Central America – part 2, Guatemala and Belize

I forgot to mention in part 1, Belize is Anjali’s 50th country and Ariana’s 25th!!! The drive to the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala was just 1.5 hours and the immigration out of Belize and into Guatemala was annoying (since you had to do paperwork twice 100m from each other) but generally seamless. We had gotten papers for the car at the time of rental which made things easy. We arrived at our resort just in time for lunch, and were delighted to see the beautiful green-blue lake adjoining the resort. After some local Guatemalan shrimp and rice, we all jumped into the pool and hot tub. We also took a stroll to the Peten lake waterfront where the water was crystal clear and warm. The sunset was absolutely stunning over the lake. The kids were tired and had a late nap, and we had an overall relaxing evening ending with some time for me to read a book and drink some wine on the balcony.

Next morning we headed out to Tikal, the world famous 2000 year old Mayan ruins and the primary purpose of our trip to Guatemala. A quick 45 mins drive north from the resort, we arrived at the entrance of Tikal. It’s a massive area in the middle of the rainforest scattered with Mayan temples, and it reminded us a lot of our recent experience at the magnificent Angkor Wat. We walked what felt like a really long time through the forest to the first pyramid and ruins. A few 100m later, we reached the Gran Plaza – a breathtaking site with the most famous ruins and temples on each side. On one side stood the super famous Temple I or the Jaguar temple. Opposite stood Temple II that Ayaan and I climbed to get an amazing view of the on plaza. And the north and central Acropolis on the other sides, that all of us enjoyed climbing and exploring. Tikal is not super kid friendly with its climbs and long walks, but it worked out well for us since we didn’t have FOMO to see every single temple. Also luckily we got a ride back to the entrance. Tikal was a great experience, much like visiting Angkor Wat or Petra, though not as magical.

That evening we went down to the lake to feed the fish and turtles. Kids loved it as the fish jumped to get the food and a turtle came by to fill his tummy. We ventured to the island town of Flores, 45 mins away for dinner. Flores is a quaint, colorful, tiny island town in the middle of the lake. We really enjoyed our dinner overlooking the decorated boats on the lake and capped it off with ice cream for the kids.

Next morning was a travel day as we drove across the border back to Belize (crossing was just 15 mins), returned the car at Belize City, took the Belize express ferry to San Pedro (made famous by Madonna’s La Isla Bonita) and finally a smaller boat to our hotel called Portofino. We learned that Belize had just 340,000 people, a former British Colony 37 years old and is facing a referendum to remain independent or join Guatemala. What is super unique about Belize is that it’s a mix between being in Central America and the Caribbean. Portofino at Ambergris Caye is a boutique hotel with just 17 rooms and a private beach. It was a very different experience than our other beach stays, very relaxing with the pool, bar and beach right outside our room. On a different note, I find it amazing how the kids adapt to not having toys. For example Ayaan is obsessed with how they clean and fill the pool with a pipe at this resort.

We spent our last 3 days of our travels in our sabbatical relaxing at the beach (slightly disappointing with weeds although water is warm and a lovely color), the pool and spending our time with the kids. Ayaan and Ariana were fascinated that they cut the coconut from the tree, cut them and served them absolutely fresh. The food and cocktails were fantastic with freshly caught seafood and local rum. We ventured out to the town of San Pedro one of the evenings, walked around the tiny town and had some ceviche with local rum. We we’re so lucky to catch a double rainbow with Ariana wearing her “Chasing Rainbows” tee. The weather got really nice (“only perfect” as Ariana says), sunny and warm with a slight breeze. On our last day we went out to snorkel at Mexico Rock, a part of the Holchan preserve. Belize has the 2nd biggest barrier reef in the world after Australia. The snorkeling was one of the best we’ve done anywhere comparable to the Red Sea and Zanzibar. Our guide was fantastic and we saw eagle rays, barracudas, lobsters, sting rays, pink conch, rainbow fish, puffer fish etc. The kids were well behaved and enjoyed seeing the fish come up to the boat as we fed them. Overall an amazing way to end our travels in our sabbatical as we head back to SF via Houston tomorrow! Again super thankful for Ayaan and Ariana and grateful that we got to spend all this time with them.

Central America – part 1, Belize

After a long, long flight from Mumbai to Houston via Toronto, we spent a week getting over jet lag and spending time with Anjali’s sister Dhara. They were great hosts and it worked out well as we got to acclimatize back to America and celebrate the holidays together including New Years, Dhara’s Birthday and a quick trip to Austin to visit the Art of Ice Cream Experience. Reenergized we took off for our last international trip as part of our sabbatical – to Central America for 10 days. Belize was a short 2 hour flight from Houston and it was great to get back to warm tropical weather. We rented an SUV for the first 6 days as we discovered the rainforest, ruins and Tikal in Guatemala. As we drove to the Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio, a 1.5 hour drive, we knew we were in for an adventure with bumpy roads and horses “parked” on the side of the road instead of cars.

