Our group tends to be a very active see-as-many-things-as-possible in one day type of vacationers. Since Alex was born we’ve never really taken a beach vacation, it’s either been visiting family, or a whirlwind quick trip to a new place. Our honeymoon was the last beach vacation we really had, and even then was 5 days in Cairo and 4 days at a beach resort. I really didn’t know how our group would handle 7 days on a beach island with little to no activities or sights to see. I like the beach and am usually content to sit in the sand and read all day- and Alex used to love going to the beach when we lived in California.
This island was great for our group, tons of snorkeling- and we booked a scuba trip for Mark right away. Because it was low season, not all the restaurants on the island were open but it also wasn’t as crowded.
Mark found this bigish lizard climbing on the rocks by our hotel, we don’t know what kind of lizard it was, and we only saw it the once, but it was really cool.
We discovered that Alex didn’t know how to sit in a hammock, clearly we have neglected his relaxation education.
The 2nd night we were in the hotel, the shower wasn’t draining quite right and the staff moved us to another room that didn’t have that problem. It was slightly lower down on the hillside, so a few less stairs to walk up.
One of the highlights for Alex on this trip, was that he is finally old enough to do a bubblemaker scuba dive adventure. While we prepped Mark to go out diving, Alex learned how to dive too. With a Bubblemaker dive, kids from 8 and up can go diving with an instructor, no deeper than 2 meters. We went to Adang Sea Divers dive shop, www.adangseadivers.com and Kris was the instructor who helped Alex out. Couldn’t have asked for a better person to go with Alex, he had a ton of patience, good sense of humor and really seemed to enjoy his job.
These local kids got a kick out of watching Alex practice dive, I don’t think they ever really saw someone as young as them going diving.
While Alex went diving, Mark went snorkeling in the same area. I stayed on the boat, and took pictures- I hadn’t dived since before Alex was born so I didn’t feel comfortable going in just yet.
This dive spot was at the island next to ours and while the boys worked on their water adventures I relaxed on the boat. In the beginning they were alone on this particular reef, about 10 minutes in a huge boatload of tourists snorkeling came to the same spot.
Alex came back with such a grin on his face telling me all about the fish and clams and corals he had seen. I’ve been told since then that these videos sparked a lot of debate around the dive shop that my parents work/hang out at- Whether or not Alex should have been allowed to go into the water on his own before the instructor. Most of the dive instructors have said no students get in the water without an instructor already in. I wasn’t too worried about it at the time, but next time we will think about that before letting him jump in.
Diving was pretty much the whole day that day, it was exhausting for Mark and Alex- but a really good time was had. We walked to a local famous restaurant the Elephant Bar. It was ok, but we weren’t impressed with the overall experience. I think this was the night that we showed Alex Arachnophobia, that was a scary but good movie- Alex says it’s in his top 5 movies ever!
Tangential to the main story of our day of traveling… Mark recently showed Alex the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles- I had never actually seen the movie but it’s not exactly what I expected. Nor is it exactly a great movie for kids – unless you want your 8 year old rolling around telling jokes about playing with your balls, which he will, to anyone who will listen!
The day started out with a very early wake up and ride to the airport. There are two airports in Bangkok, but only one has daily flights to Hai yat So we had to drive to the other side of Bangkok and because there are only two vans at the next stop (one at 11:30 and one at 3:30) and only two boat departure times- everything had to go smoothly.
I apparently didn’t think that getting pictures of anything up until the boat ride was important. After arriving at a very small airport, we wandered around trying to find anything to eat (the airport was that small) we found a Dunkin Donuts and grabbed a few donuts and Thai ice tea to go and wait for the van to pick us up.
I arranged with a travel company that picks you up at the airport in a party van, they bring you to the pier and get you on a big speedboat to take you to the island we were visiting. It was relatively expensive, but not having to worry about or negotiate any other trips or travel plans was worth it to me! The company is called Cathay Tours Hat Yai, and there is a link to their facebook page under one of the pictures.
The Van was full on the way to the pier, we had 8 people plus the driver. Alex played games most the ride which made it easier on everyone! It was an hour and a half drive from the airport to the pier, and most of it was the same as anywhere in Thailand- beautiful trees, lots of plants, tree farms (may have been rubber? they were being harvested for sap of some kind, but I couldn’t tell what). But half way to the pier we saw a couple of monkeys just sitting by the road. That was a highlight for me!
