Of Dolphin Bay Resort and the iPhone 5s’ Slo-Mo Video

A couple of quick things while I hold a sleeping baby in one hand/arm and hunt and peck with the other.

1.  We’re at the famously kid-friendly Dolphin Bay Resort in Pranburi for the very hot Songkran holiday.  This place couldn’t be more accommodating when it comes to kids – a great, beautiful beach front with no waves (which is a stark contrast to Hua Hin’s lack of a beach front), kid-friendly pools, a water slide, kids activities, bikes with children’s bike seats — as well as children’s bikes — for hire, a fantastic play ground and lawn area to play sports, an old-fashion popcorn-making machine, ice cream always within reach, and best of all — lots of friendly families with lots of other kids.  If you have a child who likes to make friends and play with others, this place is for you (side note:  it also reduces the burden on you, parents, when your children are entertained by others — we have learned this slowly over the course of our three years of vacationing in Thailand).  My husband, who has graciously always woken up early with Katelyn (now almost two years old) and allowed the rest of us to “sleep in” until 7am, said that for the first time on a vacation, he did not feel out of place walking around the resort with a toddler at 6am.  Apparently, there were plenty of other dads doing the same.  Bingo.  This is the spot if you have early-rising toddlers!

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Super-awesome playground and lawn area for the kids

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Kate at Dolphin Bay in 2013

Quick note on the digs:  the rooms are not lux, but we were very fortunate to get into the newly-renovated two bedroom suite (features two bedrooms, a living area, two flat screen TVs, excellent wifi, two bathrooms, and a kitchenette).  It is plenty big for a family of five and is clean, nice, and well-equipped.  If you are on your way down, ask if a newly-renovated room/suite is available.  I believe the owners are slowly renovating all of the rooms.

2.  I wanted to test out the awesome, new slo-mo video function on my iphone 5, so I captured Walter and the kids going down the slide.  Check this:

Cool, right?

3.  Vacation success?  Now being two parents with three children under the age of four, we have only lost one child on one instance during our vacation so far.  Not so bad.  #parentingstandardsareslipping #zonedefense

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A Gingerbread House That Avoided Pinterest Fail Status

As a child, I always wanted to decorate a gingerbread house.  So, when I saw a friend’s pictures of her decorating a beautiful gingerbread house in Bangkok with her daughter last year I made a mental note of it and contacted her last month to find out where she and her daughter designed that beautiful house.

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Now, you might be asking why I didn’t just bake my own gingerbread and attempt to construct a house that we could decorate at home.  I’ll tell you why. Because me making and constructing a gingerbread house would surely result in an epic Pinterest fail, kind of like this bad boy:  Gingerbread Fail.  So, to save me a lot of heartache (and my children a lot of disappointment), we made reservations this year to take part in a Gingerbread House Workshop at the Sheraton Grande.  It was the perfect holiday activity; not only for Logan, but for his grandmother and for me (and coincidentally, the first time any of us had ever constructed and decorated a gingerbread house).

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Using our box as a foundation

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Construction in progress!

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Almost ready to decorate!

Upon arrival, there was a place setting for each child with a paper box that contained everything that the child needed to construct and decorate his/her house.  A friendly — and patient — pastry chef then showed the children and parents how to construct the house around the paper box using gingerbread pieces and loads of icing (note:  I think Logan ate more icing than we used to construct the house –which, in both cases, was a HUGE amount).  After the chef helped make sure everyone’s houses were stable, children had free reign to decorate their homes with a multitude (I’m talking A LOT) of different types of cookies, marshmallows, candy canes, chocolates . . . pretty much any and all types of candy you can image.

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Ahh, to the best part — sticking the candy on

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Intense concentration

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Logan’s creative Smartie window decor

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The adorable candies provided for the rooftops

I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who will be in Bangkok and is looking to do some gingerbread house-decorating next year.  The staff at the Sheraton Grande was fantastic, I was able to choose my date and buy the workshop voucher on the hotel’s website, it was a very child-friendly event (complete with a visit from the hotel’s Christmas elephant), my three-year old loved it, and we brought home a beautifully-decorated gingerbread house.  No disappointments whatsoever and a new and fun experience for all – just how I like it.

