Birthdays Abroad

Pooltime delayed due to discovering just how much fun you can have with bouncy beds, balloons and ceiling fans.

Pool time delayed due to discovering just how much fun you can have with bouncy beds, balloons and ceiling fans.

We’ve been building up to today for weeks. Months, even. We’ve booked into a posh (for us) resort in Tangalla, Southern Sri Lanka for three days of swimming pools, huge buffet meals, comfy beds and aircon because today, all my children turn nine. And, being my children, they love buffets. And they’ve always loved nothing more than splashing about in water. And, well, the comfy beds and aircon are just a bonus.

As they slept last night, we did our best to transform the room into somewhere exciting. We hung up the “happy birthday” banners and bunting we bought in Bangkok on the walls, and blew up the balloons we bought in Cambodia. Janet had already snuck back to the room earlier to wrap up the presents we’ve been squirrelling away whenever we saw something suitably portable, and I had added several new books to their kindles (virtual presents being the most portable of all).

At breakfast, Evie came back from the buffet with a plate piled high with cake and chips which I thought summed up today rather well. These few days are a break from budgeting and eating cheap local food.

We bought the girls boomerangs so we’ll head down to the beach to try them out later, too. And little plaster of Paris moulding sets that well have to make very carefully in our posh hotel room. Between that and the pool and gorging ourselves, I think the rest of the day should contain lots of nine-year-old fun. Plus we managed to pick up three Swiss rolls and some “9” candles so we can sing “Happy Birthday”.

We’ve been anxious that being abroad for their birthday would make our girls homesick but now that it’s here, and they seems happy and excited, I’m starting to feel excited, too. When Scarlett opened her eyes and saw the sparkly banner over her bed, she squealed, “How did you do that?!” And her sisters popped up from their own beds, wide eyed at the decorations and balloons everywhere and, all piling into our big bed for happy birthdays, I think we’ve made it ok for them.

Since turning eight, my girls have only spent one month in the UK. Eleven countries and all kind of adventures and accidents later, their birthday feels like a milestone. Once today is over, we only have 14 days of travelling. Turning nine marks the beginning of a year where we’ll be going home, returning to jobs, school, home ownership and all the normal routines, rewards and responsibilities of a sedentary life.

But today, that can all wait. Today we splash around in the pool, play on the beach, eat ourselves silly at the hotel buffet and play with presents. Worrying about coming home and coming to terms with the idea that my babies can possibly be nine years old and on the cusp of teenagerdom can wait for another day.

Five Reasons Everyone Should Go Travelling with Their Family

Snake on a Stick

Evie about to try snake on a stick in Cambodia

By Evie Hadley (aged 8)

Delicious Food

One reason everyone should go travelling with their family is because it means you can try a lot of different foods like fried insects, snakes, amazing Thai fried rice and Vietnamese phô.

Strange Asian Languages

You can learn a lot of different languages such as Thai, Bahasa Malay/Indonesia, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Nepali and many more besides. Now I can say “three twins” (meaning triplets) in five different languages: fet sam (Thai), tumba tika (Bahasa Malaya/Indonesia), gom blua bai (Cambodian) and sinba (Vietnamese).

Happy Family

Another thing I really enjoyed was spending a lot of time with my family because I don’t get to see Mummy and Daddy as much at home. I miss my friends quite a lot though. I also miss NanaRara*. My Mummy and Daddy are our teachers whilst travelling which I really love.


I absolutely love trekking because there was an amazing view of white-peaked Mount Everest through a curtain of trees. There were many more mountains such as Gokyo Ri (which we climbed in the snow).

Elephant Land

You should come to Nepal and see Elephant-roamed Chitwan where you might make a large friend!

* Nanarara is the phrase Evie and her sisters use for Janet’s parents. They got Nana and rara (they couldn’t say granddad) conflated when very little and it’s stuck.

A Jungle Journey — A Swampy Surprise and an Anty Attack!

by Jemima Hadley

It was on the second day of our boat trip to see orang-utans in Borneo when it happened. We were on a muddy river in the south of Borneo which, after one day on a boat, became a glossy, black river even though it was clean.

We were going on a walk to see orangutans. The walk took us along rotting, wobbling planks that often went underwater. We had to keep on the planks because they kept you off the mud. If you stood on the bed of leaves resting on mud you would sink past your knees if you were a child. The planks that were above the water sometimes bent under. We found out that you sink in the mud when there was a round, fallen tree instead of a plank. Evie decided to walk in the swamp so she got in and started to walk towards the next plank. She was almost there when she took one step and SQUISH! She was up to her bum in – mud!

When we pulled her out again her feet were covered in gunk so we washed her shoes. We carried on.

