This is my impression of the places I’ve visited since I started traveling and writing with my 3 year old (almost 4 years old now). I’m going to discuss how easy it is to travel on a budget, write a book while looking after the child. These are my own impressions, and other people may have other experiences/ interests. I generally like being by the seaside, but open for a bit of an adventure inland. Here’s an ideal open air restaurant next to the sea where I like to write (Mirissa Sri Lanka):
For those who aren’t familiar with how I organize my days, here’s a previous blog I wrote How to write a book and travel with a 3 year old child.
Sri Lanka – Colombo
- I spent two weeks in Colombo before I decided to move down the coast. Accommodation was surprisingly not cheap (compared to Vietnam where I had visited before – see below in 2016).
- Positives: Lovely colonial restaurants. Friendly people.
- Negatives: Hot! Nothing much for kids to do. Virtually no shopping malls.
Sri Lanka – Aluthgama
- Don’t waste your time here. Mosquitoes and open drains. Nothing much to do.
Sri Lanka – Mirissa
- I had a three month visa and ended up staying two months in Mirissa.
- Advantages: Beautiful beach town. Whale watching is amazing. Close to other cool towns like Galle, where there is an old Dutch fort. Awesome people. Surf vibe. Cheap local buses travel up and down the coast road for a local experience for your child.
- Disadvantages: Hot! Walking up to 12 km in a day to give my son something to do! Poor Infrastructure! Tsunami threat (less so in Mirissa).
Overall conclusion: Sri Lanka
I would not recommend going to Sri Lanka if you are thinking of writing a book with a young child (unless you have a lot of money to burn in a 5 star hotel). Sri Lanka is hard work. I found infrastructure to be relatively poor throughout Sri Lanka (compared to Vietnam for example). Sometimes it seemed like the whole town of Mirissa had no wifi. We landed up one night in hospital with seafood allergy (more like fish not prepared properly). On the upside I felt safe during my trip.
- I stayed one month in Kuala Lumpur while I was recording the audio version of my book. I wanted to read the book aloud before I completed the written document, to make sure that everything flowed well. Found a good, affordable studio at a church. It is important with a child to choose which area you stay in. Some areas of KL have a lot of great activities for kids, while others have virtually nothing.
- Advantages: A lot of activities for kids if you know where to stay. Modern city with a lot of malls. My son loved the trains. Can get affordable accommodation for a good price.
- Disadvantages: Rat race ugh! Hadn’t felt the rat race since perhaps my stay in Hanoi. With mosques virtually everywhere you get woken up in the morning.
Malaysia – Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- I stayed one month in Kota Kinabalu. For those who don’t know, Malaysia owns a part of the Borneo Island (other half is owned by Indonesia).
- Advantages: Nice scenery. Took my son to see glow worms and monkeys. Visited islands on ferries. Local people are friendlier than Kuala Lumpur. There is more Christianity in this area, which means that overall the environment is more positive than Kuala Lumpur. Many Korean tourists also creates a bubbly vibe. This is a favorite retirement destination with a number of retired expats. There are indoor playgrounds at the shopping malls if you don’t know what to do with your child.
- Disadvantages: You need a car to get around. There are hill ridges studded randomly, which makes getting around on foot troublesome. The ridges make land in the Central Business District (CBD) scarce and the hotels unexpectedly expensive. I couldn’t get Kota Kinabalu to work for me because I was staying in the CBD while the kindergartens are in the suburbs.
- I stayed one month in Balikpapan, which is not to be confused with the more famous Indonesian destination- Bali. Balikpapan’s heyday was when the price of oil and gas was high. Since the price reduced most Expats have left, leaving behind a commuter city with ok shopping malls and decent hotels offering long stay rates.
- Advantages: really cheap destination compared to the other places I visited. International kindergartens if you are staying longer. An ideal place to save money and put your head down to work.