The resort was rustic and local right by the Cahal Pech ruins and perched on a hill overlooking the city and the rainforests. We got a nice little hut to ourselves with a view and a hammock, that the kids loved. Belize was surprisingly not super kid friendly as the resort didn’t have a kids menu or a crib. It’s a relatively new country and is still building the tourism infrastructure. Our adventure began the next morning as we drove to Mountain Pine Ridge forest reserve. I was glad we rented an SUV as the road was non-existent for a majority of the drive and not for the faint hearted. 1.5 hours later we made it to Rio on Pools, a collection of pools formed from the waterfall and rivers. We had the entire place to ourselves which was amazing (and a pattern for this trip) and Ayaan and I enjoyed wading through the pools and to the waterfall. Our next stop was the Rio Frio Cave a short drive away that was a unique experience with a river and beach within a cave that also featured stalactites. We were pretty tired and had lunch at the Gaia resort which had a stunning view over the river and waterfalls. Our last stop for the day after lunch was the Big Rock waterfall, which were nice but honestly too steep a climb with kids. Exhausted from the hikes and the drive, we chilled at the pool and hot tub with an early dinner and bedtime.

Next day, not deterred by the roads, we set off in the same direction again to visit the famous Caracol Mayan ruins. A very bumpy 2.5 hour drive later we got to the ruins and were delighted to only see a couple more cars. We were told that we’d need a military escort on the drive since it’s on the border, but it works out just fine without one. Caracol was luscious green and the ruins were there for us to explore on our own – pretty incredible for the fact it’s Belize’s most famous site. The kids really enjoyed running from temple to temple hearing Tucans and howler monkeys and occasionally climbing the almost 1500 year old “pyramids”. Definitely worth the drive. On our drive back, after the kids napped, we stopped at the Green Hills Butterfly farm. This was a wonderful experience as the kids got to see different butterflies, and learn about its journey from egg to caterpillar to pupa to a beautiful butterfly. The evening again was uneventful as we relaxed in the pool and had an early local dinner comprising of fish and chicken curry.

On our 3rd full day we decided to take the kids to the Belize zoo an hour away. It was an awesome morning as the kids got to watch animals and birds they’ve never seems before such as the tapir, tucan, jaguars, macaws, coatemundis, howler monkeys and several other. Ayaan’s favorite part though was pushing the baby cart we had rented. That afternoon the kids didn’t nap much so we visited an iguana hatchery at the San Ignacio Hotel. Ironically on our way to the hatchery, we saw a hug iguana trying to breakdown the bathroom window in the hut next door! The hatchery was an incredible experience as we got to hold the huge male iguanas and the kids got to pet and feed them. We all had a great time being one with the animals and birds all day.

Our last day in the area began with a quick visit to the Cahal Pech ruins next door. It was a pleasant surprise since it was compact but really nice and once again deserted. The kids were able to climb up the temples on their own and we got some great pictures. After a busy 4 days in Sa Ignacio, we set off for the drive across the border to Guatemala …

Adios India

After a wonderful time in SE Asia, we spent our final 3 weeks in India before we head back to America. As we expected the final few weeks in India were quite hectic – from friends and family visiting, a couple of short trips (including Goa), trying new restaurants, spending time with family and trying to figure out next steps (which also meant we were on quite a few calls at night). The weather got much nicer and cooler, although a bit smokier. Traffic got much worse as the holidays approached and NRIs poured in. And the holiday mood set in with Christmas lights and festivities everywhere. Ayaan and Ariana wrapped up school with a Christmas party and boat trip, and as we’ve become accustomed to they learnt the festive songs of “we wish you a merry Christmas”, “jingle bells” and “rudolf”. Their best moments were the CCI Christmas party with cotton candy and rides, and Kidzania where Ayaan loved being a delivery boy and pilot, and Ariana a policewoman and firewoman. Ayaan’s became a fast rider of his bike, albeit still with training wheels. And Ariana is the cutest monster who is still having potty training accidents. We gave up on any effort of getting a nanny and that made our life much happier and easier. I’ve spent a lot of time reading (more than a dozen books) with highlights including Elon Musk’s biography and The Art of Thinking Clearly. Anjali and I once again barely got any time together, all of it mostly sitting in traffic.

My sister Sonil and nephew Siddharth visited us in Mumbai for a few days and it was great so spend time together as a family. We even went on a one night getaway to nearby Lonavala. We stayed at a nice Airbnb called Raheja Cascades, and spent a lot of time hanging out, playing Monopoly cards, chilling in the pool, eating local Maharastrian home cooked food and sitting by the bonfire. Anjali and Ariana decided to stay back in Mumbai and spend time with her family. Our friend Vaishnavi from SF also visited us and we had a fantastic meal at Masque, a unique 10 course experience from the chef trained at Noma and French Laundry. Thank you to friends and family for visiting. Lastly we celebrated an early Birthday for my mom, since we are leaving a few days before, at Bombay Canteen, now rated the #1 restaurant in India run by Cornell MMH alum, that made Anjali smile. Being with family on special occasions is such a joy.

