We have just come back from a short trip to Hong Kong where we travelled in a family group of 14 in total, ages ranging from 2 to 69. After we had confirmed the trip, we realised that it was going to be China’s Golden Week, the week where the entire China and 1 billion of the world’s population is on holiday. Then there was Occupy Central. If ever there was a holiday that seemed doomed, this might have been it.
Thankfully, it was enjoyable for all young and old. Although we didn’t get to squeeze in many sights, it was much less stressful that I worried it might be. This trip made me think a lot about why we travel with kids. Most times it’s not about checking sights off a list. I’m not bothered about making sure I go to all the must-see places. It’s more about being immersed in a culture, doing things that are different, and spending quality time together.
For this trip, I wanted them to experience things that are quintessentially Hong Kong – things like taking the Star Ferry (check), the trams (sadly, didn’t do it), walking along the crowded, dirty streets (check, unavoidable!), and touching base with their Cantonese roots (them, not me).
We also have a few friends who live there, but I told them honestly that I didn’t think it would be possible to meet up with them and lug all 13 other family members along! So I’m bummed there are a few things that we didn’t get to do – but I’m also glad that we were safe and sound amidst a mild political crisis.
How did we do it?
Here are some tips that might be helpful to you in the event you might feel the urge to attempt the seemingly impossible.
Because we had a large group, we made several meal reservations beforehand. Expecting tables in a popular restaurant would otherwise be fooldhardy. Eating in a 茶餐厅 meant that we’d have to split up, but that wasn’t a problem since you wouldn’t be spending 2-3 hours in a 茶餐厅 anyway. I also did a lot of research on Open Rice, plotted the various restaurants and eateries on Google maps, and read up on some reviews on places to go. I didn’t want to go to a food paradise like Hong Kong and end up eating McDonald’s. In fact, I stretched the truth and told the kids that there wasn’t any McD’s in Hong Kong 😀
Food wise, I was pleasantly surprised that the kids loved everything. But then I guess who doesn’t love MSG-laden food, eh? Haha. Actually we did find the food salty, but it didn’t have the usual MSG aftermath symptoms. So it was ok.
We also researched as much as possible, from places to go, how to get there and opening hours. We over-planned, so that we would be able to decide on the spontaneously as and when what to do. One afternoon we thought we might take the peak tram up to The Peak, but after seeing the queue for the tram, and you know how kids LOVE queues, we just skipped and hopped across to the Hong Kong Park, where we spent some time at the playground, went to the aviary, and would have also stopped for afternoon tea at the Tea Museum had it not been close to dinner time. We didn’t discover those places by accident – having read about it helped not having to walk around aimlessly. Maybe it takes the fun out of discovering things while travelling, but when you have to move in a large group, including small kids, being prepared is not such a bad thing.
Perhaps it would have been better if we had planned the entire trip hour by hour, but I know with kids, especially my kids, you need to go with the flow. And of course with so many other people travelling together, it would have been hard to make the decision for everyone. Also we went knowing that there were some uncertainties we might need to deal with – particularly, Golden Week ; and Occupy Central. Had Occupy Central escalated beyond control, Plan B was to move the entire troop to the Novotel Citigate and explore Lantau Island, away from the maddening crowds; Plan C would be to stay in the hotel mostly – I’m sure the kids would have been happy just to do that, especially with cousins in tow!
We only had 2 days on Hong Kong island, and with the uncertainty of the protests, we spent almost one full day at Ocean Park. Ocean Park is fun for the kids, but I would honestly only recommend it if you have nothing else to do, or if you have more time than the 2 days that we did. It’s like a mini River Safari, with rides and carnival games (which we enjoyed playing while waiting for some others to go on a ride), and you can get much closer to the penguins at the penguin enclosure and at Tuxedo restaurant than at the Jurong Bird Park. The cable cars are supposed to be very scenic (sadly it was far too crowded for us to be bothered to queue!), but overall….not a must do on my list, especially if you’re pressed for time.
A big highlight of our trip was Hong Kong Disneyland, but I’ll save that for another post.
There are some hotels in HK with family rooms. We chose to stay at The Mercer in Sheung Wan, in a one-bedroom “apartment”, which is a comfortable room size by HK standards. We had a roll away bed AND a cot, so it was comfortable for my family of 5.
I still have many items on To-do in HK list to check off, but I’m sure we’ll be back soon. It was especially nostalgic for me because we spent a few years living there when I was young, so I’m excited to bring the kids back again (and for longer than just 2 days….).
In a nutshell, over-plan but go with the flow. We really enjoyed ourselves so much that we were already throwing ideas in the air for the next trip even before we flew home! Watch this space for more adventures 🙂