Ubud has been made famous
Having stayed at the JW Marriott in Phuket, Thailand (one of our favorite hotels), we decided that the JW Marriott Panama Golf & Beach Resort in Buenaventura would be a good bet for a family vacation. Boy, were we wrong. Nearly everything was a disappointment from the moment we arrived.
As we typically do before going to a hotel with our kids, we contact the hotel prior to arrival to ensure that things like cribs and extra beds were set up. Since there was no email address for the hotel, we contacted them on Facebook. The hotel was quite responsive and got back to us within the same day. The assured us that we had received a great upgrade as a result of our Marriott Gold status and there would be a crib in our room.
After arriving at the hotel from our three plus hour drive from Panama City, you can imagine that everyone was antsy to get out of the car and settle in our room. Unfortunately, that assurance from social media was never transmitted to the front desk, so our room was not ready. After some time working with the front desk manager, we were able to find a room that had enough room for a crib and an extra bed, but it was not the promised upgrade.
The room was quite large when compared to standard hotel rooms and it was well equipped with everything you would expect to find in a luxury hotel. It had a nice little balcony which was great for feeding the kids and keeping the mess out of the room.
The overall property was simply OK and did not really look like the pictures on their website. The beach was a good 10 minute walk from the hotel despite the website advertising it as a beachfront hotel. There was one pool at the hotel that wrapped around an island in the middle with a swim up bar.
The hotel had its own private beach but it is separated from the hotel rooms by a community of vacation bungalows. In the beach area there was a well stocked kids club, a restaurant, and a number of different pools. On the actual beach the hotel supplies beach chairs and umbrellas but the service was subpar. It took ages to get a towel or a drink even after placing an order with any of the staff roving around aimlessly. It even took a day to have a pile of dog doo removed from the kids play area next to the pool.
TLD;R on the JW Marriott Buenaventura:
It is an OK hotel for the price we paid $180 + tax, but it was a huge dissapointment for what we expected. The property is nothing special, the beach was not visible or even close to the hotel and the service was quite substandard. If you already happen to be in Panama and need somewhere to go on the beach, you might want to consider some of the other beachfront properties. Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake we made and fly from California to go to this hotel.
Some people say Siem Reap isn’t for kids. But what better playground can a kid find?
Our thoughts about visiting Ankor Wat began a few years before we lived in Asia. I had seen incredible pictures at sunrise of these fantastic temples which, at the time, seemed like a world away.
Fast forward to the day we arrived with our kids and baggage in Changi airport and landed in our hotel. A moment of panic. And then I made that fatefull travel list-Ankor Wat at the top.
Ankor Wat wasn’t our first Asian travel destination, but it could have been. People were discouraging, but they shouldn’t have been. Turns out, Siem Reap is an easy to navigate low-cost city that is small enough to see in 2-3 days and tourist friendly enough for healthy (and comfortable) family eating.
Our trip to Ankor Wat was incredible. I hope you can enjoy our itinerary to enjoy it as much as we did!
Day one: Arrive in Siem Reap. As you can see, my husband and I go back and forth between touristy resorts and more ‘local’ accommodation. For Siem Reap we opted for ‘local. I’m glad we did. While the cleanliness and service were certainly not five start, I loved the location, the noises, the local flavor-and couldn’t beat the $30 a night funky room!
When we landed at the airport our kids were thrilled to learn that Tuk Tuks are the way of travel here. Everything is pretty close to each other, so hopping in a tuk tuk was easy and very kid friendly. We even used it as a bribe from time to time as needed.
We arrived in the late afternoon and settled into our hotel. We immediately booked a tuk tuk for a sunrise tour of Ankor Wat. Most hotels will show you the set prices (which most drivers follow) and the tour lasts about 4-5 hours. We chose to buy a three day pass as we planned to visit 2-3 times rather than stay an entire day. We feel it was a good choice.
For this tour, we opted to leave the toddlers at the hotel with a babysitter. We were glad we did as they were well rested for the day. If they were older and could handle less sleep, it would have been find to bring them.
The sunrise tour was spectacular. Like many days-be warned- the sunrise was not picture perfect, but what what was amazing was touring the temples in the dark. Instead of waiting for the picture of the sunrise above the lake outside the main temple, we began exploring the temple at dawn, an incredible exciting thing do. It’s also practical since it can get very hot and even more crowded after 9 am.
Once we finished touring the main temple, our tuk tuk driver took us to some other smaller temples, which were each incredible and inspiring to roam. We couldn’t stop taking pictures and marveling at the ruins and the growth that has sprung up around them.
We were back home at 11 and took a good long rest.
That afternoon we went to the War Museum Cambodia which was a sombering and powerful experience. The museum was put together by soon locals who collected artifacts from the decades civil war that occured in Cambodia. The tour guides are all survivors-so be ready for that experiene. They spoke English quite clearly and shared with us incerdible stroies about life, death, and war that felt like a moving tribute to those who were lost in the fighting. It also gave a content to the state of the country and the thousands of maimed and orphaned people you see in the streets.
For the kids, they there were lots of bullets, guns and airplanes to keep them occupied and engaged during the tour.
That evening, we went to peace cafe for dinner. A delievious vegetarian place in a beautiful setting.
On this day, we reserved a car to take us to the floating boathouses and fishing villiages called Floating village of Kampong Khleang in Tonle Sap Lake. We had read online about it being ‘touristy’ and fake, though on our trip-we didn’t see one other tourist and there was nothing ‘fake’ about our visit. Perhaps because we had the kids with us, the villigaers were very welcoming to us, showing us how they dried the fish and got it ready to see in the market. The boatride to the floating villages allowed us to see rural Cambodia life up close which we all loved. And our kids are always happy when speeding through local rivers! (total tour: about 6 hours.)
We returned from the tour to take a swim in the pool and head out to the downtown area of Siem Reap. While this area certainly caters to tourist, there were delicious foods to try (snake on a stick anyone?) and the kids had a blast. We got dinner, bought a few souvenirs, even got a in a quick massage.
On day three we spend some time in the morning walking around our local streets. We bought breakfast, allowed our kids to choose a toy at the local shop (with hilariously fake branded items) and even took them for a haircut at a local shop-the highlight of their morning.
We make a plan to head back to Ankor Wat about abuot 2:30 when the sun was a little less intense. We planned to go for an hour or two but ended up staying until the guards pushed us out for closing! We couldn’t believe how many amazing temples there were to see, and as we drove more, we stopped at many beautiful spots-including a lake for sunset.
For that evening, we had purchased tickets to the Phare circus-an acclaimed show that is sold out most nights. We had been warned so we purchadased our tickets ahead of time, and indeed, it was sold out on the night we attended.
We enjoyed the circus, though it wasn’t the quite the hype we hype we had heard. I would encourage you to see it if it fits your schedule, and particularly because there is not much to do after dark in the city.
Our last day we spend on local outting. We visitng a silk farm-a true tourist trap which the kids really enjoyed, and spent more time downtown filling up on ice cream and massages.
We loved Siem Reap. The vibe, the people, the ease, the authenticity was ……