10/23/2012

Hong Kong with Kids


While Hong Kong may be one of the top foreigner friendly cities to visit in Asia, it doesn't come off as a child friendly city for a family vacation. This crowded, fast paced city can be daunting for less experienced travelers with or without kids. Herding and towing two kids under age four through Hong Kong's Central metro station during rush hour definitely requires much tolerance, patience and strength. At first I cringed at the idea of taking 2 kids under 4 to this crowded city; in fear that it wouldn't be a kid friendly place. Once again, I was proven wrong.

Hong Kong is a city I've visited at least a dozen times within the last five years. But these frequent weekend trips always consisted of running errands, visiting relatives, occasionally taking the kids to Disneyland, and if time allows, a few hours of shopping in Harbour city. I have never once took the time to see the sights, look up new restaurants to try or find unique hotels to stay. This recent trip to Hong Kong was different. We stayed for 6 days and 5 nights instead of the usual 3 days 2 nights. In preparation for this visit, I actually did tons of research on things to do with kids in Asia's most iconic metropolis.

A Kid Friendly Hotel
Hotel: We stayed at the Ovolo Hotel on Queens Road Central.
Location: The location of the hotel was perfect! Just a 3 minute walk from Sheung Wan metro station, and 15 minute walk to Central pier, where there is access to Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui. Hollywood Road is one street behind the hotel with a great diversity of dinning options. There is a small playground a mere 2 minute walk behind the hotel. Walk up Ladder Street next to the hotel and there is Man Mo Temple for sightseeing.
Rooms: The rooms are extremely clean and new even by my picky standards. They are a bit on the small side even for Hong Kong standards but the amenities of the hotel more than make up for this tiny flaw.
Amenities/Facilities: Free breakfast every morning. My kids loved having breakfast here. The food is nothing fancy but prepared us for a day of sightseeing. Breakfast consists of: Bread/Croissant/Bagel/Cereal, cold meat and cheese, milk, Coffee, tea, yogurt and fruits.  There are snacks (cookies and fruits) and drinks (Juice, water, tea, coffee) at the lobby throughout the day for guests. There is a happy hour where there are cheeses, dips, bread/crackers, fruits, wine and various soft drinks. It was a great way to relax after a long day of sightseeing. An Ipad can be borrowed from the concierge through out the day to use in the lounge area. We made use of their ipad a lot because we didn't bring our own. My favorite amenity is the free use of the laundry room. We only brought 2 outfits each and for the first 2 days in HK the kids had minor stomach issues. The older one puked all over his clothes and the younger one had diarrhea, so I was immensely thankful for the use of the hotel's washer and dryer. There is also a gym on the same floor as the laundry room. I didn't make use of it because I was really tired from all the sightseeing. But it was a good place to hang out and read some magazines (They have Vogue and Cosmopolitan!) while waiting for the laundry. Free Mini bar with water and juice is a great take along for sightseeing on an insanely hot summer day in Hong Kong. The kids also loved the doggie bag that contained snacks and candies. 
Service: The staff was friendly and prompt. We were able to get our rooms cleaned up right away after my son puked on the floor. The room smelled fresh with no traces of any odor. Our family was extremely grateful for not having to sleep in a foul smelling room.
Knocked out!
Happy hour at Ovolo Hotel 

Museums
Law Uk Folk Museum: Law Uk or Law House is situated 5 minutes by foot from the Chai Wan Metro station. It was once part of a Hakka Village in the 18th century. In a city bombarded by skyscrapers, this centuries old village house is a rarity. The interior has been restored in detailed to show glimpses of the daily lives of the Hakka villagers. Admission is free and the garden next to the museum offers cool respite from the scorching summer heat.
Law Uk Folk Museum
Law Uk Folk Museum interior
Hong Kong Science Museum: This museum offered a few pleasant surprises upon entering. First, the museum opens until 9PM; a great way to enjoy a night out with kids. The entrance fee is very reasonable at only 25 HKD for adults, free for children under 4 or get a weekly pass for only 30 HKD. The museum offers free admission on Wednesdays. There is a wide range of exhibitions spanning 4 floors. This is a very hands on and interactive museum which gives young learners a chance to perform experiments. There is a play area for younger children on the top floor. It is a museum kids can spend a good part of the day in. We spent nearly 3 hours here and I literally had to drag my kid out when it was time to go.
Hong Kong Science Museum

