Gaurav and I managed to squeeze in a little getaway without the kids before we leave India. I hadn’t been to Goa in nearly 15 years save for our wedding which was such a whirlwind. Gaurav hadn’t really experienced the real Goa in his younger years because of a bike accident on his second day in Goa. So, we were excited to head (back) to one of India’s biggest party places! And a party it was! By the end of our first day there, we’d each consumed 10 drinks…We landed in time for a late lunch and headed to the famous ‘Souza Lobo’ for some Goan prawn curry and calamari recheados washed down with local beer. After checking in to the Le Meridien, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool enjoying bloodies. After getting dressed for the evening, we headed to the hotels rooftop where Gaurav was thrilled to get his favorite ‘double apple shisha’ which we paired with rose. We watched the sun set into the Arabian Sea with the beats of a local DJ, also known locally as a ‘sundowner’. Next up, Gaurav wanted to experience a traditional beach shack which Goa is famous for, so we headed to Brittos which has many memories for me. While it’s become more ‘upscale’ than I remember it, it still had a similar vibe and we enjoyed dipping our toes into the sand as we ate some spiced calamari cooked with onions and peppers and drank some local port wine (Goa has strong Portuguese influences since it has once ruled by them). It was karaoke night and we decided to sing a fairly off-beat rendition of ‘wonder wall’ before we escaped from Brittos and walked down the beach passing tens of other beach shacks, each playing their own dance music. We stopped by ‘Titos’, a club that is another Goan institution. It was early but we got a couple of drinks and heard some old EDM favorites from the 90’s before heading to Fiesta for dinner. A romantic candle-lit restaurant, Fiesta didn’t disappoint. We then hopped into a taxi to Cohiba where we spent the rest of the night. I loved the 10-person live band and we joined in the dancing as we continued to imbibe fresh fruit mojitos.
The next morning, we enjoyed a lavish breakfast consisting of made to order dosas, parathas and other delicious Indian staples. We then headed over to the W (a large wedding block forced us out the previous night but they made up for it by upgrading us to a fantastic 2-bedroom villa overlooking the beach). Check in consisted of two bottles of beer and a buggy ride to our villa. We headed straight to the pool and then, still relatively hungover, decided it was time for a short nap. When hunger called, we made way to a late lunch at Olive, a hip restaurant set on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The Goan chorizo and mozzarella po-boy and calamari 3-ways including a Japanese-inpired sesame-panko crusted version were delightful. We caught an ‘auto’ back to the hotel and lounged at the hammock in our villa for a bit. We later strolled down to the beautiful Rock pool for the sundowner. This venue is a scene due to its beautiful setting over a cliff with a DJ, shisha and over-the-top service. The best from all over Goa apparently flock to the W rock pool for sunset and we were able to snag one of the best spots. What a great experience it was! The sky exploded into a myriad of colors as the sun journeyed down into the sea.
Once it was dark, we headed over to a Rudy’s, a bar and grill that a friend of mine had opened just a few days before. I’d forgotten that it’s not quite to easy / safe to walk in india after dark and the narrow alley made me queasy. I was relived when we arrived! We enjoyed some delicious home-made Beef tacos, prawns and chicken wings with bourbon cocktails for Gaurav and margheritas for me. Next up, we had reservations at Gun Powder which had just been ranked the top 20 restaurant in India. The Andhra prawn curry and stir fried okra with flaky parathas and appams did not disappoint! We ended the night back at the lobby bar of the W, fairly exhausted!
Another fantastic breakfast greeted us the next morning. We then climbed to chapora fort which offered stunning vistas of the W and the Arabian Sea. We ended with a walk on the beach before retreating to our villa. We hit the rock pool when it opened and after a couple of beers, we ended our stay with lunch back at Olive! Thank you to the grandparents for caring for the kids while we got some couple time together.
After a couple of hectic weeks in South East Asia, we spent the next and our last week in the region on the relaxing island of Phuket. We arrived by a 2 hour Air Asia flight and were picked up by the hotel and transferred to the Naka Island, Luxury Collection by a speed boat, a tiny island off the coast of Phuket. Ayaan loved the experience including ringing the gong on reaching the island and sitting in his favorite buggy. The check in experience was great as they took us straight to our room which was very helpful since Ariana was sleeping. We were upgraded to a beautiful villa overlooking the bay and islands with a private pool, a private hut and an outdoor soaking tub. Over the next 3 days we spent many hours lounging in our villa and ordered room service several times. The main pool was fantastic as well with a large area for kids to run around. The beach had soft white sand and the water was shallow, and the kids and I spent several hours digging muddy puddles to splash in. Our agenda over the 3 days was essentially non-existent as we spent the mornings in the pool and beach after a great breakfast, chilled in our private pool and hut while the kids napped, and took the kids for ice cream and to the game room in the evening. Ayaan attended a cooking class in which he enjoyed making chocolate sticks with sprinkles. He was very amused when he found a frog in the soaking tub one of the days! We got a babysitter one night and had dinner at the upscale My Grill restaurant onsite. The only downside really were the mosquitoes and bugs, and Ariana often asked “will you scratch my owie?”. It was a great relaxing 3 days for all of us as we all got a major tan.
