Entertaining young children in Hong Kong

The boundless energy of a young child combined with the small size of a typical Hong Kong flat means you'll soon be looking for somewhere to take them out. Miss B Sr. is now two years and nine months, and lists her current favourites as:

'Big Park' (aka Ocean Park). The bargain here is that you can buy an Adult's annual pass for $495 (all prices in Hong Kong dollars), or $375 if you can give up Sundays and public Holidays. Under-three's get in free, so it's an inexpensive place to visit on a regular basis.

Our current route is to take the cable car out to the headland, and visit the sea lions and the big aquarium ('atoll reef'). The dolphin show has been closed for renovation recently, but we'll try that as soon as it reopens. She finds the shark exhibit too dark and a bit scary, so we give that a miss. (Though she also says the butterfly place is scary, so who knows what is going through her little mind?). It is definitely worth playing the 'Finding Nemo' movie before you go, as she likes to look for all the main characters swimming around in the aquarium.

Back to the lowland area and we can spend a couple of hours in the children's section. She especially enjoys the sea-lion show, so it's worth checking the timetable to see when that starts. Then we usually pay the Pandas a visit, before heading for home.

The food for sale is mainly chips and fried snacks. It's ok once or twice, but if you're visiting regularly you'll soon want to start bringing your own food.

Visit their website for more info.

'Downstairs park'. This is just our local public park, but somewhere we head every Saturday morning. Hong Kong has plenty of parks with playground equipment (see a map of some of our favourites), so you've probably got something to play on in a park near you. We try and get there early, as once the sun is higher than the nearby buildings it gets very hot. I also try to go there about the same time every week, so that over time Miss B sees the same children, I can see the same parents / helpers / grandparents, and we get to make some new friends. The only downside is that all these playgrounds seem to have the same little black midges that give me itchy bites. Miss B doesn't seem to get bitten - so either wear insect repellant, or run around as much as your children!

'Torya Park' (aka Victoria Park). If we're in TST or Causeway Bay, we try and take her to the playgrounds in Kowloon Park or Victoria Park respectively. The equipment is similar to that in an ordinary public park, but there's a lot more of it, and some more fancy stuff to play on.

'Monkey Park' (aka The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens). As the name suggests, it's got monkeys and Orang Utangs to see, lots of pretty birds (currently off limits due to the Avian flu scare), an open area to play with other kids by the fountains, and a playground right at the top by Robinson Road.

Swimming pools. If your children like swimming, they have plenty of choice here. In the cooler weather we go to the Kowloon park indoor pool, as it is nice and bright - but can be a bit chilly. There's also the Morrison Hill pool in Wanchai, but I've always found it a bit crowded and a little bit grubby, so it's definitely the backup choice. Or you can pay $100 to be a member at the South China Athletic Association (SCAA) in Caroline Hill (near Causeway Bay), and they have a clean, warm children's pool.

In the Summer your options expand, as the outdoor pools open. You'll probably want to go in the late afternoon to avoid the strongest sun, or in mid-Summer it can be nice to go for a cooling splash in the evening when it is dark, as the outdoor pools are floodlit and stay open until 10pm.

More about Hong Kong pools, and the SCAA.

Beaches. Living in such a crowded place has its benefits - you're never far away from the countryside or the beaches. Take your pick from the list . We're currently going to Deep Water Bay and Chung Hom Kok on HK Island most often as they are easy to reach on public transport. There are lots more good beaches, and we'll expand our range again when Miss B Jr. is a bit older.

What about when it is too hot / cold / rainy to play outside?

A favourite is the Toy Library on the second floor of Central Library (which confusingly is in Causeway Bay and not Central). There are areas where you can play house, doctor, etc, and you can also request games from their catalogue. As you can guess, it is very popular so you'll need to book in advance - there is one session per hour.

Libraries. On the same floor of the Central library is the Children's section of the library, with a large selection of English-language books. Have you ever visited your local library? The selection of English-language books for adults can be disappointing, but there are usually plenty of English-language books for children and a pleasant area to sit and read them. Here is the list of libraries in Hong Kong.

Childrens play rooms. These are much less fancy than the Toy Library - basically just a big padded room with some simple padded shapes to play with. Still, if it's a rainy day and your children are driving you crazy thay can give you a break. Most of the urban sports centers have one.

Science Museum. This is the most recent addition to our list of places to visit. I'm not sure Miss B's knowledge of science has increased significantly, but there are buttons to press, animals to see, bubbles to blow, etc. The annual pass is another bargain, at $200 for a family of four, and giving you access to all of Hong Kong's museums plus a 10% discount on the cost of an Ocean Park annual pass!

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So, what are we missing? This list is biased towards Hong Kong island and South Kowloon - all the places that are easy to get to from where we live. Where do you take your children to play?



