University of Guam Marine Lab Tour

IMG_6673A friend of ours set up the coolest thing for our 11-year-old daughter, the aspiring Marine Biologist.  She got a private tour of the Marine Lab at the University of Guam.  She got to see and touch many of the corals, starfish, sea cucumbers, snails, and the top of an unusual type of jellyfish that settles itself upside down.  She saw the invasive crown of thorns starfish and its only natural predator, the large triton snail, which also serves as the mascot for the University of Guam.

Thanks to coral researcher Valeri Lapacek, my little scientist-to-be learned about many of the various species found on the reefs around Guam as well as some of the types of corals that were once plentiful but are no longer found in Guam.  She learned about some of the ground breaking research the scientists at UoG are doing to identify reproductive patterns of coral in an effort to help set guidelines about safe times to dredge and work around the reef while minimizing the impact on coral life, as well as researching the mysterious “grey death” that is spreading amIMG_6688ongst coral reefs, about which very little is known.  She even got to put on gloves and dissect a soft coral sample and then look at the eggs under a microscope.

Thank you so much to the University of Guam grad students and researchers who helped facilitate this inspiring experience!  My daughter’s keen interest in pursuing a future career in marine biology has now been fueled into a true passion.  She hopes to go back to shadow a scientist for a day to learn even more.

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National Poetry Month 2015

Where the Sidewalk EndsApril is National Poetry Month.  Started by the Academy of American Poets, it is now the largest literary holiday celebrated around the world.  You can visit the Academy of American Poets website to explore poets, poems for Spring, or sign up to receive a poem-a-day email.  They are also inviting kids to write letters to poets in honor of National Poetry Month.

My eight-year-old daughter and I kicked off National Poetry month by reading poems aloud from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  How will you celebrate?

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Bangkok with Kids: Day 3

IMG_5837On our third day in Bangkok, we spent the morning enjoying a private long boat ride.  The ferry terminal next to our hotel had an operator at the entrance who booked long boat tours for very reasonable prices.  We took a two-hour tour featuring waterfront views of the Royal Thai Navy headquarters, the Grand Palace, and parks, as well as the homes, temples, and gardens along the smaller canals.  I was impressed by both the skill of the driver navigating the long narrow IMG_5858boat along the tight canals and the signage along the canals.  The tiny narrow waterways were marked more clearly and accurately than the roads in Guam.  We stopped at an orchid farm.  The sheer variety and quantity of orchids in such a small space was jaw-dropping.

When we returned from the long boat ride, we ran into one of the women from the spa we went to the day before.  She recognized us and ran up to hug our youngest daughter.  In the afternoon, my husband took our 11-year-old daughter swimming at the hotel, and I took my 8-year-old back to the spa for a manicure, per her request.  In addition to her $5 manicure, they also styled her hair and gave her a quick foot massage for free.  She had multiple people doting on her and felt truly pampered.  She said she can’t wait to go back to Bangkok to see them again.

After a bit of down time, we took a tuk tukIMG_5891 over to the market in downtown Bangkok where we did a fair amount of shopping.  We were pleasantly surprised at the atmosphere in the market.  Although every square inch of space for several blocks was jammed with vendor stalls, we were able to browse without feeling the constant pressure of being pulled in a game of human tug-of-war to buy things, as was the case in my travels to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Ho Chi Minh City.  The Thai vendors were quietly reserved to the point of having to actually ask for help if we wanted to buy something.

After stocking up on gifts and souvenirs, we took another tuk tuk back through downtown and across to the far side of the river, which was perhaps a mistake during rush hour.  I’m sure a train would have been much more efficient.  We ate dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Be My Guest, per the kids’ request.  I think they just wanted to make sure their black kitty friend was still well.  Sure enough, she was there waiting and sat at their feet again purring while they dined, waiting for her nightly meal of shrimp tails.

