Thursday, December 29, 2011

Exploring Hong Kong

So it had to come to an end - on the 27th it was time for us to leave the magical world of Disneyland and move to our hotel in Kowloon. Fortunately it's still quite rarified here - we're staying at the Langham, which is really nice, and located very near the harbor, plus round the corner from Canton Road which I've heard described as the Rodeo Drive of Hong Kong:

The service is fantastic, and the rooms are incredibly comfortable. It's also nice that they were able to put the kids in a connected room to Emma's and mine, so it feels like we have a mini-suite. None of us has been to Hong Kong before, but so far we're really impressed - it seems very easy to get around, it's incredibly clean especially considering the concentration of people, and the food and shopping are phenomenal.

Yesterday we took some time to find our bearings, and did one of the things we'd heard is pretty much required for tourists - going up the Peak to see the panorama of the city. We had to wait a long time to catch the tram to the top, but the view once we got there was amazing:

Looking down at a winding road
We had a very expensive Japanese meal at the top (which was balanced out by the fact that we'd just had Starbuck's for breakfast and got sandwiches from the 7-Eleven for dinner), and the time at the lookout station was marred only slightly by the fact that Dara was complaining that she wanted a robot dog she saw in one of the totally over-priced shops. We did see a cool temple near the top, and I thought it was cool to see the road markings which look so British, but have Chinese characters too:

There was also a really nice playground where the kids were able to play and Dara made some friends
We got back across the harbor in time for a beautiful sunset, then explored the Ocean Terminal shopping mall - it's busy but totally great, loads of brands we know, including alarmingly expensive kids' shops - kids' versions of Prada, Gucci, Paul Smith etc. But again really neat to see after the shopping deprivation of Bangalore.

Today we decided to have a good old explore of Hong Kong, so we bought tickets for the Big Bus tour, which gave us 48 hours of riding open top busses, plus ferry rides on the Star Ferry, a sampan tour of Aberdeen Harbour, and the Star Ferry tour of the main harbor. It was so incredibly easy to get this organized, and the bus tour guy was so helpful - it's such a difference from India, where you feel that you're getting scammed by everyone in sight. For example last time we did touristy stuff in India at Mysore Palace, I asked a guy where I could find something - he showed me but then told me I needed to pay him 20 rupees. By contrast here it just feels that people are actually being helpful because it's nice to be helpful - it's very refreshing. The only downer was we found that our bus tour ticket would also get us tickets for the tram to the peak - we could have saved a bunch of money, but it's a good reminder to do bus tours on the first day you arrive in a new city.

Anyway, we had a good ride across the harbor to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry, and got on the bus. It was a lovely day - probably around 20C, and with a bit of a sea breeze it was really refreshing. The bus has built-in audio so there was some good info about where we were going, and we had a nice chat with some guys from New Zealand who were sitting next to us. Emma had been told that Stanley Market was a good place to go, so we took the green route to get us there, and sure enough it was a really cool market. Loads of different shops along alleyways, some of which were kind of crappy, others were quite high-end, and Emma got a couple of really nice dresses from Monsoon, one of her favorite clothes stores from the UK.

The only store in the market which was closing

We had enjoyed the awesome buffet breakfast at the hotel, so Emma and I didn't need anything for lunch beyond a Pepsi, but the kids had a wee sandwich, then we hopped back on the bus to go past Repulse Bay (beautiful and if Emma and I ever get incredibly rich we're going to retire there) and to Aberdeen Harbour. For me having grown up in Aberdeen, Scotland, this was rather amusing - I'm pretty sure it was a lot sunnier and warmer than the Scottish version:

The road to Aberdeen

Amazing apartments at Repulse Bay

Our sampan pilot

Aberdeen boat club

On the sampan outside the Jumbo floating restaurant
Once we were done with the sampan we got back on the bus through towers of buildings, then to visit St. John's Anglican Cathedral:

Then back to the Ocean Terminal, where I had to get some stuff from Marks and Spencer's - Emma and I got very emotional at the food and wine offerings! We also saw the coolest Christmas tree ever:

We wanted to get a fairly traditional dinner tonight, so after a couple of glasses of Marks and Spencer wine in our room, Emma asked the concierge about something good and inexpensive nearby. He recommended the Sweet Dynasty which was just a couple of blocks away. We were the only westerners there, and there were some pretty crazy dishes - lots of pigs kidneys, cow innards and tendons and jellyfish. We went a bit tamer, but Emma did try the pork and shrimp dim sum - even though she doesn't like shrimp she really liked it. Toby did really well with his chopsticks and we all ate tons. I'm sure there are cheaper places around but it was very reasonable compared to other places we've been, and it certainly hit the spot.

So far we're really liking it here - Dara asked four times if she could go to school here. Now I think it's time for a drop or two more vino!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I forgot to mention in previous posts that Dara's initial stay at the Palm Meadows club hotel when we arrived in Bangalore has somewhat skewed her impression of travel. We stayed at that hotel for four weeks while we were waiting for our house to be ready, and I think that was her first experience of being in a hotel, at least in her active memory. 