More things to do Kowloon-side

The Lions Nature Education Centre is nice when the weather isn't too hot. Children can see that vegetables actually grow in the ground! You can also buy loccally grown organic veggies there on Sunday (get there early!).

Some people also enjoy Kadoorie Farms which is now (I believe) the home of the Yuen Long croccodile now.

Taking the kids to Sai Kung town for the day is pretty good. A fair amount of playgrounds and if you go there on a week-day or when it's not too busy, the restraunteurs on the sea front don't mind the kids looking at and touching the shrimp or other sea creatures.

Or, take the Gaido to Hap Mun Bay for a swim. Get the thrill of a boat trip plus a day at the beach.

If you don't mind destroying innocence, taking the kids to the wet market can be fun. Once or twice I let a child choose which chicken we would eat for supper, and if you have a blood-thirsty child, taking them past the gutted carp where the innards are still heaving can be quite exciting.

They also can enjoy looking at the frogs and other live animals, and stop by a fruit stall or flower stall for a treat can be nice.

Down-side, sometimes as they get older, they complain that the wet-market is too slippery and smelly.

Bird Street & Flower market in Mong Kok can also ve fun, but you have to be ready to say "NO" to a bird.

We keep a fish tank, so a visit to the Aquarium street (Tung Choi Gai) in Mong Kok is also fun. Look at all the different types of fish and accessories & then buy a few guppies to replace the Departed Ones in the tank at home.


Museum of History
(opposite the Museum of Science in TST East) has plenty of space to run around and interesting things to see for grown-ups and no one minds much if the little one runs around.

Skip the nature and pre-Han stuff (it will probably bore the kids) and go straight to the Folk Culture, Opium Wars and later.

Bike track from Tai Wai to Shatin (or further). Bikes can be rented if you don't have any. There was a cycling park there when I lived there, but I just read it was torn down in 2001.

Calithenics in the Car Park

It's raining. It's been raining for days. Your child is bouncing off the walls. There is a covered car park underneath your flat w/ decent air. Take the child down and have a rousing session of jumping jacks and wind-sprints in a low or no-traffic area.

Yoga in the Living Room

Same scenario as above. Put on a pair of comfy trousers & t-shirt and move the furniture aside and attempt some yoga postures w/ the kids. They LOVE how much more flexible they are than you. If a suitable age (3+) they can also help you by pressing your back etc. as you try to bring your nose to your knees or the floor.

Good suggestions

Thanks skmama, some good ideas there. We're hoping to make our first trip out to the kadoorie farm soon, but I hadn't heard of the Lions center before, so that's another option.

On today's 'to-do' list is to get Miss B Sr a pair of rubber boots. We're heading into puddle season, so we'll kit her out as waterproof as possible and see if she likes going out to splash around.

In the really warm weather it can be good to go to the outdoor pools in the rain too. The main risks seem to be:
- The pool is closed when you get there, as any chance of a thunderstorm means the lifeguards shut the pool to take a rest, or
- Choking on one of the many bugs that got washed into the pool.


Good stuff for kids

Thanks to MrB and SKMama for some good suggestions. The parking garage calisthenics must be the voice of hard experience speaking!

I agree with MrB that Ocean Park is generally underrated. It's a very enjoyable park, with a nice variety of: thrill rides; faux-history stuff (if you happen to enjoy this); bad animatronic dinosaurs; a spectacular physical setting + cablecars that take full advantage of this; and pretty fish/crustaceans. It's hard to go wrong spending a day there, especially given its very reasonable pricing. We Talls haven't bought the yearly passes yet, mostly because we live just far enough away that we're not likely to go for a partial day, but as Daughter Tall gets a bit older and more actively interested in its existence, we just might. Nice point on the food there, though -- it's not good.

I second SKMama's recommendation of Kadoorie Farm -- we went there a couple of times last year, both as part of a group, and on our own, and it's fun. I recommend, if at all possible, visiting it on a weekday, though. The farm is pretty big, but the walking paths around it are narrow, and it gets very crowded on weekends, especially with local tour groups.

I have a couple of ultra-cheap options to add.

First, if you live in Kowloon East/NT East, the huge public park in Tseung Kwan O is very good. We take Daughter Tall there quite often. There's so much play equipment available she doesn't get bored with it, and the park rarely feels very crowded. You can get to it by taking the MTR to Po Lam station, then going down to the ground level of Metro City Phase I, and just crossing the street. It's also easy to walk a bit farther and visit the TKO public library/swimming pool complex; both are pretty good.

Finally, if your kid is constantly whining to go waste money in Jumpin' Gym (let us speak no more of that chain), you might be able to buy her off by sourcing a cheaper option, at least until she's old enough to really grasp the difference. We sometimes take Daughter Tall to a little independent amusement arcade in the Sau Mau Ping Estate shopping mall, as it's quite near her Grandparents' building. It's got only three of those put-the-coin-in-and-it-jiggles rides, but that seems to be enough to sate DT's interest in such things for the moment. And each ride costs just two dollars, as opposed to ten or more in Jumpin' Gym (Shoot, I went ahead and spoke of it again. Forgive me!). I realize you're not all going to be setting off on pilgrimages to Sau Mau Ping to take up this recommendation, but you may well be able to find a local alternative.

