Our final day in Hong Kong was a Monday. We had an evening flight out to our next destination, Kuala Lumpur, but had most of the day to spend in the Hong Kong city. We had planned to spend the day at Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s other big theme park. We’d left Ocean Park to the last day to avoid the weekend crowds and to give us some time to recover from the big (and hot) Disneyland day on the Friday.
Finally, the kids managed a sleep in til almost 7am, this always happens as we are about to leave somewhere! Down for our last amazing buffet breakfast at the JW Marriott and it was pretty busy with all the business traffic and lots of tourists. Our last morning and we finally found where they had hidden the baguette and cheese selection (there was that much stuff it was hard to see). Being the last day and all, we felt the need to indulge in some Häagen-Dazs for our breakfast. There were different flavours every day, so it seemed only right!
We had decided to have a non-rushed morning as it was going to be a long day. The plan was to finish the packing and then head to the pool for a swim. We didn’t have to be out of the hotel until lunchtime but we wanted a good 4 to 6 hours at Ocean Park so a quick swim it was, and then we were going to check our bags at the in-town check in and head out to Ocean Park.
We checked out and bid farewell to our home for the last 5 days. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable stay at the JW Marriott, it turns out the deal we had purchased was excellent value.
We ended up leaving the hotel by 10.30am, but by the time we had waited for the free shuttle bus, and then it meandered into Hong Kong station via several other hotels, it had taken some time. We could easily have caught the MTR more directly (and quicker), but this way we didn’t have to deal with luggage.
Hong Kong has a very awesome service, ‘in-town check-in’, where you can check in for flights at Hong Kong MTR station. The check-in counters look exactly like the airport check-in counters and operate in the same way. Bags get weighed and sent off to your flight, and you get your boarding passes issued. There is then no need to transport luggage on the train out-of-town to the airport.
The kids were excited for a big day out at Ocean Park and with bags despatched and boarding passes tucked away we went to find the bus out to Ocean Park.
Ocean Park is the only really touristy thing that we haven’t been able to use the MTR to get to. Apparently the MTR will be going to Ocean Park by the end of the year, but for now it’s a bus or taxi. We eventually found the bus stop over near Central Piers, where we had been a couple of days earlier, to catch the Star Ferry.
When we had researched the days activities, it had looked as though (like all other activities in Hong Kong) buses were frequent. However, when we found the bus stop we had just missed one bus and had over 50 minutes to wait until the next one. This was not great given we needed to be at the airport at a certain time, and how tired kids were. We considered getting a taxi but had run our cash levels right down and had to go off in search of an ATM in case we couldn’t use credit.
Soren was rather tired and being a bit toddler-like so I put him in the ergo and he promptly fell asleep on my back.
We looked up the bus timetables and it appeared there were some other non-express buses out to Ocean Park so we walked over to the area they departed from at exchange square near 2-IFC (an awesomely huge building that is easy to spot from anywhere). At this stage we were still trundling around with all our carry-on luggage (including laptops and all the camera gear) and extra clothes, water and snacks for the day. We had planned to utilise a luggage locker at Ocean Park but had been doing laps between the pier and central station with a lot of luggage.
When we got to exchange square, despite the fact that no less than 3 different buses were supposed to be going to Ocean Park ,the bus drivers kept telling us the buses didn’t in fact go to Ocean Park and redirected us to the original bus, which we still had quite a wait for.
Soren was still napping on my back and we were sitting in a hot bus exchange trying to fill in time. Exchange square bus interchange was hot and humid and there wasn’t really anywhere to sit. Soren was still snoozing on my back. Astrid was being quite patient, considering she expected by on rides and watching dolphin shows by now. The time was passing very slowly and nothing was going to plan. This was definitely not the glamorous side of traveling…….
