Monday in Central Hong Kong


Clarissa slept in on Monday so we got a later start than we thought we would. We took the MTR to Central Station and followed the signs to the Peak Tram. It was probably a 20 minute walk, and most of it was uphill.

We bought tickets online at a discount and thought that we would be able to skip the long line forming. Nope. We waited in line for over an hour to take the tram up to Victoria Peak.

Our tickets included admission to the Sky Terrance 428 (428 meters above sea level). We took several flights of escalators to the top and were not disappointed. The views of the Harbor from Victoria Peak were amazing.

There was a big heart at the top. Clarissa had a fun photo shoot with that. She even took a picture herself. (I will give you a hint, it’s the one with the fingers in the picture…)

After seeing the view, we had lunch at Fujiyama Mama a few floors down. Our view was still beautiful and the food was delicious. Tim had a sampler of four kinds of sushi and I had California roll with edamame. Clarissa wouldn’t eat the sushi itself, but loved the fish eggs on the outside.

On our way to the exit, they had a 3D art area, which reminded me of the Trick Eye Museum that everyone goes to in Seoul. It was free so we decided to check it out. Tim was the photographer and Clarissa and I had a great time being silly.

Then, we headed toward Clarissa’s most anticipated activity of the day, the chocolate museum! The Art of Chocolate was located across the street from the Peak Tram terminal. We found a cool shop to buy souvenirs on our way there.

We bought tickets online for admission to the museum and unlimited chocolate tasting. The museum looks small on the outside, but we probably spent 20 minutes looking at these sculptures made of chocolate. I was surprised at how detailed they were. All of them had signs with history, ingredients, and ended by saying that you could order each edible creation. Clarissa kept saying, “It’s so beautiful!” I wonder if she would enjoy visiting an art museum?

At the end were some items made of chocolate that you could touch and play with. I even found the letters for all of our names.

There was a gift shop where you could make your own edible creation or buy one pre-made.

There were a few samples of milk chocolate and white chocolate at the end. We were going to be disappointed that we paid for unlimited chocolate tasting until the girl came over and told us to sit down.

She brought out two trays of chocolate. There were nine different flavors to try. She instructed us which order to try them (we were to end with the dark chocolate). She brought us a pitcher of water, three cups, three plates, and three spoons. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Clarissa’s favorite was the strawberry, I liked the salted carmel, and Tim liked the combination white and milk chocolate best.

The wait to go down the tram was not as long as the line to go up. We headed back down the hill to central Hong Kong. Tim navigated us to Landmark Mall. We saw a few toy stores and a book store. We even found a store called Oliver’s Delicatessen that reminded us of Whole Foods. We were excited to find a few things we can’t get in Korea. Tim picked out his birthday cake flavor and I bought a mix for gluten free gingerbread for Christmas.

Then, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. We had to go uphill again and there were plenty of stairs. We tried three different streets before Tim decided to push the stroller in the street while Clarissa and I took the steps.

We splurged and got special drinks with our meals, which were all delicious. Clarissa loves to dance to the music.

We headed to Causeway Bay and Tim found something at Razer, a gaming store. It was 7:00 so we decided to make our way to the Symphony of Lights at 8:00. It was complicated to find our way there. We made it just in time. The light show is supposed to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. But we were honestly disappointed. There was music and a few lasers. But that was it.

It was cool to see the Victoria Harbour at night though. There were some boats lit up in different colors that went by.

Sunday in Kowloon


Clarissa went to bed about midnight on Saturday (well closer to 1 AM Korea time), so I thought for sure she would sleep in on Sunday. Nope. She was up at 8, as usual.

We walked to Fortress Hill to christen our Octopus cards on the MTR (subway). There was a McDonald’s next door so we stopped in for a quick breakfast. Then we started down the stairs to catch our train. We could not find any elevators. Tim carried the stroller down the stairs and Clarissa walked and held my hand. We were surprised that her stroller didn’t even fit through the turnstile, we had to lift it over.

