Tag Archives: vacation

Ocean Park with kids in 2016

Ocean Park, a sealife theme park and recipient of Tripadvisor’s traveler’s choice award, ranks among my top things to do with a kid in Hong Kong.  It’s actually one of the top  theme parks in the world by attendance. Here are a few handy tips for visiting Ocean Park.

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How to get there:

The easiest method is to take the subway to Admiralty station on the blue line.  Look for the lift out of the train to deposit you near Exit B, which is the exit to Ocean Park bus 629.  This bus goes direct to Ocean Park without stops.

Ocean park will become even more accessible when the southern MTR line opens up with its very own Ocean Park stop.

When to go:

Hong Kong enjoys tropical weather that can get stifling hot and humid in the summer, but is otherwise reasonably temperate year round.  There are plenty of indoor exhibits to escape heat if necessary, and the park has broken ground for a water park set to open July 2018. The first water park in Hong Kong in 2 decades!

Ocean Park opening hours are generally 10am-6pm weekdays, 10am-7pm weekends.
Ticket cost:

Before Exit B at Admiralty station, there is an concession stand for Ocean Park discount tickets.  Tickets here at 355/adult are cheaper than at the door. Childrens’ tickets are 175, and kids under 3 are free.  For those in the area who plan on going more than twice a year, the annual pass is a good deal.  Hong Kong residents get in free on their birthday!

Is it stroller/pram friendly?

There are a few random exhibits and walkways with steps, but for the most part, taking a stroller around the park is fine.   Strollers are available for rent.

On arrival the stroller accessible line is on the very left and provides fast access.

Trying to avoid the rush?

A majority of the tour buses from the mainland arrive at 3pm, so lines become considerably longer then.

General layout of the park

There are 2 levels of the park, the summit and the ground level.  The methods of transport between levels are:
Cable Car: Stunning views of the South China sea during the descent over the park.  The 6 seater car has windows protected by bars that can be opened to let the breeze in.  Floating among the mountains and above luxury residences evokes extraordinary peace.

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Ocean Express: A simulated submarine experience in a dark train, the full ride to the top is a few short minutes.  The dark interior contrasts well with the sealife movie played on the ceiling.   The first car is stroller friendly.

Hotspots

The Grand Aquarium is one of the first sites upon entering the park you won’t miss.  Inside are massive tanks to view tropical fish, manta rays, sharks, local coral reefs, to name a few.  Kids love pressing their noses up against the pane and peering into the watery world, tiny intruders into the vast world that occupies most of the world’s surface.

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The children’s area, replete with a full children’s playground, a bounce castle, rides, carnival games, and the Panda cafe, is an easy part of the Park to spend a few hours in.

A number of shows, like Bamboo Jam!, an acrobatic show of endangered bamboo forest animals, Ocean Wonders, a marine theater show reminiscent of Sea World, and Emperors of the sky, a live bird show, add to the full schedule of events.

Special seasonal events like the Ocean Park halloween fest, where the park gets a halloween makeover, are an additional draw.  The “horror” houses are not actually very scary and are quite suitable for kids.

A full list of rides can be found here

Where can we eat?

Ground level: Among the Old Hong Kong streets (by the cable car entrance, lower ground level), there are a few street stalls with Chinese snacks.   The Panda cafe is a restaurant with kid options on the menu.

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Summit:  There are a few food courts with a mixture of Asian and western food.

Off to the side of the North Pole encounter is the Tux restaurant, a restaurant dining experience with penguins.  One side of the wall is a full penguin enclosure, where penguins dive and swim in their pool or waddle around the snow.  Meals come in the form of buckets of fish, which they are fed periodically.  The restaurant itself is chillier than the rest of the park, so a jacket may be useful.  Pricing is about 2x as expensive (or more) as the food courts scattered around the park.  The kids love it though, and it was fun for the parents too.

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Right before the cablecar entrance there is a Bayview restaurant offering southeast Asian cuisine and exquisite views of the bay.

