Capturing our love for art, adventure and learning
13 weeks ago, we took on a Grand Tour in search of healing, peace and a new way of life.
We chose to pack our things away, leave the comforts of home and took that step of faith. We knew we wanted to travel and experience life to the fullest in honour of my late father whom we all still miss terribly. Travelling slowly has given us time to work through our grief individually and as a family. We know it is a privilege and we are thankful for it.
When we set aside Hiro & Jack Co's range of products to travel extensively, we also put away 6 years worth of sweat, tears and sleepless nights. It means that we put ourselves in a position of financial uncertainty trying to build a new way of life. We've never been this excited to do what we do now. You know people say you should find a job that you love doing so you won't ever need a vacation from it. We've found it in this!
As you know Debra is our chief illustrator and designer. She creates designs for apparel because she's inspired by them. She draws and enjoys drawing it. She also manages the product lifecycle while feeding the family and being there for the kids.
I've never been happier doing photography and writing up blog posts, social media posts and creating reels. I do this while homeschooling two of the kids and managing the travel itinerary.
Our end goal is to create an attractive apparel range with our original designs and publish a range of children's books exploring issues we discuss on this blog.
OUR GREATEST FEAR NOW
We are being very honest and transparent here because we think that this project cannot take off without you. With every project, growing an audience and making sufficient sales keeps it afloat. It also takes time to create a series of books while we travel, school the children and run the blog.
We hope that you'll help us by sharing our posts, engaging us in the comments because that is how our content gets showed! Share your suggestions via chat to help us improve our product range and content!
If you need a new t-shirt or decals stickers for your devices or crafts, please support us by shopping at www.hirojack.com/store
If you see meaning in our project and wish to support us in any form, we are happy to connect via the chat button, our social media messaging systems and our email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
WE HIT THE TOP OF INDOCHINA
We've been telling the kids how fortunate we are to be able to even begin on this project. We've given up a lot to be here. It is days like the one I'm attempting to describe that makes the sacrifices worth while.
Sapa is a key base for many hikers, climbers and travellers to access the Fansipan Mountain. Measuring 3143m (10312ft), Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). Even though it is situated in South East Asia, there's snowfall at altitude in the winter months.
The peak is a 6 hour hike (one-way) for fit hikers. We are glad that back in 2018, the entire system of funiculars and cable-cars were built for families/travellers like us who would otherwise not be able to reach its summit.
We spent about 2.7 million Vietnamese dong (S$160++) for two paying adults and one child ticket. The staff were kind enough to consider Gwyneth small enough (100cm or under) to qualify for free entry. Expect to spend at least an entire afternoon here! We started our trip at 11am and returned at 5pm.
We saw many videos on Youtube commenting on the cost and how they think it isn't worth spending the money on the cable car and upper funicular since the views from the lower funicular was good enough. I was apprehensive at first but I remembered that my dad paid more than S$200 PER PERSON for us to ride the funicular and trains up to Jungfraujoch in Switzerland. If you put that in context, this mountain is also 3000+m and you only pay S$200 for a family of 4.
I've lost count of the times we said "wow", "omg" "EPIC!!!" and "this is so beautiful". Feast your eyes on how epic this place is.
You will climb about 1410m in the Cable car. There were moments we experienced a complete whiteout when we went through the clouds. The distance between the pylons on this cable car system is so long you sometimes wonder if you are just floating. Once you arrive at the station, you're now at about 2900m above sea level.
At 3000m above sea level, you are experiencing 30% less oxygen available in the air. Some people experience severe lethargy, headaches, vomiting and rapid heart rates. Debra and I felt a little tired initially but quickly acclimatised to the lack of oxygen. I kept sick bags in my backpack incase the little ones got sick. Lo and behold, the two little ones became hyper excited. We were pleasantly surprised that the altitude did not affect them until a little later when we had to climb some stairs around to explore the area. Other than panting and aching a whole lot the next day, we thoroughly enjoyed the 15 celcius (probably about 10-12 if you consider the wind chill). No snow for us because it is summer but we loved it so much.
We love the fresh air, cold wind and peace that comes with being at altitude so much that Debra and I are dreaming on Fansipan of being able to afford a home in a mountain somewhere in a country that will take us in. If you know a place like that, please call us immediately. haha!
You'll find a massive magnificent buddha statue and some impressive architecture housing the different gods that the Vietnamese worship. The architecture reminded the kids of scenes from the Kungfu Panda movie. Don't mind their hilarious poses!
You can explore the buddha statues, temples and architecture either before or after you hit the roof of Indochina. We did half of the exploration first and headed up the second funicular to the summit so that we give ourselves some time to acclimatise to the altitude. You can watch our latest reel for the whole journey in videos here
The mountain top experience reached its climax as we laid our hands on the summit markers. 3143m above sea level. It is the highest we've been for the entire Grand Tour. Although we didn't physically climb the mountain, it still felt like an achievement to be there. Perhaps we'll be able to climb something in future when the kids are a little older. Have you done that before? We really want to know how it feels like!
We started the trip off with beautiful sunshine from Sapa and went through some thick clouds, and rain. Upon reaching the 2900m it was nice and sunny again. We went up to the summit and it remained foggy throughout the time we were there. We caught the giant buddha from afar in glorious sunlight but soon after we descended to where the statue is, a thick fog came and never left. What you get to catch that day is completely weather dependent. But that is what makes the views so special.
