Four Days Travel in Hong Kong with Kids

We visited friends in Hong Kong as a stopover on our winter trip to Sri Lanka the end of December. This was the first time any of us have been to China and our sixth country visited as a family in 2017.

Before We Left Boston

We left for Hong Kong just after the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays (both of which we celebrate), so we leveraged those holidays to give the children Hong Kong related gifts to help them learn more about where we were going.
  • Food: One night for Hanukkah we had a family gift - dinner out at Hong Kong Eatery in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. Not only were we able to enjoy some Chinese food but also discuss the photos of Hong Kong on the restaurant walls. 
  • Books: On another night of Hanukkah we gifted three books:  My Hong KongChopsticks, and Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes. English language books about Hong Kong are surprisingly few given the population of the city but My Hong Kong proved to be a wonderful visitors guide and Chopsticks was an age-appropriate cultural introduction to Hong Kong. Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats was the perfect follow-up to our trip to help us keep exploring Chinese culture.
  • Giant Pandas: Hong Kong is not the place to go to see China's giant pandas, unless you want to go to Ocean Park, a big amusement park. Since we try to avoid amusement parks when we travel to new places in favor of more unique cultural opportunities, this was not on our list. Still since the children were so excited about giant pandas being from China, we gifted them each a stuffed panda for Christmas. "Bamboo" and "Fruit", who was later renamed "Train Track" were our trip mascots. Look for them in our photos below!

As always an important preparation for Malli is how to manage his dairy and peanut allergies. Luckily English is widely spoken in Hong Kong so we didn't prepare anything in Cantonese to communicate the allergies. We did let Malli know that there would be specific foods he wouldn't be able to have like, so he wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised during the travel.

We also requested allergen-free meals from Cathay Pacific for the flights. They normally need 96 hours notice. Luckily we know better than to count on airlines to provide allergen free meals even when they say they will, so we came prepared with plenty of meals and snacks for Malli.

Where We Stayed in Hong Kong

We stayed with our friends in their apartment in Tung Chung on Lantau Island. Lantau is conveniently located minutes from Hong Kong International Airport and a 35 minute journey by commuter rail to Hong Kong Island. Lantau, itself has many attractions and was a great home base for a Hong Kong trip with children.

What We Did in Hong Kong

The flight from Boston to Hong Kong is roughly 16 hours. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to Premium Economy and though we did not sleep much, arrived in a good enough mood to hit the ground running.

Ngong Ping 360 (Lantau Island)

After washing up at our friends' home in Tung Chung, we all headed out for a short walk over to the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Terminal. From there we rode a cable car for a 25 minute scenic ride up into the hills to see the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. The whole Ngong Ping Village is a bit of a tourist trap. Although the Buddha statue is impressive, even it was erected for tourists rather than local significance. Still it is a case of the journey being more important than the destination. On the return trip we took the Crystal Cable Car down (all glass windows, roof and floor). The kids loved both cable cars but were particularly excited about the Crystal Car and we were glad we booked it. 

Note: Initially when we arrived at the Ngong Ping Terminal, we waited one hour in line to buy our cable car tickets. We did not purchase advance tickets as it is hard to plan timing when traveling across time zones with young children. To ride the Crystal Cable car up the mountain would have required an even longer wait. By riding a regular cable car up but booking a Crystal Cable car down we saved time, money and were able to experience the Crystal Cable Car. Win-win-win.

Tai O Fishing Village (Lantau Island)

Another highlight of Lantau was Tai O, a generations old ethnic fishing community with houses built on stilts above the tidal flats. A quick ferry ride from Tung Chung, it is now largely supported by tourism. The village is picturesque (see the scene above), the fresh fished and cooked street food is delicious and it was certainly a unique experience. Although we did not see any of the famed pink dolphins that swim nearby, the boat ride we paid for in the village took us in and among the stilted homes. The children enjoyed seeing all of the dried fish and the December weather was perfect for walking around without being too hot.