Soon the swamp ended and the pain began! Bum – bum – bum! There was jungle on either side as we walked along every now and again the guide pointing out fire ants. We stopped to look at a stick insect when our guide said, “Owch!” and moved away! We moved after him, then we realised we had been standing in a fire ant patch. I realised I was still in it and sprinted quite far away. Evie started crying, Daddy picked her up and swatted the fire ants off her feet and hurried up to me. He didn’t get bitten. Tettie and Mummy went back the way we came to get out of the patch. Daddy went back and carried Tettie back through the patch. Mummy ran.

When we were safe Evie realised she had 5 bites. I cried in sympathy and cuddled Daddy and we went on.


Fire ants – nasty little things!

After loads more sprinting through fire ant patches and leaping over lines that crossed the path we reached the long wooden walkway and started to walk along it.

When we reached the boat we had a rest then realised it was orangutan feeding time and hurried off. There were no fire ants on the way. There were loads of orangutans when we got there. About 16. The guide book said you were lucky to see 4 or 5. We saw an enormous orangutan who we thought was Tom (the biggest, strongest orangutan in the forest – the king).


We thought this was Tom

As we went back, we saw the real Tom lying on the ground. He was even bigger than the other one! We looked at him for a bit, then we went to look at the visitor centre.

There were loads of fire ants crawling around the steps and we had to sprint through them and run up the steps then quickly take off our shoes. We looked and Mummy, Daddy, Tettie and Evie all had fire ants on their shoes. I was the only one who didn’t.

We had a look inside the visitor centre. There was a family tree inide and lots of other interesting things. I learned that the longest living orangutan lived to 58, but I’ve forgotten his name. It began with G.

On the way back there were possibly more fire ants outside the steps. We put on our shoes; the fire ants had crawled off them. Our guide had said that the best way was to walk slowly through them as there were gaps all along the patch. Daddy tried and at the very end a fire ant got him. He didn’t complain except saying, “Owch, one got me!” Mummy went and carried Evie across the path, running. Then our guide carried me and did the slow method meaning that I got the longest ride. Daddy went back and ran with Tettie, who yelled, “I’m on a dinosaur!”

On the way back to the boat, we saw Tom in a tree. Our guide tried to feed him bananas by putting them at the base of the tree, but he wasn’t hungry.

But this was Tom!

But this was Tom!

We went back to the wooden walkway and started to walk along it. Daddy dangled me over the swamp which the walkway was built over. Then we started talking about how Mummy would get really cross if I lost my shoe in the swamp. Then slop! Tettie’s shoe was in the swamp! Our guide stepped off the walkway, into a tree and just about managed to pull it back and give it to her, then climb back onto the walkway himself.

A couple of minutes later we were back on our boat and we could carry on with our beautiful boat adventure. After a painful and sloppy explore, we were glad to be back on the boat at last.

Orangutans kissing, while the smaller babay hangs off the side

Orangutans kissing, while the smaller baby hangs off the side

The Beautiful Mooooooooooooooon

by Evie Hadley

The boat trip was set on a large river in the middle of nowhere on the island of Borneo in Indonesia. It was on the second and last night that I did it…

I was tired and fell asleep almost as soon as I had closed my eyes (and rolled over about 10 times). I can’t remember my dream. When I awoke it was still dark and I guessed it was about 1 or 2 O’Clock in the morning.

Suddenly I remembered, me ad my sisters had planned to go down to the front of the boat and look at the moon (forget the fizzy drinks). So I got up, put my fleece on, and I walked to the front of the boat, sat down one of the benches and, I looked at the moon.

It was slightly blurred by clouds with smaller whispy clouds dotted around in the midnight-blue sky. The moon was diagonal to the forward-right bank of the river where tall trees grew up infront of the sky creating a wide and beautiful scene. Oh, and the noise, crickets chirping, birds chirping, orangutans chirping – “Wait a minute, orangutans don’t chirp!”

“Not usually!”

After about a minute I got back didn’t fall asleep. I lay there for a long time until zzzzzz snort.

Suddenly pop. I was awake and at last it was time to get up and dressed.


Special Times

by Scarlett Hadley

On the second day of our excellent boat trip I had two wonderful experiences, the first with Daddy and the second with Mummy.

The boat trip was set in Borneo, the third largest island in the world, on a long winding river, named Sungai Sekonyer, flowing all the way down to the wide, rippling sea. This first event was early in the morning whilst our boat was speeding along and the engine was rumbling quieter than the bees buzzing under the sun-shelter just behind us. Me and Daddy were sitting on the only cushioned seat on the 45 foot boat when I got up and sat on one of the two white benches one foot forwards and two foot to the side on left and right of us. Daddy followed me. He sat down behind me.

