Memories of Sri Lanka with the kids

Family / I Spy Game / leap & hop / sigiriya / Sri Lanka / Travel

leap-hop-sri-lanka-anuradhapuraContinuing with our winter destinations, this week it’s all about Sri Lanka. For such a small island, Sri Lanka offers an amazing variety of landscapes, climates and people. Here are the 7 places/activities that our kids will never forget about our trip to Sri Lanka:

1. The Sea Turtles


Along the west coast of Sri Lanka, there is a conservation project that studies and helps turtles in their nesting and hatching habits.  It’s called The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project just north of Ambalangoda.  Kids will learn about sea turtles, how the organisation protects their nesting sites, the hatchery set up to help turtles avoid the dangers they face in their first moments of life and how to help.   If you want to see some turtles and participate in a turtle release, this is the place to go.  The release is done in the evening.  Check them out if you are in the area.

2. The stilt fishermen and the actors


On the south-western coast of Sri Lanka, you’ll see fishermen on stilts that have a very unusual way of fishing.  After WWII, fishermen went further and further from the coast to look for fish that was becoming harder to find.  They built these stilt structures on top of which they sit and fish directly above the coral reef.  The practice was so picturesque that it became one of the most famous image of Sri Lanka, especially after such an image was used as the cover of the Lonely Planet.   As a result, the fishermen have a tendency to pose for tourists (for a fee) and it’s rare to find a fisherman actually fishing from his perch.  We went very early in the morning around 6 AM and were thrilled to find them scattered along the shore.  Not asking for money but just fishing away.  Maybe we were too early for the posers or they were doing a great job at looking the part.

3. The elephants


Elephants are found in the wild in Sri Lanka and it’s an amazing site if you get that chance.  You can also see elephants in orphanages.  There is a big controversy surrounding those places where elephants are rescued and kept in captivity.  The most famous is The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage  which was created by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation as a place to take care of orphaned elephants found in the wild. There is an ongoing controversy surrounding these orphanages: are they really in the best interest of the elephants or the tourists who pay a hefty fee to watch the elephants bathe and eat.  My choice will always be to check the animals in their natural habitat.

4. The Dambulla Cave Temple


There are many interesting places to see in the cultural triangle and the Dambulla cave complex was one of the highlight for the kids.  Learning about the different mudras – the hand positions of the Buddha and their meaning  – the kids went crazy looking for buddha sculptures from cave to cave trying to find different mudras.  Since there are 153 sculptures and countless more paintings, it took quite a bit of time.

5. Sigiryia

Tamir Sigiriya

Another famous site that our kids really enjoyed in Sri Lanka was the Sigiryia rock, also in the Cultural Triangle.  It’s a bit of a climb but the view is really nice when you get up there.  The kids had fun playing I-Spy with the paintings on the walls.  There are also snake charmers along the way.  Is there a kid who doesn’t enjoy a bit of a thrill with a big snake?

6. Lace-makers in Galle


Walking around the little town of Galle in the south-west of Sri Lanka was a really nice “urban” experience.  As we spent most of the trip either in old archaeological sites in the Cultural Triangle or on the coast at the beach, there was very little exposure to life in a city and the kids enjoyed walking around, and shopping for souvenirs – while the grownups focused on antiques 🙂  We also watch with amazement lace-makers at their craft.  It’s an old tradition in Sri Lanka that is kept alive by a few lace-makers in Galle.

7. For next time: train ride to Nuwara Elyia


Like on every trip, there are many things that we couldn’t see.  We always plan the next trip while we are there.  One of the places we want to go to next time we visit Sri Lanka is Nuwara Elyia. Not only do we want to visit the tea country, but we want to take the train to get there.  According to Emilie, this is an integral part of the journey.

Until next time!

It’s time to take the kids to Cambodia

Cambodia / Family / I Spy Game / leap & hop / Travel

With the holiday season approaching and people making plans for the winter break, I decided to gather my “intel” about  some of the destinations for which we have a Leap & Hop.  Every week, I will focus on one destination and provide some tips gathered from my own family’s experience or trusted sources who travel the way we like to travel with our kids.

Let’s start with Cambodia and, more specifically Siem Reap with kids.  As much as we hate to admit it, kids can get bored in temples and that’s one of the reasons families can be somewhat reluctant to take their children to Cambodia.  The common phrases associated with Cambodia are: “hard for kids”, “not kid-friendly”,  “too many temples”  and finally,  “kids will get bored”.  Our experience is totally different.  We traveled to Cambodia with another family and a total of 5 kids aged 2 to 7 and it was a fantastic trip for everyone.  I already wrote my recipe for making a trip to the Angkor temple complex stimulating and fun for kids so I won’t repeat myself.  You can check the post  – Cambodia with kids – Temple “Cast of Characters”.  I will just say this: it’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t enjoy a good game of I-spy or a scavenger hunt.  It’s all in the book.

