Thinking of traveling to Hong Kong, or you just want some more info on a place you may one day visit? Well hopefully this post will help you out (or at least give you some more pretty pictures to look at)!
Why Hong Kong?
Why did we decide on Hong Kong as part of our most recent trip? Anto had visited Hong Kong back in the 90’s and thought it was interesting, but hadn’t been back. The kids and I had never been to Hong Kong.
We all have enjoyed Singapore and Hong Kong offers many of the same benefits as Singapore. After a little research, it appeared there was more than enough in Hong Kong to keep us busy and it looked like a good destination to travel with little kids. I also couldn’t resist the photo opportunities Hong Kong was going to offer!
Length of Stay
We had 6 nights and the better part of 6 full days in Hong Kong. We had worked out what activities appealed to us before our trip and had figured that unless the weather gods were smiling on us and the children had boundless energy (and enough sleep) we wouldn’t get through everything on our list. We did pick our ‘must do’s’ and spaced them over the days, and left enough time to relax in the hotel pool and do some smaller activities depending on the weather and our energy levels.
If you only had a couple of days in Hong Kong you could definitely see quite a bit as it’s easy to get around and most of the major tourist attractions are connected by the very efficient MTR (train). If you don’t have little kids and are able to walk around in the heat all day, you could certainly fit in more than we did in our 6 days.
If you have more time, there is plenty in Hong Kong to keep you busy. We could have filled another week with activities without too much trouble. On a return trip we will hopefully get to some of the places we missed on this trip and get to revisit the ones we want to see again.
We stayed in 2 different hotels during our trip. The first night was at the Skycity Marriott on Lantau Island, near the airport. We chose to stay here for the first night as we didn’t want the extra travel into the city after a long day of travel from Australia. This was a good move as the kids were tired (as were we) and it also meant we reduced our travel time the following day for visiting the Big Buddha, which is close to the airport.
The Skycity Marriott was great, the room was plenty big enough for 4 of us and it had a fabulous breakfast and an excellent free shuttle service between the airport, the cable car station (and I believe also Disneyland). There are other hotels near the airport and Disneyland, which may be just as good. I would definitely consider staying on Lantau island, if like us, you fly in late, or you want to spend a couple of days doing activities like Disneyland and the Big Buddha. It’s not difficult to get into the city, you can do so via a few trains and minimal walking (and outside time). But, after long days, in the heat, with kids, it’s convenient to not have to go back and forwards to the city.
The remaining 5 days and nights we spent at the JW Marriott in the city. We had purchased a 5 night deal through Cudo, which included breakfast, a 6-course dinner at one of the restaurants and nightly cocktails. It was a pretty decent deal, as hotels aren’t cheap in Hong Kong. The JW Marriott is located right near Admiralty MTR station (you can get to the station from the hotel lift via the attached shopping mall), so it’s an excellent location. The Island Shangri-La and Conrad are adjacent to the JW Marriott and lots of other good hotels are in the same area.
Again the JW Marriott was great. The room was really big, had beautiful corner windows and a lovely bathroom. It was really nice sized room for the 4 of us. The breakfast was amazing (very expensive though if you didn’t have in included in your room rate). The pool was lovely and overall the staff were friendly and helpful. They went out of their way to make Anto’s birthday special and the dinner we had at the restaurant and our cocktails, were excellent.
As far as location, it was hard to beat. We could easily get to the MTR without even going outside and it was a quick trip to central and Hong Kong station to connect to any other line. It was also close to several bus and tram stops and was a quick walk to Hong Kong Park and the Peak tram. The Pacific Place shopping mall, which is attached to the hotel, had lots of food options and was pretty good if you were into shopping.
Major sights and attractions
There is, of course, far more detail and photos in my previous posts for each of the major activities, you can follow the links to the relevant post. I will just do a quick summary of the major things we covered off during our stay.
This was worth doing. The Buddha is amazing and while the cable-car and Ngong Ping village are very touristy, the views from the cable-car make it an interesting ride (and it’s quicker than the bus). This is a minimum of a half-day activity and probably closer to a full day if you are travelling from the city and also visit the Po Lin monastery…and spend more time in the village than we did. This was our first day and we were tired, and hot, so were happy to call it a day before we may have, later in the trip.
The Peak tram and Victoria Peak
Despite having ridden about a million funiculars in the last year of travels, the Peak tram was fun and worth doing as it was so steep and offered good views. Up at The Peak we opted to walk one of the trails for views over the city, rather than visit all the museums and paid attractions (like the trick eye museum and Madam Tussaud’s).