Our highlight of our almost 2.5 month India stay has been seeing the kids and especially Ayaan completely transform into an Indian little boy, including the Indian head nod, doing puja, picking up the phone and opening the door, enjoying the local food and speaking many Hindi word, phrases and singing songs. Having them experience the Indian culture through all the festivals over the 4 months has been magical. The other highlight is how close the kids and once again especially Ayaan have gotten to their grandparents. He is going to miss them incredibly and is already looking forward to them visiting. Big thanks to our parents for hosting us, bearing with us and taking care of the kids. We’ll definitely miss India, and feel so fortunate and thankful to have been able to do this. Memories for life!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I had high expectations for Chiang Mai….and it beat all those expectations! We were extremely lucky to have been in the city during the Loy Krathong (Floating baskets) and Yee Peng (Floating lanterns) festival which coincide with each other in Chiang Mai during the full moon. The entire city is adorned with beautiful colorful lanterns which are particularly prevalent in the city’s numerous temples. This festive atmosphere added a new level of charm and delight to this already beautiful city. As we approached the city from the airport, Ayaan started pointing out the lantern decorations along the way. Since the kids were relatively tired from the flight, we decided to dine at the hotel restaurant which turned out to be a fantastic meal of Penang curry and our favorite pad see ew. After the kids slept, Gaurav and I chatted in the balcony for a while before turning in for the night. The next morning, we took a 40-minute ride up the mountain to the famous Doi Suthep temple. As we ascended, we were greeted with views of the city below as well as Buddha statues and temples along the way. Ariana fell asleep as we approached requiring Gaurav to carry her up multiple flights of stairs to the top of the temple. Bright golden hues and several Buddha statues makes this temple particularly stunning! Ayaan enjoyed being blessed by the monk with water drops and a string around his hand. Ariana enjoyed playing catch with the new friends she’d made. We returned to the mall near our hotel for lunch and the kids enjoyed playing with the kiddie planes and cars and the huge Christmas tree outside. I seized the opportunity to get a foot massage near our hotel while the kids napped. That evening, we set out to enjoy the festivals and got dropped off near the banks of the Ping river. We dined at Woo, a restaurant and art gallery that was casual yet classy. We enjoyed a Khow Soi, A classic Chiang Mai dish of noodles and curry topped off with several condiments. Toward the end of our meal, we noticed the lanterns floating in the sky and decided to skip dessert and hit the streets. We walked along the ping river and stopped on the bridge. Thousands of lanterns were released into the sky and as they floated up, they illuminated the entire sky. Down below, the river was lit by thousands of small flower boats and baskets with candles and incense sticks, making for another feast for the eyes. It was a sight to marvel at, and we felt lucky to experience it. Ayaan bought his own floating boat which we released into the water, which is believed to release all ill and unhappiness.

The next morning, we decided to wander the old town of Chiang Mai, starting with Wat Chedi Luang. We were amazed that this complex consisted of several temples within it with countless statues of the Buddha. We then took a tuk tuk ride stopping at several notable temples within the old city, each more inspiring and rich than the next. We were awed by the collection of temples within such a small area of the city. Our final stop for the morning was the gate at the entrance to the old town where we saw a large decoration of beautiful lanterns. We ate lunch at a local restaurant that had a nice outdoor garden. Ariana who is still being potty trained had an accident while Ayaan lounged in his hammock. This time Gaurav went for a foot massage in the old town while the kids napped. When Ayaan awoke, I took him down to the hotel lobby where he made his own ‘Krathong’ to set down in the river. He also took one for his little sister. When she awoke, we set off to view the festivals by the Ping river. We arrived early and set our krathongs while wishing for the release of ill. This time, we had dinner reservations at the Gallery riverside restaurant. While the food was relatively average, the location allowed us an amazing view of the lanterns being released into the sky all at once, without the crowds. Ayaan was the first to spot the first release at 7pm. We retreated back to the hotel after dinner to prepare for our early morning the next day.

We visited the Mae Rim elephant sanctuary the next morning. Upon arriving, they had us feed the elephants several bananas to befriend them. We then walked with them to a large mud pool where we learned more about this magnificent creatures and how they were rescued from cruel camps or circuses to be cared for at Mae Rim. Next we set off to play in the mud pools with them which Gaurav and Ariana enjoyed thoroughly. Ayaan and I enjoyed the next water pool where we splashed the mud off their backs to clean them. As we retreated back, we played in the ‘human’ pool and then learned to make noodle soup which we devoured for lunch. The kids napped on the way back to our hotel. We took the kids to the nearby Maya Lifestyle mall that evening and they loved playing in the kids play area there. We’d called for a babysitter from the hotel that evening since Gaurav and I were hoping to spend some time with each other. The babysitter though didn’t speak any English and seemed way in over her head with both kids so we decided it was best not to leave the kids in her care. We strollered down to the Nimmam district for a quick dinner at Nimman Social before heading back for a nightcap in the balcony while the kids slept.