In this post,  I’m going to list 7 things that both kids and parents can enjoy together.

1. I-Spy in Angkor Wat


I know, I said that kids might get restless in temples, but I guarantee that they won’t be bored in Angkor Wat if they have an I-Spy game that will keep them busy for an hour of more.  Parents who are not into I-Spy games themselves, will have all the time in the world to admire the bas-reliefs and the Khmer architecture without the need to bribe/beg their kids for another 30 minutes of sightseeing.  Angkor Wat is a must, but there are countless other temples in the area.  Don’t overdo it with the kids, pick your temples carefully and don’t plan on seeing more than one or two per day to keep it fun and “fresh” for everyone.  After the giant I-spy game, your kids may have learnt a few things about Hindu mythical creatures and Khmer mythology; they might be inclined to share their discoveries with you in other temples.

2.  Floating Village on Lake Tonle Sap – Kampong Khleang or Kampong Phluk?

Leap Hop Blog Cambodia Lake Tonle Sap

Life on the lake is an eye-opener for any foreign tourist in the Siem Reap area.  There are three places that you can explore on the lake.  Chong Khneas, Kampong Phluk and Kampong Khleang. Chong Khneas seems to be a total rip off.  It’s the closest to Siem Reap and according to the reviews has turned into a fake, artificial show for tourists. Moving right along, we went to Kampong Phluk which is a little further away.  Today the reviews are mixed but we loved it.  We went a few years ago and it seems that the whole area has gone through a tourism boom so you need to watch for scams.  Better to see with your hotel or guide for a personalised visit.  The village the furthest away is Kampong Khleang.  Regardless of where you end up, you won’t be the only ones there.  All options are pricey, relative to other activities in Cambodia  (up to USD30 per person), so you have to decide whether it’s worth your money.  We would do it again in a heartbeat: the kids were wide-eyed the entire time.   It was so interesting for us to see  how life is organised on the water: houses, school, farm (they have farm animals on floating barges).  The drive there is also part of the experience: countryside, rice fields, little villages.  Totally worth it for us.

Keep in mind that the water level of the lake changes with the seasons and it’s obviously more impressive when the water is high.  Check with your hotel.

3. Exploring temples buried in the jungle  – Banteay Chhmar

Leap Hop Banteay Chhmar

As Cambodia becomes more and more popular with tourists, it can get crowded.  As much as you try to imagine how the first explorers felt when they stumbled across the ruins of temples buried in the jungle, it’s not easy when surrounded by a hundred other people with selfie sticks.  Ta Phrom and Preah Khan are beautiful examples of temples that were kept relatively buried, but it’s a controlled environment with a lot of maintenance, restoration work and, of course, quite a few people.  The further you travel from Siem Reap, the emptier the temples.  In our book, we include Beng Mealea as an example of a temple that has kept this wildness.  I very much recommend a visit to Beng Mealea, especially in the early hours.  When you make your plan, keep in mind that it’s more than one hour drive from Siem Reap. If you feel even more adventurous, I’ve recently been told of another jewel quite a distance away from Siem Reap and that’s the temple I intend to take my kids to the next time we visit Cambodia – soon.  It’s called Banteay Chhmar and looks just stunning: hidden in the jungle and barely visited by tourists. There, you will get the real “Indiana Jones” experience you are looking for.  We better run before everyone hears about it.

4. Swimming in Phnom Kulen


Phnom Kulen is a natural park 50 km north of Siem Reap.  Interest things to do there include jumping in natural pools under waterfalls and checking out the beautiful submerged carvings.  Like every site around Siem Reap, try to avoid going on a weekend, and the earlier you go in the day, the better.

5. Cambodia Landmine Museum

Leap Hop Cambodia Landmines

Parents need to decide how much exposure to the horrors of the war they want to give their kids.  It’s a question of age, of course, but it’s   hard to understand Cambodia without knowing anything of its recent past.  The civil war has left deep scars that are still visible today. In our book, we’ve decided to talk about the Khmer Rouge and the war crimes perpetrated less than 50 years ago.  The book is for kids so we chose not to go into gory details but we can’t ignore history.  A visit to the Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap can be  just the place for the kids to get an idea of what the country has gone through.  The fact that the museum is also a place where kids who have been directly impacted by landmines get an education helps.

