Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Beach

Hong Kong with Kids Day 2: Lamma Island Adventure

Making plans based on an air quality forecast was a first for me. Living where we do, I take clean air for granted. But you really need to pay attention here in Hong Kong. I figured since we’d be walking quite a bit, heading out early before the worst of the air arrived in the afternoon was probably prudent. This meant I roused two grumpy kids at 6:00. Their unhappiness was gone by the time we headed to breakfast, and we were headed for the ferry terminal before 7:30.

Along the way we passed by a building undergoing renovation. Or something. I wouldn’t have really noticed, except that the scaffolding along the exterior was built entirely of bamboo. Now, I know the stuff is tough. But I’m not sure I’d be willing to climb out onto it ten stories above the ground. The whole structure is insane.

I was still in shock as we headed to the Star Ferry terminal again to cross over to Central. If you remember from our first day’s adventures (SEE: Hong Kong with Kids Day 1: Exploring from Kowloon Bay to Victoria Peak), this crossing costs like 80 cents for myself and two kids. It’s pretty much the best deal for entertainment in all of Hong Kong.

A window seat view is a must. The kids ran to the front of the ferry every time and each claimed a window to enjoy the view of the city.

Ferry to Lamma Island

The ferry between Kowloon and Central requires you to buy a token. I figured it would be the same system for the ferry to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island. Nope. The turnstile here requires exact fare for passengers to be deposited directly into it. I had a bunch of coins, but even all added together, it wasn’t enough for the three of us. I’d have to find some way to exchange it. 

A kind lady directed me to a ticket window where we exchanged $50 HKD for change to put into the machine. She then placed the fare in herself. Helping helpless tourists is probably a routine part of her job description for Star Ferry employees. I was super grateful. We were maybe 10 minutes from ferry departure, and I had gotten anxious when I realized we wouldn’t just breeze through.

The ferry to Yung Shue Wan arrived at the pier about 8 minutes later, and we were soon on board. The kids wanted to stand outside, which was entirely fine by me. It was a beautiful day. 

The ferry ride was lovely. Even with the fairly polluted morning air, the breeze was worth it. We passed along Hong Kong island, circling around until we were eventually headed south toward Lamma Island. Along the way we passed a giant cargo ship. 

The ride lasted maybe half an hour. We disembarked at the Yung Shue Wan terminal and walked into the small town by the same name.

While Lamma Island is still part of Hong Kong, it is an entirely different world than the bustling city we’d just left behind. I’m sure some of those in this quiet community commute to Hong Kong each day for work, yet have the good fortune to come home to this sanctuary every day. Lamma Island is a haven of artists and hippies, those looking to trade the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong for a more laid back pace of life. It was quite interesting to spy cafes touting raw, vegan, and organic foods along the narrow streets. The kids loved the tanks of live seafood at a couple vendors.

Yung Shue Wan is the largest town on the entire island, and ferry service is very regular. Even if you don’t want trek across the entire island like we did, hopping on the ferry from Central to Yung Shue Wan is easy and convenient, and there is enough to do on the northwestern end of the island to keep you occupied for at least half a day.

The kids wanted to play on the beach, but I told them we’d come across some nicer ones along our walk. I figured that the one near the end, Lo So Shing, was going to be the real winner of the bunch. 

The cove itself at Yung Shue Wan is picturesque. The one unfortunate blot on Lamma Island is the fact that it contains a power plant, the stacks of which are visible over the hill to the left. I guess Hong Kong needed to place it somewhere, and the outlying islands makes sense, at least from the perspective of the millions of people in the city who don’t want to see it. It is a real bummer to see it on an otherwise gorgeous island.

First stop, Hung Shing Ye

Leaving the main villages near the cove, we started on the trail toward Sok Kwu Wan. I’ll venture to say that the kids were oddly more interested in the small villages on Lamma Island as we meandered through them than they were of the skyscraper-lined streets of Kowloon and Hong Kong. We didn’t reach this awesome sign until the middle of the hike, but this will give you an idea of the walk we did. The ferry we arrived on dropped us at the northwestern end, and we proceeded to follow the brown line to the other ferry terminal near the middle of the island, with one detour.