We were excited when we awoke the next morning since we were checking in to the luxurious Dhara Dhevi hotel in Chiang Mai. We took a ‘Grab’ (equivalent of uber in Asia) and were greeted by stunning grounds as we approached the hotel. The main lobby as well as most of the villas looked like temples with golden tops, and the grounds were lush and green. We spent a relaxing couple of days here, alternating between the resort pools, the kids club and the various restaurants. Ayaan enjoyed the buggies that would transport us within the resort as well as the local arts and crafts center where he made fish and frogs out of colored bamboos. The highlight of our stay was our family dressing up as local farmers and planting rice with the water buffalos while being serenaded with live music. The kids even played in their own little ‘orchestra’. Gaurav and I did manage to get a date night in at a nice, Italian restaurant while we left the kids with a caring sitter from the resort. We really enjoyed dining as a family in our outdoor living room on the last night as well. On the last day, a horse carriage took us around the resort before we left for our flight to Phuket.

Vietnam

I’ve always dreamt of Halong Bay and we finally arrived at Hanoi from Siem Reap, after visiting another dream destination. Our flight was late and we reached the MK premier boutique hotel around 1030pm and were happy to find that it was located smack in the middle of the French quarter. Hanoi is extremely crowded and chaotic swarming with bikes, scooters and cyclos and people drive on the sidewalks too! We had a day before we departed for our cruise the next morning, so we decided to explore Hanoi. We took a taxi to the Tran Quoc pagoda which was interesting and located in the one of the few lakes in Hanoi. We then walked with the double stroller to the Ho Chi Minh Masauleum area, struggling along the way with the stroller and kids through the busy streets. We were pretty exhausted after the little excursion in the heat in the morning and took a taxi to a recommended restaurant Quan an Ngon which was quite nice with an extensive menu and and a large area. Kids and Anjali had a good nap while I read and we were ready for the evening after a Iced Vietnamese coffee at the rooftop of our hotel where we watched the sunset. The kids were then super excited to sit in a “cyclo” that took us to the main lake area. Anjali and Ayaan went to visit the famous Ngoc Son pagoda in the middle of the lake, and unfortunately someone swiped Anjali’s iPhone from her bag – understandably she was upset but happy that everything else was ok. When we reunited we took the kids for the famous water puppet show that they absolutely loved with its water buffaloes, boats and live music. We had a fantastic dinner at Duong 2 and had our first taste of amazing Vietnamese food 24 hours after arriving. Anjali put the kids to sleep while I went for a walk in the Friday night market that was packed with people (it was also a Vietnam soccer game that they won against Malaysia) and smoked some hookah at the Hookah room.

Next morning we woke up excited and anxiously waited for our 2 hour ride to the cruise at Halong Bay. Ayaan was very excited since he hadn’t stayed on a boat before. We were picked up at 9am in a luxury 6 seater minibus and the kids were entertained playing with the many gadgets in the minibus for the ride. We had a quick pit stop to see how pearls were extracted from oysters and also got our first view of the magnificent Halong Bay with its thousands of limestone islands – the myth goes that a dragon spat out these islands. We arrived at the cruise lounge where we were greeted with a smile, wet towels, a welcome drink and appetizers. After much research we had decided to go on the newer 3 days 2 nights Au Co cruise from Bhaya cruises instead of the more popular Paradise cruises. It was an absolutely awesome luxury experience and the only improvement we could think of was to have more live music. The boarding was seamless and as we sat for a 5 course set meal lunch we realized there were just 23 guests on board. We were also delighted since we were given an extra room that was much appreciated with our two monsters. The lunch was delicious as we sailed through the limestone islands offering a heavenly view. Our first stop on the cruise that afternoon was to visit the Tieng Ong cave with stalactites and stalagmites. The kids enjoyed the little trek and particularly had fun with the dogs that lived in the cave. After some brief rest on the cruise, our second stop was to visit the 200 person Cua Van floating village in a row boat. This was a particularly serene and relaxing experience, so much so that Ariana fell asleep in my lap on the boat! We spent the evening back on the boat where Anjali went to the hot tub at the back of the boat and then we all went up to the bar to enjoy a happy hour drink while they held a master chef competition. Dinner was another fantastic 5 course set meal and the kids happily munched on their specially prepared dinners. I spent a few hours reading on the balcony and enjoying the moonlight over the islands, as the rest of them slept like babies.

The first morning on the cruise started early and we barely got time to grab breakfast, before we sailed off on the tender boat to the Cat Ba island and national park. While other guests biked, we took the buggy through the stunning landscape and to the town to Viet Ha. Along the way we stopped at a little farm where Ariana enjoyed playing with the hundreds of butterflies of all colors. We got back to the boat with enough time to have a dip in the hot tub and then sit for another 5 course set lunch that was delicious. The final outing that afternoon was to the emerald waters and a white sandy beach of Ho Ba Hahm. This was the highlight of our Vietnam experience as the tiny beach was deserted, the sand powdery and the emerald water calm and warm with an amazing view. The kids were in love and we achieved a proud parent moment where Ayaan and Ariana could float independently in the sea albeit with their floats. Ayaan also took turns to go out on a kayak and he also helped row with his oar! Once again the evening started with drinks on the top deck at happy hour while we watched the sunset and Ayaan then visited the engine room and captains deck with Anjali. Over the course of 2 days Ayaan visited the captain half a dozen times and also blew the fog horn. Our final dinner on the cruise was a live music filled bbq buffet dinner on the top deck which again was amazing. On our final morning we woke up late, had a relaxing breakfast and chilled on the decks taking in for the last time breath taking views of Ha Long bay!

