The issues we had with our stay at Santhiya began almost immediately after we landed at Koh Samui airport. Sigh.

Upon landing at the airport and after clearing customs and collecting our luggage, we headed to the Arrivals pick-up point and waited there stupidly for 45 minutes, before a friendly local who was also waiting for his pick-up gestured that we were supposed to go to the other pick-up point – which I assumed was the Departures drop-off – for our ride to the Koh Samui pier. Yep you’ve guessed it. We had no idea there was this other pick-up point that while was just a few minutes away, was not within eye-shot. We were thus late for our pick-up for our scheduled speedboat transfer to the resort’s pier. Not that our late arrival mattered, since the choppy waters meant that the speedboat could not directly transfer us to the resort’s pier, but instead brought us to the back-up location – Baan Tai pier, which was on the opposite end of the island. The boat ride in choppy waters was terrifying for Hannah and Peter, but there was more to come. Between the pier and the resort were winding roads up and down hills, and a very bumpy stretch of muddy road where our 4×4 vehicle had to inch forwards trying to navigate the path.

At the start of the boat ride to Baan Tai pier Within minutes, both kids are gonna look terrified instead.

At the start of the boat ride to Baan Tai pier Within minutes, both kids are gonna look terrified instead.

Thing is; I’d read a lot about the transportation options getting to the resort, and opted specifically for the direct speedboat transfer from Koh Samui to the resort as I wasn’t sure how the kids would handle bumpy rides. I also checked my correspondence with the resort to see if they said anything about the other pick-up point. Nothing on that end either. When I pointed this out to the Guest Relations Officer at the Resort, all I got was an apologetic reply that the choppy waters meant that the speedboat could not bring us to the Resort’s pier, but there was no offer of a refund or even partial discount off the premium we paid for it.

The unit as I described previously is indeed lovely and well-decorated, but it’s not without its sets of issues. For starters, the teak wood floor base did not seem to absorb vibrations well. In fact they seemed somewhat hollow beneath. While I didn’t for a moment think that the structure was going to collapse under its weight anytime soon, it did mean that we had to tiptoe everywhere we were in the unit, less our foorsteps gave the rest of our family nausea. The problem was less pronounced in the common areas like the main restaurant, presumably because it was less elevated than the villa units, but we had to frequently confine Hannah to her bed when Peter was trying to nap, lest her foot steps around the villa wake him up.

Oddly too, we faced power disruptions several times a day – especially at night. It wasn’t a big thing, since the disruption came back on simultaneously each time, but I observed that their WIFI router reset each time too in these power outages, which meant an inconvenient re-login reconnection back to the router

And talking about Internet access, believe or not – Internet access was better in the toilet end of our villa than the main living/bedroom areas. In fact, WIFI was so spotty in the latter areas that it was practically unusable for a good part of our stay. The Internet access in the main restaurant and concierge areas were much better though, so you’ll want to head there if you have serious work to do.

And the mosquitoes – ugh. We live in the tropics and know more than a thing about mosquitoes. But the situation in the Resort can get pretty bad. One evening while waiting for dinner, we hung out at the concierge lobby – and Ling with her eagle-eyes, smacked a total of five critters in the space of 15 minutes. And Hannah got one even. The mosquitoes for the most part didn’t get into our villa, but on the occasion when a couple did one evening, gave all of us bites (excepting Peter who slept in a mosquito net).

Eagle-eyed wife said this was the Aedes mosquito, capable of carrying Dengue fever. Thankfully, there was no such outbreak in this part of the world - unlike Singapore for several months this year.

Mosquito population -1, thanks to Ling. The eagle-eyed wife said this was the Aedes mosquito, capable of carrying Dengue fever. Thankfully, there was no such outbreak in this part of the world – unlike Singapore for several months this year.

