When parents come to stay

An itinerary for when Parents/grandparents come to visit.

Usually when people have their parents over to visit it is for a longer period of time – so there’s no need for a set one or two-week itinerary. Instead I’ve listed the places I’ve tried and tested with my parents and other guests we’ve had that I think all ages would enjoy.

There’s a few things to bear in mind if you’re planning days out with older guests:
  • The heat can be really hard work so take things slow, make sure they carry water bottles, wear a hat and you stop for plenty of comfort breaks. Bear this in mind when deciding where to go; there’s always a toilet in a shopping centre, MRT station and at attractions and usually a cafe and food centre too.
  • If walking is difficult make the most of any free shuttle buses, trams and mobility scooters that places like Gardens By The Bay offer.
  • I hired an electric scooter for my dad as he cannot walk very far due to “dodgy knees”. I got it from Delcon who were extremely helpful. You could also hire a wheelchair if you are confident someone is able to do the pushing. Remember, Singapore’s pavements are not always the best place for those less able though so take this into consideration too.
  • Don’t assume older guests are not interested in the more adventurous days out. My mum loved Universal Studios and was on and off the rides as much as the rest of us. Dad couldn’t go on much but still enjoyed pottering around after us.
  • Taking the kids with you is great, but some of the days out may not work. For example, not many children would enjoy the orchid garden at Botanics, but most older adults would. Let them have some space away from the kids if necessary.
View from smoke & mirrors bar, singapore

Our more mature friends have enjoyed the night life too!

ogre universal

Universal Studios is for the young, and young at heart.

Jurong Bird Park

A fascinating place with more birds than you can ever imagine. We had lunch with the parrots as my sister had bought it as a birthday pressie for my dad  –  and it was great fun. There’s a splash park there too so great if you get too hot. A lovely wander round can take all day with shows and feedings to take in and there are plenty of benches and cool spots to rest in when you need to. All info on their website

Gardens by The Bay

You could visit the gardens over two days as they are huge and there’s a fair bit of walking involved. If your guests are at all interested in flowers you should definitely take them to the flower dome. There’s often special themed exhibitions on like Chinese New Year, Christmas, Tulips and so on, and these are always stunning to see. There’s a nice little cafe inside to grab a cuppa when you need to. The Cloud Dome is also really interesting but do take jumpers as it’s freezing in there.

flowers in dome

The flower Dome is spectacular.

If they’ve got a head for heights take them to Supertree Grove and the OCBC Skyway. Lovely views of the gardens from up there.

If you have done it over two days  leave later one day and have an early dinner at Sate By The Bay before watching the Singing Trees do their thing. Everyone loves this part of the holiday and it’s not to be missed.

Botanic Gardens

Probably the place most parents seem to know about are the Botanic Gardens as they are world famous.  Take a picnic or plan to have lunch at one of the many cafes. Take your time and again make sure you’ve got plenty of water with you. There are toilets inside the gardens and places to refill your water bottles. Things to look out for are include Symphony Lake, Ginger garden and Orchid Garden. However, some of the Orchid Garden is closed due to enhancement work. If you are visiting with kids don’t miss the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden.

Raffles

Take your parents for look around Raffles if it’s open. Don’t just head for a drink though as you can wander around the courtyard and grounds and visit the gift shop which has some lovely gifts to take home. It is essential to stop at the Long Bar for a Singapore Sling thought and take in the old colonial atmosphere of the place. However, please note the hotel is undergoing extensive renovation work at the moment (October 2017) so do check before you go. The Bar and Billiard Room is still open serving the famous Singapore Sling.

 

Afternoon Tea

fullerton high tea

Afternoon tea at The Clifford Pier is well worth it.

Book them in to one of the many afternoon or high tea’s that most of the hotels offer. I took my parents to the one at the Fullerton Bay at Clifford Pier and it really is a spectacular venue. This is not a traditional afternoon tea though so bear in mind that you won’t  get finger sandwiches and traditional scones. However, it is delicious. The Shangri La on Orange Grove Road does a great high tea in the Rose Verandah and there are plenty of other places to try too. In fact, if you get bored of it, ask me and I’ll take them – I love an afternoon tea!

Bumboat along the river

This is a great way to while away the morning or afternoon and you can choose where to get off. I’d suggest getting on at Clarke Quay and then make your first stop at Clifford Pier to see the original Merlion at Merlion park. Plenty of photo opportunities here. Then walk down to the Fullerton Bay Hotel and go in to reception. Not only will this give them a respite from the heat it offers a spot for a loo break! They can also take in the stunning hotel lobby.

Once you’ve taken in the sights around there, jump back on a boat and see the rest of the river. Just make sure you buy a ticket that allows you to hop on and off.

Museums

Any of the museums are well worth a visit. I particularly like the Peranakan Museum as it’s not too big and has a lot of fascinating information about Singapore’s heritage. Changi War Museum is also popular and also well worth a visit. Then of course there’s the National Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, Malay Heritage Centre and so on.

Smaller, but worth checking out especially if you have kids to entertain too is the Mint Toy Museum; a small museum which is packed to rafters with toys and memorabilia from all the century’s. Everyone can find their favourite childhood heros from Noddy to the Avengers. It’s good fun for an hour or so and is right by Raffles so you could do both in the same day. If you do visit Mint, be sure to go right to the bar at the top – which may or may not be open – as it has some lovely views and some old school tin signs that will have you reminiscing.

peranakan museum

The Peranakan Museum is a glimpse back to how Singapore began

Bollywood Veggies

I had a great day out here with my parents and the kids. Set way out (north) west in Kranji, Bollywood Veggies is a fantastic spot that many people don’t know about. Essentially a farm and a bistro/cafe, this is a unique day out that you will all find interesting. The self-named ‘Warriors’ who own and run it have a great sense of humour and this is apparent throughout the farm – quirky signs telling you to help with the leaf clearance in return for a drink in the cafe and warnings about torture trees all make for a different kind of day out. Lunch at the bistro is amazing, and although you may need to encourage a little adventurous tasting as it’s local food, you will not be disappointed. Try one of the platters – they are delicious!

Kranji War Memorial

The graves at Kranji War Memorial

Kranji War Memorial

You can stop here on the way to or from Bollywood Veggies. A tribute to all the fallen from the UK, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, India, Malaya and the Netherlands who died defending Singapore and Malaya against invading Japanese forces during World War 11. The memorial consists of war graves, the Memorial Walls, the State Cemetery and the Military Graves.

East Coast Park

Great for a relaxing stroll when you want an easy day. Wide open paths and cycle paths mean everyone can choose their way to travel. You can hire bikes here too. Pack a picnic, lots of water and have an easy stroll.

scooter and scooter

All types of transport welcomed at East Coast Park.

The Merlion on Sentosa

Situated in Sentosa, take them for a lovely stroll along the Merlion walk and then  in to the Merlion itself to hear about the myth, make a wish and ring the bell. You can use the lift to get to the mouth of the lion for a great shot over Singapore. Those more able can go right to the top of the head although there are still a few steps to climb. But there are benches for those that can’t manage them so you can go up whilst they wait in the cool.

Little India

A wander around Little India is often something older guests enjoy. If you can get a guide like those run by Road to India even better, as Poojah, the well-informed guide will explain the etiquette of the temples and some of the meaning behind what you are seeing. Stop for lunch at the hawker or one of the many restaurants if you want to try some of the best Indian food in Singapore. Wander around the markets and marvel at the dresses and saris on display. You might even want to try some on.

If, like most mums, your mum loves a bargain take her to Mustafa’s. Many claim you can buy ANYTHING you want there. From toys to suits, flour to fresh fish, they will be amazed. It’s huge though so don’t get lost! 

Singapore Zoo

This day out will involve a LOT of walking so I would only suggest this if you hire a wheelchair or scooter for less able guests. Check the website for more info as the zoo does have some to rent. It’s a great day out though and you can take it as slowly as need be. Lots of benches, shaded areas and cafes to stop when necessary as well as a tram that can take you around too. Watching the many animal shows and feedings also offers a sit down when needed.

orangutan at Singapore Zoo

Monkey around at Singapore Zoo.

Theatre in Singapore

A night at the theatre or a live performance is always a safe bet as far as I’m concerned. More often than not you’ll find something of interest on here – whether it’s a free music concert at the esplanade or a west end musical on tour at MBS. Have a look online for what’s around. These websites are helpful. http://www.baseentertainmentasia.com/ https://www.esplanade.com/ http://www.srt.com.sg/ http://pangdemonium.com/

McRitchie Reservoir

If your parents/guests are good walkers they’ll love a wander around McRitchie. For the more fit and adventurous there’s the treetop walk. Not something I’d suggest unless very good walkers though! But a stroll around the reservoir is pretty easy-going and you’ll still get to see the resident monkeys if you’re lucky. Whatever you do thought, DON’T feed them or offer them anything. They can be quite cheeky and have been known to swipe bags from tables!