We got to the pier around lunch time, but again, not really anywhere to eat. Alex and Mark split a bag of salt and vinegar chips and some water. Next time I will plan all of this better and grab sandwiches in Bangkok before we leave.
Now for me, the boat was going to be the scariest part of the whole adventure. Last summer before we left for China, we visited my Dad and stepmom in Florida and we went on a fishing boat (which was great and we all really enjoyed), but I got really sea sick for the first time in my life. So I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing, it was an hour and a half on a big speed boat. But if you want to go to this island, this is your only choice.
Alex and Mark picked the seats up at the front of the boat, right across from the captain’s station. They were raised up and facing forward and Alex was a champ the whole time, he loved going on the boat!
Because the bench that Mark and Alex were on was only for two people, I sat behind them on the long bench that lines the side of the boat. This was a bad choice… for me at least. Despite it not being bad weather, the chop of the waves was pretty high, and every time the boat would ride up a wave and slam back down. Now this was no fault of the crew- it’s a product of us going during low season and the crew tried to steer out of it as much as possible. I managed not to be sick, but only barely- and I had a few bruises from holding on so tight. And I was lucky, there was another lady on our boat throwing up for most of the ride.
Now, I’ve not mentioned the name of the island until this point… we were arriving on the picturesque shore of Koh Lipe. It’s a little island, not well known like Krabi or Pattaya and I selfishly want to keep it that way. We had wanted a beautiful place, with snorkeling and scuba, and white sand beaches- We got all that and more at Koh Lipe.
When we got to shore, there was a representative from our hotel, waiting to take us in a long boat to our hotel. I felt bad for the poor guy because he carried our heaviest suitcase across the sand to the smaller boat.
And I’m going to share with you all, my most prized secret…. Ten Moons Hotel. This place, there aren’t words- it’s got an almost private beach (they share with another hotel next door), you have a bungalow to yourself…. the staff is so wonderful, by the time you leave you feel like family. There will be lots of pictures and stories of the staff in upcoming posts.
It was about 4pm when we got to the hotel and settled in, so we got Alex suited up and into the water for a bit before dinner. We ate at the hotel that night since we were all a little tired from the trip (and we had 7 days on the island to explore). Mark had a few movies downloaded to share with Alex and at night after a day of beaching, or snorkeling, we’d watch some classics together. Notably on this trip was Arachnophobia, Minority Report, Ready Player One, Mission Impossible… and a few others I can’t remember now.
Ok, so we’re back to our regularly scheduled program! I haven’t been great about writing because I’ve been working so hard on my grad school work, but I’ve got a month long “break” and I want to get caught up on here and the massive amounts of housework I have let slide. So bear with me while we time travel back to August.
In August we went back to Thailand- honestly, I think that even if we got nothing else from coming to China (which isn’t true) my family’s love for Thailand would be worth it. When we asked Alex where he’d like to go, he immediately answered with Bangkok. This time though, we wanted to do more of a beach relaxed visit, and really spend some down time together.
We stayed in a nice little hotel, in a very different part of town than we stayed in last time. This one was closer to things we wanted to do and most importantly, really close to a metro stop. The “downside” to this trip was that it was during the rainy season. But that really only affected us a little.
So priorities in this group always lean towards food, and so we got up and went right out to find something to eat. We ended up yelping for something nearby and ended up in the Tesco food court at the mall/metro stop near our hotel. It took us forever to find the stand we wanted, but the food was so good it was well worth the wait.
After lunch we found a Dairy Queen… now, we do have a Dairy Queen at the mall by our home in Haining, but it really only has Oreo as an option for blizzards (ice cream blended with candy or cookie bits) – Although this last time I thought I was ordering a strawberry blizzard and ended up with rose flavored… tasted a bit like body wash. But… this Bangkok Dairy Queen had other flavors! Mark had a heath bar blizzard and was very happy!
The hotel had a pool (since that’s something we always look for, don’t all people with kids?) and if we were at the hotel, Alex wanted to be in the pool.
The area surrounding the pool had tons of beautiful flowers and birds of paradise around, it really felt like a little island in the city.
That night we went out to a fancy dinner place that Mark found. I don’t remember the name of it (maybe he will remind me when he reads this) but it was wonderful. I don’t think they get a lot of kids in there, and there definitely weren’t while we were in there. The very first thing that happened, was they gave Alex a big glass of water, and as he went to take a drink, it slipped put of his hands and right onto the floor– smash! He felt so bad about it, he was beating himself up for most of dinner. Thus the less than happy expression on his face in the picture above. We had a really great lime sea bass here, and it set Mark on a journey to find that taste again.