The transfer of subway lines was super easy. We only had to cross the corridor to the next train. We went to Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. There were not elevators at that stop either.

The temple was huge! I don’t think that we have been to a temple on a Sunday before. It was very crowded with people buying things, burning incense, and offering prayers. It is still very close to Lunar New Year so there were some special areas set up as well.

People would rub the statues for good luck. I was trying to explain this practice, and a little bit about Buddhism to Clarissa. She was very confused about why people would rub statues or burn incense because those aren’t real gods. We just think some of the buildings look cool.

There was a cool fountain. Clarissa said it was “so beautiful!” She was also excited about the fish.

This was one of the largest temple complexes we have visited.

After the temple, we meandered the subway to explore a few electronics markets for Tim. He was disappointed by the selection. There were some nice items, but most were overpriced.

We then headed to Mong Kok to try a store called Mi Home. It was a pretty cool store room. You see what you like and then stand in line. An employee then comes by to “take your order,” which you receive when you get to the cashier. Tim bought some blue tooth earphones and Clarissa was excited about an LED flashlight. They gave us a bonus item and a catalog for the items in the store.

We went back to the MTR station and headed to Tsim Sha Tsui. I read that on Sundays from 230 – 430 there were dragon dances and Kung fu demonstrations at Kowloon Park. That was the main reason we arrived on Saturday, so we could see this. It was already after 2 PM and we still had to eat lunch. We grabbed some food and then headed to the park. It was 340 by the time we arrived and the exciting part was over. There was a lady teaching Tai Chi. Apparently, you need to arrive right at 230 for the high energy show.

Kowloon Park wasn’t a total loss for us though. Clarissa was really excited to see the aviary and to play on the playground.

We found some fun comic statues before we left.

There was even a Nepalese cultural show so we watched a couple of dances. Clarissa really liked it and asked me to take a video.

Mi Home gave Tim a catalog the first time we were there. That was dangerous. We looked through it and both found some things that we wanted. So we headed back to Mi Home after the park.

Our last adventure of the day was Ladies Market. They had some pretty clothes, toys, purses, and jewelry. Some of it was really nice but a lot of it was knock offs. I did buy a pretty robe.

Clarissa found a great Elsa crown and wig.


We headed back toward the hotel and had some Chinese food for dinner.

First impressions of Hong Kong


Hong Kong is a very easy country to get into. On the plane, we filled out an arrival card. In other countries, there is usually a customs form as well. We went through a very quick line where they gave us a small paper visa to keep inside our passports. They didn’t take our pictures or scan our fingerprints. Then we picked up our bags from baggage claim and headed out. Very quick and painless process.

There are several airport shuttles to specific hotels and an airport express train that you can take. Because we would also have to pay for Clarissa, it was slightly cheaper to take a taxi directly to our hotel instead of taking the shuttle to several different hotels. So we did something we never do on vacation and took a taxi.

Our taxi driver was excellent. He was an older guy but spoke decent English. We would pass random things and he would give us the history or tell us about the culture. For example, he was telling us that it is normal for an apartment building in Hong Kong to be anywhere from 50 – 100 stories tall (in Seoul normal is 25). He also showed us the bridge you can take to go to Mainland China.

When we got to the hotel, Clarissa said, “This place is beautiful. There is so much to discover! I love it here. Let’s move.” And I am not exaggerating…

We dropped off our bags and because it was already almost 8 PM, decided to take a taxi to Times Square Mall for some shopping and dinner. Dinner was tricky. We tried three different restaurants that all told us there would be at least a 45 minutes wait when we could clearly see that there were tables available.

We did find some fun shops. The Lego Store had a lot of displays. Clarissa bought a Rapunzel set.

There was also an awesome English bookstore called Metro Kids. They had a ton of Usborne and other educational books and games. If I were still teaching or if Clarissa was farther along in her homeschooling, I think that I would have spent a lot of money there.