The views over Hong Kong from The Peak are fantastic. A non-hazy day would have been nice (but that doesn’t happen very often!). The shopping centre looked interesting and there were plenty of food options as well as parks and things to keep the kids amused. A set of impressive blisters from Soren cut our visit short, but we would visit again to do some of the other walks. You could easily spend a whole day up at The Peak.
The cost of the tram (without the other entrance fees) is quite cheap and you can use your octopus cards.
Hong Kong Park
We visited here twice, you can check out both posts here and here. This is a beautiful little park in the middle of Central district. It had beautiful fountains, ponds, terrapins, plants and waterfalls. The highlight though, is the walk-through bird aviary which is totally free! You can walk through the park on the way to the Peak tram. It’s a great free activity and the park also offers some respite from the heat.
You can get around the Park in around an hour but it’s easy to spend longer looking at the plants, fish and waterfalls. We also spent quite a bit of time in the bird aviary. There are some nice looking restaurants in the Park we never quite got to, but looked interesting.
Hong Kong Disneyland
Our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland was our first Disney experience with the kids. We all had a ball, despite the heat…. We thought it was a great Disney park and definitely worth a visit. We managed 10 hours there (with the temperature over 40 degrees Celsius) but didn’t see everything. You can certainly see enough in one day to get away without a second day…….. but if you want to do all the rides and shows and greet characters you would need 2 days.
With little kids and the heat I’m amazed we lasted even 10 hours! If we had a longer stay in Hong Kong we would have allowed a second day for Disneyland, but even the 10 hours we managed was the highlight of the trip for the kids.
We didn’t end up taking a stroller and managed fine. The park isn’t as big as some of the other Disneyland’s, and while we clocked up over 12km of walking for the day, it was mostly in short spurts and both kids coped fine. I did take the ergo carrier for Soren, which he used while he napped, and in the afternoon for a bit when the heat got to him.
The Star Ferry
If you want the iconic views of Victoria Harbour, and a cheap and easy activity with kids, ride the Star Ferry! It only costs a few dollars, and the kids loved it. The views of Kowloon and back towards the city were amazing. We rode the Ferry in both directions and enjoyed a walk along the promenade at Tsim Sha Tsui.
The Ferry ride is quite short but you can spend time at both central pier (on Hong Kong Island side) and Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side), so allow a couple of hours total, or longer if you want to explore further.
The Symphony of Lights laser show
This runs every night at 8pm (in good weather). The reported ‘best’ viewing spot is from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, but you can view it from many areas in Hong Kong (apparently The Peak is also a popular spot). It is free and great to get views of the city at night.
It is hot and crowded though. If you want to take photos without 20 people with selfie-sticks standing in front of you then you either need to get there really early or be very tall!
Hiking the ‘Dragon’s Back’
Another free activity, and one of the most popular hikes in Asia. We all enjoyed our hike of the Dragon’s back, it got us out of the city area, gave us different (but just as spectacular) views of Hong Kong and was a good way to work off some of that buffet breakfast. Even if you don’t do the hike, take the double-decker bus from Shau Kei Wan to Shek O village, it’s an experience and the views are amazing.
Most information said to allow 4-6 hours for the hike (which is around 8-9km). We missed the last kilometre back along the beach but still did the actual hike in 2 hours, with a 2 and 5-year-old! The MTR out to Shau Kei Wan from the city, and the bus ride up, visit to Shek O village and return trip to the city meant we were out until mid-afternoon. You would need at least half a day but could easily spend a whole day on this activity.
Nan Lian Garden
We almost missed this, but I’m glad we didn’t. It’s a stunning garden in the middle of Kowloon. The reviews don’t do it justice but it’s one of the best gardens I’ve ever visited. I definitely want to go back and try the meals in the cafe behind the waterfall!
You can also visit the Chi Lin Nunnery, which sits within the garden. Even if you don’t go in (we didn’t) the building, courtyard and views are incredible.
Again this is a free activity, and easily accessible by MTR. You need a couple of hours to wander the garden and a little longer if you want to visit one of the restaurants.
There are plenty of little things to do around Hong Kong that don’t take a long-time. If you’ve got kids then don’t miss having a ride on a double-decker tram and double-decker bus. They are everywhere in Hong Kong and the kids loved riding both.
We made sure we caught a tram and a bus at least once on the way to one of our other activities, voila, happy kids!
We also visited the Mandarin Oriental Cake shop. If we had of booked we could have had high tea there, but it’s worth going to see the amazing cakes. It’s easy to get to from most hotels in Central district.
