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This was a fun attraction at the Tokyo Dome amusement park, by the way. You pedal to produce enough electricity for your kids to ride a little Shinkansen train around a track. Or in this case, the kids pedal and Daddy is riding the train. It was their idea.
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Right now in Japan
In this section I try to cover what is happening this week in Japan, especially that can be of interest to families with children in strollers or parents to toddlers.
We got a pamphlet about fall in Kyoto which really made us jump on the Shinkansen and go. Fall is in the air and last weekend was when everyone ate mochi balls with red bean jam inside, because the rabbits you can see in the full moon are making mochi.
The typhoon has passed and the weather today is great, but the weekend and next week will be rainy.
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October is when the fall colors start coming to Japan, and they will be at the most gorgeous at the end of the month and beginning of November in the Tokyo area. There will be plenty of group travelers on the trains, and you will also see school sports teams traveling to tournaments.
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There are no big festivals coming up in Tokyo this month, but plenty of Halloween events. October 20-21 is the days of the festival in Kawagoe, a town northwest of Tokyo (30 min with the express train).
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A few weeks we came back from Langkawi. Yesterday, my daughter asked to go back to Malaysia. “What did you like most?” we asked her. “The beaches”, she said.
The beaches of Langkawi were really stunning. And there were a lot of them. You could have your own, if you could get to it.
Is Langkawi worth visiting?
Yes, absolutely. The beaches are stunning and the rock formations spectacular. And the nature is beautiful if less accessible than you may expect. For one, even though there are alligators in the canals in the middle of the city, it is not so easy to get to the nature. You need to have some kind of transportation to get to places that are not builr up or cultivated. For another, it is hot. Even a short walk will leave you covered in sweat and mosquito bites. You want to spend most of the time in airconditioned rooms, the sea, or the pool.
What is the weather like?
Langkawi is hot. Kuala Lumpur is even hotter because Langkawi has a nice sea breeze, but when we were there (the first week in september), Tokyo was consistently hotter than Malaysia. And the rainy season had started. It did not rain every day, but close. And when it rained, it poured. We are talking buckets poured from the sky, not individual drops. When the sun shines, it is unrelenting, and will give you a tan in minutes. Red, if you are not careful. And did I mention how hot it was? Wonderful vacation weather, and it does not rain the part of the year that we were not there.
Where did we stay?
We stayed in the city of Kuah, in a hotel on the waterfront called Bella Vista Waterfront. And it was literally on the waterfront, with amazing harbor views. Not the fanciest hotel but definitely more upscale than many places in the neighborhood. Although the waterfront was becoming a hot spot for entertainment and relaxation. Not that Kuah is a city big enough to be busy. The Cenang waterfront felt much more like a busy city, and it was attached to a great beach. It is not hard to imagine Pantai Cenang becoming a Malaysian version of Waikiki in a few years. The advantage of staying in a city is the access to restaurants, and since they have not yet priced in tourism, you get much more in Kuah than you would in Pantai Cenang. At least at Wonderland, the seafood restaurant we ended up going to several times. Both for the food and the service, and the fact that our kids could watch the alligators in the canal.
Where did we shop?
Langkawi is a tax-free destination. Even if the population mostly are Moslem there are plenty of wine and spirit shops, and the only thing that was hard to find was pork. But we do not usually buy that for souvenirs. Instead, we bought lots of chocolate, mostly to give away. And some durian sweets and cookies. There are.literally hundreds of shops all across the island and they are all dirt cheap with our measuring sticks. We shopped a little bit everywhere.
How did we get there?
We flew Malaysian Airlines from Narita, for two reasons: They have the reverse schedule from Air Asia, and they fly A380. If you do not know why that matters, the A380 is the most comfortable airplane for long trips. You do not notice it has two floors while you are sitting inside, but they have really put in a lot of work into the lighting and air conditioning on board.
One general piece of advice: Do not give your kids too much snacks, because if they are motion sensitive that can produce disastrous results. The Malaysia Airlines handled our daughter throwing up very professionally. And makesure they do not have too much to drink, because that can produce disastrous results if they do not make it to the bathroom in time.
Malaysia Airlines do have full service on board, by the way. Even though they only charge like a low-cost carrier.
What should you eat?
When you are in Langkawi, you must try the seafood. The islands sit in a piece of unpolluted ocean, and with so many magnificent beaches and rocky places it would be strange if the crabs and shellfish were not good. And the fish are simply amazing. Pair that with a fertile agriculture where fruits, vegetables and spices literally grow around every corner, and it is hard for a chef to fail. A good one can reproduce Paradise in your mouth.
Malaysia of course sits in the tropics and fruit and fresh juice are amazing treats. Malaysian cooking otherwise tend towards either Chinese or Indonesian, but Malaysia is home to Malacca, home of Nonya cuisine which otherwise has been popularized by Singapore.
One other thing: Not all restaurants are great. Like in the rest of Southeast Asia, it is cheaper to go out and eat than to cook at home. But “home cooking” is not by any stretch a culinary experience, unless you like instant noodles and deep-fried things of uncertain origin.