We managed to get enough wi-fi coverage to look up the return bus timetable from Ocean Park and determined we would have a maximum of 2 hours there by the time we finally arrived. With buses also only departing hourly, we didn’t have a lot of latitude in when we had to leave in order to make it out to the airport. Despite looking forward to Ocean Park for the past few weeks, we debated whether to give it a miss as it isn’t a cheap activity for 2 hours. We also thought we would barely get to see any of the shows we planned and the kids would probably object to leaving after only a couple of hours. With Soren still sleeping, we consulted with Astrid about a change of plans for the rest of the day. Expecting a minor meltdown from the 5 year-old she readily agreed to swapping to a different activity (with the promise of an icecream) especially if we agreed to make it to Ocean Park on a future Hong Kong trip.
Our alternate plan for the afternoon was to visit the Nan Lian Garden, which we had been keen to see, but hadn’t made it to earlier in the week as we opted for swimming and resting instead. Change of plans negotiated we had to walk back to the station (again) to find reliable WiFi to check to train connections to the garden. We also found short-term luggage storage to leave the heavy backpack for the day and reduce down to 1 bag.
Soren had woken up and also took the news of the plan change well (at least something was going well today). Given it was now close to 1pm and we hadn’t gotten out of Hong Kong station the day had become a bit of a shambles.
On the upside we got to ride another 2 different train lines (the red and green lines) to take us to Nan Lian garden. Apparently 1pm on a Monday is not when people catch trains in Hong Kong, we walked onto an empty MTR, the opposite of the normal situation. Eventually a few other people joined us.
It took around half an hour to get to Diamond Hill, the station closest the Nan Lian Garden. As we hadn’t planned visiting the garden today we hadn’t preloaded maps and directions onto our phones (we were relying on WiFi while in Hong Kong). We needn’t have worried, once we were off at the correct station the directions to both the garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery were very clearly marked, and it was only a short-walk across the road from the MTR station. We’ve had a similar experience with most tourist attractions being clearly marked both within and outside MTR stations.
The Nan Lian Garden is a Chinese Classical Garden in Diamond Hill, Kowloon. The garden has an area of 3.5 hectares and is designed in the Tang Dynasty-style with hills, water features, trees, rocks and wooden structures. The garden was a joint project of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Hong Kong Government and was opened to the public on November 14, 2006.
I had read that the Nan Lian Garden was pretty impressive, but it exceeded my expectations. It was simply spectacular! Cutting through Diamond Hill’s myriad of high-rise apartments Nan Lian Garden is tranquil and beautiful. The walled garden is meticulously landscaped and every hill, rock, body of water, plant and timber structure has been placed according to specific rules and methods. It was a bit surreal being in an oasis of plants and seeing the enormous high-rise buildings peeking out from the tops of the trees.
The gardens were immaculately clean and we saw quite a lot of staff maintaining them. The kids burnt off quite a bit of energy running around the paths and checking out the different plants, bridges and waterways. The waterfall was also a highlight!
Behind the waterfall was a lovely looking vegetarian restaurant that did a really nice looking set lunch. Unfortunately we weren’t hungry enough to justify it after all the breakfast. I was now kicking myself I’d eaten so much! We made do with looking at the huge fish in the ponds and watching the people eating behind the waterfall.
There are permanent exhibitions of Chinese timber architecture, rocks and potted plants, including some very cool bonsai’s that Astrid liked.
The Chi Lin Nunnery sits within what is now the Nan Lian Garden. It was established in 1934 and renovated in Tang dynasty style in 1990. The Chi Lin Nunnery is a large temple complex of elegant wooden architecture, treasured Buddhist relics and lotus ponds. The complex also includes a series of temple halls, some of which contain gold, clay and wooden statues representing divinities. The walk up to the Nunnery is amazing and the views from the balcony of the Nunnery building are amazing…..
We decided not to go into the Nunnery. There is no charge, but they do ask that you are very quiet as it’s a place of prayer. No photos are allowed within the Nunnery building. Given the kids were enjoying running around in the courtyard and checking out with lotus ponds we stuck with the outside!
The Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden are indeed a beautiful oasis within the city, and definitely worth a visit. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around and enjoyed every minute of it. We briefly considered going to the tea house for afternoon tea (which looked pretty good), but had to wait another 45 minutes before it started (delaying us going to the airport).
After our walk through the gardens we decided we’d better make good on the ice cream promise. We walked back over to the nearby mall and lo and behold there was a Häagen-Dazs store, so guess where we ended up? There were other ice cream and waffle places nearby but they only took cash and we had run our cash supplies right down, so Häagen-Dazs it was as they took credit card. The kids were more than happy to eat waffle cones bigger than their heads!
After a quick look around the mall, we decided to get moving and caught the train back to Hong Kong station. It was now approaching peak hour and there were definitely no empty trains! We went and picked up our heavy carry-on luggage from the short-term storage and were quickly over to the airport express train and onto the airport express and out to the airport in about half an hour.
Most people on the train were also sans luggage, the airport check-in service seems very popular! Despite walking around in the heat for many hours the kids didn’t stop chatting on the entire trip to the airport and were rather excited about their upcoming flight.
As we had already checked-in we just had to clear immigration, customs and security, which was all rather painless. The kids hadn’t dropped the excitement level and were pretty compliant as we made our way through the airport. It helps that the Hong Kong airport is well-laid out and easy to move around, despite being huge! It’s also a mighty impressive building. Probably one of my favourite airport buildings (because it’s important to have airport rankings!).
As we weren’t imminently returning to Hong Kong, we could cash in our octopus cards (there is only a small transaction fee) which gave us some additional cash. As the kids had been pretty well-behaved throughout a shemozzle of a day we had promised them we’d use up our left-over cash on some souvenirs. Despite an abundance of stores we had trouble finding much kid-friendly but eventually struck gold and ended up with a stuffed panda for Astrid, a double-decker tram money-box for Soren, and a heap of magnets to clutter up our fridge.
With happy kids it was time to locate the lounge. We had booked business class flights on Cathay Pacific (using points) for this leg of the trip. As Hong Kong is Cathay’s home airport they had no less than 5 business lounges so we had to locate the nearest one to our gate, which still turned out to be 2 lounges in one.
After having yet again managing to skip lunch in lieu of ice cream we were all feeling a little hungry so made full use of the dinner selection on offer in the dining area of the lounge. It was at this point the kids behaviour took a bit of a dive, so once we’d eaten we moved out of the dining area to the lounge area where Soren could plane watch, Astrid could do her homework and the adults could have enough drinks to cope with the 7-8 more hours of travel ahead.
We hadn’t had much experience with Cathay Pacific lounges, but we were quite impressed. The shower rooms were located in the other section of the lounge, so we ventured over there to make sure we were somewhat less dirty and smelly before our flight. The staff kept apologising for their small shower rooms, but they were better than most hotel bathrooms, and a mile better than many others we’d used.
We also discovered that this side of the lounge was virtually deserted, so a much better place to hang out with rapidly tiring kids. The kids had enough sense to turn on the cute for others, gaining the undivided attention of staff who brought us fabulous coffee and bribed the kids with more ice cream. It was Häagen-Dazs for the third time that day!
Sadly we only got halfway through our coffee and the kids ice cream before it was 7.30pm and time to board our A330. The kids were beyond excited about flying business and getting lay-flat seats (we were mostly hoping they’d sleep).
As we hopped on the plane it was time to bid farewell to Hong Kong. It had definitely been an enjoyable week for all 4 of us, and definitely somewhere we were keen to return to. I’ll post a little wrap-up of our Hong Kong visit shortly, along with some tips for others planning to travel there.
Statistics for Monday the 29th of August 2016 in Hong Kong – the temperature range for the day was 27 to 30 degrees celsius, with humidity of 74% and a heat index of only 32 degrees (the coolest day yet)! The total walking for the day was 11.8km
Next up – more about our business class flight to Kuala Lumpur, and our first day in KL…….