Marina Bay Sands

If everyone is really tired of the heat then head to one of the shopping centres. They are all air-conditioned and if you choose MBS, you’ll find a few added attractions as well. Think Venetian style canal and traditional Sampan rides. If you time it well you’ll see the Rain Oculus too – this is a large whirlpool that forms inside a 70-foot diameter acrylic bowl and falls two stories to a pool below. The artwork, a collaboration with architect Moshe Safdie, functions as both a skylight and a rain collector. The rain water is recycled back to the whirlpool and also fills the canal that runs through the atrium.

canal at mbs

Take a stroll along the river inside the shopping centre!

Stop for lunch somewhere – you could go something more local like the every popular Din Tai Fung or go elegant at TWG. There’s also every kind of option from Gordon Ramsey to Wolfgang Puck as well as a food hall. For more information on where to eat look at the MBS website.

And remember…

These are just some suggestions. Don’t forget if your parents are visiting all they really want to do is see you and your family. If you have to work or have other commitments, leave them with instructions on how to get a cab, who to contact if there’s a problem and some ideas of things to do during the day. If you are a member of a club get them a temporary pass (most offer them for family visitors) and they can go there as often as they like. Also don’t forget to explain how to use the air con, open the door/gate and get out of the condo if you’re in one. It might be obvious to you, but to guests it’s all new.

Invite some of your Singapore friends over to meet your family. Have a barbecue or a casual dinner. Your parents will really appreciate seeing who you spend your time with and it will make things easier when talking on the phone next. It may also help to reassure them that you are doing okay here and that you have a nice life here.

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When families with children come to visit

Family with children visiting for two weeks:

When you’ve got children in the mix, make your days much less packed as things always take a little longer with kids. Try to cater for all age groups where you can – but let everyone know that there’s lot of fun things around Singapore and everyone will get their turn. When all else fails, use a bribe – ice cream always works for us!

Day 1

Boat trip on the river. Start at Clarke Quay. Get off at Clifford Pier to see the original Merlion at Merlion Park. Plenty of photo opportunities here for kids including spouting water from their mouths and ‘carrying’ MBS – if you don’t know what you’re doing take some tips from those around you. Then walk down to the Fullerton Bay Hotel and go in to reception. Not only is it a respite from the heat (and offers a spot for a loo break!) but it’s beautiful decor and peaceful feel will take your breath away. And don’t worry, you can just wander in as it’s a public walkway. Once you’ve taken in the sights around there, jump back on a boat and see the rest of the river. Just make sure you buy a ticket that allows you to hop on and off.

bumboat in Singapore

Everyone loves a relaxing potter down the river don’t they? If not, bribe them with icecream!

Day 2

Get the MRT to Esplanade and have a wander around the Esplanade. You can get some pics of the Grand Prix Track from its roof and there’s a great Haagan Daaz inside. Take a leisurely stroll towards Marina Bay Sands crossing the stunning Helix Bridge. You can stop for lunch at one of the many places at MBS, there’s plenty of options including a not too pricey food centre on the lower floor. Whilst you’re in MBS show the kids the canal that runs through it and if you’ve timed it right, you’ll see the Rain Oculus empty – it collects rain water that fills the canal! You can even jump on one of the sampans for a leisurely ride.

Next it’s time to grab your head for heights and go on up to the sky park for the most stunning views of Singapore. This is where your guests will get to see what the city from 57 floors up – and if you stretch your neck enough, can gawp at those in the famous infinity pool (no entry if you’re not a guest I’m afraid). You can stop at Ce La Vie for a quick drink – a good way to relax whilst taking in the view.

skypark at Marina Bay Sands

Young and old alike will be blown away by the views at the top of MBS

Day 3

Is pool day and a bit of down time for the adults whilst the kids burn off some energy in the pool. If you are a member of a club, head there for the day – if not, a condo pool or house pool would do the trick too. If you don’t have one and are not a member anywhere – take advantage of most clubs free two weeks/one month membership whilst you have guests here!

Pool at The British Club Singapore

A day by the pool relaxing will be just what you all need today.

Day 4

After a relaxing day yesterday today is all about action packed fun and is probably THE thing your younger guests have been waiting for. Universal Studios.  A great family day out that will tick all the boxes no matter what age the children are. Discount tickets can be bought through places like the British Club and you can buy an express pass to help skip some of the long queues (the price can vary). But really, these places are all about the anticipation as much as anything else so just go armed with lots of patience and you’ll be fine. Pre-book your entrance tickets to avoid the long lines to get in and get there early.

Universal Studios

One of the less hair-raising rides – for some!

Day 5

Take it easy today, the kids will be exhausted from yesterday – as will the adults. Take your guests out for lunch somewhere you would go to usually. Go for a walk around your local area, let them get to know your ‘hood’. Have lunch at a hawker centre and order some food the kids may not have tried before.

Day 6

For older children today is all about local heritage so head for China Town. This may be met with groans of ‘boring’ from younger guests but remind them they can look for cheap pressies to take home or find the best noodles in Singapore today. Visit China Town Heritage Centre to get a feel for how the city has changed over the years and see how people used to live.

china town

China Town and its Markets are full of colour and culture.

Head to food street for some local fare. If it all looks a bit scary to your younger visitors, choose something simple like chicken sate or spring rolls. Or ask The Noodle Man for some plain non spicy noodles.

Spend the afternoon wandering around the markets and challenge your guests to try some Durian.

or

orangutan at Singapore Zoo

Monkey around at Singapore Zoo.

If this really doesn’t appeal to your older children and probably won’t with younger children you could suggest Singapore Zoo. One of the most impressive zoo’s I’ve ever been to and although it’s  a long day you can take your time walking around and can jump on and off the tram for a few extra dollars. The monkey exhibit is amazing and there are plenty of animal experiences and shows to see too including jungle breakfast (this requires pre-booking).

Day 7

Have a shorter day today and suggest The Alive Museum in Sun Tec city is a great spot to take families (especially on a rainy day, but it will be busy) and you will literally run out of battery on your camera. From flying on the back of a huge Kingfisher to being picked up by a giant baby, this 4D museum has to be seen to be believed. Great fun for young and old alike!

Day 8

Sentosa is calling. There really is so much to do on The State of Fun that one day is not enough. Madam Tussauds to Segways, Ziplines to a butterfly park. There’s a good page on the website here that will help you plan. It’s worth buying a Fun Pass which gives you access to a number of attractions. You can even stay for the evening and watch one of the light shows too.

For me, the things you should not miss is the Luge – brilliant fun for all and the most hair-raising skyline ride up to it, the Merlion Walk and the Merlion and the Images of Singapore LIVE (really one of the best ways to introduce children to the history of Singapore).

Dinner at Coastes is a great way to end the day – kid friendly, relaxed, the food comes quick and the kids can play in the sand whilst you and your adult guests can enjoy a much-needed beverage.

dinner at coastes, Singapore

The perfect spot for a family dinner – relaxed, good food, service is quick and your toes are in the sand. What’s not to love?

Day 9

Relax. Take it easy as everyone will be tired from yesterday. If the kids get tetchy take them for a walk around your local park.

This evening would be a good time to go on the Night Safari. The world’s first nocturnal wildlife park, it’s quite a unique night out, but it’s a late one so maybe some afternoon naps would be a good idea before you go. Book your tickets in advance and although it’ll be busy when you arrive, it’s well organised and everyone gets to see everything.

Day 10

Time to head for Gardens By The Bay. Go later in the afternoon if you can so that you can stay for the light show at 7:45. Allow a few hours at the gardens or if necessary, go back in the evening.

laying down for singing trees

Tell your guests to lay down and take in the wonder of the Singing Trees.

Plenty to do at the Children’s Garden including a splash park so get the kids to take their swimwear. If they are older they might enjoy the Cloud Forest but it’s pretty chilly inside the dome so take jumpers. Don’t forget to head to the Supertree Grove to see the gardens during the day and you can visit the OCBC Skyway if you’re ok with going up high with the kids.

Day 11

East Coast Park.  If the children are able to ride bikes this is a good place to go as you can hire them here and cycle all the way along the cycle paths that run next to the beach. If not, just grab the stroller and take a leisurely walk. Scooters, roller blades, inline skates – they’re all welcome! Plenty of dining options along the way or take a picnic. There are also barbecue pits if you want to get organised for a family bbq, you’ll need to book here though.There is a children’s playground too.

Wishing Bells, Mount Faber, Singapore
Make a wish at Mount Fabe

or

You could go for a ride on the Cable Car for spectacular views and fun. Begin your journey at Mount Faber where you can have a look around at the stunning park before getting on the cable car. There’s the huge polish bell of friendship, stunning views and a great little restaurant and gift shop up there. Also, you can buy a bell or two of your own and tie them on the railings as many others have done before.

Day 12

Water Park. Whilst Adventure Cove is great fun and well worth a visit, if your guests have already made heavy dent in their wallets, take them to Jurong Water Park instead.  A local pool that has enough rides, slides and lazy rivers to keep the younger ones happy. It may not be ideal for older children looking for huge thrills, but is a good substitute for little ones. For older ones, I’d opt for the Sentosa park for sure – if you are a member of the British Club (or know someone who is) they have discounted tickets available.

Day 13

Kartwheels on Tanjong Beach

Simple fun at the beach – and it doesn’t cost a penny!

