The day had finally arrived, Anto’s 40th birthday! Of course 40 is the new 25, so there were no old people in our hotel room….. To celebrate the milestone occasion we had planned a trip up to Victoria Peak via the historic ‘peak tram’ and a hike around one of the marked trails to capture the views across Hong Kong. We also had plans for swimming, cocktails and a 6-course dinner, just to make sure the birthday was properly celebrated.
Despite a long day and late night the previous day, the kids were up again not much past 6am. They were excited it was their Dad’s 40th birthday. We had a few presents (and million cards prepared), he had gotten a couple of presents before departing but there were still a few token things to open.
There was no birthday sleep-in but we did have a very posh buffet breakfast instead. It was our first morning at the JW Marriott and the breakfast did not disappoint. The kids had their own hot chocolate from a silver jug and more varieties of Asian, Indian and Western food than we could even try. Lucky we had 5 days of breakfast to work our way through all the treats.
We still managed to eat a good variety of calories and the kids were happy they got to colour in during breakfast as well! Anto didn’t suffer too much, with several plate of deliciousness, and then because it was his birthday we had to finish off our breakfast with Häagen-Dazs icecream. It was there, it was a birthday, what more needs to be said?
Before our morning excursion up to Victoria Peak we went in search of a local place to do our washing (the hotel prices were not appealing). Washing dropped off, it was back up the hill and past our hotel and a walk through Hong Kong Park.
The Hong Kong Park was on our list our places to visit, and it was a very short walk from our hotel, which was rather convenient. You also had to walk through the park to get to the departure point for the Peak Tram.
The park has a number of fountains, waterways and waterfalls. It was so hot that the kids were already begging to walk through the fountains. With a long day out planned we tried talking them out of it, and instead checked out the terrapins (like tortoises), large fish, and the waterfalls.
As we wanted to avoid really long lines for the tram we decided we’d come back for another visit to the park, especially since we wanted to explore the free bird aviary within the park.
We popped out of the park across the road from the Peak Tram. The Peak Tramway is a funicular railway in Hong Kong, which carries both tourists and residents to the upper levels of Hong Kong Island. Running from Garden Road, Admiralty, to Victoria Peak, it provides the most direct route and offers good views over the harbour and skyscrapers of Hong Kong.
The Peak Tram covers a distance of 1.4km but an elevation of almost 400m, so is very steep (the maximum gradient is 27 degrees). The Peak Railway was commissioned in 1881 and opened for service in 1888.
As we approached the tram, the ticket line was already getting pretty long. Victoria Peak has a number of attractions and there are various combination tickets available. Luckily we had decided not to buy the combo tickets, instead opting just for the tram ride and deciding when we got up whether we wanted to do different ticketed activities. This meant we could use our octopus cards (regular transport cards) and that line was pretty short.
Astrid went through the ticket gates with her card and when Anto and I tried to go through we found out our cards had no credit left on them (which we obviously hadn’t noticed the previous day). This left Astrid stranded on the other side of the turnstiles so Anto was bumped up ahead of a very long line to recharge our cards (which you have to do in cash, so it wiped us out of cash entirely). It did mean we had a short wait to get on the tram despite the long queues.
We had ridden funiculars all over Europe, but the Peak tram is very ‘vintage’ in style. The ride up was indeed very steep but only about 5-6 minutes in length. As you ascend steeply there are lovely views out over Hong Kong Island. You pop out at the top, over the towering buildings. As you are heading up on such a steep angle the buildings appear on a weird angle at times.
Victoria Peak is a mountain in the western half of Hong Kong Island. It is also known as Mount Austin, and locally as The Peak. With an elevation of 552 m (1,811 ft), it is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. Whilst the Peak Tramway is the most famous way of accessing ‘The Peak’, you can also catch the public buses, green minibuses, drive or walk.
The Peak attracts 7 million visitors a year. There are 2 large shopping centres, a Madame Tussauds, a trick eye museum, playgrounds, a viewing deck and lots of cafes and restaurants. The Peak also has public parks and the Victoria Peak Gardens and a number of well-marked nature walking trails.