He put his arms around me and laced his sausages. I unlaced his sausages and Daddy SQUEEZED me! I quickly unlaced his sausages for him again and he relaxed. This game went on for some 15 minutes. Just then we arrived at the first orangutan feeding station and the game dwindled into nothingness. (His sausages were actually his fingers).

The second experience will take less time to read.

Mummy had been playing the ukulele for around 5 minutes when I came up to her and she said we should finish with her playing and us both singing. I agreed. We began.

I felt happiness flooding through me as we cuddled together. I could hardly hear the rumbling of the boat’s engine. We sang Brown Eyed Girl.

When we finished it was time for lunch and we settled round the table for the second meal of the day. We had 3 per 24 hours. I love our special times.


Indonesian Adventure

Put your backpack on, come on, come on

Put your backpack on, come on, come on

Planning ahead for our next country, Indonesia, has been on my mind for a while now. It’s a country I’ve been very much looking forward to from the moment I found out that we could walk up volcanoes there. It makes me feel like a little kid when I think how excited I will be to walk up a volcano. And what makes it even more fun is walking up one with 3 little kids!

As well as the volcano treks, there is an abundance of adventurous activities available to the backpacker who ventures into Indonesia. Of course, there’s Bali, but I think we’ll give it a miss seeing as we have seen so many wonderful beaches already. What really gets me excited is the chance to see some wildlife. There’s Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat.  Plus there’s a remote but fairly famous Orang Utan Sanctuary in a National Park on the Indonesian southern side of Borneo where you can live on a boat for a few days and spot them in the wild.

Plus, of course, Fergus wants to do some more diving.

However, joining the dots between the best volcanoes, the komodo dragons, the orang utans and the legendary dive sites leaves us with a daunting set of journeys on our hands. The initial flight to Indonesia is already a complex set of 3 airplanes with fairly long waits between them spanning a 26 hour period, thanks to schedule changes by Air Asia. And we’re 2 days travel from the airport. There’s no information online for the local companies who sometimes operate flights between our chosen destinations, and the Lonely Planet bus and boat estimates are wearisomely pessimistic e.g. 36-48 hour boat journeys – and, I quote, “Don’t expect a cruise ship.” Hmmmm.

However, I am refreshed enough by our time in the Philippines to face the challenge head on and see it as all part of the fun. The ‘travelling’ part of travelling is sometimes the best bit. I’ve seen some amazing things out of the windows of our bus/boat/taxi/train/airplane/helicopter journeys. So it is with an optimistic outlook that we set off tomorrow on what promises to be an epic, but awe inspiring, trip to Indonesia.

Falling for the Philippines

How kids should play

I’ve been feeling a bit homesick lately. Sometimes it’s the little things I miss: fresh milk; cooking my own meals; sleeping in my own bed; and of course the luxury of having no insect bites (my family call me the mosquito early warning system). I also miss the big things: seeing my parents; seeing Ferg’s family; our network of friends and family who support us.

However, over the last week or so I have totally fallen in love with the Philippines, and right now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world but right here with my family.

How to describe the Philippines? After just 20 days, I’m not qualified. The country covers a vast area, and is made up of over seven thousand islands, of which we’ve managed to see only three. Even those remain stubbornly difficult to classify: mountains, volcanoes, beaches, rice paddies, lush green valleys. You name it; the Philippines has it. In the last 400 or so years, it’s been under Spanish and subsequently American rule, leaving a mixed legacy of thousands of beautiful churches, Christianity as the national religion, meatloaf on the menu, Graham’s cracker-based desserts, and perfectly spoken, USA-accented English.

It’s the people that have made the biggest impression. Everywhere we go we encounter big smiles, people waving and saying, “Hello!” and an endearingly polite, and yet somehow giggly, way of interacting with each other and with us tourists.

Water is a big part of daily life for a nation of islanders; it’s the only place we’ve been to where locals swimming in the sea outnumber tourists. The water is crystal clear; we thought we’d seen good beaches in Thailand but every single island here has it’s own deserted stretch of white sand, turquoise water and abundant coral reefs. And here, you get the beach to yourself.

The food is also a switch-change from the rest of South East Asia. Out with the chillies and fish sauce, no Little India or Chinatown meals here. It’s all about the BBQ chicken and the stewed meat. As long as you enjoy pork, you’re fine. In fact, I think they may be trying to compensate for the below-world-average consumption of pork in the surrounding Muslim nations. It’s delicious, but seriously fatty. The fish ‘sinigang’ (a kind of sour soup) makes a healthier choice, and the rotisserie chickens are divine.