6. Fish Pedicure


I think we can all agree that a pedicure is not really a kid-thing.  Now, throw in some dead-skin-eating-fish in a tank and ask your kids to put their feet in.  It’s weird, a little scary, and it tickles like crazy.  Doesn’t that check all the boxes for kid-fun? Our kids thought so.

7. Grilled bugs and critters for diner


In the night market in Siem Reap there is a whole section designed for people who are into critter-food.  A perfect place for a dare or an adventurous family.  Our kids tried the grilled scorpions and lived to tell the tale.  Your options also include fried cockroaches, fried grasshoppers and spiders.  Take your pick!

Other activities that will delight children are the Phare Circus and cooking classes for the whole family.

If you’re already in Cambodia and are looking for the book, you can find it in the boutique of Amansara.

Next week, we will talk about Sri Lanka, stay tuned.
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New York with Kids – Leap & Hop Style

Family / leap & hop / New York / Travel

Leap Hop New York Statue of Libery

The summer is upon us and many will go to or through New York.  This blog post will give you a taste of the stuff that’s in our Leap & Hop New York and a little more.  With kids of different ages and interests it’s hard to find the right balance.  When I say “balance”, I mean balance between museums and playgrounds, nice restaurant and street food, public transportation and taxis, etc.  You are pressed for time but you know that in New York, walking the streets is part of the experience.

So here is an attempt to find a little something extra with the kids while hitting the main tourist sites/neighbourhoods with the relevant links.

1.The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Math Museum

There is no trip to New York without a visit to the observatory on top of the Empire State Building. The views of the city are endless and on a clear day you can see up to five states. Of course, in the summer there are giant lines, so the best is to get the tickets in advance (you won’t have to get on that line) and to start early in the morning (it opens at 8).  If you want to splurge and skip all the lines, you can opt for the VIP Express Pass online (kids under 6 get in for free).  The tickets are not date specific but valid for one year so you have all the flexibility you need.  We have a game in Leap & Hop New York with fun facts about the Empire State Building but you can also get the audio tour.

For tickets, check: Empire State Building

The Chrysler Building, a few blocks north from the Empire State Building, is very interesting for its lobby (with an amazing I-Spy game in Leap & Hop New York) but you can’t go up so if you’re in a hurry you can just take a quick look.

A few blocks south (10 short ones) from the Empire State Building is a very nice playground in Madison Square Park (not Garden).  A perfect spot to let the smaller kids run around (they have sprinklers in the summer so bring a change of clothes).  The famous Shake Shack is also there for a quick bite (delicious kid-size burgers among other things).

And then, to wrap it up with some brain stimulation, the math museum is just around the corner.  It’s much better than it sounds.  It’s a really cool place with all sorts of fun interactive stations for the kids.

Leap Hop Museum of Math New York

For details about the National Museum of Mathematics check: Museum of Math

2. Central Park: Sun Grazing, Story Telling and Bat Watching

If you’ve never been, you need to know that Central Park is a big park with tons of things to do.  Like any park, there are many playgrounds, a carousel, a zoo (OK not every park has a zoo, but this is New York), a lake where you can row a boat, a smaller one for kid’s miniature sailboats, horse carriage rides and kids throwing and kicking balls everywhere.

What you might not know, is that there are also some pretty unique things about Central Park – and I’m not talking about the Quiz Walk in Leap & Hop New York:

In the summer, every Saturday between 11 and 12 noon in front of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen next to the Conservatory Water (East 72nd street) you can listen to stories (from Andersen and others) told by talented storytellers.

Leap Hop New York Central Park Andersen

For the summer 2016 schedule of the storytelling program check: Stories at the Statue of Hans Christian Andersen

Another interesting activity is organised by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.  Forget star-gazing – actually no, you can do that as well with these guys – you can now observe the sun thanks to their super telescope equipped with all proper filters to protect your eyes against the bad rays.  Once a month on Sundays, budding astronomers can join the group and try peaking at the sun for sunspots.  It’s fun, it’s free and it’s unusual.

For the solar observing schedule, check: Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

Lastly, if your kids are more interested in bats than in birds, the Audubon Society organises bat watching tours at dusk in Central Park on Tuesdays starting July 19, 2016.  It’s US$28 for non-members and you need to sign up in advance.  You’ll have a chance to see bats in flight and get an explanation as to how they navigate at night with their echolocation system.

For the schedule and sign-up, check: Audubon Society Calendar

3. Downtown – World Trade Centre and Irish Hunger Memorial

If you decide to take your children to the World Trade Centre Memorial, you might want to make it an opportunity to talk about why we need memorials and why it’s important not to forget what happened (the good but also the bad).  A few blocks away in Battery Park you’ll find a city block dedicated to the Irish Hunger that crippled Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It’s a little meadow with the remains of a typical Irish cottage and the plaques commemorating Irish families. There are many ways to commemorate something no one wants to forget and the Irish Hunger Memorial talk about current hunger issues around the world.