The weather on mountains are very unpredictable. We experienced sunny weather, cloudy skies, thick fog, cold heavy rains and relentless wind. Bring your ponchos and weather protection for your camera is they are not waterproof. We got ourselves a little wet when a sudden downpour came upon us. We were fortunate to be near the cafe and relaxed there over a drink.
We definitely recommend visiting Sapa and Fansipan and its surrounding attractions if you are planning to spend about 8-10 days around North Vietnam/Hanoi/Halong Bay.
This mountain top experience is truly a highlight of our 13 week trip. ALL of us cannot stop scrolling through our pictures of this incredible place. We hope we will have more opportunities to ascend more summits and peaks soon!
WE LOVE SAPA
We are back in the Mountains again! This time we’ve taken a comfy van from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam. The transport agent, homestay we booked and the hotel we checked out from all expressed a little concern that we were to spend the rest of the month here in Sapa. We just didn’t tell them we spent almost 2 months in another mountain recently…
The journey took about 5.5hrs including two 15 minute stops. The kids took it on like champions! We’ve unintentionally trained for that by climbing and descending mountains more than 10 times over the past two months. To our surprise, 95% of the roads were good! There were only two patchy parts due to ongoing construction but I must say Vietnam has some decent roads!
Sapa is a mountain station/town that is just 23km from China’s border in the far north of Vietnam. This mountainous region is home to the Hmong, Tay and Dao hill tribes. It is about 1500m above sea level (4900ft).
Here are the main highlights:
We’ve been taking it really slowly! Despite diligent hand washing and mask wearing, we all caught a flu in Hanoi. All of us are well after 3 days so we are back catching up on school work and exploring. The climate here has been so inviting, we don’t even mind walking a total of 4km to town and back! We don’t miss the killer heat in Hanoi! We look out on our balcony and this is the view that greets us….
We chose to live a little out of town to avoid the noise and traffic. Like Genting and Cameron Highlands, there is a significant amount of domestic tourists who visit for the weekend to relax or escape the heat. You’ll find a beautiful lake, a church and a huge town square where people hang out.
The Hôtel de la Coupole - MGallery is an architectural attraction in itself right smack in the middle of town. With Swiss-alps-like mountains as a backdrop, being in the vicinity of this 5 star hotel feels like you are in Europe
A 10 minute walk from town, you’ll find the local market. You’ll find live poultry, Salmon and Sturgeons. There is a sort of wholesale area that deals ethnic clothing, toys, herbs, tea and other local delicacies. It gave us great insight into the local life here.
The town centre is a vibrant place full of hotpot restaurants and other restaurants serving local delicacies. Food is hasn’t been cheap for us because we aren’t able to fully enjoy the local cuisine. (It is still way cheaper for an equivalent meal in Singapore for sure)
A TRAVELLNG LIFE ISN’T ALL HUNKY DORY
We can’t find ourselves a decently priced + acceptably furnished Airbnb in Sapa and so we are in a sort of homestay/Bed and breakfast kind of place. There is A LOT of adjustment we have to make. A major one would be food! Sure, we do enjoy the coffee, Bahn Mi and Pho here but that’s really only a small selection of what locals eat. The cleanliness of food prep, the way food is stored, amount of flies, the cuts of meat and flavours are very different from what we are used to. Travelling with two younger kids also mean that we need to find food that is a little more familiar. It is already a challenge to get them to eat when we were back in Singapore…travelling augments your daily struggles X10!
In fact, we’ve had to adjust quite a bit in Sapa. We mentioned how helpful the Grab app was in Hanoi but it is literally useless here. No Grab food, no grab cars or taxi. This is a more rural area so less locals speak English. Debra is ethnically Tamil so everyone automatically assumes she doesn’t speak Vietnamese. I seem to have a pan-south east asian face that Malaysians, Thais and Vietnamese people think I’m local.
A regular day at a shop: Debra goes and asks about an item in English and the shop keeper immediately points at me and her item and speaks in Vietnamese. I just show a stunned face and say no no, English please? *Shop keeper scratches his/her head and whips out her phone/calculator…
Outdated information plagues Google maps in this part of the world. The best way to research is to walk the streets and ask the shop keeper. But that isn’t easy here because we can’t get our own transport in Vietnam. Most car rental companies offer cars WITH drivers and information about foreigners driving in Vietnam is rather sketchy. There is also a lot of conflicting information about driving on an international driving license. Although it is quite common to rent a motorbike with no license, I wouldn’t take the risk considering the traffic situation in Vietnam. You get no insurance coverage and legal recourse if anything happens too. Not having our own transport has cut off a vital source of our adventures. It has limited where we can go and when we can go.
OUR 10 YEAR STRUGGLE THAT GOES ON…
Debra and I will celebrate our 10th marriage anniversary in 3 weeks. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure Debra will concur how crazy it is to be married to me.
One of the biggest struggle we’ve faced is the issue of race in Singapore.
This week, an experience in Vietnam has inspired us to write about this.
A shop keeper points at Debra “you and…” ….*points at me, “different eh?”, “different!”.
I understand the language barrier could have made it difficult for the shop keeper to express herself. Inter-racial marriages are less common here in Vietnam too. There’s room for growth here for sure.
We’ve been fortunate that we never had to feel different or less because of our race in most of our travels across the world. It has become almost an escape for us from the harsh struggle. The struggle is really the denial of the existence of racism, casual racism and insensitivity. It gives you the feeling you never really belong. These are things that we struggle with right from the first day we started dating. I hate to think that my children will ever have to feel this way in future.
Some of the most disturbing incidents we’ve experienced in Singapore…
Look at us. Other than our skin colours and facial features, how is our love any different? How are we that different? Love is love!
