The second staycation at RWS

Last week, we went for our second vacation at Resort World Sentosa (RWS). This was planned around Buddy’s definition of a fun time: as long as there is a playground, especially a water playground, or something that allows him to move about, he’s happy. Given such a simple request, we really don’t have to travel far since Singapore has many attractions available.

The previous time we were at RWS for a staycation was 2.5 years ago, when Buddy was a wee tot who couldn’t go for most of the rides at Universal Studio. This time, though there are a couple of roller coaster rides which are beyond his height, but the majority do not pose any problem as long as he can sit on his own. During the last trip, though he was suitable for certain rides, he refused to sit independently and insisted on sitting on our laps. But that was not allowed and he wailed. Needless to say, it wasn’t much of a visit, and we hadn’t gone back to the theme park until this staycation. 

Like before, RWS offers staycation package comprising of accommodation at one of the 4 hotels available (3 days 2 nights), 2 adult tickets to the theme park, the SEA aquarium and Adventure Cove water park. For the dates I picked, the package only costs S$819 for Hard Rock Hotel. (Previously we stayed at Hotel Michael where the bed sucks!) It turns out HRH had undergone a recent refurbishment, and from reviews my husband read in TripAdvisor, the bed was good for those with backache which means firm mattress. (This is very important to us because we can’t stand soft bed.) I only had to pay extra for Buddy’s tickets, which is actually quite a good deal. 

The room is relatively spacious, though I must say the king bed seems a little smaller than the one at home. The toilet is also quite roomy but there is no door. (There is a door for the shower cubicle.) I requested for the lowest floor possible and we got a room on the 3rd level, overlooking a rooftop garden. (The reception is on the 2nd level and the hotel is only 6-storey high.) The bed is truly firm but I don’t like the soft pillows. (Alright I’m being very fussy here but I am used to firm pillows.)


Location-wise, HRH is a good choice since it’s centrally positioned between the three attractions. Best of all, it has a large pool divided into various sections, like a man-made beach and a children’s water playground. Too bad Buddy only managed to play in the pool on the first evening but he had lots of fun. 


We went to Universal Studio on the first day, and zoomed in on the Transformer 3D ride at the SciFi zone. The line was freaking long! We waited nearly 1.5 hours before it was our turn. We thought it won’t be a long wait when we finally moved indoor, but the line continued twisting like a labyrinth. Worse, it was almost impossible to get out of the queue once you are inside the building because of the narrow spaces. It was a huge relief when we finally got onto the ride, which I have to admit was thrilling. It really felt like we were inside an adrenalin-packed car chase, and I am not ashamed to admit I was a scaredy cat. I literally hung on to the safety rail for dear life and closed my eyes when I felt like I was being flung around. I even shouted to Buddy to close his eyes, but the boy had guts, he didn’t and enjoyed every minute of it.

Luckily, for the rest of the day, we only spent 10-20 minutes for each subsequent lines, like this slow jeep ride at The Mummy attraction.  We didn’t go for any shows this time but focused on rides since those were what we missed the last time.  Needless to say, Buddy didn’t require any handholding, and had a wonderful time. He also kept his eyes wide open riding the canopy flyer in the Lost World zone, whereas this scaredy cat here was again hanging for dear life and screaming like anything, and of course, I received amused laughers from 2 girls sitting opposite me. 

The Adventure Cove water park was our destination the next day. Unfortunate it rained in the early morning, and the staff didn’t allow anyone to enter the water until the weather cleared an hour later. 

This was the highlight of Buddy’s staycation. He enjoyed the float along the river so much that he kept going for it again and again. 



We left the aquarium to the last day since we knew we would spend the least time in it. In fact, we were in there for only slightly more than an hour. The exhibit was definitely smaller than the previous visits. I remember during the first time at the aquarium, which was not long after its opening, there was a tank of piranhas which both fascinated and spooked the visitors with their stares and half-bared jaws showing rows of jagged sharp teeth. 

A year or so later, during the second visit, the piranhas were gone! This time, our 3rd visit, there were even fewer tanks! My husband pointed out there used to be a big cylindrical tank of colourful coral fish, which have since vanished. Granted there are new additions like these amazing looking but poisonous Blue Arrow frogs from South America, and the mutated Blue lobster (the color varaiaton happens only in one out of a million red lobsters). But still it was a disappointment. 

Anyway it was a fun staycation for us, especially for Buddy, and a better experience compared to the last time. So we will definitely return. But I might drop the aquarium visit though since it is a shadow of it’s former self.

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The classic, the modern, the cheongsam 

Last week, I went over to Studio 55 to check out the latest collection from Peter Kor for the Chinese New Year. As befitting the festive occasion, the Cheongsams are in cheery floral and geometric prints. Though the designs are in the classic cut, they have a modern style about them. Best of all, they have hidden back-zips which make them easy to put on. Granted the collars may be a little high for some women, but that is what make the cheongsams look good.

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Check out  the striking juxtaposition of the stripy print with the floral one! It also comes in blue.


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Look at the beautiful faux fabric buttons on the neck and side slit of this red dress! I really like the intricate details that Peter added to his cheongsams.

A dress that is so appropriate for Chinese New Year! The leafy embroidered piping is hand sewn onto the cheongsam.


Same design but with a whimsy patchwork print.

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If you prefer simpler dresses that can be worn to work, here are some options for you.

Check out the nipped-in feature on the left waist! A combination of the classic and modern styles.

When I spotted the dress pictured below, I went “wow”! Peter told me he was inspired by the flamenco dress, and I found out that the most famous of the outfit is the polka dotted traje de lunares. I think this is such an amazing oriental version of the Spanish outfit. FYI, the fabric is from Italy and the quality is exquisite. I was also struck by the beautiful fabric buttons, like flowers. This is an amazing looking dress!

If you are looking for a lace dress, here is one, sort-of. Rather than using the whole lace fabric to make a dress, Peter went for a different tack by adorning the bottom of the cheongsam with red lace and beads. This dress is a standout for any occasions!



For a dress without frills, here is one with an artsy print. However, I feel that the short sleeves make the dress look a little mumsy.

The dresses are priced between S$199 to S$499, depending on designs, and are available at its main boutique at s22 Queen Street as well as at certain department stores such as Isetan Scotts.

 

A Sentosa staycation

We didn’t plan for an overseas trip this year, instead we decided on a staycation at the last minute. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Sentosa when I could get a chance to hunt rare pokemons. My husband agreed, though for a different reason: Kidzania is at Sentosa. In case you’re wondering, it is a theme park where kids get to try out various jobs and having fun while at it (until they grow up and face the real world). We showed Buddy the promo video of the huge indoor park, and after seeing kids played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the movie theatre located onsite, he was totally hooked. (Yes, Buddy is back to TMNT.)

I looked around the accommodation options at Sentosa and found that Amara Sanctuary
Resort has a staycation package for Kidzania. On the map, the hotel looks to be the closest to the site. Best of all, the package comes with breakfast and the hotel has king-size bed option. So I booked for a one-night stay at S$435.

My husband spent time studying the layout at Kidzania as well as the different job stations, and he then announced that we should get to the hotel early to collect the entry tickets and enter Kidzanja when it opens at 10AM. It turns out that certain stations like the pilot training academy, are extremely popular and wait time at the line is usually an hour or longer. He wanted Buddy to go for that, and so we had to be there when the park opened to avoid the long wait.

Well, like Murphy’s law, things don’t always go as planned. In fact, it didn’t get off to a good start when we arrived at Sentosa. In the confirmation letter from Amara Sanctuary, it stated that we had to go to a manned gantry to show the hotel confirmation letter to get free entry. Being our first time driving through the Sentosa gantry, we were a little confused and we couldn’t stop to look for signage because there were cars behind us. So we approached the one right in front of our path, and, unfortunately, it turned out to be an automated entry and the $6 entry fee was deducted from the cash card. When we informed the reception staff, we were told we should go to gantry 1 or 2. Well then, why wasn’t it stated clearly in the letter?

We indicated our unhappiness with the ambiguous information to the hotel staff during check in, but we couldn’t wait for a resolution. We had to get into Kidzania once it opened, remember. And it was then, we found out, the theme park isn’t as close to the hotel as it looks on the map. The hotel is actually located at the back of Kidzania, and of course there is no  entry there. We were told to walk to the nearest Inbiah station to take the monorail to Beach station where Kidzania is.  It was a 5-minute walk, not far to be honest, but when we were rushing for time, it started to dawn on us that Amara Sanctuary doesn’t have such a good location. Worst, for parents with strollers or disabled on wheelchairs, it’s really a bloody hassle because of the elevated pavement going to the station.  It is another 5 minutes’ walk from the Beach station to Kidzania. So, needless to say, we didn’t reach Kidzania at 10.00AM.

Finally we’re here! Check out the life-size plane sticking out from the glass window!

Once inside, there was already a long line of people! Thank God we had got tickets in advance! However, the relief was short-lived. We were told to join the queue, to get the tags and a free bag for Buddy. Turned out most people had bought advance tickets anyway. Grrr……

We went straight to the pilot training academy and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first session was filled. Next one was at 11.30AM. So we decided to get Buddy his kidzania passport first. A kid receives a stamp on the passport when he participates at any job station.

When I stepped into the humongous 2-storey indoor playground, I was reminded of Caesar’s Palace at Las Vegas. It must be the picture of the sky on the ceiling.  Since Kidzania provides job-playing fun for kids, it’s a chance to make extra cash by getting companies to set up shops for product endorsement. And so we have the likes of MayBank, KFC and Mt Elizabeth Hospital, etc, hoping to make an impression on their future customers. Like the aforementioned plane, it was donated by Qatar Airlines in case you didn’t notice.

There is even an adventure training school for kids to climb walls. Too bad, Buddy is below the minimum height of 1.3m.

There was a recruitment at the clockwork tower for performers, and we tried to get buddy to go for it. But when he realized I couldn’t be next to him because parents are not allowed inside the station/shop, he cried and wanted to get out. That was when I got a little worried, wondering if he was going to be clingy and not participating in any activities at all. We looked around, and my husband asked him if he wanted to learn to make pizza at Pizza Hut, and he said yes. Ok, since he likes pizza, perhaps he would be willing to do it on his own?

Buddy and I joined the line for the pizza session while my husband continued to scope out Kidzania. On the first storey, he spotted the movie theatre! And guess what was screening?


I asked Buddy if he wanted to go for TMNT or pizza; no prize for guessing his preference. Thus, Buddy went for his first audition at the Nickelodeon acting academy!

When the director started assigning the roles (the kids are supposed to close their eyes and not know what they would get), my husband and I were holding our breath and keeping our fingers and toes crossed for Buddy. Two girls were given the turtle costumes, then an older boy. Will Buddy get the last one? Yes, he got to play Donatello! My husband and I cheered loudly. (I know we are acting like helicopter parents.) But when you have a little guy who needs a little boost of confidence, this is something to celebrate. I mean, he’s the smallest child in the group!

