Hong Kong has long been as a favourite stop-over for fashionistas on a shopping binge, but great airport infrastructure and location have also made it a popular stop-off point for travel from Europe or America to Asia, and a great place to bring families on business trips.
With several years of road-tested experience of my own toddlers and hordes of visitors with kids of all ages, here are a few of the highlights, assuming a fairly short stay of a few days to a week.
1. Dim Sum
Hong Kong’s most globally recognized cuisine. At City Hall kids can also try lots of new items which they can pick out from the passing carts plus old stand-bys like fried rice for fussy palates. My kids love steamed meatballs and hargow (shrimp dumplings). Rainbow jelly squares and mini egg tarts for dessert. Big kids in need of a culinary adventure can order jellyfish and chicken feet. Hong Kong is also a great place for seafood and a trip out to Lamma Island for a wonderful seafood lunch and short hike across the island if you feel energetic.
Hong Kong is Transportation Mecca. Young tots will be mesmerized by the various options and both of my children think a day spent on boat, train or double-decker bus is an exciting adventure.
The Star Ferry has been an institution since 1880 and brings you to the Kowloon side where you can view the light show at 8pm every night or walk along the waterfront and the Walk of Stars (movie actors and canto pop singers). They also do harbour tours for tourists with information available on the website.
The double-decker electric tram runs from one end of Hong Kong Island’s waterfront to another at the speed of a snail so you can see most of Hong Kong as you go.
Victoria’s Peak has lovely views and restaurants (plus Madame Tussards and an Electronic Arts game zone for bigger kids) and a fabulous old rickety tram to take you up from Central. There are wonderful historical stories and pictures on their website.
3. Theme Parks
Few of us consider going to Paris solely to see Euro Disney until we have children. The nice thing about Hong Kong Disney is that there is a bit of Asian magic to the place to make it unique – a Chinese restaurant near Mickey Mouse House that serves steamed custard buns with Mickey silhouettes, a large Asia section on the It’s a Small World Ride and a nod to the Great Wall and Mulan during the fireworks. The park is smaller than its international counterparts, so good for younger kids but a potential disappointment for older kids who have seen the other parks. They are scheduled to expand the park in 2010/11.
Ocean Park is the preferred theme park of choice for Hong Kong cognoscenti, either out of national pride or a general relief that the rides there won’t incur three years of investment in related merchandise. They have dolphin shows, a great Panda, a gondola over the mountain and plenty of rides from the baby choo-choo train to train ride of death roller coasters. .
Hong Kong Park is where most of us locals take their children when the weather is nice and we have to get out of our tiny apartments. They have walks along and under waterfalls with turtles basking on the rocks, an aviary and children’s playground. Just up the road is the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, a small gem with exotic birds and monkeys. In the early morning there are free classes in tai chi offered through the
Farther afield, in the New Territories, are the Hong Kong Wetland Park with its visitor center and boardwalks through wetland habitats and the Kadoorie Farm, where children can see what kind of plants (bok choy, anyone?) are grown in the local environment.
Another fun outdoor day trip is the Ngong Ping cable car to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island (see also Crash Course! below).
I often think the museums for kids in Hong Kong pale in comparison to those I’ve visited in New York or London, but on a hot or rainy day, they are a godsend and some are great teachers of Hong Kong history for older kids.
On the Kowloon side, the Space Museum is always fun for kids, with buttons to push, telescopes to look through, and computer quizzes to test what they’ve learned, not to mention the films featured in the Stanley Ho Space Theatre. In the Science Museum, more than half of its displays are hands-on, and there’s also a special play area for children between the ages of 3 and 7. Across the Plaza is the Hong Kong Museum of History, with life-size replicas and models that bring the history of Hong Kong to life. A bit of a trek but a huge local favourite is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum with its cultural displays, including a hands-on children’s discovery gallery.
After several requests from families on 6-12 hour layovers in Hong Kong, we’ve developed a few short Hong Kong visits you can do in a half day.
1. Dim Sum/Harbour Ferry Ride
Take the airport express train (20 minutes to Central, hk$100/person) for some dim sum at City Hall followed by a round trip ride on the Star Ferry.
2. Victoria Peak
Take the airport express to Central, then a taxi the Peak Tram station at the St. John’s Building. Up you go to the Peak for a meal, an amazing view and either a lovely walk around the Peak Loop (~2hrs) or a visit to several of the museums there (see Peak above)
3. Gong Ping/Big Buddha
Just a stone’s throw from the airport, you can take the airport express train one stop to Tung Chung and ride the cable car up 25 minutes to Gong Ping village and the Big Buddha where you can also have lunch at either the temple or several alternate options. For the very adventurous, Ngong Ping just introduced the Crystal Cabin with a glass bottom.