4 days and 24 miles of exhausting family adventure
When it comes to family travel, you know the trip has begun when you smell french fries and farts.
Yep, you heard me right.
With three kiddos — ages 8, 11, and 14 — they’re into McDonalds french fries (ugh) and, well, that leads to the passing of the gas.
And so it was as we waited in the Chicago O’Hare airport boarding our flight to Hong Kong, and ultimately to Tokyo, Kyoto, and rural Japan, where we lived for three wonderful (and sometimes confusing) years. You do know that Japanese consists of 10,000+ letters and characters across three different alphabets, right?
While waiting in that line, there were two signs that we were heading to Asia:
After five months of planning, and constant recurring dreams of being back in small town Japan, we were finally doing it! We couldn’t believe it.
Japan was where it all began, and no we were returning with three little rug rats that combined two very different worlds -- a cosmopolitan African immigrant and a Kentucky boy who couldn’t wait to get out into the big ole’ world.
While arranging ourselves in our seats, I noticed a cool t-shirt worn by a Japanese woman. It read: “Don’t look backward. That’s not where you’re going.”
I passed along the well-deserved compliment — “Cool shirt” — expecting some laughter. Instead, I was met by looks of bewilderment, only to find out that the Japanese wearer didn’t understand the English on her shirt.
Perfect. We’re heading home.
As we sat in our seats in the airplane, and sighed deep sighs of relief, the typical airplane safety videos began. But these were different than anything we’d ever seen.
Here’s the video of the ANA airlines safety video, which is set in the ancient Japanese art of Kabuki along with some humor.
After many movies, and every possible (and unsuccessful) sleeping position known to mankind, we arrived in Tokyo, where we were (ironically) scheduled to change planes (not stay put) and head to Hong Kong.
The kids were so excited to try ramen and tempura from the motherland! And so we indulged, along with the requisite cold green tea. The dream was coming true.
Finally, we boarded our final plane and landed in Hong Kong at 4:30am. Yes, you read that right. We showed up before sunrise. What kind of mad parents are we!
To our surprise, as we waited in the line for customs, the airport speakers were playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. Who would’ve guessed that we’d travel 8,000 miles only to hear a song about the state adjacent to where Chris grew up as a kid.
Overall, arriving was a bit stressful, as we’d been watching the protests for the last few months, always thinking that they would die down before we arrived. Nope. Travel is full of surprises.
But the source of our worry changed quickly as we got into our red urban taxi.
The fact that the driver didn’t speak English was a surprise, but not the end of the world.
The real problem began as we noticed him talking to himself. We tried to tell ourselves that he was just singing a song, but there was no song on the radio and no rhythm to his incantations.
But then it got worse.
He began crossing the lines on the highway, not staying in his lane, and seeming to doze off while driving.
I tried to talk to him to keep him awake, but it was only half working.
I looked back and our kids were white with fear.
Ultimately we arrived at our hotel to find out that we had just missed a huge typhoon that had passed through town the prior day. In fact, the hotels windows still had wide tape criss-crossed on them to protect against shattered glass from potentially high winds.
The air was still so think with humidity that I could have put a straw in my mouth and drank liquid water directly from the air.
Moreover, we couldn’t check into our room until the early afternoon. And we were already nearly falling asleep after 37 hours of travel.
Again, I say, great parents we are.
The hotel included breakfast (a big plus for family travel), and...drum roll please...they had an espresso machine. Being coffee lovers, and (at least for Chris) frugal travelers, we asked ourselves, “Would it be wrong for us each to have a cappuccino, cafe latte, and espresso for breakfast?”
We weren’t the only ones savoring breakfast. Edgar and Melissa referred to themselves as “the coffee god” and “the jasmine tea god,” as they tried to enjoy their special drinks.
Over the next 3-4 days, we saw the results of so much caffeine. We walked 24 miles (39 kilometers) in all.
In response to hearing how much ground we covered, Nathaniel asked, “So, wait, this is your all’s idea of vacation?!”
Our answer: “Heck ya. Adventure, baby!”
So what did we see and eat?
Check out the pictures and captions below for the highlights.