Hanoi's summer heat really hit the roof and we've been drenched in sweat! The real feel temperature was hitting 48 celcius (humidity close to 100%) and it is absolutely unbearable. There are still ways you can make it an enjoyable adventure around this charming city in the north of Vietnam.
Here is how we still had fun in Hanoi travelling with two young children in summer!
1. Plan your schedule around the temperature
If you are planning to explore the outdoor attractions like the Sword Lake or West Lake, go early in the morning between 7-10am. The heat isn't that intense yet at that time. You can also plan a trip to a mall or indoor attraction during the hottest hours of the day (between 12pm-4pm).
Notable shopping malls to escape the heat while visiting Hanoi:
-Vincom Mega Mall Royal City (Ice skating rink and many BBQ restaurants)
-Vincom Mega Mall Times City (Bowling and Aquarium inside)
-Lotte Centre (Very upscale departmental store)
2. Hydration and breaks keep you alive
Hydrate yourself and take breaks! Heatstroke risks are real in this kind of heat and humidity. We survived by hopping from cafe to cafe between our walks around the city. You won't have a problem finding cafes serving great coffee, tea, juices and beer because they are EVERYWHERE in Hanoi.
(Beer is quite often cheaper than a fancy coffee! A 330ml bottle costs between SGD 1 to 2, USD 0.70 to 1.40)
3. Grab a ride
Walking is healthy and Google maps tell you its only 1.2km away, how bad can it be right? All 4 of us were absolutely exhausted and drenched in our own sweat after 10 minutes into the 1.2km. I love long walks, just not in the extreme summer heat.
If the walking distance is more than 1km, use your Grab/Gojek apps and get a Grab car/Taxi. It was noon time and we wanted to have lunch so we took a Grab car from the hotel to the restaurant. After we've eaten, we took another Grab car to our next destination. Total distance of 3.27km in two cabs costing only 62,000 Dong (S$3.71, US$2.65). This journey was done during the hottest time of the day and it would have been miserable without catching a Grab car.
We arrived at the museum around 310pm and visited all the indoor exhibits before seeing the outdoor ones only around 4pm. (The museum closes around 430pm). It made the experience a lot more pleasant because we catch a comfortable ride at an affordable price.
We were able to learn about the horrors of war and to reflect on the fact that peace is fragile and we must never take it for granted. There's nothing glorious about killing for power and killing to decide who is right. Wars don't determine who is right, they just determine who's left.
4. Be a vampire (just the nocturnal part okay?)
Come out only after the sun sets. Like most asian cities, Hanoi's retail as well as F&B operate till late. Most shops don't close until 930-10pm. Food opens late and beer places operate into the wee hours.
5. Bring and wear protection
There is nothing beautiful about having your skin burnt bright red. Unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays risks hyperpigmentation and skin cancer. Too much harmful UV rays can harm your eyes too. Bring shades, caps/hats, cooling clothes and put on sun protection on your skin. Wear a good pair of sneakers and bring along a poncho in case it pours.
After 8 enjoyable days in Hanoi, we decided it was time to see another part of Vietnam! You can see the first instalment of our Hanoi adventures here if you missed it! We have embarked on an epic journey to a place that's just overwhelmingly beautiful. Please stay tuned!
Lastly, we want to express our thanks to those of you kind souls who have privately messaged us and chat with us about missing our quality handcrafted baby shoes. We are also very thankful for others who have mentioned that you enjoy reading our blog posts. Others have supported our work by shopping our travel inspired products that we are working hard to add on to!
Till the next post....live your life to the fullest, be grateful!
Xin chào from Hanoi, Vietnam!
After an almost tearful goodbye to the comforts of a familiar Malaysia, our own car and being close enough to drive home, we've flown more than 3 hours to a land neither of us have been to before. Watch this reel if you've missed it:
We landed, passed through immigration and got our luggage in barely 15 minutes. That's impressive to be honest. We've had to wait more than an hour in queues at Heathrow London and Auckland Airport. Spent 30 minutes at a belt waiting for baggage at Changi too.
"DING!" Rang my phone....
Our Airbnb host told us to cancel our accommodation while we were in flight....
I had to report the host to Airbnb before the booking was cancelled and the full refund was made. The host just refused to cancel on his side. How lucky can we be?!
We were thankful that it was easy to grab a Vietnamese SIM card for our little pocket Wifi device. You'll find plenty of shops offering the SIM cards at the arrival hall. It cost us 350,000 Dong ($21 SGD) for a full month with Viettel 4GB limit a day on 4G network. Unlimited on 3G network.
We had lunch at a Burger King restaurant in the Airport while I searched for a hotel to replace our Airbnb accommodation. I'm not going to call this a nightmare anymore because we've been through that twice in Melaka and KL. It has been well established on our blog that Airbnbs are a 50-50 chance of encountering a disruption to your trip.
We are fortunate it isn't hard to find decent and well-priced hotels in Hanoi. We were able to get a Grab car from the airport to our hotel in no time. Grab Car and Grab Food is very affordable in Vietnam! It cuts out the language barrier, getting lost and haggling problems with scam cab drivers. It has been a breeze getting around Hanoi with the Grab app!
The ride from the airport to our hotel was like a baptism of fire. My anxiety was through the roof. If you grew up in country where lane markings and road signs are NOT optional, this is going to shock you. Watch this video and you'll understand....
This is considered mild. There are some massive junctions that I can't even draw a diagram to explain the logic. There are 50 million motorbikes in Vietnam so just imagine.
