Outnumbered by kids 2 to 1, we figured, why not?
“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was about to happen.”A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
That quote couldn’t have been more true. Hold on, because this is going to be a long blog, spanning over 22,300 kms of air travel, 2 south-east Asian countries, and 4 children in tow. It was January 2nd, barely into the new year and Alyssa and I were about to board a 15-hr flight with not two, but four (yes, 4), kids in tow. Let’s back up a moment though… Okay, all the way back to Oct 2nd to be exact. We were at the pool watching Maddy’s swim lessons when I got the call from my dad, grandma had passed away. The matriarch of our family was now at peace. Making it back to Vietnam for the funeral wasn’t going to happen, without adequate facilities, even a week was pushing burial limits. So we decided on the 100-day ceremony that would happen. That had us travelling back to Duc Pho, Vietnam, for January 7th, and staying until after the ceremony. Plenty of time to book travel and sort ourselves out right?
Figuring out flights for 3 families heading out at different times, with different destination layovers, but flying home altogether was a bit more challenging then we thought it would be. We figured out our date to fly home, then went from there. Dad would leave just after Christmas and go straight to Vietnam to visit other friends and family. My sister, she was going to Malaysia after Christmas to spend time with friends on an adults only trip. There was the consideration her kids would stay home from the trip, but I didn’t feel that was appropriate for them considering the momentous reason we were going halfway around the world. We would rendezvous in Da Nang on January 7th.
Alyssa and I, well we settled on a stopover in Hong Kong for 3 nights and finally get to see the iconic city. We discussed it, considered the possible difficulties and challenges, and finally decided that Lexi and Damien would fly with us. So we made the offer, and before we knew it, plane tickets were all booked and we were set for our adventure and ceremony 11,167 kms away.
So fast forward now to December 31, 2018. I was working a night shift, hotels were booked, ground transportation arranged from Da Nang to Duc Pho… but, we still had NO plans for Hong Kong, our first destination. There was Ocean Park, harbour cruises, “the Peak”, DISNEYLAND Hong Kong, and a myriad of food and shopping options for us to check out. On Jan 1, we finally decided what we would do. A gondola ride up to a Buddhist temple, along with a 2-day park pass to Disneyland, as it afforded the kids way more rides and attractions then Ocean Park.
So here was mistake, or, miscalculation? Number 1. Our hotel was in Wanchai, on Hong Kong Island. A beautiful “suburb”. But also one that was 45-minutes from the airport, and a 60-minute trip to Disneyland by subway. The gondola ride up to the temple was also a 70-mins one-way trip by subway. And with 6 people and A LOT of luggage, we had to do 2 taxis to and from the hotel to the airport. The taxi? A whopping 400HKD each, each way. Or, about $400CDN total… Lesson learned? Pick your activities, then book your hotel accordingly. While we were on a tight hotel budget, I didn’t take into account the dollar value, and headache, of getting to it. We could have spent a bit more, closer to our activities, and cut the cost, and headache, of long travel times.
The flight over to Hong Kong went well, surprisingly smooth and well actually. The kids were great, they listened, kept each other busy, and were wanting to help however they could. Jacob slept a good portion of the flight, and was comfortable strapped into his own car seat, in his own seat, for the 15-hr journey. We also got over to the hotel with little mishap. When we got over to the hotel, we found out that “adjacent” rooms, are just side-by-side, but not connected together. My bad, apparently should have booked “adjoining” rooms. Luckily, we had our baby monitor, and put the camera in the room with the 3 older kids to listen in on and see what they were up to, and we could still communicate to them what needed to be done (the wonders of modern technology!).
Day 1 – purely Disneyland. Being a Friday, we figured it would be less busy to spend the full day there. The Hong Kong subway network is amazing, easy to navigate, and very reasonably priced. We had no issues getting oriented and on our way to Disneyland. Being a Friday, the crowds did not disappoint, the longest and average wait for a ride was just 30-minutes! Hong Kong Disneyland was amazing! While much smaller then the California park, it boasted all the main themes and attractions as well as Main Street USA. The kids were also able to go on the vast majority of rides together, and Jacob was able to ride on most of the attractions too!!
Food – Hong Kong has AMAZING food options. The three older kids had no problems eating what we got for them. But of course, Jacob chose the flight over to finally assert his independence in what he ate, and the remainder of the trip was a challenge of just getting whatever protein/nutrition we could into him.
Sleep – Where did everyone go and how did it go? Well, we did some fancy calculations on flight travel time, and when we were landing in Hong Kong, coupled with the time he needed between nap and bedtime to figure out how long he should sleep on the plane. This was really only doable because Jacob is in a predictable pattern from his sleep training last year. We also bought a Phil and Teds Travel Crib (link at the bottom), which weighs an amazing 6 pounds! And packed in our large luggage with ease. Jacob sleep was really no different on this trip then it was at home (a godsend in the end).