Most seriously though was the overall pricing of dining in the Resort. Granted that this is an island, and I guess most fresh produce has to be brought in, but it was hard to believe the dine-in prices at the Resort’s restaurants when a nearby village with numerous street-side restaurants were whipping up local cuisine at a fraction of the price. Stir-fried mixed vegetables for instance cost 330 THB in the Resort, and 70 THB in the village’s restaurants. I don’t think higher prices for better service standards at least, hygiene probably and culinary quality are unusual, but the price difference was almost 5 times in this case. That’s just too much differential in my opinion. Peter didn’t get spared too, picking up a touch of diarrhea at the last few days.

On the third evening, we had the international buffet at 799 THB an adult – and I had food poisoning. Yep, me – a Singaporean who’s used to stomach abuse with all the wildly different food available here at the International crossroads – vomited and stayed sick for the next 2 days, making miserable a good part of my stay. Oh, maybe it had nothing to do with the buffet, but the nausea and vomiting started 30 minutes after we finished. Too close to not draw a relation.

Topping it off; our vacation was at a period when the weather was mostly gloomy. That caught us by surprise, as we’d thought this part of the world wouldn’t be experiencing monsoon. Not at all the fault of the resort of course.

All-in; would I recommend Santhiya? Yes on account of the generally good condition villas and exclusiveness of the Resort – but with caveats. Specifically: be aware of the transportation options and risks, live with the mosquitoes, be prepared to take the 10 minute brisk walk to the nearby village for meals, and bring diarrhea medication – just in case!

Next couple of posts to come on the various other parts of our stay, and additional notes on our stay @ Santhiya.

 

Well – six of seven days later into our 2014 vacation at the Santhiya @ koh Phangan, I’ve got decidedly mixed feelings about the place! Some parts of it were indeed as advertised, while others weren’t – and to top it off, we had a few unexpected mishaps.

Some brief facts about our stay first: we stayed at the Hideaway Pool Villa for a seven day stay, opting for also the private speedboat transfer. Total damage was about TBH58K, or about SGD2,351. Not exactly cheap for resort-centered stays, more so that this resort isn’t situated in an overpriced everywhere Singapore.

Firstly; the good things.

The villa sits on a pretty secluded north-easterly spot on the island, and has its own private beach that’s marked out by inaccessible rocks on one end, and by more rocks on the other end. Not easily accessible from the rest of the island too (more on that later). The villa we stayed in was also reasonably private. While the villas themselves are not spaced that far apart, foliage and trees are cleverly used to isolate one unit from the next. Our villa also sat near the top of one steep incline, which meant that we could occasionally hear vehicles that were trying to get up-hill. Not loud enough to be of a bother at all, but it’s there if you’re the type to notice these things.

Our Hideaway Pool Villa Suite. It's as lovely as it looks from the picture here

Our Hideaway Pool Villa Suite. It’s as lovely as it looks from the picture here

The resort spans a very large 18 acres spot, and uses the space to maximum advantage with beautifully landscaped features all around. The beach, main restaurant and main pool sit on the lower end of the resort, while the other restaurant and pool are situated at the upper end. The villas and units are served by buggies which serve guests round the clock for those who don’t want to manage the climb. The resort is also reasonably new, opening its doors in July 2006. There are 60 villas in the Resort, and two other accommodation buildings housing maybe another dozen or so units. All in, it’s a fairly large resort with very few units.

Our villa, like the others in the resort, had golden teak wood with intricately carved wood as a central theme. We like the general architecture of the unit, though our specific unit configuration wasn’t what we’d initially expected. Specifically, some of the villa units feature outdoor shower areas. I did inquire during our back/forth correspondence about outdoor bugs that might invade the shower areas (wouldn’t want Hannah freaking out in the middle of the night!), but the resort assumed I was requesting the units with the indoor shower type, and allocated one such. That did mean that we had somewhat less common space after the children’s bedding was put in, but hindsight, it worked as well – since the cloudy weather and occasional rain brought out a host of insect inhabitants to run around in the outdoor areas!

Three beds in the main bedroom.

