In this day and age, when you can hop on a flight to almost every nook and cranny around the globe, your options for travel are virtually limitless, especially if you’re an adventurous parent game for anything. Indeed, the whole wide world could be your family’s playground! So where do you start? If you like to wander closer to home, check out our top 10 list of places to visit with your kids in Asia. Feeling more adventurous? Here’s a shortlist of 10 not so common options to kick-start your planning. Pick one, plan your itinerary around it, and make that off-the-beaten-track family vacation happen!
THE SALT MINES
Why go: You’ll be teleported back in time to the secret underground world of Bavarian salt miners. An interactive experience!
What to do: Pull on miners’ overalls, hop on a train to enter the caves, then slide down a wooden slide into the tunnels. These salt mines are the oldest in the world, some dating back 3,000 years. Kids learn about its history, significance and get a rare glimpse into the lives of salt miners. There are guided tours daily, but do book online beforehand.
Best when the kids are: At least 4 years old, the minimum age for entry.
More info: www.salzwelten.at
Picture credit: Salzwelten
San Francisco, USA
Why go: This spectacular train journey takes you through the American Rockies and Sierra-Nevada mountain ranges which are inaccessible by car.
What to do: From the plains of Nebraska to the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra-Nevada, this is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful train journeys across North America. These Amtrak trains – complete with a dining carriage, snack bar and observation lounge – are great for restless kids itching to explore. You can hop off at any station and catch the next train as it ploughs the route daily. I’d recommend a stopover at Glenwood Springs in Colorado for its hot springs!
Best when the kids are: Age 7 and up.
More info: www.amtrak.com/california-zephyr-train
TSINGY DE BEMARAHA NATURE RESERVE
Why go: This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a unique limestone landscape that’s carved by rain over millions of years. Think limestone needles!
What to do: Sail down a river in tree-trunk boats to visit hidden bat caves. Spot endangered lemurs and birds along the way, and climb to the peak of the Tsingy by using the Via Ferrata system (“iron road” in Italian) for a birds-eye view of the breathtaking scenery. You can also learn about the ancient burial rituals of the early Malagasy settlers, as there is a sacred burial site there. Excellent educational value and maximum adventure!
Best when the kids are: Pre-teens and teens
More info: http://whc.unesco.org
Why go: It’s like stepping into the set of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings – magical. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is rich in history and medieval tales!
What to do: Imagine exploring Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books – narrow winding streets flanked by quaint shops and restaurants selling their famous fluffy eggs and mussels in cream. Make your way up to the top where the church, abbey and cloisters are for noon-time mass. Even if you’re not Catholic, the Gregorian chants by the monks and nuns will transport you back to medieval times. Right off the pages of fairy tale fantasies!
Best when the kids are: Aged 10 and up.
More info: www.ot-montsaintmichel.com
DOLE PINEAPPLE PLANTATION
Why go: Hawaii is famous for its pineapples and a plantation visit is a fun way to learn about this tropical fruit and to sample a variety of fresh produce.
What to do: Hop on the Pineapple Express, a charming 20-minute train tour that takes you around the Dole plantation, complete with commentary. Kids get to learn about the history of pineapple cultivation in Hawaii, get lost in the world’s largest maze (which stretches over three acres!), and tuck in to fresh pineapple soft-serve ice cream. Parents can also shop for pineapple preserves, candles and chocolates!
Best when the kids are: Toddlers to pre-teens.
More info: www.dole-plantation.com
Oudtshoorn, South Africa
Why go: A caving adventure that brings you up-close to some of world’s most spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, formed over millions of years.
What to do: Choose between a heritage or adventure tour – both are led by accredited cave guides. The former takes you on a guided walk into dripstone taverns and mystical vast halls where you’ll see magically-lit towering limestone formations. For the gungho, venture deeper into the cave system through tiny passages by crawling on all fours, climbing up rickety ladders and sliding through narrow openings. Tip: Wear water-resistant clothing and book your English-speaking guide online beforehand.
Best when the kids are: Aged 10 and up.
More info: www.cango-caves.co.za
Why go: An unusual museum that collects actual historical buildings. These are uprooted from their original sites and transplanted onto the vast grounds here.
What to do: The grounds are extensive – there are 37 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic buildings that were relocated here. Highlights for me were exploring a historic lighthouse, Mississippi steamboat, railway station and an actual locomotive steam train! There are daily tours and you can move around in a tram, hopping on and off. For young children, there are hands-on activities like blow painting, storytelling and art workshops.
Best when the kids are: Aged 5 to 18.
More info: www.shelburnemuseum.org
CLUB MED GUILIN
Why go: With Club Med’s all-inclusive package, it’s as fuss-free a family vacation as it gets! The landscape in Guilin is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
What to do: Besides the usual all-inclusive activities like flying trapeze and archery, there’s also mountain biking, a hiking school and kids paddle pool. Parents can relax by Club Med’s first 1,800 sqm natural pool, enjoy golf, tai chi chuan and yoga, or lounge at the roof top restaurant which offers a 360-degree view of the picturesque landscape. This newly-opened resort also offers local cultural activities such as tea ceremony and cooking classes.
Best when the kids are: Aged 2 to 17 (inclusive), when they can join the Kids’ Club.
More info: www.clubmed.com.sg
Picture credit: Club Med Singapore
ANNAPURNA FAMILY ADVENTURE
Why go: Who says you can’t explore the Himalayas with kids in tow? This low altitude trek in the Annapurna foothills is designed specially with families in mind!
What to do: Meet children of another culture vastly different from yours, whose playground is the Himalayas! The guided trip includes visits to traditional villages, local schools and markets, as well as hikes with breathtaking scenery along the Annapurna range – from forests to alpine meadows. Families can also enjoy dancing, singing and games with the villagers at each campsite, and an elephant ride in search of rhino and Bengal tigers!
Best when the kids are: Aged 7 and up.
More info: www.worldexpeditions.com
CEDAR GLEN FARMSTAY
Gold Coast, Australia
Why go: Hands-on experience with farm animals in a rustic rural environment that teaches children about the great outdoors.
What to do: Little city slickers get to feed farm animals, fish and swim in the river, take long walks and ride horses. The farmer also takes guests out on picnics, gets a fire going and cooks meals over it. More adventurous kids can take on the Currumbin (www.cws.org.au), a high ropes tree top adventure. It’s back to nature and back to basics, so be prepared get off WIFI and spend time playing card games and telling ghost stories!
Best when the kids are: Toddlers to teens.
More info: www.cedarglen.com.au
Pamela Ho is a travel writer who blogs at pamelaho.wordpress.com