Our ride back from Halong Bay to Hanoi was less relaxing as the kids decided to throw their tantrums as they were sleepy but didn’t sleep. We arrived at the O’gallery Majestic hotel and the kids finally napped, while I dropped off laundry and read some more. We figured the kids would enjoy another cyclo ride, so we took them on an hour long ride through the French quarter after a bite at the hotel lobby restaurant. On our last day in Hanoi, we had debated leaving town to visit the beautiful Ninh Binh district to see “Halong Bay on land” but decided against it after our nightmarish drive back the previous day. We figured we would have a day for the kids for a change. So after breakfast we took a taxi to the kid friendly Thong Nhat Park. The kids absolutely loved this park since it had not only slides and swings, but also rides in trains, cars and even a carousel. We also walked along the calm lake, and overall it was a good change from the otherwise crowded and not super safe for kids (traffic wise) city of Hanoi. We grabbed lunch at Ngon Villa and this was our favorite meal in Vietnam. They had an all you can eat menu (not buffet) for $18 and every item on it was delicious. One of the highlights of our SE Asian journey has been that the kids have loved the food and eat really well at every meal. That evening after a nap we had a dip on the tiny rooftop pool that Ayaan enjoyed because it had one very strong jet that created a downstream effect. We wanted to eat a nice meal to end our Vietnam trip, so we walked 10 minutes to the famous Grandmas restaurant that was fantastic as well. Ariana particularly enjoyed the restaurant with the “two ladies playing the music”. On our final morning in Hanoi, we walked over to the historic Citadel and the kids were delighted to find a stage for a water puppet show set up there. Halong Bay was definitely the highlight of our Vietnam trip, and Hanoi was just too crowded to enjoy with the kids although the food was amazing! On to a couple of weeks in Thailand!

Cambodia

Our first journey as a family after 6 weeks in India started in Siem Reap. We took an early morning flight connecting through Bangkok and the kids did great on both legs. On arrival in Siem Reap we were greeted with a clean and organized airport where it was quick to obtain our visa on arrival. We took a taxi to the Le Meredien and we liked our driver so much that we decided to hire him for our entire stay here for $90. We figured it’ll be easier to be in an AC car while visiting the temples than Tuktuks in the sweltering heat. That first night we just relaxed in the lounge where the kids had some pizza and we had some great cocktails and after they slept early we had a date night dinner in the Italian restaurant downstairs.

On our first morning in Siem Reap (named for the city’s Victory over Thailand), we woke up comfortably and we had a sumptuous breakfast including local dishes. For our first trip to Angkor Wat we decided to get a babysitter to watch the kids while we covered the more strenuous temples. We got dropped off first at the Angkor Thom complex starting at the famous Bayon temple. Angkor Wat (or temple city) is filled with the legends of Ramayan, Mahabharata and Buddha and went back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism. Bayon was our favorite temple with its face covered edifices and different levels. After Bayon we visited the nearby Baphuon, another important temple in the complex with a grand walkway to it and a terrace at the top. We were glad we left the kids as there was a lot of climbing with very high steps and extreme heat. We also explored the several Buddha statues, Elephant and Lepper King terrace, Phimeanakas and a detour to Prah Palilay as Anjali and I got lost in the magic of the jungle. After 2 hours of strolling we were tired and stopped for a local Cambodian lunch with shrimp noodles and lemongrass chicken with Angkor beer. The short hiatus energized us to go see the grand Angkor Wat temple. Right from entering the moat, the temple is majestic and as you enter the west gate a long walkway leads to the main temple. The reflection of the temple in the pond nearby is a photographers dream! Climbing to the top of the temple we got a fantastic view into the Khmer empire among the forest that was built in the 12th century. That afternoon we decided to take it chill and we relaxed in the pool with the kids. We ventured out to Pub Street at night and ate a fantastic dinner that Ayaan really enjoyed at nearby Khmer Kitchen. Siem Reap is a fascinating little city that is well planned along the river and is extremely cheap with $6 massages and 50c beers.

The second morning, we took the kids and drove 45 mins to Kampong Phluk – one of four floating villages in South East Asia’s largest lake. We took a traditional boat out for 2 hours that took us to the amazing floating village comprised of houses, school, hospitals, temples, a church and restaurants where 600 people live. The kids did very well and were fascinated by seeing crocodiles, snakes and rabbitd all of which the locals eat and makes goods of. They also enjoyed seeing the mangroves growing in the lake. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a great place for lunch that our driver Sophian recommended where we sat is a private hut and our table was essentially a large swing in the gardens. The food as always was delicious and Ayaan particularly excited that he got sticky rice with mangoes (something he tried to order on the flight in but they didn’t have). The kids napped well after lunch while I had a foot massage and when they awoke we were off to the main Angkor Wat temple again to watch the sunset. Although not extraordinary (it’s better for sunrise but we were too lazy), the kids enjoyed their first visit to the temple and saw some monkeys as well. We once again ended the day with dinner at a Pub Street restaurant called Monsoon and walked the Night Market as well (that had $1 massages!). At night we had a little adventure as we sat in the hotel bar downstairs while the kids slept upstairs only to be called by the staff to let us know that Ayaan has escaped to the lobby!

