Ten days in Hong Kong - ideas for visitors with young children

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Last month (April) we had a couple of friends (Mr & MrsJ) and their daughters (3 & 5 years old) pay us a visit from the UK. Here's how we kept them busy.

Day1 - Welcome to Hong Kong

I met them at the airport. If you're used to meeting local residents, be prepared for the much longer time it takes for non-residents to clear immigration. It took them about an hour from landing till they emerged into the meeting area. Also remember there are two exits (A & B) from the baggage claim area to the meeting area, so it's worth agreeing beforehand which one you'll wait for them at.

We'd pre-booked a taxi by telephone. The current going rate from the airport to Admiralty is HK$250 all-in, quite a bit cheaper than the meter fare. The driver was a bit grumpy about having to wait so long (he'd also assumed he was collecting a local resident), but before long we'd arrived at the Marriott hotel, where the family were staying for the holiday.

The plan to beat jetlag was to keep the days busy (to keep the children awake), and tiring (to help them sleep). So we dropped the bags in the hotel and went straight out to Hong Kong Park for a walk around, and to let them play in the playgrounds. Hong Kong's parks have some great playgrounds for young kids.

The sky gets dark around 6 at that time of year, so we walked down to the tram stop near the bottom of Garden Road to catch a tram to Wanchai. Not the brightest of ideas as it was rush hour - the trams were full and there was lots of traffic (and so exhaust fumes).

We finally managed to get on a tram, and spent the next few minutes wiggling our way along so we could get off at Johnston Road. By this time the troops were getting hungry, so we popped into the local greasy chopstick for some BBQ meat. No English menus, but a very friendly waitress who basically told me what we should have. Probably our cheapest meal of the holiday, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

From there we went down to Wanchai MTR, bought everyone Octopus cards to use for the rest of the holiday, then took the MTR back to the Admiralty and their hotel. It's definitely worth picking up Octopus cards as soon as possible, as they make getting around much easier.

MrsJ: Actually going to Hong Kong Park and straight on to the tram and Johnston Road was a great idea. I felt instantly transported to HK and forgot that we'd been on an aeroplane for 12 hours. The trick seems to be not to give the jetlag any house room. The meal at the greasy chopstick was one of the best of the holiday - maybe I was just very hungry! It also converted the non-rice eating MissJ-3 to sticky rice and she now eats it at home with enthusiasm.

Day 2 - Ocean park

We walked over to Admiralty, and took the direct bus to Ocean Park. The ice-skating show has been a big hit for MissB, so that was our first goal of the day. As we had a little time to kill before it started, we had a wander around the aviary, then sat down to cool off with an ice-cream.

After the show we set off up the long escalator to get to the dolphin show in time for a seat. Except half way up we heard the announcement it was already full.... Still, we managed to stand at the back, and put the girls on shoulders so they could see most of it. If you're arriving early, try and catch the morning show as it isn't so busy. Otherwise, if the park is busy, arrive at the theatre at least half an hour early to get a seat.

Those were the two must-see items for us, but there was plenty more to see besides. The big aquarium kept us busy for over half an hour, and of course we had a stop for chips, essential fuel for any British day out. After that the plan was to catch the cable car, but the queue was the longest I've seen it - the whole park was very full as it was school holidays in Hong Kong, and there were lots of mainland visitors too.

So instead we went up to see the seals and sea lions, before catching the escalator back down the hill. More crowds, but it didn't take too long. Fortunately, they all seemed to belong to tour buses, so there was only a very short queue for a taxi.

We caught the taxi back to our flat. Even that was part of the Hong Kong experience for the girls. It's easy to forget how odd living in a high-rise block of flats seems if you live in a Victorian terrace house in the UK.

MrsJ: A really good first full day. Lots to see and smell (remember the orange birds?). The weather was perfect for Brits, warm and very slightly muggy so feeling excitingly tropical but not sticky. Everything was so lush it reminded me of Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs (unless you count MrJ). I think this was the night we had sushi that was a bit more authentic than I had experienced before - I'm converted to the egg but you can keep raw fish!

Day 3 - Dim Sum, Shopping, Parks, Beer

Since it was going to be another day of walking, a hearty Dim Sum lunch was called for. It's hard to beat the Dim Sum at City Hall, so that was our first destination. You can walk most of the way there from the Marriott via shopping malls and raised walkways - in fact if you don't, you'll end up stuck at road level not able to cross the road!

