Hong Kong had been on our travel wish list for some time. In fact, we were all set to go back in 2015 when my husband got ill and we had to cancel our travel plans. With some expectation, we finally visited Hong Kong during a stop-off to Bali. This time we had not one but two children in tow ages 4 and 10 months. Not often considered a family-friendly destination, we found hilly Hong Kong island a struggle at times with a pushchair. While its densely populated streets filled with over 7 million inhabitants (plus extra Chinese tourists as it was a bank holiday weekend) proved was hectic and busy. But the cultural experience outweighed the small challenges and our expectations did not let us down. As we’d never been before, we let the children fall into our plans rather than do the activities targeting families (such as Disneyland). Do check out my guide for visiting the city with kids for practical advice. Here’s a run down of what we did in Hong Kong in three days.
Flight & Arrival
We flew from London Heathrow to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific on a night flight. Mrs T was happy watching movies before sleeping while our 11 month old, Cheeky, slept for around 5 hours in the bassinet. Result!
It was late afternoon when we landed. Getting our first glimpse of the city in the taxi from the airport, high rise buildings were intersected with lush green mountains. A city of contrasts which I noticed throughout our stay.
After checking into our hotel (The Royal Plaza in Kowloon), we headed onto the streets of Mong Kok as night was falling. It was a sensory overload as bright neon lights shone down on us, shoppers haggled at the market stalls, the scent of street food wafted under our noses and wannabe singers competed in karaoke competitions. You can read about our experience here. We arrived back at the hotel excited, invigorated but utterly exhausted.
After grabbing a coffee and some Asian-inspired pastries, we took the MTR (Hong Kong’s underground) to the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. Billed as a Hong Kong highlight, you can see the iconic skyline of Hong Kong island along its walkway.
Exiting from East Tsim Sha Tsui station, we walked past the Museum of Art, a craft market and plenty of tourists. We also saw the Clock Tower, from the original Kowloon train station built in 1910.
To get to the other side we boarded the Star Ferry. The simple vessel takes just 10 minutes to cross and costs a few pence.
Not only is it the cheapest boat journey I’ve ever taken, it also gives the best unobscured views of the Hong Kong cityscape. Sit on the left hand side to get the best views.
After landing on Hong Kong island, our daughter spied the big wheel of the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. Every city seems to have one now (although I have yet to go on the one in my home city, the London Eye).
Going with Mrs T’s preference, we got tickets and joined the short queue. The wheel was a good way to get our bearings and Mrs T loved it, particularly when she got to wave to the tourists in the next pod.
Feeling hungry and starting to get a little jet lagged, we went in search of food and coffee. We ended up going around in circles until we found a mall in the business district and devoured some sushi. To get anywhere in this part of the city, it seems you have to go on elevated sections or through malls.
At times this got a little confusing and tricky to navigate especially when relying on lifts to use with the buggy. I’m glad we brought the pushchair though. It came in handy when the girls got tired through jet lag and walking. Mrs T could use the buggy while Cheeky snoozed in the baby carrier.
As we wandered around the business district, we saw roads closed and groups of woman gathered on the streets. At first we thought it could be a protest but later discovered it was the domestic maids who work in city enjoying their day off. Every Sunday the workers, many of whom are from the Philippines or Indonesia, sit on the streets and listen to music, dance, chat with their friends and play cards.
Close to where the foreign helpers sat on cardboard boxes, stands the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Opening in 1963, one of its many famous guests included the artist Andy Warhol. A photo exhibition of the artist was on display in the hotel foyer. It consisted of photographs Warhol had taken took during his visit to Hong Kong and China in 1982. It was interesting to see the vintage snaps although I have to say, he may have been a great pop artist but he wasn’t much of a photographer.
As we left the hotel, we saw rows of flowers outside with cards and photos of a man called ‘Leslie’. I looked him up and discovered a sad story. Leslie Cheung was a Hong Kong born Canadian singer and actor. He was big in the 80s when his music, in the form of ‘Cantopop’, won him numerous awards as well as teen idol status. He also won awards for acting during the 1990s and was a huge star throughout Asia. Sadly, in 2003 he took his own life, jumping from the 24th floor of Mandarin Oriental. The flowers and memorabilia were marking the scene of his death, exactly 14 years ago.
Our travels for the rest of the day took to us past the HSBC building, one of the ‘must-see’ buildings in our guide book. Designed by British architect Norman Foster in 1985, when compete it was the world’s most expensive building (costing more than US$ 1bn).