Three beds in the main bedroom.

Our villa’s pool – one of our eagerly anticipated highlight – didn’t disappoint. It was as large as it looked from the pictures, reasonably well-maintained, and also deep enough at the deepest end for swimming. Make no mistake though; you won’t be swimming length-wise laps in this pool, but it’s somewhat wide enough for you to swim circles around it at least. The kids certainly loved the pool. We spent several afternoons lazing on our pool’s deck chairs; with Peter napping in his cot, Hannah scampering around anything that caught her current attention, and Ling reading a borrowed library book about life in North Korea (duh – yep!).

The resort never felt crowded, and the over the week we were there, guests were mostly Caucasians (especially Germans), and we encountered just one other local Singaporean family. Yep; no other Asians, and certainly and thankfully no misbehaving or rowdy North-Asian tourists!

The staff were as a rule, friendly and hospitable – well, at least apart from one buggy driver who did not smile, did not greet, and instead gave us a cold hard look whenever we boarded his vehicle to/fro the common areas and our villa. Other than that, we found the staff accommodating and attentive, and possibly even over-staffed during meal times that we never needed to call long for attention. Oddly though while the staff were hospitable, we observed that they didn’t as a rule make attempts at polite conversation to most guests. The smiles were genuine, but unlike some of the other five-star establishments we’ve stayed, the staff didn’t attempt to engage most guests beyond greetings. Housekeeping was brisk and spot-on too for the most part, excepting one evening late in our stay when they missed their housekeeping service. We observed a team of four (two chambermaids and two pool boys to scoop leaves out of the pool, and clean the general surroundings), and we had four bottles of water brought to our villa twice.

Hannah especially liked the croissants at breakfast, and had at least two every morning.

Hannah especially liked the croissants at breakfast, and had at least two every morning.

Breakfast was a mix of Asian and Western cuisine types. The fare was generally savory, though by the time we got to the midpoint of our stay, we were getting a little tired of more/less same spread each morning! The restaurant and adjourning areas was large enough to host a sizable number of guests, so we never felt like we were rushing for seats, nor did we feel compelled to finish up and go to make space for others (not that we ever chose to overstay our welcome). There was in-restaurant live local music each day too, which added more local flavor to the ambiance.

More in the next post – the not-so-good.

Every year-end, Hannah looks forward to her year-end concert where each class of students in her school get onto stage to perform a dance item. The occasion for Hannah’s K1 year occurred a fortnight ago, and our girl was – as before – quite enthusiastic about it in the weeks leading up to her big day. She wanted us to watch her practice and give her critique, and even drew a very helpful map of the dance stage, explaining where she’ll start, where she’ll be at each beat, and the spot she’ll be standing on at the end. Got to say – the map was loads helpful, as a year ago, we spent several seconds hunting for where she was when her class item came, as we were sitting quite far from the stage! We felt that sense of parental pride watching Hannah on stage. Our girl is nothing like her daddy at that age for sure – i.e. no stage fright – and she did her moves with a visible display of confidence, never hesitating, and quite matter-of-fact. Probably all muscle-memory at this point from lots of practice!

The 75-300mm lens did the photographic honors again, and it the focal length at the extreme end was more than adequate for close-up shots of the action. Pity that the maximum aperture was a relatively small f6.7. The speed of the dance moves also meant that a reasonably quick shutter speed was necessary. All in, ISO was driven up to 3200. Sadly too, the pictures this year taken by professional photographers engaged by the school weren’t quite as good as last year’s efforts.

This might be one of those reasons why Ling is glad we've got a daughter; Mommy gets to makeup her girl.

This might be one of those reasons why Ling is glad we’ve got a daughter; Mommy gets to makeup her girl.

Ready to head out of the house to Kallang Theater!

Ready to head out of the house to Kallang Theater!

On stage. One of the few professionally taken pictures that turned out decent.

On stage. One of the few professionally taken pictures that turned out decent.