And…. we have the turtles on stage!

The end, when everyone took a bow.

The acting academy also provided costume parade for kids. They really look adorable dressed up in Peranakan attires while swaying to the upbeat Malay songs.

Buddy’s next “job” was being a soccer player. This is one of the popular stations and the kids had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, his team lost to the other side.

We could only manage 3 stations despite staying almost the whole day. The problem is that the long wait time for each session. Buddy’s last  role was learning to make ice cream at the Paddle Pop shop.

Looking at Buddy in his job plays, it dawned on us that he is still a very small boy.  Since the minimum participating age for kids at Kidzania is 4 years old, naturally he is one of the youngest kids around.  But he performed very well in all the roles, waiting patiently on his own in the line with older kids, listening closely to instructions, and most importantly, having fun. So it turned out my initial fear was unfounded after all.

And finally, for his reward, Buddy got an ice cream.

Buddy also learnt to open a bank account and deposit money earned into it.

It was a hard time getting Buddy to leave Kidzania, and we had to promise him a return. For the next trip, we are determined to get a session for the pilot training and the firestation where kids  get to ride on a fire truck and put out fire! (Not real of course.)



The tickets for Kidzania are not cheap: S$60 for a kid and S$30 for each adult. Which is why it’s best to stay for the whole day, especially since once you leave the premise, you cannot return without getting another ticket. This also means you have to get your meals onsite, and food options are not great since mostly fast food and snacks are available, not exactly healthy stuff. Considering this is an occasional sinful eat, we can live with that, unless you want to BYO.

Because of the long hours spent at Kidzania, it’s actually a good idea to have a staycation at Sentosa when you can spend time exploring other attractions for kids as well. Like we stumbled upon Port of Lost Wonders, a water playground, the next morning. My husband spotted a running track and wanted to go for a run. We had to wait for him somewhere and decided to check out PoLW which is next to it. I had initially thought it was some playground with water canon, and didn’t expect it to be a full-fledge water play. In order for both Buddy and I to enter, we had to get swim wear at the shop.

Buddy had so much fun that he didn’t want to get out of the water for lunch when papa returned. In fact, he wanted to learn swimming, something he didn’t want to do when we had previously broached the subject. Too bad I couldn’t take any pictures as I had to be in the water with him. So, do bring your kids to PoLW which I’m very sure they will enjoy. Besides, the tickets are not expensive: I only paid S$10 for both Buddy and myself.

When it comes to accommodation, I cannot recommend Amara Sanctuary. Sure, we were upgraded to a bigger premier room when we checked in, and it is indeed pretty spacious as you can see from the picture below.

However, there is one phrase that rings true all the time: there is no such thing as a free lunch. One of the first things I noticed was that the water flow wasn’t good in the wash basin, but I could deal with that. However, soon after,  my husband noticed a background noise that sounded like a pump. It didn’t seem like coming from the aircon vent but somewhere above the ceiling. He called the front desk about it but no response seemed to be forthcoming and so I went out to investigate.

I suspected there was some engine located on the roof, and our room, situated on the 4th/highest level and right smack in the middle of the corridor, was below it. I told the hotel manager that we needed a change of room to level one which was not affected by the noise. She said all rooms were occupied at that level and she would look at other rooms for me. But first thing, she wanted to check out for herself the situation. When I saw her again, she was with a technician who admitted that there was a pump on the roof and that he had switched it off and activated another pump instead. The noise went away as expected and we thought everything should be fine and continued with our stay.

That night, after we returned from dinner, the water flow in the bathroom sink was basically still, and the aircon didn’t seem to be working well. Next thing we knew, the pump sound came on. (Some guest must have complained about the poor flow and aircon and so the hotel had no choice but to switch on the pump.) This time, we insisted on a change of room. We were given a deluxe room (which is smaller) on the 3rd level, but at least we didn’t have to suffer sleepless night.

The other thing which we realized during our stay is the many PRC tourists at the hotel. No offense, but when there is a proliferations of them the service standard tends to deteriorate. It is very apparent in the breakfast buffet spread, which consists of mostly carb and hardly any meat. It was one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever had, and reminded me of the one at Disneyland Resort Hotel in Hong Kong where the abovementioned tourists made up more than 50% of the clientele. Unfortunately, there is no way we could have known this before scoping out the hotel first. So we decided to check out Le Meridien  Hotel’s guests at the lobby, and there is a good mix of international clientele. The place also seems rather genteel and plus the good location, it’ll be our choice for our next staycation at Sentosa.

However, one thing I have to give to Amara Sanctuary is that the hotel staff did acknowledge that it was their fault that clear instructions were not provided in the letter for entry into Sentosa. The fee couldn’t be reimbursed to us but we were offered a late check-out the next day, which we accepted. This had allowed us to discover PoLW. So, all in all, I must say it was still quite a fun experience, especially for Buddy. And having a staycation is great for a short break.

The JB trip

Last Thursday, we made a short trip to Johor Bahru, or JB for short. For those not in the know, it is the second largest city in Malaysia, right across the causeway from Singapore. The separation is less than 2Km,  and there is a lot of traffic between both countries. Yet despite JB being a short hop from Singapore, it is a bloody pain in the ass to make the crossing because of the perennial jam. 

There are lots of talk to make the land travel easier, still, at the end of the day it’s basically NATO (no action, talk only). Because of this, my husband and I try not to cross over unless we have to. Not only is driving in a jam exhausting for him, but the jerky movement of the car causes buddy to have motion sickness and puke. 

Anyway, we decided to make the trip last Thursday for personal reason. Though a working day, it was still the day before the long Good Friday weekend, and the immigration department even issued alert of heavy traffic on both Thursday and Friday.

My husband said we should take the advice of a family friend, an expert in travelling between Singapore and JB, to start our journey at 6.00AM. I baulked. 6.00AM??? What about Buddy? Husband said, “we’ll take him from bed and put him in the car seat in his pajamas. He can sleep on the way there.” 

Though I am not a morning person (and I dislike getting up really early), I had to agree since I wouldn’t want to get stuck in traffic and risk Buddy puking again, which you can imagine, is a pain to clean up. To make the trip easier, we booked a night stay at the Double Tree Hilton hotel, located in the central business district so that we didn’t have to rush back to Singapore on the same day. 

Before the journey, my husband checked an app that provides traffic conditions of the crossing and the route looked pretty smooth. So off we went.

It turns out our friend is an expert for good reasons. For the first time, we experienced a smooth drive all the way from home to the Singapore immigration checkpoint which we passed through in a breeze. Followed by unimpeded crossing over the causeway and no hassle at the Malaysian immigration check. It was especially amazing for my husband, who had made the crossing numerous times before. I noticed that traffic piled up on the other side instead, as Malaysians travel from JB to Singapore for work.

We took an hour from our home to reach JB city center, and that was a record! Previous trip took us nearly an hour and 45 minutes, and that was considered not too bad. 

The hotel we booked for our stay, Doubletree Hilton, is relatively new, and most importantly, it is an oasis in the midst of chaos. This was our second stay, and during the first, we were pleasantly surprised by the excellent service provided by the well-trained staff, whether at the reception, concierge desk or restaurant. At  check-in, guests are given a large chocolate chip walnut cookie each, which is really yummy. (I had one previously before I discovered my problem with wheat products.)

We opted for a deluxe room with King-sized bed, which is fairly roomy. The hotel also offers different types of pillow for a comfortable sleep. This is a really nice touch because we are used to firm pillows, and we were also satisfied with the firmness of the mattress. Imagine lying on a bed and find yourself sinking into it! As for the facilities, there are a gym and a swimming pool. Our US relatives, who stayed there recently, like the executive lounge access which provides free-flow of snacks and drinks. But we didn’t opt for that as we wanted the flexibility of eating out.  

The hotel has two restaurants, Makan (which serves buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and Tosca, that offers Italian cuisine which we did not try. There is also a cafe, The Food Store, but the food sucks though. The crust of the beef pie I had taste like cardboard! Anyway the hotel eateries are halal certified to cater to the Muslims.

Here are some pictures taken at Makan restaurant during our breakfast buffet the next morning. It’s pretty big with various stations serving different cuisines. 

There is an Indian station where you can get freshly made Prata.  

My husband ordered the egg prata which is very nicely done and tasty as well.   

Pastries and bread station, and waffles, cereals are available as well.

 

Chinese station with limited dimsum and noodle. My husband and relatives tried the noodle and they said it was pretty good.

 
Usually, hotel buffet can be non-descript grubs that you go only for convenience. But at Makan restaurant, the quality is better than expected, especially for the Malay food. In fact, we discovered that food ordered from the ala carte menu is excellent. We ordered some satay and honestly, it was some of the best we ever had. I had the Nasi Lemak and I have to say it does surpass the famous Adam road brand in Singapore.

The hotel staff are very helpful, and takes initiatives. During our first stay, I was carrying Buddy while holding a plate in one hand. A Chef came over and offered to get some food for me, and even took the plate back to our table. Later, buddy needed to poo, and I quickly took him with me to look for the toilet. A wait staff instinctively knew what I was looking for and guided me to the one inside the restaurant.However it was closed for maintenance, and he then took me on the shortcut that leads to the one outside. Seriously, the service surpasses that of many restaurants in Singapore.

Anyway if you are sick of eating in the hotel, there is a pretty good Indian restaurant diagonally across the road called “Amma”, which serves Southern Indian cuisine.   

I took a picture of the hotel, from within the restaurant, when we were there for breakfast after we arrived.  

My husband ordered the plain Prata set. We had tried the egg prata before, and it was not as well made as the one at Makan restaurant. But one thing I must give to this Indian eatery is that the curry and dips are very good, better than what Makan provides, which is rather limited. My husband had the fish curry with the prata. 

We had a masala thosai as well, which comes with yoghurt, coconut curry and dhal dip. The masala filling, curried potatoes  with onion, is really yummy. My husband finds it better than what he had in Singapore. I also had a paper thosai which I shared with Buddy. It was not bad, but I prefer the version at Prata Wala back home, which is crispier. 

I find that the locals have a high tolerance for sweetness. When I asked for tea with less sugar in Singapore, it’s usually slightly sweetened. But at JB eateries, it tastes like the regular tea in Singapore. So I ended up requesting for tea without sugar. Maybe because sugar is subsidized in Malaysia, and so there is no qualm about dunking teaspoons of it into any food or beverage. But seriously, I think they take way too much sugar for their own good.