We had decided we’d do the longer of the walks at the top, part of the Hong Kong Trail and also known as the Victoria Peak loop. The walk circles The Peak and offers excellent views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Victoria Harbour and the outlying islands. It was rated as somewhere between 3.5km and 5.5km, but we think it was probably closer to 4.5km (at least the route we took).
The trail was mostly sealed path and was quite flat and wide, so an easy walk. We set off through mostly shaded forest, which made it much cooler than in the full sun. The first part of the walk took us past some waterfalls and through lots of different tree species, complete with butterflies and dragonflies.
The trail is pretty popular with dog walkers, joggers and locals (as well as tourists). As it was wide and we were walking at kid-pace we didn’t have any real issues. As we passed through the heavily shaded areas we got glimpses across the to the islands.
We also came across lots of very expensive looking houses tucked into different areas. The Peak is home to the most expensive detached housing in the world, including a property that sold for HK$1.8billion in 2010. You can’t see all the really posh places from the walking trail but even the ones we did see were impressive.
The kids were doing well with the heat and the walking but alas, about half way around, Soren complained about sore heels, and when we checked he had some impressive blisters. Of course we came prepared with bandaids, or so we thought, both of us thought the other had packed them! We had also decided to not take the ergo as it was an ‘easy’ walk and we figured Soren would manage. He probably would have if it wasn’t for the blisters.
We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go but there ended up being well over 2km of walking carrying him in my arms and alternating with Anto giving him shoulder rides. He is a fairly little dude for 2, but the ergo would have been handy right about now.
Luckily the second half of the walk coincided with pretty spectacular views over Victoria Harbour and towards Kowloon. Soren got to enjoy the views from even higher!
As it was getting pretty warm we were pleased to see The Peak lookout coming into view. As motivation to walk we’d been promising the kids an icecream once we were back to the shopping area.
Icecream was a great motivator for Miss Astrid and we made good on our promise. Of course the kids opted for Häagen-Dazs, despite several icecream shops in a small area. We decided not to calculate how much that icecream cost us…. lucky it was very cold and very tasty! The kids decided on strawberry, raspberry sorbet and a dark chocolate with almond. Despite still being full from breakfast, I’ll admit that icecream was good!
Our original plan was to do another short walk up to a good playground, but with Soren not wanting to walk at all, the playground wasn’t a great idea. We also considered Madame Tussauds but instead decided on an afternoon rest and swim. Before we left we did have a quick wander through the Peak Galleria shopping centre and went to the free viewing area.
The views were lovely, but man it was hot. It was now the middle of the day and the sun was radiating off every concrete surface so we couldn’t stay out long. There is a ‘sky deck’ observation area that you can pay to get to, but it’s not that much higher than where we were and from all accounts not really worth the admission. We were more than happy with our free views.
The air conditioning of the shopping centre was blissful and there appeared to be plenty of things we could have looked at (and lots of interesting food places) but with a non-walking and rapidly tiring Soren it was time to head back down on the tram and back to the hotel.
The trip down was terrifyingly steep (especially as you had to sit backwards). It was fairly fast and quite entertaining though. Despite the brevity of the ride, Soren still tried to nap while sitting on my lap.
Once we were off the tram we thanked our lucky stars we’d gotten up there early the lines were now 5 times what they had been a few hours earlier! We quickly headed back through the edge of the park and found a sneaky way back to our hotel via escalators and air conditioning.
The tired kids resisted a nap but eventually gave in. Despite their protests about not being tired, they didn’t want to get up (or at least Soren didn’t).
Our hotel room overlooked the pool, although we were 8 levels higher, but we could keep an eye on how many people were in the pool and the amount of sun. By 3pm the buildings seemed to make the whole pool shaded, perfect for a swim with the kids………
The JW Marriott had a pretty nice pool area, and it was well-staffed. A bit too well at times. They were great with making sure we had towels and chilled water but they were not keen on cameras, lest you disturb other guests. I did get a few shots and movies of the kids swimming though, when they established I was not interested in anyone else.