After just a few hundred yards we started to leave the apartment buildings behind, now walking through the forest, interspersed by poorer, more ramshackle dwellings here and there. Definitely a different world than the gleaming skyscrapers a short ferry ride away. 

It didn’t take long for us to come upon the first beach at Hung Shing Ye. Not only was it kept up much more nicely than I anticipated, it was wonderfully quiet on this sunny weekday morning. I let the kids play for most of an hour. I hadn’t planned on necessarily stopping at this beach for this length of time, given the proximity to the Lamma Island Power Station. But they were loving it. 

The problem with kids is that they don’t want to move on when they start really enjoying something. Both of them were happily building a sand fort to guard against the gentle surf and didn’t want to abandon their project. I eventually had to coax them away with promises of a second beach we could enjoy even longer. 

Middle of Lamma Island

The next part of the hike has very little cover or shade. By this time is was approaching 80 degrees and also humid, not the most comfortable for hiking. The complaints started in earnest along this section, as the path began to meander up and down. Every once in a while we’d find a patch of trees and take a break. 

lamma island trail

The next stop for us was a rain shelter about a third of the way to the next beach. There is also a lookout pavilion, but it is 150 meters off the trail. Eventually we broke out to the other side of the island with a view of Sok Kwu Wan and a departing ferry below. Hong Kong island was barely visible through the haze in the distance. 

The path forks at Lo So Shing Village, where you can choose to either head to the Sok Kwu Wan and the fish farming villages, or to Lo So Shing beach like we did. The beach isn’t far down a narrow path through the forest. 

Lo So Shing, the second beach

We made it to Lo So Shing beach around 11:30, giving the kids at least an hour to play in the sand and surf. We still had another quick stop ahead, as well as lunch, but we were keeping to the schedule I’d penciled out for a departure on the 2:35 p.m. ferry. 

Lo So Shing Beach was small, but nice, and just as quiet as Hung Shing Ye Beach. I’m sure it’s a far more popular place in the summer. There is a nice shaded area with benches, letting me watch the kids while still relaxing after our hike. There are both bathroom facilities and a refreshment kiosk available (apparently closed in winter), if needed. 

The kids enjoyed building castles and playing in the water, which was surprisingly clear. I guess I figured that murky air would translate to murky ocean water, but that certainly wasn’t the case, at least not at this location. If we all had our bathing suits, it would have been perfectly suitable to swim, although there were signs posted saying not to swim, due to lack of a lifeguard. Lifeguards are present during the summer months. 

Two sad faces stared at me when it was finally time to move on. But we had a schedule to keep. I didn’t want to miss the ferry and have to wait another 90 minutes for the next one. 

Final stretch to Sok Kwu Wan. And Lunch.

Our next stop was the Kamikaze Caves. This might sound a bit intimidating, but they are literally just holes carved in the rock face where Japanese soldiers were to conceal speedboats loaded with explosives for use against Allied shipping late in World War II. The caves were never used for their intended purpose. 

From there we wound around to Sok Kwu Wan, where lunch awaited us at a small seafood restaurant along the cove. We stopped at the first place we found, Rainbow Seafood Restaurant, which was probably a mistake. I knew we’d be paying a bit more for lunch, but I didn’t expect it to set us back $50 USD for three dishes, two of which weren’t even seafood. The lemon chicken was excellent, though. We certainly could have eaten well for less than half of that cost back in Hong Kong itself. But when you’re on an island with a handful of restaurant options catering to tourists, there isn’t much else you can do. 

We finished up with just a few minutes to spare before we had to catch our ferry. It was arriving as we walked up the the queue at the dock. Turns out the 2:30 departure is quite popular, which makes sense, given it gets you back to Hong Kong with enough time to still enjoy part of the afternoon. 