On our final day, we visited the temples with the kids again. We first visited Preah Khan which worked out great with kids as they were able to walk the entire temple themselves, exploring it holding hands and posing for cute pictures. It wasn’t very crowded which worked well and it was quite an experience strolling through the long corridors with historic pillars and rubble. Ariana was happily singing songs while walking back through the jungle while Ayaan was busy collecting sticks and leaves. Our last stop at the temples was at the famous Ta Prohm temple made famous in the Tomb raider with many of its temples devoured by overgrown trees. It was an impressive site but it was too crowded with Chinese tour groups all of whom for some reason wanted to take pictures with our kids (it got creepy soon). We came to back to room service for lunch and after the nap took off for our short flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Cambodia has been very kid friendly with amazing food, cheap, and We leave wondering why Angkor Wat is not a wonder of the world.

India leg of our Journey

After Mauritius, Ayaan and Ariana spent 6 straight weeks in India during the festive season in September, October and November (Anjali and I had a 5 night escape to Jordan without the kids that was incredible). During this time the kids have really adapted to the Indian culture, school, food, lifestyle and Hindi. They’ve loved getting pampered by the grandparents and have really started enjoying their school Creative Kids. On dropping Ayaan to school he always says “Don’t pick me up too late”, while Ariana on getting picked up from school says “I want to go to school”! At school they’ve made friends, dressed up in Indian attire, made several field trips to the post office, grocery store, library etc, done several show and tells, and made several art things. Even though it’s just 2.5 hours for Ayaan and 1.5 for Ariana, they seem to be making the most of it. They even come home singing Hindi songs like “Henna Bolo Bolo”. Ariana continues to develop exponentially and is now potty trained using the 3 day method, while Ayaan can ride a tricycle super fast and remains obsessed with his baby car.

I have kept busy playing tennis (my game is finally back), watching cricket, reading books, spending time with kids and parents, spending time at CCI (including the lawns) and connecting with friends. I’ve also started advising Hearsay, my most recent employer again, which has been intellectually refreshing. To our complete surprise we were also able to catch Above and Beyond, our favorite DJs, at a show in Bandra! We’ve also tried a few more restaurants in Mumbai including Miss T, Yautcha, Clearing House and our favorites Trishna and Mahesh. I also took advantage of having help around and no work to get a minor surgery on my hand that went smoothly. I was also lucky to be able to watch the India – West Indies ODI cricket match at CCI and the WTA Mumbai Open at CCI in October.

One of the highlights of this leg of our journey was our trip to Delhi end of September to celebrate my brother in laws 50th birthday. My parents and I spent 3 nights in Delhi, while Anjali and Ariana joined us for just 1 night. Ayaan stayed with Nani and it was the first time Ayaan and Ariana were separated. It was a great trip as I got to spend time with my nephews Aditya and Siddharth, take them out for lunch to sushi and see Sids new college. The 50th birthday party was fantastic as my sister Sonil hosted over 200 people at her beautiful home and I got to meet several folks after decades. We also got to visit India’s best restaurant Indian Accent which once again lived up to the expectations with its amazing modern 6 course menu.

After the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi in September, the kids enjoyed praying to the Durga mata idols in the neighborhood and collecting Prasad everyday. They also loved the Dassehra festival celebrations where they saw an effigy of Raavan or “the 10 headed monster” being burnt followed by fireworks. They enjoyed the Radio club festival for Dassehra in October where they won chocolates in game such as bowling, spin the wheel and shooting. Being there to celebrate Nani’s 65th birthday was also special! A couple of weeks later the kids enjoyed the grand festival of Diwali. Ayaan went to the CCI Diwali festival with his grandparents and loved the cotton candy, train, the hanuman god on a unicycle, the live music and the laser and fire works. He’s also learnt many, many Hindi words and phrases and songs such as “Khushi Manao, Diwali Aayi hain”. Both kids enjoyed decorating dadi and Nani’s house for Diwali, and doing puja and eating sweets for Diwali.

Between Dassehra and Diwali, we made another trip to Delhi to visit my sister Sonil. It was great to spend time as a family as my parents joined as well and Sid and Adi were around too. The kids were excited to be on a flight again after 4 weeks and were very well behaved. The highlight for them was playing with fluffy, a pug, and playing with all the gadgets in the house including a handicap chair for the stairs. They also loved driving the motor cars and bikes in the mall and jumping around in the bouncy house. We got a chance to try out some fantastic restaurants including China House, Bukhara and Olive. We also took a stroll at Lodhi gardens and visited the amazing Humayuns tomb – which was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal. I asked Ayaan at the end of this 6 week period if he liked India and this was his response “yes I like India because it has a lot of speed bumps”. Oh the mind of a 3 year old!

Jordan #50 – part 2

On our 3rd morning in Jordan, we woke up to a panoramic view of the red stone mountains of Petra and spent an hour gazing at the amazing site. We then drove 1.5 hours south to the Wadi Rum desert or “the valley of the moon”. It’s really more like Mars as was portrayed in the Martian. Wadi Rum was the unexpected highlight of our trip to Jordan. We had high hopes but the experience that entire day took us to a different planet.