Family selfie with the 14mm.:)

Family selfie with the 14mm.:)

 

Hannah and Peter’s first Blurb book arrived just before the Deepavali public holiday yesterday. This is the seventh book I’ve worked on, with a two year gap from the sixth book. Funnily, every time I finish one, I tell myself I’ll want to do the next one in a year – largely in view that I take so many pictures of our kids that I need an annual schedule to keep up, or be forced to drop a lot of pictures that should go into their printed photo collections. For the next time round though, I’m gonna have to figure out a way to make sure I do get Book VIII out in a year’s time, hopefully easier since we should have plenty of great pictures to select from our upcoming family vacation at year’s end.

The new Book VII covers the period when we’d just returned from our Telunas Beach Resort trip in 2012, up till early October this year. The new book is also just a shade thinner at 214 pages than the one before, which finished at 220 pages; though there are a lot more pictures in the new one – 346 versus 289, largely made possible because there are a lot more multi-picture page panels, and also by reducing the number of blog posts included in the book’s appendices. The cost of book production has gone out significantly on the other hand. Two copies of Book VI, and printed using all the best print and paper options on offer – ProLine Pearl Photo paper, ProLine Black End Sheets, ProLine Charcoal Linen, hard cover with dust jacket – cost US$218.84 two years ago, and two copies of the slightly thinner Book VII cost US$263.18 now – an hefty 20% increase. Ironically, right after the books arrived, the store ran a 25% discount for printed books. Gaah. If I’d only waited for a fortnight more.

The book as arrived continues to feel very premium. Great photo paper quality, and no printing errors. I didn’t feel as satisfied with the photos inside it this time though. There were odd color casts in a couple of pictures that I didn’t observe in the on-screen previews before I sent to print, and my workflow has not changed from the last book. Or maybe it’s also that the work on this book was a little rushed, and more thought should have gone into the selection and touch-up of the pictures.

The new book!

The new book!

Matching pictures from two books covering the birth of our two kids - 4 years apart.

Matching pictures from two books covering the birth of our two kids – 4 years apart.

Still, the effort was justified against the outcome. Hannah was thrilled with the book, and enjoyed going through each page of pictures of her growing years. Peter can’t quite enjoy the book yet – he’s more likely going to lick, or worse still, chew on the pages if he has his hands on it – but in a year’s time, he should be able to.:)

We benefited from a long holiday/weekend last week by taking advantage of a public holiday with an additional day of Leave added on to do things with Hannah and Peter. The highlight of the four-day break was to bring Hannah out – on Children’s Day – for a visit to the Singapore Science Center, followed by a ballet appreciation performance @ Esplanade with the Singapore Dance Theater. Going to the Science Center especially brought about a huge sense of déjà vu. It wasn’t so long – alright 35 years ago – when my parents brought us to the Singapore Science Center, and now we’re bringing our kids there too to, hopefully, inculcate in them an early appreciation for science.

Hannah’s reaction to the ballet performance was a lot more mixed though. She enjoyed the first couple of numbers, and possibly because there were too many numbers in the about 80 minute performance, she got distracted and started fidgeting mid way through. From a look around the the reasonably packed theater, lots of other kids too were also getting restless. Still, at least for the attending adults, I learned a thing or two about ballet – like what it means and takes to earn the title of ‘ballerina’, the trust they need to have with their (male) partners, and why their costumes are adorned in certain ways. Watching the performers and especially the two or three lead ballerinas, left me again with awe on the kind of physicality their art demands.

Pictures.:)

Hannah is getting better at the art of taking selfies. She still has yet to fully get a handle on the zoom lever though.

Hannah is getting better at the art of taking selfies. She still has yet to fully get a handle on the zoom lever though.

Interacting with the exhibits at the Science Center. Ling was able to explain the science behind the exhibits, while daddy was easily distracted by everything. "Oooooh - shiny!!"

