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23 January 2016

Rafael in Hong Kong

My entire family went to Hong Kong on January 15, 2016 to celebrate Tatay's 70th birthday. Hong Kong will always have a special place in our hearts because Tats worked there for a couple of years and it was the first country we visited as a family.

The trip was fun, albeit challenging, because it was our first time to travel with a toddler. But we survived and we lived to tell our story. :)

Tats, Nanay, Toto, and Trish took the early morning trip. Rhuel, Barn, Rafael, and I took the afternoon trip.

Check-in at Terminal 3 was a breeze but I had a very heavy sleeping boy to carry around the airport. Thank God for priority lanes for families with little kids. Rafael woke up when we were about to wrap up with the check-in.

The little boy enjoyed running around the airport and tinkering with the chairs.

Our flight was delayed for almost 2 hours. I don't mind waiting in the pre-departure area but waiting inside the plane due to runway traffic made me really anxious.

Our pedia advised us to give Rafael some Disudrin to knock him out during the flight. I think it worked. Rhuel thinks it didn't. Rafael was quite claustrophobic when we first entered the plane. He kept on saying "Done." Meaning, he was done staying in the plane and he wanted to get out. We had to employ various tricks to get him to settle down. The lollipop did not work and Barney had to finish it for him. He was quite entertained when I started drawing things on my phone.

Rafael fell asleep shortly before the plane took off and he was asleep for most part of the flight. When he woke up, he was no longer cranky.

He enjoyed running around the Hong Kong International Airport too.

Toto and Trish met us at the airport with the van and driver that Tita Amy (Nanay's former colleague in San Miguel who is a Hong Kong resident) hired for us.

It was almost 10 p.m. when we got to the Caritas Lodge. We were very hungry but Nanay, Tats, and Tita Amy were still out having dinner. They brought us some takeout food.

Rafael was such a trooper. He was still up and about, even if it was late at night. He loved eating the pork buns.

The new environment must have made the little boy hyper so he decided to sleep at 1:30 a.m.

Saturday, January 16

It's Tatay's birthday! Surprisingly, the little boy still woke up quite early even if he had an all-nighter the night before. We had breakfast at the Lodge Cafeteria.

Apart from Tita Amy, we were fortunate to have another tour guide - Ate Mariz. She's from Sulat and Marikina too. She was our guide on our way to the restaurant where we were having lunch.

Ate Mariz, the birthday boy, and Nanay

Taxi ride to Tsim Sha Tsui

Lunch was at Royal Wedding at the China Hong Kong City mall in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a dim sum party for us. 

From L-R: Toto, Tita Amy, Ate Mariz, Nanay, Tats, Barn, Me, Rhuel with Rafael, and Trish

Rafael enjoyed eating the pork buns and other dumplings. He also had a blast running around the spacious restaurant. It's used for wedding receptions and they were already setting up for one while we were having lunch. The food tasted good, not your typical ma-MSG Chinese food. 

When we were almost done with lunch, Rafael decided that it was nap time. We lingered a bit in the restaurant so as not to disrupt his sleep. But the rest wanted to go shopping already so we had to leave. Rhuel went to the grocery to pick up some stuff we need while Rafael and I stayed in one of the benches as he continued his nap. That will basically be the story of my trip - stuck with Rafael as he naps while the rest get the chance to explore the shops. But I don't mind at all. :)

Rhuel and I wanted to go around the mall when Rafael woke up but the groceries were too heavy. It was raining too so we had no choice but to stay inside the mall. We decided to go back to the Lodge instead. 

We lounged around a bit then we had to go back to Tsim Sha Tsui for dinner. 

Tita Amy made reservations and she treated us to dinner at the Peking Garden Restaurant at Star House. We had a loooot of food. Rafael was again obsessed with his pork buns and running around the restaurant. It was difficult though because the space was quite cramped. 

The January birthday boys

I would have wanted to catch the Symphony of Lights at the harbour but the little boy was getting cranky. We had to leave ahead of the rest. The show was starting when we got into the cab going back to the Lodge. 

Sunday, January 17

We originally planned to visit Disneyland. However, weather forecasts were not favorable. Rains were expected. So we decided to go around the Causeway Bay and Central areas instead. 

It was Rafael's first train ride. We rode 2 trains going to Causeway Bay from the Prince Edward station and on both instances, Rafael and I were the recipients of the generosity of 2 other lady passengers who gave up their seats for us. 