 

That night, we went to New Lucky restaurant, a place which my father-in-law highly recommends. We took a taxi there as parking around the area can be a bitch in the evening. We were there a couple of weeks back with our US relatives, and before that, it was several years ago when I was first brought to the restaurant. Maybe the quality has improved since, because I don’t remember the food being this good before. FIL ordered the salted egg crabs, a steamed fish and a salt-baked chicken again, all of which had previously got the relatives smacking their lips. 

I didn’t get a chance to have much of the chicken since it was quickly devoured, but whatever little I had, the meat was cooked to tenderness. I managed to have a good share of the crabs, which was sinfully delicious with the salted egg spicy sauce. When you have crabs like this, you throw decorum out the window, and basically use your hands to pull the claws apart with the help of the nutcracker, and suck the meat out of the claws. The fish was also a hit as it was steamed to perfection. Too bad I was so focused on eating that I completely forgot about taking any pictures until the food was almost gone. 

After dinner, I wanted to ask the restaurant to call a cab for us, but FIL said we could hail one along the road. We got into this dinky car with a broken taxi signage, and dropped FIL at his home before going back to our hotel. The driver took a turn into the central shopping district (Lorong Wong Ah Fook), and my husband immediately remarked that it was the longer route, and worse, there was very heavy traffic on it. The driver went on the right-most lane and the taxi slowed to almost a standstill. After some time, while the meter continued to tick, I realized that the bloody driver was going behind traffic that was waiting to enter the carpark of the mall on our right. I pointed out to my husband, who immediately told the driver we were getting out  there and then. If we had sat it out, we would probably ended up paying MYR50 for a journey that cost a fraction of that, and even then the fare was more expensive than the journey from hotel to the restaurant, which was less than MYR14. 

My husband was furious, “bloody driver knows we are Singaporeans, and wanted to cheat us! He thought we are unfamiliar with the roads!” Actually I am, but luckily my husband is not, and he can also speak Malay. Too bad, in my hurry to get out of the taxi, I forgot to take down the license plate. But husband didn’t think that would help, “Even if you complain to the taxi company, it will just be ignored. There is a culture of dishonesty here!” Of course, it doesn’t apply to everyone because we have experienced honest and competent people. But my husband thinks those are exceptions rather than the rule. 

At the mall where we dropped off, I tried to use google map to get the direction back to the hotel. However my husband said, “forget it! Google map doesn’t work here because the roads are in a mess. The government will just close off a road without giving any thoughts for alternatives. Anyway I have a good idea of the direction to the hotel. We just have to cross the road.” 

Indeed, one lane was closed off which resulted in heavy traffic. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any pedestrian crossing set up. We noticed some locals crossing through a make-shift parting in the middle of the road and decided to follow suit. And anyway, the slow traffic does make it easy to jay walk. However, once across, there was this row of rundown shops and an eatery at a corner next to a boarded up wall. The other end appears to be boarded up as well. The whole row of shops was in darkness other than the eatery. My husband asked a lady there if there was a way out of the place and she pointed the direction to a back lane. 

There was no street lights along the narrow lane, and the path was only dimly lit up by the lights emitting from the back of the houses alongside. Luckily my husband has quite a good sense of direction. I followed closely behind as he turned left to find a way out. Buddy asked, “why is it so dark?” Thank God he didn’t cry or said he was afraid, I guess he felt safe in my husband’s arm. 

There was a man who came towards us as we walked along the lane, and I hugged my bag tightly. He was only a passerby, which was a relief because I was actually half expecting a mugger. Though my husband was less worried, “I think any guy would think twice at the the sight of me.” (He does have a presence, especially in the dark.) 

Nearing the end of the lane, there was a broken stone path steeped in water. As I stepped on the stones, they wobbled under my feet, and I had to be careful my shoes didn’t slip into the water. Though I guess I should be more concerned about twisting my ankle. After we crossed it, we appeared to reach a dead end. A steep slope with an incline of more than 45 degree stood before us. I couldn’t help blurting out, “Goddammit!” 

My husband, unperturbed, went up the slope, which was about 2.5 metre high, without much problem. I hesitated for a moment. WTF! How the hell was I gonna climb up? In the darkness, I could barely made out the steps carved out by others who use the path. But my husband couldn’t help me anyway since he had to carry Buddy. So I gritted my teeth and went up, praying hard I didn’t slip and fall. Both Husband and I were relieved when I made it. 

Still, that wasn’t even the end of the journey. We had to cross a couple of roads before finally reaching the hotel. It was like some bloody amazing race! My husband quipped he could join the Spartan race after this adventure. So the lesson learnt is not to hail a cab along the road, but to call a reliable cab company to send a taxi. 

We left JB for Singapore in the mid-afternoon the next day. My husband checked the app again before departing; the road was clear again. Instead, it was the crossing from Singapore to JB that was jammed like crazy. He told me that earlier in the day, the estimated time to cross was 3 hours! 

So, on a day when Singaporeans were going to JB for the long weekend, we returned to Singapore, and again breezed through checkpoints on both sides. 

Finally, the HK Disneyland! (Updated on 8 Dec)

The highlight of our trip: Disneyland, and the reason why we went to Hong Kong. I didn’t realize it has been 10 years since it was opened until my husband told me. But both my husband and I had not thought of going there until we have Buddy.

It’s the smallest of all Disney theme parks, and even then, we didn’t manage to visit all the sections, least alone took all the rides. I bought two-day passes for us, but we didn’t arrive until past noon.

For convenience, I booked a one-night stay at the Disney Hollywood Hotel, one of two available onsite. Still, the two hotels are not exactly close to the park, and guests have to take the shuttle bus to get there. But the frequency is rather high, at 10-minute interval during the operational hours. There were not many guests at the lobby when we arrived but it still took a bit of time to check in. I requested for a room with a view of the fireworks, as advised by a colleague, and the upgrade cost an additional HKD 100.

The bus dropped us off near to the main gate, where the signage (see picture below) is located.

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It turned out it was nowhere near the park entry. In fact it was a long walk before we reached a mickey mouse fountain and another distance away before we finally reached the ticket checkpoint.

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It’s highly advisable to wear good walking shoes when you come here. Lucky for us, we were there in early November, and the weather is not very humid. Though it was quite warm, there was a cool breeze. In fact I could still wear a cardigan.

At the checkpoint, anybody with bags had to open them up for checks. But because we were there on a Wednesday, there was not a lot of people and so it wasn’t a long wait. (In fact, I found out in Google that, according to historical data, Wednesday has the least crowd at the park.) But during high season and weekends, be prepared for very long lines.
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Finally, we were inside Disneyland! It’s like a quaint little American town. The whole place was dressed up in Christmas decorations, complete with a tall tree next to the town square.

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The pavilion at the square is where visitors can take pictures with the main Disney characters, Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Unfortunately Buddy was not interested to do that. In fact, over the stay there, we saw lines forming for photo shoots at various locations within the park, but Buddy did not show interests in any of the characters.

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A word of advice for those with young kids: it’s best to bring along a lightweight and compact stroller. A couple of friends had given us the advice, but we didn’t take it regrettably. Though guest can rent a stroller from the park, it’s rather bulky (probably to prevent anyone from stealing it). We had wanted to rent one initially, but after we were told we couldn’t take it on the Disney train we decided to forget about it. We planned to go on a train ride to Fantasyland, the opposite end of the park, which is close to Toy Story Land. So my husband ended up being the transport carrier for Buddy again.

We took a vintage train, modeled after the turn-of-the-century locomotive found in America, and this is available at Main Street Station. When Buddy first spotted the train, he called out, “Samson!”, referring to the Thomas Train character.

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Miniature train model right in front of the station entrance.

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The actual train that we took.

At Fantasyland, there were the Dumbo elephant ride, the Cinderella carousel, and the Mickey Mouse PhilharMagic show, etc.   The line for the Dumbo ride didn’t look long, and the sign indicated wait-time was 20 minutes, and we decided to join the queue. (I think 20-minute is considered no big deal at the park because my colleague, who was here with her family in June, had to ensure at least an hour wait in the heat and humidity.)

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Only two passengers are allowed on each elephant; my husband took one with Buddy while I rode another to take pictures of them. During the ride, I was wondering how come many of the elephants (including the one they were in) were going up and up, while mine was way below . It turned out there was a lever that the passenger can use to pull the elephant up, and Buddy kept pulling at it.

There were lines at the other rides and shows, and so we proceeded to Toy Story land.

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Buddy was fascinated by the colored blocks and climbed onto them. In fact he was not enticed by the rides or even the toy shop (only played with an animatronics T-rex), instead he was mostly fascinated by the non-attractions like the domino boards, domino benches and the colorful trash bins.

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He was not keen to take pictures either, not even with T-Rex. He said he was scared of the huge figure, which was susprising considering that he was interested to come to Disneyland because of the green T-rex inToy Story.

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The next ride we took was one of the highlights of the trip. A colleague strongly recommended that we went for the “It’s a Small World” ride at Fantasyland, and I’m glad I took her advice.

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It’s a boat ride that takes guest through different continents of the world with the song “It’s a Small World” sung by children in different languages playing in the background. It was a joyful experience, like being transported back to childhood, seeing the dancing dolls in different costumes, the multi-colored settings and lightings. It’s really like being in a fantasyland. I know I should have taken in the moment during the ride, but like many others, I scrambled to take pictures to capture that joyous experience. But the photos just don’t do justice.   This is one ride which you have to go for, no matter which Disneyland you’re at.

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The other highlight for the day was the evening parade, which everyone was absolutely crazy over. It was amazing and magical, and epitomizes what Disneyland is about. The  multi-colored LED lights and the catchy music made us want to jump up and down like a kid. The parade is called “Disney Paint The Night”, where special technology is used to light up the floats and performer costumes using fully LED lights, and the parade is made interactive as guests are able to buy the “Mickey Mouse Paint Brush” which can change the colors of the costumes. My husband remarked that it was a representation of Hong Kong, because the city is gorgeous at night with its colorful neon lights, complete with the theme song in Cantonese. He was convinced that the evening parade was unique to HK Disneyland because only the HKers could carry this off. (It turns out that he was partially right. HK Disneyland is the first to have this special evening parade in September last year. The main theme park in LA followed suit for its 60th anniversary in May this year. The parade music was first written for HK, based on a mix of the Disney parade song and an adapted Owl City’s song “When Can I See You Again”, but translated to Cantonese for the local residents. The Americans adopted the same song but it’s in English of course. I haven’t heard the English version, but I love the Cantonese one!)

