Starting at four years old, each of my kids gets to choose any destination in the world every year for a one-on-one trip with me. When my daughter was five she chose China. She had been studying Mandarin in school since Pre-K and it made sense that she would want to try it out a little, but I was a little skeptical about taking her to mainland China just yet. So I steered the vacation to Hong Kong. I had been there several times and knew it well, and it’s easier to navigate than other Chinese cities, so it seemed like a good destination for her introduction to China.
We worked out an agenda mutually – her choosing things that five-year-olds typically would, and me adding in some cultural elements. Below are her five highlights – and things that we would both recommend to anyone heading to Hong Kong with children.
Hong Kong with Kids – Highlights
1) The Giant Buddha (Tian Tan) on Lantau Island. She loved running up the stairs to the giant Buddha, walking around the statue, and getting ice cream at the top. From there we headed to the Wisdom Path, which I had never been to before, and hiked around Lantau Island a little. It was a great place to spend half a day, but the Buddha itself was her favorite – it’s what she mentions more often than anything else from the trip.
2) Ocean Park. This is an amusement park, but definitely with a Chinese feel. She loved the giant pandas and red pandas, and went on multiple rides – usually as the only non-Chinese person. The food was different from American parks (squid legs!), and she just loved the day. The aquarium there is also great, although we got separated from each other for fifteen scary minutes. That’s a blog post for another day! Bus 629 runs there from the Admiralty MTR station in Central every ten minutes and couldn’t have been easier. www.oceanpark.com.hk/html/en/home/
3) Disneyland Hong Kong. We don’t typically search out Disney parks in foreign countries, but this one made a lot of sense. First, it’s near the airport, so after a long flight from LA it was a very short taxi ride to the Disneyland Hotel. The park itself is small, so you don’t need more than a day there, and it’s inexpensive compared to Disneyland or Disney World. It was fun for her to see the Disney characters in Chinese dress, it wasn’t crowded (in February), and just like at Ocean Park the food was more interesting than standard US fare. The Disneyland Hotel was also close to the Giant Buddha, so it was a great base for the first couple days of our trip before heading into the city. As a cute five-year-old redhead, my daughter became an attraction herself. People came up to her all day long to take photos, ask her to be in their family photos, or sometimes just to touch her cheek. She was great with it…for a while. It got very old by the end of the day. www.hongkongdisneyland.com
4) The Temple Street Night Market. She loved the night market. It wasn’t too far from our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and a unique experience for a young California girl. I don’t think we purchased anything – she realized herself that the clothing and gadgets aren’t the best quality – but we had a great time wandering around for a couple of hours and soaking in a different culture.
5) The playground on Victoria Peak. I took her up the Peak Tram to see the iconic view over the city, but she loved the playground up the stairs by Starbucks a lot more than a cool view. She played for hours, until well after dark, and made several friends from different countries.
We did a lot of other things over the course of the week, like taking the Star Ferry daily, eating Dim Sum, seeing Man Mo Temple and other temples, going to the Bird Market, traveling across the island to Stanley and shopping at the Jade Market, and they all added to the experience, but none made her top five. The only thing we really disagreed on: I love the temples, especially Man Mo, but she couldn’t get past the strong incense smell.
Hotel in Hong Kong
We stayed at the Kowloon Shangri La. It’s a very nice hotel, the breakfast buffet was great, and we had the best view of the harbor that I’ve ever had in the city. We loved the little touches: pastels and a coloring book when we arrived; tea service after we checked in; and milk and cookies delivered every night. But I didn’t love the location. Hong Kong requires a lot of walking anyway, and being several blocks from an MTR station left us even more tired every time we returned to the hotel. Next time I’d love to stay at the Peninsula Hotel – if I can get a good rate. In my option that’s the best location in Hong Kong, near the Star Ferry, Nathan Road and an MTR station. The Kowloon Hotel is a lot less expensive and also in a perfect location, and I’ve stayed there several times, but the rooms are tiny.
It was a great trip, and I loved seeing the city for the first time though a child’s eyes. And sure enough, even though Cantonese is more widely spoken in Hong Kong than Mandarin, my daughter was able to use her language skills. She had basic conversations with hotel staff and other kids and, when we were on the bus to the Lantau Buddha, a child near us was singing a song. My daughter started singing along. I was impressed!
Update: I’ve now taken my son to Hong Kong as well and have additional tips. That blog post is here.