I’d challenge anyone not to fall in love with this place. With kids playing on the beach; locals swimming & fishing in the sea; all the smiling faces; the luscious countryside; outstanding trekking; historical buildings; relaxed dress code (women wear shorts and vest tops – hooray!); clear waters; brilliant diving & snorkeling; delicious food; some of the cheapest beer in the world; local rum that is cheaper than drinking water; all topped off with glorious sunshine and sunsets to remember forever, why would anyone ever want to go home?

Thank you Philippines. Homesickness: cured.

This Is It

[Sam] This is it.

[Frodo] This is what?

[Sam] If I take one more step, it’ll be the furthest from home I’ve ever been.

Lord of the Rings

Tomorrow, we travel over the southern boarder of peninsula Malaysia, into Singapore.  As soon as we travel south of the airport, it will be the furthest from home Fergus & I have ever been.

And we’ve only been to Singapore once, to change planes, but it still counts I guess.

Of course, for the children, every step they’ve taken since we got off the plane in Nepal has been the furthest from home they’ve ever been.

And by the time we get back, we’ll have to go to Australia to get the same effect.

Why is it so tantalizingly exciting to be taking that one more step?

I’m not sure, all I do know is that it fills me with a sense of adventure and puts a smile on my face.

Keeping Cool in KL

I’ve dreamed of visiting KL since I read about it while studying for my A Level Economics (many years ago).  At the time, Malaysia was the fastest growing economy in the world, with the Petronas towers under construction, set to be the tallest buildings in the world, and a symbol of growing wealth, ambition and progress for the nation.

We’re here at last, having arrived at the new, modern railway station by night train.  At 6.30am we heard the guard shouting ‘KL Sentral!’ which we assumed was the termination of the train, so were taking our time changing out of pyjama’s and gathering up our things, when he came back to hurrry us along as the train was about to leave again!  So we kind of fell off the train in a pile of laundry and rucksacks, matted hair and sleepy children.

No matter, our guest house were very welcoming, even at that hour.  It was a little early to check in, but we were given tea, coffee & hot chocolate, a big comfy sofa, and space to store our luggage.  It’s a lovely little place called Sabahat.  We’re taking 2 of the 8 rooms here, and have our own kitchenette in a lovely seating area, a great escape from the hustle and bustle outside.

We headed out again and saw the Bird Park.  Actually, we didn’t go in (it’s very pricey – about MYR 250 for all of us – £50) but we ate in the Hornbill cafe, which has an outside seating area in the birdpark, so you can see it for free!  We saw loads of hornbills, and even had some birds coming to eat our scraps.  The Lakeside Park is beautiful, we also saw the Orchid section, and of course, the playground, which is huge.

The next day was all about the Petronas Towers.  We’d bought tickets in advance so saved hours avoiding the enormous queue, and were wizzing up in the ultra fast lift before 9am.  The visit was in 2 parts:  a stop at the skybridge at about 180m, and a stop at the observation deck at 370m.  It really was memorable, being in such an iconic building looking down at the city below.  The highlight for the girls was spotting a huge playground with a paddling pool that we’d been told was nearby, so you can guess what we spent the rest of the day doing!

KL is very different to the other capital cities we’ve visited.  It’s much more modern, you can buy anything here:  we’ve seen H&M, M&S (we bought earl grey tea and rich tea biscuits), a Harrods tea room, Tiffany’s and many other famous western retailers.  It’s much calmer than Bangkok, much cleaner than Kathmandu, and much hotter than both of them put together.  The most popular way of keeping cool seems to be ducking into the city-sized shopping complexes that make the White Rose Centre in Leeds look like a small backwater from yesteryear.  It’s very dangerous on the pocket, Fergus seems to have accidentally spent £400 on camera accessories without meaning to.  And I bought a dress or 2.  Oops!

There’s also much more access to the outside world.  The internet speed is brilliant, and there are international newspapers, as well as BBC news on in many outlets.  Malaysia is big in the news at the moment, as the search continues for MH370 continues, and it’s the Grand Prix in KL this weekend, sponsored by Petronas, of course.

Fused with these modern conveniences though is the melee of sounds, smells and sights that signify South East Asia.  The cooking pots on the street are still here (although looking slightly more securely balanced than elsewhere); the inevitable Chinatown & Little India districts; the sudden change from ‘delicious noodle soup’ smell to ‘overheated blocked drain’ as you inhale; the honking of horns and the weaving motorbikes through the traffic; the touts trying to entice you, the tourist, to come buy their wares; and the tiny hovels inhabited by the city’s poor rub shoulders with the designer outlets.  What sets KL apart for me though is the parks, they rival London in the feeling of city centre getaway, and I think would make KL a very liveable in city for anyone, whatever their wealth.