of keeping their relationships in the virtual world. The longest trip I've ever taken is 3.5 weeks, so for me, embarking on a multi-month (and in some cases, multi-year) trip seems rather remarkable. Listening to their stories, I felt like I was in the midst of an inspirational Oprah episode on realizing your dreams.

What struck me is that they all seemed extremely normal. At least, they're no crazier than the folks I usually hang around with. No one was a Facebook IPO millionaire or an heiress with unlimited funds. Most of them have figured out how to utilize the internet's ability to let people work from home. Except for them, "home" moves around to anywhere they can find internet connectivity. If your work is done online, you can do it just as easily from a tropical island in Malaysia or cafe in Europe as you can in a suburban home in Silicon Valley.

Furthermore, these weren't just footloose and fancy-free flashpacker couples. These folks had kids in tow! Some families had preschoolers while others had tweens and teens. They've found a way to educate their kids through travel. Some follow homeschool curriculums (perhaps "roadschool" would be more apropos) while others do unschooling which is an education led by a child's interests. Imagine having geography, social studies and world history come alive by actually traveling to places many kids only read about in books.

Most importantly of all, these were people who found a way to turn their dreams into a reality. They didn't dismiss it as some crazy pie-in-the-sky idea. They prioritized and planned in order to transform around-the-world travel with kids from something floating in their heads to actually getting on a plane and starting their trip. What an inspiration! Even if I have no intention of doing long-term travel myself, I can still take their example of commitment and living with intention and transfer it to my own life goals.

Traveling Mammas with multitudes of kids and dads missing from this picture. This group was HUGE!

Who were these cool families? Read on and click through to delve deeper into their journeys.

Travel with Bender
Erin spearheaded this gathering and, luckily for me, noticed my blog post about kids' activities in Penang and invited me to join them. This Australian family with two wee little ones started traveling in May and have since hit numerous Southeast Asian countries, spending a couple months in each one before moving on.

Edventure Project
In 2008, this family with 4 kids (currently ages 10 to 16 years) old biked through Europe and part of North Africa. They've roadtripped across Central America, the USA and Canada and are now exploring Southeast Asia. I was geeking out just listening to all they've seen. The mama of this family is passionate about education and helping others realize their dreams.

Going Anyway
Traveling the world with 5 kids, one of whom is a baby is one thing. Add a wheelchair and tube feeding into the mix, and it's something even more extraordinary. We actually just missed each other at the meetup which is quite a bummer because it was the only blog I had followed before this gathering.

Bohemian Travelers
Six years ago, this American family with 3 boys took off for Costa Rica and never looked back. They'd visited Penang previously and loved it so much, they returned here while saving up money for traveling around Spain, Portugal and Morocco. What struck me about this mama is her savvy for using her blog to get comped everything for her stay in expensive Singapore.

Worldschool Adventures
This Canadian family with two young boys was only on Day 8 of their long-term travels when I met them. I bet that hanging around this can-do attitude group erased any questions of "Are we crazy?" and replaced it with "Wow, all these other people have managed to do it." I thought it was great that other traveling families were taking Worldschool Adventures under their wings and offering to show them the ropes.

A King's Life
This American family with two adorable preschool-aged kiddos are currently hanging their hats in Bali. Two years ago, they embarked on a 6-month visit to Costa Rica (where they met Bohemian Travelers) and decided to just keep going around the world. According to the King mama, they're more likely to settle in a temporary home base and head out from there instead of continuously keeping on the move.

Kismet was certainly smiling down on this family with one young girl. Our hostess graciously invited these strangers in to take shelter from one of Penang's sudden downpours. It turns out that they are a long-term traveling family, too! They are just beginning their journey and had been following some of the bloggers in this group. I'm sure they must have been delighted to join in the festivities.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Fruit #5: Dragonfruit (and making it into Sorbet)

Any guesses why it's called Dragonfruit?