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Gingerbread house decorating and a Christmas elephant? We’re sold!

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Receiving some Christmas love

And I’ll have you know that the gingerbread houses don’t last that long – we made ours at 1pm today and  the candy was already taking a hit tonight after dinner.  So much fun!

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Logan, proud of his creation

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Kate getting in on the action

Here is the link to the workshop online:  Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Gingerbread House Workshop.  I found that the hotel’s FB page and the Bangkok Events Calendar was also helpful when planning our outing this year.

Creative Ideas Amidst Bangkok’s Protests

Bangkok parents:  If you’re anything like me, you’re racking your brains to figure out what to do with the kids in order to avoid the daily protests, deal with school closures, and accept the fact that the major malls and play areas are closed (can you really blame Central World after what happened in 2010)?

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Bangkok Protests 2013 – ugh!

So – I thought I’d throw some ideas out there for the creatively-challenged (which, by the way, definitely includes me).  Lucky for me, I have a love for Pinterest and I’m fortunate enough to have some wonderfully-inventive friends — so here are some ideas to get you through the dog days.

Getting Out

1. Good news?  The morning weather is now cool!  Another piece of good news?  For those of us who live next to Lumpini Park, the protesters have left the park area (after many months of being camped out on the park’s Silom-side), which means we can safely utilize the area without totally melting in the heat.  So, grab some friends, scooters, bug boxes, and fish food and enjoy these December days outside.  For those of you who live in Phrom Phong, the same goes for Benjasiri Park — enjoy this cool weather!

2. It’s December and do you know what that means?  Well, yes, besides wonderful — albeit some times very tacky — decorations on every corner, it is the month of the Plan Toys Factory Store (Sathorn Soi 10) big annual sale.  Protests haven’t extended towards Sathorn, so depending on where you are coming from, the area near the store should be clear.  The kids can play with all of the demo toys (including a huge train table) while moms and dads enjoy 50-80% discounts for wooden toys.  A great Christmas shopping activity!

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We hit the Plan Toys Factory Store sale on day one today!

3. Go to the play groups that are still open.  One of our favorites?  Tiny Tots Play Group on Soi Convent (Silom) at Christ Church on Wednesdays and Friday mornings from 09:30-11:30.  They have a large space and an AWESOME array of toys.  The set-up is always different.  Some weeks you’ll find ice and polar animal play, other weeks you’ll find a rack full of princess dresses, and you’ll always find old favorites like Legos, ride-on toys, kitchen and house toys, etc.  The church also provides a craft activity and music for the children.  The Wednesday play session has a religious component to it (bible story to begin), but the Friday session does not.  For more information, visit the Christ Church Bangkok Playgroup Facebook Page.  Due to renovation of the church hall, the next play group dates are December 11th and 13th.  The playgroup will close for the holidays from  23rd Dec – 3rd Jan.  Please note that this is a parents and babies/toddlers group only (no nannies).  Also, there will be a craft and used toy sale at the play groups on the 11th and 13th.

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Tiny Tots Playgroup on Soi Convent

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Kitchen play!

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Princess dresses by the dozen

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Ice play

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My sweet girl

4. Plan your own play dates with friends in your area and rotate houses/play areas one day per week.  I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful group of friends and we rotate homes every Wednesday afternoon for play.  This keeps the play venue fresh for kids and both moms and kids get some wonderful social time.  We planned the group so that everyone lives on the same block, which means our activities, as of yet, have not been affected by the protests.

5. Swim!  Yes, it might be a little bit more chilly out these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize your pool and enjoy fun water play activities.  We are in Bangkok, folks — enjoy the ability to swim comfortably during the winter while you can!

6.  Find walkable or sky-trainable Christmas activities in your area.  There are a lot of fun holiday activities going on around the city this time of year.  Try to find some in your area.  For example, we just went to a gingerbread cookie and house-decorating activity at the Plaza Athenee Hotel on Saturday afternoon.  Children decorated cookies until their hearts were content, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas buffet, took in a magic show, listened to caroling, visited with Santa, and played in and decorated a huge gingerbread house.  In the meantime, parents enjoyed two glasses of wine, champagne or beer and watched their little ones delight in the holiday cheer.  All proceeds from the event supported a children’s orphanage.

