Lay Off Vacation: Hong Kong

I didn’t intend to write about our lay off time since it was our vacation.  We spent the first week with our family relaxing by the pool in Pattaya, Thailand, and the second week in Hong Kong.  We saw so much that I really felt I needed to share our experiences.

I had always wanted to visit Hong Kong.  Our following city would be Macau, so it made sense to grab this opportunity since Macau was only a short boat ride from Hong Kong.

The flight into Hong Kong was a beautiful sight as both the city and mountains came into view.  It was instantly my favorite image from a plane.  The airport was modern and just seemed to sparkle clean in comparison to the one in Bangkok.  As we walked through immigration, they checked the girls’ temperature. We had never seen that happen before.

Our hotel was on the shore of the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour.  It was a wonderful hotel with the largest bed we had ever seen. I think it was the equivalent of two king size beds together.  We could easily lose each other.

The head carpenter from the first part of the tour, Tim, lived in Hong Kong within blocks of our hotel. He had offered to show us around.  His guidance made our visit so easy. We were able to see this city traveling as a local would.  I’m sure we saw much more than we would have on our own and he seemed to love teaching us all about the city he now calls home.

Tim advised us to buy Octopus cards.  They’re used for all public transport, but you can use them for many other things too, such as shopping and even museum entrance. The public transport in Hong Kong is clean, reliable and covers the city well.  We only needed to take a couple of short taxi rides our entire time there.

The area around our hotel felt like somewhere we could live. Actually, it was very similar to where we live since we’re next to a harbor overlooking NYC. There were plenty of shops and restaurants. I was able to get the best manicure I’d had since we left the US.  There was also an awesome kids play center in the mall.  This was the only hotel we didn’t eat at.  There were just so many options close by and we really wanted to try everything authentic.

Tim and his wife, Mimi, took us to two of my favorite dining experiences.  Firstly, Chinese tea, which was Dim Sum.  When I was still living in the UK I used to go to a Dim Sum restaurant in Southend.  My favorite dish was Char Siu Cheung Fun.  I hadn’t found it in NYC, but when I explained it to Mimi she knew exactly what I meant.  When the food came, I was so happy to taste that dish again.  Olivia and Eliana really liked the dumplings which had soup in them.  They loved the experience of this restaurant, but when I asked if they would like dim sum any other time on tour they always said no.  Their favorite was easily the hot pot restaurant and from the moment they tried it, they wanted it every day!  You’re given a pot of broth, meat and vegetables.  You cook them on the stove in the middle of the table. It’s delicious and a really fun way to have a meal.

My friend Phil, who I had known since my early twenties in the UK, also currently lives in Hong Kong.  He was only home for one of the days we were there, so we met him for dinner.  He took us to a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.  This area was not too far from our hotel. It’s the bustling center on Kowloon with lots of shopping and restaurants.  There happened to be a Smurf village on display which Eliana almost flipped over.

When Olivia was in the Sound of Music, I used to spend hours entertaining Eliana in parks while Olivia was rehearsing or performing. At that time, Smurfs 2 was in theatres. We saw that movie quite a few times and then we would search for the Smurf portal in the parks.  Obviously we never found the portal despite the hours in Central Park in the place the portal was meant to be. At least Smurfette was kind enough to send Eliana a card for her birthday. Finally, when we saw the village, Olivia and I cheered that we had found it at last. Unfortunately, Eliana is now three years older and was not falling for that at all! She loved it anyway.

Onto some of the magnificent sights we saw in Hong Kong.  First up, a trip to Lantau Island and the Big Buddha.  We took the cable car onto the island.  You have the option to upgrade to the Crystal Cabin.  I absolutely suggest doing this.  The floor is glass, so you initially feel like you’re going to drop out of it. A little thrill, but you get used to it quite quickly.  This was definitely the longest cable car ride we had been on. We  traveled over endless mountains and couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to do it. There were low clouds that sat just on top of the mountains.  It was just stunning and through the clouds appeared the Big Buddha.  It really took my breath away.