The little boy was anxious in the beginning especially when the train doors closed. But he became wide-eyed once the train started moving. 

Tats and Nanay went off to Central with our cousin, Ate Marilyn, and her friend. 

My siblings and I had lunch at the food court in Hysan Place at Causeway Bay. We wanted to try something non-Chinese, so we got overpriced burgers from Triple O's

Because multi-tasking is a must if you're eating with a toddler. :D

We were off to Ikea Causeway Bay after lunch. But again, Rafael had other plans. He wanted to sleep and I felt that the sofas in Ikea would have been the perfect place for us. Unfortunately, he did not think so. The place was cramped and crowded and it was too noisy. We had to run through Ikea to find a coffee shop conducive for his nap. (So yes, I had to say goodbye to my carefully researched Ikea shopping list.)

We ended up at Windsor House across Park Lane where Ikea is located. Rafael and I stayed at Pacific Coffee while Rhuel went around the mall. 

We met my siblings in front of Forever 21. We planned to go to Central afterwards. 

But again, planning is futile when you're traveling with a toddler. We had to rush off because the little boy was getting cranky again. We were supposed to have dinner at Pizza Hut in Causeway Bay, but he was already putting on a show even before we got to our seats. So we had to go back to the Lodge and make do with pizza delivery. 

Monday, January 18

The rest of my family were going back home. But since they were taking the late night flight, we still had time to go around. 

Tita Amy rented a coaster for us. Yes, a coaster huge enough to sit 20+ persons. She could not find a smaller vehicle because they were all being used as school buses. 

We visited The Peak for lunch. Rafael was asleep even before we got to The Peak. Nahilo ata sa biyahe. We did not take the Tram this time because we had to maximize the use of the coaster. 

When we got to The Peak Galleria, the others went around to shop while Rafael and I looked for a bench where he can continue his nap. 

One interesting note. In the past, we always had to pay to access a viewing deck at The Peak. That has been my experience when we visited the mall where the Peak Tram station is located. You had to pay for the Sky Pass to access the viewing deck. But recently, a new mall was built. This new mall, The Peak Galleria, does not charge for access to the viewing deck. You can just go up and have your photos taken there. I would assume that the other mall has a better view but The Galleria's view was enough. 

When Rafael woke up, it was time to have our photos taken and he had a great time running around the mall again. 

Again, Rafael proved that he's a real trooper. Rhuel left the little boy's jacket on the coaster. We didn't want to bother the driver anymore so I decided to just wrap Rafael with my shawl. But he hated it. We were all freezing to death but Rafael ran around outside on the viewing deck and he even entertained us with his dance moves. At one point, he was even raising up his shirt. I guess he can stand cold weather better than his parents. 

After lunch, we were off to Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan to kill some time. Rafael was feeling extra sleepy that day so he decided to take nap #2 before we even got to our second destination. We had to rush off to another Pacific Coffee branch in the mall so he can continue his nap.

What made this trip extra challenging is the fact that I still breastfeed my little boy. I don't really mind feeding him anywhere but I understand that some people might not be comfortable with it. Fortunately, nobody seemed to mind while I did this during our trip. From the airport in Manila to the malls, cabs, trains in Hong Kong, nobody really showed me any attitude. This made me confident to feed Rafael anywhere and of course, it made the little boy very happy. He was extra clingy to me and my "doodie" as he calls it. Rhuel and I felt that it was his coping mechanism whenever the new environment overwhelmed him. 

We no longer went with my family to the airport because the little boy might experience separation anxiety. We decided to go back to the Lodge and have dinner there. We had to shell out a lot for the taxi fare because traffic was terrible. 

Tuesday, January 19

Oh happy day because it was time to visit the happiest place on Earth! The weather cooperated because it was cold without any rains. 

We were supposed to take a bus to the train station. 

But it was taking forever for the bus to arrive. And Rafael was already clamoring for the doodie. And there were no taxis passing by. So we had no choice but to walk all the way to the train station. We walked 1.3 kilometers. Should have been easy if I did not have to carry a 12-kilo little boy with me. But at least the weather cooperated and we were able to get to the station in one piece.

We had to take 3 train rides to get to Disneyland. Again, we were the lucky recipients of the generosity of other female passengers on the train. :)

When we finally got to Disneyland, surprise, surprise, it was time for Rafael's nap again. We decided to have lunch first while he napped then we went around the park after he woke up. 