Another fun (and useful) activity is riding the escalators. We didn’t quite make it to the famous mid-levels escalators, but most of Hong Kong seems to be connected by escalators and shopping malls. You can seriously walk for kilometres without needing to go outside. A very handy feature in the heat (and rain). Once you figure out where you are you can easily take a tour of various train stations, malls and escalators to get to your next destination. The escalators go crazy fast. Seriously, it’s like they are on speed. Now we go on an escalator and it feels like we are moving in slow-motion…….
Food is not hard to come by in Hong Kong, we found endless options, of any cuisine under sun, within a kilometre of our hotel. We all enjoy Asian food, so sought out some local places a couple of nights but also had an amazing Italian meal and a good Mexican meal another night. The food isn’t cheap, but was not expensive by Australian standards. Just don’t expect the sort of dirt-cheap prices you pay for food in other Asian countries.
Most of our meals were of similar cost to what we would have paid in Australia (with the exception of Disneyland, which is Disneyland prices). Some of the meals in local establishments were cheaper than what we would have paid at home. Alcohol is more expensive than in Australia.
The kids (and adults) were well fed during our stay!
The transport system in Hong Kong is extremely efficient. When you arrive, buy an octopus card and you can use it for all trains, buses and trams. It is also used for the Peak Tram and airport express train. You can get a refund on unused credit and (most) of the cost of the card when you return it on departure.
You can top up the credit on your cards at MTR and bus stations at the self-service machines, but you do need to use cash to top up your cards, so be aware!
The MTR system is fantastic and we didn’t wait more than about 5 minutes for a train during our whole stay. We found the buses and trams within the city (and out to Shek O) very efficient too, but had an issue with buses to Ocean Park. All the MTR and bus/tram lines are well-marked and it’s hard to get lost.
We found the all the major tourist attractions were signposted within (and outside of) MTR and bus stations, so it was easy to get around. We didn’t find the need to use taxis at all. We could easily walk between the MTR/buses and where we were going.
Cost and cash
Hong Kong has a reputation as not being cheap. Well it definitely isn’t cheap! However, compared to many places we have travelled it isn’t that expensive. As you can see from the list of activities above, much of what we did was free.
Transport is also relatively cheap. The airport express (at approximately $20 AUD each way) is the only train trip that wasn’t low-cost. It is worth using the airport express for trips to and from the airport for the sheer convenience.
Most places take credit card but you do need some local currency. Some food establishments only take cash and you need cash to top up your octopus cards.
Other useful tips
Get out early! The major tourists attractions get busier as the day goes on. We were at the Ngong Ping cable-car just after opening and the wait was over 45 minutes, it looked to be several hours by the time we left. It was the same situation with the Peak Tram. We got there early but there was already a long line. By the time we left the line was stretching hundreds of metres down the road. It’s also ridiculously hot and humid later in the day.
In-town check-in. You can check-in for your flights in the city at Hong Kong station. The in-town check-in operates like a regular airport check-in. You deposit your bags and you are issued with your boarding passes. You can then travel to the airport at a later time without luggage and just proceed through immigration and security.
You do have to check-in at the in-town check-in earlier than you would at the airport, but you don’t need to travel to the airport straight away. We checked in for our evening flights mid-morning, and then spent the day in the city (without all our luggage) and headed out to the airport late-afternoon.
Language – if you can speak English then you’ll be fine in Hong Kong. We don’t speak any Cantonese and had no real issues. Everyone in the tourist industry and in touristy areas speaks perfect English. All the signs and important information were usually in both Cantonese and English. We had one issue in a local dining hall, but were easily able to find a local to translate for us!
Kid-friendliness – We’d say Hong Kong is very kid-friendly. There was plenty to do for the kids and all the locals loved them. We had no issues with security and people generally went out of the way to help us out. We were always immediately offered seats on buses and the MTR and people were happy to chat to the kids and were always trying to sneak them snacks.
It probably isn’t the most stroller or pram friendly destination (you can use them, but there are a lot of stairs and escalators and narrow/non-existant footpaths). We used the ergo carrier for Soren when needed which worked well.
Final thoughts …….
Overall we loved Hong Kong and are keen to go back for another visit. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d like it but was well and truly converted. Both Anto and I are long-time Singapore fans, but we both agree that Hong Kong was almost better. It has less of the ‘Disney’ atmosphere that Singapore can have but is similar in other ways.
As beautiful as Singapore is, I think Hong Kong is probably more attractive. We did agree though that we have to go back to Singapore again soon though so we can properly compare!
If you have any questions about Hong Kong, post away! I’m happy to help anyone planning their travels. If you’ve traveled to Hong Kong and have any other advice I’d also love to hear it….
The posts on the Malaysian portion of our recent trip are still to come, so stay tuned!