Day 2 – First half was spent on the gondola ride. The weather didn’t hold up and we found ourselves in the clouds with limited visibility for much of the trip. Getting to the top though, it was cool and nice. The walk to the temple was amazing, but the first half was just tourist stands and shops trying to get you to buy any overpriced nick knacks you might find appealing. This is also when I realized I had lost my military ID, be panic set in. Until that night, when I found it in my fleece vest pocket (oops!). The second half of the day was back to day 2 of Disneyland, completing the remainder of the park, albeit with much thicker crowds and longer lineups being a Saturday. If you’re wondering, 2 full days is sufficient to see ALL of Hong Kong Disneyland.
Day 3 – This day saw us transition back to the airport, in a death-defying taxi ride at 5am. My instructions to the driver when we got into the taxi, “Hong Kong International please, no rush, we have lots of time”. Thank goodness she was a good driver, going 120 in a 70 zone, and cutting a Google map estimated trip time of 35-minutes down to 20 was absolutely terrifying considering there was no ability to install car seats. Again, smooth flights into Da Nang International as the kids were extremely helpful, and Jacob was accommodating getting onto and off the plane. A huge shout out to Cathay Pacific’s on flight crew who helped in whatever way they could, to make our travel smoother.
Vietnam – Duc Pho and Da Nang
Now the trip down to Duc Pho, not nearly as well planned as we initially thought, but involved a ride on an interesting lie-down motor coach. It included a lot of panic of leaving without our family (dad, sister, cousins), and a complete meltdown from Maddy when she suddenly needed to use the bathroom. 4 and a half hours later, we made it to Duc Pho. We were scheduled for 6 nights there before returning to Da Nang for our final leg. In reality, we realized we only needed to be there 4 nights, as most of the family left right after the ceremony to return to work. Nevertheless, it was an amazing time at our family farm/resort/oasis and a touching tribute to my grandmother. There was also excessive drinking, a major community potluck party, and lots of exploration and time with extended family.
We also had a visit to the family burial site and paid tribute to late family members including my grandfather, uncle who was killed during the Vietnam war, and various other relatives.
Duc Pho return to Da Nang – for our journey back to Da Nang, we had asked for a private coach to take our entire family back northward. This should have been a 16-passenger bus to take us and ALL of our luggage back to Da Nang. Turns out it had passengers on board, and the entire back row had to be used for our luggage… So, I sat on a box for the trips back and prayed we didn’t crash (tour buses drive like rally racers there). They turned our 4 and a half hour journey south into a mere 2 hour journey north. How we made it out alive is a miracle unto itself.
3 nights in Duc Pho were purely rest and relaxation. and BOY did we need it after all that travelling. While it was fun, exciting, borderline dangerous, and great to see friends and family, it was nice to truly relax before heading back home. We got to meet my mom’s side of the family for the first time, too! It was great to have the opportunity to meet more of my relatives, a somewhat once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And our hotel, some of the best features? Oceanfront, and has an infinity pool. Need I say more?? Oh, and did Jacob’s diet get any better? Only because we only fed him what we knew he liked. Fortunately, Pho is on that list haha.
Ba Na Hills – Home of the Golden Bridge (see photo). This former French elite class hang out is high in the hills above Da Nang. An hour drive followed by a half hour gondola ride, it is a breathtaking journey that left us feeling like we weren’t in the tropics anymore. A wonderful little theme park is also located at the top, but surprisingly indoors. The architecture is that of late 19th century France, and a Buddhist shrine now sits near the highest point. The Golden Bridge really is just more of a gimmick, but still cool nonetheless, especially if you’re into Lord of the Rings!
Getting around Duc Pho, like many Asian cities, is actually very easy. Taxis are abundant, and if you’re more inclined, their version of Uber, called Grab, is a very easy, quick, and convenient way to fetch a ride to the size of what you need. A quick jaunt on the Grab motorbike day 1 was pretty cool.
Before we knew it, the trip was coming to a close. While it was great to see family, say farewell to my Grandma, and take some time to reconnect as a family. We missed home, oddly enough I was missing work, and there really is no place like home. Our flight home was uneventful, with adults now equaling kids, the journey was smooth and, dare I say, easy?
So in closing, some lessons were learnt on this trip. 1) plan your activities before your accommodations. 2) car seat and seat for your toddler (if you can afford it). It helped keep our sanity. We used a Cosco Scenera Next Convertible carseat borrowed from our friends Ed and Shelby for Jacob (link to below) 3) breathe and relax. Air travel is stressful at the best of times. Your trip started the moment you loaded up the car for the airport. Enjoy the journey so you can enjoy the destination. 4) plan sleeping arrangements. We couldn’t have done this without our travel crib. I was post a link to it below. It was a super lightweight, easy to transport option for ensuring our toddler’s, and thus yours, good night rest. 5) communicate and be flexible! This was one grand adventure, while it wasn’t easy, we enjoyed the memories it created.
<a href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=nguyenclanadv-20&language=en_CA&o=15&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=as_ss_li_til&asins=B0735QBD2C&linkId=1f55d6f8aa8c8738e2f79f60d6934fb1">Phil and Teds Traveller Crib (Black) on Amazon