Leap Hop Irish Hunger Memorial New York

For details and to download an audio tour check: Irish Hunger Memorial

To relax and unwind after these heavy visits you can let the kids loose in the Elevated Acre, a public park located on a rooftop at 55 Water Street.  Great vistas of the East River as bonus.

Leap Hop New York Elevated Acre

4. Street Art in the East Village

The East Village is famous for its street art.  The scenery is constantly changing with new artists emerging all the time, even though you can still see a lot of work from Chico.  You’ll find a street art scavenger hunt in Leap & Hop New York but also in our blog post of last summer.  If you want to explore more street art and feel adventurous you can take a street art guided tour in Brooklyn in Williamsburg or Bushwhick with Street Art Walk.

To book a tour, check: Street Art Walk

5. Time capsule at the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side and Merchant’s House Museum in the East Village

The Tenement Museum is a jewel of a museum in the Lower East Side.  A guided tour will take you and the kids back in time.  This building was rediscovered in the 80s after being walled up for nearly 50 years.  Book in advance one of their themed tours (this is the only way to see this place, you can’t visit the apartments on your own) and you’ll get a glimpse of the life of an immigrant family at the turn of the century. The apartments have been reconstructed with the help of archives and surviving relatives of the tenants and the guides tell you the story of the families who shared these walls.  Every New York kid takes a tour in the museum at some point with the school.   Generally the visit takes place during the same unit as the visit to Ellis Island.

To book a tour (be prepared, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth every dollar) check: Tenement Museum

While you are in the neighbourhood make sure to have a bite at Katz Delicatessen for some pastrami and corned beef.  The deli has been in its present location since 1917! For the whole story, check their website: Katz’s Delicatessen

Leap Hop New York Katz

If you’re in a time-traveling mood, you might also enjoy the Merchant’s House in the East Village.  The townhouse, also preserved for almost a century used to be the home of a wealthy merchant at the end of the 19th century.  There, you are free to walk around the rooms and you might even meet the ghost that is rumoured to hunt the place.  Checkout the kitchen:

For details, check: Merchant’s House Museum

Leap Hop New York Merchant House

Obviously we’ve only scratched the surface of what New York has to offer to kids and their family.  For more ideas and interactive games see our Leap & Hop New York.

Have a great summer!


Multigenerational Cooking Class in Sichuan

China / Family / Food / Travel

Sichuan Cooking ClassDuring our visit to Sichuan, the first day was dedicated to cooking.  Sichuan cuisine is so unique, that the only way for the kids to fully appreciate (and maybe tolerate) the various spices was to learn how to prepare a traditional Sichuan dish or two.  Grandma was also very pleased to have new exotic recipes to bring home.

On the menu: cold noodles, cooked greens, meatballs, ma po tofu, and kung pao chicken.

The class began in a local market:  what to buy and how to buy it.  Speaking the language helps and in our case, that task was left to the cook, Qiao, and the kids (the only Chinese speakers of the family).

We needed noodles, tofu, greens, ginger, chili, chicken and the kids picked up pig tail and ears just try it out – yikes

Noodle shop Sichuan Market

Leap & Hop Cooking Ginger

Leap Hop Cooking Chengdu Pig Eats

Next, we went to Qiao’s flat where the class took place.  It felt very special to go to his home, meet his dog, drink tea and experience a little slice of Chengdu life.

Leap Hop Sichuan Cooking Class

We immediately set to work, Qiao had planned the course very carefully with easy dishes for the children followed by the spicier and complicated ones for us grown-ups.  Little did we know how engaged our children would be with the cleaver and the spices.  In the end, most of the prep was done by the kids who would not let go of theirs tools and condiments.  I wish they were that eager in the kitchen at home 🙂

Leap Hop Cooking Kids Prep

For each course, Qiao explained the steps and then the kids got their hands dirty with garlic (plenty of it), ginger, tofu and the infamous Sichuan pepper in one shape or another.  After much chopping, mixing and cooking, we sampled each dish just as it came out of the pan before moving on to the next.

Lessons of the day:

1. You need to listen to the peanuts to figure out when it’s time to take them out.

Leap Hop Cooking Chengdu Listening to peanuts

2. In order for the tofu to keep its shape and not dissolve, there is a very important step that cannot be overlooked: after being boiled for 5 minutes, the tofu is to be plunged in cold (iced) water.