And for other top attractions for families in Hong Kong, check out this list from TripAdvisor.
37 hours and 3 flights later:
Tired and excited. Can someone teleport us to our hotel bed please?
Fancy coffee #3 of the morning:
We love buffet breakfasts included with the hotel price! All caffeinated for a day of 7 miles (11 km) of sightseeing!
Yep, we bought a new car in Hong Kong:
Ha! Hilarious. Not quite, but it was fun to see numerous lamborghini sports cars driving around the city.
Just a couple of small town dudes stunned by the city:
The human density and architectural complexity of Hong Kong are stunning. But the kids confessed that beyond the awe, they much prefer to actually live in a house in the forest in small town USA.
The exhilaration of travel logistics:
But some of us (ahem, teenager in purple) were either jet lagged or just plain tired of all day adventuring.
Relish the chaos:
This was our path to Michelin star dim sum. A frenzy of sights, smells, and sounds. Street life in full force.
Affordable Michelin Star eating:
Super friendly. Super tasty. And zero English speaking.
Hot pork buns, y'all!
Sweet and savory. Seconds, anybody?
Heading to The Peak:
Operating since 1888 in various forms, the tram rises tram rises about 1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level.
Views from The Peak:
Looking down on skyscrapers? Oxymoronic, right?
Hong Kong is more than concrete:
Outside of the 7 million people living in the city, you'll find tons of forested mountains and charming beaches. The best of three worlds, all within a metro or bus ride.
And we even saw Albert Einstein!
Super smart lectures for the kids, even as a wax figure. (Or so it appears.)
The city at night:
The Aqua Luna Red-Sail Junk Boats are for tourists today, but they are a reminder of what the harbor was once filled with.
Another Michelin Star experience (yikes!):
Operating since 1957, their signature glistening goose is indeed delicious, the result of 20 preparatory steps. But if you come here looking for smiles and customer service, then go somewhere else. We're pretty sure the waitresses were gossiping about us and laughing in our faces as we ate. Good times.
Duck, duck, goose:
If you want to learn more about this affordable Michelin Star dining, here are the details.
Symphony of Lights:
According to the Guinness World Records, this nightly light and sound show is the world's largest permanent light and sound show, with 40+ participating buildings.
Tian Tan Buddha:
Built in 1993, the Great Buddha was built as a sign of the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. Co-located with the Po Lin Monastery, it was a spiritual experience, with incense floating to the sky carrying the prayers of thousands of visitors.
Posing for pictures:
Everyone's favorite travel activity. (Just kidding)
A Deva for the Buddha:
No, I'm not referring to our kiddo. This statue is part of "The Offering of the Six Devas," in this case giving a lotus flower to the Buddha. In contrast, let's just say that some of the kids words and activities during this visit were less than holy.
Architecture at Tian Tan Buddha:
A colorful explosion of beauty. And just to the left of this building is a koi (carp) pond and yummy vegetarian restaurant. Chris could have stayed here for hours. But the rowdy, cacophonous kids had other plans.
OK, maybe one fantastic Buddha and two others in the making. (Here's hoping!)
Sweet tofu in a barrel:
This was a nice little treat while it rained during our Buddha visit. And it even made our kids produce new, strange faces when we asked them to try more than one bite.
Dried seafood, anybody?
As one of our kids put it, “That place was full of smells that assaulted my nose.” Clearly, all flavors are not for all people, another wonderful realization that comes from travel, too.
Tai O village:
Located a short bus ride from the Great Buddha, this tiny village of stilt houses is also known as the "Venice of Hong Kong." Some tourists come to see the Chinese white dolphin, too.
Can you spot the shark?
When our kids did, they took a quick step back. :)
Squids or aliens?
Sometimes the best part of travel is interacting with folks like this food stall owner. Laugh out loud, indeed.
And a little social unrest to top it all off:
The protests were generally easy to avoid, except for this flash mob we stumbled into in the core downtown area Tsim Sha Tsui one night after eight hours of sightseeing.
Photos of car and tram by Kevin Bhagat and Chapman Chow on Unsplash