I was laying down in the park at the Singapore botanical gardens today while the kids were playing in the water fountains. Disney music was playing in the background and I am relaxing while reading an excellent book called “how doctors think” on my iPhone.
I was jotting down ideas and highlighting like crazy like I always do. And then, I had a moment of panic, I couldn’t remember how much Lantus Insulin I used to use in my diabetic patients… Have I forgotten everything?
Then I remember that I have to take my recertification exam when I get back, interview for jobs and renew my CPR. I have to figure out health insurance, find a place to live, get the old junker Ford working. We have to start school, figure out play dates and birthday parties. We have to collect rent, fix up the house, pull our stuff out of the garage. We have to set alarms, sign up for after school activities and organize our lives around two separate school pickup times. We have Halloween costumes, talent shows, Christmas presents, work parties, short weekends and of course, traffic.
I started going down “the list” and what was once a tranquil moment relaxing in the park turned into a moment of sheer panic. I could feel my heart beating and my breathing quickening. I could feel my chest tightening. I can feel it now again as I write this blog post.
I took a deep breath.
The list, it is never really gone is it? We can press pause, we can crumple it up and throw it away for a moment, or better yet, the year but, it will always be there waiting for me.
Today I saw it there on the ground, staring me down. I couldn’t resist the urge to read it, I quickly tore it up. But here it is again, it is often the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night.
List, this blog post is for you… When I get back you are in for it! I don’t know what I am going to do to you just yet, but I will figure something out.
When we came to the Cameron Highlands from Kuala Lumpur (or KL as the locals call it) we were excited to get out and about into nature. Unsure of how we could accomplish this with kids we did the only thing smart world traveling families can do: We just found a trail and started walking.
Jungle Trekking the Cameron Highlands with Kids
There are several treks throughout the Cameron Highlands that are suitable for small children. The key is finding the starting point, which is not at all obvious. We did two treks both starting from Hotel De La Ferns which is 2km North of Tanah Rata.
Path 4: Which began down a little known, unmarked road at the forestry department near the Kelab Golf course.
Path 1: Gunung Brinchang – A true uphill jungle trek not for the weak of heart that requires some prior proper planning.
1. Hiking Path 4 to Tanah Rata
This is an extremely easy, rewarding (and a bit slippery) walking path that leads from just below the golf course all the way into Tanah Rata. You will pass two child-friendly parks, strawberry farms, and a waterfall. It is a good hike to get your feet wet – literally!
From Hotel De La Ferns you can take the road (or the secret path behind the blue/white apartments) down towards the golf course and the strawberry farms. There is an unmarked road that veers off into what appears to be no man’s land. This is the road you want.
This is the road, blink and you will miss it.
Use this as a handy landmark.
There are actually several trail heads here. One option heads north and will take you up and around towards Tanah Rhata or connect you with several of the other trailhead towards Gunung Bringchangand. The one we want heads south and is just up behind the small park with swings (you will know it when you see it).
As I mentioned, the hike is flat and passes several very nice destinations for picnicking, frolicking and simply enjoying the outdoors.
Great place for a snack and some playtime.
Cool suspension bridge
Huge Root Systems
Easy to follow brick path
This trail ends at the elementary school, from here simply veer right and you will be on the main road of Tanah Rata. You can eat and catch a cab to wherever your need to go. In our case, it was back up the hill. The kids rode with mom in a $2.30 taxi and I hiked back up where once again it started to rain Go figure!
2. Hiking Gunung Bringchang with Kids (The tallest peak in Malaysia)
I must admit we did absolutely no research prior to heading out to hike up “Jungle Walk No. 1″. We had met some friendly young hikers the day before who recommended the trek and gave us some details about how to find the trailhead and how to “easily” secure a ride back down. It seemed easy enough, so we decided to give it a go. We spoke with our hotel manager before leaving and he assured us it was an easy trek suitable for small kids.
I am going to warn you, this hike is a 2-hour trek straight up a mountain and when you get to the top there is a 5-mile hike back down into civilization on the other side. Do not go up this mountain without having a plan for getting back down on the other end. We were led to believe that there would be taxis waiting or empty cars of people who could help. When we arrived there was one visiting family who we sadly watched leave. It then began to POUR. We started our trek downward with no one in sight. We walked for several miles down in the pouring rain. After about an hour, we came across a strawberry farm and spoke with a group of Malay farm workers who, despite their good intentions and big smiles, couldn’t understand a word we were saying. Luckily, a couple of minutes later a truck came up the hill and we were able to wave him down. He kindly used his phone to call for a ride.