We first stopped at the visitor center where we booked a 4 hour 4×4 tour through the desert. Our driver Najeh met us as we finished another average local meal at the village and drove us into the desert. The experience reminded us of our Tanzanian safari. As we drove through the amazing red soft sand and gazed at the amazing Martian mountains, Anjali and I were in awe of the magnitude and the beauty. The weather was fantastic as well since October is a one of the best times to visit. The tour took us to a sand dune we climbed, the little bridge and Um fourth bridge, Lawrence’s house and spring and the khazala canyon. We ended the tour a bit early, so we decided to experience the Bedouin lifestyle and took off on a camel ride in the middle of the desert!

Around 430pm exhausted we drove in search of our camp – The Space Village luxury camp. We were originally planning to stay at the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp but we found out a week ago that they couldn’t honor our booking since their email, website and Facebook page were hacked 5 months ago! We had trouble finding the Space Village camp and had a scare when our car got stuck in the sand and I had to push it out while Anjali guided us back to the road – thank god we didn’t have the kids with us. Once we got to the camp, it was fantastic and pure luxury glamping. It’s just 6 months old, spanking new with 30 tents with very nice hospitality. Right outside the tents is a large sand dune which is also one of the most popular spots to view the sunset. We climbed up the dune and sat while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d seen. We then ran down the large sand dune to the camp where Arabic tea and shisha (or hubbly bubbly awaited us). The dinner was very local and fantastic with a rice and chicken stew cooked underground for hours. We had a great nights sleep on the very comfortable beds only disturbed by Anjali waking me up at 4am to see a sky full of stars, like we had never seen before. You really couldn’t ask for more in a days experience!

Next morning we departed Wadi Rum after a nice breakfast and drove for 4 straight hours to the Dead Sea. We got stopped a second time on the trip for a random ID check, but besides that the drive was seamless and breathtakingly beautiful just before and at the Dead Sea. Dead Sea is really a salt lake that is 400m below sea level, the lowest point on Earth. We arrived at the Marriott right at lunch time and devoured on some Italian food and wine. The Marriott is located right on the Dead Sea with a private beach and 5 pools. After relaxing for a bit we went down to the private beach for a dip in the Dead Sea. The water is 10 times saltier than a sea and it’s super easy to float almost like if you were on the moon. The salt can burn your eyes and nose though. We also put some famous Dead Sea mud on our bodies. The pool and spa was inviting after and we watched the sunset from there. After some shisha we spent our last night having a nice dinner and watching belly dancing. We spent our last morning floating in the Dead Sea and chilling in the pool before taking the red eye to Mumbai to see the kids and family. Jordan was amazing! Thank you to the grandparents again and looking forward to seeing the kids.

Jordan #50 – part 1

After a couple of weeks break in India that included a trip to Delhi, Anjali and I set off on our much anticipated trip to Jordan without the kids. It was our longest time away from the kids (last December we escaped to Bangkok for a couple of nights). So thankful to our parents for taking care of Ayaan and Ariana for 5 nights! Jordan is the 50th country that I have visited which is a personal milestone I’ve been awaiting. I’m enamoured with Middle Eastern Arabic countries with the culture, architecture, food and shisha having been to a few including Egypt, Zanzibar, Turkey, Dubai etc. The fact that Jordan is my 50th is just ideal.

After a movie-filled flight through Muscat, we landed in Amman around midnight. Immigration was seamless and since we traveled without kids we had no checked bags! 45 mins after landing we arrived at the W Amman, a swanking new property. Anjali wasn’t too well that night and we both were exhausted so we passed out in our amazing suite overlooking the city of Amman. We had 1 day in Amman and decided to head out to Jerash to spend the late morning after a sumptuous breakfast. Jerash is about 45 mins away from Amman and is home to the magnificent Roman site, only second to what you find in Rome itself. After a few failed uber/taxi attempts we negotiated a taxi ride to Jerash and back for 40 JOD. Anjali was quite frustrated with all the lame attempts by taxi drivers to fleece you, but we were too seasoned to get caught by them. Jerash was incredible from the moment we entered through the grand gates and wasn’t too crowded. Traditionally Roman architecture with rows of columns, the Temple of Artemis and amazing views of the surrounding hilly town. We spent a couple of hours in Jerash, but my favorite part was the 35 min live Gladiator show with a demonstration of the Roman army, gladiators fighting and chariot racing. It was heavily attended by Americans and took me right back to one of my favorite movies of all time. After Jerash, we got dropped off at Jabbal Amman where we ate at some of the most famous local joints including Hashem with its mouth-watering Hummus and crisp Falafel followed by Habibah that served a local desert that was basically a baklava with cheese! We ended our sightseeing with a quick trip to the Citadel that had awe-inspiring views of the crowded single-stone hills of houses in Amman. We decided to spend the rest of the evening at the W dipping in the pool and hot tub, smoking shisha at the terrace watching the sunset over Amman, and drinking cocktails at the W bar – things we couldn’t do with the kids. Both of us were quite amused by how much we could achieve in a travel day without kids.