The biggest cultural shock was really the incessant honking. I’ve been feeling really tensed walking on the streets amidst the traffic. The kids were almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We’ve been conditioned in Singapore to understand honking as a show of frustration, anger and imminent danger. But the Vietnamese honk because they are communicating. It goes along the lines of, “I’m coming through”, ”Don’t come out I’m going to pass”, “please move aside”. They also honk when passing a cross junction. Nobody gets pissed. It’s just a way of life.
We are better now after a couple of days! There’s so much beauty in the absolute chaos. We have so much of this world to explore!
Vietnamese summers are as relentless as the honking on the roads. 4 of us are adjusting to the 48 degree celcius real feel in Hanoi.
Before we delve deeper, here are 5 fun facts if you are just as clueless as us about Vietnam:
1. Vietnam is a communist country situated in South East Asia bordering Laos, Cambodia and China. (1 SGD converts to around 16,600 Vietnamese Dong)
2. Vietnamese drive on the right side of the road (Steering wheel on the left of vehicles)
3. It has both temperate climate (in the north) and tropical climate (in the central and southern areas). Mountainous regions bordering China do experience snowfall in the winter!
4. Vietnam was a French colony for 6 decades.
5. Religion was banned, suppressed with great force and persecution until 2004.
We spent the past 3 days walking old town and visiting Sword Lake, Ngoc Son Temple within the lake, Hanoi train street and St Joseph's Cathedral. The heat makes 1km of walking extra hard for all of us although we really are enjoying the charm of this city. There's more to explore and we'll report back in our next post!
We recommend sun block, hats and ALOT of hydration. Avoid being out from 12pm to 3pm. You can get a heatstroke from being out in the sun in summer (June-August)
We also recommend our original design Tees that you see us wearing here!
The city really comes alive at night because most people avoid being out in the heat. The night markets and beer streets only come alive once the sun sets. You also almost forget you're in South East Asia. The charming streets looks European!
Hanoi is most charming in the Old quarters! You'll find historical buildings, old buildings with French influence and a lot of street food. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and you'll also find the glass skyscrapers and a very modern city. It is more developed than we all think it is! You get the same big brands in other major cities!
Speaking of food, you cannot come to Vietnam and not have Bánh mì (A savoury stuffed baguette). You must also try Vietnamese coffee in the street side shops and from Highlands Coffee. Debra is not a fan of the intense coffee but I absolutely love it.
We will add a new post some time this week about the eats, sights and adventures around Hanoi! Please drop us a comment and let us know if we're missing out on something we shouldn't miss in Hanoi!
A parting thought:
Seeing beauty in the chaos reminded us that there really isn't one way to live life. Whether you are travelling on a perfectly orderly road in Japan or North America, or a through a mayhem in the streets of Vietnam's cities, you will still get to your destination. Always remember, My battles, My way!
10 weeks ago, we uprooted our lives and drove our tiny little car across the causeway into the unknown. We didn't have a blueprint of what the past 10 weeks will be like. It was a step of faith and it still is. We carried with us grief that we will still carry for some time to come. If not now then when? Life is so short and unpredictable after all.
We've spent a significant amount of time in Cameron Highlands because the climate, nature and landscape was calming and healing. It brought great comfort to all of us. Almost 6 out of the 10 weeks were spent in rolling hills and clouds. We spent the other 4 weeks shuttling between Genting Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Ipoh, Penang and Port Dickson. You can read our entire series here.
We've spent the last leg of our trip largely homeschooling, illustrating our new book, creating our travel inspired apparel, cards and stickers. Please support our work by patronising our store!
We have been extremely blessed to find an amazing property in Melaka at a very affordable price to spend the last 3 weeks. This part of our travels, we got to really interact with locals and enjoy local food. We even made friends with our Malaysian neighbours who kindly gave us a tour of his amazing garden full of vegetables and fruits. He even gifted us a whole bunch of homegrown bananas! I've enjoyed all the conversations we've had at the gate where several neighbour uncles gather and chit chat like long lost friends.
The property is a two-story corner terrace house in the Taman Malim Jaya area of Melaka. The neighbourhood is 20 minutes away from the city centre of Melaka. It is very quiet but also felt very safe. No crazy loud exhaust of bikes and modified cars here!
It has an industrial unfinished feel to it. Much of the wall surfaces and floor are simply concrete.
We were a little apprehensive initially because it had no wifi, no washing machine and no freezer. We coped by getting an unlimited data sim for our pocket wifi device and did our laundry at the self-service laundromat nearby. This also forced us to explore the neighbourhood shops that no tourist would frequent. We visited hawkers and coffee shops a lot more often on top of the trips we made to Jonker street and the major malls.
To be really fair, ALL of us found Malaysian food a lot tastier than a lot of the food we find in Singapore. There is a lot more character in the food. Don't flak me for this first! Let me explain!
I feel that too many (not all) coffee shops, hawker stalls in Singapore and especially Food courts in malls are no longer owned by the chefs. Chef owned and operated hawker is the essence of our hawker culture in South East Asia. That was how it all started. When a chef owns the brand and operates the stall, he owns the taste and he is the master of his dish. Hired hands will never be as invested as the entrepreneur who built his brand, customer base, dish and taste. Food from a central kitchen that is reheated will never be the same as the taste of home.
We feel that food with character and proudly made by chefs who own the business is increasingly harder to find in Singapore. This is something we will miss a lot as we officially say goodbye to Malaysia.
We took our last drive to Port Dickson via the small village roads to enjoy the serenity of it all. It was blazing hot but that made the beach really beautiful!
