Aun Koh is known for his love of eating and travelling which has resulted in his highly successful food blog (wryly titled Chubby Hubby) that documents his culinary adventures. Over the years he has explored the world with his wife, Su-Lyn Tan, sampling the finest cuisines to exotic street foods. But these days travel is a little less glamorous and more sedate thanks to the arrival of his son Toby (3). He tells suitcases&strollers how a dedicated Singaporean foodie has adjusted his travel tastes to holiday with kids.
You’ve been to so many countries. Which have been your favourites?
Yikes. I've travelled pretty extensively; it's a pretty long list. I love Japan and go there on average one to two times a year. I go to Australia a lot also. Other faves include France, Italy, Austria, Turkey Slovenia, and Hungary. Some of these places, sadly, I haven't been to in years.
Tokyo, Venice and Paris are probably the three destinations that top that list. Also up there is Vienna, but I've only taken my wife there once. If I analysed these places, they are all great walking, eating, drinking and shopping cities. I love busy urban environments. I love cities with a history of artisans and craftsmanship. I love cities with amazing food, with distinct neighbourhoods and cities that you can discover on foot.
How has travel changed for you since having kids?
It's completely different. Family holidays are first and foremost about keeping the kid happy. That means doing a lot of research into what activities and places we can experience and go to when travelling. It also means where we go has changed. We won't bring Toby to Tokyo yet – we think it's a little too fast and crazy. Instead, we took him to Kyoto last April for sakura [cherry blossom] season and will be bringing him back in November this year to see the fall foliage.
What and where we eat has completely changed as well. As you can imagine, that is a huge part of any trip for me. But with a child, we work around his tastes. In Kyoto last year, after a few failed attempts to try and get him to eat restaurant food at dinner, we ended up canceling all of our dinner reservations and cooked for him and for us each night. We've taken, if possible, to renting houses or apartments with kitchens for this reason as well. So no more chic hotels for now. Fortunately, with services like Airbnb, finding a stylish place with a nice kitchen is becoming easier and easier.
[For more travel tips on Airbnb for families, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Do you bring Toby with you when you are travelling for work?
I had to speak and cook at the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival last year. Because Noosa Heads is so beautiful, we decided to bring Toby along for that trip which was loads of fun. I think that bringing the kids along is fine so long as your partner can cope and you aren't actually occupied with work all the time.
[For more travel tips on things to do in Noosa with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Sunshine Coast Insider.]
Is it important for kids to travel?
Yes. But you need to carefully plan where you are bringing them. You need to ask if they are ready for certain destinations or whether you should wait a bit longer before bringing them to those places. I really want to bring Toby to Venice, but I will wait a few more years. I need to know he won't be a nightmare on a flight that long and he won't run off and fall into a canal.
What do kids get out of travelling that they don't get staying at home?
They get exposed to new sounds, sights, smells, tastes, languages and experiences. Even more importantly, a family vacation is an amazing bonding experience for working parents and their children. Our son is thrilled on holidays because he knows we aren't abandoning him at school and heading off to work; he has us with him the whole day and he simply adores that.
Where has been the most surprising destination you’ve been to?
I visited Ljubljana, Slovenia back in 1994. It was amazing and quickly became one of my favourite cities. The city was just at its turning point during which new ideas and new things were seeping in. The rest of the former Yugoslavia was still falling apart but this city was peaceful but was also in the early stages of a metamorphosis.
One of my favorite nights was going to the opera with classmates. We bought balcony box seats (the best in the house) for just US$10 a ticket. We ended up sitting in a box next to the most stunningly well-dressed and gorgeous young women. They were all in big but elegant gowns – very old world. We ended up talking to them and the next thing you know, they are leading us to a really cool, really gritty underground club (all of us in formal attire).
On another night there, the girl I was dating at the time started drinking with some crazy-looking guys in a bar we were hanging out in. Turns out they were roadies for The Ramones who were in town to do a gig. As children of the ’70s and ’80s, we simply had to meet them.
Do you have a regular family holiday destination?
I guess Kyoto is it for now. Come November we will have been twice this year. We love the city. It has great weather, great food, open spaces for Toby and us to play in and lots of things to do in and near the city.
Where is the one place in the world that you want to take Toby that he hasn’t been yet?
New York because I grew up there. And Hawaii because I think he will love it.
Where is the one place in the world that you want to go to that you haven’t been?
Hard question. New Orleans maybe. But without Toby.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would not recommend for kids?
Anywhere that you don't feel safe. Anywhere that would cause your child stress. You want your kid in a happy place when travelling.
What are your top tips for planning a successful and memorable family holiday?
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page at all times! United front guys! Make sure you do research and plan to take your kids places you know will excite them and keep them occupied. And be realistic about what you need to bring. Last trip, we hauled along a stroller that we probably used for maybe less than an hour total over an entire week. That was so not worth bringing along.