Leap Hop Cooking Class Tofu Prep

3. There are many different types of Sichuan pepper.

Leap Hop Sichuan Cooking Spices

4. I know it’s scary, but kids can be trusted with a cleaver, as long as they are properly taught.  And you can cook an entire meal using just that cleaver and a few measuring spoons – kitchen knives are totally overrated.

Leap Hop Cooking class cleaver

5. Cooked lettuce might be your best bet for greens with children provided you have the proper spices and plenty of garlic.

Leap Hop Sichuan Cooking Greens

6. The tastiest ma po tofu is the one we made with Qiao and to be sure, we ordered ma po tofu in every single restaurant during our stay in Sichuan.

Leap Hop Cooking Class mapo tofu

7. Ok, we had the pig tails and ears.  Now let’s move on.

Leap Hop Cooking Pig Ears

We came home with recipes, the best ingredients possible to duplicate our favorite Sichuan dishes and new cleaver skills for the kids.

Leap Hop Cooking Stuff for home

For more information about Qiao’s cooking classes, check out his website:

For the rest of our amazing trip to Sichuan, the Lightfoot travel team gets all the compliments.

Hot Chocolate-Crawl in Paris

Family / Food / Hot Chocolate / leap & hop / paris / Travel

It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s Paris in February, no surprise there.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the most beautiful city in world.  Traveling with my 11-year old son in my hometown, I realised that if I was going to jump from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower I needed to get some warming fuel on the way. To fight the cold and the intermittent rain, we spiced things up with pit-stops in search of that scrumptious hot chocolate.   Our tour of Paris became a quest: hoping from place to place to find the perfectly soothing  hot chocolate.  Here’s the low down:

1.  Angelina

Leap Hop Blog - Paris AngelinaOn top of our list of places was, of course, the world-famous hot chocolate of Angelina’s.  It deserves its place way up there.  The chocolate is rich and thick and the decor is what you would expect, if a little crowded with tourists (even in February).  What caught my son’s attention and palate was the white hot chocolate.  A number one for him.  You need to try it if you’re into white chocolate.  In addition to their traditional hot chocolate (that comes in many variation) they offer a lot more, but you need to discover for yourself. The location rue de Rivoli in the 1st arrondissement is perfect if you feel like walking between the Louvre and the Place the la Concorde.  If you feel lazy, you can simply walk to their location inside the Louvre, or inside the Chateau de Versailles if you are touring the sites.  If worse comes to worse, you can also sample the chocolate at the airport on your way out.

For more info:

2.  Café de Flore

Leap Hop Blog - Paris Cafe de FloreKnown for its hot chocolate, the Cafe de Flore is also famous for its renowned patrons over the years.  Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir spent their entire days there: working, talking, eating with friends and reinventing the world.  Today you might catch a glimpse of a hollywood celebrity as you sip your warm drink and enjoy the first rays of sunshine of the spring season from the terrace Boulevard Saint Germain.  The chocolate is thick and creamy, almost syrupy.  High marks!

For the address: cafedeflore

3.Chez Paul Boulangerie

Leap Hop Blog Paris Chez PaulChez Paul Boulangerie, as its name indicate, is a bakery and restaurant chain with several addresses in Paris (and in over 30 countries), with a light hot chocolate.  If the chocolate from Angelina or Le Flore is too thick for your taste you will like the one served as Chez Paul.  You may also enjoy the delicious breads they make such as the “Fougasse aux olives” an olive bread close to the Italian focaccia (very popular in Provence).

For more details including menus and locations, check the website:

4. Un Dimanche à Paris

Leap Hop Blog Paris Dimanche a ParisWe gave this restaurant the highest ranking. Creamy but not heavy, the chocolate is perfectly balanced for our taste. Located in one of the charming covered passages scattered around Paris, Cour du Commerce Saint André in the 6th arrondissement, close to the Place de l’Odéon, the tea or chocolate room is the brainchild of  Paul Cluizel, the famous chocolatie: a place for chocolate lovers and connoisseurs. Un Dimanche à Paris is a chocolate store, a chocolate bar and lounge as well as a restaurant.  It’s also a place that hosts chocolate tastings, baking classes (revolving around chocolate, of course) and other chocolate-related event.  We loved the old fashion cholocatière pot with its wooden stirrer and handle.

For details about the restaurant and the classes check the website (in French):

5.  L’Heure Gourmande

Leap Hop Blog - Paris l'heure gourmande chocolaIn another charming little passage in the 6th arrondissement, the Passage Dauphine, l’Heure Gourmande offers a nice selection of pastries but also savoury dishes if you walk in around lunch time.  They also have a good brunch.  Sitting outside if the weather is nice, gives you a feeling of countryside, but in the dead of winter, it’s happening inside.  Their hot chocolate is good but watch out for the bitterness; it’s melted dark chocolate and milk, nothing else is added.