Transportation
Hong Kong is like a giant open air transportation museum for kids! The city offers more modes of transportation than most cities in the world.  From electric trams to cable cars to double decker buses, getting from place to place is quite an entertaining activity for the family. It was hard to go on every single type of transportation due to our time constraint but we did try. By taking public transportation most of the time, we saved quite a bit of money as Taxis in Hong Kong are not very budget friendly. We took the double decker bus just like the open top tourist buses. Only the public bus is much cheaper. We hopped on a double decker bus at Tsim Sha Tsui pier and got off at stops that appealed to us.  It was a hassle free approach to taking in the sights without having to be constantly exposed to the summer heat.
Peak Tram to Victoria Peak
View of sunset on the Star Ferry
Electric Tram
Enjoying the view on a double decker bus
Ngong Ping Cable Car

Parks and Sights
Quarry Bay Park: Located off of the Tai Koo Metro Station, this park offers a tranquil sea view, children's playground and trails for running and hiking. But the highlight for kids is the Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery. A retired fireboat turned exhibition is a treat for little boys. Exploring the interior of the boat give kids a chance to play fireman Sam. The gallery on the lower deck displayed paraphernalia of the ship through decades of service.
Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade: Although not a park, the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade is a great place to take a stroll after dinner. For the ultimate tourist experience, watch the light show at 8PM on the promenade to take in Hong Kong's symbolic skyline.Visiting the promenade is something we do every time we visit Hong Kong. For some reason, we just can't get sick of this view.
Light Show at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Victoria Peak
We took the peak tram up to Victoria peak for one simple reason: because the kids wanted to ride the tram. Not sure what to expect, we arrived to find that the peak offered two shopping malls, tons of dining and snacking options, the Madam Tussauds wax museum, and the best view of Hong Kong's skyline. Madam Tussauds looked promising. We would have went inside if the kids weren't so freaked out by the wax models of celebrities. The kids were not interested in shopping or the views but there were some open areas where kids can run around and expend some energy. The shopping was average, there are definitely better shopping malls in Central or Mongkok. But the sweeping panoramic views of Hong Kong island viewed from the peak surely did not disappoint.
View of Hong Kong Island from Victoria Peak

Day Trip
Lantau Island: A day trip to to the nearby island of Lantau have been made easy with the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Exit the Tung Chung metro station and up an escalator took us to the ticket office for the cable car. Round trips to and from the island costs 125 HKD for adults and 68 HKD for children age 3 to 11. The 20 minute scenic ascent up to the island reveals breathtaking views of Hong Kong's natural beauty. Although it is quite touristy once you arrive at the cable car terminal on Lantau island, but the Po Lin Monastery and the giant Buddha is still worth exploring.  
Giant Buddha in Po Lin Monastery

Dinning
Hong Kong is a gourmet paradise. Food ranges from hole in the wall cafes/tea houses to world renowned Michelin star restaurants. There is something for every budget and palate. There is no shortage of dining options even late into the night.
Restaurants of Note: The Press Room serves up delicious and delicately prepared French food in a fine dining setting with reasonable prices. Ordering off of the set dinner menu offers great value for the money meals at 280HKD. However, no trip to Hong Kong is complete without splurging (monetary and caloric wise) on some dim sum. Restaurants such as the Liu Yuan Pavilion is where locals like to spend Sunday mornings catching up with friends and family. I've also been told by several Hong Kong relatives of mine that this dim sum restaurant has excellent sanitary standards. They called this restaurant Liu Yuan Pavilion for a reason. This restaurant is huge!!! The place is packed on the weekends. Hong Kong residents sure like their Dim sum. Luckily my relatives made a reservation days ahead.
Crab Cake at The Press Room

Convenience
Hong Kong is a city where we can really travel light, even with kids. Clothing, baby food, diapers, medicine, bottled water etc. is easily accessible. Drug stores are abundant and some even have pharmacist on sight for consultation. Drug store chains like Watsons and Manning can be spotted on nearly every other block.  

Summary
My kids (age 3 and 1) had a wonderful time in Hong Kong. They have been real troopers throughout this trip. Not once did they complain of the noisy traffic, the crowds, the stifling summer heat, or the stomach flu they suffered from for the first 2 days of our trip. The kids and I really bonded during this trip. It also made me realize that although we've spent nearly all of our waking hours together, we've never really spent much quality time together. Staying at a hotel saved me time on cleaning, eating at restaurants saved me tons of time on cooking; which allowed me to spend much needed quality time with the kids. It was wonderful to watch them play and immerse in the sounds of their laughter. Not being on the brink of mommy burnout allowed me the patience to be the mother I strive to be. On this trip the kids were finally able to catch glimpses of the fun loving side of their mommy.
Victoria Peak








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