This unfortunately meant we didn’t score al fresco window seats on the ferry back from Sok Kwu Wan like we had on our first ferry ride. After departure, I finally had the gumption to jump in the one unoccupied seat near the window between two other people for a few minutes to snap some photos. It totally makes sense that these seats are the best in the house. The view of the high-rises heading back into Central is spectacular. The Hong Kong skyline might be the finest I’ve ever seen. 

Wrapping up our day

We disembarked at Pier 6 and made our way over to the ferry back to Kowloon. One more ride across the water and two stops on the metro and we’d be back at the hotel for the evening. But first we had to stop and try the purple potato soft serve I’d been eyeing since our first ferry ride. 

It…tasted like sweet potato. The kids weren’t so keen on trying it, but it was a two for one special and they ended up liking it. So guess who gave up his ice cream.

Back at our hotel for the evening, the kids got in an hour of schoolwork. Trying to keep up while traveling is a bit tough, but we were managing. We’d also have additional time at the airport the next evening. 

Dinner was KFC and McDonalds eaten in-room. I’d obviously prefer something authentic, but if pressed for time with two rather unadventurous kids (when it comes to food), we had to stay close to our American roots. But foreign fast food comes with its own opportunity to stray from the mundane. McDonalds Hong Kong was offering a “bolognese and fried egg angus burger”, which sounded so utterly disgusting, I just had to try it. The concoction wasn’t quite as terrible as I expected. 

The evening was a bit special for me, however. I left the kids snoozing in the hotel room and headed downstairs to meet Jason Francisco, a fellow contributor to Points with a Crew, and another dad who has his own travel blog (SEE: Daddy Travels Now).

We chatted it up for a couple hours, some things related to life and kids but most of all travel. It was awesome to have someone else with whom to discuss both the love of travel and the usefulness of miles and points to make so much happen. When 10:00 p.m. rolled around, I had to call it a night, our last official night in Hong Kong. 

El Colibri Rojo Review – Visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

**This is very dated, but I decided to finish up a review of the place we stayed in Limón province when we were in Costa Rica in Fall 2017**

After a nice excursion to one of Costa Rica’s beautiful Pacific beaches (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona Review), I figured we’d visit the other side of the country to compare. From all we’ve heard and read, the Caribbean coast is an entirely different animal.

There are no good chain options (unfortunately) along the Caribbean coast, so I started scouring various OTAs and AirBnb for good places. El Colibrí Rojo stood out to us since it offered a two bedroom apartment, a pool, the potential to purchase a reasonably priced breakfast, and proximity to some of the nicer beaches on the Caribbean near Cahuita. All of this for $288 for 3 nights.

Cahuita also came highly recommended to us by Costa Ricans working with us for our adoption. The national park nearby, plus the other beautiful beaches, made it an ideal place to visit on the Atlantic side of the country.

Arriving at El Colibrí Rojo

The drive from San José to Cahuita is about 3.5 hours. Our previous trip was only about 90 minutes, so this was substantially longer for the kids. We warned them of the length a few days before, and even then we started getting complaints. Our trip would have been quicker, but we had to go an alternate route since the main highway experienced a mudslide in the monsoon-like rains and was closed. So the winding, mountainous route through Cartago it was. At least the Costa Rican mountains are stunningly beautiful.

By the time we got to Cahuita, though, the sun was starting to set. We ended up checking into El Colibrí Rojo and then heading back to the sleepy town of Cahuita itself to pick up some dinner. We settled on pizza, taking it back to our apartment to eat. After that, it was pretty much time to get the kids to bed. It had been a long, exhausting day of driving.

The next day we got to see a bit more of the tiny hotel property. The “lobby” at El Colibrí Rojo  is super laid back, an inviting space to spend a little time with a game or guitar, and chatting with the wonderful hosts of the property. The welcome area/lobby is across the drive from the hosts home and attached to the open-air breakfast area.