Before the parade started, there were staff selling fancy balloons, and Buddy wanted one with a pink Mickey Mouse shaped balloon inside a round transparent one that also comes with LED lights and a mickey mouse shaped weight. Since he didn’t get any toys at the park, I thought it would be nice for him to have a balloon. I asked the staff, “How much is it?”, and she replied, “HKD140” (USD 18). OMG! That was a really expensive balloon! But I got it for Buddy anyway. When we were back in the hotel room, my husband looked at the balloon closely and there was a tag stating: this balloon is not allowed on board the airplane.
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Here are some of the pictures of the parade I managed to take. Again, they really don’t do any justice to the event itself, and don’t reflect the emotional high I experienced then. It was as if I had taken the happy drug. Seriously, just the night parade alone is worth a visit to the theme park.

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At the end of the parade with Mickey Mouse dressed in a wizard costume atop a float, two performers hold a LED-lighted stick to signal the end of the parade, and kids started following them. Even Buddy wanted to follow Mickey Mouse, and we did so, like children following the Piped Piper.

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Another highlight of the evening: fireworks! Though to be honest, it’s nothing to shout about. Perhaps for Buddy, it was interesting, but I thought our National Day fireworks were more spectacular. I guess Disneyland can’t be putting up special pyrotechnics every night because that would have cost an arm and a leg.

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We returned to the park the next morning where we only had a couple of hours before departing for the airport. Luckily, there was not a lot of people around. We went straight for Adventureland for the River Cruise.

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We were here the day before for the Lion King show. It was another highly recommended show by the same colleague, who loved it so much that she even brought her kids to the full musical in Singapore. For me, though it was entertaining, I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it. My husband thoroughly enjoyed it because of the two Cantonese-speaking monkeys. Nah, they’re not real monkeys, but performers in the ape suit. The 30-minute show is mostly in English, but with a smattering of Cantonese providing some translation of the storyline. The main English actor would tell the story, “Sinba is in great trouble here, and he doesn’t know it!”, followed by the Cantonese narration spoken in the singing tonality of the Cantonese language, “Sinba有很大的困难,但是他还不知啊!” (Sorry, can’t reproduce the written Cantonese here.) My husband was half-irritated, but mostly tickled by it because it sounded really comical against the backdrop of the safari story.

Anyway the River Cruise only started operating at 11.30AM, so we went for the Mickey Mouse PhilharMagic Show and the Winnie The Pooh Show first. The fact that since we were there early, we didn’t have to wait long for either one. The former is basically a 3D show, which was enjoyable enough but nothing special. (I’ve been to a few of them, and so was not terribly hyped up over it.) The Pooh ride was quite fun, though not as magical as the one in Small World, and it was also shorter.

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Back to the River Cruise. There were lines arranged by language, one for English, Cantonese and Mandarin. We went for the English line since Buddy and my husband would have difficulty with the Cantonese and Mandarin introductions. There were lots of Indians around because of the Deepavali holiday. We guessed many of them were in HK for the vacation.

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On our boat, the Indians were a boisterous lot. They were whooping at the animatronics of elephant and snake figures, the special effects showcasing explosions and hot springs, and were so excited by the “hidden dangerous creatures in the water” that it seemed like we were really on an adventurous boat ride. Midway through, the some kids would move across the boat to switch seats with the adults, and the guide would call out, “Sit down, sit down! Don’t stand up! The boat might tip over!” And any splash of water or thick mist would be greeted with lots of noise. In contrast, the other nationalities (including us) were rather passive and spent our time gawking at them instead. My husband later remarked the Indians were more entertaining than the boat ride itself. (He also revealed that the boat was likely firmly attached to a rail underneath the water, and not steered by the guide. So the likelihood of it tipping over is nil.)

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Tarzan’s tree house. Nothing special, just a flight of steps leading all the way up and then down.

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View from the top

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I thought this is a little weird because the gorilla was admiring the picture of an almost naked Tarzan. Doesn’t the whole set-up look a little MA (18)?

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As for the hotel stay, the room was alright and it’s not as big as the one from Crowne Plaza Hotel.  The bathroom was really squeezy though. The door, when opened, almost touched the toilet seat.

 

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Here is Buddy playing with the really expensive balloon. We told him to play as much he could since he couldn’t bring it back to Singapore.

The toiletries are kept inside a cute Mickey Mouse paper cup complete with a cute cover. We found out the room was meant for 4 adults, because there were 4 pairs of room slippers provided. I cannot imagine 4 adults squeezing into the room which has a king-sized bed, least alone sharing the bathroom. Maybe to some, it would be like having a pyjamas party.

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As for food, we had a late lunch at the Mickey Royal Hall next to the PhilharMagic theatre. My colleague had told me the food was average and not worth it. Perhaps it was because her family had the Chinese food, whereas we ordered a burger which was quite tasty. There was no chili provided, so I asked for it and was given this Guilin chili sauce (see picture below), which is completely inedible.

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We went for an early dinner that night as we wanted to go for the evening parade at 6.30pm. My colleague had recommended Plaza Inn which serves Chinese food albeit a little pricey. We ordered a set dinner for two at HKD 180 each, and the quality is indeed pretty good. In fact I would say it was a good deal because there was more than enough food for us. The only beef is that the HKers don’t know shit about Hokkien cuisine. One of the dishes was a Hokkien fried rice with diced chicken. When it was served, my husband (who is a Hokkien by the way) thought we were given the wrong dish because it looked like braised rice with meat, and I informed the wait staff. She promptly confirmed that it was indeed the Hokkien fried rice. My husband cried, “No way is this anything close to a Hokkien cuisine!” But the service was pretty good, because they actually came round to check with the guests if they were attending the parade and would arrange for the check accordingly.

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We had breakfast the next morning at Chef Mickey restaurant. As I was with the reception staff, I had told my husband to first check out the available dining options. He noticed that Chef mickey, which offered breakfast buffet, was popular and so selected it. The restaurant requires prepayment and the buffet prices were about HKD 200 per (USD 25.80) adult and HKD 150 (USD 19.35) per child. The prices come with a tag which allows the guests to have photos taken with Chef Mickey (of course). Maybe this is why there was a crowd.

There was a large spread of food ranging from western, Chinese, Japanese and even Indian cuisines. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t equate to quality. In fact, the food SUCKS big time! My husband even went as far to describe it as “pig slop”. Worse, it was absolutely expensive to pay for crappy food. My husband had some scrambled egg which tasted horrible, and he advised me not to get it but to order the omelette which was cooked on the spot. I’m not sure why, but there was no proper stove in the kitchen for cooking the omelette. Instead the young staff had to cook it on a hotplate, and it was a long wait for it. When it was my turn, an older staff took over, and she told me to come back a few minutes later for it. The omelette was bland, and it seemed that no seasonings were added.

My husband went back to the eggs counter again. There was an Indian man waiting for his omelette, and barking orders at the staff, “More oil! More heat! Flip it now!” The female staff gave him a sullen look, probably wishing she could whack him on the head with the  spatula.  Still, maybe his omelette would turn out better though.

Anyway, it was a complete waste of money at Chef Mickey since Buddy didn’t want to have any pictures taken with the mouse. He rather played with the expensive balloon, his last chance before we had to give it away. I told him to choose a kid or baby in the restaurant. He looked around, and pointed at a little Chinese girl a distance away. However, when I reconfirmed with him, he was undecided. So I told him I would decide on his behalf. There was this little Indian  girl seated next to our table, and I asked her if she wanted the balloon and she nodded. When I was about to hand it to over, Buddy cried, “No!”. I looked at him, and he continued, “I don’t want to give to her!” I had to retract my hand and the poor girl looked forlornly at the balloon.   I asked him again if he wanted to give it to the Chinese girl, and he agreed. By then, the girl and her family were leaving the restaurant. Luckily they stopped at the door to take pictures with Chef Mickey, and I quickly went over to explain to the mother, and gave her the balloon. My husband, who spotted them when he returned from the bathroom, told me  the little girl was so happy with it.

After the trip, we asked Buddy if he had enjoyed himself and whether he wanted to return to Disneyland. He said no. My husband quipped, “mama is disappointed because she’s hoping to come back.” I asked Buddy again if he would return if I gave him a Thomas train, and he agreed. I couldn’t believe I had to bribe him to go to Disneyland. But luckily, now he’s keen to go to Disneyland without the bribe.

The Hong Kong food trek

As mentioned in my previous post, our first meal in HK sucks big time. We had hoped it was an anomaly and we would have a better experience during the food tour that I planned for the next day.

After we checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel, I took Buddy to Popcorn mall next door to check out the retail scene and the dining options. There were some Singapore eateries available like Putien, Crystal Jade, and even a Toast Box. Looks like the HKers have a liking for kaya butter toast,  soft-boiled eggs, and the unique coffee. The menu is partly different from that in Singapore, like there’s beef rendang with bryani rice (which is not available in the Singapore menu), and it even caters to the HKers’ liking for macaroni with egg (which I don’t think is available in Singapore either). Some of the names of the dishes have also changed from local terms to more descriptive ones, like ‘Nasi Lemak’ is called ‘Singapore Coconut Rice’, and ‘Mee Siam’ is called ‘Rice Noodles in Spicy Gravy’.
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Of course we didn’t have any meal at Toast Box, but Buddy wanted a slice of Pandan cake. I don’t know why he would want Pandan cake in HK and I don’t even buy from Toast Box back home, but he insisted. Oh well, you never know kid’s taste in food.

We had a simple dinner at this restaurant, Praise House Congee and Noodle Cuisine, and the food is rather tasty. We ordered a pig liver and beef congee for my husband, while both Buddy and I shared a fried rice, and a plate of boiled Kai-Lan (Chinese kale) with oyster sauce on the side. We noticed that the HKers, or perhaps the Cantonese, have perfected the art of simplicity in vegetable dishes, which are cooked to the right crunchy texture, drizzled with a little oil, and accompanied with the oyster sauce dip. This simple but well-cooked dish is served at any self-respect Cantonese restaurants in HK.
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We had breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel before setting off the next morning. The hotel offers a buffet selection of western, Chinese and Japanese food, with live stations offering waffles, noodles or eggs done the way you like. Near the entrance is the pastry table with a display of a ferris wheel with fake pretty cupcakes.

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Salad and cheese platter selection.

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Noodle live station.

To be honest, the food is average though my husband likes the freshly-prepared eggs., It’s typical buffet quality, so don’t have high hope despite the nice presentation. In fact my husband thought some of the food looked like leftovers from the buffet dinner of the night before.

Now, back to the main subject of the day: the food tour. I picked the venues based on recommendations from various bloggers, and they are conveniently located within the Soho area of central Hong Kong. There are five stops, starting from Central MTR station, and ending at Sheung Wan station. See Google map of the food tour, the entire distance is only 1.6 km. Well, that’s what it looks on paper.

Though the hotel being located at Tseung Kwan O, we only had to change line at North Point to reach Central, and the journey only took 25 minutes. Our first destination is Tsui Wah Restaurant at Wellington street, and so we took the D2 exit at central station. To reach the street level, we had to walk up a flight of stairs, which led to a dingy alley. It was pretty weird.