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Delighting in the tree at the Plaza Athenee Gingerbread House Decorating Event

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Receiving love from a Christmas elf

Staying In

7.  Tap into Pinterest and do some craft searching.  This one is not rocket science, folks.  Are you familiar with Pinterest?  If not, get interested now.  And within Pinterest, simply search for “kids’ crafts.”  You will be amazed by the awesome activities that pop up.  For example, here is a broad selection of Christmas activities offered:  Pinterest Christmas Kids Crafts.

8. Make your own play doh and let the kids go to town.  Okay, I confess that I was a bit scared to make my own anything (play doh, bubbles, etc.), but after seeing a friend do it super-successfully, I tried my own hand at it and it worked!  I made a couple of huge batches and the kids loved cutting, forming and playing with the dough.  I gave them a whole slew of cookie cutters in all shapes and sizes to use with the dough as well, which they seemed to enjoy.  One tip for Bangkok:  when you are done playing with your homemade play doh, store it in a closed container or plastic bag in the refrigerator to avoid mold.  Here is the recipe that I used (there are tons of recipes out there): Play Doh Recipe by Family Education.

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Home-made play doh (picture by FMO Crafts)

9. Colored rice sensory play.  This was another awesome idea by a creative friend of mine.  Instead of creating a sand pit on your balcony, why not try some colored rice sensory plan?  The good news here?  We’re in Asia, folks, so rice is everywhere!  Buy a few big bags, some rubbing alcohol, food coloring, ziploc baggies, and a big plastic tub.  Here’s a how-to:  Colored Rice Activity by Living In Gear.

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Colored Rice by Living in Gear (livingingear.blogspot.com)

10. Decorate.  That’s right.  Get the kids involved in some holiday decorating.  Put up the tree, the lights, the ornaments, the stockings . . . why not?

Now, that’s all I have in me right now.  Hopefully I gave you at least an idea or two.  Let’s all pray that these protests end soon and peacefully so that we can all enjoy the holiday season.  In the meantime, stay safe, and if you are looking for some updates on the protest/security situation, the U.S. Embassy Bangkok Facebook Page is a good place to start.

Perth, Fremantle, Balingup, Bunbury, and Busselton: Family Australia Trip – Part 2

Alright, as promised in my previous post, here are the details of our family vacation to western Australia.  Which, if you’re looking for a vacation in the region with the kids — is an excellent option.  And, if like me, you are too lazy to do all the leg-work to plan the vacation, it is all planned out for you here!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

From Bangkok, we caught a direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways:  TG481, departing Bangkok at 7:50am, arriving Perth at 3:35pm (Perth is one hour behind Bangkok).  In case you’re wondering how accommodating Thai Airways is for children . . . wonder no more.  The airline and the flight crew are wonderful with little ones!  We were given priority check-in, lots of stickers and sticker books on-board, child-friendly food when the kids decided they weren’t keen on the adult meals, and the biggest bonus?  When they weren’t serving, the staff played with the kids for a majority of the flight.  Major win for us!

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It’s hard to beat Thai Airways on the child-friendliness factor

We spent eleven days and ten days in southwest Australia.  It was the perfect amount of time — just enough to explore the things we wanted to see without completely wearing out the kids.  The return flight (TG 484) departs Perth at 9:10am and arrives Bangkok at 3:05pm.

Once we landed at Perth International Airport, we grabbed our bags and headed straight to the Hertz rental car counter and picked up our full-size car, which turned out to be a brand new wagon (Holden SV6) – great for family travel.  Here’s a picture of our rental car (I’d told you I’d spare you no details, right)?