We got to City Hall around 11:30. Many of the big tables already had a squatter in place - the unlucky office employee sent out early to stake their claim to a table. If we'd arrived much later we'd have faced a long queue, but at 11:30 we had no problem getting a table.

Both girls were very cautious about the food - they couldn't even be tempted by the usually irresistible mango pudding. Cha Siu Baau were well received, though - I've yet to meet a visitor who doesn't love them.

Enough of the food - time to shop. We took a leisurely stroll through Central, making our first stop in Li Yuen Street to pick up some gifts for the folks back home. MrsJ also wanted to buy a digital camera, so we popped into Fortress to grab one of those.

From Fortress we walked over to the nearby Mid-levels escalator, and rode that up the hill until we were up at the same level as the Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological gardens. We paid the monkeys a visit, then headed for the main attraction - the ice-cream stand. Then it was over to Hong Kong Park, stopping at the playground again. Are the children looking tired yet?

A short break for everyone to freshen up, then time for that institution, Friday Beer. We met at the Fish Bar, next to the swimming pool at the Marriott. It's a lovely setting anyway, but it's especially good for hotel guests with children. They could join us for dinner, play with the supplied lego & drawing stuff, then head straight up to their room when they flaked out. It was also a good chance to introduce the visitors to some of our local friends. Much as we enjoy having visitors, we'd drive each other crazy if we spent all the time together. Meeting up with other friends helps keep everyone sane!

MrsJ: It was great to meet your friends that evening - one of the best things about visiting friends in a foreign country is actually getting to meet other people who live there all the time. It makes you feel you've lived there at least a little, not just visited.

Day 4 - Gluttony

Friday's excuse for a big lunch was all the walking we'd be doing. Saturday there was no excuse, just gluttony at the TOTT's tea buffet, top floor of the Excelsior hotel in Causeway Bay. The big hotels in Hong Kong usually have one restaurant / coffee-shop where life is a continuous buffet - as the breakfast buffet is being cleared away, the lunch dishes are being arranged, then comes the tea buffet, and finally the one for dinner. They are a good way to stuff yourself with nice food in pleasant surroundings. They're generally child-friendly - and parent-friendly too. You can eat at whatever pace you want, and over several hours you can be sure to get exactly what you want. A nice change from eating with children at a normal restaurant, and taking it in turns to bolt down food between child-minding.

From the hotel we waddled over to the nearby Victoria Park, and tried to keep the children on that fine line between running around to enough get tired, but not so much that the tea would make an unwelcome re-appearance. They found the model boat racing pool strangely hypnotic too, so that was another stop.

We left the park and took a stroll around the area (MrJ had lived in Causeway Bay for a year in 89/90), then took taxis back to our flat for a light evening meal. Taxis are very reasonably priced in Hong Kong, so it's worth getting the hang of them early on. MrJ's verdict was that the streets and alleys were much cleaner than he remembered.

MrsJ: This was 3G day. Gluttony, guilt and gut. We definitely didn't earn our lunch that day, but the indulgence was lovely. Just as well we don't live in HK b/c the plethora of great places to eat and some first class food would be our total downfall.

Day 5 - Lamma Island

Sunday's destination was Lamma Island. First though, we made our usual Sunday morning trip down to play in the local park. MissJ-5 had spent the night with us, so it was a chance for her to try a bit more local living.

Then we took a taxi to the Central ferry piers, where we met the rest of the J family. We took the fast ferry to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island. After liberal applications of sunscreen and anti-mozzie squares, we set off to walk across the island.

It was a warm day, which made the first part of the walk hot work for our visitors. (Note to self, remind future visitors to swap jeans for shorts on a walking day). There were lots of strange plants (eg banana trees) and bugs to see, though, and as it's all pedestrian-only it makes a good change of pace from staying in the city.

We walked over to Lo So Shing. The beach is one of our favourites, as it rarely gets busy, and it feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. That day there were several dead jellyfish washed up for added excitement - the biggest one we saw was as big as the girls' hands.

After some more playing in the sand, we went in for a proper swim, then it was back to the beach and time for everyone to have a shower.

Ah, the best part of the day. All clean, fresh clothes on, and a cool drink.

