For years, we've been planning on taking my parents on a trip. And this year, the trip finally materialized and we were off to Hawaii to celebrate Grandpa's 70th birthday! On the morning of our departure, we were glad to wave good-bye to the pouring rain and be on our way to our 5 days/4 nights adventure at the sunny Island of Oahu.
Although we've been to Hawaii many times, this was our first trip to Oahu. As soon as we stepped out of the plane, we noticed that Oahu was more developed and commercialized than the other islands with a bigger airport and multi-lane highways. Had there no palm trees swaying in the wind, I wouldn't have thought that we were in Hawaii already. Outside of the terminal, our shuttle driver, Dave, was there waiting to pick us up. I had reserved with Oahu Airport Express (OAE) for our ride to our hotel at Waikiki because of the good reviews from Yelp and the great price - $35/one-way to Waikiki.
Our hotel was the Waikiki Marriott Beach Resort and Spa. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its name as a beach resort with only 2 small pools, out-of-date rooms and not-so-friendly front-desk. Luckily, HanHan didn't seem to mind because we had connected rooms and she was so excited that she can go to grandma's room anytime she liked.
After we settled in, we took a stroll on the street along side Waikiki Beach (Kalakaua Ave) to International Market to catch a late lunch. The fish pond immediately caught HanHan's attention but I was more interested in the food court. We ended up ordering BBQ plate lunch from Choi's Kitchen with lots of yummy food for a decent price. A great choice if you don't mind the below-average dining condition...
While we were working on emptying the plate lunch, HanHan (and Mark) had their eyes on the shave ice and pineapple soft serve - a must-have in Hawaii!
After lunch, HanHan got to play on the world famous Waikiki beach. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and the cool breeze in the air ended her play early when she got soaking wet.
On the 3rd floor of the Marriott was Sansei Seafood Restaurant which we had dined at on the other islands. The food was decent but pricey so we made sure we catch the 50% off early bird special (every Sunday and Monday night between 5-6pm). The Crab Ramen and Miso Butterfish were to die for; definitely a must-have if you ever ended up here. After a satisfying meal, we were ready to call it a day and looking forward to an adventurous day tomorrow!
On a side note, one of the most amazing sight in Waikiki is the abundance of ABC Store in every corner of the street. To ensure that we never run out of life essentials such as soda, snacks and souvenirs, yikes!
Today we had planned to visit Dole Plantation and Polynesian Culture Center (PCC). But first, we headed to McD's to fill our tummy. The McDonald's in Waikiki had a special breakfast item which served scrambled eggs and sausage patties with rice (in place of hash brown/biscuits) and soy sauce. Eager to try all things new and different, Mark ordered the local special. Not bad, he said. After breakfast, it's time to hit the road. Following Yahoo Map's direction, we managed to get lost 2 miles away from the actual location. So a valuable lesson learned here was - always cross check the directions 3 times before leaving!
Turning into the parking lot, we immediately spotted a number of tour buses at Dole Plantation. Yep, this was no doubt the right place to be - a huge tourist attraction. There were 3 parts of the plantation which charged admission separately: the maze ($6), the garden ($5) and the train ride ($7.75). Surprisingly, HanHan didn't want to ride the train so we visited the garden instead.
Inside the garden, we saw a number of tropical fruit trees that we don't usually see on mainland - coconut, papaya, coffee, cocoa and even betel nut trees (檳榔). We also learned that Hawaii's state flower is the yellow hibiscus, how educational!
Off to the side was a fish feeding pond filled with lots of hungry Kois fighting for little pieces of fish food thrown by the tourists. This turned out to be the highlight of Hanhan's day feeding the fishes over and over again. We stayed at the plantation for lunch so we could have pineapple whip for desert, yummy!
After lunch, we started our way toward PCC. On the way, we stopped by a fruit stand for more fresh island fruits - coconuts, mangos, and cherimoya(釋迦). I was lucky to have witnessed an 80-years-old grandma opening a coconut with 2 strikes only, amazing!
Finally, we arrived at PCC. The culture center showcased 8 island cultures in differents parts of the center called "villages". There we got to experience how they lived, played, and made crafts. We first took the canoe ride to get an overivew of the villages, then we saw the Tonga show which was very entertaining. We also spotted a guy demostrating coconut retrieval by climbing a tall coconut tree barefooted and moving very fast, wow.
There was plenty to see but not enough time because it was time for our Luau already!
The Luau started with the roated whole PIG making its entrance. There were singing, dancing and the host lady trying to force the $10 smoothie-in-a-pineapple to everyone at the table. Some of the more Hawaiian dishes from the buffet included: poi (mashed taro paste), poke (raw ahi tuna cubes marinated in soy sauce), chichen long rice (which is clear noodle cooked in chicken broth; no rice at all), Kalua pork (the roasted pig pulled apart) and taro rolls. My favorite was the coconut pudding, which tasted more like coconut jello cubes. I was told that the pudding contained no gelatin, really!
The best part of the Luan came when the host lady asked for keiki (kid) volunteers to go on stage. Without hesitation, HanHan jumped on the stage and started hula'n like a pro. Bravo, I had not seen her so interested of being on stage before, maybe we should start preparing for American Idol. :)
Followed by the Luau was the evening show - "HA, the breath of life". There were lots of singing, dancing and people throwing fire balls around. HanHan was scared to see the dancers handling fire in the first place. But she was eventually convinced that these people are iron-men and no longer afraid of fire. My favorite part was when the lead hula girl danced solo; how she was able to move her behind so freely and with great control - something I could never master for sure!