Our second day in Bangkok, we went to the famous Terminal 21 mall. This mall is themed, each floor has a city that it is modeled after, and has kitschy themed things throughout. The whole mall is set up to look like an airport- with arrivals and departures listed on the escalators. It also boasts the world’s longest escalator… we didn’t go on that!
We thought that was funny, since we had just gotten back from Tokyo a few weeks before. And it was a very Tokyo feel, the stores had things we had seen in Tokyo, and the signage all felt very accurate
We ate lunch at Terminal 21, but we ended up finding where we wanted to eat in the basement area. There was an Ippudo Ramen spot there, so while Alex ate Subway (because he’d always eat Subway) Mark and I got to have Ippudo again. It wasn’t as good as the one in Tokyo, but it was still very good!
Overall, we had a very good time at the Terminal 21 Mall… it was an easy metro ride from our hotel, which saved us time and money in the rain. And we found a place across from the mall that the guys were really excited about!
This was a really great way to spend our rainy afternoon. Mark found it using one of his secret ways, and we thought it would be a nice surprise for Alex. When we got there, the hardest part was picking which of their huge game collection to play!
We have always said how great it would be to have somewhere like this in Haining, maybe we’ll have to open one ourselves.
We still had one day in Bangkok before heading to our island portion of the vacation…. so we did what any normal family would do, we went to the Snake Farm.
Now, the snake farm is not just a bunch of snakes in cages… it’s also a really important part of the antivenom production system in Thailand (and globally). This is something I’ve learned more about since starting school since snake envenoming (snake bites from venomous snakes) is a neglected tropical disease and that’s what I’m working on. So we had to go check it out. The cab driver had never heard of this place and didn’t know why we would want to go there.
The snake farm was really neat, and I think if you get a chance to go see something like that you should. I learned a lot from it, and now am even more invested in it because of my research.
After snakes, it was time for lunch, and we went to an all you can eat hotel buffet at a nearby fancy hotel- it was good, Alex was treated like a little prince and was in 7th heaven.
After we got back to our hotel (and went swimming again!) we had a plan for the last night in Bangkok of this part of the trip. Mark had found a pad thai place that is YouTube famous, in a equally famous section of night market that we wanted to go try out. We were also going to try a popular place for Cha Yen but they closed right when we got there, so no such luck.
It took us forever to find the place because the addresses aren’t really labeled, and it’s all in Thai anyway, so all we can do is ask people and look for a sign that looks the same as what we’ve seen in the YouTube videos. In the process though, Mark and Alex got to pet 3 or 4 stray cats, we ate a traditional Thai dessert, and saw a rat about the size of a small cat…. so, it was an eventful night!
And then in the morning, we had to get up early and get a cab to the other airport in town, hop on a plane, ride a van, get on a boat, get on a smaller boat to get to our beach vacation!
We woke up pretty early, unlike the Disney’s in the US- even if you stay in the hotel, you don’t get into the park an hour earlier- but you do get to use a less crowded entrance. Alex and I were up and ready to go right away, but Liz has two teenagers and like most teenagers, they like to sleep in. So we checked out and went ahead and they met us at the Park when they were ready.
First order of the day… breakfast! Alex didn’t know that this was the plan, but it’s always nice to surprise him and keep him on his toes.
I am writing this one out of Chronological order, so that I can post about Christmas relatively close to Christmas, I will get back to our summer adventures after this post.
This semester we have had some great visiting professors that we have become good friends with- one of the families will be here the whole year and you will see more of them in upcoming posts. The other family will sadly be leaving in a few days– but we have had such a great time getting to know them and having mini adventures with them. So this is a shout out to the Hsiao-Weckslers!
Liz is a visiting Mechanical Engineering professor, and her two boys, Jack and Doren (Doren has been going to school with Alex). We have been talking about Shanghai Disney pretty much since she got here, but have always had something come up and wreck our plans. One hiccup has always been that I was a little afraid to go, I was worried that it would all be in Chinese and too hard to navigate. But I am delighted to report that that is not the case and we really enjoyed our visit!
This trip involved a slow train to Shanghai, and then a metro ride to the end of the line and then a shuttle bus to the hotel.