How to navigate the park?

I’ve actually never been to another theme park with free wifi, but Ocean Park was very well connected, offering free open wifi as well as free encrypted wifi (pword: opfreeiwifi).

While on their wifi, feel free to download the Ocean Park app for a great guide to the park, including an interactive map.  This full featured app provides discount codes within the park, a scheduler to help plan the day, and virtual guided tours.

They rent strollers at for 100hkd per day (with a 100hkd deposit), but I personally prefer lightweight options that can recline for a daytime nap.

Best thing about Ocean Park was that after the visit, my toddler slept 12 hrs straight!

Questions?

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Respect for Hakone, Japan

Japan makes me feel like a changed person after visiting.  I can’t think of another country that coats its streets with a sound muting barrier.  It’s a country that I think actually prefers enough silence to hear a pin drop.  For everything they do, there’s a deep level of respect.

Relaxing in an onsen (natural hotspring) is a time honored tradition that embodies this attitude.  During a family trip to Tokyo, we visited Hakone , a short hour train ride outside of Tokyo.

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The water was clear, cherry blossoms just beginning to sprout, and the sky was a  calm cerulean blue.

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Source: Yamanochaya site

The Yamanochaya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, was our wooded sanctuary, replete with amazing meals and open air baths.  I had the sensation of bathing in a hot babbling brook.  Our toddler had a ball padding around the tatami rooms and having unprecedented access to the low table.  Quite the family friendly vacation.

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source:yamanochaya site

Our traditional kaiseke meals were an intricate multi-course symphony of ingredients, assembled with seasonal elements and balanced flavors.

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Sakitsuke (Hors deouvres)

Tofu made from Ankimo (Monkfish liver).  Topping: Broccoli, Wolfberry fruit
Boiled crab and Japanese parsley flavored with soy sauce
Japanese pond smelt fish deeply fried with rice granules
Castella made from vegetables, fish paste and white of an egg

I could live in Japan for the food alone.

Best Food Court in the World-Bangkok

Food courts have a bit of a negative connotation in the US-they tend to be fast food joints in malls aggregated in a single mess hall of quick cheap dining.  They exist for the convenience of the shopper rather than as standalone dining establishments.

In Asia the feel is a different.  While they are still usually reasonably priced, there’s a broader mass appeal.  Going out to eat at a food court is still a sensible Friday night choice.  When I lived in Singapore I probably ate out more often at food courts (sometimes called hawker centers)  than restaurants.

Singapore food courts were amazing.  Food Republic must have been some type of revolution at some point, freeing asian cuisines to the masses.  This chain of food courts were indoors, relatively cleaner, and airconditioned. (in contrast to the outdoor hawker centers)

And then I went to Bangkok for probably the umpteenth time. I randomly ran into an old friend who had married a local and was now living in Bangkok.  He took us to the best food court I’ve ever been to hands down.

The newly built Central Embassy mall is fairly high end and foot traffic is low, so it is quiet in there.  Their new food court features all types of Thai cuisines, with separate stalls for northern, southern, northeastern Thai, vegetarian, seafood, and street food.

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Marinated street pork, Beef salad, Galangal chicken noodle in coconut milk, and best pork satay with peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted

The food court is kid friendly, with a few high chairs and a tuk-tuk for the kids to play in.  At the door everyone gets a dining debit card/pass that allows you to charge food.  Each stall will hand you a receipt and staff will help retrieve the food once you give them the receipts.  Fast, easy, delicious!

 

Back in Time in Myanmar (Burma)

The most glaring difference between a developed and developing country?  The earthy tones of the landscape, clouded by the dust and dirt kicked up on a daily basis.  Myanmar was definitely the earthiest I’ve visited.  The country, despite being the second largest in Southeast Asia by landmass, has been one of the slowest to develop due to political strife.  A majority of the population is Buddhist and Burmese temples are a massive draw.