Beach day. Most children will want to go to the beach before they go home. You can go to Tanjong, Siloso or Palawan on Sentosa for an easy day. At Palawan there’s also a fantastic pirate ship splash park ideal for under 10’s. Check the website for opening times. Whilst you’re there you can maybe do one or two of the attractions that you may have missed on day 8.

Day 14

Take a day off today and let your guests relax in the sun whilst they get ready to leave. Again a pool is a bonus here. If you’re feeling generous (which you may not be after two weeks) you could offer to take the kids out to a park to give the parents some space to pack.

Or…

If the family that are coming to stay are feeling adventurous suggest a few days away somewhere like Bintan. There are many resorts and hotels to choose from and gives people a different taste of Asia. It’s only 45 minutes by ferry so you can do it over a long weekend – we’ve even done just two days.

bintan beach games

Take a break from Singapore and hop on the ferry to Bintan for a few days. Simple laid back fun.

Other options a bit further afield are Thailand, Malaysia, Batu Batu and so on. As long as it’s within a 2 hour flight or 5 hour drive it’s worth it I think.

By doing this it takes the pressure off you as a host too as feels more like a holiday. Alternatively if you are working or your kids are at school the family may want to take a few days away on their own. Give them lots of ideas before they come and let them decide. It may even be they treat themselves to a couple of nights at one of the hotels here in Singapore.

Other places to visit that you can swap in are:
Orchard Road – I’ve missed out shopping on here as it bores me, but if you have a shopaholic visiting you must of course visit the shopping district – Ion, Paragon etc. Botanic Gardens – a beautiful and relaxing stroll for as long or short as you like.
National Museum – in fact any museum! The Peranakan is one of my faves.
Singapore Zoo – both during the day and at night (the Night Safari is very popular).
Gardens By The Bay – either just wander around the huge gardens and/or go into the flower dome or cloud dome (take a jumper, it’s chilly in there!)
Pulau Ubin – to see a bit of how Singapore used to be. Ideal for mountain bike enthusiasts.
Jurong Bird Park.
Kent Ridge Park – or any of the other parks, especially early morning to catch a taste of what the locals do to keep fit.

The list goes on and on…

Here’s a printable PDF version:
family visiting If you do print out this free itinerary please don’t forget to click the ‘like me’ button and comment at the bottom of this post.

Take a look at the other itineraries for more information on the above or more ideas.

When your best friends come to visit…

Five day Itinerary with friends – no kids

Teapot cocktail, Bitters & Love

It will be cocktail o’clock when your best friends come to visit

Day 1

AmTanjong Beach. Take a towel and just sit and take in the strangely relaxing scenery of ships, tankers and the like. Have a dip if you like and just catch up. Don’t rush too much as everyone is just catching their breath. Then after an hour or so – or more if you have sun worshippers visiting – head for brunch at the Marina. I like Em for a good breakfast and if you’ve got kids in tow they can play on the pirate ship playground whilst you enjoy a chat with your friends. Another favourite spot that I’d go to any time of the day is Coastes – quick service and you get to sit on the beach.

PM – Walk around Sentosa – I would always get the free tram to Beach Station and go to Merlion Walk and show guests the magnificent Merlion that takes pride of place there. You can even go inside and up to its head for some stunning views of Sentosa and the surrounding area. There are a whole list of other things to do on Sentosa here. More info on Sentosa on my blog post.

Evening depends on how tired everyone is but a relaxed dinner at home is always a good way to round of day 1. You can always grab some hawker food if you are short of time (or cooking skills!)

The Luge, Sentosa, Singapore

The Luge is somewhere you should take your friends – and just pray you make it down without any ‘accidents’ of any kind. Great for a giggle and the hats are a great solution to frizzy hair!

Day 2

AMBoat trip on the river. Start at Clarke Quay. Get off at Clifford Pier to see the original Merlion at Merlion Park. Perfect photo opportunities here – if you don’t know what you’re doing take some tips from those around you. Then walk down to the Fullerton Bay Hotel and go in to reception. Not only is it a respite from the heat but it’s beautiful decor and peaceful feel will take your breath away. And don’t worry, you can just wander in as it’s a public walkway. Once you’ve taken in the sights around there, jump back on a boat and get off at Esplanade. More details on Clarke Quay boat trips here.

PM – Have a quick look at The Esplanade and get some pics of the Grand Prix Track from its roof, then walk towards Marina Bay Sands crossing the stunning Helix Bridge. You can stop for lunch around the Esplanade or eat at one of the many places at MBS (I love TWG  for some good old-fashioned elegance or there’s plenty of other options including a not too pricey food centre on the lower floor. Now grab your head for heights and go on up to the Sky Park for the most stunning views of Singapore. This is where your guests will get the see what the city is about – and they stretch their neck enough, can gawp at those in the famous infinity pool (no entry if you’re not a guest I’m afraid). You can stop at Ce La Vie for a quick drink – a good way to relax whilst taking in the view.

On the way home it’s time to head to Raffles. Everybody who has visited us here has this at the top of their ‘must do’ list. It may be a bit of a tourist trap and overpriced, but it is so reminiscent of a bygone era it’s worth it. It’ll only take an hour (if there’s not a queue) and is a good way to round of the day. Of course, you have to go to the Long Bar and have a Singapore Sling, but also have a look around the Courtyard and in the gift shop. Some lovely take home gifts there. * NB The Long Bar and much of the hotel is closed for renovations at the moment (October 2017) so check the website before you go.

Evening – After a freshen up and some down time back at home or the hotel it’s time to head for cocktails somewhere swanky. My favourite spot is The Lantern Bar. Pricey but worth it for the view and the atmosphere. Other places to consider are Smoke & Mirrors, Ce La Vie or Zafferanos. All offer great views.

Views from the Lantern Bar, Singapore

Great photo opportunities for your friends at The Lantern Bar and it’s always a ‘wow’ moment when the lift doors open.

Or if you fancy it head to one of the more hip places like Jigger & Pony, Operation Dagger or Bitters & Love is my personal fave. You can snack whilst drinking your cocktails as most places in Singapore offer bar snacks which are usually more than substantial if you’ve had a big lunch!

Day 3

AM & PM -Time to relax. Jet lag will kick in on day 3 so give your guests the day off. If you are a member of a club, head there for a day around the pool. Have a relaxed lunch, maybe even a spa treatment if you can.  A condo pool or house pool would do the trick too – ask friends if you don’t have one and are not a member anywhere – or take advantage of most clubs free two weeks/one month membership whilst you have guests.

Evening  Having spent the day relaxing, head out early to Gardens By The Bay – my absolute favourite touristy thing to do in Singapore as you’ll read here. The Singing Trees do their stuff at 7:45 and 8:45 every night. 

Supertree Grove at night

I have seen these beauties a dozen times or more and still love it. An absolute must do!

Pay the minimum charge (about $20 per person) and go to the top of the main tree and have a drink, it’s worth it – the views are stunning, especially as the city lights up at night. They do some pretty tasty snack up there too if you get hungry. The Indochine restaurant – which is a floor lower than the rooftop bar, is great if you want to splash out on dinner.  But I would go for something a little less heavy on the wallet and wander over to Sate By The Bay after the light show and try some of the best local food around. Don’t miss out on the Pork Belly or Sate.

Day 4

AM – Book a walking tour. I love Betel Box tours and highly recommend their China Town Food Tour. It’s really informative and takes you to places you wouldn’t necessarily know about, as well as the obvious spots. Of course, it’s all dependent on what day this is and what they have scheduled but get in early and you can work your itinerary around them. They do offer private tours too which although more expensive, actually may be worth it to do what you want.

Local hawker food at China Town

Just one of the many dishes you’ll try on the Betel Box food tour – the every popular Chicken rice.

PM – Depending on how everyone feels as walking around in this humidity can really get to you, the afternoon can be spent wandering around the markets in China Town – all the cheap touristy gifts can be found here. Arab Street and Little India also are good places for this.

Evening dinner should be somewhere relaxed, one of your favourite local dining spots maybe, or a club. Let your friends see what you do and where you’d go.

Day 5

AM – Time for some history. Either head to Reflections at Bukit Chandu, Fort Siloso or my recommendation would be Changi War Museum. A great way to learn about the history of Singapore and a good end to a hectic week.

PM – Take some down time to sit and chat, after all, they’ll be gone before you know it. Make tea, put your feet up and just enjoy them being there. They’ll also need to think about packing, dependent on what time they leave tomorrow.

Evening – time to get your glad rags and show them how it’s done in Singapore. ‘Dinner up high’ is an absolute must and tell your friends to allow for this in their budget as it doesn’t come cheap. Artemis has the best food, great view and fab bar in my opinion, but there’s also Level 33, Zafferano’s, Mandarin Oriental, Ce La Vie (you will need to take out a mortgage though!), Me @ Oui, to name but a few.

 

These are just ideas for a five-day itinerary with friends and is pretty packed. Obviously you can miss things out or swap things around. For example, it may be that it pours down one day and you have to do the museum on day two instead. Be flexible but try to have a plan of some sort. That way your friends will leave feeling like they’ve seen something of this amazing island. Talking of rain, don’t assume rain stops play – as you’ll know once you’ve lived here a while, it can be raining one side of the street, and not the other. Plus, it’s very often short-lived. Just take a brolly and get on with it.