We found a Studio Ghibli store (read about our visit to a Studio Ghibili exhibit in Seoul here). But it had a different name. It was still fun to walk through. I tried on a Totoro hoodie, but I didn’t buy it.

We took another taxi back since it was after 10 PM. But this is taxi driver was boring and didn’t say a word.

On Sunday morning, we started our usual public transportation using our Octopus cards. I can understand why several people online said that Hong Kong is not stroller friendly. The MTR (subway system) does not have elevators in every station. We get around that… Tim carries the stroller up and down the stairs and I make Clarissa walk next to me. We only saw a handicapped accessible turnstile entrance at one of the stops. Clarissa’s stroller would not fit through the rest. So we would have her walk through and then Tim or I would have to lift the stroller over the turnstile. It made for a more tiring day.

There also seems to be a lack of public bathrooms. At least, I have not seen many in the metro stations. The people seem to be in a rush to go everywhere. They try to get on the subway car before everyone has had a chance to get off and don’t wait for the light to change for the crosswalk.

Exploring Seoul for New Year’s Eve


We took the SRT from Jije to Suseo again on Sunday for New Year’s Eve.

We took the metro to Gyeongbokgong so that Tim could try a Korean Subway restaurant for lunch. He enjoyed the original sandwiches in Japan and thought that the Korean selection was better than on post. I enjoyed my salad and Clarissa enjoyed her Korean potato chips.

After lunch, we decided to walk to our next destination instead of taking the metro. The sidewalk was a little icy in the shade but not as cold as we thought it would be.

We passed Gyeongbokgung Palace and Clarissa said, “I have been there!” Then we arrived at Sejong Art Center to see the visiting Studio Ghibli exhibit.

We paid admission of 15,000 won each for Tim and I. Clarissa cost 10,000 won admission.

The exhibit was two floors. The first floor was movie posters, a life-size Totoro, a replica of Hayao Miyazaki‘s desk, and a room of random movie memorabilia. We were not allowed to take pictures on the first floor.

The second floor had some cool models and concept art. We were also able to enter the cat bus. There was a long line to take a picture with a shadow of Totoro but Clarissa was not interested in that. The gift shop at the end was nice. We were each able to find something we liked and most of it was different than the Studio Ghibli store we saw last week at the Lotte World Mall.

Across the street from the Sejong Art center were statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi. There was also a small monument, but I couldn’t find a sign to see what it was for.

We decided to walk Cheonggycheon (River Walk). Next year, we need to come back at night. The display looked good in the day but would be more exciting to see at night. I expected to see Santa but was surprised that baby Jesus had a spot as well.

There were interesting murals along the wall to show the history of the different dynasties.

We also thought it was neat the way they were remodeling a Hanwha building. The bottom was the new style and they were working their way to the top.

Next we headed to the IFC Mall (still decorated for Christmas) to check out the bookstore and have dinner at On the Border. The food was great. During dinner, Tim noticed that there were firemen walking around. We were on the first floor. As we headed to the second floor, the fire alarm went off and they said “Attention. Emergency!” and a bunch of stuff in Korean. At which point, everyone ran to the escalators and stairs to get outside on the third floor. We could smell smoke but didn’t see any. There were several firetrucks and ambulances lined up outside. Thankfully, we were planning to leave anyway.

Our last event of the day was Strasbourg Christmas Market a few blocks away. I expected bigger and more European. They had some traditional meat and desserts to buy in the cabins outside. There was a big tent with vendors inside that had things ranging from scarves to air fresheners to jewelry. Most of the vendors inside were Korean. But I found some cute things. Next year, I think we will try the German Christmas Market that is earlier in the month.

We enjoyed our day riding the subway and walking the city streets.

Christmas Adventures in Seoul


Christmas is very different in Korea than it is in America. We wanted to do something fun for Christmas but still stay warm. We thought that if we went to some of the bigger malls in Seoul there would be Christmas decorations like we are used to back home.