Across the gravel parking area are the “cabinas”. Most of them are pretty simple, but ours is the largest with a few additional features.

There are a row of hammocks in front of the cabins, welcoming you to relax in the warm, humid climate of Limón, in the shade and hopefully with a nice breeze. The weather here was quite a change from the upper 60s and lower 70s we were experiencing in San José and the central valley.

Our apartment was just called the “apartamento”, without a number. It is the only unit to offer a full kitchen and air conditioning, from what I’d read in the property description of El Colibrí Rojo.

El Colibrí Rojo apartment

The apartment is modest, but plenty nice for what we paid and what we needed for the five of us for a few days in Cahuita. The kitchen comes fully stocked, with everything you need to cook and serve meals for an entire family. It is great.

Attached to the kitchen is a small living room area with a couch and television.

Between the two areas is the dining table, a unique and beautiful high wooden table. It is also the location of the much-needed and appreciated air conditioning. We had that thing running almost the entire stay, likely to the chagrin of the hosts. From what I understand in Costa Rica, power isn’t all that cheap, at least in comparison to earnings. But we are wimps from mild northern California, and there is no way we would have been able to sleep without A/C. And it took running that poor little unit all the time to keep things sufficiently cool in the bedrooms.

The apartment at El Colibrí Rojo has two bedrooms, one with two single beds and the other with a double bed. Pretty spartan accommodations, but just fine for our needs.

The apartment also includes an outdoor dining area that is just for the guests who book it, as well as our own hammock. It is covered to provide shelter from the elements and is a great place to relax.

Here we are at lunch one day, eating soup in the warm outdoors. Not a great meal choice for the climate, but it’s what we’d brought. This is only a little over a year ago, and I’m blown away by how much our kids have grown!

Overall, the apartment was perfect for a few days at the beach enjoying the Costa Rican sun and swimming in the water of the Caribbean.

El Colibrí Rojo breakfast

Breakfast is served each morning in the open-air dining area between the “lobby” and the pool. It is a continental affair, consisting of bread, pastries, fruit and yogurt, although I think that you could order an egg or two if you wanted. I can’t remember. It’s been a bit too long. But I remember it being enough, and worth the minimal price we paid.

Of course there is also coffee and tea, as well as cereal, which the kids enjoyed.

Our hosts were very welcoming, and we got to chat a bit each morning about our time in Costa Rica. They were obviously a bit intrigued to see a fair-skinned couple with a trio or darker Costa Rican kids, and we were able to talk about our adoption. The hosts of El Colibrí Rojo are actually from France, relocated there in search of a quieter and more laid-back life, and it was interesting to get their perspective on the country.

Pool and other facilities

The kids thoroughly enjoyed the pool at El Colibrí Rojo. It is not very big, but it fairly deep. I had to carefully watch our youngest for fear of him falling in. Our daughter was good about carrying him around so he could be part of the fun. The water was about the same temperature as the air, maybe just a hair cooler. Plenty warm for swimming.

When we weren’t at the beach, the kids were generally in the pool.

I liked the overall open-air design of the facilities at El Colibrí Rojo. Considering that it is always warm, it totally makes sense. Although there is also the argument for air-conditioned rooms. I believe ours is the only guest room that contains an A/C unit.

There is not much to the property, but certainly enough if all you’re looking for is a pool and breakfast. The small number of rooms (less than 10, I believe) also means it’s a pretty quiet place as well.

Playas near Cahuita

The nearby national park in Cahuita is the real gem of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and the main reason we were here. The water is lovely, the sand is lovely, and the weather is lovely. Beach vacations have never been on my radar, but this experience started to change my mind. Now I understand that there is a lot more than the gritty, cold, windy beaches I’m used to in northern California.

Kels was sick some of the time, but she was still able to make it out to the beach with us a couple times to enjoy the sand and sun with the kids. The kids had a blast.

The sun scorches fast, though. We all had to be careful to put on plenty of sunscreen!