We went to check into our hotel first to drop off our bags and rest a bit before hitting the park. We stayed in the Toy Story Hotel, and it was as cute as you would expect
A quick 10 minute stop into the rooms, and then we headed off to the park. Picking up our tickets was a breeze, we walked up to the turnstiles, handed over our passports and were handed our tickets. They even had discount tickets (I think because of Christmas) that let you into the park after 4pm.
I was expecting it to be mobbed, I’ve been to Disneyland in California before at Christmas time and it was so packed you couldn’t move- but it was actually relatively empty. The big rides had “long” waits, but I think Soaring was an hour and Tron was even less.
Tron was really hard to try to get a good picture of- Abby and I waited below for everyone else.
A good time was had by all the riders. Alex will quickly tell you anytime he is asked that Tron is his favorite part of this trip. After this we grabbed some dinner and waited for the tree lighting ceremony.
After tree lighting it was back to running around for rides. As soon as we got over there, Pirates of the Caribbean closed temporarily- so we moved on to Fantasy land where we rode the Storybook ride (think Jungle cruise but with princesses) and Peter Pan’s Flight- which is the same at all the parks I think- and wander through gift shops (because we all had a roughly$12 coupon on purchases over $22).
After shopping for a bit, Pirates was back open and we were able to get on it with no wait at all. Pirates was pretty cool, lots of CGI and different special effects than the ones in US Disneys… and a bit darker too. Not to spoil too much, but in the famous scene with the guys in jail trying to whistle the dog with the keys over… In Shanghai it’s all skeletons, the guys and the dog. The whole ride is in Chinese, and while I didn’t understand it, you don’t really need to to enjoy the ride.
After that we decided to head out of the park as it was about to close for winter hours, and while Abby and Nora went to find a good spot to watch the closing finale, the rest of us went on Seven Dwarf’s Mine train since there was no wait.
We decided to head in and get shopping while everyone else was watching the finale. When we got done, we headed to Disney Town (which is the equivalent of Downtown Disney or Disney Springs) to have a late night dinner at Cheesecake Factory.
And all of this was just the half Day at Disney! Abby and Nora only joined us for this half day because Nora was a responsible student who had to study for a test… unlike me, who had a final in two days but hung out at Disney anyway!
The last day in Osaka was a little more laid back, but still very fun! There was a famous temple nearby our hotel that I wanted to check out and I hadn’t asked for too many temples this trips, so everyone was agreeable.
The first view of the shrine is the beautiful archway entrance. It kind of sneaks up on you because this is in the middle of a neighborhood of apartments and businesses. Then BAM! Shrine!
This shrine intrigued me for a couple of reasons, it was close to the hotel, it’s a pretty famous one, and it’s all post WWII reconstructions for the shrine buildings that were burned in air raids. I like a little double dose of history for my buck.
This is Ema-Den It is believed that the wide-opened mouth of the lion swallows up evil spirits of worshipers and calls for victory and success. And who couldn’t use a little more victory and success in their lives. At this time, I had applied for the PhD program, but I didn’t know if I had been accepted yet and I felt like some victory and success was needed.
Alex wanted to do another wooden prayer card, but at 500 Yen a piece, we can’t afford his prayers!
At the top of the stairs to the Shrine, you put in your offering into the box, say your prayer, bow, and pull the ropes shown which rings a bell.
Next to this , out of camera shot is a bin of different shaped keychain type souvenirs, and attached to them is a fortune (good or bad). Alex wanted to get one, but we couldn’t translate them and wouldn’t want to bring a bad luck fortune home with us.
Mark and I had an idea for a B horror movie here, with college kids getting bad luck fortunes and keeping them and bringing the evil spirits back…. if you use that idea, you have to give us credit!
After walking around the shrine, we were ready to go to our second escape room of Japan. now I got no pictures of this escape room, but I will say that I think it was my favorite escape room we’ve done yet. It’s run by two brothers, called Escape Osaka. And I won’t give anything away, but the story line is super creative, and the room and clues are really well done. I would recommend it to anyone spending time in Osaka, it’s worth a day trip if you’re in Kyoto too. https://www.escapeosaka.com/
After we beat the Escape room, we went back to the hotel for a little cool down and rest before dinner. We decided to go to another ramen place near our hotel, and then walk back to the game station area so Alex could play his new favorite game (more on that later). I apparently didn’t take any pictures at the ramen place– bad blogger!– but it was terrific, and had traditional sitting on the floor seating, which was the only time we did that while we were in Japan. It wasn’t a far walk to the game station in town,and I was excited to go back to Daiso and buy more souvenirs and fun stuff while the boys played games.