Interacting with the exhibits at the Science Center. Ling was able to explain the science behind the exhibits, while daddy was easily distracted by everything. “Oooooh – shiny!!”

Family Selfie @ Esplanade!

Family Selfie @ Esplanade!

Several of our FB friends still remark how alike Hannah and occasionally even Peter looks like me. Still just can't see the immediate resemblance though!

Several of our FB friends still remark how alike Hannah and occasionally even Peter looks like me. Still just can’t see the immediate resemblance though!

Coffee Bean @ Suntec City. We haven't gone by the very large mall for ages, and were surprised at how different the place looks today after years of refurbishment.

Coffee Bean @ Suntec City. We haven’t gone by the very large mall for ages, and were surprised at how different the place looks today after years of refurbishment.

We've started dropping Peter into the child seat on the supermarket trolleys now that Hannah has all but outgrown it. He finds the experience novel.

We’ve started dropping Peter into the child seat on the supermarket trolleys now that Hannah has all but outgrown it. He finds the experience novel, even if his facial expression here doesn’t show that.

 

I’ve been using m4/3 cameras for more than 4 years now, and was running through my records the various camera bodies of this system I’ve picked up over the period.

March 2010 – Olympus E-PL1

April 2011 – Olympus E-PL2

May 2012 – Olympus E-M5

October 2013 – Olympus E-PL6

The E-M5 has been my workhorse camera for almost 2.5 years now and while it’s starting to show its age through the usual nicks and bruises, still functions otherwise well. The E-M5 was joined by the E-PL6 a year ago, and both cameras have found permanent spots in my Messenger bag whenever we’re out of the home.

I was curious though to see how pictures on a camera with an APS-C sensor fares against these m4/3s. Nikon has been pumping out new models of its full-frame cameras, but disappointingly, seems to have become uncertain on what to do with their APS-C DSLRs. The D7000 – which I bought in January 2012 – hasn’t seen much use since I bought the E-M5. So, over the weekend, I dusted it off, brought out my two favorite primes for it – the 50mm and 35mm f1.8s – and took pictures at home of our kids.

Peter still as stony-faced as ever.

Peter still as stony-faced as ever.

Deep in contemplation o things important to 5 year olds.

Deep in contemplation of things important to 5 year olds.

She doesn't pose as willingly anymore though - so memorable shots are harder than ever to come by.

She doesn’t pose as willingly anymore though – so memorable shots are harder than ever to come by.

Probably not evident here, but I messed up the focusing point in this picture, so Peter's face is somewhat out of focus.

Probably not evident here, but I messed up the focusing point in this picture, so Peter’s face is somewhat out of focus.

Still extremely attached to Mommy.

Still extremely attached to Mommy.

With the 50mm, wide-open.

With the 50mm, wide-open.

The results were pretty mixed for sure. Running off my head:

I realized again how helpful the 5 axis built-in optical stabilization on the E-M5 is to picture taking. A small number of shots with the two Nikon primes – and these are both non-stabilized lenses – were out of focus to varying degrees because of camera shake.

The D7000’s ‘kaplak’ mirror slap each time I released the shutter was very loud compared to the E-M5’s very quiet shutter that I’d gotten so used to.

The D7000’s back panel buttons and command dials feel a lot more premium than the squishy and small buttons off the E-M5.

I like the colors coming off the E-M5 than the Nikon D7000’s – so much so that I found myself dialing up the image color saturation setting on the latter.

Bokeh off the two Nikon primes were marvelous, but the thinner depth of field caught me off guard. Made me realize again how forgiving are m4/3s when it comes to errors in focusing points.