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Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (capital city)-said to contain 8 Buddha hairs

 

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Shwedagona Pagoda, oldest pagoda in the world at 2600 yrs old.  Gold plated dome topped by a stupa containing 7000 diamonds, rubies, topaz, and sapphires (Burma is gem rich)

Bagan is Burma’s temple capital, rivaling Angkorwat in its grandeur without the crowds.  The best form of transport around Bagan was a horse drawn carriage.  Plodding along the dirt roads, I felt like I was in a different era.  The entire city was tinged in shades reminiscent of the older parts of Laos or Cambodia.   Well preserved and uncorrupted, sunset views from Shwe San Daw Pagoda reveal a landscape littered with temples as far as the eye can see.

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Sunset in Bagan

 

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Gyubyauk  Gyi Temple-Built in 1113 AD, one of the finest temples in the early period, decorated with carvings on the exterior and jataka paintings on the interior

Myanmar or Burma? Burma’s name was officially changed by the ruling junta to Myanmar in 1989, but considering my old Burmese roommate still refers it to Burma, so do I.  The names have the same meaning, but Burma is a colloquial form the locals tend to still use.

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Mandalay palace, the last royal Burmese palace

 

 

Stupas are Buddhist monuments used to house relics, commemorate Buddhist events, and offer a place for meditation.   They are typically dome shaped with a spire rising out on top.  Positively stupefying.

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Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay
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Sandamuni Pagoda, Mandalay

 

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Burmese food-sampling of lovely curries

Back in 2009 the most popular billboards around town were of lubricant oil, an industry thriving from maintaining second hand imported cars.  As a result of these imports, the driver’s side of the car is on the complete opposite side of expectation.  Burma actually switched from driving on the left side during British colonial days to driving on the right.  In most countries the steering wheel would be placed on the left, but the second hand imports have steering wheels on the right.  Just one of the ways traveling reminds us that conventions, sometimes arbitrary, can be meddled with.

 

Gems of Rio de Janeiro

I first got to know Rio through the riotous lens of a Carnivale, but I promised myself I’d find out what local life was like.   So I stayed in Rio for 3 weeks. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:

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Lagoon, photo credit Ana Carolina do Nascimento Guimaraes

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas-A lagoon with a paved 7.5 km (>4.5mile) bike/running path lined with sports clubs.   I wouldn’t get in the water, mind you, because before the Olympics, water tests showed high levels of sewage and related viruses.  But this was my favorite way to knockout the daily jog.  The path is mostly treelined,  and even though I usually tolerate running only if I’m running after something, I felt pretty good about trying to complete the loop.  There were usually a few good looking folks running or walking, for an extra little motivation to keep going.

acai.jpgAcai – Before I’d heard about Oprah promoting acai as a superfood, I was experiencing it as my daily nourishment.  Brazilians love their corner fresh fruit juice stands, which always stock half frozen treats made with their Amazonian staple, acai fruit.  At first the consistency reminded me of 7-eleven slushees, and this half frozen version is inevitably sweetened, but it’s still brimming with antioxidants.  It’s practically a thicker form of sorbet, a bit like having a superfood ice pop.  Acai doesn’t export very well, and getting to eat the local flavor is a must for any visitor.

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Arpoador-The beaches of Brazil can’t be missed-they have it all: sun, sand, surf, and gorgeous eye candy.  Ipanema and Copacabana have been made most famous by their eponymous songs, but it’s this little bit of sand and cliff called Arpoador in between those beaches that I started calling home.   A popular surf spot, this area also has some of the best sunset views.  Muscle Beach calls this place home.

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Capoeira– a combination of martial arts, dance, and music.   If there ever was an art form evoking Zoolander’s “They’re breakdance fighting!”, this would be it.  To immerse myself in this local dance, I practiced capoeira at a local school daily in the evenings.  We danced barefoot on concrete in what seemed like an open air parking garage.  Everyone spoke mostly Portuguese and acted incredibly warm and welcoming, even encouraging me to showcase my clumsy moves.