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Bangkok with Kids: Day 2

IMG_5755On our first full day in Thailand (and my first time in Thailand), we got out and explored the city of Bangkok.  We began with a ferry boat ride along the river and a walk through some of the various street vendors to Wat Pho temple, which houses the Reclining Buddha, the largest Buddha statue in Thailand.  We got there fairly early in the morning and enjoyed the peaceful serenity of the temple without crowds.  We heard prayers being sung as we walked around the temple grounds.  The Reclining Buddha was truly a sight to behold.

I was glad we had done our homework and learned of the dress code for temple visits.  No shorts, short skirts, or tank tops.  Shoes must be removed.  The Thai people dress conservatively, but stylishly.  Women wear light weight flowing Thai pants or skirts, perfect for hot weather and sun protection, and beautiful as well.  They can be purchased from street vendors for an affordable price and take up almost no room in a suitcase.  Westerners in short cut-off jean shorts and spaghetti-strap tank tops really stood out in the crowd.

My 11-year-old daughter couldn’t get enough of the delicious fresh coconut water and sweet coconut meat.  She asked for a coconut every time she saw a street vendor selling them, which was often!  We took a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled motorcycle-type cart, over to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, the temple housing the Emerald Buddha (carved entirely out of jade).  The admission fee was pretty steep, and the crowds of tourists arriving by the busloads were sIMG_5790tifling, so we chose to explore the palace and temple grounds for a bit, grab a snack of fresh mango, and then walk over to the nearest terminal to catch the ferry back to the hotel for a swim in the heat of the afternoon.  Peacocks walked around thepool as we lounged.

After resting for a bit, I treated my daughters to their first pedicures at a spa near the hotel.  It only cost about $5 U.S., and the Thai women working in the salon absolutely doted on my kids.  They took pictures of my little fair-skin freckled 8-year-old, and she shyly basked in the attention.  Both girls chose blue nail polish for their toes.

IMG_5829That evening, we took a boat across to the other side of the river to eat at my husband’s favorite casual waterfront restaurant, Be My Guest.  We dined outside and ordered his favorite bite-sized soft shell crabs.  Our kids are pretty adventurous eaters and try new things with a natural curiosity.  They liked all the Thai food, but they especially loved the black cat that sat patiently at their feet, waiting for their left over shrimp tails.

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Bangkok with Kids: Day 1

IMG_5742At the end of my husband’s working trip to Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, we tagged on a family vacation to Thailand. My daughters and I hopped a Thai Airways flight directly from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok, while Captain Daddy flew a plane from Ho Chi Minh back to Hong Kong.  We tried to fly standby with him on his flight to Hong Kong, but the plane was full.  It worked out just fine though because we were able to get to Bangkok, check into our hotel, explore the area a bit, and get settled in before he arrived to meet us that evening.

My girls were eager to scout out the local spas within walking distance of the hotel.  They had never experienced a “spa day” before, but we had been told that Thailand was a great place to indulge at extremely affordable prices, so I told them we might treat ourselves to a Mommy/Daughter Spa Day while we were there.  We found several spas within a block radius of the hotel, and they all featured manicures and massages for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S.  There are also 7-11 convenience stores on just about every block, so I let the girls grab a snack to tie them over until dinner.  They were delighted about the lemon Slurpees. IMG_5743

We did a little unpacking and organizing, since we planned to spend three nights in Bangkok.  The river view from our hotel room at the Royal Orchid Sheraton was spectacular.  When my husband arrived later that evening, we walked next door to the river walk area and enjoyed a Thai food dinner at a restaurant featuring a patio with a view of the river.  We got some decent sleep that night, which was a much-needed respite after our full day in Ho Chi Minh and before our sightseeing days in Bangkok.

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Ho Chi Minh City with Kids

IMG_5726 - Version 2As I mentioned in my last post, my daughters and I decided to join my husband on a last minute trip to Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh.  His layovers allowed us one full day in each city, which is a short amount of time to experience such large and interesting places.  Not only was it our kids’ first trip to Vietnam, but it was mine as well, and I always love the opportunity to travel some place new.