So now she has been telling us that any hotel we stay in is actually not a hotel, it's called a club. And every day we were staying at the Disney hotel she was asking when we were going to get into our real house, and when was our sea shipment going to arrive. Clearly she thought we were in the process of moving to Hong Kong (so far Emma and I would be pretty happy with that, although we'd have to have a considerable pay raise to be able to handle it). I hope Dara is going to be OK when we go back to Bangalore and she realizes we're not staying.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dara's Princess Makeover

One thing Emma and I discussed before we went on this trip is that it was going to be really pricey. However we agreed that this is OK for a few reasons: Firstly we've all been working really hard as a family over the last year as we've prepared for our move to Bangalore and have worked on settling in. Secondly, we wanted the kids to know how much we appreciate them as we've kind of foisted this major life change on them, some of which has been better but a few things have certainly been more challenging (not that money means appreciation, but we wanted to allow them to have some cool experiences while we're here). Also we felt that if you're at a place like Disney and are watching the pennies it's just not going to be as fun, and although clearly that means we're falling into their nefarious trap we're OK with it.

Anyway, a result of this is that we thought it'd be neat to sign Dara up for the princess makeover experience at the hotel - we felt it was something she'd really appreciate at her age, and would be really happy to look back on when she's older. The hotel has a boutique where girls (and I assume boys if they want to) can choose a princess dress and get the full makeover experience, including a big photo shoot. Dara was thrilled that Emma took her along, while Toby and I stayed in our room and watched some of the second Harry Potter movie, which he got from Santa. She had quite a time:

Rapunzel dress selected, and in the makeup chair, ready to go

Getting her nails done

Having her hair pulled back. This was the one bit she wasn't crazy about until they put glitter spray in

Eyeshadow being applied

Hair and makeup being done at the same time

Add some blusher

And apply the Rapunzel hair!

And here is Princess Rapunzel

From the back

Dara tells the photographer that she's four

Photoshoot in progres


Floor shot

In the princess chair

Afterwards, in the hallway. She felt much better once her hair wasn't pulled back so tight!
The whole experience took over an hour, and I think she had an amazing time. It seems a little ridiculous but a special thing for her to have done. We got four photos in total to take home, something neat for her to remember. Afterwards it was time again to go to the park - there were some rides we wanted to do again, and some we hadn't tried before, including seeing the Golden Mickeys musical show, which was totally great. The singers and dancers are so professional and it was really enjoyable. Toby discovered the Space Mountain rollercoaster ride and loved it. They do a photo while you're zooming along, and he did a great pose with the Hong Kong-style v-for-victory fingers, and we got a copy to take home. Later in the day when he did it again he was in a totally laid back pose with his hands behind his head. It was hilarious as everyone else in the car was screaming and he looks like he's chilling out on the sofa.

Dara waiting for the flying saucer ride

Dara and me on the flying saucer

Dara in her 3D glasses

Dara gets her groove on
On the way home we persuaded someone to take a photo of the four of us:

Then it was time to go back to the hotel for a nightcap. There's not much booze at Disneyland, but the hotel lobby sold some, and we felt we deserved it:

Toby giving Dara a ride home

The Disneyland hotel lobby

Dara dancing to the jazz band

Well deserved glasses of bubbly
We're a bit sad to leave Disney, although we feel like we really made the most of it. Hopefully we can go to the Orlando or LA park one day - it'll be interesting to see how different it is from the Hong Kong park. But for now it's time to head to our next stop - Kowloon in central Hong Kong for five days!

Disney Christmas Day

We've been busy so I hadn't had time to write posts since Christmas Eve. But we had a great time in our last couple of days at Disneyland Hong Kong, and although we do like Bangalore, it's been such a treat to be somewhere so clean and fresh. Also we have enjoyed not having to drive or be driven anywhere - after a couple of days we worked out that it's actually quicker to walk from our hotel to the park than to walk to the bus terminus and ride back, so the only vehicles we've been on have been park rides. Bliss.

The thing the kids were most concerned about was whether Santa would know that we were in Hong Kong, but of course they needn't have worried:

(as a reminder, you can click on any of these pics to see the full size versions)

They were very happy with what they got. I got a pretty fancy haul - a beautiful Italian silk tie and pocket square, some Paul Smith socks, a pair of pewter haggis cufflinks, and some Cuban cigars! I've never smoked a cigar in my life, but I've always fancied the idea of at least just having one, so I'll be looking for someone in the know to help me with technique.

Anyway, I had booked for us to go the the Enchanted Garden buffet for a Disney character breakfast, and it was a lot of fun. The food was awesome - a great mix of Asian, American and European, and totally delicious. And the kids really enjoyed meeting Mickey etc:

It was a totally beautiful day - about 19ÂșC and sunny, so it was a great time to head down to the park. Dara was in quite a hurry:

There were absolutely tons of people, including a large tourist party from India:

We ended up at the starting point of the daily parade, which meant we got to see things a lot more clearly than the first day - here are some of the highlights:

Marching Band

Buzz Lightyear dancers

Toby and Dara on Main Street USA
After the parade it was time for our Christmas lunch:

Following this Dara had a bit of a dream come true - she got to meet two real live princesses. Afterwards she showed that princesses have to be strong as well as pretty:

We decided not to stay late after such a big day, but Toby and Emma did have time to do a last flying saucer ride, and got in a good Hong Kong pose for it:

Merry Christmas, everyone!