Getting to Wellington street requires us to walk up a slope, and that is the beginning of the food trek (literally). We realized, only back in Singapore, that there is an ascending escalator a stone’s throw away from Wellington street. Because of our ignorance, navigating the slopes and steps was akin to being in a Spartan race. Worse, upon reaching where Tsui Wah Restaurant is located, it was closed for renovation. Goddammit! It’s not even indicated in the bloody website! Moral of the story: call ahead to find out, which I didn’t think to do beforehand.

The next stop was supposed to be Yat Lok for roast meat like roast goose and char siew. But my husband didn’t want that at 10.00AM, and so we moved on to Mak’s Noodle for wanton mee (shrimp dumpling noodle soup). Unfortunately I didn’t take note of the opening hour which is 11.00AM. By then, my husband’s patience was running thin, especially since he had to carry a 15 kg (33 lbs) toddler around. (The pavement is narrow with a lot of steps, and there are even heavy vehicles on the narrow streets.) And I had to lug along the diaper bag with a first-generation ipad that weighs a ton.

We decided to get some egg tarts at Tai Cheong Bakery at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace before looking for a “Cha Chaan Teng” (HK-style café).
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I only bought two egg tarts at Tai Cheong (at HKD 8 / USD 1 each) for sampling since we were not sure if we could trust the food blogs, and my husband was not in any mood to try other pastries. I asked the staff at the bakery for a cafe close by as we wanted a drink, but they were not helpful at all. One went, “Cha Chaan Teng? Hmm, not sure what is close by..” Just then the phone rang and she promptly picked it up. After less than a minute she put it down and forgot about my question. As for the other staff, she conveniently left it to her co-worker to handle my query.

We left the shop and asked a passerby who directed us to a cafe just round the corner, less than a minute walk away. It turned out to be Lan Fong Yuen (兰芳园 /蘭芳園), a hole-in-the-wall place which is also recommended by some food blogs.

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When I pointed it to my husband, he exclaimed, “what cafe? There is no seating!”
“There are seats inside!” And I led the way in.

To be honest, if not for me being in the know, I wouldn’t have recognized this ramshackle place is a cafe. I didn’t pick this as a foodie stop because it was described as a place where you sit back to back with other customers. But beggars can’t be choosers, and besides we had the chance to check out how true the reviews are.

We were led to a table next to the wall right inside the tiny cafe, while staff instructed us, “Sit closer!” It’s true that the interior is rather cramped, and sharing table is compulsory if your group doesn’t occupy it entirely. In fact the staff try to squeeze as many people as possible inside the limited space.

I first placed order for an iced milk tea, an iced Ovaltine (I don’t see Milo around other than at Toast Box), and a Po Lo bun (pineapple bun). The staff then said to me dourly, “you’re still short of the minimum order.” I looked at my husband who only stared back at me grimly, without saying a word. So I had to order another Po Lo bun and a thick toast with butter.

It turned out we had entered a Nazi cafe, because each patron has to have a minimum order of HKD25 (S $4.60 / US $3.20), even for a toddler as long as he or she occupies a seat. Thank God they didn’t see the diaper bag that I placed on a chair under the table, otherwise I would have to order something for it too. But even if it could have a drink, it would have spat it out.

My husband’s face grimaced after he had a sip of the ice milk tea, “This is so crappy!”

Even Buddy didn’t like the iced Ovaltine, and  I could understand why. It didn’t have a chocolatey taste unlike an iced Milo, least alone an iced chocolate. It was basically a condensed milk  drink with a tinge of chocolate flavor. There were two Singaporean women who shared table with us, whom from their conversations, it sounded like they are residents in HK. So I guess they knew what to order, because  they had 7-Up soda. As for the food, the Po-Lo buns were surprisingly better than expected, and Buddy actually chomped down the thick toast. Perhaps this Nazi café is not known for its drinks.  I checked up on it back in Singapore and found that it’s more famous for its pork chop bun.

Anyway I mentioned earlier about heavy vehicles on the narrow street, the below picture shows what I meant. This was taken outside  Lan Fong Yuen. Look at the big truck going down the ultra narrow street, barely touching the stalls lined alongside. It doesn’t look like there are any traffic restrictions in place. I think this is an accident waiting to happen. If the driver loses control, it’ll be a disaster!

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While at Lan Fong Yuen, we discovered that the idiotic staff at Tai Cheong had given me two sugared doughnuts instead of egg tarts. We then marched back to ask for the switch. The same two staff were there, and they looked rather sullen as one replied, “You took so long to return these!” I told her point-blank that I had to look for a Cha Chaan Teng, and they reluctantly did the change. My husband tried the egg tarts later, and thought they were pretty good. Buddy also had a liking for them. But with such sully attitude, I’m not sure if I want to patronize the shop again. I mean, I know HK is known for its rudeness, but it will remain so as long tourists continue to tolerate the bad behaviors.

We then made our way to Mak ‘s Noodle at 77 Wellington Street, just after 11.00AM. It is an unassuming small restaurant, but the staff were friendlier. We were led to a booth table where we didn’t have to share with other customers. One old female staff even suggested that Buddy should sit next to the wall, so that he didn’t get spilled by hot soup.

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There is no minimum order at Mak’s Noodle. Both my husband and I each had a bowl of the Wanton Mee, and we also ordered a plate of boiled Kai-Lan with oyster sauce. Offhand I cannot remember exactly how much was each bowl, but it might be only HKD 35 ( USD 4.50) though it’s a small portion.  When the noodle was served, the wantons (shrimp dumplings) were hidden (top picture). You have to dig deep into the noodle to find them.

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From what I read on the Internet, Mak’s Noodle has supposedly received a Michelin star for its food. Seriously, I’m not sure how it justified that. Sure, the noodle is springy, and the wantons are tasty, but the broth is bland. My husband asked the staff for green chili, but was given the reply, “We don’t serve chili.” There is some dipping sauce provided, but we feel that the wanton noodle is best taken with sliced green chili which we do in Singapore. Maybe the HKers think that chili will overpower the taste, but when it is used appropriately, it can enhance the taste by adding another dimension to the flavor. Maybe we should have added some condiment to flavor the noodle and broth.  but I just feel that it is rather one-note, even the wantons, and is really no big deal. It baffles me that many foodies think this is “die, die, must try”. However, the Kai-Lan is good, and as mentioned earlier, the restaurants do know how to serve a good simple vegetable dish.

After the somewhat disappointing tasting experience at Mak’s, we moved on to Yat Lok Roast Goose Restaurant at 34 Stanley Street. We were lucky to be there before noon, and were able to get seats inside the (expectedly) cramp interior immediately. When we left, there was a line forming outside it.

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The kitchen is located at the back of the restaurant. I am not sure why the owner bothered to put up a TV on the wall; the customers are not expected to watch the screening drama while taking the roast goose leisurely. No, this is a “chop, chop, off you go” place.

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Because we had the wonton noodle earlier, we only ordered a plate of roast goose with char siew to share, which I think it was about HKD 35 or 40. Thank God Yat Lok is also not Nazi, and there is no minimum order as well. But there is also no chili available! (I guess the mantra of HK F&B outlets is “We’re HKers, we don’t serve chili!”) On the food, I must say the roast goose is pretty well done, the skin is rather crispy and there is no gamey taste. My husband thinks the char siew is quite good, but can do with a little more fat. In fact , there were these 3 blue-collared workers sitting across us at our table, and one of them (who looks like he is the supervisor) asked his colleague who didn’t seem to be enjoying his char siew with rice, “You don’t like it? Not enough fat?”

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I wouldn’t mind going for the roast goose at Yat Lok if there is no queue. But to line up for it, I’m not sure. It’s not exactly so fabulous that I must have it for my last meal. (Now, I will be willing to wait in line for Joe Stone’s Crab and the Havana Dream pie.)

The final stop of our food trip was Kau Kee Beef Brisket, located at 21 Gough Street. As we were walking along, checking out for street signs, we suddenly heard a loud pounding sound “THOMP! THOMP!” going non-stop in regular intervals. I was puzzled, wondering if it was some rock concert nearby. But who hold a concert in a claustrophobic neighborhood in mid-day, and how come the ground literally shook with each loud thud? Buddy looked a little scared. My husband turned to me and explained, “That’s the sound of foundation being pounded into the ground.” He continued, “In Singapore, if you get this at construction sites, the PAP would have been thrown out! You notice how it is relatively quieter at the construction sites back home, and no vibration? They used the high-tech methods like drilling.  The site here must be using circa 19th century  technology.” Around us, the locals walked about nonchalantly, as if they could not hear nor feel the poundings.  My husband then said, “it’s amazing the people here accept this!”

Luckily when we got to Gough Street, we couldn’t hear nor feel the pounding. But we could see a line outside Kau Kee as we got nearer, half of whom were tourists.

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I was feeling rather full then, and not exactly crazy over beef brisket noodle. As Buddy started to doze off on my husband’s shoulder, I suggested I would wait with Buddy for my husband since there were benches next to the line. It moved rather fast though, and it didn’t take long before he got a seat. So this food review was done by him who described the eatery as small and cramp (this must be the typical description of any low-cost F&B outlet in HK), and he had to share a table with a family and another individual. Like at Yat Lok, Kau Kee is also a “chop chop, eat and leave” place. But here is where it deviates from the previous tasting. He raved about the fabulous beef noodle which doesn’t require any chili to enhance its flavor, the beef was really tender, and the broth was amazingly flavorful. He called it “the BEST beef brisket noodle I ever had!”. He liken it to the moment when he was bowled over by the beef pho at Pho Gia Truyen at Hanoi. Perhaps I should have tried it too, but it would be difficult to carry a sleeping child while having a hot bowl of noodle soup. According to my husband, he paid something like S$8 (US$6.50) for it.

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That evening, we went to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao restaurant at Popcorn Mall for dinner. I know it is strange that we would pick a Singapore restaurant in Hong Kong, but my husband wanted a simple dinner with double-boiled soup for dinner. I was initially hesitant because Crystal Jade does not exactly serve very good food back home, and I feel that Imperial Treasures (its competitor) has better quality. But he thought that Crystal Jade might have upped its game in HK considering the stiffer competition there. So we gave it a try. There were people waiting for their turns at the entrance, and we actually had to wait for 10-15 minutes before we were given a table. .

We ordered (picture from top to bottom) a fried multi-grain rice with dried shrimp and conpoy, stir-fried Chinese spinach with broad bean, hairy crab with minced pork dumplings (it’s hairy crab season), and a double-boiled chicken soup.