Our stay at the park was like an episode in the Amazing Race. Rafael just wanted to run and run and run. So we had to take quick stops in front of the attractions to have our photos taken. Yes, we paid the entrance fee for a quick photo shoot and well, to watch the parade. But it was all worth it. Seeing the little boy happy while watching his favorites (Pooh, Duck, and Mickey) was more than enough. 

I thought we were going to be stuck here forever because Rafael was so amazed with the fountain that he refused to leave. He cried when we had to drag him to the gates to enter the park. 

After 3 train rides, we were back at the Prince Edward MTR station. We walked to a nearby mall, Moko, for dinner. We ended up at Smile Cafe. Rafael loved their organic chicken. 

We were supposed to walk back to the Lodge because we knew it was nearby. Unfortunately, the mall security pointed us to the wrong direction so we had to take a cab. We had to pay the flag down rate of HKD22 because the Lodge was really very near the mall. No wonder the taxi driver was shaking his head when we told him where we were headed. 

Wednesday, January 20

I had a lot of things lined up for this trip. I wanted to go to Ngong Ping to take the cable car, to Repulse Bay, to Ocean Park, etc. But the weather did not cooperate. It was raining and it was so cold. It would have been difficult to travel with a toddler under those conditions.

To reward the little boy for being such a trooper, we decided to stay at the Lodge until after he woke up from his nap. 

We went to Moko early afternoon for lunch. We had pizza at Pizza Express. Their pumpkin soup was good. The pizza and bread were good too. Plus points for them because their staff were extremely nice to kids. When they saw that we were having a hard time eating because Rafael was getting restless, they gave him an activity pamphlet and crayon. They also gave him a candy (which of course, ended up in Mommy's tummy). 

Since we did not have coffee yet for the day, we went to Pacific Coffee to hang out. Afterwards, we decided to explore the mall. After walking aimlessly, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in Mong Kok

We were able to buy a football jersey for Rafael and pasalubong for the ates here at home. When it started raining, we had to go back to the Lodge. We took a cab and had McDonald's delivery for dinner.

Thursday, January 21

Our last full day in Kong Kong/Gong Gong (in Rafael's language).

We had to stay at the Lodge until after Rafael's nap time. I was not feeling well, perhaps due to fatigue and the weather. I was feeling feverish and I survived with the help of Neozep.

We decided to go straight to Mong Kok this time. We took a cab. 

We had to eat lunch at the first decent restaurant we found because the little boy was already hungry. We saw an ad for a Chinese steak restaurant but we could not find it. We ended up in a Korean restaurant, which surprisingly served good food. Restaurant's name is Shin Mapo BBQ located at the Bank Centre Mall along Nathan Road in Mong Kok. 

I had noodles with short rib dumplings. It was perfect for the weather. Rhuel and Rafael shared the beef torched rolls which were so good. 

After having lunch, it was time to explore Mong Kok some more. We were able to get basketball jerseys and towels for Rafael. 

Rhuel also had to buy a rubber shoes because he deliberately, er, accidentally broke his shoes. Hehe. 

It started raining hard so we decided to head back to the Lodge. I'm not sure if the taxi driver took us on a road trip but our taxi fare was almost as much as our taxi fare going to Tsim Sha Tsui. Tsk. 

We had dinner at the Lodge with Tita Amy.

Friday, January 22

Time to go home. Rhuel felt bad because he wanted to experience the single digit temperature that was forecasted for the weekend. 

With our very gracious and generous host, Tita Amy

Tita Amy rented a van to take us to the airport. She also had breakfast with us at Pokka Cafe after we checked in our stuff. 

After breakfast, it was time to say bye bye. 

We had a scare at the boarding gate because we could not find Rafael's boarding pass. We were fortunate that the airport personnel was patient enough to look for the pass and she found it tucked inside one of the passports. Whew. 

Rafael refused to take his Disudrin this time. But we were lucky because our flight coincided with his nap time so he was asleep for most part of the trip. He woke up while we were circling around Manila waiting for our go signal to land. 

We got discounted rates for the Lodge, thanks to Tita Amy. The room we got was quite small but still acceptable by Hong Kong standards. The family room that Nanay, Tats, and Barn got was more spacious and it had a nicer view. 

Although the room's small, it's equipped with everything you need - aircon with heater, TV, phone, ref, shower heater, etc. The Lodge is quite generous in replenishing supplies. They even change your slippers everyday. 