It is also officially over because we are saying goodbye to our trusty car. We really can't afford to keep the car and it wouldn't be financially prudent to. It is a painful decision to make because it is one of the best cars we've ever had. It works perfectly fine in little Singapore because we don't drive long distances or carry much luggage. We were a little apprehensive about the smaller boot size and tiny 1.2L engine.
The Suzuki Swift Hybrid performed way beyond our expectations. (We aren't sponsored ! Just celebrating a really good machine!) We've driven more than 7000kms across the West Malaysian peninsula climbing and descending more than 60,000ft worth of mountain roads and cruising up and down the North South Highway. It still averages 17-20km/L. It is a stunning looking Super-mini (B-segment) hatchback, packed with tech we expect of a modern car.
Here are some of them:
1. Adaptive cruise control
2. Lane departure warning/prevention
3. Autonomous emergency braking (dual sensor brake support)
4. Stability control system
5. Hill hold
6. Tire pressure monitoring
7. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
8. Paddle shifters on steering
9. Auto Led headlights with Auto high beam. (Perfect in dark mountain roads!)
10. 6 airbags
Although we can't expect the performance of a sports car or the silence of a premium continental hatchback, it is still a well made and reliable car. With the COE and fuel prices at absolutely crazy levels, you'll want something well made and fuel efficient like a Swift! The children have grown to love our "Big red car" (if you watch The Wiggles you'll know...) so much. We are all sad to say goodbye to it. So here are some pictures to pay tribute to the car that made our amazing adventures possible....
This is the official end of our road trip in Malaysia....
BUT.....it is not the end of our Grand Tour! WE ARE GOING TO.........
We hope you enjoy our content and continue to join us on this new phase of our lives that we wish to continue as much as we can! You can support our work by shopping at our store, recommending sponsorships, remember to like and share our posts!
Here's some motivational stuff to end off this post! Stay tuned for VIETNAM!
First things first, an update of our Grand Tour:
After a really stressful time in the big city KL, we decided we needed to leave and find somewhere that we can find peace. Due to the limited accommodation options in Cameron Highlands, we weren't able to return there again. That would have been amazing.
We chanced upon a quirky accommodation in the suburbs of Melaka and looked through google maps and street view extensively. (We've got some great shots and will share the links once we've moved on to our next location!) We were apprehensive because we had a heavy heart and a disastrous Airbnb experience the previous time we stayed in Melaka.
We absolutely love this property and there are amazing neighbours who are very friendly and kind. Quiet and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the major roads, we've been decompressing! We've been visiting local eateries and shops in places tourists don't usually frequent and we've been blown away by the amazing food and hospitality of the locals.
One thing that we really love about Melaka is the abundance of AWESOME food!
Here's 4 that we really enjoyed this time...
1. Shu Peo Korean BBQ
No.2, Jalan KPKS 6, Kompleks Perniagaan Al-azim, 75250 Kota Syahbandar, Melaka
2. Face to Face Noodle House
2 Locations...click link
3. The Best Chicken Rice (冠军鸡饭)
G14, Jalan Rahmat 1, Taman Malim Jaya, 75250 Malim Jaya, Melaka
4. 729 Kopitiam
Taman Merdeka Permai, 75350 Batu Berendam, Malacca
We've stayed mostly in the suburban areas of Melaka this time but decided to head to Jonker Street this weekend! We were surprised IT WAS ALIVE! So many stalls are back in operation! It is best to go around 5pm before the really massive crowds come by. If you intend to have dinner at the hawker areas in the street, you'll really need to get there early. By 630pm you will have to wait quite long for a seat.
A beautiful mess is my short description of Jonker's allure.
The longer description: Jonker is where you'll hear the noise of the crowd excited at the calls of shop owners promoting their wares. It is where years are rolled back to when shopping at a street market was part of life. Homogenised and sanitised shopping malls aren't a thing and haggling was an essential life skill. Street markets like Jonker activates all your senses. The fascinating sounds of hawkers clanging their woks or breaking up ting-ting candy while bright lights illuminate their little stalls. Your olfaction is constantly on alert as the smell of umami wafts through the air. An occasional stink of raw seafood and (controversially) durians interrupts the sweet smell of local delicacies. It is like a little treasure hunt where you're constantly searching for something interesting to eat or buy.
Here are 5 awesome things you can do at Jonker Street, Melaka:
1. Eat street food
There's street snacks and if you'd like, the hawker stalls cook up full meals too!
2. Buy local souvenirs
You'll be spoiled for choice at the amount of knick knacks you can find here. There's apparel, electronics, local art, chicken bowls and even customised cup noodles. Go earlier in the day before 5pm to make yourself a customised cup noodle (Noodle Doodle) at Mamee Jonker House.
3. Street Photography/Videography
There's so much action to be captured here! It really is a photographer's dream. If you like blogging or creating reels like we do, here is an amazing place for content creation. Be discreet and most people are generally okay to be photographed.
4. Visit the old town
The Dutch square is just a short 2 minute walk from the entrance of Jonker Street. You'll find the Queen Victoria Fountain, The Stadthuys, Christ Church Melaka and several other museums in the immediate vicinity. The A Famosa Fort is also just a 7 minute walk from Jonker.
5. Take a caffeine break at a Cafe nearby
There are some pretty well reviewed cafes and are all walking distance from Jonker street. I've listed these because they are pretty good + they are open in the evenings on weekends when Jonker Street is in operation.