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Immaculate rental car + Logan in pajamas

The Yellow Brick Road

So, if you decide to go the western Australia family vacation route, you can choose from an endless number of places to stay and explore in 10 days.  Our biggest priority was driving down the coast and spending time in Margaret River (known for its great wines and natural wonders) and Pemberton (known for its spectacular hikes among the Karri tree forests), building in some beach time and farm stays along the way.  Taking into account our priorities, here was our itinerary and routing:

Day 1:  Arrive Perth, overnight Fremantle

Day 2:  Explore Perth and Fremantle, overnight Fremantle

Day 3:  Drive from Fremantle to Bunbury, explore Bunbury, head on to Balingup, overnight Balingup

Day 4:  Explore Balingup and surrounds, overnight Balingup

Day 5:  Drive from Balingup to Busselton, explore Busselton Jetty, head on to Margaret River, overnight Margaret River

Day 6:  Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River

Day 7:  Explore Margaret River and surrounds, overnight Margaret River

Day 8:  Drive from Margaret River to Pemberton, overnight Pemberton

Day 9:  Explore Pemberton, overnight Pemberton

Day 10: Drive from Pemberton to Bunbury, lunch and play in Bunbury, drive on to Perth, overnight Perth

Day 11:  Depart Perth for Bangkok

The drive map looked something like this (with Balingup situated between Nannup and Bridgetown):

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Map courtesy of Big Brook Cottages

I should note that since we have young ones (and no built-in car entertainment system), we did not drive more than two hours/day, expect for the final afternoon when we returned to Perth.  If your children are older and perhaps more patient, you could make it even farther south to places like Albany (known for whale sightings).

Perth and Fremantle

We opted to spend our first two nights at a beautiful, quaint beach cottage in Fremantle.  It was perfect; truly perfect.  It was spacious (three bedrooms), had an outdoor area and grill, a washer and dryer, free wifi, and was in a nice neighborhood that is only a 5-minute walk from the beach.  The owner was wonderful to work with and very flexible.  Here is the link to the cottage via stayz.com.au:  Mole End Cottage.

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A yummy dinner of grilled lamb on our back porch at Mole End Cottage

When we weren’t grilling out at Mole End Cottage, we ate at Cicerello’s Landing – a fun, laid-back fish n’ chips joint just a 10-minute drive from our cottage.  The seagulls almost got away with our dinner while Walter and the kids were feeding the fish and I was taking pictures, but we managed to salvage it with a sprint.

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Fish n’ chips for dinner at Cicerello’s

Our day-time excursions in Perth and Fremantle included the following:

1. Lots of play time on Fremantle’s South Beach (a 5-minute walk or 2-minute drive from our cottage).  We opted for the dog-friendly part of the beach, as Kate and Logan LOVE dogs.  They had a blast!

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Beautiful sky

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The water was chilly . . . brrrr!

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Dogs of all shapes and sizes!

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Logan being a wonderful big brother

After our frolics on the beach, we dried off, dressed warmly, and headed to the pirate ship-themed playground at the beach entrance and had some yummy yogurt and fresh berries at the adjacent seaside snack shop.  I’m telling you, awesome playgrounds are everywhere in western Australia!

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Enjoying time on the beach-side playground

2. A visit to SciTech – a children’s interactive science discovery center – in Perth.

SciTech is a wonderfully interactive and fun science museum for kids.  With everything from giant hands-on Rube Goldberg demonstrations to a baby chick incubator, this place had it all.  Such a great learning experience for the kids.

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Kate trying her hand at the LED wall

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Awesome plasma globe! 

3. A couple of hours running free in Perth’s Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

And who visits Perth without spending time at the city’s most iconic, beautiful, and spacious park?

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A beautiful afternoon for Kings Park

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Clowning around in the bushland

There are so many things to do with young children in Perth.  If your children are older, another great adventure is to hop aboard a ferry to Rottnest Island and spend some time snorkelling, swimming, fishing or just riding bikes.

Bunbury

On our way from Fremantle to Balingup, we stopped by Bunbury for lunch and play time at the Dolphin Discovery Center.  While we only toured the Center, you can take a Dolphin Eco Cruise and/or try your luck at being present when the wild dolphins appear in the Center’s “interaction zone” (which can happen any time of day, but seems to happen more often than not in the morning around 9-10am).  Bunbury is a charming sea-side town and was a perfect way for us to break up our day’s drive.  Per the usual, you can find great beach-side playgrounds for the kids, as well as some excellent lunch spots (we recommend Nicola’s for their good food and great kid’s menu).