We disembarked the cable car to take a short walk to, guess what? A whole bunch of steps to the top of the Buddha! We climbed to the top and walked around the observation landing.  I can’t even put into words the feeling of awe and peace I felt being there.  Of course then there was the nerve wrecking walk down those stairs.  At the bottom we visited the Po Lin Monastery.  We each lit incense which we placed in containers thinking of our intentions. We walked around the beautiful monastery before taking the cable car ride back.

I had a small list of things I wanted to buy in Hong Kong.  Chop sticks, bowls, our name written in Chinese framed, and a Chinese dress.  Tim took us to the Stanley Market to hunt for these.  It was quite an excursion getting there.  We took the Star Ferry which goes from TST to Central. From there we hopped on a bus.  We drove through some really lovely areas.  There’s just so much variety in Hong Kong, from tall buildings to mountains to beaches.  The market was fabulous. It had everything I needed and more.  It was crazy hot, so we didn’t shop for long.

Another “must see” sight while visiting Hong Kong is The Peak.  We took the tram to the top.  You can walk, but I wouldn’t, even without kids. I’m all for killing two birds with one stone, and getting in my exercise, but that’s a bit much, especially in the heat.  The tram ride was all part of the experience too!  We’ve been to the top of quite a few tall buildings, but this was something else.  You could see the entire city in all it’s glory.

One place you probably wouldn’t get to if you only had a couple of days in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Museum of History.  It’s definitely worth the trip.  I knew this wouldn’t be something Eliana would really enjoy, but Olivia loves learning and don’t forget, I’m still homeschooling. I had made a large part of our curriculum based on the places we were visiting.  It turned out, Eliana did in fact enjoy this museum.  It was small enough to not be overwhelming and she liked learning about where she was.

We visited another couple of markets, but Stanley was definitely our favorite.  We also saw a wet market which kinda made the girls feel a little sick. However, they had no problem eating fish in the evening. We took buses, trams, ferry’s the cable car, and the metro. We had spent five days in which we fully explored this terrific city and we loved every minute of it.  Only one day left and we would be spending it celebrating Olivia’s 10th birthday at Hong Kong Disneyland.

As I had mentioned earlier, I wanted to go to Hong Kong for such a long time.  It was at the top of my bucket list of places to go.  In my head I had planned to spend my 40th birthday there, but the girls were too young and I didn’t want to leave them to go on vacation.  My family met us in Orlando that year and we went to Disney World instead. So here we were in Hong Kong, not for my 40th, but for Olivia’s 10th at Disneyland.  Funny how things work out.

There’s a Disneyland Metro Line.  The cars have Mickey Mouse windows, so you already feel the magical buzz of Disney before you’re even there.  Hong Kong Disneyland is relatively small, so we were able to go on all the rides we wanted in eight hours and that was with taking some breaks to get out of the heat.  Olivia had a 10th birthday she will never forget and Hong Kong Disney was celebrating it’s 10th birthday too!

img_6009

 

Advertisements

Bangkok

The last time I was in Thailand was twenty one years ago. That time I only flew in and out of Bangkok and spent the rest of the time in Hua Hin, so I was seeing Bangkok for the first time.  After being in the very westernized Singapore, Bangkok felt instantly foreign to us. As we drove from the airport there was that familiar mix of  high-rise buildings and malls with old shacks on the side roads. Slightly reminding me of Jakarta.  It was evening when we arrived and pouring rain.  We would’ve probably ventured straight out to eat, but ate in one of the hotel restaurants instead.

The hotel was situated some distance from the theatre and from most of the places we would visit in Bangkok, but it was a nice hotel with a fantastic buffet breakfast and spacious rooms.