The last observation was especially pertinent, since I sometimes wonder if I should give a (mirrorless?) full-frame system a go, and then become cognizant of that adage; that those systems can be extremely unforgiving, and your photographic techniques had better be pretty good already. There is a new but future camera purchase I’m thinking of though at year’s end – will blog about it soon enough.:)

 

 

Our extended family had a wedding over the weekend when a cousin had her traditional wedding ceremony. The cousin is actually from Hainan, but has been working in Singapore for almost a decade now, and has become close to our family – especially parents – over the years. I guess it’s also Mom’s connection back to her birth country from so many years ago. Our cousin is a sweet lass and she married a local Singaporen who works in the infocomm sector and who during the groom’s speech at the banquet wowed everyone with his mastery of Mandarin.

Hannah was fascinated with the entire occasion; right from when the groom came to the family home to ‘win’ the bride (the gate custodians – who would have guessed – were her cousins and her, none of whom were older than 10 years old – to seeing the new bride in her gown, and the 10 course dinner – “Wow daddy – there’s so much food!!”

Peter on the other hand has been a little more cranky than usual in the last week. In fact, he whines and goes into mini-bawls too easily, which Ling guesses is partially because of his inability to articulate his wants and desires to us. Totally unlike Hannah at the same age, who was often contend to wait for us. We’re really hoping that come December when we go on our vacation, Peter would be better able to communicate and hopefully be a little less impatient.

On the other hand, we’ve been trying whenever opportunity presents itself to let Peter exercise his little legs outside, under our and Hannah’s close watch though. It’s always fun to watch toddlers walk. They basically just baby-stomp around all over!

Peter stomping at Serangoon Nex. New-found freedom!

Peter stomping at Serangoon Nex. New-found freedom!

A minder on each hand. Won't be long before he discovers running - then we'll be in trouble.

A minder on each hand. Won’t be long before he discovers running – then we’ll be in trouble.

Peter at 1 year 2 months 2 weeks old.

Peter at 1 year 2 months 2 weeks old.

The kids wanted the groom to sing tracks from 'Frozen', but forgot about it the minute the groom fished out the ang pows.:)

The kids wanted the groom to sing tracks from ‘Frozen’, but forgot about it the minute the groom fished out the ang pows.:)

Dad with Peter. I haven't used the 45mm f1.8 lens a lot in the last few months, so the weekend wedding was one opportunity to get some shots in.

Dad with Peter. I haven’t used the 45mm f1.8 lens a lot in the last few months, so the weekend wedding was one opportunity to get some shots in.

Hannah had lots of fun with her En, her cousin who's younger by just a year - but loads more confident and chatty!

Hannah had lots of fun with her En, her cousin who’s younger by just a year – but loads more confident and chatty!

We finally decided last evening on our December vacation spot, going ahead to book a flight for all of us, and also put in a booking for our choice of accommodation too. For a week in December, we’ll be at Ko Pha Ngan – an island just north of Ko Samui – and likely staying at the Santhiya Resort. Though I had a budget to work with, there were so many options and accommodation permutations within that budget trying to find that elusive mix of the best accommodation with the best options on the best travel times and dates that I pretty much gave up and went with what looked like the best balance between our requirements.

Of the places:

Nha Trang was a real possibility but we ended up dropping the city from the shortlist as the layover period time would had just too long for Peter. We did think about spending a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh to ease out the layover, but that would have stretch our vacation period even longer. We were told by the resort that while the weather was going to be cool, it would likely also be rainy – what a bummer.

Maldives got added to the shortlist late in consideration, but got dropped just as quick after the projected cost of an approximately week-long stay would have over-shot our budget by quite a bit.

In the end, it was basically a toss-up between Ko Samui and its neighboring island Ko Pha Ngan, both on the east coast of Thailand. The resorts we especially liked in Ko Samui were pretty decent, well-appointed for the most part, and many had their own pools villa-styled, and were pretty large, with several unit areas of a hundred square meter area and more. The size of a middle-size HDB apartment easily. But the cost of these accommodation at Ko Samui were relatively high, and the beach qualities quite variable. We did especially like the Buri Rasa Village, as it had among the most promising beaches around, was nicely located – but the cost accommodation unit we looked at was a tad small at 80sqm, and the main/common pool rather small too. But we eventually decided on Pha Ngan.