-Street Barista @ Jonker
3, Jalan Hang Lekir, 75200 Melaka
-Limau Limau Coffee
We are now wrapping up our Grand Tour in Malaysia! Our Grand Tour is headed to another country and we are SO EXCITED to plan for the next leg. We will be flying again and we've been waiting for this moment since 2018!
Please support our work and check out our store!
If you’ve landed here on this post you must be a little interested in how a Singaporean family can home school two kids while they travel! Under the compulsory education act, a Singaporean child below 15 and above 6 years of age must receive primary education in a national primary school unless exempted.
The first step to homeschooling is really to ask yourself:
1. Can i commit long-term to my child’s learning?
2. Am i willing to learn and adapt WITH my child?
3. Will i keep an open mind and do what is BEST FOR THE child?
Homeschooling is a long term commitment. For at least 6 years, you will need to make an effort to create learning moments. Don’t do it if you can’t commit to it.
The most common comment I hear from aspiring homeschool parents or people considering it for their children is “I am not qualified to teach my own kids, i don’t know how to teach.” Consider this, we didn’t have widespread formal classroom learning in society until the recent 200 years. Human civilisation has existed for thousands of years when parents and the elders “informally” taught their children language, math, life skills etc…They weren’t paper qualified were they?
Even though Debra and I are former trained MOE teachers, we don’t know everything. Homeschooling will challenge the most qualified teachers if they aren’t willing to ADAPT and LEARN. The key is really just an open mind and a willingness to challenge your preconceived ideas of learning. Remember, every child is different and everyone learns differently!
Here are some steps will have to take before you can legally homeschool:
(We sharing about our personal experience. Rules and regulations can change from time to time. This is not meant to be legal advice)
1. Around midyear the year your child turns 6, you’ll need to apply for a place in a public school. If you intend to homeschool and apply for exemption, you’ll still need to apply for a place in school
2. After you’ve done that, you can write to the MOE compulsory education unit (via email) and indicate your desire to homeschool your child. They will ask for information about your child and ask for personal details etc. You’ll get a bunch of forms to fill up. You are required to school your children FULL TIME. So you can’t be having a full time job and be the main homeschool parent. They will look at the homeschool parent’s credentials as well. They are more likely to accept homeschool parent/s who are graduates.
3. The process really starts when they send you a package of documents. This is the most difficult part. You’ll need to provide your plan for 6 entire years of their compulsory primary education. This involves extensive work prior to submission.
You’ll need to have a syllabus, a timeline of what is learnt and how it is learnt. You’ll have to cover English, Math, Science, Mother Tongue for 6 whole years. You can add on other areas of learning like religious teachings, coding or other areas into your learning scheme. They also ask for a time-table you intend to work with.
Your child must still be able to pass the PSLE (he/she will be required to take the exam the year they turn 12). We chose the MOE syllabus for Matthias because it is something we are familiar with.
This is really the most daunting part for most parents. We are happy to connect and assist anyone who is interested to homeschool their children!
4. There will be a home visit by an MOE officer to determine the suitability of the learning environment. Your child will also be asked a few questions about the home situation, learning with you etc.
5. The officer in charge may write back to you and ask more questions about your learning scheme. They are usually kind enough to provide advice on how you can improve it for approval. Upon a final approval by the ministry, they will send you an official letter stating you are legally allowed to homeschool your child. The whole process usually happens between September and November.
6. Upon approval, you can then proceed to withdraw your child from the school he/she got a place in. You can provide the ministry letter and correspondence to support your withdrawal. It is usually just an email to the school.
Here is how we do school with two kids turning 8 and 5 this year…
There is no escape from worksheets, writing and table work when it comes to learning. We follow the MOE syllabus for all subjects and so we do use MOE text books. We travel with their text books, story books, paper, stationary, learning cards and exercise books.
We follow a very simple style of teaching:
1. Teacher lectures
2. Teacher practices with the student
3. Child is assigned independent work
4. Teacher reviews independent work and reinforces learning with student
We intentionally make this style of learning only less than a couple hours a day with the kids. The point of homeschool is not to replicate the public school classroom. Our kids learn throughout the day in different contexts, languages and environments.
Apart from their academic pursuits, we make sure they are learning to love others and themselves. Matthias loves coding and Gwyneth loves to draw. We give them space to pursue there interests.
My favourite part about homeschooling is that we can be flexible about when we learn, how we learn and what we learn. We can do progress faster with Math because Matthias is able to. We can spend more time on Tamil because he needs more practice. We can take a holiday from school when we need it. Their learning is tailored to their needs. We can continue with school through June because we want to.
We learn about the weather systems when walking through the clouds on a mountain. We learn math when we calculate the tax on the restaurant bill or multiply the price of fuel by how much we pumped into the tank. We learn resilience when our bookings get cancelled or plans change. We learn Bahasa when we travel through Malaysia and speak with the locals.
Homeschool is a rewarding journey! If you are interested, drop us a message and we can connect and share more!
We've spent more than 8 weeks on our Grand Tour across Malaysia. Our initial plan was to spend some time in Kuala Lumpur after spending 6 out of our past 8 weeks in the more rural highlands. The convenience, the comfort of having a huge selection of food and way shorter distances on the road called us to the city. We knew we would enjoy the malls, selection of gluten-free groceries and glitzy architecture. It sounded all positive, bright and cheery. Or at least that was what we thought it was going to be.
It has been a long eventful week for us. A little too eventful for us. You can read the horrible backstory. We did have pockets of enjoyment in the city but the city really sucks for us. It is not just about Kuala Lumpur. Whether we're in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Melbourne, Auckland or Rome, they are all plagued with the same problems.