On our anniversary, Tim and I went to the train station to buy our train tickets. Round trip tickets were about 15,000 won for adults and 7,000 won for children.

On Christmas Eve, we attended our Sunday morning service at New Creation Church. After service was a Christmas feast potluck so we had fun eating lunch with our friends and eating yummy food.


On Christmas morning we drove to Jije Station to take the SRT to Suseo. While we waited in the lobby for our 9:55 train, Clarissa was greeted and given gifts. The employees gave Clarissa two lolipops and a cardboard train model to put together. One of them also took off their reindeer antlers, placed them on Clarissa and then took our picture on an instant camera. On the platform, she received another lolipop and a small bag of goldfish.

The train was very similar to the KTX trains that we are used to. Assigned seats with plenty of leg room and an above your head compartment for bags and strollers. The seats were very comfortable. The ride to Suseo was only about 20 minutes.

Our first stop was Coex Mall. We ended up at McDonald’s for lunch since it was right outside the mall. We figured we should eat before the rush. We had a great time visiting some of our favorite stores: Gundam Storefront, Asem Hobby, Butter, and Jaju. But we were very disappointed that there were hardly any Christmas decorations at all.

Next, we took the subway to Lotte World Mall. Here we were not disappointed. There were lights and Christmas trees everywhere. There was even a space in the middle of the mall for performances so there was a live bells performance, a choir, instruments, and a magician throughout the day.

We had plenty of shopping adventures in Lotte World Mall. We enjoyed the Studio Ghibli Store, Copenhagen Flying Tiger, Butter, Miniso, and Hi Mart. We also went to Ex Monster. When we went over the summer, you could go through and see all of the Marvel movie statues and models. But this time, you had to buy something first so we were disappointed.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, which Clarissa and I had never been to. The food was a little pricey, but wonderful! Clarissa kept saying, “I don’t like it, I love it!” about the music videos playing and the lights on the walls. The manager thought she was so cute that he gave her a set of four Hard Rock Cafe pins as a gift.

We caught the 640 train from Suseo back to Jije Station to go to home. There was a parking lot specifically for SRT passengers. When you leave the station, there is a kiosk to pay. You type in the last four digits of your license plate number and the computer pulls up a picture of your car and you pay with your credit card. It was reasonably priced. We were parked for about 9 hours and paid 8,400 won.

When we got home Tim and Clarissa built one of our purchases together, a mama bear and baby bear in pink.

Final Reflections on Okinawa


We wanted to do one last vacation this year but had a smaller budget to do it. I started researching and found some great deals for Okinawa. We thought about an October trip but found that if we messed with dates a bit, we could save about $250 on airfare and $100 on hotels. The first week of November is technically off season.

We flew Jeju Air because it was the cheapest flight with a checked bag. It is a budget airline so the weight limit for checked bags is 15kg and your carry on weight limit is 10 kg. The customer service was great. They let us gate check the stroller. The leg room is not great. Clarissa and I were fine, but Tim was most comfortable by the window. His knees only had an inch or two from the seat in front of him. I think a tall person would have a problem. Also, you can ask for water but all other food and drinks on the flight, you need to pay for. You can bring your own food and drink though.

We originally booked a hotel in the middle of the island with an airport shuttle. When I went to confirm pick up I realized that if customs took a while we would miss said shuttle and have to wait 4 hours for the next one. Customs in Naha was super easy (less than 30 minutes from landing until we were ready to leave the airport) and we would have had time to spare to make our shuttle. But I wasn’t going to take that chance so we switched hotels to one in Central Naha that was $30 a night cheaper than the first.

Villa Izumizaki was a great place to stay. We were within 5 minutes walk of Asahibashi Station, Naha Bus Terminal, and Kokusai Street. It had a kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator, and microwave. There was a bathtub for Clarissa. The washer and dryer was wonderful! The beds were a little hard, but there was air conditioning, a balcony with a clothes line, and a couch in addition to the full size and twin bed.