Other places to visit that you can swap in are:

Orchard Road – I’ve missed out shopping on here as it bores me, but if you have a shopaholic visiting you must of course visit the shopping district – Ion, Paragon etc. Botanic Gardens – a beautiful and relaxing stroll for as long or short as you like.
National Museum – in fact any museum! The Peranakan is one of my faves.
Singapore Zoo both during the day and at night (the Night Safari is very popular).
Gardens By The Bay – either just wander around the huge gardens and/or go into the flower dome or cloud dome (take a jumper, it’s chilly in there!)
Pulau Ubin – to see a bit of how Singapore used to be. Ideal for mountain bike enthusiasts.
Cable Car over to Sentosa.
Jurong Bird Park.
Kent Ridge Park – or any of the other parks, especially early morning to catch a taste of what the locals do to keep fit.
Trick Eye museum – there are two in Singapore, one on Sentosa and one Suntec. Both great fun and a must for all Instagram addicts.

The list goes on and on…

Here’s a printable PDF version. If you do print out this free itinerary please don’t forget to click the ‘like me’ button on the side of the page and comment below.

5 day with friends

Take a look at the other itineraries for more information on the above or more ideas.

Where do you go when…?

night in city

Lots of family and friends will want to visit this beautiful city you call home

I’ve had a LOT of visitors in the three or so years we have been living in Singapore. From people we barely knew who became lifelong friends after their visit, best friends from home, a friend’s daughter who came for a few days and stayed for two weeks, old school friends who moved to Australia and I hadn’t seen for years and of course, parents and siblings. Each visit has been different and each visitor has been given the ‘Jo tour guide’ treatment. Some more so than others, depending on how busy I was or how much they wanted me around.

So it’s not surprising that when other people I know have visitors they tend to ask me for “one of your itineraries.” I’ve got quite a reputation for my planning when it comes to visitors. I learnt early on that without a plan days can disappear and before you know it guests leave having seen barely anything. So I thought I’d share the three most used itineraries with you. All free of charge, no plus plus added and no forms to fill in. I just ask one – well two – favours. Please click the like button at the side of this page and at the bottom of the page add a comment about who you’ve got visiting. This kind of info takes a lot of time to put together so some feedback is always welcome.  If you could go so far as to follow the blog too you’ll get notified when I add more itineraries or reviews of places to go here in Singapore.

Oh, and if asked how you found out about an attraction or place to visit, please mention 5 Go Mad!

Singapore city at night

Singapore is a photographers dream!

Before you check out the itineraries, here are a few tips to help make the visits as much fun and as easy on you as possible.

Things to remember when you have visitors:
  • Everyone has different tastes and likes and dislikes. Ask visitors before they come if they have any ‘must-sees’ that they’ve heard about or anything they don’t like doing (for me, you’ll not get me near an aquarium).
  • That jet lag will affect them to one degree or another. This can mean they get barely any sleep at night and then want to crash during the day. Where possible encourage them not to sleep during the day, but it can be tough. Allow for rest breaks during the day though as don’t forget the heat hits people hard too.
  • Make sure you have spare bug spray and sun tan lotion. You’ll be surprised by how many people think they don’t need it.
  • Being a tour guide 24/7 can be exhausting, no matter how desperately you want the visitors here. So give yourself some time off too. If they are confident travellers you could suggest they do one more of the days on their own. If not, allow for some time out at some point – maybe just take a break from each other early evening.
  • Remember all friends and family want to see how your life works here so if you have a group you meet up with regularly, consider introducing them. Or if there’s a favourite coffee shop or cafe you go to a lot, take them. That way, when you’re talking to friends and family back home again next, they’ll be able to relate to your life here so much more.
What to do before they arrive:
  • Buy a couple of MRT cards for them and load them up with $10 – that way they can get around straight away.
  • When my nieces have visited I have made them up a goody bag as a welcome gift. I just go along to the markets and pick up some cheap souvenirs – a Singapore tote bag filled with things like a stuffed Merlion, a key ring, a notepad, a fan. etc.
  • Pick up a couple of Singapore maps or voucher books from the larger MRT stations or at the airport.
  • Prep your helper if you have one on the fact that there will be more people either staying or visiting and to adjust her shopping and cooking accordingly. I ask guests to leave money for a helper when I had one as it is extra work, but really that’s up to you ($50 per person at least is a fair amount I think). If you haven’t got a helper, prepare yourself – get some extra food in, start making up beds a few days before etc.
Once they arrive:
  • Once they’ve arrived, get your guests to download the MRT map app as well as Uber – that way they can figure out where to go and how to get there if you can’t be around the whole time.
  • Give them your address, phone number (add to notes on their phone or physically on a note) and point out a few local landmarks so that they feel they know where they are. You’d be surprised how many people forget to ask and head out for the day, not knowing where they’re coming back to! I always tell people what our nearest MRT and the line it’s on.
  • You could treat guests to a local sim for their phone – or point them to a shop that sells them.
  • Explain to them how the aircon works in their bedrooms, any water heaters etc. Also explain that electricity and water costs a fortune here and to turn air con and heater off when not using otherwise your next utility bill will give you a shock!

 

Merlion park, Singapore

The famous Merlion, one of the many must-sees in Singapore

Itineraries

Please click on the links below for the itinerary you want to see:

Itinerary for friends visiting for 5 days

This is for when your besties manage to get away from the kids and visit you. Lots of girlie fun and relaxing.

Itinerary for family or friends with children

Is your sister or brother heading over for a holiday with their kids in tow? Teenagers or toddler, this 14 day plan will have you covered.

Itinerary for parents visiting  

Got the parents or in-laws coming for the first or twenty-first time. Here’s some suggestions for things to do with them to keep you and them sane.

Time to get your crazy on

RiccardoTinelli@CrazyHorseParis_FastyWizz

Sexy not shocking

A recent Facebook post on a Singapore Expat site has got me thinking. It was about the iconic Parisian cabaret show Crazy Horse, whose Forever Crazy tour is coming to Singapore very soon. The post questioned if it was ‘suitable’ for women to go and see or is it regarded as tacky or non pc?

In this age of female empowerment why are women shying away from the idea of going to see a show like Forever Crazy? Let’s get to the nuts (no pun intended or I would have said crutch) of it shall we? 

Is it that really, as women, we don’t want to be seen as sexy?

Why not? We are!

Maybe not when we’re worn out after no sleep and have baby food (or our own food) smeared over our tops, but it’s there sometimes right? In my mind we should be proud of our sexuality  – be that on a stage dressed only in lights or at home dressed in a pair of jeans and t-shirt.

Is it that we think the show is exploitative?

This is not a show that exploits women, it’s a show that celebrates them. The dancers who perform are at the peak of their careers, having trained for years for this kind of gig. They are now touring the world doing what they love. Oh and they get paid for it too. Where’s the exploitation in that?

Are we scared that if we take our partners they might enjoy it a little too much?

So what? If they didn’t, wouldn’t you be more concerned? You never know you could be pleasantly surprised by the resulting mood…

RiccardoTinelli@CrazyHorseParis51

Don’t keep it secret, this show is fabulous!

Do you think it’ll just be a sex show?

It’s not, ask anyone who has seen it either in Paris, Las Vegas or on this current tour. With one of it’s most famous dances “God Save Our Bareskin” choreographed by a former lieutenant of the British Army no less, do you really think us Brits would stand for that? (Ahem, cough, cough, moving on)

No, seriously. The show is a celebration of women and their bodies yes. But it’s far from tacky. There are routines choreographed by the likes of Philippe Decouflé – writer and director of the Cirque du Soleil show Iris. A spectacle of light, colour, sensuality and Joie de vivre the show is sexy, fun, clever and unlike anything you will have seen before. 

Come on girls, grab your friends and book a girls night out – or book a date night with your other half that you’ll both enjoy – and celebrate all that it is to be feminine, sexy and have fun.

RiccardoTinelli@CrazyHorseParis19

Girls night out or date night? You choose

If you need more convincing, here’s a short history I wrote for Base Entertainment about the show.

The Crazy Horse cabaret, or ‘Le Crazy’ as it’s commonly known in France, is an iconic Parisian cabaret show founded in 1951 by painter and art dealer Alain Bernardin. Unlike other cabaret shows of the time, Bernardin purposefully opened his show just off the Champs-Élysées, thereby distinguishing it from the tacky strip joints or risqué burlesque shows found in the Pigalle district.

In fact, the story goes that Bernardin wanted to present a show that the president could watch without compromising his situation – and one where he could return the next week and bring along his wife. High standards indeed!

Bernardin conceived a show unlike any other that featured classically trained dancers performing stunning choreography, using lights and projections that played with the shapes and curves of women’s bodies. This gave the dancers an aura of mystery, the audience a spectacle unlike any other and the result was a show that was stylish, elegant and witty. 

The Golden Rules

The dancers, referred to as The Crazy Girls, come from all over the world including the UK, US, Russia and of course France. From the very beginning Bernardin was very strict about what look he wanted for his Crazy Girls. They had to be classically trained dancers and were chosen for their likeness to each other; they had to be the same height, shape and even have the same breast size.