Our second morning kicked off with another great breakfast, followed by a pickup of our rental car at a nearby SixT. A lot of friends recommended that we take a driver, but we preferred driving on our own to get some privacy and explore at our own pace. Also I love driving and after driving in more than 20 countries (and especially Western Ireland) am fairly comfortable. We drove for 3 hours through the desert landscape to the highlight, Petra. One thing to note is that the toilets in Jordan are disgusting (or ‘gustin as Ayaan says it). After our first day, we were wiser and carried our own toilet paper and soap, something that was non-existent is most toilets. We reached the historical site of Petra and found parking very easily right by the entrance. We had a quick average meal, before entering the grand site. Petra is my 6th wonder of the world and Anjali’s 5th, Machu Pichu remains elusive. We bought a 2 day pass for 55 JOD each fearing we may not be able to cover enough in the 5 hours we had that afternoon (It was more than sufficient to see everything we wanted to see in Petra). Petra or the red rose city is absolutely breathtaking and worth the travel to get here. It’s the most incredible wonder civilized in 1st century BC and carved out entirely from the natural, unique red Stone Mountain. As we walked through the 1.2 km Siq, we were reminded of Zion and Bryce. At the other end of the narrow gorge, is the absolutely stunning and famous Treasury – a huge building carved out. We explored the Urn tomb and the theatre, before climbing up to the Monastery – a steep climb but very worth it to get away from the crowds and get some spectacular views of the valley. Petra has many hawkers and is quite crowded as you would expect, but once it cleared out around 430pm (it closes as 6pm), is it charming. Our favorite was the 360 views from the temples of the Winged Lion and Byzantine Church. What was incredible about Petra is that we were more in love with it as we walked back out, which is usually the opposite at the end of 5 hours when you are jaded and tired. We were exhausted after hiking for 5 hours but luckily the weather is amazing in October. We retreated to our home for the night at the Marriott in Petra – an amazing location overlooking Petra and the sunset over it. We had a quick dinner and ended the night relaxing in the local Bedouin tent, smoking shisha, listening to live Bedouin music and sipping the local tea while staring at the stars. Petra was all that and more. 3 more days of exploring Jordan with #nokids …

Mumbai – “home”

It’s been 3 months since we departed SF and for the last couple of weeks (and the next few months) we are calling Mumbai home once again after 16 years. Both Anjali and I grew up in the Cuffe Parade neighborhood and our parents live a couple of blocks apart coincidentally – which works brilliantly with young kids. It’s been fantastic to be back as usual, but this leg still felt like we’re visiting for a short period rather than making it our home base for the next 4-5 months. The weather has been beautiful with the monsoons retreating.

It’s been busy in Mumbai, getting Ayaan and Ariana adjusted to their new school, figuring out a new eating-sleeping schedule and most of all coordinating with both our parents and even with each other! They love their school which is very comforting and return every day learning about a new fruit. Preschools are quite different in India from size to philosophy but they’re doing well. You also realize Mumbai is so tiny even with 25 million people where half the parents of their classmates were our classmates or acquaintances. We got Ayaan a new bike with training wheels that’s he’s started to enjoy and Ariana a push car that Ayaan is obsessed with. They are just so happy to have toys again :). They are also absolutely loving getting spoilt by their grandparents with candy and sweets, and several visits to the playground a day.

Anjali and I have spent every night either dining with our parents or meeting our school friends over a drink or dinner. We’ve already visited some favorites like Koko, Leopold, Copper Chimney and CCI; many more to go. That of course is a pleasant change from the last 3 months when we spent every night sleeping with them early, although the constant social activity has drained both of us already. We’ve also realized it’s extremely hard to get out as a couple since it’s just not the norm here. We are also still adapting to the different style of everyday conversations. We’ve been filling the days spending time with kids, our parents, playing badminton together, swimming, using the health club and just relaxing. My most productive few hours was making my LEGO plane from 30 years ago as Ayaan insisted he wanted to play with it. I definitely enjoyed that more than he did.

My sister Sonil flew down from Delhi for a few days which was great as we got to reconnect as a family and the kids got to spend time with their favorite Sonil Bua. We’ll be visiting her a couple of times in Delhi over the next two months so really looking forward to that. But the highlight of the last couple of weeks has been the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai, where every building and corner hosts and welcomes the powerful Elephant God for 1-13 days and there are celebrations, music, dancing, live bands, lights and prayers everywhere. It’s been 15 years since we experienced this and it’s the first time for the kids. Ayaan absolutely loves it – he “dresses up” in Indian clothes, dances to the music, joins his hands to pray, eats prasad (sweets with Gods blessing), and has visited several Ganpatis (statues of the Elephant God) with Nani and Dadi. Ariana is so American that she says “Gaanpaaati” and stares at the lights in amazement. It’s been incredible to see the kids experience our childhood, enjoy the yummy home food, start to learn some words in Hindi, and adapt to the different lifestyle in India. Ayaan has already gotten used to the concept of having a driver, a cook and all the luxuries that India offers. He’s going to miss it for the next 10 days as we head to Mauritius – his 25th country!!!