Pha Ngan is less dense in terms of its accommodations but also less varied in range, and also reputedly offering slightly better beaches too. Accommodation options were very slightly cheaper if also less swanky. While the pictures of the beaches looked more attractive than the ones we saw at Ko Samui, we weren’t willing to chance for a swim only at beaches. That meant we needed a resort with a decent-sized main/common pool, and also – if we could find it – a unit with a larger private pool too. There weren’t many accommodation options of a particular ‘quality class’ on the island, and among these, only the Santhiya ticked all the boxes: a fairly large villa at 115sqm, a larger than normal villa pool, and a large common pool, and the accommodation cost somewhat high but just within what we were prepared to spend. As a bonus too; the resort had its own private beach, the villa option we booked was well-away from the beach-front too  (and thus hopefully quieter), and the resort grounds apparently quite spacious.

Ling was initially a little skeptical about heading up to Pha Ngan rather than staying on Samui, and wondered if it was a self-contained island; because if it wasn’t, it’ll mean we’ve have to frequently travel back to the main island every time we wanted to do something else (like eat outside the resort LOL). Thankfully, the island seems the former – with its own town center, restaurants, infrastructure, natural areas and the like. Not that there’s a lot to do in either island, but this trip we’re primarily intending to just stone and vegetate rather than sight see.

The island from the air.

The island from the air.

Santhiya Ko Pha Ngan - hope it's as good as it looks on the travel brochures!

Santhiya Ko Pha Ngan – hope it’s as good as it looks on the travel brochures!

More to come later once I’ve worked out a sort-of itinerary!

2014 is almost over, and it struck me earlier this year that we haven’t traveled nor gone on a family vacation in 2013. Not that I need vacations because I’d go crazy without one, but vacations are always opportunities to take pictures of places other than the usual staple that we frequent as a family. The big event we’ve had for 2014 was our move to our new home at The Minton and now that we’ve settled in nicely, I revisited plans for a vacation.

We were initially deciding if Peter was coming with us, and if not, if grandparents are still able to take care of him for a couple of days we head out as a family somewhere. Going with this arrangement, it would have had to be somewhere close to home and a relatively short trip as well so as not to stress our parents out when they care for Peter. Couple of ideas, and they included:

Legoland in Johor: Hannah has a special interest in this one, and was in fact just asking us about it earlier this year after seeing that NTUC Fairprice had a couple of promotional vouchers for trips there.

Cruise: this has been long on our list, if also because neither of us have been on cruises yet. Oh, it’ll probably turn out to be guilty-laden event where we’ll eat so much food that it’ll be coming out of our ears, but that should be provide equivalent incentive for us to make use of the fitness facilities onboard too.

Staycation @ Sentosa: We had a wonderful, if dreadfully expensive, staycation at Capella Sentosa when Hannah was 2 years old, and were thinking of returning for her to enjoy Resort Worlds Sentosa and Universal Studios.

We decided last week though that Peter would join us for the family vacation of about a week, and that it’d be at year end. Hopefully by then, he would had been better able to walk long distances without tiring quickly. That expanded our travel options quite a bit, though we’re still ever mindful of being financially prudent, and also of prevailing weather conditions in various parts of Asia.

Nha Trang Bay, Vietnam. Neither of us have been to Vietnam before. From what we’ve read, neither Hannah nor Peter would be able to handle a walking-heavy itinerary of the city and sights, and the capital Ho Chih Minh was dense with all the intricacies of a developing city. The coastal city we’re headed to though is some distance away from the capital, necessitating a connecting flight from the capital. The resort we have our eye on at Nha Trang Bay is lovely, but we’re a little worried about the return leg – as the layover at Ho Chih Minh before flying home to Singapore would had been about 8-9 hours. Way too long for Peter!

Koh Samui, Thailand. We haven’t been to this island either, though we’ve both gone to other parts of Thailand several times now. There are direct flights to Koh Samui from Singapore – more convenient – but also a less ‘new’ place for both of us on the other hand.