Cheapskate parents

Mr Tall, I think we can beat your approach to saving money on 'put-the-coin-in-and-it-jiggles rides' at the Gym that must not be named. We, ahem, don't put any money in and just give it a jiggle anyway.

Miss B doesn't seemed to have noticed yet ... but no doubt it is being stored away to be rolled out and used against us as in her teenage years, as proof of our harsh and heartless parenting!!


Other cheap thrills

These "put the coin in and ride" can also be found outside stationery stores and other places where kids may congregate. Even a child of 8 can be pleased with them sometimes.

Some things can also be surprisingly fun. Last weekend my children and I had fun picking snails off of vegetables. In properly wet weather, a child can also be entertained for up to 10 minutes by watching a snail crawl up a wall. My son has even tried to "train" them to perform tricks.

Shooting mousquitoes and other bugs off a wall with a rubber-band is also pretty good, but takes dexterity, so kids under 4 or so would just have to watch.

Kids over the age of 6 can also begin to master the rudiments of badminton and also shuttle-cock kicking or hacky-sack.

Kadoorie farm was a good recommendation

and yes, that's where the Yuen Long crocodile has ended up though the sign says it is just a temporary home.

We made a visit there last Sunday. The farm itself is a lovely green escape from the Hong Kong concrete, with enough animals (owls, parrots, deer, snakes, etc) to keep Ms B Sr interested. We took a picnic lunch and spent a happy couple of hours there.

Walking around is warm work (it's on a hill), so I'd say it's betterto go in the cool half of the year (Oct - Mar). Also, we were lucky that a friend drove us there in their car. I'd wait until the girls are older (say five or above?) before making the trek from HK island to there on public transport.


Lo So Shing beach

Now Miss B Jr. is a little older we've been back to Lo So Shing beach on Lamma a couple of times recently. It is a quiet beach, but has lifeguards, shower and toilet/changing room block. Since there is no housing nearby it usually comes at or near the top of the government's list of the best water quality for local beaches.

It's a 20-30 minute walk from Sok Kwu Wan, but the walk is mostly flat. You can get to Sok Kwu Wan on:
- the HKKF ferry from central
- the free Rainbow restaurant ferry from central or TST if you're eating at their restaurant (have a late lunch then head over to the beach when the sun is not so strong)
- the Chuen Kee ferry from Aberdeen

That last ferry is a slower, older boat, but you can sit outside so it's a nice way to end the day.


An extra tip for Ocean Park

If you have the annual pass, you can request 'VIP seating' at the dolphin show and the Mr Whiskers show. A friend told us, which was good because I haven't seen this perk mentioned in any of the English-language information.

We've never bothered when going to the Mr Whiskers show, but it's well worth using for the dolphin show. The seats are at the top in the middle, so you're guaranteed to be out of the sun / rain, and get a good view.

You make the reservation at the 'Guest relations' counters. They can be found at both entrances, but note they are outside so visit them before you go through the turnstiles. The staff will ask you for your card, what time show you want to see, and how many seats you need. Then you get a little slip of paper you keep and present to the staff when you arrive at the show (make sure to use the top entrance if you're going to the dolphin show). Your seats are numbered, so you can turn up just before theh start of the show, without having to worry about losing your seat.

Regards, MrB

children's activities

Cyberport is also great for kids. Up on the grassy area the kids can run around while adults sit outside for a coffee. There is also a small area for playing basketball. And of course, the greatest attraction from a small kids point of view is the fountain - throwing stones in (and avoiding being told off by the guards) is a favourite pastime.

Great Party Idea

Recently my wife organised a party for our 6yr daughter and 7 friends. They made their own bears, then put there own messages in a electronic gismo that plays when they give the bear a cuddle finally it was then dress up time. It was a fantastic 2 hrs everyone had a great time and loved having a unique toy that they took home? Would recommend it to any one looking for a new Birthday Party idea. Have a look at www,partybear.asia cheers Mike bored in Honkers

Hong Kong International Hobby and Toy Museum

Check out the Hong Kong International Hobby and Toy Museum in Yau Ma Tei. It's a nice visit for young or old alike. Toys, models, lots of movie memorabilia and more in nice exhibits.   My kids were especially enthralled by the many classic cartoon/children's characters all in one place.

MTR: Yau Ma Tei station, near Exit C
Bus: Nathan Road and Man Ming Lane bus stops
Taxi: Man Ming Lane Park, 330 Shanghai Street, Yaumatei
Website www.hktoymuseum.org