From the beach, it's a short walk on to Sok Kwu Wan, the other main village on the island. It has lots of seafood restaurants, but we didn't stay to eat this time - something to look forward to on a future trip when the girls are older. Instead we walked on to the little ferry (kai-do), which chugs its way across the channel to Aberdeen on Hong Kong island. I always enjoy it, and it ends up passing all the fishing boats in Aberdeen harbour. The girls were asleep by this time, though, so something else to mark down for their next visit.

From there we popped the Js in a taxi back to their hotel, and then caught one home ourselves.

MrJ: This was a great day out. Lovely beach. It was very hot and still though and we were inappropriately dressed in jeans. We should have checked the weather forecast first. Obvious... but there you are.

Day 6 - Shopping

The main goal of the day was jewellery shopping - something where my lack of expertise is surpassed only by my lack of interest. Fortunately MrsB's sister has no such limitations, and stepped in to carry the tour-guide flag for the day.

There was a pre-emptive strike on Toys R Us to keep the girls happy, then it was off to a shop that MrsB's sister has used for many years. MrJ had a new pair of glasses made, and a new set of lenses made for his existing pair. Meanwhile, MrsJ's more expensive tastes called for something sparkly - a new set of diamond earrings.

The feedback was that they were very impressed with the service at the jewelry shop, and the prices were great too.

MrJ: To any of her Majesty's Government that may be reading, I should like to point out that we paid all tax due on all goods purchased in Hong Kong as per Customs and Excise law in the UK! The shop did offer to post our receipts back home to avoid this: a trick well-known by air hostesses, apparently. Very good shop. The service on the glasses was superb. They said they knew MrB - he went in their occasionally when he had been naughty.

After shopping we had a quick lunch at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao in TST. We ordered too much. About 4 times too much. But it was very good.

We had a look around TST, picking out bits from my memory. Like Chungking House - "De Luxe Hotel".

We went back to the hotel and went swimming for an age and then, since it was my birthday, we went out to supper with the B's. We were at a lovely place - the Lei Garden. MrsJ says it was the best meal of the holiday. MissJ-5 ate some sort of deep fried bun [deep-fried man tou, served with condensed milk! - MrB] which she adored. We had a lovely chocolate cake with lashings of embarrassment-from-being-centre-of-attention.

Days 7 & 8 - Disneyland!

These two days were the best as far as the girls were concerned - a trip to Disneyland. We booked rooms at the Disney Hotel for both families. They had a special offer where if you stayed at the hotel and bought a park ticket, you got a second day's park ticket free. Staying at the hotel meant we could:

  • stay late to watch the fireworks, and not have the hassle of getting back to HK island with sleepy children
  • spread the visit to the park over two days, so we got to see everything we wanted to
  • eat breakfast at the hotel, where you get to meet Mickey, Minnie, etc. up close as they walk around the breakfast restaurant

We spent mid afternoon till close (8pm) in the park on the first day, and 11am till 6pm on the second day. It's true that the park is smaller than other Disneylands, but it's also true that at that age, young girls would happily move in and never leave.

MrJ: This was certainly the highlight of the holiday for the girls. MrsJ and I put it nearish the top too! MissJ-3 said she liked the fireworks and particularly seeing Mickey in the hotel at breakfast.

[Back in the UK ] I was shopping with the girls yesterday in the supermarket when suddenly an old woman walked into our aisle who had an enormous stack of very elaborately combed hair. I would say the structure was about 14" (~35cm) high. I told the girls she was a retired princess because the hair reminded me of Cinderella's. The girls followed her around the supermarket for the rest of the shop hiding, pointing and whispering. Very poor behaviour. In the end MissJ-5 decided it wasn't a retired princess because... we weren't in Hong Kong.

Day 9 - Wanchai and The Peak

All signs of jetlag were gone by now, so everyone was in good shape for a walking day.

We started off by catching a bus to the Wanchai Ferry Pier, then walking back to 'old' Wanchai via the raised walkways. We stopped at Central Plaza to take the lift up to the big lobby on the 46/F, and admire the view.

Next we walked along the streets and market stalls around Cross Street. The stalls selling live fish (and displaying freshly dismembered fish, hearts still beating) caught the girls' attention. We managed to pick up some gifts for friends, then after a cup of fresh fruit juice we jumped on a number 15 bus to the Peak.

By now it was lunchtime, so we stopped at the Peak Tower for lunch.