Perth. Ling is especially interested for the family for a self-drive trip in Australia, as the place is (probably) more child-friendly. Unfortunately, having spent three years in Perth, I’m not wild about going back again so soon! Still, if we were to make the trip there, it’ll be an opportunity to catch-up with my old supervisors and friends at University.

More to come very soon, since we’ve just had Peter’s passport made and will be deciding on the vacation place very soon.

Mmhhmm - a big possibility!

Mmhhmm – a big possibility!

One key decision we had to make this year about our Minton home was what we’d do with our current and first family home @ The Rivervale. Truth be told, most people around us advised us not to sell our old property but to rent it out instead, as the long-term returns were higher. For instance, the rent alone from the home would have paid off our monthly installment of our home loan for Minton, and with spare change too. On the other hand, we (or rather, it was mostly just me) didn’t want the hassle nor potential complications of renting out an apartment, and wanted to be debt free sooner to that we could start significantly investing in our children’s education funds.

We finally decided to sell away our Rivervale home only in February this year – about a month before moving to Minton. The next decision we made was not to sell away the old place before we had properly moved and settled into our Minton home. Much of it lied in that we didn’t want to rush through the sale process. We wanted a good sale at a price we were comfortable with, and to owners who would, hopefully, treat the place with the same respect and care the first owners did before they sold it to us in 2006.

Unfortunately, our delaying the sale of our old home also meant that the general price trends of resale homes were depreciating over the last months. It wasn’t a disconcerting drop fortunately, but not small enough on the other hand to make us laugh it off.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in our hunt for the right property agent to sell our old home. We simply collected a stack of publicity collateral various agents had been stuffing into our mailboxes, shortlisted a couple of them (don’t laugh now – but we went mostly with how nice they looked in their pictures!), invited them over for discussions, saw their portfolio, then decided. Of the three agents we interviewed, one was nice and probably competent but seemed somewhat unfamiliar with the nuances of Rivervale units or the general area. Another was quite aggressive, had a fabulous track record, but didn’t quite endeared herself to us. The third – but actually first agent we spoke to – was – a jovial and bubbly lady who was apparently specialising in the sale of Rivervale units. As it turned out too, her daughter was Hannah’s friend and bus-mate in school too. A lucky match. We negotiated the asking commission, decided on the targeted yet achievable sale price, signed off on the exclusive arrangement to sell, and went with it in early June.

To our agent’s credit, and probably also because she had a well-honed system (i.e. do A, then B, then C, then D etc.), there were quite a few viewings over the next few weekends, and she kept us posted each time on these viewing arrangements. The actual confirmed sale of our unit to a family came almost exactly a month later with the new buyer exercising the Option to Purchase. We were alright with the counter-proposed sale price offered by the buyer, appointed the lawyers at our own end, and began the sales paperwork. The sales transaction would take three months to complete.

Almost two months have passed since that point, and earlier this week, we just almost finally cleared everything in our Rivervale home. We arranged for the handymen who work the condo to come clear off the bulky items – the Ikea sofa, the handed-me-down TV console, our master bedroom frame, the IKEA bookshelves and chairs, the Zen-like dining table etc. Thereafter, we took the opportunity to take a final round of pictures to remember our first home. As Ling mused; seeing our old home bare off furniture reminds us of what the place looked like 8 years ago too. Peter will be too young to remember the place, but Hannah might – and there will certainly be pictures to remind her!

Hannah (and Peter's) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

Hannah (and Peter’s) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

The living room sans furniture.

The living room sans furniture.

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn't exhibit such strong wall colors!

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn’t exhibit such strong wall colors!

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

We’ll miss our Rivervale home; the cool breezes we enjoyed in the living room everyday, the great neighbors, the large space the condo sat on, and the general serenity in the condo’s amenities and common areas. Hope the new owners take care of the place!