Bernardin’s (or maybe his teams?) criteria for the perfect Crazy Girl was that they should be around 1.7m tall, with no more than 21cm between nipples and 13cm between naval and pubis.

Go on girls – get the tape measure out and see if you would qualify.

These “Golden Rules” as they were referred to, have stood for more than 60 years but have thankfully developed to include dancing and acting skills, sophistication and personality.

Still, would you get in?

RiccardoTinelli@MikaDo

Do you have what it takes to be a Crazy Girl?

Each year Crazy Horse receives over 500 applications from aspiring dancers who want to become a Crazy Girl – out of these only a handful actually make it in to the ‘family.’  If chosen, the dancer is then put through three to five months of intensive training – a Crazy Parisian dance bootcamp if you like. Only then, after successfully completing the demanding training, are the dancers given their ‘nom de scéne’ (stage name).

This nom de scéne, is given right after their very first public stage performance and is regarded as a baptism for each new dancer. Every girls name is unique to that dancer – a few of the names to look out for include Mina Velours, Loulou de Paris, Psykko Tico and Taina de Bermudes.

Famous Faces

Many of the dancers are quite rightly recognised as being the best in their field. Some of the most famous Crazy Girl dancers you may have heard of include Rita Renoir, Bertha von Paraboumm, Rosa Fumetto, Lova Moore and Polly Underground.

The show has also become famous for its celebrity guest stars who have appeared on stage. These have included Dita Von Teese, Pamela Anderson, Conchita Wurst and Kylie Minogue. Demi Moore reportedly learned the ropes for her movie Striptease by watching the Crazy Girls in action.  

2010 saw the start of the Forever Crazy worldwide tour. Conceived as a tribute to Alain Bernardin, it consists of a selection of the best acts from the cabarets 50 year repertoire. According to Crazy Horse; “the result is a distinctive show that delights the mind and enthralls the eyes!”

“God Save our Bareskin” – a dance choreographed by a lieutenant of the British Army – kicks off each show as it has done in Paris since 1989. Another dance to look out for is “Crisis? What Crisis” which was inspired by the world financial crisis.

 The show has won rave reviews all over the world. Don’t miss your chance to catch it in Singapore while you can.

Forever Crazy is showing at MBS Theatres Wednesday 11th – Sunday 22nd October. Tickets available here.

Photo credits: Riccardo Tinelli

 

Joining the Sisterhood

Sister Act The Musical

Come join the sisterhood

There is nothing I enjoy more than a night (or day) at the theatre. Musicals in particular have an appeal like no other. I swear I must have had some connection to the theatre in a previous life. Sadly I don’t think I was high kicking with Liza Minelli or serenading Michael Ball; probably more like running around polishing shoes or sewing sequins. So it is with much excitement that I have recently been talking to the company who bring all the best shows to our little red dot, Base Entertainment. Today I was fortunate enough to be invited to the press call for its latest show at the MasterCard theatre, MBS, Sister Act  – sequinned wimples and all.

Anyone too young to have watched the movie Sister Act needs to get themselves a couple of hours on the sofa right now as it’s a rare treat. Real old school comedy, fine female (and some male) actors and fabulous music. What more could you want? Obviously Whoopi Goldberg is forever associated with the film – but did you know it also featured Maggie Smith (pre Dame hood) and Harvey Keitel?

So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a musical based on the film is also a must see. A huge hit from Broadway to the West End this production features the cast direct from the Broadway show. Obviously I’m not going to give too much away about what we were shown to say but suffice to say I’m more than a tad excited to be seeing the show.

From a 16ft tall Virgin Mary (with a not so dark side), to racks bursting with sparkling habits, our tour backstage was fascinating. Molly, the production stage manager showed us where she cues stage crew, audio and actors alike from left of stage (or right of stage if you are her as she has to do everything backwards) and the ‘God mike’ – for when things go wrong.

Gondola row – or wardrobe walk – was much smaller than I had imagined. This is the area where actors do quick changes. I can only imagine the swan like activity that goes on – with calm changes on the surface and utter panic underneath. I spotted a Wurlitzer (which looked original and I immediately coveted) bar stools upended, bottles of drink and glasses, Dolores coat and lots of slippers amongst many other gems. I can’t wait to see where they all feature in the show.

It was fascinating to hear how the sets, costumes, props, lighting and so on are all shipped around the world in five sea containers. How parts of the set are moved on and off stage and how the huge cast and crew work together to ensure the show is as good in one country as the next.

With shows as good as this hitting our shores I for one will make sure I’m supporting them – please go and do the same so this sister can carry on feeding her ‘habit.’

Look out for my Facebook post for my thoughts on the show itself.

Sister Act is on at the MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands from 9th – 28th May.

Costumes back stage

Watch out for the wimples!

Sister Act The Muscal

Part of the scenery

Props backstage

An original Wurlitzer?

Scenery, backstage at Sister Act the Musical, Singapore

A different view to usual

Wires, cables, musical

Can you imagine trying to find the fuse that blows in this lot?

Delores Sister Act Costume

You can never have too much fur and fringing – Delores costume.

Scenery, backstage at Sister Act the Musical, Singapore

She’s looking very virginal right now – but she has a hidden side. All 16ft of her!

sister act

Not to be missed!

Show me the money!

Like many other women here in Singapore my journey here began purely on a – and I HATE this term, so please forgive me – ‘trailing spouse’ basis. I had no work to come to and therefore no finances of my own as such. Yes, I know, really it’s ‘our’ money – but you know what I mean right?

Trailing spouse funny

Hell yeah!

 

As a result I am ashamed to say I seem to have got swallowed up in to the land of ‘leave the finances to him indoors’ despite the fact I know I’m much more organised than he is and therefore probably could do as good of a – if not better – job of organising them.

That was until recently when I was talking to a friend and lamenting the fact that I no longer had my ‘own’ bank account. She questioned why I’d given up something that I’d told her I clung to throughout my working and married life before moving here. The answer? Because I was told (or heard, or read or maybe even dreamt) that unless you have a Employment Pass here  you can’t open a bank account. She laughed at me. Yes, my friend laughed in my face. Apparently that’s a ridiculous thing to think. I was a tad embarrassed. So I decided it was time I got myself back in to financial control.

Making a financial plan makes perfect sense

Financial planning is a good idea

I started asking questions about ISA’s and mortgages and ways to invest. My husband – who’s always open about our finances – answered where he could. Funny thing was some of the stuff we were both not sure of. So I had to go further.

I joined a talk at Woolf Works held by a lady called Amanda Edwards who runs a company called Tidy My Money. At the talk, myself and a dozen or so other women listened to a fabulously confident lady called Andrea Kennedy explain why financial stability must come before financial wealth and that financial security between the two.

Andrea is a financial advisor – a job many of us have learnt to mistrust. She dispels this fear swiftly. In fact, she prefers the term financial planner, something I now understand is quite different. Interestingly though she also has a masters in financial psychology. Ooh and I love an ‘ology (booby prize for first person to name that ad!) Therefore, she speaks a lot about the psychology of how we deal with finances, and why we often are our own worst enemies.

I’m sure many of you have heard the horror stories of women who have sadly split up from partners whilst living away from their home country and been stranded. No money, no home, no way of supporting themselves or their family. When marriages break down like this it’s often with hurt and pain all round, so sitting down calmly to discuss who gets what is unlikely to happen.

Dollar bills

$$$ – can help or hinder the Terrible D’s

It’s for this reason – and many more -that both Amanda and Andrea strongly encourage all women to deal with their finances now and in the open. Discuss with your partner what would happen if something awful happened. Be that death, divorce or disability (or the Terrible D’s as Amanda calls them). Make your finances as transparent as possible. Know where everything is and keep on top of things.

Being comfortable talking about money is also key. I always squirm and avoid the subject at all costs – after all, it’s just not the done thing is it? But, I can see that it should be amongst family and loved ones. Andrea also gave us food for thought about teaching our children about money, explaining that her children were given money to invest from a young age. Wow! Teaching them from an early age is the best way – why are we all so surprised? Why are so few of us doing it?

For me, it also means getting my head around the jargon and terms used. For someone who is good with words I switch off totally when those words are even vaguely related to numbers. I still struggle with gross and net!  So, I’m gaining back a little bit of independence in terms of having my own bank account again (well, I will do when I have actually ventured to the bank which is a whole other issue. Paperwork and bureaucracy anyone?)

I will do it though. Nothing to do with planning a trip to Nashville, honest!

Tom Cruise, Show me the money

Hopefully money talk doesn’t lead to shouting at the top of your lungs

Lending a hand in Bhutan

Bhutan had been ‘calling’ to me for a while. It seemed to pop up in my world on a regular basis. Whether it was on TV, a social media post or, more interestingly at my co-working space. An email came round asking if anyone would be interested in joining a group of women heading to Bhutan for a mindfulness and volunteering trip through a company called Insightful Learning Journeys. Yes! I almost shouted back.

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Beautiful Bhutan

Although that actual trip never happened due to lack of numbers, having met up with Khatiza, founder of Insightful Learning Journeys, she asked if I would be interested in joining as a writer to another of her volunteering journeys which she facilitates for corporate employees. She was keen to have someone help her improve her website and write about the experience. Of course I jumped at the chance.