Conclusion

Our stay at El Colibrí Rojo was very nice. It was an inexpensive place that gave us some comforts of home (i.e. a kitchen and air conditioning) and the facilities we needed. I’d happily stay again, and I hope the hosts are still running the place and doing well.

A Day Exploring Orlando

Last weekend I flew to Orlando on a whirlwind trip to attend the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference. The event is held twice a year, and it was my first time going. More on that later.

I gave myself an extra day to get to the conference since you never know what United is going to pull when you fly out of Arcata (SEE: Our First United Horror Story). The ticket was booked using Merrill Lynch “miles” (actually flexible points worth up to 2.0 cents each toward travel), so I wasn’t beholden to United award availability.

My connection time at SFO was 35 minutes, which is asking for trouble. Amazingly, I made the flight no problem, literally walking off one plane and onto the next. If I hadn’t, I had a back up plan in place.

Waking up in Florida

I arrived late and got to my hotel after 10:00 p.m., but didn’t get to sleep until after midnight (still on California time). I didn’t set my alarm, so I slept in until 8:37, which is ridiculous. Until you realize that is only 6:37 back home.

It was late enough that I missed breakfast, however, at the Staybridge Suites. I guess I could have headed downstairs un-showered, but I wasn’t going to do that to everyone. An hour later I checked out and hit up Starbucks, and then figured out what I wanted to do for the day.

Looking at my options

Orlando is home to a TON of stuff to do. They have Disney World, of course, as well as Universal Studios, water parks, and other attractions. Without my wife (or future kids), though, I saw no point in heading to Disney for the day. It would be pretty costly, and I doubt I could make the day worth it since I had to be back at 5:00. Plus, I am finding more and more that I dislike crowds, and Disney parks are the epitome of crowds.

Another option was the Kennedy Space Center. But at $50, I didn’t really want to spring for it, even though I was extremely interested. It would be pushing noon by the time I got there, and I wanted to be checking into my hotel around 4:30 in time to meet up with the group  and head to dinner.

Settling on a cheap easygoing day

So, I figured I would instead split the day between the beach and a quick visit to downtown. I was already paying for a rental car, and this seemed like a fine way to both enjoy Florida and save money. Unfortunately the car ended up costing me much more than I anticipated (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make).

The beach at Cape Canaveral was the closest, at about a 45 minute drive. The weather was glorious. A cold front had passed through during the night, and the temperature had dropped an easy 15 degrees since the time I landed the night before. I’m not sure how long it rained, but I slept through all of it.

My time at the beach consisted mainly of walking through the surf, taking pictures, and trying to relax and let my mind rest. I’d had a long chunk of work sandwiched between two trips, which meant I worked over the weekend.

The Atlantic Ocean in Florida is *so* nice compared to the ocean at home. The water is actually pleasant instead off frigid. This may start changing my mind when it comes to destinations.

Back into the “city”

Lunch was Cold Stone (yes, lunch), and then I headed back toward the city. Orlando has a good amount of sprawl, and it took longer to get to downtown than I anticipated.

Orlando isn’t really a “city” per se. I mean…it is, but it is nothing like New York, Los Angeles, Denver or even Calgary or Montreal. It has a totally different feel to it. I’m not sure what I can compare it to from my previous experiences.

I parked in a garage and took a walk to Lake Eola. There wasn’t much in particular I wanted to do, but I try to find parks in a new city as the first place to explore, as long as they are close to the urban area.

My remaining time consisted of a leisurely walk around the lake. I snapped some photos of both the city and the huge geese at the lake.

Off to the pre-conference dinner

I headed back to the other airport hotel (a Club Carlson hotel booked on points) directly across the street from the Hyatt Place where the conference was located. I met up with some of the other attendees and we headed out to dinner at a barbecue place.

Dinner was a good distance away in Winter Park, but we’d been told the barbecue place was good. Turned out it was Cinco de Mayo, so we ended up getting some fusion cuisine. A brisket taco and conversation with fellow travel hackers was just the beginning of a great experience.