100 days in South East Asia – The Good the Bad the Funny

As I write this I’ve just published our last blog post on our time in Bali. There are a few more things to post, reviews of activities and tips for some of the places we went in Asia. But mostly that is a wrap on 100 days in South East Asia. Part One of Backpacks and Sunhats Worldschooling adventure.

Platform at Hue Station
Backpacksandsunhats on the platform at Hue

Best Laid Plans…

After Bali we flew to Singapore.  We had a one night stay near the airport before our flight to London the following evening. We decided to stay at D’Resort Downtown East because they have a water park attached. Our plan was, we could check out of our hotel in the morning and use the water park for the day before our flight. This way we could have a shower and change of clothes.  Hopefully the kids would be tired out and sleep for the overnight flight.

This worked ok except for a couple of glitches.  Firstly it was a Monday so the waterpark didn’t open until 1pm but we had to check out at 10am. Then a massive thunderstorm arrived and the park was closed for another hour. This meant we had a whole lot of time to fill in a day that already had a lot of time, our flight didn’t leave until midnight. Overall I would recommend this hotel though and would do this again for a short stopover.

Taking time to reflect

There is a park next to the hotel so we sat ourselves under a tree and started to recap on the trip. It took a little while for the kids to get into it, they couldn’t remember anything, were grumpy about not being in the pool and impatient to get on the way to see their grandparents in England.

But once we got started we had a lot of fun remembering everything we had done, and goodness, Borneo and the early stages of the trip seemed like a long time ago.

Mother and Baby 2

Here are all the places we went to: Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali.

The Good things about travel in south east asia

Our favourite country overall? This one was tough, we chose Thailand, because of the variety of experiences we had there. One of our best days was there. Their Buddhist culture makes for a very relaxed environment and lovely people. Also traveling independently was easy, including hiring a car to do the Golden Triangle tour.

Then we tried to choose the best place (within a country) and 3 of us chose Borneo, Paul chose Phuket. We struggled to agree on whether Kuching or Sepilok was the best part of Borneo. Kuching has Orangutans and the Bako National Park, while Sepilok had Orangutans and Sun Bears, and while we were there we did the Kinabatangan river cruise which also won our award for best boat trip. We agreed a full trip to Borneo should include both places if possible.

This conversation was a real eye opener for me. For weeks it had seemed like all the kids would talk about was which swimming pool was the best and how much they loved Legoland. I asked L “I thought Legoland would be your best place?” he told me:

“But Mum, Borneo, you can’t get that experience anywhere else, those animals are endangered and if I go back when I’m older, they might not be there anymore, you can go to a theme park anywhere in the world”.

Sun Bear in Tree 2
Sun Bear in Tree

And just like that, it was all worthwhile.

We talked about our favourite day, the one we would choose to do again if we could, also really difficult to decide. Three of us chose the day with Elephants at Elephant Nature Park, L chose Snorkelling in Thailand and Bako National Park in Borneo. He wasn’t prepared to pick just one!

Elephant bathing 2
Bathing with Elephants Chiang Mai Thailand

We picked our favourite class or workshop. S chose Painting Elephants in Chiang Mai, mine was the cooking class in Bali with L, Paul’s was the Batik art, L couldn’t choose just one, his were surfing in Bali, the Batik art and cooking.

One thing we’ve had reinforced on this trip is L has terrible trouble making decisions! He also suffers from ordering envy, when he always wants what someone else has when it arrives, he’s decided the solution to this is to always order the same thing as his sister.

We chose the best beach stay: Koh Lipe in Thailand for crystal clear waters and sunset. Also wins biggest regret that we couldn’t stay longer.

Long tail boats at Koh Lipe

Legian Beach Bali, for the long surf beach, lots of fun to swim in and two of us think we are pro surfers now!

The Bad days in south east asia

You might be wondering if we discussed the worst? We did a bit, but we made a conscious decision not to choose the ‘worst’ meal / hotel / place / day. Not because they didn’t happen, believe me they did. (All right, I’ll say it, the worst hotel was in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo). But because there is nothing to be gained from dwelling on those things, we learn what we can from each experience and then we move on, after all, we have many more happy memories to talk about.

The Funny ( In Hindsight)

There was some stuff that was awful at the time but seems quite funny now…

When a cockroach jumped out of my backpack, me and the kids chased it round the apartment trying to kill it. Paul came back from the gym to find all the furniture rearranged and a big splatted cockroach on the floor, he wasn’t too impressed that we used his shoe (it is the biggest!). I was too scared to open my bag for ages!

The hotels that charged for wastage at their breakfast buffet. Yes you read that correctly! One hotel, the food was truly terrible (Kota Kinabalu again!), but the kids were scared to leave it because a sign said they would weigh your waste and charge you per 100gm. I assured the kids if anyone tried to charge me for that sorry excuse for food I would tell them where they could stick it. The kids still talk about that. I think they secretly hoped the waiter would come along with the scales so they could see what I would do.