Oddly, the first time I encountered dragonfruit was in my company's lunchroom back in Texas. My friend's husband was a top chef in Austin, and a potential supplier brought him a basket of tempting goodies. That's how my friend showed up at work one day with a pinkish fruit sporting a sticker saying, "Hi! I'm a Pitaya." When she cut into it, we were all amazed that the firm but juicy innards were generously studded with black seeds. After she sliced it up, we each enjoyed a small sliver. I wonder if my memory is failing me, because in my recollection, this pitaya had absolutely no scales and was smooth skinned.

Flash forwards more than a decade, when I saw a dragonfruit hanging out at a hotel breakfast buffet in Malaysia. This fruit is made for adding some flair to a table. Bright pink with the distinct scales that give dragonfruit its name, you can't help but notice it. I immediately thought back to the pitaya I'd had years before. How could I forget all those seeds? It's the same fruit but goes by a different name here in Southeast Asia.

When my oldest boy saw it for the first time, he nodded sagely and commented, "The rarest of all fruits." Huh?? It turns out that in the ultra-popular game Fruit Ninja, the appearance of a dragon fruit is both random and rare. Slicing it is worth 50 points and an unlocked King Dragon Blade.

Kool-aid colors but made by Mother Nature

When you slice into it in real life, you'll find flesh that's either white or a brilliant, radioactive magenta hue. The reddish-purple one is supposedly sweeter. But to be honest, the flavor doesn't really match the promise of its color. With something that vivid, you'd expect a taste that would knock your socks off. You'd expect the essence of cotton candy or baby unicorn breath or, at the very least, sweet syrupy goodness. While it's refreshing, it's actually quite bland.

It has the same texture as a kiwi. So, just scoop out the innards with a spoon and eat it up. The seeds are so small that they don't bug you at all.

Then, I was inspired to turn this fruit into a sorbet and add some oomph to its flavor. Plus, I am getting more and more obsessed with all sorts of frozen concoctions. What this dragonfruit needs is a little sweetness, the kick of fresh mint, and the subtle flavor of white wine.  When I was done, the sorbet tasted the way I'd imagined the unadulterated fruit to be. So very delicious!

Dragonfruit-Mint-White Wine Sorbet

Dragonfruit-Mint-White Wine Sorbet
2 cups water
¾ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon glucose (can substitute 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup)
Juice of 1 large or 2 medium lemons
2-3 sprigs of fresh mint
⅓ pound fresh Dragonfruit flesh cut into small pieces, no skin
½ cup white wine

Combine the water and sugar in a pot and heat on stove until sugar completely dissolves. Stir in glucose and lemon juice until dissolved. Drop in whole springs of fresh mint. Let mint steep for 5-10 minutes, tasting until the mint flavor is a little stronger than suits you. Remove mint and cool liquid completely in the refrigerator.

In a blender, puree the dragonfruit. Add in the cooled liquid mixture and white wine. Blend everything up. If the mixture is too warm, put it in the refrigerator to cool to 40F. (Do not skip the cooling step if you, like me, are working in a semi-airconditioned tropical kitchen.)

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. 

If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a 13 x 9 inch pan and place in freezer. Every 20 minutes, take the pan out and scrape the frozen mixture with a fork until all the frozen pieces are broken into small shavings and mixed with the remaining liquid. Place back into freezer. Continue to scrape every 20 minutes and freeze until no liquid remains.

Makes about 2 cups. Eat as soon as possible as the sorbet will get progressively harder and the mint flavor diminishes.

No artificial food coloring, seriously.

Related Posts:
Mystery Fruit #1: Ciku
Mystery Fruit #2: Elixir of Immortality
Mystery Fruit #3: Passion Fruit
Mystery Fruit #4: Mangosteen

This post is part of "Foodie Tuesday" on Inside Journeys. Check it out for more delicious ideas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Flying Through the Trees at Phuket Tree Adventure

Reaching new heights at Phuket Tree Adventure
(Dear grandma, he's wearing a safety harness.)

My announcement that we were going to Phuket, Thailand was met with a total lack of enthusiasm from the kids. We'd been away from Penang for 6 weeks, and all they wanted to do was hang out in their tropical island home, not on a different tropical island. (It's a very hard life we lead.) So, I took my own advice and included them in the trip planning hoping to stir up a little interest. That's how we found ourselves high up in the trees at Phuket Tree Adventure, a.k.a. Xtrem Aventures, a recreational ropes course with plenty of high elements. My oldest boy loved climbing oak trees back in Austin, and the tall, skinny palm trees of Malaysia have proven to be very difficult to scale. This was his big chance to spend the morning in the treetops. It was suited for his younger siblings, too.