Here's why we think the city sucks...
We've been so used to empty streets and social distancing for the past two years that it has become OVERWHELMING to be in a crowd. We noticed very distinct behavioural changes in the children and ourselves when we are in the city. We are short-fused, easily frustrated, anxious, heightened and stressed. Where there are crowds, there is competition. People compete for space, toilets, a place in the queue, a seat and parking lots.
We love long journeys. Long hours on road trips isn't a waste of time because we get to go places and see the landscape change. Being in a jam IS A WASTE of time. In the current climate of inflation, it is a waste of fuel/money too.
Noise from traffic, trains, sirens, crowds and noisy neighbours. If there's one thing that most affects us, it must be noise. Can someone explain where is the pleasure in loud exhaust noises? I thought that if one is living in close proximity in a city, you'll be more conscious of the noise you make and how it will affect others around you. I'm absolutely wrong. I've been to more than 15 major cities across the world and grew up in one, I've yet to find a city where noise isn't a problem.
Cities are generally always 2-5 degree celcius warmer. If you live along the equator, the 2-5 degrees make a huge difference. We were completely exhausted after 15 minutes outside in 38C/100F temperature. It is just simply unbearable. It reminds us every moment that climate change is real and it will kill us.
You would think that in the city of huge crowds, you will be less lonely. Michael Buble puts it across best in song... "May be surrounded by, a million people I, still feel all alone" (Lyrics from 'Home'). It is precisely the crowds competing for what little space and resources that makes the city such an isolating experience. People are less friendly and more hostile. Ear pods on, rush to your work cubicle and rush back home to shut the world out. It is no wonder anxiety and depression rates are higher in cities.
We experienced all 5 of these and it reminded us of Singapore and why we chose to travel in the first place. It deeply affected all of us. We took a few days off work and school while we search for a new place to spend the rest of our time in Malaysia. Sofitel KL was our choice of refuge while we worked out where we would go next. The thick window glass blocked out traffic noise almost entirely, the air-conditioning was well regulated and we were isolated from the world. We caught up with sleep and enjoyed our food. As much as we enjoyed the time there, we were under no illusion that this was a long term solution.
Despite the respite in a 5 star hotel for the past few days, it still feels like a STARK difference from our 6 weeks in the rural highlands.
There was significantly less noise. We enjoyed the sounds of nature and we took notice of the natural surroundings. We were a lot more relaxed, less anxious and met with friendlier people. The weather helped reduce our allergies and made us go outside a lot more. We were also substantially more inspired creatively.
In fact our brand new store and collection features art and designs inspired by our surroundings while we were in the highlands.
If we ever have a choice on where we should settle, it would be a small town about an hour or two away from the city. We could take trips to the city for supplies and services just a couple of times a month.
We've since left KL and moved on to a quieter sub-urban area in Melaka. For security reasons we won't be posting specifics about the property or area we are in. We will continue to bring you more content on awesome food and our travels soon!
We'll start with the super fun and light-hearted stuff first!
"Mama, I want to go to the place with all the games!". The two kids have been repeatedly asking to go back to Genting Highlands. We thought, why not? We didn't quite get enough time to see most of the massive new Genting. I grew up frequenting this place in the clouds and I must say it has transformed drastically.
Fly with us on the Awana Skyway up to Genting here! The relatively new cable car system (newly completed in 2016) brought us through the clouds and the rainforest from the mid hills. Comfy, fast and offered amazing views. The station at the base is directly connected to the Genting Highlands Premium Outlets which offers a wide range of branded shops and eateries. You can park your car there for the entire day for an affordable RM12.
We arrived in time for dinner. We were greeted by the amazing food street lined by restaurants, bubble tea shops and pubs that play live music on the weekends! It felt so nice to hear a live performance again!
We had dinner at The Laughing Fish by Harry Ramsden. Fish and Chips was about 7/10. The cod can be a bit fishy for some. Our food came warm and we thought it would be nicer if they came out piping hot from the fryer. We shared a big portion of Fish and Chips, a bangers and mash and more chips! I had mushy peas all to myself because nobody seems to like it? Why?!
We enjoyed Genting Highlands a lot because you can find shops and food for every budget. You can find activities for every budget and risk appetite. It caters to the young and old. Everyone gets to enjoy the cool weather outside and amazing views. You don't have to be rich to enjoy this place. It is a stark difference from some resorts that are exclusive playgrounds for gamblers and the wealthy.
The transformation still amazes me! The mall is spectacular with all the digital screens! Gives it a Tokyo/Times Square and Piccadilly Circus feel. You can do a zip-line from the mall across the indoor theme park, scream your hearts out on the "superman" roller coaster or just enjoy a relaxing kiddy ride. Amazingly, the arcades are still where they used to be when I was a kid!
Now for the nightmare 😱
The pandemic has locked us in for more than 2 years. But it isn't done wrecking havoc in the travel industry. Crazy expensive Airfares, shortage of workers in the industry and a very dismal drop in service standards.
We've experienced our worst nightmare....AGAIN. If you've seen the previous time our trip got derailed , it pales in comparison to this nightmare.
After a 7 hour drive from Cameron Highlands to Johor en-route back to Singapore to visit family, we decided to rest a night in an IHG branded hotel. The place was well renovated and had comfortable beds but as we lay down in bed ready to sleep, there was a COCKROACH on the wall. I flicked it onto the floor with a floor rag and ended it. Okay, we thought maybe it just came in from the outside. The next day, we returned to the room after a day outside, THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE DEAD ON THE CARPET?!