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Inspecting fossils at the Dolphin Discovery Center

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Another awesome playground in the form of a pirate ship (at the Dolphin Discovery Center)

Balingup

After some time at the beach in Fremantle and Bunbury, we chose to go inland.  We stayed in a “hilltop forest cottage” at Balingup Heights.  Our main intent was for the kids to be able to interact with animals, as well as enjoy some time in the woods.  Balingup Heights has both — as well as excellent hosts, spectacular views, and cozy accommodations.  At Balingup Heights, you can join owner/host Brian every morning to feed the sheep, horses, guinea pigs, and chickens (or “chooks” in Aussie speak) – such a great activity for the little ones.   Every evening we settled into our cottage with a wonderful fire and admired the myriad of stars from our deck.

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And we are now in the country!

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Feeding the horses at Balingup Heights

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Cuddling with guinea pigs

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Feeding chooks

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Kate exploring the woods with our rental car and cabin in the background

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Cozy log fires became a nightly ritual from Balingup-Pemberton

Although Balingup is not your typical tourist stop (if you’re an international visitor to western Australia), we really enjoyed our time at Balingup Heights.  We spent the days exploring not only Balingup, but Greenbushes and Bridgetown, which are close by and offer some cool outdoor activities. Take, for example, our afternoon at Greenbushes Pool – a natural water hole.  We spent hours splashing in the (cold) water, meeting locals, playing on the playground (of course there was a playground!), and walking along the nature trail.  A very fun and relaxed afternoon activity.

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The Greenbushes Pool and Boardwalk — getting in touch with nature

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A beautiful natural swimming hole

Another farm stay in the region (the Ferguson Valley to be exact) that I would recommend is Ferguson Farmstay.  They offer tractor rides, fishing, animal feeding, and a bunch of additional activities for the little ones.  Book early, though . . . we started a bit late and were not able to get accommodations.

Busselton

After a couple of days in the countryside, we jetted back to the beach and hit up Busselton Jetty – the “longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere.”  We found this was an excellent place for the kids.  We spent loads of play time on the beach and at the beach playground (of course) and noshed on fish n’chips, indulged in Simmo’s ice cream, and rode the famous jetty train.  A very cool afternoon — especially if you are in route to/from Margaret River.

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Another day, another beach playground in western Australia

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Climbing – look at that blue sky!

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Beach-side

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You can swim, but the water is chilly . . .

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Kate on the jetty train

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On our way down the 1.8km jetty

A quick note on the train:  if you intend to do this, make buying the tickets your first priority as you arrive.   The train books up quickly and goes about every hour and a half.   You can have lunch and play while you wait.

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The jetty train – oh yeah!

Okay – and that is it for tonight, folks.  More to come on Margaret River and Pemberton in the next post.  Enjoy!

A Family Vacation to Western Australia – in Three Parts

If ever we’ve made a great decision about family travel, it was our decision to spend 11 days in western Australia this October.  Aside from its utterly phenomenal natural beauty and spectacular wonders (caves, beaches, vineyards), it was exactly what we needed after a year of domestic-only travel in Thailand.  The kids ADORED it.  To the point that Logan asks me almost every third night at bedtime if we can go back, stay there “forever and ever and ever.”  The children were exposed to so many new things, and we’ve all made wonderful memories as a result.  I hope many families follow in our footsteps (it just so happened we got the idea from family friends who had done the same trip in July), because it truly was a wonderful experience.  In case you need more coaxing than the above, below, in my opinion, are the best reasons to visit (especially if you are coming from a big Asian city):

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Beginning our Australian adventure in King’s Park, Perth

1.  Green space, green space – everywhere:  Oh my goodness the GREEN SPACE!  Logan and Katelyn spent the entire 11 days (aside from the time on the plane) running around parks, playgrounds, farms, forests, vineyards, and beaches.  They exhausted themselves physically.  As a result, they ate like beasts (we could not get dinner on the table fast enough!) and slept like angels every night.  They loved it.  It was wonderful to see them so physically active.