The pool offers lovely views of surrounding hotels and skyscrapers, and isn’t an awful place to spend the afternoon. The water was also a lovely temperature.
After yet another toilet emergency, Anto took Soren back up to the room, and Astrid and I decided to stay in the pool for a bit. Eventually we needed to go back up to get organised for dinner and then realised we couldn’t without the room card (which you need in the lift to access your floor). Anto had taken the card with him and we were stuck at the pool until he realised, so I decided to go via the lobby to either call him or get another card. This was a great plan, except when we stepped off at the lobby it caused all sorts of issues as the staff were not a fan of us wandering around in our swimwear. Astrid was promptly wrapped in additional towels and we did get access to our room quickly.
After showers/baths and making ourselves presentable for a ‘nice restaurant’ we headed down to the bar for our nightly cocktails.
Since we had a free nightly cocktail and it was Anto’s birthday, it was only right to go and drink them! Tonight’s cocktails were ‘Pearl Peninsula’ a bit like a basil margarita and the ‘Distinguished Patron’, like a gin sour. The kids were getting restless for food and the spicy bar snacks weren’t cutting it!
Our hotel package included a 6 course dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants – the Man Ho Chinese Restaurant. We figured we might as well use the dinner on Anto’s birthday. We had to make our dinner reservations a couple of weeks before our trip and in corresponding with the restaurant it seemed like the fact that I was vegetarian was possibly lost in translation. Since the 6 course set menu we were sent, was rather full of meat and seafood, we figured I’d probably be ordering something off the regular menu while the kids and Anto had lots of meaty things.
The hotel was aware it was Anto’s birthday……. when we got back to our room in the afternoon we found a jar of chocolates and a ‘happy birthday’ message. They also did well with the birthday dinner and made sure we were thoroughly looked after.
When we arrived there were 2 different set menus, one for Anto and one for me (yay, there was food I could eat!). The kids also had their own colouring mats and were ordered a seafood fried rice. Anto and I had the following:
- Mixed mushroom and sweet corn broth;
- Braised gluten with wood’s ear fungus and black mushroom in sweet soy sauce;
- Pan-fried eggplant in black bean sauce;
- Braised bamboo pith stuffed with asparagus;
- Braised mushroom with vegetable;
- Vegetarian fried rice
- Hot and sour soup
- Dim sum combination: Steamed shrimp with bamboo shoot dumpling; Steamed pork dumpling with crab roe; Deep-fried spring roll
- Deep fried crab claw with shrimp mousse
- Seafood scallops with broccoli
- Sweet and sour pork
- Fried rice with shrimps, BBQ pork and egg
The food was all amazing and the kids had a try of pretty much everything, and of course got stuck into Anto’s seafood. Despite the not very appealingly named braised gluten and wood’s ear fungus, that was probably the best dish of mine (they were all really good though).
As it was Anto’s birthday they kept bringing us wine on the house and jasmine tea. If we hadn’t eaten enough we were then presented with mango parfait for dessert (for the adults) and the kids scored more Häagen-Dazs icecream – yes for the third time that day!
If that wasn’t enough food, we then received traditional Chinese ‘birthday buns’, which are stuffed with lotus seed paste. They were very tasty!
We were rather full, but it was a pretty awesome birthday dinner……. The kids were thoroughly spoilt (as were the adults) and we waddled back off to our room to sleep off the calories before having to fit in that amazing buffet breakfast again the next morning.
Birthday done and dusted, it was time for a big sleep before tackling a huge (and hot) day at Disneyland the next day!
Statistics for the day, Thursday 25 August 2016, in Hong Kong: The temperature range was 29 to 34 degrees celsius, with a humidity of 79%. The heat index for the day reached 41.8 degrees (and was over 40 degrees for most of the day). The total walking for the day was 11.6km, most of it carrying a 2 year old!
Next up, Hong Kong Disneyland……….