Now that I have scared you, I will tell you that this hike is one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes I have ever taken and our kids absolutely loved it. You will find yourself enveloped in deep, lush green tropical rain forest, with root systems that you must scale, climb and grapple with until you finally are released from the mountains tentacles at the top. Watching the rain clouds pour into the mountainside, surrounded by giant ferns, mammoth vines, and exotic bird calls will transport you to a different word.
Hiking the Cameron Highlands with Kids
Jungle Trekking Gunung Brinchang: The highest peak in Malaysia.
Real rainforest and awesome root systems
I haven’t seen country this green and spectacular since New Zealand. If you are debating whether or not to visit the Cameron Highland on your trip though Malaysia the answer is; you definitely should. Guided tours abound and they will take you to all the local “touristy” spots, for us though, simply getting on the trail and spending 4 days outdoors hit the spot.
For a good budget friendly accommodation check out Fathers Guest House. If you want something quiet with a nice view and a good breakfast I can recommend Hotel de La Ferns. It was a bit out-of-the-way but they offered us a great off-season rate ($64 with a huge breakfast) and the view was spectacular. It is best to book through their website as they often run 50% off promotional deals.
Trail Map of Cameron Highlands Hiking Trails
Below is a helpful trail map of the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata and the various hiking tails. Download the image to your phone and take it with you hiking, it may come in handy.
The best launching pad for your tour will be from Ho Chi Ming City, There are lots of ways to get to the Delta from HCM which is a 3-hour bus ride from the city center. I think the easiest and possibly the best is to simply book a tour through your hotel or one of the many travel agents that line the backpackers district. They will arrange transport and accommodations for you, which takes a lot of pain out of the process. Although it is a bit touristy your guide will take you to a coconut factory, rice paper factory, fruit farm, a tropical fruit farm and of course the floating market as well as a trip down the Mekong in a traditional Vietnamese boat. There are 3 options, a one-day tour, a 2-day tour and a 3-day tour with a homestay or a hotel stay. We chose the 2-day tour on a smaller 18 passenger bus with a homestay which cost us $45 and had a wonderful experience.
Although it is a bit touristy the guided trips will take you to a coconut factory, rice paper factory, a tropical fruit farm and of course the floating market as well as a trip down the Mekong in a traditional Vietnamese longboat.
There are 3 options while booking: a one-day tour or a 2 and 3-day tour with a homestay or a hotel stay. We chose the 2-day tour with a homestay which cost us $45 per adult and a discounted rate per child, we had a wonderful experience. We stayed at the
Our Mekong Homestay
We stayed at the Hung Homestay where the family made us feel at home. This culminated with their 18-year old son coloring our son’s hair green! This may have been a lapse of judgement on our behalf, but it made for a great cultural experience!
The Rice Factory and Tropical Fruit Farm
Visiting the noodle factory and the tropical fruit farm were fun. Our guide walked us through the farm explaining all the curious produce and we had an hour break to relax and enjoy the region. The rice noodle factory was a real roadschooling adventure for us all and I will never eat a rice covered spring roll without appreciating it’s origins again.
The Mekong Delta
You will tour two floating markets: One is for bulk purchases and wholesale and the other is a smaller market where you can purchase items from your boat. The first day includes the wholesale market and on the second day you will go to the smaller market – my wife purchased a Vietnamese iced coffee and I cringed as she drank up the ice from the fishing boat… She didn’t get sick! To top it off the coffee supposedly was the best she every had.
If you are on the line of whether or not to take a detour from Saigon to the Mekong I would say go for it. This 2-day adventure included a lot of bus time for sure, but it is an adventure I will never forget.
It is the question I ask myself as I stare into the blank faces of the 100 or so black and white photographs that line the schoolroom walls; now converted to a memorial in remembrance of the brutal genocide of the Khmer Rouge.
This photo board is titled 1977, the year I was born.
