If you are planning to holiday in Asia with your young family, here are some tips and recommendations to make your Asian holiday that much more enjoyable.
Be it relaxing in heavenly Bali villas, or hiking in Kuta Kinabalu, or enjoying Disney World in Tokyo, Asia offers a huge variety of holiday destinations for those with younger children.
However, as rewarding as it is, traveling with the younger ones in Asia is not always an easy sail.
Here are some insights gained traveling across Asia with children in tow, over the past 10 years.
Getting There and Back
It is more than likely that you will be taking a commercial flight to Asia.
Here is the first word of caution. As far as traveling with the young ones is concerned, not all airlines are created equal. No, I don’t mean the level of service you can expect, as this seems to be of quite a high level whichever Asian based major airline you choose. In our experience, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, and Emirates all offer great service when you are traveling with kids.
However, the big difference comes in how much different carriers choose to charge for the younger ones. Some carriers, for example, charge 10 percent of an adult fare, for infants, traveling on your lap, without a seat. At first, this may sound like a fair deal. However, if you consider the fact that this 10 percent is calculated as a percentage of a -Full Published Adult Fare- price, you may find that you are paying as much for your infant’s air fare, as you are for your own discounted fare! The good news is, not all airlines use this pricing policy, and if you shop around, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars even before you leave home!
Also, do keep in mind, that many airlines will offer special -Child Meals-. Some, such as Singapore Airlines, do also offer different menus for different age groups.
Similarly, for toddlers and older kids, it is worth checking what is on offer in terms of flight entertainment. Some airlines will have dedicated children’s cartoon channels, with a large selection of entertainment options, whilst others may not. If you are traveling long-haul, this alone could make a huge difference to how well your Asian holiday kicks off.
Transportation on the Ground
The quality and safety of ground transportation varies immensely from one Asian Country to the other. However, as a general rule of thumb, do not expect taxis to provide child safety seats, and in many parts of Asia, even rental cars may not have the child safety seat option.
The good news is, across most of Asia, metered taxis are plentiful, and relatively well maintained, with working seat belts. When you are in Singapore, you can expect (or even demand); fully functioning seat belts both at the front and back passenger seats. In other parts of the region, you may find that seat belts have been removed, on purpose, because ‘they get in the way’.
So, if you are adamant that you would like child safety seats whilst holidaying in Asia, you may consider bringing your own, or picking one up, when you land at your destination.
Probably with the exception of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, facilities on local train services are of a variable quality, and unless you are going for gold, and staying on the Palace on Wheels in India, or a special First Class trip between Beijing and Shanghai, you may want to plan well, and take all your essentials on board with you.
Whilst most westerners find Asian food (especially South Asian, or South East Asian food), quite spicy, this is not necessarily an issue when traveling with the younger ones. Most hotels and restaurants will prepare food for the little ones separately, without the spices. Also, if in doubt, plain noodles, or plain rice with some vegetables on the side is always readily available as a good stop gap ration. Depending on how off the beaten track you decide to travel, you are more than likely to find, old favourites such as fish-fingers, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers in most parts of Asia.
One word of caution on the food front is the liberal use of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate) in Asian cooking. This food additive is also used in the west (mostly packaged crisps/chips), and in principle is no more harmful than many of the E numbers we may consume daily. However, in many Asian countries MSG is used very liberally, especially in soups and food with sauces. In China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, to name a few countries, you can expect that your soups and sauces will contain MSG by default. Many parents who live and travel in Asia complain that excessive MSG causes dehydration, lethargy, and mood swings with some younger children (and many adults are also found to be sensitive to excessive MSG). If concerned, request for your food to be prepared without any MSG, or choose MSG-free restaurants, increasingly available across the region.
In general, availability and the condition of public toilets in Asia leave much to be desired. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Singapore and Japan for example, typically provide some of the cleanest public conveniences to be found anywhere in the world. Also, in each country, there are certain locations, such as hotels and airports where hygiene standards are going to be at international levels. However, it is good practice to always carry your own tissues, and wet wipes with you when traveling in Asia. Also, to address this problem, in many Asian cities, you can also find special antiseptic wet-wipes, which are very handy when dealing with some of the lesser public conveniences.
It is also worth noting that, restaurants/coffee-shops do not always provide their own toilets for guest use, and more than likely share facilities with other establishments. This is true for even larger malls, and good quality restaurants in hygiene conscious Singapore. So, the old trick of, grabbing an unwanted cup of coffee or a drink at a restaurant, just to be able to use the facilities is not always a solution in Asia.
Similarly, availability of baby changing rooms varies immensely across the region. In Singapore, and Hong Kong for example, changing facilities are readily available in most shopping malls, one almost on each floor. However, when you are off the beaten track, even some good quality hotels may not provide child changing facilities.
Breast Feeding in Public
As a general rule of thumb, if you decided to breast feed in public, regardless of how discrete you are being, expect to be stared at. The good news is, across most of the region, this is no more sinister than surprise and interest on the part of the locals. If in doubt, you may want to retreat to a quiet corner, back of a restaurant, or baby changing facilities.
My Child is a Model!
If your children are under four or five years old, and/or blonde or with naturally curly hair, expect to be approached in parts of Asia by total strangers wanting to take photos of your child!
Again, there is nothing sinister about this request. They just want to capture the -cute factor- and share this amazing image with their friends and families.
You will typically be approached by Japanese, Korean, and Chinese ladies, who will want to pose with your child, and take each other’s photos. However, there seems to be no age or gender limit to this interest, over the years, our little ones have been photographed by business people in suits, restaurant chefs, and the odd octogenarian in small villages.
Asia’s Love for Children
One thing is for sure. Wherever you go to in Asia with your young family, you will find the locals ever helpful and highly interactive with your little ones. Asian’s love children, they love their own children, and also the children of foreign tourists.
My advice is, make the most of this, and allow your children to interact with the local population, be it your villa team at your rental Bali villa, or a chef in a Chinese restaurant, or the old lady selling flower garlands outside a temple in Thailand!
Most important of all, don’t feel like you have to wait till the kids are older before you can visit Asia. Have a go; both you and the children will love this colourful part of the world.
Enjoy your Asian holiday.
Many happy returns…