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What can I say? My husband was right, and I was wrong. The food was better than expected. The fried rice has a nutty flavor because of the added grains, and the dried shrimps and conpoy give it a slight crunchy texture. It’s a multi-dimensional rice dish which is very tasty. The vegetable is, needless to say, very well cooked. In fact I think Singapore Chinese restaurants should learn how to prepare a simple but very cooked vegetable dish. The hairy crab dumplings are even better than the crab dumplings from Din Tai Fung. There’s this distinctive flavor of the hairy crab which adds a smoky flavor to the dumplings. As for the chicken soup, it has such a full-bodied flavor that I feel it’s truly medicinal for the body. I highly recommend this restaurant for a very satisfying meal.

To top it off, we decided to make a trip to Cong Sau Dessert (聰嫂私房甜品). I found out about this famous dessert shop from the internet, and it has three locations in HK. I had initially thought we could make it to the one at Causeway Bay for the second part of the food trip. But the Central food trek turned out to be too tiring for us and so we skipped round two. Cong Sau’s other two outlets are in the Tseung Kwan O area, which turns out to be more convenient for us. One of them is located at Hau Tak Estate, which is only 2 minutes’ walk from Hang Hau MTR station, one stop away from TKO station. So we went to look for it. Unfortunately we were confused by the signs, and went on a garden path before realizing Hau Tak Estate is only across the road from the station. (When you exit from the station, cross the road at the traffic light, and Hau Tak estate is right there.) The shop is not very big, but surprisingly it’s not as cramped as the usual cheap diners. Perhaps because we were there at around 9.00PM, it was not crazy crowded nor bustling.

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Many customers highly recommend the durian ice puree with sago, even those from Singapore/Malaysia whom you can count on being durian experts. However, my husband preferred  the milk pudding with ginger sauce, given that the evening was turning a little chilly due to the rain.

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Buddy and I went for the durian. Like us, he is a durian lover. But he kept asking for the durian flesh, which my husband mixed into the coconut-milk covered crushed ice. In the end I had most of it, which was fine by me, because it was reeeaaallly good! The durian taste like it was from Malaysia (which we get in Singapore), and I love coconut milk. So it was a perfect combo for me. I know that both have shockingly high calories, which I ignored for the sake of food  tasting.

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Buddy was not satisfied with the durian dessert. So we decided to get a mango dessert for him: cubed sized mango with soya bean curd in sweetened soup. Again, he only wanted the fruit, and ate most of the mango. Of course I had to try this for review, and it’s quite good, but I prefer the durian dessert. The bean curd (aka Tau Huey) is nothing special, though it’s rather smooth. But we get pretty good bean curd in Singapore anyway. However we don’t get the durian dessert in Singapore, and I don’t know why considering that durian is a favored fruit in the country. Each bowl of dessert is around HKD 25 (USD 3.23).

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So this was our food tour on the second of the trip. Our views are that in term of quality, Singapore has caught up in many areas, and there not many food where Hong Kong is better than Singapore. One thing we feel is that the local cuisine seems to have stagnated and there is little experiments with spices or a reluctance to do so. I have to go back to the use of chili. Singapore/Malaysia cuisines have become unique because of the marriage of cultures, and local Chinese were adventurous to add spices to their food and created interesting dishes as a result. We have learned to use pepper, chili, curry to make the food interesting and multi-dimensional. But the HKers seem happy to stick to the traditional Cantonese culinary style. Perhaps the high-end restaurants do have innovative dishes, but my husband feel that innovation should not  be the domain of only the expensive restaurants. 

My husband also made an interesting observation while we walked around the Soho area: segregation of diners by race in the different restaurants. The eateries that serve western cuisine tend to be filled with mostly Caucasians while the local eateries are packed with the Chinese. I am not sure if this is a true situation or just coincidence. It’s just that in Singapore, you see a good mix of both foreigners and locals in western restaurants though there are also lot more locals in local eateries here.

Anyway, during this trip, I admit we didn’t try as many food as we had wanted, like dim sum, seafood or congee. We didn’t go to Causeway Bay nor Sai Kung Town (though our hotel is relatively close to it). The food trek at Central was exhausting for us, plus inhaling the smog in the city also added to the toll. Though it’s convenient taking the subway, we now know that it’s not a good idea to bring along babies, young kids or old folks for a cheap food tour in HK. The problem is that unlike the newer MTR stations in the new territories which have disabled-friendly facilities like elevators, those much older stations located in central HK are lacking in them. When we walked around, we hardly see young children or babies, and the numbers of strollers I saw can be counted on just one hand.  There are not many old folks either, and needless to say, I have never seen anyone on wheelchairs. My friend, J, told me that most old folks are relegated to certain towns in the new territories. Honestly, with the central areas (inclusive of Tsim Sha Tsui/Kowloon) being so unfriendly to the disabled and the frail, this not surprising.

The city seems perpetually covered in haze during the days we were there.  The place is not littered with garbage, and generally clean. But the pace of life is rather frenetic, and people tend to rush about. I got bumped aside quite a few times at Central and was pretty annoyed because it wasn’t as if the path was packed with people and nobody offered any apologies. My husband suggested that I stick out my elbows. (He didn’t get bumped because he has a “don’t mess with me” look.) It turned out that I wasn’t the only unfortunate one, because J also got bumped too when she was here. She used her shopping bags to jab them back, and because she is taller than most (and HKers are comparatively petite), they tend to stumble, and would (quoting her) give her the “I am f**king hurt” look. She refused to back off because she felt that they could have walked around her instead of pushing her aside, and I absolutely agree.  These people just bulldoze their way through!

But my husband was more empathetic though.  He feels that the HKers live a generally hard life, and all they can care about is trying to make a living. They are like zombies, unthinking creatures moving about in pursuit of money.  Perhaps this is why they ignore the construction poundings, they don’t bother with politeness or graciousness, they allow the property tycoons to take charge (which cause escalating property prices beyond the reach of many), and they take risks (whether right or wrong). The city is a reflection of its people.

 

The Hong Kong observations – after a long absence

It must have been more than a decade since I last stepped foot into HK. In fact I think the last time I was in the territory might be 13 or so years ago.

The Jetstar flight coming here was uneventful. The seat is of a comfy size for Buddy, though to me, it is a little uncomfortable and too cramped. But my husband feels it’s no different from that of a full service airlines. Well, Jetstar is a budget carrier, I guess expectations are low. It’s Ok for short-haul flights, but for long distance, best to take full service airlines.

At Changi airport, the gate for Jetstar is located at the far end since it’s cheaper. At Hong Kong airport, not only is it far from immigration but the plane is not even connected to the terminal. We had to walk down to the tarmac to board a bus. And this turned out to be the beginning of the trek to immigration. After alighting off the bus, we followed the crowd, and I saw a signage “Please do not run, the train would arrive shortly.” I was puzzled and wondered why the airport express was located here before we even cleared immigration. And unsurprisingly, some people ran towards the waiting train as if they were rushing for their incarnations. Upon spotting the train, my husband remarked, “Jetstar is so cheap that the plane dropped off passengers in some godforsaken part of the airport.” Yes, we had to take the train to the main terminal. I don’t know why Jetstar cannot get a gate there.

We took Buddy to change his diaper as he pooped upon landing. (Thank God he didn’t poo mid-flight.) The baby changing room is quite roomy, and even has a bottle warmer available.
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The toilet is quite clean with the usual amenities like paper towel and baby changing table, but my husband remarked that it seems a little more shabby that those available at Changi airport. I don’t think so. But I do think the airport authorities should have allocated a bigger area for immigration clearance. They make the passengers walk in a snaking line before assigning them to different counters, with queues at some slow counters backed up against the cordon barrier, and other passengers trying to get past to line up at those they were assigned to.

After clearing immigration, it was almost mid afternoon and we were hungry. My husband checked out what were the dining options available, and it was either Tsui Wah or a recommended congee place. Unfortunately, both are located in the transit area. Out at arrival hall, we could see a McDonald’s (yucks!) or a local eating joint that offers roast meat, Tai Hung. Naturally we went for local eat, I mean why would we wanna have McD in HK? I ordered the roast goose and char siew (BBQ pork) rice. It turns out to be one of the worst meals I had, the roast goose was bland, and there was measly char siew for Buddy. In fact when my husband saw the plate of food, he asked, “where is the char siew?” You needed a magnifying glass to find it. I think, maybe we would have a better meal at McD.
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I was fortunate my colleague loan me the local subway value cards (Octopus) for two adults and a child. The line for the airport express ticket is damn long. With the octopus cards, I only had to top up its value for train rides. I must say the train ride is pretty comfortable, and the journey is smooth. We reached Kowloon station in only 24 minutes’ time. Too bad there is no free shuttle bus to our hotel, which is located in the new territories, and is considered too far away. So we took a taxi instead, and that was our first taste of the road and traffic after a long absence.

My boss, who was in HK a couple of weeks ago, told me that the territory hasn’t changed since two years ago when he was last here, and he finds the place boring. Though my husband and I cannot remember much but it does seem to us that most buildings still look old and shabby. We drove past some new looking private apartments, and were amazed at how narrow they are. And they are located close to each others, not very much different from the sad old grimy buildings that still stand. In fact when the plane was about to land, we had a glimpse of Hong Kong Island and could see that there were many tall buildings interspersed by compact shorter ones. The city is basically very dense.
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Though we took the taxi shortly after 4pm, traffic along Kowloon was pretty bad, as roads are rather narrow and yet there are so many vehicles around. The place still has a rundown feel, with few vegetation around. It is only when we get closer to the new territories that we see more greenery, but the area is still compact with buildings.

Opposite our hotel, Crowne Plaza Kowloon East, there is a private apartment located above the Popcorn mall, surrounded by what looks like public housings.
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The private apartments and mall are developed by the MTR corporation, which is the subway company. This is replicated in many of the stations located in the new territories, and they are relatively newer compared to those in the older parts of Hong Kong like in Tsim Sha Tsui and HK island areas. I must say this is the first time I see a subway company which also operates as a property developer.

One thing that caught our notice is that the private apartments are no different from the public ones is that the residents hang their laundry out at the balcony.
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My husband remarked, "It's ok to hang your laundry outside your expensive apartment since it won't affect property price. Just don't show your red undie."

My friend, J, explained that the residents have no choice since the apartments are pretty small. I’m not sure if you can see from the pictures that the apartment units are seriously tiny! Though I have not been into one myself but friends have all related their own experience, where the bedroom can only fit a bed and nothing else. Or that the apartment is so small that there is no balcony or yard to even hang the laundry. Worse, the developers even include the areas of the aircon ledge and external corridor to the rubbish chute as part of the apartment unit.
Apparently this is the reason why HKers rather stay out than remain at home. Imagine being cooped up in a tiny apartment! I will surely go mad.

All packed and ready to go.

As expected, we only completed our packing the morning before we left for the trip. But unlike before, I didn’t rush around like a headless chicken grabbing stuff before getting out of the door. We had everything ready to go 5 minutes before the cab arrived. Buddy was pretty excited about the trip to Toyland (our term for “Disneyland”), and he put on his shoes even without us telling him to do so.

We packed light, a couple of carry-on plus the diaper bag and a bag of snacks.
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With Buddy travelling with us, I find myself being a little paranoid when planning for the trip. One of the essentials is medicines for every one. Then there is the transport issue. We are not taking along the stroller nor car seat because Hong Kong is not disabled nor child friendly. I was told that a number of subway stations do not have convenient escalators, and street pavements are narrow and very crowded which makes pushing a stroller difficult.

Though it’s convenient to take a cab from airport to the hotel, my husband is not keen since Buddy won’t be able to strap down like us, and the driver is likely to speed along the highway into the city. And besides he thinks Buddy will enjoy taking the airport express train. The plan is to take the train to Kowloon station and switch to a taxi to go to the hotel from there.

My husband will carry Buddy while I handle the bags. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a little paranoid about Buddy’s safety. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing but at the back of my mind, I’m telling myself to be on alert in a foreign land, that we have to keep Buddy in our sight 24/7.

Jetstar doesn’t have check-in counters at the airport. Instead the budget carrier takes cost-cutting literally, by setting up self-check terminals and self-check baggage systems with only a couple of service staff around. I was initially concerned if one of our baggage might not be allowed as a carry-on. The thing is bloody Jetstar reduced the carry-on baggage to 7 kg per passenger and any excess is charged an arm and a leg if we don’t pre-pay for check-in bags.

The staff helping us at the terminal told us the security at the gate would weight the bags and we could pay to check them in later, so I was relieved about it. But when we asked the customer service desk at the transit area, we were told no such service is available and that the airlines staff would have checked in the baggage if they don’t qualify as carry-on. My husband said Jetstar might be trying to scare the passengers to pack light or pay for check-in baggage, though I, on the other hand, was still worried that the carrier might screw us at the gate. My husband was dismissive, “wanna bet?”

We went for breakfast after clearing immigration. There was not much good dining options inside Terminal 1 transit, and most eateries are located near to each others. The food court is the most convenient choice and so we parked ourselves there. I was surprised to find some people having noodles and rice with dishes in the early morning. I can’t do that. Instead I wanted to get a couple of mineral water. Maybe because we’re inside the transit area but each bottle is S $2! And I bought two bottles without first checking if I could take them into the plane!!!

Anyway I think we might have been a little too relaxed when we settled down for breakfast, because by the time I realized we should get going it was 25 minutes to departure. And I still wanted to withdraw cash at the ATM, get a HK SIM card and get more bottled water. Luckily there are ATMs next to the travel shop, Changi Recommends , which offers WiFi routers and SIM cards, among other things, but too bad all HK routers are taken.

I checked the flight info screens and next to our flight was the remark “gate is closing”, and I panicked. It was 15 minutes before take-off. There wasn’t time to get more water. I rushed my husband and son to get going, and thank God for the travellators, which help to speed us up. My heart was pounding as I moved quickly, and at the same time thinking up of excuses if we were stopped at the gate, like Buddy had stomach ache or someone accosted us along the way. My poor husband had to carry Buddy and pull along a luggage and couldn’t move as fast as I, and I heard Buddy yelling at me, “mama, mama!”

It was relieved when we arrived at the gate and I saw a couple of stragglers having their bags checked at the xray machine. (Admittedly we are too.) My husband looked at me puzzled, wondering why I was in a mad rush, he was not perturbed that we were the last passengers at the gate at less than 10 minutes before departure. And guess what, the security allowed us to take in the bottled water. Still we don’t have enough water for everyone, and I should have expected the airlines to take the chance to gouge the captive passengers. It costs S$4 each on board. What can I say?

Perhaps because Jetstar being a budget airlines, the gate is located at the end of the terminal, so it took quite a while to taxi to the runway for take off. I realized that the air traffic is so busy. There is literally a line of planes waiting to depart
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So how has Buddy been so far? He was a little naughty at the airport, refusing to walk and wanted my husband to carry him, and ignoring all strangers who spoke to him. But otherwise he handled the flight pretty well, though a little tense as the plane was taxi-ing on the runway but curiosity got the better of him. He didn’t want to nap on the flight, and instead rather watched the ipad. At least that kept him entertained.

Planning for a family trip

Now that Buddy is almost 3.5 years old, we decided to try an overseas vacation. We were rather reluctant to take him on a flight when he was younger because we were afraid he wouldn’t like being on a plane. (Well, actually we were also not sure if we could handle him since he would be restless and might end up crying and making the whole plane-load of people hate us.)  He’s now at an age when he can articulates what he wants, and this makes it easier to manage him. Besides we’ll be bringing along the ipad to keep him entertained.

I’m not sure if we are being overly cautious, but we had to consider the location carefully. Since Buddy is still young, the place should be one where it is easy to get good medical treatment, and preferably no language problem. Add to that, we don’t want to travel too far since it’s Buddy first trip, and there must be some attraction for him. So we decided on Hong Kong as the destination where we can take him to Disneyland. (He calls it “Toyland” after he saw the Toy Story characters at the resort on a YouTube video.)

First thing on the planning list is airline: should we opt for full-service or budget. My husband feels that since we are on a vacation with no time pressure, and flight time is only a few hours, we can go for budget. A colleague who went with her family, including a 3.5 years old son, to Hong Kong in June, opted for full service airline instead as she wanted the entertainment for her kids. To be honest, I’m not sure if Buddy is willing to put on the headset. (He’s very particular, and doesn’t jump into the bandwagon like most kids.) So taking the full-service airline may not be much use to us, and besides we’ll bring along the ipad for him. As for food, the budget airlines do provide it as well. So it doesn’t seem logical to pay a premium when the differences are not stark for a short distance trip.

Anyway I did check out the fares for both the full service and budget Airlines. After all, the former do offer promotional fares in response to the stiff competition. Unfortunately, for the full service airlines, either the cheap fares are unavailable on the date of the trip or the flight time sucks. On the other hand, the budget Jetstar airlines offer pretty reasonable fares and good timings.

However when I realized that the fare is not refundable, I didn’t want to make the booking right away, though I suspect the fare might go up nearer to the departure date. I was afraid there might be last minute changes, like something might happen which stop us from going on the selected date. So I waited, and when I wanted to book the flights about a month from departure, the total fare had increased by more than a hundred buck. My husband told me I was irrational to wait, since I was able to confirm my leave and I should go ahead with the booking then. My fear of any last minute changes basically doesn’t make sense when unpredictability is part of life. So, too bad, I have to pay more for a lesson learnt.

It’s the same with accommodation, prepayment rate is cheaper than the refundable one. And I had the same nutty fear of non-refundable rate even though the discount can be quite substantial. Then there is also the question of where to stay. As expected, most people stay within the city, in Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, Nathan or Jordan areas, or within the central area of Hong Kong Island. But a Hong Konger colleague adviced that it was alright to stay in the suburbs because the public transport system is efficient and doesn’t take long to get to the city. Besides the hotel rate is much cheaper and rooms are spacious.

Since we don’t plan to shop in HK, the idea of an accommodation in the suburbs sounds appealing. Especially when we can have a king size bed in a spacious room (which would have cost an arm and a leg for a hotel close to the city). I used Booking.com to check for good rates and found Crowne Plaza at East Kowloon. This is a relatively new hotel located at Tseung Kwan O, near to Sai Kung town. The guest reviews are pretty positive, many are pleased with the amenities, room size, and the friendly staff. The hotel is located atop a mall and a subway station, so transportation is convenient. In fact one guest wrote that he timed the journey from hotel to city on the subway and it took only 25 minutes. Best of all, for me, I can reserve the room on the website and not having to prepay until 2 days before check in. Of course, I can only know for sure what the hotel experience is when I am there, but so far we are happy with what we have found out. For a 2-night stay plus breakfast for two, the cost is only $399 excluding tax.

For the Disneyland trip, we decided that it will be easier to stay for a night at one of the two hotels there to maximize our time at the resort, as well as a chance to watch the fireworks in the comfort of our room if we want to. We have to make upfront payment, and bought the early bird package for one room night and 2 two-day passes while getting an extra child pass for Buddy. (To be honest, there is almost no difference between the early bird and other similar packages available.)

The aim of the trip is not just Disneyland, but also for food. So I have done some research on the places to go for some famous HK cuisine such as the roast goose/meat and shrimp dumpling noodle (wanton meen). This turns out to be quite easy because there is so much information out there, in various blogs. Type in “recommended food in HK” and you get a long list of sites to check out. Anyway, considering that we only have one day for food crawl, we will focus only on two areas: Central and Causeway Bay. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these eateries are located pretty close to each others. Like within Central, we can go from Tsui Wah Restaurant (tea café or “Cha Chan Tang”) to Yat Lok (for roast meat), followed by Mak’s Noodle for wanton noodle, then to Tai Cheong Bakery for egg tarts, and Kau Kee for beef brisket. From the Central train station to each of these dining joints and finally to Sheung Wan train station (nearest to Kau Kee), the distance is only about 1.5 km. If we have time and energy, we will check out Causeway Bay for congee and dessert.

So far the plan is for a 4-day/3 nigh trip, when we will take it easy on the first day after arrival. Perhaps to check out Sai Kung town if we feel up to it. Otherwise we can go to the mall below the hotel, which has a Tim Ho Wan restaurant. The second day is allocated to food crawl, and we will move to Disneyland on the third day.

Though I hope to visit the famous cheongsam shop, Linva, I am not sure if that is possible with a little monkey in tow (Buddy). Maybe I will have a chance to take a picture of the dresses since it is located in central area. So let’s see.

The Thanksgiving Trip – no light, no guide, no come back

A relation of my husband, Ming, organized a thanksgiving vacation in Chiangmai and Chiangdao (up north in the highlands from Chiangmai, Thailand), for 12 family members from US, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore. It was quite a relaxing holiday, though a little touristy, with the usual visits to gardens and temples. My husband and I have been to Chiangmai a couple of years ago, and we enjoyed the good food, spa and visits to quirky shops and the antique wholesale district (Hang Dong). But most of the group members are into sightseeing and street markets. So on the first day of the tour, we went to Bhuping Palace, the summer residence of the royal family. There are lots of beautiful gardens there including a rose garden. I was made to rent a skirt to enter the palace, just because I wore leggings.


Of course, how could we skip the most famous temple in Chiangmai, Doi Suthep, which is covered with gold. If you ask me, that’s a misallocation of resources and going against the principles of buddhism. I seriously don’t think Buddha asked for any gold covered temple to be built. That money could have gone into education and micro loans for the poor locals.

We also checked out a so-called Hmong village which has a waterfall close to it. It turned out to be one big open market with many stalls selling Hmong handicrafts, snacks, trinkets and other stuff. The market is set up along the slope of the mountain, and so it’s basically a steep walk through the market up to the top, where there is a really nice garden with a small waterfall. There are houses dotting the side of the mountain above the garden and market. Our relations didn’t go up as far, but my brother-in-law, Phil, and his wife, Lynn, did discover a poppy field nearby. They didn’t wanna pay US$25 per person for entry though. My husband joked you wouldn’t wanna be near it in case an American Apache chopper appeared on a anti-drug mission.

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Anyway my husband and I tagged along most of the way, but we definitely didn’t skip our favorite spa at the Chedi resort (part of the GHM group, and also our favorite hotel) while the rest went for yet another temple tour. We are also really happy that we managed to return to the Chedi for our favorite afternoon tea. He simply loves the amazing scones, clotted cream and jam, which unfortunately aren’t available in Singapore. We brought the group there and the scones were also a hit with Phil, who couldn’t get enough of the clotted cream. We doggie-bag 3 scones back to our villa, and my husband and his brother had them 2 days later. Even after we microwaved them, they were still awesome.

In Chiangmai, my husband and I discovered another gem. We checked out the Rachamankha Hotel for dinner (recommended by the Luxe guide). The hotel was refurbished from a colonial house, furnished with beautiful, clean line, Ming inspired furnitures. We sat at the courtyard for dinner (as suggested in the guidebook) and in fact that was what the other guests did too. The restaurant serves Thai/Myanmese and also western-inspired food. We ordered the set dinner in Thai/Myanmese for 2. It was a platter of dishes like shredded mango salad, spicy beef soup, curry chicken, shredded pork, and fish cakes. My husband thought they were Nahm-like (Nahm restaurant , opened by a Michelin-starred chef in Bangkok), or even similar to the Nam Hai resort’s Vietnamese food. But of course, the food and presentation still fall short of the standards in those two restaurants. For one thing, the food wasn’t warm enough, for another, the restaurant shouldn’t be using chipped bowls. The flavor of the food was pretty good though, the salad was yummy, the beef was super tender, and chicken flavorful. I thought the fish cakes could be better prepared, the presentation wasn’t so good. But I guess for the price we paid, THB950++ (S$40++) for two pax, I shouldn’t complain. Anyway my husband checked out the room rates and found that they are rather reasonable. But in TripAdvisor, the rating is not as good as The Chedi.

We also revisited the quirky stores that we checked out during our first trip, located at Soi 1 of Nimmanhaemin road. This is a good place to look for house decor ideas and items. We especially like this shop right at the end of the road with a cardboard cut out of a fat lady at the entrance. When we were here the last time, there was a cat inside the shop, walking around as if it owned the place. But the kitty wasn’t to be found this time. The shop has some beautiful paintings. This is one that I really like.

My husband likes the one below.

We find the whimsical artistic talent of the Thais very interesting and unique. Even though we didn’t buy anything, it was a pleasure to browse even.

It was a long drive from Chiangmai to the holiday home in Chiang Dao. Along the way, we had the options of going to the elephant camp or the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden. (Both locations were not covered by us during our last trip.) All except my mother-in-law and I chose to see the saggy bottom mammals. We felt we could see all the saggy bottoms we want on National Geographic, and besides we prefer flowers. But for the sake of completion, I posted a photo my husband took of an elephant drawing a picture. Poor elephants make to do tricks to entertain humans like playing football, which isn’t even part of the natural activity of the animal.

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The botanic garden is huge, taking up 1,000 hectares of land. We took a shuttle bus up to the glass house complex where there are numerous green houses with different species of plants like medicinal, carnivores, rare plants, wild hybrid orchids etc. There is also a beautiful rose garden with flowers more beautiful than what we saw at Bhuping Palace.


Seriously Chiang Dao is so remote that it looks like we are near the border with Myanmar. We joked that we should put up our location in our Facebook pages in case we get kidnapped. I mean, if we disappear, would anybody know? According to Ming, the main road leading to Chiang Dao is only completed this year! This place is mainly inhabited by the tribal minorities. There’s a small town where there’s a bank, 7-11 (!) and even Tesco Express. But the supermarket is so small that it’s like a 7-11. A bunch of us went there to shop for snacks, drinks and other stuff. A relation wanted to buy some beer, but found out that there are specified times for liquor purchase, during lunch time and dinner time which is from 5pm. Unfortunately it was 4.30pm then and we were definitely not going to wait around. So there was some negotiations and both parties came to an amiable agreement.

The villa where we’re staying has pretty amazing view, I guess as a result of the remote location. It’s built by a Caucasian owner, in the midst of a large orchard. He also owns the Chiangmai villa where we stayed for a few days. This is a pretty good place for star gazing. In fact on the first night we arrived, Ming and Phil even saw a shooting star. Ming has a really cool astronomy app on her iPhone, Star Walk, and we used it to pinpoint the stars and constellations. We even spotted Jupiter, which was really bright.

Anyway the climax and also highlight of the vacation was the trip to Chiang Dao caves. Only 6 of us went for it (including 2 old folks and preggie me). I was initially told not to go since it might not be suitable for my condition and I also had some reservations too. But after thinking about it, plus my husband said he would take care of me, I thought it might be an exciting adventure and went along. According to Ming, the locals discovered a Buddhist sage living in the caves for more than a 100 years and they then paid reverence to him. After he died, he was buried inside one of the caves.

The driver took us to the location where there are temples and even a church, and pointed out the direction to the caves. We went toward it and came to the bottom of a lighted stairway. There was a couple of people at a table with the sign “20 baht for electricity”. Ming had earlier told us that the caves are lighted but the generators are not reliable and torch lights are recommended. Anyway I was wondering whether we were really entering a cave since it looked more like some sort of mining tunnel to me instead, ain’t nothing like the scenes from Discovery Channel. I also noticed there was another stairway along what looked like the side of a mountain close by. I thought that seemed more like leading into a cave. Ming told us there were supposed to be guides waiting at the entrance to bring visitors in, but there was no guide to be seen. So we were standing around for a few minutes wondering what to do next. We decided to just do it, and paid what turned out to be 20 baht (S$0.85) per person, as our payment for electricity usage within the caves. The stairway is actually rather steep and high. I didn’t take the picture going up but coming down later.

So we entered this dimly lit large tunnel where there was an altar with a Buddha statue. There were a couple of women in pink sitting by the side. On the right of the altar was a lighted pathway leading down, on the left was a dark pathway leading up. There was a sign next to the altar “no guide, dangerous, no come back”. Ming said these ladies must be the guides. One of them came to us and pointed to a board and told us, “100 baht 5 persons for lamp. 6 persons, 120 baht.” I was thinking we had torch lights and iPhones, why would we need additional light? Besides there was a lighted pathway. But Ming decided we needed a guide with us, and the lady then started to lit up a hurricane lamp. She then said to us that guide was volunteer and pointed to the board again, which suggested 100 baht for tip to the guide. One of the women then took the lamp and beckoned us to follow her up the dark stone path. She said in broken English that we took the dark path first, then the lighted path after. We then realized “uh oh, we’re really going into the darkness up there?”, it was literally pitch black ahead.

As we followed the guide up the rocky and uneven ground, we kept telling each other to be careful. Thank God for the hurricane lamp, only then we realized our puny torch lights and iPhones were no match for the dark, which was seriously like plunging into total blindness. Then at the top, the guide pointed to us a hole in the wall, and said in her limited English something about going in. Huh?? It wasn’t exactly a big hole, in fact we had to bend rather low to go though it.

On the other side, we were brought to this huge cavern, which the guide called a “stadium”. Here’s how dark it was. Our relations were lighted up by the hurricane lamp. Even then, it was difficult to take decent photos inside the cavern.

My husband managed to take the one below.

We were very careful walking around, holding on to the wall, handrail, or each other. There were lots of holes on the ground. We saw some pretty amazing rock formations within the caves.

Doesn't it look like an elephant?


The guide then brought us to another hole in the wall that leads to other caves. But when we saw it, we were like, “you gotta be kidding us! No way in hell are we going through that.” We would have to crawl through it!

There was another group behind us, seemed like Thais. After we left the second hole, we didn’t hear them following us, my husband thought they could have gone through the hole, pretty adventurous of them. The guide led us out of the dark caves, also from the same hole we came in from, and continued with the second part of the tour, this time to the lighted pathway. Well, this part of the caves is lighted by fluorescent lamps but still not really bright. It’s also wet, with dripping water. So we also had to take care walking along the path.

Along the way, we were pointed out a stone carving of a sleeping Buddha, which looked pretty serene.

We also saw the rare plant life: moss growing around a lamp.

The guide then led us further into the caves, where the Buddhist sage burial place was. My husband and I were following the guide, and we could see some altar set up. But we also saw a white figure standing near the altar. It was a strange sight. As we walked past the figure, I glanced at it sideway and discovered it was a man who was covered from head to toe with a white towel, and he was dressed in white t-shirt and white pants. According to my husband, he had noticed the man sitting down initially and then he got up. He was moving really slowly in front of the altar, barefooted. My husband thought he looked creepy. Then suddently we heard a scream from behind us and a woman spoke in a shocked tone in mandarin, “吓死我!还以为是鬼!"(This is scary! I thought he was a ghost!) It was auntie, who was behind us with her daughter, Nicky. We seriously couldn’t stop laughing afterward when we recounted what we saw. Nicky had noticed the figure only a few steps behind him and she had taken a few steps back in shock. Auntie was of course totally taken by surprise. Ming who was somewhat further behind them, with her father, told us later she was wondering if the figure was real and wanted to go up to poke it. I had secretly taken a photo of the figure while pretending to take a picture of the altar. When auntie saw it later, she commented, “好像啊飘!"(looks like an apparition).

Burial site of the Buddhist sage up the stairway

Next to the burial site was a tunnel that was not lighted. The guide told us “no light, no guide, no come back!”

My husband said the guide was scaring the bejesus out of us because she kept pointing to certain steep fall or dark tunnels and made the quote of the day. In fact it became our favorite quote of the trip. Nicky even tweeted it. I wanted to give the guide an extra 100 baht for the wonderful quote, but Auntie told me she could give it to me as many times as I like. My husband suggested I should give Auntie the money instead, but the quote had to be said with a Thai accent. Anyway don’t you think the quote reminds you of the Singapore government’s message to the people: no guide (PAP government), no light (guidance/policies), no come back (stability and prosperity). Ok, I digress, the cave trip was one exciting adventure. My husband commented it was more fun than going to Universal Studio, there was thrill and spill, combined with comedic scare.

Anyway I like to use this post to thank Ming for organizing the trip, she was the de facto tour guide for the group. Also really appreciate Phil and Lynn for taking the family on the trip as well.