That was it for the 2nd day. We were all dead tired by the time we got back to the hotel. The hotel bed never felt more heavenly before...
Today was our beach and snorkeling day! After some research, we ended up going to Hanauma Bay which is known as the best snorkeling spot on Oahu and it's true! The calm waves and clear water made it perfect for snorkeling. Because Hanauma Bay is a protected nature park, every visitor is required to view a 8-minutes video on marine preservation and pay a $7.50 admission fee to use the beach. It took us about 45 minutes to finally arrive at the beach and to have some fun!
This was the 2nd time HanHan tried on her snorkel gear; couldn't quite master it yet, but she had fun just moving in and out of the light waves. Grandpa and Grandma were off to their own adventure to find fishes while Mark and I snorkeled off to see fishes nibbling on the reef. The fishes in the water were so used to human that they barely lifted up their heads when they spotted me closing in. An unusual sight, yes, but what an experience to be so close to the fishes - some of them up to 1 foot long. We were most proud of Grandpa when he tried on the snorkel gear and swam away with me. 70-years-old and still going strong, way to go, Grandpa!
The cool and breezy weather plus empty stomachs ended our day at the beach early. After we exited the bay, we parked into a local restaurant, Loco Moco Drive Inn, just off Hwy72 for lunch. The food was plenty for a decent price (lots of meat and rice), but definitely no 5-star restaurants.
In the afternoon, by HanHan's request we ended up in the pool. I was impressed of some of her moves in the water (diving down to touch the bottom, flipping over horizontally and tilting her legs upward). Maybe we should consider synchronized swimming when we got back...
Dinner time, we decided to just walked around town and see what we can find. Luckily, we spotted a Japanese restaurant (Menchank-Tei) full of people so we went right in. The specialty of the restaurant was Menchanko-bowl which was also known as Sumo wrestler stew (日式相撲鍋). I've never had menchanko bowl before so I was dying to try. Turned out it's alot like udons except with yellow noodles. I guess if it's named right, everything becomes taster, don't you think!
That was it for the 3rd day, only 2 more days to go...
Today was Pearl Harbor day. At first, I was NOT interested in going, but boy, was I wrong! Pearl Harbor turned out to be a great place to visit. There were 3 major attractions here - the USS Arizona Memorial (Free), the USS Missouri Battleship ($20) and the USS Bowfin Submarine ($10). In order to reach the memorial that's built on top of the sunken USS Arizona (which was sunken during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941), visitors must take the ferry boats. The ferry service was free, but the tickets ran out quickly. We had arrived by 8am only to have gotten the tickets for 12:20pm. So we had plenty of time to tour the battleship and the submarine.
We first visited the USS Bowfin which was a submarine served in World War II. After touring the submarine, I had more respect for our service man/women for working in a crammed space with dangerous equipments and under the extreme pressure of war. It was difficult for us 5 to move around inside the submarine, let along having 80 soldiers living there. On a lighter side, HanHan was able to follow the audio tour and learned that there was an ice cream maker on board the submarine, yummy! To the side of the submarine lined a number of torpedoes and missiles on the ground. The most intriguing and deadly one was the Japanese Suicide Torpedo which allowed a pilot to sit inside the torpedo guiding the weapon to its enemy. It was a emotional moment for me to read the stories behind each display and felt the devastation the war can bring. Time to move on to the next stop...
Next we took the shuttle over to Ford Island where the USS Missouri was docked. Ford Island was an active military base and tourists were not allowed to walk around freely nor take any pictures of the base. The USS Missouri was built during WW II and last served during Desert Storm in Kuwait. She was also the site where the Japanese signed the unconditional surrender ending WW II. There were a lot of Japanese tourists on board the battleship so Mark and I both wondered if they felt a little out of place standing at the surrendering spot... The ship was huge with 5 decks and supposedly can carry 5,000 people easily. After 2 hours on board, we managed to see only about 50% of the ship and had to turn back due to our 12:20pm ferry ride. If you do plan to visit Pearl Harbor, plan to stay for a day and I promise you won't be disappointed!
Last but not least, we took the ferry ride over to the USS Arizona Memorial. Standing on top of the memorial listening to the stories of over 1,100 lives lost during the attack was heart-breaking. After we paid our respect, we quickly departed the memorial leaving the 1,100 souls at peace...
After dinner, we walked around Waikiki enjoying our last night here. Waikiki at night was a lot like Taipei with a lot of people still on the streets and in the stores.
Wow, that was our 4th and most memorable day. It's almost time to go home.
Today was the day to go home. Since our flight was at noon, I didn't have anything planned for today except to eat a big and filling breakfast so we headed to Marriott's Kuhio Beach Grill for its breakfast buffet (30% off, yeah). I was pretty happy with the food selections - omelet station, freshly made waffle, fresh fruits, miso soup, cereal, pastry, desert and more.
At the airport, we found out that United had over-sold our flight by 60 seats so we got upgraded to Business class because of Mark's premier executive status. I was so glad that Grandpa and Grandma got upgraded since this was their first time flying Business class. Of course, I was also happy not having to cram myself inside the teeny-tiny space of economy!
There it was, a very special trip with my parents. Although we were dead tired when we got home, we soooo looked forward to our next trip, hopefully SOON!