6. Loustic

Leap Hop Blog - Paris LousticOn the right bank and for another vibe, Loustic is a hoping coffee shop close to the Musée des Arts et Métiers in the 3rd arrondissement.  More of an expresso experience with an astonishing selection of coffees, they serve a really sweet and light hot chocolate.  You can please the whole family here.  It’s such a  cool atmosphere that patrons hang out with their laptop for hours.

For more details (and their brew guide), check out their website:

7. Ladurée

Leap Hop Paris LadureeIn a more traditional style, you won’t be surprised to hear that Ladurée offers a thick and creamy chocolate in addition to its world-famous macarons.  A perfect spot for an afternoon snack.  The tea room has been a classic place for afternoon tea for  more than 150 years and has expanded over time across the borders (all the way to Hong Kong).

For details about the tea room and all locations, check the website:

There are many more place to discover in Paris for hot chocolate and we would love to hear from you with your favorites.  Drop us a line and share your secret place 🙂


Wine Harvest in Paris

Family / Kids / leap & hop / Montmartre / paris / Travel

Leap Hop Paris Montmartre Kids Harvest Festival

It’s this time of the year again in Paris: time for the Harvest Festival in Montmartre.  This edition will be the 82nd Harvest Festival and the theme is “Our Planet”.  Starting in 1934, Parisians have celebrated every year the harvest from the small vineyard perched on top of Montmartre in the north of Paris.  This is the only time of the year that the vineyard is open to the public.  Reservations are necessary for the visit on October 9.

The whole neighbourhood participates in this 5-day event with producers showing off delicacies at the “Taste Festival” for three days from October 9 to 11.  Take your kids for a stroll in the crowded streets of Montmartre for a chance to sample food and participate in one of the many workshops relating to cooking, wine-making and food offered over the weekend.  There will also be a parade on Saturday and in the evening what promises to be an amazing fireworks show.

For more details about the program check the website:

Cambodia with kids – Temples “Cast of Characters”

Cambodia / Family / interactive / Kids / Travel

Leap & Hop Blog Cambodia Angkor Wat

Kids are back at school, time to plan the next vacation!  So what’s it going to be?

If you’re a temple-hoping kind of parent, Cambodia should be in your top 5 all time destinations.  It can be a little intimidating with kids as there are more than 70 temples in the Angkor complex and more is yet to come.  You simply have to manage YOUR expectations. It is not going to be enjoyable if your children are just whining about getting back to the hotel and jumping in the pool.  Limit yourself  to one or two temples per day and break it up in smaller chunks with other fun (i.e. non-temple) stuff.  Involving the children in the choice of the temples is a good idea.  Kids like to be involved in planning the day; you may give them a choice among a few options to get them engaged.

In Siem Reap, we have a short list of “must-sees”:  Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (Bayon), Ta Phrom, Preah Kahn, Banteay Srei.  We also have a little extra, if you are ready for a longer drive (one hour each way) but more privacy and wilderness:  Ben Mealea.  It’s also the on-site location of the movie “Two Brothers” which you should try to watch with the kids before the trip.  Keep in mind that you are not the only one with this “short list”. Many tour buses have the same itinerary and they are on a tight schedule.  You need to plan your visit to avoid the crowds as much as you can.  Very early morning and late afternoon are the best time to go.  If you and the little ones can handle the heat of midday with plenty of water, that could also be a good option.

Beyond the choice of temple, our real secret for keeping the kids happy and engaged is our  “cast of characters” from the Khmer mythology that are seen throughout the temples. We shared stories about these mythical creatures with the kids and managed to get them excited about visiting the temples. You will be amazed what difference a little background can make when it’s a good story.  With respect to good stories and movies, in addition to Two Brothers,  Lara Croft, Tomb Raiders was partially filmed in the temple of Ta Phrom.

1. The Garuda

Leap & Hop Cambodia Garuda Angkor Thom

Part-human part-eagle, the garuda is the king of the bird and the mount of Vishnu, one of the three main Hindu gods.  Although related, the garudas and the nagas are mortal enemies. Once your kids identify the guarudas, they will see them everywhere. The ones above are in the Angkor Thom complex.  There is a gorgeous pair in Preah Kahn.

2. The Nagas


A multi-headed snake, the naga is the serpent-god of the water.  The number of head depends on the naga but it’s always an odd number.  See if the kids can find, five, seven and nine-headed nagas.  This five-headed naga above was found in Beng Mealea.