The session began with outfitting my son and hubby with safety helmets, gloves and harnesses. No helmets were big enough to fit hubby's cranium which is large even by Western standards. He just perched the largest one on top, strapped it on,  and hoped for the best. A quick training session just a meter off the ground showed them the ropes. (Sorry, couldn't help myself. I had to get that joke in here somewhere.) They were supposed to use the two carabiners clipped in opposite directions on the safety rope and never have both unhooked at the same time. When my younger two kids saw them zipline a few feet off the ground, they really wanted to give it a try, too. But I had other things in store for them.

This zip-line is just his mama's speed.

Phuket Tree Adventure isn't just ziplining, though. It's a ropes course requiring upper body strength, balance, and plenty of courage. If you've stayed up all night partying, perhaps you should stay away.

Hubby's height helped out when climbing up a tree using handholds or stepping from disk to disk to get to the next platform. My son's size, however, was better suited to scampering through the hamster tunnels between the trees. My boy took great joy turning around every now and then to tell his dad, "You're going to love this one. Ha ha ha!"

Not just another walk in the park

Four different courses are rated from Easy to Difficult to Challenging. Although kids as young as 6-years-old are allowed on the course with a continuous belay system, my hubby was glad all the kids didn't come along. For one thing, there's no way I would have gone, so he'd be single-parenting in the treetops. They younger one could have done the two easy courses but even my taller than average 9-year-old would have had trouble reaching with his arms and legs on the difficult course.

Swinging from tree to tree

Side stepping

Hubby said he wasn't afraid until the last element on the Challenging course. Being in a tree 40 meters (120 feet) above the ground isn't for the faint of heart. All he needed to do was zipline across, climb down, and check it all off as D-O-N-E. But fate had other plans. He whacked into the tree at the far side, bounced back, and came to rest suspended by the ropes and harnesses 20 feet from the platform. After a few minutes pulling himself along hand-over-hand, he  reached his destination. Whew!

What were the younger kids and I doing these couple of hours? We were hanging out in the Accro Spider — 21 easy stations similar to the ones the big guys were doing but with a safety net underneath instead of a belay system. One parent there even managed to do this course carrying an iPad to take photos! I felt sorry for a youngster in another family who watched us longingly from the ground because all she got to do was stand next to mum on the trail who was taking pictures of others on the ropes course.

Younger tykes can have fun without giving mama a heart attack.

Reaching from piece to piece was a little hard for my daughter, and she was scared to drop down from the flying fox to the platform a little way below her dangling feet. My heart warmed when I saw her brother reach up from the net to help her get across. He was quite good at the course and had me time him as he raced around and around. Or he'd just lay down with his arms crossed behind his head on the swaying net as if it was the world's biggest hammock and declare, "This is the life."


Even I got into the act. As I was walking toe-to-heel across a rope, hanging on to the two support ropes on either side of me at hip level, I jinxed myself by saying, "I'm not cut out to be a tightrope walker." Boom! Next thing I knew, my feet slipped off, and I was suddenly straddling the rope.

This place turned out to be great fun for everyone. I would definitely say it rescued our trip from being "Bleh" in the kids' eyes to "Yeah!"

If You Go:
Xtrem Aventures Phuket (also called Phuket Tree Adventure)
Located on the southern part of Phuket, near the Big Buddha

Open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with last start at 3:00 p.m.
Closed during heavy rains and storms (because they're not lunatics)
Will pick up from hotel for a 10:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. playtime

Tree Adventure courses: Adults 1,900 baht and Kids 6-12 years 1,200 baht
Accro Spider Kids Zone: Adults 600 baht and Kids 4-12 years 400 baht

Related Posts:
R&R in Phuket, Thailand
Snorkeling at Thailand's Racha Yai Island

This post is part of Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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