The Lodge is quite far from the shopping/business district. It's located in a residential/school area. You can reach the nearest mall with a 15-minute walk. Although there's an MTR station at the mall (Mong Kok East station), it's quite far from the central lines. You'll be better off taking a further five-minute walk to the Prince Edward station, which is part of the train line that drops by the Central station. You can also take a taxi from the Lodge to the MTR station and you only need to pay the flag down rate. 

There is a bus stop across the Lodge but we were not able to explore the buses because it was difficult to do so with Rafael.

It's fairly easy to get a taxi at the Lodge, except for the time when we had to rush off to Tsim Sha Tsui for Tatay's birthday dinner. Some of the taxi drivers were choosy. 

Of course, traveling by taxi is more expensive but most of the time, we did not really have a choice because Rafael was too impatient to wait for a bus or to walk to the MTR station. Rhuel said that it was okay because whatever amount we saved for our accommodations could be used for our taxi fare. 

Only problem with the taxi (and probably the buses too) is that you have to go through some traffic jams. There are a number of constructions near the area (especially around the Cross Harbour Tunnel) and we had to deal with some bottlenecks. But I think traffic in Hong Kong is still much more bearable than what we have here in Manila. At least gumagalaw. And their drivers are not whiners. :D

We were not able to see a grocery near the Lodge, save for the stores in the gasoline stations. 

Food at the Lodge's Cafe was okay. They offer some variety although please do not expect anything spectacular. Most of the choices were pricey but they had some budget meals too. Unfortunately, we only discovered them on our last night when we already had Tita Amy to translate the menu for us. :)

Over-all, our stay at the Lodge was okay. It was worth the amount we paid for. The Lodge's staff were helpful and accommodating. And Rafael loved going up and down the elevator. :)

View from our room

Rafael and I in front of the Lodge

Traveling with a Toddler

It was exhausting but I would not trade it for anything in the world. 

We did not bring a stroller or a carrier because it was too bulky. We were 99% sure that Rafael would refuse to be strapped in and it would have meant additional luggage for us. 

You can forget about shopping. I was not able to buy anything for myself. Fortunately for me, the socks we got for Rafael were too big and they fit me. So at least may nabili pa rin ako. Hehe. Although I felt envious when everyone went around the malls while I was stuck with napping Rafael in some coffee shop, I could not really complain. Seeing the little boy sleeping happily was good enough for me. As a bonus, I was even able to finish a pocket book. 

It's more expensive when you're with a toddler. Your food choices are limited. You cannot just enter any food court and buy the cheapest food on the menu. We had to make sure the food was clean and healthy enough for Rafael. Nothing too adventurous. 

You cannot take advantage of the cheaper public transportation because waiting time is not something toddlers are happy with. Although we got on-loan Octopus cards for the MTR and bus, we barely used them. We were lucky because we can have the excess load refunded. 

Your schedule must be flexible. It has to revolve around the kid's sleeping and meal times. You're not free to go anywhere you please because you also have to consider the weather, etc. Be prepared to skip some items on your itinerary. 

Aside from the breastfeeding challenge I discussed earlier, you also have to consider the pee and poo contingencies for your little one. We were fortunate because the places we visited had huge and clean restrooms that made changing diapers easier. I was relieved that I could take Rhuel with me to the restroom to change Rafael's diapers. I would not have done it on my own.

Forget about your kikay kit. I had to make do with a little sling bag (on loan from Nanay) that could fit in our passports, my little wallet, my phone, a small comb, a lip balm, a facial tissue, a face powder, a pen, and some candies. We had to convert Rhuel's backpack into a diaper bag because it's easier to carry than Rafael's actual diaper bag. 

You need a lot of entertainment, distractions, and patience. It's never easy to please our little boy so we had to do all sorts of tricks to make things easier for him. Since we could not bring all of his books, Rhuel had to scan them so we can just show them to him through the laptop. We had to download his favorite Finger Family videos. I had to sharpen my inexistent drawing skills. 

You also need to be healthy to carry around a heavy toddler. For some reason, Rafael refused to have anyone carry him outside except for Mommy. He allowed Daddy to carry him once or twice but the rest of the trip, I had to carry him. It was exhausting but the cold weather helped. At least I was not sweating all over. 

Yes, it was challenging to take a toddler to his first plane ride and out-of-the-country trip. But Rhuel and I survived. And although we can't really tell if Rafael enjoyed the entire thing, he seemed happy most of the time. And that's more than enough for us. Here's to more adventures for the 3 of us! :)

Photo credits: Rhuel, Toto, Barn, and Ate Mariz