Khatiza founded Insightful Learning Journeys to create a foundation and framework of mindful values and practices which support both individuals and organisations and help create a ripple effect in communities. As a result of her keen interest in understanding and appreciating the value of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, she was invited in 2012 to deliver a talk on the topic to the Google employees in Singapore.  Thus began the volunteering journeys to Bhutan, with participants who were keen to help the country develop while striving to retain its core values. 

To join the journey meant committing to giving your time to an organisation to transfer knowledge or skills (or both) for part of the time you visit. The Google employees that were joining her on this self-funded trip were doing so with the aim of sharing there skills in technology, marketing, sales, engineering and so on. In return they got a couple of days holiday in lieu and a trip of a lifetime, not to mention the personal accomplishment of helping a community grow.

How can I help?

Me? I was just a writer. What could I do? I was far from techie, and can’t claim to be a Google expert. But, ever resourceful, and knowing the needs of Bhutan as she does, Khatiza was quick to suggest a lady who has established Bhutan’s ONLY women’s magazine. Pema has been working on Yeewong for a number of years and apparently would be grateful my insight in to how to improve the magazine and its reach. Great I thought, that is right up my street. Or was it…?

Whilst I was happy to help out the magazine – and I did meet with Pema and offer some thoughts in to publishing from a Western perspective and we continue to keep in touch – I felt this wasn’t actually what Bhutan was ‘calling’ me for. There was something else, I was sure. Chatting to Khatiza one day it became clear. In fact, it was staring me in the face. My experience with children with Special Needs and my training as a Signalong tutor. My younger Son has Down’s Syndrome, so since becoming his mum 16 years ago  I’ve learned A LOT about A LOT. All of it floating around in my brain somewhere.

When I revealed this to Khatiza she knew exactly where to put me – with the Ability Bhutan Society (ABS). A society inspired by the vision of the King of Bhutan and, according to its website “a place where those living with diverse abilities have a voice, where social workers develop skills to help, where families get support through education and psychosocial support and somewhere that provides qualified care providers.”

In a country like Bhutan, which is still very much in its infancy when it comes to understanding, training and the development of people with special needs, all offers of help and sharing of knowledge is welcomed.

So, in I walked with my four-penneth…

What do they need?

I met with Thuji, the behaviour specialist at ABS on our first night in Bhutan, and  talking to her the extent of the help they needed was obvious. The vision and determination were there though – and that is half the battle. We talked about what resources were available (not many), what facilities were available (even less) and attitudes to disability in Bhutan. Unfortunately the elephant in the room was that in Buddhist religion, the matter of Karma is fundamental and the suggestion that people are ‘punished’ by being born with disability or special needs is an undeniable undercurrent.

However, thanks to people like Thuji and her wonderful Executive Director Beda who herself has a child with special needs, along with their team, the tide is turning and those with disabilities are being accepted, listened to and heard. In fact many Buddhist teaching dispel this karmic ‘payback’ as a myth.

After our dinner together I arranged to meet Thuji at ABS the next morning as she really wanted me to see the centre where most of the therapies and interventions are carried out. There were no brightly coloured walls, no nursery rhyme posters on the wall, no soft matting on the floor. Instead I was in a cold building of 3 levels – with NO RAMPS OR LIFTS. The irony of which wasn’t lost on Thuji or Beda, who both commented on it . But as I say, Bhutan is new to this. In the therapy rooms, names of children were pinned to the wall with a list of goals underneath. Under one or two of the names were chairs to aid sitting – the type children in the UK used about 15 years ago. Functional, yes. Comfortable? probably not.

But, I don’t want to paint a sad, poor picture here. It’s not like that. Thuji was justifiably proud to show me the goals for each child and the few toys they had, pointing out those that certain children favoured. It’s not that the Society can’t afford toys as such, it’s more that they just can’t GET them. Everything has to come from abroad, usually India, which isn’t always easy. Interestingly something that became more and more apparent throughout my visit wasn’t the lack of shiny new gadgets and fabulous sensory toys that they are crying out for, it was basic things like a colour printer to make visual timetables or a laminator so they could make PECS boards.

Honestly, my fund-raising mind went in to over drive straight away!

School is special for all

Thuji was keen for me to visit a local school with her to meet a teacher who had set up a special needs group within the school. Madam Chimmi works within a large local primary school and established a group within the school just for children with moderate learning difficulties when she could see that these children were not getting the help they needed elsewhere.

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A small but functional classroom where tables were moved to accommodate ‘choosing time’

In a small classroom she works with 8 children varying in age with needs such as autism, global developmental delay and Downs Syndrome.  The room was decorated with the children’s work and there was a small trampette in the corner which served as a place for some of the children to let off steam in between work. Again, what stood out was the lack of simple resources.

Tables were shifted around to accommodate what work they were doing and Madam Chimmi spent most of the time working on her own with the class. No easy task – as anyone who has worked with children with SN will testify. All of the children have a parent/carer outside during play time as their just isn’t the staff to supervise. As a result, many parents and carers have to sit outside the classroom all day as to go home and come back again is out of the question – we’re talking a long trek for many.

Despite this, many of those women (and they were all women) were grateful that their children had somewhere to go and would happily tolerate the tediousness of sitting on the floor or stone benches for hours on end. It felt very much like a community and they were there making things, chatting and passing the time in a convivial atmosphere, springing in to action when the children came out.

img_1278

Puzzles were one of the few resources available to the class.

Madam Chimmi told me how difficult it was to access resources – much like Thuji had said. She was in desperate need of things like simple flash cards, keyrings to make up individual PECS aids, materials for art and the like. She wasn’t looking for computer programmes, sensory tunnels and new playground equipment. But more than that she wanted to learn. Learn how to help the children under her care as she wasn’t ‘officially trained’ in SN. She lapped up the few signs I showed one of the little girls who was desperately trying to talk to us but couldn’t produce actual words. She was interested to hear about my work as a Signalong Tutor and spoke of how, because there was no real speech therapy in Bhutan at all, there was nowhere to send children like Pema.

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The children are included in treats taken around the school

I also found out that there is just one psychologist in the whole of Bhutan – yes, that is one person helping EVERYONE who needs psychological help.

I came away from the school amazed at how much Madam Chimmi had achieved with what little training she had – with the support of the ABS. But there was so much more, with such little input that could be done. So my mind began buzzing. What if I could bring over a team of SN specialists? I know many myself and I was sure it is something that would appeal to many.  My mind was whirring.

Family time

That afternoon I went to meet two local families who get support from the ABS and with whom I was going to be working with over the next couple of days. I was a little nervous as I wondered how I’d feel about someone new coming in to my house telling me what to do with my child. Especially someone from a completely different culture. I was very aware that my life was probably different in many ways – my access to help, my outlook, my view on SN generally and I tried to bear this in mind when planning what to do. 

I decided the best way to help would be to do some ‘play therapy’ to encourage some of their other skills, be it fine motor, communication or social – or all three. I wanted to concentrate on communication as that is the area I have had training in and went for the idea of using sensory bags.

I filled two PE style bags with various items of different materials, textures, shapes, feel. I also took along things like cornflour, dough, pipe cleaners and shaving foam to play with.

Suvan, the first young man I met was 4 years old. I’d been in touch with his parents Pem and Sunil via email for a few weeks and they had given me some information on his background. He had trouble feeding from an early age, refusing any solid food. He also had global developmental delay and communication difficulties. The parents had been working hard on introducing various foods to Suvan, trying to wean him off pureed food and had got to a stage – through a lot of perseverance – where he had just begun to tolerate very small lumps. Unfortunately Suvan choked on a piece of food which led to a rush to the emergency room at the hospital. This clearly set him back and Pem and Sunil explained to me that he now once again refuses anything other than pureed food.

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The charming Suvan

From talking to a therapist called Caroline Essame here in Singapore I went armed with some ideas and information on oral defensiveness. Along with my sensory bag of goodies I arrived the next day to play with Suvan the next day. A very astute little boy who sussed me out immediately and was reluctant to engage with me. He did however, tolerate me being around for quite a while. I was expecting this reaction as when I had called round the day before to meet the family he made it clear he wasn’t interested in me being there. A very typical reaction really for a boy who is happily watching nursery rhymes on TV and a stranger turns up.

My plan was to engage him through Pem and Sunil – therefore taking the pressure  away from Suvan to have to ‘talk’ or ‘play’ with me. I showed Pem how to make up cornflour gloop and we encouraged Suvan over to see if he would touch it. He did, without fuss and we even managed to get him to put his whole hand on the top and feel the mixture melt underneath it. I explained to Pem that this was an ideal thing to do with cousins (she had previously told me he has a number of cousins of a similar age that he currently struggles to engage with).

I then took various things out of the sensory bag and either dropped them on the floor near to Suvan or threw them across to him. He picked up each thing and insisted I put it back in to the bag. Each time he did I over exaggerated my response. “No” – with a big shake of the head – “you don’t want this?” Or making sounds like “B” for the balls or “Ffff” for the feather. 

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Suvan loved to watch nursery rhymes in his special spot

I was encouraging each time he interacted with me – even it was to tell me to go by handing me my bag. He was charming and very determined. All traits that will serve him well I’m sure. After a while I let him go back to his nursery rhymes and went through some oral exercises with Pem that will hopefully help develop Suvan’s oral awareness. We also discussed getting some help and information from other places – websites, through the ABS and maybe further afield.