- Disadvantages: relatively poor infrastructure means a lot of time is spent at hotels and shopping malls. The place feels a bit listless with no unique identity. Language can be a problem. Not a big expat community.
Malaysia – Kuching
- Kuching was a surprise find, and I ended up staying four months. I never heard of Kuching before despite having worked close-by in Singapore for eight years. I’m not saying that Kuching is the best place to be, simply that it suited me really well for the season I was in.
- Advantages: Cheap place to live, for those on a budget. Quiet place to work. Good preschools. Safe.
- Disadvantages: Rains nearly every day. Not very exciting for people who are single and looking for more entertainment. Not a lot of physical activities for 4 year old kids.
- I only spent about 2 weeks in Korea. Seoul, Incheon and another town inland (forgot the name).
- Positives: Korea is a lovely, vibrant place. Inland has beautiful mountains and trees, if that is your writing preference. Koreans adore kids.
- Negatives: Expensive. Korea is not cheap if you are trying to do long term travel.
- I stayed in Hanoi old city for about two months. The city is very busy. Thousands of motorbikes streaming everywhere. Some clay pottery classes a grab taxi away.
- Positives: Vietnam has a way of taking me out of myself for a while. It is a place filled with a strange blend of cultures and history. Very cool restaurants for a cheap price. The Vietnamese like children.
- Negatives: This is the most hectic place I’ve stayed with my child. There are virtually no sidewalks in the old city. Hold on to your kid and bring an umbrella for the sudden rain. I didn’t find a lot of activities for kids in the old city.
Vietnam – Danang
- Danang is probably the most modern city I visited on the coast of Vietnam. It is pro-Western in its approach. A number of IT businesses run by expats are managed here instead of Philippines or India (the other two cheap off shoring locations).
- Positives: Danang has good infrastructure. You can stay close to the beach for a cheap price. I found an excellent kindergarten for a few mornings a week. Hoi An is in close proximity for a good day trip.
- Negatives: It may just be the heat, but it is surprisingly difficult to get around by walking with my child.
Vietnam – Nha Trang
- Another beautiful coastal town. A party town filled with Russian tourists. The beach has fewer waves than Danang.
- Positives: By the sea. Was able to get a good deal of work done.
- Negatives: Unlike Danang, not a lot of western expat families with other kids to play with & Western kindergartens. I was told by a mixed expat family (Vietnamese wife, Australian husband) that they chose to send their kids to school in Australia. They said the schools in Nha Trang tried to force the children to be the same. Perhaps a throw back to their communist roots. This was different to the feedback I received from families living in Danang, who encouraged their kids to get involved in the Vietnamese school system. Attitudes to Westerners were the worst in Nha Trang compared to the other places I stayed in Vietnam. The Russian influence does not create the relaxed, friendly atmosphere like the other coastal towns I visited in Vietnam.
Vietnam – Dalat
- We thought it may be a good idea to go to Dalat around Christmas time. Only stayed about a week.
- Positives: Lovely bakeries and restaurants throughout the town.
- Negatives: Some people seemed to go to Dalat for the cooler temperatures. When I was there it was in a cold snap. Too cold for me (yes, I did live in the UK for three years but left for warmer pastures). Tiny town and I think it would difficult to occupy my son now that he’s grown a bit. Even though the town is in the mountains, you really don’t see much of it. You need to take a day trip to get into the mountains
Vietnam – Phan Tiet
- This was my favorite place to write a book in Vietnam. Phan Tiet is a rustic beach town with many cheap restaurants to choose from. Local buses regularly travel from the main beach road into the city where there is a decent shopping mall. Sand dunes and mini golf close by kept my son occupied.
- Advantages: Well and truly out of the rat race. Life goes slowly and the locals are friendly. You can get a swimming pool at a cheap hotel to teach your child how to swim.
- Disadvantages: Not everybody likes a quiet fishing town. Beaches are filled with the more trash than the other coastal towns I visited in Vietnam.
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