We then had to traverse the hilly part of Hong Kong island as we tracked down Man Mo Temple (it took a while to decipher where the signs were telling us to go). The unassuming monument at the side of the road is surrounded by high rise buildings.
Man Mo Temple is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. It’s dedicated to the Gods of Literature (Man) and war (Mo). A wave of incense greeted us as we entered. From the ceiling, incense coils hang while sticks – left by worshippers – burn in brass containers.
There’s a lot of red, gold, candles and lanterns. It’s not very big but interesting to walk around. Plus, there’s a small playground opposite so that kept Mrs T content.
We grabbed a taxi back to our hotel in Kowloon, got changed and went for dinner at Hutong restaurant. The upmarket eaterie overlooks Victoria Harbour. We got there for 8pm to see the ‘Symphony of Lights’. Every night more than 40 buildings take part in a spectacular light and laser display.
The 13-minute show intrigued the girls and it was wonderful to watch. The rest of the meal wasn’t quite so smooth with two overtired children and an unusable highchair with no straps. Learning our lesson, for the next two nights we had an earlier tea before retiring to the hotel.
Our mission for the day was Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. It can be accessed by bus (no 15), foot or by the Peak tram which was founded in 1888. Still on UK time, we didn’t arrive at the Peak Tram station until midday. Not ideal for visiting Hong Kong’s most popular sight. We discovered a snaking queue.
It turns out it was a bank holiday in China and Hong Kong so even more people than normal. We didn’t fancy queuing in the heat with two children and were determined to go that day so we took the only other option…paying extra!. My husband sorted us out with a joint ticket to see Madame Tussauds and get the tram. We were ushered to the front of the queue and on the tram in a few minutes.
The journey is a near vertical ride up the mountain. Unbeknownst we chose the best seats, on the right hand side, rewarded with the best views. Our umbrella buggy folded up and off we went, gazing at the city below as we climbed higher and higher. You can watch the experience in my film of our trip.
The views are spectacular from the top. The photo says it all.
After spending some time on the windy observation deck, we had something to eat and headed down. Seeing a huge queue to get the return tram, and with two tired children, we opted to get a taxi. After a quick wander around Wan Chai, we ended up at a roof top bar, WooLooMooLoo where we had a cocktail and managed to get a decent photo of us all!
For dinner we ate dim sum at the restaurant ‘Dim Dim Sum’ (yes, really…there’s a few of them). The food was good (it’s hard to find a bad meal in Hong Kong) and we even got some tasty ‘piggy’ buns.
Feeling we had covered a lot of ground so far, we slowed things down for our final day. Well, as much as you can on the busy streets of Hong Kong which never seem to sleep. Mong Kok was our first stop, in the daylight this time, to do some shopping.
Known for its markets, we viewed some bad fake goods and soaked up the atmosphere. In the daylight you can see how tatty some of the building are but how vibrantly coloured they are, just like the public transport. The Kowloon side of Hong Kong is less westernised than Hong Kong Island and feels far more Chinese. We enjoyed experiencing this side so I’m glad we stayed on the Kowloon side (which was also a lot cheaper)
In Mong Kok, some of are streets are dedicated to one type of product. My husband was intent on exploring ‘trainer street’ although we left empty handed.
The afternoon saw us go over to Hong Kong island (via MTR) and catch up with a familiar face. It so happened that my eldest brother had just arrived in Hong Kong on a business trip! Considering he lives in Boston, in the US, it was a random meeting but wonderful to see him.
We headed up to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, a free space, past the peak tram and up a steep incline. The children loved seeing the animals which included orangutan’s, lemurs and sloths as well as birds such as flamingos and cranes. There’s also a playground where for a heart-stopping moment we thought we’d lost Mrs T. Thankfully, she reappeared after we repeatedly shouted her name. Phew!
We ended our last day in Hong Kong with drinks at the Four Seasons hotel, catching up with my brother, before grabbing a taxi to get some sleep before our next stop, Bali.
Hong Hong is an immense and intense 24-hour city but visiting is an enlivening, cultural experience which I’m glad our daughters shared with us. Yes, it’s hilly in places. Yes it can be exhausting but it is manageable. We take home some very special memories from our time there. To fully absorb the sights and sounds of our trip, do take a look at my short film of the holiday.
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Guide to visiitng Hong Kong with kids
The hectic night markets of Mong Kok, Hong Kong
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