Both Sunil and Pem were very gracious having me in their home and both very keen to learn and help their son as much as possible. Sunil explained how they had taken him to Bangkok in the past to see experts that aren’t available in Bhutan. We also touched on how it can be isolating having a child with SN. I left feeling like I’d made friends with the family and hope I gave them at least some tools to use to help with his development.

Pulling together

Sherub, who is 10 and has global delay, was the other boy I had been placed with. Again I’d been in touch with his parents and his mum Ugyen had already expressed such gratitude to me I felt very humbled. When I went to meet the family it was clear they all took care of Sherub and were desperate to try to help him. In particular his younger sister, who had left school to become his main carer whilst his mum worked. This struck me as very selfless of her and I’m sure takes the pressure of the family immensely. I also felt a little sorry for her as she had given up her education.

But from what other people had told me, this is common in Bhutan due to lack of facilities for children like Sherub and Suvan. It also isn’t uncommon for families to have to leave their relatives at home alone all day in order to work – some of whom are so vulnerable they have to be locked in a room. This  may sound shocking and it’s hard not to judge. But really, what would you do if your child couldn’t attend school and there was no one to look after him/her but you needed to work to keep your family fed? So Sherub was actually fortunate that he had someone to look after him.

Sherub was a friendly young man and happy to play with me. One of the areas his mum had expressed concern with was his tendency to grab at people, squeeze too hard or lash out. I had experience with this and I dealt with it by gently pushing his hand away, and saying no firmly and say something like ‘nice hands’ or ‘hands to yourself’.  At one point Sherub did grab at my glasses (which was mainly due to over excitement), what was encouraging was that he immediately looked to his mum which suggests he understood it was not appropriate. A simple no with my hand and voice was all that was needed.

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Sherub soon worked out how to get the balloon to make a funny noise.

He really enjoyed the sensory bag and happily played with the squishy balls and scarves. He especially liked the balloon and we played with this for a while. Blowing it up, making lots of funny noises which he tried to mimic, and then letting it go and making even more funny noises. Soon Sherub tried to imitate the shape of blowing with his mouth and this was really encouraging. He loved the play foam and his sisters helped him manipulate it. He chased the balls and when he clearly had decided a break was needed he wandered in to another room. But each time he came back very happily and it was easy to engage him once again.

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Sherub got the whole family involved in our play!

I know a lot of young children like Sherub and I was really struck by how the right kind of input can make the world of difference. In my opinion I would say Sherub was on the autistic spectrum. I know that Thuji has trained in ABA and explained to Ugyen that I thought this was a programme Sherub could really benefit from, particularly in areas like toilet training. I wondered how many children would get the opportunity to join the programme though when only one person in the country could carry it out?

I felt a real need for the families to be involved more and suggested – both to Ugyen and Thuji – that maybe his sister could attend any ABA with Sherub and learn how to do it with him. That way, she would learn a way to help him and then perhaps have a skill she could use later on too.

Again I felt a real bond with Sherub and his family and was welcomed with grace and humility. I was struck by how different things are when you are in a country that is still catching up with regards to training and awareness. But it was clear the need is there – as is the willingness to learn.

The future

Having finished working with the boys I met with Thuji and Beda and talked about how things went. They were both keen to hear what my thoughts were which was very humbling once again – after all, I’m just a mum with a little bit of experience. I had brought along some flash cards, simple games and communication ideas that I left with them. Along with a flip chart or two, note books and other things that the Googlers kindly gave me.

I asked Thuji to make a list of materials or resources they needed most and I would see what I could get together. What was on it surprised me once again – velcro strips, laminating pouches, key word flash cards. Things that we can pick up easily enough here.  I said I’d start a collection and get a package to them next year. Although how the heck they get their post is a mystery since there are no addresses as such in Bhutan!

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Can you help provide some basic resources?

 

If you have any items you’d like to donate, please see the link below.

Having returned from my journey and reflected on the time I spent with the ABS and the families in Bhutan, what’s crystal clear is the need for training, information and advice. Also, that it would actually be quite simple to start making inroads to help.

Do you want to help?

So, I have a plan. My idea is to get a team together next year to go out and offer our skills. Just as Insightful Learning Journeys do with the Googlers – give the communities the tools and knowledge to help themselves. Teaching people how to fish as it were.

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Help us bring some muscle in the form of skills and knowledge to the children of Bhutan.

I’m looking for speech therapists, SN teachers, ABA qualified people, child psychologists, OT’s, Physiotherapists and of course, parents who want to share their knowledge. The idea being that we go in and teach/help the staff of ABS who will then, in turn, be able to help the families of Bhutan.

In return? Well, you’d get the experience of a life time and we’ll make sure you get time to see some of the stunning beauty of this amazing country. The trip would be self funded (maybe your company offers some kind of programme whereby they’d sponsor you?) But I promise it’s worth every penny. Think of it as a holiday as you will come back feeling great.

If you are interested in joining this SN group to Bhutan, please get in touch as soon as possible. Email me putting Bhutan Volunteering in the title bar. If you are based in Singapore or the UK and you have resources to donate please also email me here with details of what you could offer and I will arrange either collection or a drop off point.

Finally, here is a piece Thuji sent me that she wrote about her feelings regarding the children she works with. She is sending it in to her local paper to raise awareness.She agreed to let me share it here.
One morning I was driving to work, I got a call from an old friend who wanted me to see his nephew who has Autism. I was excited to meet his nephew whom I had heard about but never met. As the car drove into my office parking lot I saw a young, handsome boy on the front seat. I opened the door and greeted him. He looked at me and took his seat belt off. He held my hand as we walked into the office.

He looked excited and happy.  Let me call him Nima, like the Sun. He was a strong and energetic teenager living with Autism.

Autism in simple words is an impairment in socialisation and expressive language with sensory related issues like vocalisation and self-stimming behaviour.  Nima could not express his needs or wants, but he understood what everyone around him was saying. Nima looks for warm hugs, love and gentleness from people around him.  He has a beautiful soul, full of innocence.

His parents are divorced and he gets little attention at home. He is sent off to a village with his grandparents, who do not know what to do with this young teenager.  It’s not his parents’ fault – they are frustrated and helpless. His parents do not know how to take care of him living in Thimphu. No doubt this young teenager is neglected and seen as a burden to family.  Deep in his eyes there is a story untold.

When I met him and after spending time with him I feel his voice. In his voice I write for him:

Whose child am I?

‘My parents have no time for me, waiting for me to perish. I cannot express my basic needs. I am hungry and I don’t know how to ask for food. I am cold but I can’t ask for warm clothes.  I want to go out like every teenager but the outside light effects my vision and the noises are magnified too loud. ‘

Like Nima, there are many children living behind closed doors, asking whose child am I? Do I have a right to live?

Do you know a family who has a child like Nima? Can your heart open to be more understanding? Can you hear his – and the family’s voice?

By: Thuji

Behaviour specialist

Ability Bhutan Society

To find out more about ways to help the ABS in Bhutan please get in touch. Either fill out the form below or email me.

Click through to the links to read about the rest of my time in Bhutan.

Here for how it all began

Here for sightseeing in Bhutan

Here for the Tigers Nest Trek

Sightseeing in Bhutan

Sightseeing in Thimpu

Despite the fact Thimpu is relatively small, there are a number of sightseeing options. If you’d like to read about why and how I got to Bhutan in the first place please click here. I also took on the ‘Tigers Nest Trek’ which you can find hereAll of my cultural learning whilst there was part of a learning journey with Insightful Learning Journeys. which Founder Khatiza Van Savage facilitates. In this particular journey, I was included in a self funded volunteering and cultural immersion learning for Google Employees.

I travelled independently of the group but we met for breakfast and dinner most days. I also took part in my own mindful volunteering that you can read about here. As I was part of a larger group I was lucky to have a pick of wonderful guides – Dorji and his team of Bhakta, Thinley and Sonam are seasoned guides and drivers who have supported Khatiza Van Savage in her learning journeys for many years. They are proud and gracious Bhutanese nationals, well versed in their culture and eager to ensure that your journey is memorable on many levels.

BUDDHA POINT

It was clear before we got anywhere near the Buddha that we had chosen possibly the worst – but also the best day – to visit. It was the final day of ‘Prayers for world peace’ and it seemed that many local people were converging, possibly for the 8th time in as many days (as many people visit every day) on Buddha Point. The traffic snaked around the mountain for a good 2k or so. Still we persevered as it seemed that if this many people were going there, it would be worth the journey. And it was.

As the car park was shut we were dropped off at the foot of the steps to the Buddha – and thank goodness. I would urge anyone going to make the climb from the bottom of the steps rather than driving up to the car park. It looks quite daunting but it is well worth it, especially as you can stop as many times as you like, turn around and be rewarded with breathtaking views across Thimpu.

The steps to Buddha Point

The steps up to Buddha Point

As we were climbing the stairs dozens of people passed us, some carrying tiny babies in their arms, many walking with whole families, lots of young children laughing as they bounded up without effort. I even saw an elderly lady who was hunched over and barely able to stand being helped step by slow step. It was clear she was going to make it no matter what and her cheerful companion was going to encourage her the whole way.

