Travelling with kids can be more memorable when you hit another city rather than holidaying on the beach, says Aimee Chan, founder of suitcases&strollers. So if you’re looking for a break away from Singapore, but still want a holiday packed with activities, cafes and sights, sounds and new things to experience, here are some cool ideas for city breaks within easy reach of Singapore.
Beijing is the political and historical gateway to China which – contrary to expectations – makes it extremely family-friendly. Since this is China’s capital city, they make a real effort to keep it safe and friendly to tourists. Everything is centred around Tiananmen Square so it’s very easy to tick off all the major tourism sites (the Forbidden City, National Museum of China, Monument to the People’s Heroes and Great Hall of the People). Plus it is flat, so it’s easy to push a stroller around and get lost among the hutongs and backstreets where you will get a better chance at really interacting with the locals.
From Beijing central it is also an easy commute to the Summer Palace, 798 Arts District and (the most fun for kids) the Great Wall of China.
The major downside to visiting Beijing with kids is the terrible air pollution which worsens in direct correlation to the output of the factories and traffic congestion during the working week. Plan to arrive on a weekend and stay at the start of the week – when the air has had some time to clear – as Thursdays and Fridays are generally the most hazy days.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap with kids is surprisingly easy. Travelling with toddlers is usually something of a skill, but not in Siem Reap where little ones can be let free to explore and roam around the grounds of the many famed ancient ruins. If your tiny tot is too small to walk independently, then a baby carrier makes it easy to stroll comfortably around Angkor Wat, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei and the multiple other wondrous historical sites.
You will have to plan your sightseeing around the heat as in the height of the day it is far too hot for children (or adults) to be temple exploring. Again, this works remarkably well with little kids. You can do early morning tours, return to the hotel for swim and siesta, then duck out for another excursion in the later afternoon before dinner. Or use the midday sun as an excuse to explore the Mekong Delta via a cruise.
While Siem Reap is a tourist hub, it is relatively free of the begging and touting you get in many other developing Asian cities. Local kids will come to ask for your spare change, but once that’s done they are actually eager to interact, practice their English and generally have a chat.
One of the easiest Australian capital cities to visit from Singapore, Perth with kids is a nice little taster of Australian beach and café culture, without the hassle of the longer flight to the eastern states.
There are multiple beaches to explore (the best for families are Fremantle, Cottesloe and City Beach), all the major Aussie high street chains are there and there are plenty of cafes, museums and galleries to visit. The weather is also far milder in the winter than in Sydney or Melbourne but there are still those glorious long, hot Aussie summer days from November to March.
If you need a city stopover on your way to the Margaret River wine region or the northern reefs up near Exmouth, it is worth devoting a couple of days to Perth for a chilled, Australian city experience before heading back to the humidity and crowds in Singapore.
One of Singapore’s most underrated long weekend destinations is the charming city of Melaka. Only a 3 hour drive over the border, Melaka is a town that doesn’t have a lot of major attractions but does have a little bit of something for everyone.
For adults, there is the quaint old town around the Dutch Christ Church and Fort A Formosa. Here grand historic structures were built in a warm ochre and in the surrounds of Jonker Street are the gorgeous higgledy piggledy Peranakan shophouses that still sell local artworks and curios.
For kids, there is the Submarine Museum at Jalan Kota – a real Agosta 70 class submarine that you can climb inside, walk around and get to see and touch up close.
At night head to Jonker Street to sample an old school-style pasam malam (something that doesn’t really exist in Singapore anymore), a street market of delicious food, shops and lots of families shopping, eating, talking and enjoying the tropical evenings.
To see a part of Asia that gets far less publicity as a family holiday destination, try Taiwan’s capital. It’s a far more interesting place to travel with kids than you might expect.
There are several tourist attractions including the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (near the National Theatre and National Concert Hall), the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall and the National Palace Museum which are all fascinating to give a different side to the China-Taiwan political debate. At the Taipei Zoo is the Maokong Gondola which takes you for a treetop ride to the teahouses perched among the hills. Or for an insight into the local religion, try the Longshan Temple, perhaps the most famous in Taipei.
For the kids, there is a large National Taiwan Education Centre which is an interactive space for kids to learn and for little ones there is Daan Park, a free public space which has a large playground.
In the evenings, don’t miss the nightmarkets which are dotted all over Taipei. The most famous abnd largest is Shi Lin which has many oddities that will fascinate kids (a drink of snake’s blood anyone?).
Hoi An, Vietnam
For an easy taster of Vietnam’s culture combined with a relaxing beach holiday, Hoi An with kids is a perfect compromise. In the UNESCO-protected old town there are cute shophouses to explore, historical museums to visit and waterside restaurants selling café food (both local and Western) that are ideal for families. The town is closed to vehicular traffic, which means you can safely let older kids wander and it is easy to negotiate with a stroller.
In the afternoons take the kids to the magnificent Cua Dai Beach that stretches all the way up to Danang. This is one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia. It’s clean and in some spots along this coastline the water is practically flat. Local families flood the beaches in the afternoons to cool off after a hot summer’s day giving lots of opportunities to meet other kids.
It’s also worth devoting a half-day to hiking up to the caves and religious temples of Marble Mountain, doing a Vietnamese cooking class or even visiting some of the surrounding farms to see how the locals live.
Pre-kids Hong Kong is undeniably party city. But even if you now prefer an early bedtime and TV to bar hopping and late night dancing, Hong Kong is still a lively and fun destination for families.
Obviously, kids will tell you that the main drawcard is Hong Kong Disneyland. To do it properly you will need at least 3 days to feel every ride, attraction and experience has been worn out.
But beyond Disney, there are the markets around Tung Choi Street (don’t miss the Goldfish Market at Tung Choi Street North), the Tsim Sha Tsui museums, the ferry at Victoria Harbour and the views from The Peak to take in. Even just the sheer hustle, bustle and busyness of Hong Kong will make Singapore seem like a small little town.
Plus around Hong Kong there are the multiple islands to explore – the beaches of Lantau and the fishing village at Lamma are certainly worth a day trip to see a different side of The Kong.
Myanmar’s recent opening up to the rest of the world has made it a hot spot for all intrepid traveller’s wanting to tick off a bucket list. But this doesn’t mean Myanmar is for backpackers only. For instance, the capital city of Yangon is remarkably easy to visit with children and is the base from which to explore the rest of Myanmar with kids.
Shwedagon Paya and Chauk Htat Gyi Buddha give a sense of what a family holiday in Myanmar feels like – religious artifacts and historical structures dominate and give the aura of a city and people who have been tucked away hidden from the rest of the world.
Visiting the Bogyoke Market is a great way to see how the locals live, what they eat and how they interact. Here you can also pick up wooden animals for the kids and sample some of the typical cuisine.
If you are nervous about whether you are ready to do Myanmar with kids, a short weekend in Yangon is the perfect way to understand what’s involved and a teaser to the many beauties that lie beyond the capital, waiting to be explored.
Aimee Chan is a magazine editor and writer. She has worked with titles including CNN, Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, Time Out, several inflight magazines and she is founder of suitcases&strollers. suitcases&strollers is an online family travel magazine providing inspiriational ideas, stories and travel tips for parents traveling with kids under 12. See more at www.suitcasesandstrollers.com.
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