3. The lions – protector of the temples and facing the four cardinal points.

Leap & Hop Cambodia Lions Angkor Thom

4. The Kala

Leap & Hop Cambodia Makara Banteay Srei

The characteristics of the Kala are its bulging eyes and the leaves and foliage coming out of its mouth.  You can generally only see its upper-jaw.

6. The Makaras


Part-sea creature with the face of a lion, these water monsters are generally represented with giant jaws and spitting nagas on corners of the pediments. Sometimes, the makaras are spitting guarudas.  They are supposed to be scary.  What do you think? See if you can find both kinds: with the nagas and guarudas coming out of their mouth.

5. Devatas and apsaras

OK, so we need to be clear here.  Devatas and apsaras are NOT to be confused.  The devatas are the divine creatures, serious and beautiful, while the apsaras are the dancing celestial nymphs.  After one day of visiting temples your children will enjoy distinguishing the two and showing you around. They might also correct the guides who may not be all that particular about such details.

Leap & Hop Cambodia Blog Apsara Devata

For non-temple activities, we recommend:

  • a visit to the waterfalls of Phnom Kulen with its carved stones.  The waterfall is a good drive away from Siem Reap and can be easily combined with Banteay Srei temple for a balanced full day.

Leap & Hop Cambodia Phnom Kulen

  • a day or half-day tour on Tonle Sap lake to visit floating villages – a must.

Leap & Hop Blog Cambodia Lake Tonle Sap

  • although we have not personally tried, we have read nice things about some pottery workshop for kids. Let us know if you have good experiences to share.

We’d love to hear your stories in the comment section below, we are always on the lookout for new ideas 🙂

Hong Kong – Last Vacation Days with the Kids

Family / Hong Kong / Kids / Travel

For some of us, the summer vacation is not quite over, there are a few days left.  Kids are back and hopefully over the  jet-lag.  How can we make the most of these last moments if we are trying to hold on to this vacation feeling. Let’s pretend we’re just visiting Hong Kong.  Here are a few ideas of things the tourist in us will enjoy with the children.

1.  Treasure Hunt in Sheung Wan

Leap & Hop Hong Kong treasure hunt

I-discoverasia and the Hong Kong Maritime Museum have partnered to offer a great family treasure hunt in Sheung Wan.  The next hunt is on Sunday, August 30.  After downloading the free app, follow the map, discover a side of Hong Kong you’ve never suspected existed, collect your stamps and get a little gift at the museum.  Of the various points of interest, kids will marvel at those ancient letter-press printing techniques that look more like “baking cards” and “3-D printing from another age” at the Kwong Wah Printing Company (45 Sai Street) and browse with excitement at old Hong Kong comics at Ng Hing Kee Shop (G/F, 68 Lok Ku Road).
Photo credit: Ester van Steekelenburg

2. Temples and Fortune Tellers

Leap & Hop Man Mo Temple Hong Kong

You’ve lived in Hong Kong for a while and you’ve never actually set foot in any of its many temples.  Maybe it’s time to open the door and get a feeling for Hong Kong’s rich religious beliefs.  A combination of Buddhism, Taoism, the cult of the ancestors and local deities,  temples show a fascinating side of Hong Kong daily life.  It’s a place where you might see students making sure that the gods are on their side prior to exams, elderly people paying their daily respects and trigger-happy tourist trying to catch that perfect shot of the light passing through incense coils.  Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan is beautiful but if you feel more adventurous, you can visit Wong Tai Sin, the largest Taoist temple in Hong Kong where a fortune-teller may give you clues about your future.

3. Donate your old toys for an exhibition at the Museum of History of Hong Kong

Leap & Hop Old Toys Hong Kong

The Museum of History of Hong Kong is a great place to visit with the kids.  Children never tire of the reconstitution of the old Hong Kong streets with specialty shops.  These days, however, beyond the permanent exhibition that you might have already seen, the museum is working on an exciting project:  the gathering of old toys in Hong Kong.  The Museum is preparing an exhibition scheduled to take place in 2016 using toys through the ages to show Hong Kong’s economic development.  Wouldn’t it be fun to participate and donate your old toys to a museum?  Check the site of the Museum of History for more details.
Photo credit: Davinci

4. New Beach and Sand Castle

Leap & Hop Sheung Sha Beach

Hong Kong’s beaches have a bad reputation: they are dirty.  Their dire condition is all the more striking after a summer spent on the most pristine beaches of Europe or Asia.  As much as we avoid swimming with the family in Hong Kong, we sometimes give in and spend a day at the beach.  There is a way to find out where to go to avoid the pollution by checking the water quality for swimming on the Environment Protection Website of the Government of Hong Kong.  One of our favourite swimming spots is Cheung Sha beach on Lantau.  For non-Lantau resident, you need public transportation or a taxi from the Mui Wo Ferry Pier. The beaches – it’s actually three beaches: Cheung Sha Upper Beach,  Cheung Sha Lower Beach and Tong Fuk Beach are located on a long stretch of fine sand.  You still have time to build a last sand castle this summer.