Fortunately, my daughter’s surfing coach mentioned to me a few days before our trip that we needed to apply for a travel visa to Vietnam, but that we could do it online since we were going to be there for less than 30 days.  Trip Advisor offers a helpful summary about this process.

We stayed at the New World Saigon Hotel centrally located downtown.  It was across from a lovely park, where couples danced ballroom style in the gazebo.  Countless shops and restaurants were within walking distance, as well as many tour companies that catered to westerners and offered great suggestions about things to see in the short time we were there.  We just had to be careful crossing the street while weaving in and out of the hundreds of mopeds and other vehicles traveling in a massively chaotic group.

IMG_5712We booked a tour that took us about two hours outside of the city to the Mekong River Delta and Unicorn Island.  I was disappointed that we didn’t spot any actual unicorns.  (I had really gotten my hopes up that THIS would be the time!)  However, we did get to tour a fruit and honey farming community, sample many delicious foods, take rides on two different types of boats as well as a small horse-drawn carriage, and see Thai musicians sing and perform.  The kids complained a bit about the long van ride out to the Mekong River region, but they admitted it was worth the wait.

All of the Vietnamese ladies fawned over our daughters, especially our fair-skinned, freckle-faced eight-year-old.  They kept wanting to touch her face and hair and ask her questions.  Many even took pictures.  Fortunately, my daughters are becoming accustomed to this reaction.  The Japanese tourists in Guam do the same.

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Hong Kong with Kids

Hong KongMy two daughters and I joined my husband on a recent flight to Hong Kong, which allowed us to spend one full day in the city during his layover.  It was the girls’ first time there, so we wanted to show them all the sights, or as many as we could accommodate in one day.

We got up early and indulged in the delectable international breakfast buffet at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel.  My eight-year-old said it was the best breakfast she’s ever had.  Next we caught a ferry over to Kowloon.  It only costs about a dollar per person.  It’s direct and quick transportation to Kowloon, and my kids loved the experience of riding the ferry across the harbor.

Once in Kowloon, I dragged them to my optometrist, Jackson Optical, so I could get an eye exam and new prescription sunglasses.  Jackson Optical is a family run business with top-end equipment, a great selection of lenses, offers free eye exams, and caters to English-speaking Westerners.  I was able to walk right in without an appointment, get an exam, and order new glasses.  Had we been staying there a couple of days, they would have had them messengered over to my hotel.  However, since we were leaving that evening, I opted for the complimentary shipping service.

Next we took a walk over to the Flower Market.  The kids enjoyed seeing the colorful variety of flowers and plants everywhere.  We continued on to the Bird Garden, where men bring their songbirds in small but ornate wooden cages to hang in trees and visit while their birds get some fresh air and sing.  I found it interesting that bird care is definitely a man’s hobby in Hong Kong.  From there, we walked over to the Goldfish Market, where the street is lined with dozens upon dozens of aquarium stores and other pet shops.  We stopped along the way at a nearby restaurant for a Cantonese lunch of chicken, rice, and fried squid.

By the time we were through there, the kids were ready to return to the hotel.  We opted for the subway back to the hotel.  It was a Sunday, and the kids noticed all the domestic workers spending their one day off gathered in the parks, along the walkways, and any other public areas to eat their picnic lunches, gossip, listen to music, and take comfort in each others’ company.  Once back at the hotel, we took a quick nap before heading back out for afternoon sightseeing.

We took the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak.  The line was long on a Sunday afternoon, but the kids admitted after-the-fact that the steep tram ride up the hill and the views from the top were worth the wait.  Rather than wait in line for the return tram ride back down, we hopped in a cab to take us back down the hill.  We stopped at my husband’s favorite Korean Barbecue restaurant for dinner, where the kids got to cook their own food at the table and tried all sorts of new meats and vegetables.

It was a full but productive day, and our daughters loved their first quick trip to Hong Kong.

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