This time though, we got a little turned around and ended up going to a different game station- there are tons of them all over the city. And of course, this one was nowhere near a Daiso, so instead I watched Alex play his game.
We call the game Battleship Girls, I don’t know what it’s really called. You basically choose a character and then it spits out a card, and you can only play characters that you have cards for- and each time you play that character and build up the strengths, it gets added to the card. Now, Alex only has three cards, but the guys playing next him had several boxes of cards, like you would keep index cards in. So I think you could spend a lot of time and money on this game if you lived near enough.
To me, Alex looked like a little old man that you would see playing slots in Vegas… laser focus, not talking or answering questions, he would only talk to us when he needed more coins, and even then, it was only a “Dad” with his hand outstretched behind him, never taking his eyes off the screen. After an hour we called it and said he was done. He would have stayed for much longer if we let him.
On our way home, we decided to pop into the train station and buy our expensive tickets to the airport for the next morning, since it was going to be really early.
The next morning, we tried to use the tickets only to be told they were invalid. Since we bought them the day before, they were only valid until midnight that day. So we had to rebuy them that morning anyway. So if you’re in Osaka, and planning to prebuy your metro tickets- don’t, it won’t save you anytime and will actually just be more complicated.
And that was it for Japan. We had a great time there, and would go back anytime. Next up is a trip back to Thailand and other summer adventures!
I forgot to post about our lunch that day, which was memorable- so I’ve gone back to add it in now.
We went to a tempura place, because we couldn’t find the original place we were looking for. It was the Angry man place from a few posts ago
While we were there, the chefs noticed Alex watching them and they got invested in making sure he was having a good time. So they made him a throwing star… and then several more.
The chef even made sure that Alex got a little toy when we left- it was a great addition to the final day. The food was great too, we tried Japanese curry and it was different in all good ways. We got a lot spoiled by the food in Japan!
Day 2 in Osaka started as all days on a trip in the Traveling Expat Family start…. with a discussion of food. I don’t know where Mark found the following place, he’s got a variety of ways to find food depending on which country we’re in. So in the heat of the day, we set off to find a traditional Osaka specialty.
This restaurant is well known, and only has place for about 12 people. You have to wait outside, and for once we timed it right to be at the front of the line and because of that got a bench seat to wait on.
While we were waiting, a local man came by to talk with us and asked us how we heard about it and why so many foreigners were waiting in the heat to eat there. He was a very nice man, and I wish I had thought to get his picture. We talked about current events in America, what it was like in Japan post WWII to now, the decline of birthrates and the aging population. Then it was our turn to go in, so we said goodbye and headed in.
Okonomiyaki is Osaka soul food. Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the most common style , found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water , eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat , octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables,or cheese. There are only two people working here, the guy behind the grill and the server/hostess/ amazing lady.
While we were waiting for our choices to be cooked, we got to play around a bit, they had two samurai helmets and a sword, so of course Alex had to check that out!
There are build your own options for ingredients, but we picked set types.
When we left lunch, we were each given a special eraser to take with us to remember them with. Mark got a unami sushi eraser, I got a salmon nigiri eraser and Alex picked a gyoza eraser.
After lunch, we decided to do something special for Alex. He’s been into Pokemon for a couple of years now, and when anyone would mention Japan he would tell you that it was the birthplace of Pokemon. So what to do but bring him to a Pokemon Center.
Now, for those of you whose children are also super into pokemon… let me save you the heartbreak we had, bring your pokemon cards from home if you want to play! We didn’t know what the Center would have and it actually has a place to play against other people. Even if we had bought new cards, they were all in Japanese.
So this ended up being just a really big expensive Pokemon store to us. Alex got to pick out a few things though, he got a Lucaro keychain (I’m sure he will tell me I got that wrong) and a wallet to carry the most important cards in.
While he was super sad not to play, he was excited to see all the different options for Pokemon Swag, even if his awful parents told him two things was the limit.
For dinner, we headed back to Dontonburi for a ramen adventure. Again, Mark found this place in his mysterious ways. This was a visual throwback in a very modern and neon area.
Mark and Alex had the same ramen, and I got a happiness ramen.
It was delicious. The soup was the thickest broth soup I’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure we got gyozas too… but I can’t remember for sure.
After dinner we went wandering again. There is so much to see and do in this area (especially at night).
Osaka was so much fun, It was hard to believe it was almost over already.