The staff was apologetic when I informed them at checkout. Got extra points as a service recovery. We thought the worst was over.
We've decided to base ourselves in KL for a few weeks to plan the next leg of our Grand Tour since we've been away from the bustling city for more than 2 months! We booked a very premium looking Airbnb unit that was very near to KLCC in Kuala Lumpur after wrapping up our amazing time in the Cameron Highlands Mountains.
If you frequent the Airbnb website often, you'll see that many listings have reviews from 2 years ago before the pandemic happened. It has becoming increasingly difficult to judge how good are these properties from photographs. This was what greeted us...
When informed the owner, he was pretty nonchalant about it. It didn't seemed to affect him and he wasn't too bothered. It seems that many Airbnb owners (in my experience its over 50% of them) are not too bothered what debilitated state their rental properties were in. Word of advice if you are travelling and booking an Airbnb:
1. Book with superhosts as much as possible
2. If you are unsure about anything, ASK before you book via "contact host"
3. READ the reviews
4. Always have a back up plan, be aware of hotels or other units you can possibly go to at short notice. The customer service will leave you stranded！
The nightmare however didn't end there for us. The owner didn't suggest a solution for us and so I proposed that he refunded us fully. He immediately accepted. ZERO apology, not a word to express any tinge of regret of the horrible experience he has caused us. Not to mention, we were stranded AGAIN!
We managed to book a 4 star hotel after some research and a quick dinner around the area. Checked in and decided to use the toilet. Lo and behold....
As if after 400km of driving, cockroach the night before, a horrid Airbnb that left us stranded wasn't enough....I went to the lobby to meet the manager and showed him this picture. Thankfully he was very apologetic and immediately got us new rooms and upgraded us.
We hope KL will be kind to us as we look for another accommodation for the rest of our trip! We absolutely miss the weather in Cameron Highlands already!
That's all for our double issue for this week!
We all love the tranquility, cool weather and epic landscape of Cameron highlands! But...after two weeks of not moving around, we all got really restless. I guess that is why we are living this Grand Tour as our lifestyle!
If you know anything about the roads in Cameron Highlands, there are two ways into and out of the area. The road from Tapah was the original road the British built between 1926 and 1930. Opened in 1931, this road is EXTREMELY windy. If you are susceptible to carsickness/motion sickness, this will be hell for you.
The road surfaces are very very bad on this route. The potholes are just patched over again and again until you have some sort of a patch work blanket that is as rough as the moon's surface. One lane for each direction and trucks heading up can crawl as slow as 10km/h if they are very heavily loaded. Throw in a heavy downpour and fog, this road can get pretty dangerous.
The terrain is so challenging, we can imagine how hard it would be to get large machinery to properly repave the roads. Thankfully a new road was constructed to enter Cameron Highlands from the northern side. Simlang Pulai exit is about 40km further up the North-South highway from Tapah exit if you are coming from KL or Singapore. But let me tell you, it is WAY BETTER to travel slightly longer on this route. You still get windy roads but the turns are a lot less acute and the road surface is a lot smoother. There are several sections with overtaking lanes for safe overtaking instead of having to drive in the opposite lanes when you encounter crawling trucks.
And so we took off from Cameron Highlands and drove towards Penang on a day trip. 500km return trip. The kids slept and enjoyed the long drive. There is just something so calming about driving long distances and I love it!
We planned to visit the Penang Hill and ride the funicular but upon arriving, IT WAS CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE?! GOOGLE MAPS WASN'T UPDATED!!!! What else do you do in Penang? EAT!
We decide to enjoy some famous Dim Sum at Tai Tong Restaurant! (Non-Halal)
Here are some details:
Address: 45, Lebuh Cintra, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Opens Tuesday to Sundays from 630am to 2pm AND 6pm to 10pm.
They are closed on Mondays and everyday between 2pm to 6pm so do take note!
I just love these restaurants in old shop houses. The charm is in their focus on just making and selling delicious food. No fuss and fancy decor involved.
When you get there, find yourself a table and the staff will give you a restaurant menu and two ordering cards. One card is for the restaurant menu and the other is for Dim Sum. Don't be silly like us. We sat there confused and wondering where in the world is the Dim Sum menu?! There is none!
This is how you get your Dim Sum:
1. Walk towards the staff on the left (Refer to picture above). She has stacks and stacks of steamed dim sum on her trolley. Ask her what there is, and tell her what you want. She will mark on the dim sum card what you've ordered and pass you the dishes.
2. See the big sign in the middle? That's the second station where you get other fried dim sum or larger dishes like Chee Cheong Fun and Lo Mai Gai and Baos. Tell the staff what you want and she'll mark your card and pass you the dishes.
3. You'll grab the dishes and bring it back to your table. Only things on the restaurant menu and tea/drinks are served to your table.
4. Pay at the counter with both your marked cards once you're done eating.
This meal alone was worth the 500km of driving.
Debra and I were commenting on how this is better than Swee Choon in Singapore. What are your thoughts? Well, the bill was definitely better in terms of value. We paid only RM80++. We spent the evening walking off the calories at a mall. It reminded us a little bit of Melaka because many shop spaces remained empty. The effects of the pandemic are still profoundly felt.
We took the ride back in darkness and climbed 5000ft back to Cameron Highlands via the Simpang Pulai route which meant we made good progress quickly. We miss the dim sum already...
This little short trip still reminded us of how much the city has to offer. Perhaps this will influence our decision on where else to go to on our Grand Tour....
Sharing our love of art, travel and learning with you.