In the 9 months, my mom holds me in her womb, 1000’s of innocent men, women and children are tortured then brutally murdered, and afterwards their bodies are disposed of; landfill for the rats and stray dogs to pick away at their rotting carcass’.
And to think, the next 20 years of my life would hold a similar fate for those unlucky enough to be born into this time and to this place.
Doing ad libs with my kids, sheltered from the scorching mid-day Cambodian sun of the S21 courtyard gives me pause, I look onward at the face of only one of 7 survivors during that 4 year period. I ask the kids if they will come shake his hand, I consider him a hero.
Tonight, in this hotel room surrounded by the ones I love I wonder how I would react if someone held a gun to my family and asked me to take the life of a child. My family or theirs? What would I do? Would I have the courage to do the right thing?
Many of those who survived the genocide have gone on to forgive their captors, acknowledging they were only following “orders”.
But I am not sure I believe in orders, in the end it comes down to free will and being prepared to do what we know is right even if it means dying for what we believe in.
We must ask ourselves, from whom then do we take our orders?
Thai kickboxing wasn’t on my radar prior to our trip, but after a couple weeks in Thailand and seeing adverts for Muay Thai events just about everywhere it was beginning to look like a fun family team building activity that we could all do together.
In Railay I watched an 11 year old and his father have a great time during a practice session and I was sold.
I spent a while searching for a place to do Muay Thai with tour small children and came up short-handed.
Internet searches for “kid friendly” and “Muay Thai” were not very productive. I emailed places in Phuket and Bangkok but most were very vague about age restrictions, cost and whether or not they would train our family together.
Muay Thai is fun for the entire family
We were lucky to happen upon the Lanta Sports Resort Muay Thai complex in Koh Lanta while riding our mopeds around the island in search of an apartment to rent for the week.
The complex itself is hidden down a dirt road with only the tiniest sign marking its presence. You would never know that it was a renowned Muay Thai center if you weren’t looking. The road is difficult to navigate on a moped but if you hang in there you will be welcomed by what may be the finest Muay Thai complex in all of Thailand, and it just so happens to have a fabulous kids program.
After speaking with reception we were able to negotiate a great deal that included a huge, airy pool side room with our own kitchen and 3 days of Muay Thai kickboxing for the family at an exceptional rate.
The information regarding the kickboxing itself is lacking and almost everyone who comes to take a class (including the guests at the sport resort) have a confused look on their faces. Like many places in Thailand there were no set times or schedules posted and it seemed like even training times could be negotiated to fit your needs. Many of the trainers speak little English and the girls in the office inside were well-intentioned but it was hard to get a straight answer.
That being said, it is pretty straightforward if you are determined to figure out what is going on. You can book private training or join a group session. Group sessions run from 8-10 am and the beginners session are at 10 am. They have a dedicated kids class in the afternoon at 3 pm.
The first day we took a class together at 10 am which was a blast. The next several days we split up, where I trained in the morning and the kids would take the afternoon class. The kids really enjoyed training with all the other children.
Why to consider Lanta Sports Resort for Family Muay Thai Training
There may be other places to take Muay Thai classes in Thailand but I never found one quite as nice and quite so child friendly. The grounds are impeccable and the trainers are gentle and work well with children.
The cost for a kids training session is 300 THB or roughly $9, the adult session is $12 per adult per 1 hour session. If you stay at the resort 2 sessions per day are included in the price and like I said, it is a wonderful resort. It is not on the beach, but it is a short walk to the beach which is just accross the street.
The staff at reception are not the warmest but they get the job done. When I asked them why they didn’t advertise their resort they looked at me like I was crazy. The truth is that this resort is extremely popular and beloved by the local Swedes who come here by the hoards during their winter season. If you arrive in January-March like we did you will realize very quickly that most of Koh Lanta is a German and Swedish hot spot. They love their Muay Thai and so do their kids who heavily populate the 3 pm class. If you are booking after the first week in February you better make reservations well in advance. Especially if you want one of the cheaper rooms.
You can check the latest prices at the Lanta Sports complex on Agoda or consider booking as well at the White Flower Apartments. We stayed here after we left the sports complex and it is a great value. Again, book early if you can.
Also, if you are wondering if taking your kids to a kickboxing event is appropriate? My answer is yes, consider staying up late one night an attending one of the evening competitions that is put on my the sports complex. We had a great time!