We had two days to sightsee before going to the theatre, so we took a trip out of the city to the floating market.  On the way we stopped at a sugar farm. It was interesting to see. We could walk around and look in the farmers home. I know they make some good money out of the tourists coming through, but I wonder how they look at us.

We boarded a small long boat which took us on a ride through the canals to the floating market.    Either side of the canal were homes, exactly as you would picture them.  Some really not much more than a hut, with clothes hanging out to dry and the occasional person sitting outside watching the boats go by.  I find it so hard to imagine what their lives are like. So different from ours. Simple in the materialistic sense, but I would think very hard.

Once we reached the floating market we disembarked the boat and took a walk around the land market. We could buy some food from several boats on the side. We bought some coconut pancakes which a lady was making on the boat. They were so delicious, we went back for seconds.

IMG_4357

Through the market to the other side we could board another boat.  This time it was a row boat, so we could stop at different boats to shop.   You would point where you would like to stop and the person rowing, an elderly woman in our case, would row you next to it.  It was a lot of work for her especially in the heat.  I was sure to give her a good tip.  We were told that you have to haggle.  Never pay the price they’re asking for. I felt quite uncomfortable doing this, but soon got the hang of it. Our first purchase had been at the market on land.  Two dresses Olivia and Eliana had picked out.  I had paid about 70% of the original asking price. We bought a piece of wall art and a bag on the floating market. Both I managed to buy for 50% of the original price.  If you start to leave they call you back and drop the price even more.  The girls thought it was so funny. Feeling happy with our purchases we left the market to go back to the hotel.

Our hotel was close to Asiatque.  A night bazaar with lots of restaurants, a ferris wheel and a few other rides. You could walk there, but we took a Tuk Tuk, which was way more fun. We enjoyed walking round the market and had a really good meal at one of the restaurants.  It was very inexpensive, especially after paying Singapore prices.  We rode the ferris wheel and the girls went on a very strange rolling vehicle ride.

The following day we spent relaxing at the pool and went back to Asiatque in the evening for dinner.  I had an awful night after that. Something I ate had disagreed with me.

Olivia woke with a fever. Luckily I didn’t feel ill anymore. I was worried that she had food poisoning after my night, but she had no other symptoms.  I gave her advil to bring her fever down and she spent the day in bed. By the evening she felt much better. We made it to the theatre and through the tech run.

The Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre was located in a mall about a thirty minute drive from the hotel, but could take well over an hour with the traffic.  Our dressing room had a great view of the night market from the window.  It was also one of our favorite dressing rooms with cute red chairs and sofa. The mall had a good selection of restaurants to eat at.  A lot of sushi, one of my favorite foods.  Eliana continued her very own food video series trying anything different she could.

HVFC3273

Unlike the other cities we visited, I didn’t see any advertising for the show. None at the hotel and no billboards on the street.  I didn’t even see Shrek signage at the mall.  Yet, this was the best selling city so far and the audiences were amazing. They laughed at all the jokes and gave a roaring applause each night. There were a total of eight shows over the course of five days.

My family from the UK joined us a couple of days before the end.  My Uncle Alan, brother Richard and his partner, Jason.  They came to see the show and then we would vacationing with us in Pattaya.

We only had an evening show on the final day in Bangkok, so we had some time to see a couple of sights with our family.

Our hotel offered boat service up the river to catch another boat to the Grand Palace.  Knowing how bad the traffic in Bangkok was, this seemed like the best idea.  Once off the two boats it was a short walk to the palace.

The Wat Phra Kaew,  also know as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace are situated together. The ornate buildings and statues are spectacular.  Unlike anything I’ve seen before. The palace is no longer used as a residence, but is used for ceremonial occasions.

We walked for about 10 minutes and visited the Reclining Buddha.  The huge Buddha is 46 meters long, guilted in gold and takes up nearly the entire chapel. You walk the entire way around it.  Another very impressive sight.

IMG_4689

Bangkok closed that evening and the following day we were leaving for our family vacation.