I had read that public transportation wasn’t great on the island. But we didn’t want to mess with an international driver’s license or driving on the left side of the road when we didn’t know where anything was. Our hotel made it easy to access busses and monorail. The frustrating part about busses was the lack of updates. In Korea, many bus stops have a digital display where you can see what busses are coming soon and how far away they are. In Okinawa, there is a schedule that tells you what time each bus should arrive at the stop, but in our experience, busses can be 12 minutes late or 6 minutes early and you really have no way of knowing when the bus is coming exactly.

We tried a bus tour to get to a few locations on the same day. We knew we wanted to see Churumi Aquarium and Busena Underwater Observatory. It is hard to do both in the same day because they are both far from Naha and the same bus does not go to both so you have to go all the way to Naha to change busses. But we didn’t have enough time at either location to do everything we wanted to do. If I could do it over again, I would have gone on two separate days so that we could do everything we wanted to do.

Also, bring your bathing suit, even in the off season. Everything that I read said that November would require a wet suit to swim. The water was chilly, but would have been fine for swimming.

We brought yen for our trip because we wanted to stick to our budget. But most places took credit card. A few things only took yen though so you will want at least part of your budget in yen.

We were not impressed with the shopping at American Village, but the beach there was great.

Okinawa World was very commercial. Clarissa loved the Habu Museum (reptiles) and live show. I was finally able to wear a kimono. Clarissa and I both experienced our first cave. The Eisa Dance Show is more drums and folk lore than dancing. The traditional crafts village is really small and has a lot for sale.

Basically, we had some great family time so I am glad we went to Okinawa. But we don’t plan to live there or return on vacation.

If you would like to read about specific adventures on your trip, the links are included below:

Okinawa Shopping and Food

Shuri Castle

Sunset Beach and Okinawa World

Hip hop bus tour

Airport limousine bus to Incheon


One nice thing about living in Pyeongtaek is that we live closer to Seoul. It makes for a nice day trip. But the airport is actually in Incheon, not Seoul, which is at least a 2 hour drive.

On our vacation to Okinawa, we decided to try the airport limousine bus instead of messing with traffic, tolls, and airport parking. It was very easy.

We called a taxi to pick us up at about 730 and then waited at the bus stop. It is the same bus stop as the 20 bus by the main gate (in front of the Volvo dealer /Christine Realty).

The purple bus was right on time, 7:55 AM. The driver got off the bus to help us store our luggage. He asked if we were going all the way to Incheon because the bus makes several stops.

The cost is very reasonable. Adults pay 13,300 won (a little less than $13) and children pay 6,700 won so our family of 3 paid a little less than $30 to get from base to the airport which I think is great for a 2.5 hour trip. You can either pay with won (exact change) or your tmoney (subway) card.

The bus was a comfortable temperature. The seats recline. Each seat has a vent and a light. There is even space overhead to put your coat and bookbag.

On the way back, you actually buy a ticket. Once you clear customs in Incheon go straight and there is a sign that says airport limousine bus. There is even a desk for foreigners.

There are two options for your trip home. You can either take Anjeong-ri outside the main gate, or you can go to Pyeongtaek Station. The bus for Pyeongtaek Station comes more often and is the same price, 13,300 won for adults and 6,700 for children.

We chose to go to Pyeongtaek Station because the next bus was in about 50 minutes instead of the 2.5 hours we would need to wait for the bus to Anjeong-ri.

The bus from Incheon to Pyeongtaek took about 2 hours (1.5 if you are going to Songtan). The bus station was closed for the night when we arrived. After leaving the bus station, turn left (towards Daiso). In a couple of blocks you will arrive at AK Plaza /Pyeongtaek train station where there is always a line of taxis waiting.

The taxi from AK Plaza to somewhere near the Anjeong-ri gate of Camp Humphreys should cost about 10,000 won ($10).

Both busses were easy to use and comfortable. I think next time, we will see which bus fits our schedule better to decide if we will leave from Anjeong-ri or Pyeongtaek bus terminal.