If the idea of a Hong Kong stopover, with children in tow and after a long haul flight, seems just slightly better than sitting in your dentist’s chair waiting for a root canal, think again. Although Asia’s World rarely springs to mind as a family holiday destination, it makes a great stopover city, and with a bit of planning, can be an exciting place of discovery for your little ones – without breaking the budget.
Angelina Draper, local resident and mother, describes six family-friendly activities that can be achieved during a short stopover in Hong Kong, will keep the whole family happy, showcase Hong Kong’s sites and best of all, are free (or just about). Done in the following order, all six activities can easily be achieved in a day and explore both sides of the harbour.
1) RIDE A HONG KONG DING-DING (Hong Kong Island side)
COST: HK$ 2.30 (adults) / HK$ 1.20 (children under 12)
You do not need a map or any special instructions to catch a Hong Kong tram as there are only six lines covering 13 km, and, so long as you are using them for short distances, such as Central to Wan Chai, they all go along the same straight line. This is a great activity for tired little feet in need of a rest, but which is still guaranteed to capture inquisitive minds .
Like the Star Ferry pier, the Hong Kong Tramways Limited is a reminder of days gone by. It began operation in 1904 and is actively used by tourists and locals alike, with a daily ridership of 220,000 people. The nickname, ding-ding, was coined by Hong Kong people because of the double bell ring used to warn pedestrians to get out the way. Since jay walking in Hong Kong seems to be a local sport, the bell sound is never far away.
All the trams are double deckers so, once you have hopped on (through the back entrance) head upstairs for the best views of the city’s crowded street, tall buildings and general bustle. The fair is paid for when descending the tram, which occurs through the front door. There is no air-conditioning on the trams although a light breeze can usually be obtained from the window seats upstairs. Hong Kong Tramways: http://www.hktramways.com/en/index.html
2) EXPLORE THE WAN CHAI WET MARKET (Hong Kong Island side)
After a recent visit, I asked my six year old nephew what his favourite memory of Hong Kong was, confident that either Disneyland or Ocean Park take the crown. Instead, without any hesitation, he blurted out ‘the place with the flying fish’. Surely I had heard wrong. I had carefully planned my family’s visit and made sure they saw the best of everything Hong Kong had to offer, and my nephew’s favourite memory was of Wan Chai market! I had never considered a wet market to be a destination children could consider interesting, but then again I was not
thinking like a child. As my nephew proceeded to recount the amazing Wan Chai market, I realised that the place where I get my fruit, vegetables and fish from was, in the eyes of a child, a land of adventure, with strange food, noises and creatures lurking at almost every stand. Not to mention the magic appearance of ‘flying fish’, aka live fish jumping from one tray to another in search of water on the fishmonger’s stalls.
The market can be a place where the reality of how we get our food is brutally obvious, with butchers and fishmongers, wearing bloodstained aprons, openly displaying their knife skills in plain view. This is however just a small component of the visit and if you prefer your smallest ones not to view this, there is plenty to distract them with.
There are many wet markets scattered around Hong Kong but the one in Wan Chai is the best for a visit with children as it’s streets are a colourful patchwork of fish, meat, fruit and vegetable, dried good and candy stalls mixed with toy stalls, restaurants, local souvenirs, clothes, flowers, shoes, perfumes and much
more. The market is open every day, all day and is easily accessible by tram.
3) RUN AROUND HONK KONG PARK’S AVIARY AND PLAYGROUND (Hong Kong Island side)
Just minutes from the bustling Central district, well hidden by tall buildings on Hennessy Road and Kennedy Road, Hong Kong Park is a wonderful oasis of nature and ideal place for children to play and run around in.
The large pond, which acts as the park’s centerpiece, is full of huge colourful fish, while the stones peering out of the water offer turtles a place to bask in the sun. Dragonflies and butterflies are always in abundance; as are the mosquitoes in the summer months, so do come prepared.
Following the well signposted paths, you should make your way to the aviary where the little ones can see tropical birds while walking over the wooden paths perched high amongst the trees. A little further on is the Tai Chi garden and Fighting SARS memorial.
Finally, if your little ones still have bundles of energy and physical exhaustion is part of your jetlag cure, take them over to the sprawling playground in the Southwestern corner near Kennedy Road. As it is on a slope, the playground is split between various terraces, some connected by slides. Also popular is the large sand pit with mini bulldozers for the children to play with.
4) CROSS THE HARBOUR ON THE STAR FERRY (Victoria Harbour crossing)
COST: HK$ 2.0 – HK$ 3.4
In a city where bigger, newer and shinier is sold as better, and where old buildings and neighbourhoods are torn down as fast as a stack of cards falling in a typhoon, crossing Victoria harbour on the Star Ferry is not only a joy, but also a glimpse into Hong Kong of another era. There is very little that can be described as modern about the twelve diesel-electric boats that make up the fleet and run the two routes across the harbour. They smell, look and feel old, yet there is something magical about this service which carries an astonishing 70,000 passengers a day and 26 million a year.
It would appear that no one told the crew that they are staffing the winner of the “Top 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides” as chosen by the Society of American Travel Writers. Their permanent look of boredom seems to be part of the traditional blue sailor outfits they still wear. If your children are not impressed with the astonishing views the ride affords, just entertain them by playing find-the-smiling- sailor, which is guaranteed to keep them occupied during the 7 minutes it takes to cross Victoria Harbour from Central.
In true colonial style, there is an “upper” and a “lower” deck, each accessed by different gates and charged for accordingly. For the best views, make sure you sit on the upper deck.
On a hot day, this can be particularly pleasant as there is a lovely breeze on board and children can explore some of the old, yet ingenious features of the ferry, such as the wooden seat backs that can be flipped depending on the direction you are travelling in.
5) STROLL ALONG AVENUE OF COMIC STARS (Kowloon Side)
Not to be confused with the avenue of stars located along the Tsim Tsa Tsui harbour, this relatively new addition to Hong Kong’s sites opened in September 2012 and is the first of its kind in the World.
Located in Kowloon park, it is an excellent place to head to if you are on the Kowloon side and the little ones need some respite from the shops, crown and general noise of Nathan Road and TST.
The “avenue” features 24 fiberglass figures of local characters located along a 100-metre path. Although there is no actual interaction with the figures, children (and more than a few adults) enjoy posing next to the oversized characters.
If there is enough time on hand, and the children are in the mood, head over to the opposite end of the park to see the flamingos and take in the Hong Kong Museum of History which is free of charge and a good place to cool down if it is particularly hot.
6) END THE DAY WITH THE SYMPHONY OF LIGHTS (Kowloon Side)
Every night, 40 of Hong Kong’s buildings, on both sides, participate in what the Guinness World Records considers to be the “World’s largest permanent light and sound show”. To fully appreciate the music and enjoy the English narration, you should find yourself along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront around 7:45. The show starts at 8 pm and lasts 15 minutes.
Although it does get crowded, it is never not possible to view the show as most of it happens above your line of sight. If you absolutely must have a front row view, get there around 7:30pm. The space is very large so it is not necessary to go any earlier.