Refueled, it was time to walk around the Peak. Luckily it was a sunny day, so there were great views over the whole city. Both girls ran for a large part of the way, tempted by the promise of an ice-cream around the corner (it's a circular walk...)

We walked back to the Peak Tower, passing a pretty waterfall along the way. Rather than taking the bus back down, we went in style on the Peak Tram. Great neck exercise! Then it was a walk back through Hong Kong Park, to drop our guests back at the Marriott to freshen-up again.

We had our last dinner together at the Peking Garden Restaurant in Pacific Place. There were a few unusual flavours & textures ("eating jellyfish is like eating rubber bands") in the dishes, but hopefully nothing too upsetting.

After that MrJ and I headed over to Wanchai to cash in the deposits on their Octopus cards and blow it on beer...

Day 10 - Homeward bound

It was an early start to the day, as they had a morning flight back to the UK on Air New Zealand. In retrospect flying with an airline that had a night flight would have been better. (Most flights from Hong Kong to the UK leave Hong Kong around midnight, and arrive in the UK very early in the morning.)

Other comments from MrJ:

1. No matter how much we prepared the girls for a long trip - inflatable atlases showing how far France is and how far HK; tripling up journey times ("it's to London and back four times!"); it's getting up, a whole day of school, then back home for supper and bed - the girls had absolutely no concept of how long it would be. MissJ-5 asked 40 mins in on the initial coach trip - "are we nearly there yet?". We were in fact in Reading.

2. Set up your own security bag check for your children by your front door before you go. We packed the night before the girls' own little bags for toys, books, etc. for the flight. Carefully put them by the bed. Got into the coach and found that they had both chucked loads of other stuff in there. Including a large, clay model of a flower which weighed about a pound. "But I want to show MrB!" Good grief.

3. Fly by night. Then they sleep.

4. Lots of fresh air and light when you get there for the first few days.

5. The children's fuel and fluids are important and the major source of irritation rather than lack of sleep, we found. No matter what your own cultural appetites are, ensure you eat and drink enough "normal" stuff for the children.

6. The 20 hour trip back was more challenging, partly because we were exhausted and partly because it was a day flight.

7. The Marriott was an extravagance for this trip. We had breakfast in the hotel once, but the thought of paying GBP20 per person per day was a bit much. We went down to the cafe in the Pacific Place basement each day after that. Also we needed an emergency laundry trip near the end of the stay. The prices shown in the room were exorbitant, but we found if we dropped the clothes off at the laundry desk the prices were only half as exorbitant!

8. The main differences between Hong Kong in 1989 and this time were: it was much cleaner; there were no visible beggars; much less spitting; the pollution was bad; people were much more polite. On the other hand, I am older and a bit more seasoned as a traveler; and we had much more money than I did before!

9. Finally, allow some time to sit around a bit and watch people - even if just on the buses & MTR. There is a temptation to get caught up in the whirlwind of HK and never actually sit down and take some of it in. I went out a few nights and walked randomly around Causeway Bay and Wanchai which was good.  TST I should imagine would be just as good. Nice to do this without children!

What would you add to the list of 'must-see' activities for visitors?

MrB

Comments

thanks very much

thanks very much for your suggestions.
some of these things did not exist when I was first there some fourty years ago (!) and some of the suggestions are sensible from
people who live there.
much appreciated.
Greg

HK with young children

Interesting reading about your trip - I am about to take my two children, aged 5 and 6, for their first trip to HK. We are visiting my brother who lives in Cyberport and I am flying without my husband so the trip will be quite intense. There are some great suggestions and things I had not noticed on my recce trip earlier in the year. Many thanks for sharing these.

Maritime museum

When / if the weather is bad I'd definitely take them to the Maritime museum. I took my kids their yesterday and it was great, with lots of interactive things for the kids. Its not very big (2 rooms) but they were there for over 2 hours playing and looking at stuff.

They also like the science museum and the history museum.  The art museum also has a whole section for kids to experiment with things based on the current exhibition. 

Hobby and Toy Museum

I'd put in a word for the Hong Kong International Hobby and Toy Museum as a fun place for bringing children.  It's located in Yaumatei near Temple Street.  Lots of classic and vintage toys on display.  Kids will particularly like the colourful cartoon characters section.  Their website is www.hktoymuseum.org