When we got off the boat in Phnom Penh with all our luggage and were getting organised to carry it up the huge ramp by ourselves. We were the only people there with children, but we never had any expectation that someone should help us, it is our stuff and our job to carry it.

A snooty English woman demanded we move our stuff so she could wheel her case through. When I suggested she could go around us, she replied that she didn’t want to take her suitcase over the ‘bumps’ on the platform. She was lucky I didn’t toss her suitcase into the river. It was so self centred and selfish that I was gobsmacked. Now we just laugh at how miserable she was.


And I could go on about some of the appalling behaviour we saw from tourists who are old enough to know better… But it is much nicer to remember all the lovely people.

One man in Bali was selling us tickets to visit a water temple. He told me the price, as per the sign, then looked at the kids and said, ‘you have such a lovely family, no charge for your children’ and reduced the price. It was such a genuine and lovely moment, he just wanted to make a nice gesture to us and it made us smile for ages afterwards.

One of the most stressful things that happened on the trip, apart from sickness, was when my credit card details were stolen. I haven’t written about this before on the blog but in hindsight some of the situation was quite funny! Now that all the money has been refunded!!

credit card Fraud in Bali

We were in a café in Ubud and I was just telling Paul that we needed to go to an ATM to get more money out. I said to him “I tried that different ATM yesterday I wonder if the fees were different to the others”, so I pulled out my mobile to check the transactions on our banking app. The balances of our accounts came up and our Visa balance was huge. I was expecting it to be quite large as we’d just booked some flights from London to NZ, but still, this was a shock. I opened the transactions and it started to sink in that something wasn’t right. It turned out that in 24 hours over $7,000 NZD had been charged to our card fraudulently. Cue utter panic and a lot of swearing.

First thought: I need to stop the card. I had the ‘temporarily lock card’ function on my app so I activated that immediately. Thank goodness for technology!

Second thought: I need to contact the bank. My Indonesian SIM card is data only, I can’t make calls. Take out Indonesian SIM, put in NZ SIM, bugger the cost! NZ SIM is running out of credit, I can’t top it up because I’ve just locked my credit card… Ring bank. By the time I’ve listened to all their menus and messages my credit has run out… More panic.

Try to calm down and think logically. Return to hotel, use their phone to call bank, there will be some kind of collect number to call. Change SIM back so I can message Villa in Ubud to pick us up on scooters.  Panicking so much I get the SIM stuck in my phone and spend 5 minutes prising it out again.

Get back to Villa. Explain the situation, I need to use the phone to make an international call. “Sorry Madam, we don’t have an international line, you need to go to Ubud town for an international line”. But I’ve just come from Ubud town… The lovely receptionist says she’ll see what she can do, go to my room and she’ll call shortly. She calls to tell me the phone company in Ubud opens at 9am on Monday morning, I can make an international call there. It is Saturday…

View from room Masia Villa

So here I am in the middle of a rice paddy in Bali, with no access to a phone to call the bank to say “please, please, please stop all these pending transactions and give me my money back”. And what do I do? Apart from messaging my Mum and freaking out?!

I turned to Facebook, messaged our bank and said HELP! Once I explained the situation and they were awesome. They told me how I could contact them via private, secure, message, in my online banking.   We stayed connected online until their team had received my message and it was being looked into. It took a couple of tries for it to go through so it was good to have confirmation from their end that it was received.

There were still a few sleepless nights while we filled in the relevant forms and waited for the outcome but within about a week it was all sorted. When we got to the UK my new card was waiting for me. So a big thank you to ASB for their great customer service! Now I can laugh about the moment when she told me I could make an international call on Monday at 9am!

The End

And then it was over. We were on the plane to England looking forward to Marrakech, and then our Europe Camping trip. We move so fast sometimes there isn’t time to look back, to reflect and just remember. That morning, under a tree in Singapore, we took a couple of hours to appreciate how privileged we have been to have this journey so far. I refuse to use the word lucky. We worked hard to be in the position to have this opportunity and we sacrificed a lot to have this time, seeing the world and spending this time together as family. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Angkor Wat Cambodia

At times, the kids, particularly S, have been desperately homesick and the tears are hard to take. They miss their family in NZ, their friends and their school.  As a parent I question whether we’ve done the right thing for them. But I have to believe the positives outweigh the negatives.  Soon enough it will be over and they will have bedrooms, and toys and see their friends again, but they will also have resilience, knowledge, courage, self belief and amazing memories.

Floating Markets on the Mekong Delta Vietnam

Keep following our blog to read about our journey in Europe, when Backpacks and Sunhats goes Camping!. You can also follow us on Facebook or Instagram.



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