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Running through King’s Park in the center of Perth on a beautiful afternoon

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Enjoying the popular dog beaches!

 2. Playgrounds:  There are playgrounds – good, safe, creative playgrounds – literally on every corner.  On beaches, at breweries, at farm stays, in every town center – you can’t miss them.  We would almost always couple a lunch or an activity with play time on a playground afterwards.  And these playgrounds?  They are designed in the form of things like pirate ships, they are well-maintained, they have toddler swings, they are safe even for little ones, and there are lots of kids enjoying them, so plenty of chances for parents and children to interact.  Seriously, it was a novelty for us how fast time went by after the kids spent two hours playing at a playground after lunch or some time at the farm.

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Enjoying time at a beach playground at Busselton Jetty

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This was the coolest swing ever! It could go so high!

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Just one example of an awesome playground at a brewery/winery

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Getting properly dirty at a playground in Pemberton

3. Animals:  Logan (now 3.5 years old) and Katleyn (now 1.5 years old) have always loved animals.  In Thailand, we try to teach them a safe balance between liking animals, but being wary of soi dogs, cats, and monitor lizards.  But in Australia, there is wonderful wildlife everywhere!  At three of the four locations where we stayed, the children interacted with animals constantly.  Two of these locations were farm stays with chickens (or “chooks” in Australian speak, as we learned), horses, sheep, donkeys, ducks, dogs, alpacas, emus — you name it.  The third location was in the Margaret River Valley where wild kangaroos spent time right outside of our cabin.  There were plenty of bush walks that we could go on throughout the day to see more!  We had a bird feeder (and provided bird seed) on our front porch that the children could fill up and watch beautiful birds come by.  Finally, we went to a Dolphin Discovery Center to see some aquatic life and an Animal Farm where you could see and feed all kinds of animals (think kangaroos, pigs, bunnies, chicks, etc.)  It was really cool.

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Want to feed an alpaca with a funky haircut? You got it.

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When in Australia . . .

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Bunnies!

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Feeding the horses at our Balingup Farm Stay

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Feeding donkeys in Pemberton

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Enjoying the animals at our farm stay in Pemberton

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Kangaroo-spotting out back of our cabin in Margaret River

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Feeding chooks

4. Activities:  We had a nice full eleven days, but even this wasn’t enough time to do everything western Australia has to offer!  We introduced the kids to the beautiful beaches (they especially loved the dog-friendly ones), spectacular caves, nature walks in Karri tree forests, the Busselton Jetty (and its train).  Oh, there is so much to do!

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Searching for marron on a nature walk in Pemberton

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Nothing beats a trip to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory!

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Clowning around on the Busselton Jetty Train

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Discovering how wind works at the jetty

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Exploring a local swimming hole near Balingup

5. Ease of cabin rentals/farm stays for larger families:  Every location we rented was a home or a cabin with two or three bedrooms.  Most of the cabins had bunk beds (you have four children?  no problem!) and they all had living and dining areas, real wood fireplaces (this was a true highlight every night for us – chopping wood and lighting the fire), and great Aussie grills.  So much better than renting two hotel rooms!  The place is set up for family travel, I’m telling you.

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Farm stay cottage in Pemberton

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Starting our evening fire in Margaret River

6. “Short”, direct flight from Bangkok:  This summer we opted out of the insufferable 24-hour journey back to the U.S. and instead opted for the 6.5 hour direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways.  Great flight times (you leave around 8am and arrive around 3pm) and the icing on the cake?  There is only a one hour time change!  You – and the kids – won’t even notice the time difference = no time wasted!

Okay, so I have whetted your interest yet?  In my next two posts, I’ll share our itinerary (details of the flight, car rental, locations we visited, places we stayed, and activities we did).  Are you thinking about it?  Don’t think too much, just do!  It is a really wonderful way to spend a family vacation.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen our children happier than they were running free in western Australia.  Pure joy!