How did we get around?
There is public transport on Langkawi, but it does not seem to run very often and I could never find any time tables. Maybe they exist. But there is no need to look for them, since renting a car was so cheap and easy. And gasoline was even cheaper, even though we were not even close to emptying the tank even after a full week of driving around the island.
What is there to do for toddlers?
Tons of things! This morning my daughter told us that she wanted to go back to Malaysia. When we asked her what she liked most, she said “the beaches”. The beaches were indeed amazing. Exactly as in a tourist brochure. But the kids also loved the hotel pool and the hotel pool bar attendants. And if hanging in the pool bar is not for you, then the rope way is probably something you would love. And the Oriental Village attractions were not uninteresting either. What child can resist a petting zoo? But we also loved the island hopping tour, although I came to realize you should rent your own boat for a day. Or two.
Do we recommend a Langkawi vacation?
Yes! It was one of our best vacations ever. Even with the weather, or perhaps because of it. There was so much to do and see, and people were very friendly and easy to communicate with. We will definitely be back. When the water park is open.
Did you like this? It was the second installment in our series about Langkawi. You can read the first installment about our Langkawi trip here. And if you are curious about this blog in general, take a look at my 100th blog post.
We are home again and my wife complained that she has already forgotten that we had been on vacation. Then, she opened a bag of durian coffee....
We liked Langkawi a lot, and we will definitely come back. But probably the waterpark next to the hotel will be open then. It seems construction was almost finished but there were no rides open. So from what we could see there were several rides that our kids could not use anyway. Perpaps it was good that it had not opened yet, since they would have been disappointed.
We stayed at the Bella Vista Waterfront in Kuah, which is the biggest city in Langkawi. Although the island is pretty much populated everywhere, except in the mountains. We had planned to get a condo and cook for ourselves but then we would never have ended up in the Wonderland seafood restaurant, which was just across the canal from the hotel. A canal with real live alligators if you got there around sunset.
The Bella Vista Waterfront was a nice enough place to stay in and the view of the harbot was amazing. Our kids were extremely happy when we got down to breakfast one day just as the rain ended, and they got to see a really spectacular rainbow. But it was not the luxury hotel that the management would have you believe, and the room furnishings can be very basic. Spartan, even. And quality was sometimes really crappy, like the stopper in the sink that got stuck and we could not get up however we worked it. The warm water in the room was also sporadic. But the beds were nice.
Although I had booked a suite we ended up getting two rooms, which meant a lot of running back and forth, which is problematic when you only have one key per roon and it has to be stuck in the electric switch, otherwise there is no light and even worse, the airconditioner shut off.
When I asked my son what was the best thing about our trip he said ”the pool and the breakfast”. And when it comes to the Bella Vista Waterfront in Kuah on Langkawi, I tend to agree with him.
The breakfast was served in a huge beach hut next to the pool. They were actually running the restaurant all through evening, and we were lucky that they did, otherwise we would not have had any dinner the first day. Or maybe only salted egg potato chips from the concenience store.
We would have needed the bottles of wine they gave us for staying seven days that first night. I will never be able to figure out why marketing people are so insensitive to their customers needs, especially when it comes to things like this. Now, I am not one to complain about getting a free bottle of good Chilean wine, but I could not help wonder what they would be giving Moslem customers. And they had a lot of those.
I would rather have had something we could use with the kids, like a 40 ringgit cupon for the island hopping tour. Instead we got one bottle of wine in one room in the middle of the week, and the other bottle the last day, so we could only drink part of it since we had to pack.
So how did we like the hotel?
The Bella Vista Waterfront has some unique advantages. The location is the biggest. And the breakfast was really amazing. Nalaysian cooking is somewhere between Thai and Indonesian, but Nonya cooking is one of the worlds great cuisines and a fusion of a lot of different things.
But the breakfast at Bella Vista Waterfront was divided into different stations that specialized in different things - fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables, bread, curries, noodles, congee, and eggs with the most delicious waffles you ever had. Our kids ate lots which four-year olds should do for breakfast, but unfortunately so did their parents. We skimped on lunch instead, except the day we went to Marrybrown and the kids got toys with their meal. And the other day when we went to McDonalds, where the food was better but the toys were less fun.
When other tourists view your kids as props
Our kids went aquatic and spent most of the days in the pool. Really. Which meant either me or my wife had to be there. My wife had to jump in in her clothes the first day when one of my daughters went out at the deep end. No, they can not swim, at least not properly, and they were not wearing their floats because Malaysian Airlines had forgotten to load one of our suitcases when we changed planes in Kuala Lumpur. But when they got those the only two things that could get them out of the water was a really big thunderstorm or dinner.
But while they were playing in the water, singing happy songs and really enjoying themselves, it happened several times that people started filming them. I asked them to stop and they gracefully did, but I still have not figured out what goes on in the heads of people who take photos and videos of your kids. I mean, do they sit down at the party after the trip and show pictures of these really loud Japanese kids who were playing in the pool? I do not think they were trying to capture their naked skin. There were Indian and Chinese kids who wore even more skimpy bathing suits. But you never know, and as a parent you become extra careful.