After a wonderful 3 night stay at Naka Island, we took a boat and taxi to our final hotel of the trip – the Le Meriden located close to the busy and touristy Patong. We were ready for some action after a relaxing stay at Naka Island. The Le Meredien is a large hotel with 500+ rooms and some of the best and largest pools we’ve seen. It has one of the most magnificent beaches with calm, warm water, white sandy beaches surrounded by lush green tropical forests. The kids enjoyed the kids club with both an indoor and outdoor area. The staff was nice to provide a baby potty, stepping stool and a bottle warmer. Anjali loved the fact that they had live music everywhere and the balcony in our room was located right above where the live shows were every night which was great entertainment as the kids slept. On our second night we got a babysitter at night and explored the infamous Patong district, especially Bangla road and it’s branching Sois. We spent the evening listening to some of favorites from the 90s played by a rock band and capped off the night with some hookah.
Next morning we took the all day cruise to Ko Phi Phi islands on the Blu Anda catamaran, since we figured it would be safer with the kids. In our almost 6 month journey this was our first all day tour/trip, so Anjali and I were both nervous. The kids did amazingly well and the tour was very well organized – we highly recommend it. We spent the day cruising the stunning blue-green waters on the catamaran stopping for snorkeling at the Monkey beach first. The sand was incredibly white and soft and the water was crystal clear with colorful coral and diverse fish. It was my first time snorkeling after LASIK and it made the recovery worth it! We then stopped at Phi Phi Don for a Thai lunch overlooking another stunning shallow beach overlooking the limestone cliffs. After lunch we cruised to Phi Phi Le for another snorkeling adventure at Tonsai bay which was cut short a bit with some rain. We ended our adventure with a sail around Phi Phi Le including a visit to Maya Bay (made famous by the “The Beach”). Maya bay beach was closed for environmental recovery but the sight itself was stunning. The kids napped on our sail back to the pier and in the minibus ride back to the hotel. We were exhausted after the day trip but decided to go for a nice family Thai dinner downstairs Including some yummy Tom Kha.
We spent our last day chilling on the beach and in the pool, hanging in the kids club, and Anjali and I had a chance to get a beach massage each! The kids have definitely gotten more of a handful during this SE Asia leg partly because of their age and partly because they’ve lost some discipline. But did we have a blast? – “Ummm Yess” as Ariana says. Off to Bombay for a final 3 weeks before we head back west to America and say goodbye to Asia. Thailand we’ll miss you, especially the Pad See Ew!
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!
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.
We landed onto the island of Mauritius, and after a seamless car rental experience, we were driving through lush green mountains to arrive at the Westin Turtle Bay. We were upgraded to a lovely room with a large balcony, where we knew we’d spend many evenings! Our room was also close to the resort pool which had a large kids play area. Overall, we found the service at the resort to be impeccable, and extremely kid-friendly which significantly enhanced our experience. Every request was met with a smile, and the staff went above and beyond to make our stay special.
On the second day, we went out on a glass bottom boat and the kids enjoyed experiencing the coral reef and fish, and were well behaved. On the third day, we drove to Cassela, where the kids got an African Safari experience, witnessing impala, giraffes, zebra, lions, and little lion cubs. A few days were spent relaxing at the resort, on the beach and in the pool, and enjoying several bottles of French wine that we purchased at a local wine store. We also went out on a pedal boat that the kids enjoyed a lot. The primary language of the Mauritians is French and the population is largely Indian, living in the African continent which made for an interesting mix of cultures. Africa is Ayaan and Ariana’s fifth continent and Mauritius Ayaan’s 25th country!
Every evening, we enjoyed live music at the beachfront and then dined in one of the resorts restaurants or ordered room service in our sprawling balcony, complete with day beds, and a swing. On the fifth day we drove to the south side of the island where we saw the black river gorge national park and some beautiful Hindu temples. Our favorite was the unplanned stop to Chamarel rhumerie where we enjoyed a tour of the process of rum making and a tasting of 7 rums followed by a sumptuous lunch in their gardens. Ayaan’s tummy was upset so he didn’t eat much and slept in his stroller during lunch. One of the memories of the trip was watching Ayaan and Ariana interact and play with each other with sand toys on the beach and swim in the pool together with their puddle jumpers. Ayaan remains very caring and protective of his little sister if he suspects that she is unsafe.