Practical Tip: From Mui Wo Ferry Pier Bus Terminus buses 1, 2, 4 and A35. The bus will take you along South Lantau Road and stop at Lower Cheung Sha Beach (in about 20 minutes), Upper Cheung Sha Beach and Tong Fuk Beach.
Photo credit: Boddi Chrin

5. Ride the Hong Kong Observation Wheel

Leap & Hop HK Wheel

If you haven’t had a chance to ride the newly opened Hong Kong Observation Wheel, now is the time.  The ride is more or less 15 minutes and provides great views of the Hong Kong skyline on both sides of the harbour. Check the Hong Kong Observation Wheel site for more information.

Feel free to share additional ideas for our last days of August on the comments section below.

I-Spy game for kids in Paris – Musée Rodin

Family / I Spy Game / interactive / Kids / leap & hop / Museum / paris / Rodin / Travel

Leap & Hop Paris Musee Rodin Photo Credit: Boddi Chrin

With a few more weeks left of summer break and for those lucky ones (still) in Paris, here is an activity that will delight little and big ones as they stroll through the mesmerizing garden of the Musée Rodin.

As an artist, Auguste Rodin spent his life focused on movement.   He used to say: “I always tried to convey internal feelings through the representation of muscles in motion”.  In his study and depiction of the human body, Rodin spent hours and hours observing how it moves.  His work on limbs was fundamental.  He kept and accumulated pieces of arms, hands, legs and feet (the “bozzetti” or “abattis” in French) from his work and studies.  From these bozzettis made of clay and plaster he drew inspiration.  He constantly reinvented uses for his bozzettis: assembling, enlarging, separating or recycling them. From his “Porte de l’Enfer” that you can see in the garden arose many great pieces that were either enlarged or reduced and singled out, such as “Le Penseur”, “Les Ombres” – without their hands on the Porte de l’Enfer but reassembled in the stand alone piece – and many others that you can see scattered around the garden.

> See if you can identify to which sculptures the following hands and feet belong.

For the answers, follow the blog and leave your email address in the comment section below.  We will send you the answer sheet by email.


I Spy hands in Rodin Museum ParisI spy in Rodin Museum Paris Hands

Musee Rodin I Spy feet


Scavenger Hunt: Street Art in New York with Kids

Kids / leap & hop / New York / Street Art / Travel

Leap Hop Kids New York Street art

One of the reasons I write the Leap & Hop series is the excuse I get to do research with my own children.  In addition to the actual trip and testing of the drafts as a family, I need to find out what would peak a child’s interest.  Sometimes, I’m totally off but there is no better feeling than getting it right.  One of the subjects that I wanted to explore with my 8-year old while on vacation in New York  earlier this summer was street art.  We became so obsessed with painted murals that we kept seeing them everywhere. Of all the places famous in New York for street art, we spent most of our time in the Lower East Side, Alphabet City (around avenue C and D) and Red Hook in Brooklyn.   Very impressed with the famous giant alphabet that covers the corner of Avenue C and 6th Street, we each picked our favourite letter and came up with our street art scavenger hunt.  See how much you and your kids can find and send us pictures at or post them on instagram #leapandhopstreetart.

See if you can find the following:

1. An artist in action

Leap & Hop Street Art New York Travel Kids

2. Cars or buses

Leap & Hop New York Kids Travel Street Art Cars

3. A funny looking moustache

Leap & Hop New York Kid travel street art must ache

4. A flag – can be of any country – we found Puerto Rico!

Travel kids street art new york leap and hop

5. A musical instrument

Leap & Hop New York Street Art Musical Instruments

6. Colourful birds

Leap & Hop New York Travel Kids Street Art Chico

7. A New York icon

leap & hop travel kids new york street art

8. A scary monster

leap & hop new irk travel with kids street art scary monster

9. Pick your favourite letter of the alphabet and look for it – we picked “L”

leap & hop new york street art travel with kids

10. A wild animal

Leap & Hop new york travel with kids street art animal

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to take a formal tour in Bushwick and Williamburg in Brooklyn or Harlem in Manhattan but will definitely sign up next time.  We’d love to hear your comments if you’ve done a tour and want to share recommendations 🙂