Once we were at the top it was evident what all the fuss was about. Over the loud-speaker the chant of prayers was being played to the hundreds of people sat in front of the Buddha. All there to give thanks and prayer, all there of their own will, all there to celebrate. Rows and rows of people of all ages, sitting sedately on the ground, in front of them, rows and row of monks sat under a large marquee that had been erected especially for the occasion. In front of the monks was another more auspicious bright yellow silk ‘tent’ where apparently the Abbott himself was reciting the prayers that could be heard (we couldn’t spot him from where we were). This is the equivalent of the pope being in attendance apparently and there was certainly a reverential, and joyous, atmosphere around.

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A sea of people gathering to give thanks and prayer

We walked around the structure of the Buddha – and around the fenced off area where the people were gathered sitting in prayer. Although we couldn’t go up the steps that led to the foot of the structure we could still get a feel of the majesty of it and why it is regarded as a must see whilst here. All around, outside of the fenced off area children were playing happily, families gathered together, people shared food and monks and security guards alike passed by.

We went to give offerings to the monks and found we had a choice of worthy causes to give to. As we walked the steps back down I took in the amazing views once again and for the first time since arriving felt the true beauty of Bhutan and its people. The happiness was palpable and I felt honoured to have shared a part of this special day.

SIMPLY BHUTAN

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Dorji taking one for the team!

As the name suggests, this simply is Bhutan – a living museum that has been set up to show Bhutan as it was, before development kicked in. A very small museum that actually has a lot to offer. The initially shy guide – although I think her shyness was possibly more about our charismatic guide ribbing her than anything else – took us around each display explaining them to us. The first room she gave us the opportunity to try some traditional local wine.

If I were to say it was like firewater that would be an understatement! A small sip was all I could manage. Luckily Dorji was kind enough to finish it for me so I didn’t appear rude 😉

Other displays included a phallic garden (yes, with phallus of every shape, size and colour), the inside of a traditional Bhutanese house, festival masks, local craftwork, archery and a wishing bowl to try. Some women also performed a local dance whilst constructing a house!

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The very talented Pema showing us his craft

 

 

One particular display that is well worth making the visit for is a local craftsman called Pema (http://www.simplybhutan.bt/tshering.php.) He creates the most intricate wood carvings, carving and painting them all himself. Pema has cerebral palsy and does all the work with his feet. With his beaming smile and willingness to share his craft he won us over completely. His story of being ‘found’ in a small mountain village and then being given a place at arts college is inspiring and heart warming.

 

CHANGANGKHA TEMPLE

There are any number of temples/monasteries to see in Bhutan, and in Thimpu. I chose Changangkha after reading about the resident astrologer who can provide your very own prayer flags according to your date of birth. I was intrigued. Not the most worthy of reasons I grant you, but hey, a little frivolity here and there doesn’t hurt right?

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Changangkha Temple

The monastery is perched high on a ridge above central Thimpu and dates back to the 12th century. Climb the steps and walk around the pilgrim path where you can sit and rest on the benches there to admire the spectacular views offered of Thimpu.

Guru Rinpoche, (link to Tigers Nest) the Tibetan who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, settled in this area and so the monastery was built here and is regarded as one of the holiest temples in Thimpu. Parents bring their children here to be named by the protector deity Tamdrin. Whilst we were there one mum was holding her swaddled baby waiting for his or her name. A slip of paper was passed to her and she left – all very quick and without ceremony. Very unlike the naming ceremonies and christenings I am used to  My guide, Sonam explained that he was named at this monastery. Apparently names are unisex and there are only a small number – so there are many Sonams around!

Astrologer in Bhutan

My cheery astrologer who found my perfect prayer flags to bring me luck – I hope!

After our visit we head back down the steps to visit the astrologer – a portly round-faced man whose teeth and mouth were stained with the beetle nut he obviously chews on a regular basis. He reminded me of a cartoon monk with his large belly and cheery demeanour. After requesting my date of birth he told me – through my guides – that this year was in fact a bad year for me in business and up until the 2nd December I should avoid any business decisions. He gave me four sets of prayer flags (well, sold me!) and told me to hoist them any time from the next day to nine days time. Of course, the higher and holier the place the better.

Lucky for me I just happened to be trekking to Taktsang temple (link to Tigers Nest) the following day – possibly the best place for flags there is.

THE NATIONAL LIBRARY

As a lover of books I am always up for a quick look around a library. Bhutan’s national library is slightly different to your usual one. For a start there is no one in there! Maybe it was the time of day? Also, it didn’t look like you could actually borrow the books, although I didn’t check this out.

The books there seemed to be mostly reference and historical books. I’m guessing this library is used more for research than finding the latest JK Rowling.

However, the building itself is beautiful inside and out a worth a quick look if you are in the area.

 

 

CHOKI TRADITIONAL ARTS & CRAFTS SCHOOL

Bhutan has 13 traditional crafts and these crafts are plain to see all over Bhutan and you cannot turn a corner without seeing some beautiful painting on the side of a house or traditional wood carving on a pillar. The Choki Traditional Art School  in Thimpu is one of two in the country set up to teach young people the traditional skills of their ancestors.

Open to the public, the school is a place to see the crafts being learnt from the ground up as it were – and it’s fascinating to see the painstaking detail and intricate way in which each craft is taught.

From ‘Rimo’ (drawing),  Patra (carving), Tshem-Zo (embroidery) and Thanka (scroll painting) the young people who qualify at the school then have a skill they can use throughout their lives and ensure that these age-old techniques do not die out.

 

JUNGSHI PAPER FACTORY

Having wandered around the local market stalls I’d already noticed the beautiful paper and paper products on sale. The intricate flower pressed gift wrap, the delicately bound notebooks and the robust looking sheets of paper caught my eye. So when the guide suggested we go visit where it is made I was keen – after all, it could feed my notebook fetish if nothing else.

At the factory, visitors can watch paper being made from start to finish and it’s a fascinating journey. The paper is made from the bark of just two tree species – the Daphne tree and Dhekap tree. Using traditional age-old methods, the bark is soaked, pulped, squeezed, wrung out, placed on racks, dried on a wall then laid out. I make it sound so easy – it clearly is a finely honed skill. As we watch the man smooth out thin sheets of soaking wet paper on to a hot wall that dries it in minutes ,and then peel it off (before it dries out too much; a matter of seconds) and place the sheet in a pile before starting the process again, it’s clear that this is something he’s being doing for a long time.

Whilst you are not going to spend hours at this little factory it is well worth a visit. Of course, I bought a notebook!

 

TASHICCHO DZONG THIMPU

There are Dzongs on every hill in Bhutan it seems. Dzong actually means fortress and were built not only to protect the Bhutanese but also as administrative centres, houses for the clergy and somewhere people got together during festivities.

This particular Dzong is one of the most important and was restored after a fire in 1698 (originally built in 1641). It houses the secretariat, throne room and offices of the King of Bhutan. It was also where the fifth kings coronation was held in 2008. The northern part – which is not open to the public  – is the summer home of the Je Khenpo (most Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body)

An interesting and photogenic place to wander around, be aware you cannot take photos inside some areas so check with your guide first.

POST OFFICE

Now I’m no prude when it comes to stamp collecting – there is a history of stamp collecting in the family – the prospect of visiting a post office during my trip seemed slightly weird to me. My guide though was keen, and as he said, at least I could post my few postcards whilst there.

Housing a small museum that gives a brief, but thorough history of post in Bhutan is worth a visit if you’ve got half an hour to spare. Considering Bhutan still doesn’t have consistent street names and no postcodes it’s tricky enough now to consider posting something. Back when you were reliant on the strong legs and resolve of the mail runners – who literally, as their name suggests – ran around the hills with mail, it must have been quite hit and miss.

But for me, the piece de resistance of the visit to the post office was being able to buy stamps with my own mug on! Oh yes, I stood in front of a really obviously fake ‘background’ of The Tigers Nest lead to much excitement when I wrote out a few postcards and was able to slap my personalised stamp in to the top right corner. Can’t wait to hear people’s reactions when they get their postcard!

 

 

REFLECTIONS

Looking back I still can’t believe the numbers of dogs I saw on the streets of Thimpu – and I understand this is true throughout most of Bhutan. Not only that, the noise those dogs make at night isn’t something that I remember fondly. Having said that, there are lots of things I do.

The warm people, the stunning views, the clean air, the sky that goes on forever and the fabulous guides. Also knowing that there are people there that need a helping hand. Here are just some of the pictures I took of the wonderful Bhutanese people.

 

LIKE TO TAKE YOUR OWN JOURNEY TO BHUTAN?

If you are interested in joining a journey in the future I am currently working with ILJ to organise a writers retreat, yoga journey and a volunteer journey to work with the Ability Bhutan Society. Please do get in touch if you are at all interested here and put Insightful Learning Journeys in the title bar.

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Chukie and Khatiza our facilitators and cheerleaders!

Please do click through to the links to read about the rest of my time in Bhutan.

Here for how it all began

Here for my volunteering experiences

Here for the Tigers Nest Trek

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback…