Hong Kong!

The CK family goes to Hong Kong

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This post has been a long time coming, and I sincerely apologize for the massive delay. Since our trip in February, we’ve been sick, I’ve had surgery to finally fix my knee (yay!), I’ve been cleared by the surgical team, Punky has had occupational therapy appointments, and general life has gotten in the way.

Now here’s the important bit of this post: our trip to Hong Kong! This post is extremely long, so if you don’t want to or don’t have time to read the whole thing, read the TLDR version (it means too long didn’t read). You’ll get the gist of it!

Preface

I cannot and do not claim to be an easy-going traveler. Traveling for any length of time gives me an insane amount of stress because I’m constantly worried about everything going wrong. I worry about delays, cancellations, the plane falling from the sky randomly (even though it’s statistically unlikely). I worry about what would happen if one of us got sick or hurt while we’re out of the country. It’s insane. But, nothing can prepare you for an experience with delays and cancellations due to the weather and having to deal with incompetent staff in the process.

If I’ve traveled with you and have been a gigantic pain in the ass in the process, I do apologize!

The Best and the Worst of our Trip: TLDR Version

The best part was staying in Hong Kong and spending time with all of the crazy family members that I’ve only seen maybe once or twice in the 11 years that The Husband and I have been married. We saw some beautiful sights, walked around a TON, ate some incredible things, and stayed in a beautiful hotel. I enjoyed myself enough to envision (and research) living in Hong Kong. To be honest, I’m still researching it (for retirement) because it sounds like an incredible experience.
The hands-down worst parts of our trip were the actual flights, the flight cancellations when we did arrive in Amsterdam, and the sheer amount of KLM staff that had no clue what they were doing or what was going on.

The Best Bits of Hong Kong

Once we got to Hong Kong, everything was wonderful. My Sister in Law booked our rooms at The Pentahotel in Kowloon. It’s not too long of a drive away from the airport, and the taxi fare was quite reasonable. Punky was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the taxi on the way to the hotel.

Pentahotel Kowloon

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Although the street that the actual hotel faces looks pretty dodgy due to being on a street filled with printing companies, it’s quite safe. The hotel itself is beautiful! The staff are all incredibly helpful, the rooms are big enough to accommodate 2 adults and 1 child (and all of our luggage) in a King-sized room with a twin size rollaway bed included.

My favorite parts about the hotel had to be the king-sized bed that we slept in and the shower. There was plenty of room in the shower that you didn’t feel like the walls were closing in on you while you scrubbed clean (which is a common thing in HK), and it featured both a rainfall showerhead and a normal handheld showerhead. I love a good shower with fantastic water pressure! It’s necessary to feel clean from the smog and travel grime.

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Our room had a king-sized bed and a twin-sized bed for Punky to sleep in, instead of two twin-sized beds.

One critical little review about the tiny tiles of the bathroom floor: The small plastic-ish tiles feel awful underfoot after walking around exploring all day.

We frequented the pizza bar located in the hotel lobby. It’s amazing for a hotel restaurant in a country that doesn’t usually serve anything with cheese on it.

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What we saw and where we went

There were so many things we saw while we were in Hong Kong, even though there were a few days we needed to take a break from all of the walking due to my dodgy knee. It didn’t help that The Husband started developing a chest infection and I had food poisoning twice during the trip. These day trips aren’t going to be in order because the entire trip was a blur, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!

It seems like we went everywhere via the MTR. If you don’t know what the MTR is, it’s an underground train system that’s incredibly fast, but also incredibly cramped. You pay for your fare via Octopus Card, which is handy. There are SO many people that use it because of its efficiency. It’s easy to understand it’s popularity!

Honestly, most of the time spent in Hong Kong this trip, we spent visiting family. We had many dinners out and trips to family’s houses (when I say houses I mean apartments. Actual houses are extremely expensive) just to spend time with them. We got to see The Husband’s grandma, which was the main reason for our trip anyway. It was so lovely to see everyone!

Days Out

Parks

During one of our excursions, we went to Kowloon Park where they had fountains, ponds, and statues for you to enjoy. The weather was a bit dreary, but it wasn’t a deterrent. I got quite a few pictures of the local statues, a few of the pond (we saw turtles!), and a few great shots of Punky by the fountain.

punky at the park
Most of the time we stayed fairly local when we had “free days”. The Husband, Punky, and I found a little kid’s park close to the hotel that Punky could play in. He made instant friends during one of our trips and played for a few hours with the local kids. During that time, a random lion dance broke out in one of the shops and started marching down the street. It was quite entertaining!

Victoria Harbor

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We visited the harbor on Chinese New Year and had a great time at the funfair that they had set up. I won Punky a few little prizes in the game booths and got sunburned within the few hours we were there. I.Was.Lobstered. The Husband and Punky went on the bumper cars (which is Punky’s favorite) and had a blast. It was the hottest day of our trip, but it was a lovely day out!

Lamma Island

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After the fair at the harbor, we went to Lamma Island via the Star Ferry. The hike to the beach was a bit insane (20 minutes or more walking through lush greenery, mostly uphill (where I found out just how out of shape I am). Once we got to the beach, it was so worth it. Lamma Island is so gorgeous that I’d retire there if I could! I loved the trip back on the ferry. The skyline was all lit up and stunning. The buildings had projections on the side of animals, Chinese New Year well wishes, and more.

Nathan Road Insanity

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On the walk back from the ferry to the MTR station on Chinese New Year, we got caught in the INSANE crowd on Nathan Road where there was a parade happening to celebrate CNY. Our group got separated a few times due to the sheer amount of people elbowing their way through, but eventually, we made it! Because it was so busy, and since the streets were blocked off, we had to ask for directions quite a few times. One of the women my mother in law asked for directions left her post (she was at work!) to get us to the MTR station.

Repulse Bay Beach, Stanley Market, and Ladies Market

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On one of our days out, the family (minus The Husband because he was sick) visited Repulse Bay Beach, Stanley Market, and Ladies Market. Repulse Bay and Stanley Market are both located on Hong Kong Island, and Ladies Market is located in Mongkok.

Before we went to Stanley Market, we stopped off a charming, bright yellow restaurant called The Boathouse in Stanley. The fish and chips were light, crispy, and incredibly fresh. The portion was way too much for me to finish by myself, so I shared with MIL. Punky had spaghetti as it’s a European style restaurant. Three of us adults had a cocktail called a Wet Woody, made with blended peach, pineapple, spiced rum, vodka, and grenadine. It was delicious! MIL had a pint of lager, FIL had a latte, and Punky had a sprite.

Stanley Market

After lunch, we headed to the market. Stanley Market was fairly quiet due to being the offseason. I found some gorgeous natural stone bracelets for my niece for £10 each (the shopkeeper wanted £50 for both but my mother in law haggled with her), and Punky got two new fidget spinners while we were shopping. Incredibly, one of the fidget spinners was a gift from a local shopkeeper!

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Stanley Market Hong Kong

Repulse Bay

When we were done exploring Stanley Market, we headed to the beach at Repulse Bay. We sat in the sand and relaxed for a while. It was quite cold on the day we went, but Punky had a blast building sandcastles and playing at the edge of the ocean with my sister in law.

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Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

Ladies Market

After the beach, we went to the Ladies Market in Mongkok. It never ceases to amaze me how insanely busy it is in that part of Hong Kong. Did you know that it’s the most densely populated area in the world?

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Walking around the Ladies Market was a bit of a challenge. The streets are quite narrow, and the booths are very close together. Ladies Market is a bit overwhelmed with the colors, sounds, and yes, even smells. You never quite get over some of the smells coming from the open front food stalls scattered around.

Unless you know how to haggle well, I suggest you avoid the markets. The prices are quite high for tourists. If you’re an excellent haggler, you can always negotiate for a lower price. Sometimes you can negotiate for 50% less than the price the shopkeeper originally gives you! I got a great deal on 5 fridge magnets (because I like touristy things like that), and Punky walked away with a bunch of toys for less than £10 total.

Yum Cha

Yum Cha is an ADORABLE little restaurant whose specialty is novelty buns and desserts. While it was an interesting experience, it was slightly tainted by the fact that it was insanely busy. Our reservation was for 1:15 (and admittedly, we showed up half an hour early), and we weren’t sat until 45 minutes past the reservation time. After we were shown to our table, we had to wait for a staff member to come to clear the table for us and give us bowls and chopsticks.

When you’re standing in Yum Cha waiting for your reservation, expect to be squished by the sheer amount of people also waiting. The restaurant is located on the 3rd floor and has extremely narrow hallways. I mean, narrow as you can only fit two people standing next to each other shoulder to shoulder.

Finally Seated

When we were finally seated, we ordered a ton of different dishes, as it’s a dim sum restaurant. The best thing about it is the novelty buns though. We ordered char sui bao (Chinese barbecue pork buns) shaped like pigs for Punky, and runny custard buns that were bright yellow and had candy eyes. If you poke them with your chopsticks near the “mouth” area, it looks like they’re vomiting when you squeeze them. The pineapple bird biscuits (cookies) were a bit dry but tasty. The experience is a little quirky, but fun!

A bunch of novelty dishes that we wanted to try was sold out, but that didn’t deter us from having a good time. We also ordered a crispy noodle dish with a sauce that contained shredded duck and vegetables, vegetable spring rolls (they were huge but greasy), and quite a few traditional dim sum dishes such as Beef Ho Fun (wide rice noodles with beef and beansprouts), roasted chicken and duck, and a few prawn dishes that stayed at the other end of the table from where I was (I’m allergic to shellfish).

Watch the chefs prepare your food

An interesting bit about Yum Cha is that there is a viewing window so you can see the activity in the kitchen. We stopped after lunch for a minute to watch the cooks make little pineapple biscuits shaped like birds. It’s crazy how fast they can crank out those little morsels.

Novelty Factor: 5*
Actual Experience: 3*

Mr. Iron – Korean Barbecue

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This was AMAZING. Seriously, it was well worth the cost. We spent about £90 on one dinner for the three of us. The Husband, Punky and I checked it out on one of our “free days”. We tried the set meal for 2 (several types of thinly sliced beef including wagyu, pork belly, pork skin, scrambled egg with several small dishes of vegetables) with the spicy potato wedges. The Husband and Punky drank grape juice, and I had an awesome cocktail made with peach syrup and Soju. Soju is a clear, 20-24 percent alcohol by volume spirit. The first time we ate at Mr. Iron, the kimchi wasn’t very spicy. The second time though, whew! The spiciness level must vary on different days.

We went to Mr. Iron twice – once by ourselves, and once with everyone. Both times I was thoroughly satisfied with the amount of food we got for the price, and how delicious everything was.

I highly recommend Mr. Iron! It’s located at Plaza Hollywood at Diamond Hill station.

Novelty Factor: 5*

Actual Experience: 5*

 

Ocean Park

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We always have a fabulous time at Ocean Park, no matter what the weather. We arrived by the newly built section of the MTR which takes you almost directly to the main entrance of the park around 10 am.  It was fantastic not to have to sit on the bus for an hour!

The excitement of Ocean Park was a bit muted this time because the weather wasn’t very good. Regardless, we saw just about everything there was to offer. We didn’t go on any of the rides, but we did go to all of the exhibits!

Every time we go to Hong Kong, we always go to Ocean Park. I will always recommend it!

The Dreaded Cable Cars

The worst part of Ocean Park for me was the cable cars. If you know me personally, you’d know that I’m terrified of heights. The Husband and Punky pushed me to get on the cable cars to go up and around the side of the mountain, and I swear I could have murdered both of them (not really).

When we got into the cable car, there was another man who was put in with us. The entire trip I was cursing, threatening to murder The Husband and make it look like an accident (I would never kill him, I promise!)… The man who was in with us laughed the entire way up. He thought my ranting was hilarious and was laughing at me the entire time as I gripped the center bar, completely terrified.

Finally at the top!

Once we got to the top, we had a great view of the sea. That’s when the rain started. We walked around quite a lot and grabbed some lunch. We found a semi-dry spot under a tree to sit, eat, and people watch.  Now, living in Scotland we weren’t too phased by the inclement weather, but it was funny watching everyone scurry around in rain ponchos with umbrellas to protect them.

If the weather was better, we would have stayed until closing time. We left around 5 pm because we had had enough walking and headed back to the hotel.

The Bad Bits

Now, this is the part I’ve been dreading writing, because of how unpleasant the experience was. I tried to keep it relatively swear-free, but after reading this you’ll see why I couldn’t curb my language.

When we were on the way home the flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam was a bit quieter than the flight over, but it wasn’t without its challenges. With any 12 hour non-stop flight, you’re going to experience cranky passengers, wild children, gross smelly food, and long bathroom queues.

Now, on this flight, there was also a child who decided to toss his shoe down the aisle and didn’t bother to reclaim it until the end of the flight. The shoe ended up underneath the seat in front of me, so I was trying to shove it out of the way for the majority of the flight. The passenger behind Punky also kept sticking their bare stinky foot in the space between the wall and the seat. Gross!

Movie Time

The headphone jack for my seat didn’t work (something was stuck in it), so The Husband and I shared his headphone jack and just watched the same movies for the entire trip. For half of the flight, we even shared one set of earbuds. Luckily my sister in law came to the rescue with a headphone splitter, so we could at least drown out the sound of the plane’s engines with the sound of Thor Ragnarok playing at an extremely high volume.

Once we got to Amsterdam, the shit hit the fan. We checked the boards for our flight, and it said the flight was canceled due to “The Beast from the East” storm going on in the UK at the time. My Sister and Brother in law went to find out what was happening, whether we were going to be able to get accommodation for the night or not. When they got to the front of the queue (2.5 hours later), we were told to just deal with it and book our accommodation ourselves. So frustrating!

I complained on Twitter, naturally, and got a canned response from the KLM social media team. I was angry, to say the least!

The first night & the following day

Sister in Law booked rooms at the Ramada for us for the night. We had dinner in the dining room at 11 pm, and although busy the staff was incredibly friendly. The rooms were comfortable, and we had no complaints. The next day we were to be back at the airport for 8 am to join yet another queue to speak to a KLM advisor to try to book flights home. We were in that queue for a total of 6.5 hours, and after we got to the customer service desk, waited another 2 hours for the agent to try to find flights.

Unsuccessful in her efforts, the agent booked us full board accommodation for the night. Before we headed to the bus, my MIL, FIL, and SIL headed up to the med office in the airport because my FIL was incredibly sick after running out of his prescribed medications. He got squared away, and we all headed to meet the bus to the hotel.

The hotel website made the hotel look amazing. Doesn’t it usually though? After a 40-minute bus ride (with Punky on my lap because the bus was so extremely full), we pulled up to Hotel NH Noordwijk Conference Centre Leeuwenhorst.

Hotel NH Noordwijk Conference Centre Leeuwenhorst

Holy shit you guys, this place looked like a bad block of council flats built in the early ’80s from the outside, and the inside isn’t much better. This hotel is so badly laid out that it’s a trek to get anywhere beyond the service desk. The room we stayed in was decked out in a tacky red and tan theme, with ugly red and brown striped curtains (see above), but the room wasn’t that bright. It looked dingy and dirty even with the lights on. The window was letting in a steady stream of cold air, and the curtains didn’t block it out at all because they didn’t meet the windowsill.

You can see from the photos that I pulled from the website that they’ve tried to make everything look shiny and new for the photos… Not so much in person. Our room was incredibly dusty and smelled like someone was smoking a huge bowl of pot right in the middle of our room 20 minutes before we checked in. It was so dusty that I wondered if the room was ever cleaned beyond the linens being changed semi-regularly.

If you have very sensitive skin, do not use the soap they have stocked in the bathroom. It irritated my skin terribly, but it was either shower or smell like a hobo. Whatcha gonna do?

Dinner

We were lucky enough to have dinner our first night there, and breakfast the next morning. Dinner was ok. It wasn’t anything spectacular as it was a buffet hastily thrown together for the stranded KLM passengers.

It was pretty standard buffet fare, but to be honest we were so hungry it wouldn’t have mattered if we were eating a cardboard box. I was surprised, but The Husband enjoyed the fish in a cream sauce he tried; however, I was not so easily impressed. I did end up drinking 3 small glasses of wine and taking some fruit back to the room for Punky’s late-night snacking.

Catastrophe

When I headed outside for a bit of fresh air (ahem, a cigarette), and ended up stuck in the revolving door because they turned it off. The regular door off to the side was also locked. A friendly bunch of stoners who were also locked out banged on the windows to get the attention of the front desk staff (who were chatting away happily ignoring all of the guests) until we were all let in again. It was an embarrassing experience, to say the least!

At 2 am, a group of drunken guests decided to run through the halls banging on doors, screaming, and causing havoc. They woke up most of the people on our floor. I heard BIL shout out the door for them to STFU, people were trying to sleep, and they threatened to bash him in. There’s a whole huge story here, but because I stayed safely in my room (but extremely pissed off because of the noise) I can’t share the story with you.

I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I went on Facebook and typed my displeasure about the interruptions. At 5 am I finally drifted off, and when I woke up a few hours later (7 am), I ventured outside for a cigarette (I know, I know), and found a ton of ice spilled all over the carpet on the 1st-floor landing. The shenanigans didn’t end with the shouting match a few hours earlier…

The next morning

Breakfast the next morning was lackluster. I’m not just saying that because I was severely sleep-deprived, but even The Husband was unimpressed. Everything was lukewarm, even the things that were supposed to be kept hot (bacon, scrambled eggs, and the like). All of it had a strange aftertaste, on top of tasting stale. The only redeemable part of the meal was the chilled fruit and yogurt. Even the coffee was disappointing.

Punky enjoyed his mix of every cereal that was on offer, fruit, and the tropical juice I gathered for him.

Trying to get home… Again.

My SIL and BIL headed back to the airport before 8 am to try to get either a flight home or another hotel booking. We were communicating via Facebook for the majority of their queueing, and this time it only took 3 hours or so.

It seems we had another night to wait. When we got the go-ahead to pack our things and head back to the airport, we quickly packed and headed back to the lobby to wait on the bus. 45 minutes later we were finally on our way to the airport.

We met them inside after stopping for more cough medicine for my FIL, and a few bottles of water, and then headed outside to meet the shuttle.

Park Plaza Hotel at Amsterdam Airport

Park Plaza hotel was really lovely. The shuttle was only a 15-minute ride away from the airport, which was a pleasant surprise after the previous hellish journeys we’d been on.

The room was styled again in red and white, but the linens were crisp and clean, and the beds were insanely soft. The hardwood floor had a pleasant feel underneath my feet. The smart tv was pretty awesome. There was no dust to be found, and the shower was wonderful. I quite enjoyed staying here! The staff was extremely accommodating, letting us know where the extra pillows were located in the wardrobe (we shared a bed with Punky for the night), and offering to bring anything we wanted up via room service.

The Food

Again, they had a buffet on for the guests who were waiting on flights. The lunch buffet was quite sparsely laid out, but they at least had a lovely pork stew and bread. Punky ate a plate of fruit and a roll spread with Nutella for lunch. The Husband tried everything they offered, and polished off the coffee that I tried (and didn’t like).

MIL and SIL headed into Amsterdam to find clothes for us all to change into. Everyone (but me because of my size) was fully outfitted quite easily. Another night of washing my unmentionables in the sink. Fun!

Dinner was a bit more substantial. We enjoyed most of what was on offer and went to bed with full, happy bellies.
The next morning we headed back to the airport to catch our flights home. Yay!

Delayed

The flight back to Edinburgh was delayed, which seems about the standard by now, but at least we were headed home! We stopped off for some breakfast (finally, excellent coffee!) and then headed to the gate. The flight was 30 minutes delayed because of all of the people boarding. As we looked at our boarding passes, our entire group was split up into different sections. At least Punky was sitting next to MIL, so I knew he wasn’t on his own.

The couple sitting next to me was nice enough until the woman in the middle fell asleep. She had her head laying on her significant other, while she stretched out and placed her legs over my lap. WTF?!

I was visibly annoyed, and because the couple didn’t speak English I couldn’t tell them to move. I gave the man my patented “mom” look, and he woke up with his girlfriend and made her move. How rude! Who in their right mind thinks it’s ok to stretch out over a stranger’s lap?

The flight was only an hour and 20 minutes. We landed a few minutes earlier than scheduled, and we all disembarked.

Edinburgh!

We met at the entrance to the building (after walking down the metal rolling stairs and over the tarmac) and got into the security lines. The Husband and Punky went with the rest of the group, while I had to get into the “loser” line. It’s not the loser line, it’s just the line for non-UK passports. The rest of the family went through quite easily, while I was stuck in queueing hell for another hour waiting to get through.

If there was ever a time I wished I had a British passport, this would be it.

I finally got to the desk, and the security officer asked who I was traveling with and why I was in the UK. I showed her my residency visa, told her who I was traveling with, where we went, and why. Then I just sailed on through. FINALLY! We headed out to the cars, and then to SIL and BIL’s house to warm up. We stayed for a while and then headed home.

I see why the entire UK shut down the airports. The weather was just as bad as the time we got stuck in Amsterdam with Punky (at 6 months old) with no formula, no extra diapers or wipes. Now that was a shit show!

Home

Once we were finally home, The Husband and I dropped off the bags and turned on the boiler. While the guys settled in, taking showers and warming up, I headed to the grocery store. Our cupboards were bare. Tesco was a madhouse, so I just bought as much as I possibly could and got out relatively unscathed. I spent almost £150 on groceries. I asked The Husband to help me carry the bags over the huge pile of snow in the road.

The kitchen sink pipes were frozen but quickly thawed while I made a huge pot of stew for dinner. To be honest, I was just happy not to be stuck in hotels anymore.

Even after all of the bad weather, bad hotels, bad flights, and three days spent queueing, I’m still ready to go on another adventure. Hopefully next time with no delays or cancellations!