After 6 nights, we departed for the St Regis which had a spectacular location next to the Le Morne mountain. The south side of the island is lush and green and stunningly beautiful. On our way to the resort we stopped at the seven colored earths, a geological formation which was beautiful. The kids also met with some very old tortoises that had been transported from the island of Seychelles when the tortoise population in Mauritius was dwindling. The St Regis lived up to its expectations after a somewhat rocky start. The kids were overjoyed as they were welcomed with gifts including new sand toys. We loved the food and cocktails and in particular the multi course a la carte breakfast with home made croissants, dim sum, cheese and charcuterie washed down with mimosas. The live saxophone musician in the evenings was extremely talented and a perfect compliment to the sunsets. The pan Asian and Japanese restaurants were fantastic. After our experience at both resorts with well built kids clubs and activities including treasure hunts, we were convinced that Mauritius is by far the most child friendly country that we’ve ever visited. Merci Mauritius – we had a fantastic time!
After breakfast, I picked up a Hertz rental car to drive to Marbella with Ayaan and Anjali’s parents’ bags, while Anjali drove the Peugeot with the rest of the gang. The 2 hour 45 mins drive from Seville to Marbella was winding and gorgeous across many mountains, lakes and changing landscapes. Both kids napped for almost the entire time and Ayaan woke up as we approached Marbella saying “Daddy this is so beautiful, it feels like Hawaii.” And it sure does with amazing weather, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and mountains.
We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in a complex near Puerto Banus with a resort style pool, a great restaurant and hookah! The guests were very nice and it was probably one of my best Airbnb experiences too date (I still prefer the comforts of a hotel to be honest). We spent the first evening dipping in the warm pool, eating some Lobster paella and watching the thrilling games between Argentina-France and Portugal-Uruguay. At night, I put the kids to bed while Anjali took her parents to a nice Indian meal. And for the second time on the trip, we headed out after dinner while MIL watched the kids. We walked down the buzzing Puerto Banus – a harbor with high-end yachts, open bars with people overflowing to the streets, house music and Ferraris everywhere. It was a fun night out after a while for just the two of us after the hectic month of June.
On our second day, we hit the pool again on another beautiful day after which we strolled Puerto Banus in the day and ate at the locally recommended Picasso pizzeria overlooking the sea and the yachts. The children and us were super excited to get some Chicken Tikka pizza!
After lunch I got to watch Spain lose among the locals which was quite an experience. Kids woke up late from their nap so we headed to the old town in Marbella for a stroll and dinner in the square. The old town reminded us of a Greek town, specifically Mykonos, with its tiled cobbled streets, roses everywhere and cathedrals. I ended the night smoking some double apple hookah and watching Croatia beat Denmark in penalties!
Our last day as a family in Marbella got to a relaxing start at the beach. The kids are finally at the age where they love the beach and can independently play with each other and their sand toys. One of my favorite parts about this journey is taking the time to observe Ayaan and Ariana interact without having to rush. Ayaan has become a real big brother fetching water for Ariana from the sea!
We ate lunch at our Airbnb and after putting the kids to sleep MIL took care of the kids while Anjali and I headed out to Nikki beach for some chill music and rose at the pool and beach. We ate dinner as a family at Tuk Tuk, an Asian fusion restaurant that was great.
Marbella and Puerto Banus have definitely been the highlight of the journey so far!
A short 2.25 hour drive from Lisbon brought us to the beautiful Pine Cliffs, A luxury collection resort on the beach. We enjoyed an al fresco lunch of gazpacho and fajitas before hitting the resort pools. A bottle of rose and a lot of splashes later, we enjoyed a Japanese dinner at an elegant outdoor restaurant by Chef Olivier. Ariana enjoyed bonding with her masi while devouring sushi (see video). Later that evening, we enjoyed a nightcap of Madeira on our deck before drifting off to sleep.
placeholder://We started the next day with a sumptuous breakfast and then spent some time enjoying the kids club. Ayaan and Ariana got to ride in some real John Deere trucks and jump in a bouncy house! Ariana has started speaking a few full sentences since our trip began and it’s been a pleasure to witness her progression real-time. Her favorites include expressing her preferences – “I like masi!” or “I don’t like this”.
We then joined the rest of the family and drove along the coast to Praia de Benagil. Ayaan and Ariana enjoyed playing by the beach, and then we took a boat which guided us through an awe-inspiring landscape of limestone formations and crystal clear blue aqua!
That evening, we grabbed drinks and dinner at the hotel bar where we had prime seats to watch the Portugal vs Iran and Spain vs Morocco World Cup games.
The next morning, we headed to the stunning hotel beach that was lined with cliffs of orange hues on one side and surrounded by clear blue water on the other. We had lunch at Mare, the hotel’s beach side bar before heading to the pool where Ariana napped and Ayaan enjoyed an ice cream with Nani. In the evening, we headed back to the kids club where the kids got to ride a motorized car!
This evening, we’re looking forward to having the babysitter watch the kids while we enjoy a nice meal with my parents at Pescadore, the hotels seafood restaurant. After the meal, Gaurav and I opened the bottle of Sassacaia that we’d saved from SF and enjoyed it against this beautiful backdrop of illuminated orange cliffs…Overall, Algarve (and the Pine Cliffs resort) was stunning and did a solid job of differentiating itself from other beach destinations.