The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that they view my kids as props. Part of the hotel environment. Lit pool, check. Pool bar, check. Happy kids playing in the pool, check.
Needless to say that I do not want my kids to be regarded as the equivalent of pool chairs. If your concept of an exotic destination includes kids that you can film you need to revise your expectations. At least as long as you are staying in the same hotel as the Watertree family.
When it rains in the tropics, it pours
Malaysia is a tropical country and Langkawi shares the same climate as Puhket in Thailand. We did not go during the rainy season, but we missed the great weather season since we could not get away from our day jobs. So we were prepared for thundershowers. What we were not prepared for was how violent they would be. We were lucky that both times we went to the beach, we had just got out of the water and dried off when the storm broke. The first time was at Black Sand Beach, where the sand is actually black. Even if there was not too much of it.
There is a small marketplace on the bluff up the stairs from the beach with a really nice playground. Our kids made a valiant effort to play even though it was raining. But they had to quit, because the rain was so heavy that they may as well have been underwater. We ended up having lunch instead.
The second time we went to Pantai Kok, which was spectacularly beautiful. Our kids got so tanned they had tan lines over the tan lines, and relaxing in the warm sea watching the coconit palms wave leisurely in the wind was some of those things that suddenly make you believe in tourist brochures.
3-D museums are made for instagram
One of the most amazing attractions in Langkawi is the ropeway to the top of Gunung Machinchang. There are glass bottomed cars but the regular cars were scary enough. Like a very tall and fast Ferris wheel. The mountain is almost 800 m high so it is quite a ride.
The view from the top is amazing but as we were there the clouds started rolling in. We got glimpses but then the view turned grey. So we skipped the shybridge, which is a pylon bridge to the next mountain, and went down again. We missed the rain for that entire day, even though we spent a lot of time in the Oriental Village, a sort of shopping and entertainment village at the foot of the mountain.
The owners have tried hard to turn Oriental Village into a sort of 21st century amusement park. No Ferris wheels or rollercoasters. But a new type ofattraction - projected and 3D.
The Oriental Village had several of these, including one that was included in the cable car ticket. I am sure I have ridden it before somewhere else, but I can not remember where. It was called ”escape from dino island” in at least one version. You know, a Jurassic Park clone where the ride goes off track and then escapes back through the ”portal”. It was fun but our kids enjoyed the rabbit petting zoo more.
The prize among the attractions - and also included in the cable car ticket - was however the 3D Museum.
This was a museum not in the sense of exhibiting some great artworks, although everything that was on show was art. Very cleverly done and interesting enough the paintings seemed almost crude up close, but take a photo and it merges seamlessly with your kids making people believe that you have been surfing, even though the long and shallow beaches of Langkawi do not really lend themselves to big waves.
This must be the ultimate instagrammable museum, because it is made to take photos. With other people in them. Just taking pictures of the paintings themselves would not be half as fun, or even a third. They are made to put your kids in the picture and take photos. Sometimes thry can be fun but often they were confusing. Our kids loved it though and constantly asked us to take photos. Almost made me wish I was on Instagram, because this museum was really designed for you to publish your pictures.
Learning to use the left rear-view mirror
We rented a car, a Toyota Innova which was a very nice car even if I think it was a lie to call it a seven-seater, when two of the seats are in the back. But we managed to squeeze in both ourselves, the kids, and three suitcases.
Unfortunately, even though we drive to the left at home, I made a couple of wrong turns and ended up having a way too close encounter with a signpost. The roads in Langkawi were mostly very wide and new. But one day the GPS system decided that we should take a shortcut across the fields. Well, there were lanes there but it was a tight fit. That was when I figured out what the system meant when it said ”tirn left on row”. It meant those lanes.
Sometimes, thankfully not on those lanes, a scooter would come at full speed on your inside. That is when you find out what the left side mirror is for, and that you need to check it at least as often as the right side mirror.
Unless the scooter speeding down the inside is coming towards you. That happened a lot and was more nerve-wracking than the driving itself. It made me really happy when we had to drive home in pouring rain. I am not kidding if I tell you that it felt more like boating than driving. At least there were no scooters.
I had another intetesting experience with the GPS system, by the way. The GPS box suddenly reset and told us it was acquiring sattelites. Now, if you know anything about GPS, you find that fascinating. This was much closer to the equator than I have ever driven before, and there are more satellites visible on the equator than near the pole. Unless you get a latidunal shadow. Hm.
If you want a private beach, rent a boat
One other thing we discovered in Langkawi is that the small islands are dotted with beautiful beaches. Next time I will rent a boat. It does not have to be much more expensive than staying at a hotel like Bella Vista Waterfront in Kuah.
This was the first in a two-part series about our recent Langkawi vacation. You can read the second part in the Langkawi series here. Usually, as you may know, I write about travel with children and travel in Japan. If you found it interesting you will probably like the next in the series, as well as the posts of our family trips to Seoul, to Ishigakijima, and to Okinawa.
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I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.