The Peak Tram and Victoria Peak (Hong Kong Island)

The Peak Tram was featured in My Hong Kong and was a "must do" on Malli's wishlist. As with Ngong Ping, there was a long line and wait to ride the tram. Given the jetlag, the children seemed to benefit from the downtime these waits afforded them. The tram ride itself offered an impressive views of Hong Kong, and then of course it was picture postcard perfect from the viewing area at the top of Victoria Peak once off the tram. The peak walk was a nice green retreat from the urban reality below and a good place for the children to run and explore freely without worrying about traffic.

The Central to Mid Level Escalators (Hong Kong Island)

After watching (sans kids) the movie Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, we knew we wanted to visit the central to mid-level escalators. These outdoor escalators were a fantastic way to see more of the city with jetlagged children. They enjoyed just riding along and looking around while we covered 800 meters of distance and rose 135 meters. Not to mention this quintessential Hong Kong attraction is free.

The Star Ferry, Kowloon and Hong Kong Lights at Night (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula)

Riding the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon was another "Kid Pick" from the My Hong Kong book. Taking the trip after dark gave us the opportunity to also view the Hong Kong skyline lit up. As the Christmas Season wasn't entirely over we also were able to enjoy the decorations around Kowloon. We had read about the Christmas Tree at the Peninsula Hotel on the Cathay Pacific in-flight magazine on our way to Hong Kong so we stopped in there and enjoyed free live music in the lobby as well.

Cheung Chau and Junk Boat Ride (Cheung Chau Island)

Cheung Chau Island is a bit of a trek. We needed to first cross Lantau Island and then take a ferry to get there. As we went on our last day in town when we had an evening flight to catch to Sri Lanka we were unable to explore the island as much as we would have liked. Still the island is known for cheap, fresh seafood and we took in a fantastic seafood buffet for what amounted to a few dollars. We also fulfilled our children's wishes to experience dragons and junk boats as were featured in the story Chopsticks. We visited the Taoist Pak Kai Temple which featured both lions and dragons at its entryway. Then we toured the junk boats in the harbor on a junk boat! While junk boats are plentiful in the harbor at Cheung Chau, they are not for tourist rides. Luckily we were able to offer a gentleman who was approaching a dock with his junk money to give us a ride around the harbor in and he gladly obliged.

Hong Kong Cuisine

Hong Kong, similarly to New York, seems to offer every cuisine you could conceivably want. Of course we stuck to local and traditional Chinese foods. Here were a few of our favorites.

  • Dim Sum: A lot like Dim Sum in Chinatown in Boston but with more selections and overall less oily.
  • Peking Duck: Widely available, our friends took us to a Michelin starred restaurant Peking Garden for the ideal experience. 
  • Street Food in Tai O Fishing Village: Not sure what half of what we ate was but it all tasted delicious.
  • Seafood in Cheung Chau: Restaurants allow you to order by number of dishes - we chose 7 dishes that included oysters, clams, mussels, fish, octopus, and everything else you could imagine. Very fresh and cheap.

Hong Kong Tip

We did not seem to stumble upon many tourist pamphlets/brochures or English language descriptions. If not participating in a tour either a good guide book or an international or local cell phone to research along the way would be useful. Even with our friends to guide us we missed out on more nuanced information, for example about the history of the Tanka people of Tai O.

Continuing our Exploration of Chinese Culture

To make the most of our travels, it is important to us that the experiences live beyond their immediate occurrence. Usually we purchase souvenirs from our travels but in part because we did not have much time to shop and in part because none of our experiences led us to any unique toys or other memorabilia, we failed to buy anything!

Luckily Chinese culture is omnipresent in Boston's Chinatown and generally in the greater Boston area. A few of our favorites include;
  • Dim Sum at Hei La Moon in Chinatown
  • Mysteries of China  at the Omni Theater at Boston's Museum of Science (free on Free Film Fridays)
  • Lunar New Year Celebrations
  • August Moon Festival
  • Chinatown Main Street Lantern Festival
  • Exploring Chinese art at the MFA

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