We were planning a trip with 2 young kids (4 and 1) and because this was our first international trip with the baby, we wanted to go somewhere reasonably unadventurous and where English was spoken. We chose Hong Kong for a few reasons – 1) we hadn’t been there; 2) it looked beautiful; 3) we didn’t think we’d feel bad if we couldn’t visit every little thing there; and 4) English is readily spoken.
The one challenge we realized after booking was that coming from the West Coast, the flight to Hong Kong is about 14 1/2 hours. Either it was going to be brutal or everyone would magically sleep! Luckily, it was closer to the latter than the former, but we were definitely nervous.
Instead of making you wait to the end to the answer the question of whether Hong Kong is great for kids or not, I’ll say as many do – it depends. But I will say, the main thing it depends on really is how old your kids are. Young kids like mine are not as welcomed in Hong Kong than older kids would be. This is true both for things to do and for places like restaurants.
We were in Hong Kong for 6 days and we only had a few things planned. The one thing I learned with just 1 kid was that you shouldn’t feel bad about missing out on something. Overdoing activities only leads to fatigue and bad moods all around.
The list of things we really wanted to do and see were, ferry ride across Victoria Harbour; check out Kowloon; take the tram up to Victoria Peak; and ride the escalators near the mid-levels. We did want to go see the Po Lin monastery, but learned that the cable car would not be in service for the first 6 months or so of 2017. Instead we went to see the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Kowloon (which was well worth it).
Each excursion and how it went
After resting up the first day, our first outing was to the escalators at the mid-levels. It may not sound that interesting, but it is quite an adventure. Basically, they built a series of outdoor escalators that keeps going higher and higher up a hill, through shops and restaurants. This is very kid-friendly as there are no lines or tickets needed to go on the escalators. The only issue we faced was that the escalators weren’t going up at the time they were supposed to (they are one-way and go down at non-peak hours) so we had to wait a while until they turned. It’s definitely a fascinating feat, and it gives you a great view of the neighborhood.
Subway to Kowloon
The next day, we took the subway to Kowloon (to Tsim Sha Tsui station, as our son loves to say over and over). The subway is both very convenient and very easy to understand. Signage in the stations abounds and is very clear. We had no trouble getting around and rarely did we need directions.
Kowloon is what I imagine the “old” Hong Kong looked like, relatively untouched by the British rule. We ventured around neighborhoods both near and far from the harbor and found the culture and architecture to be quite different from the more modern Hong Kong side. The areas near the harbor are predictably more modern and the harbor area itself is very beautiful. The further away you venture, the older the housing and the more traditional the culture seemed to be.
The following day, we made it to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, also in Kowloon, which was fascinating and unique in the midst of the hustle just outside. It was a beautiful and very large temple, with a sprawling gardens area that was incredibly peaceful, even with the throngs of visitors. Our son loved learning about the different signs of the Chinese zodiac and the various battles that were fought for religious and political reasons, many of which are celebrated in the temple’s columns.
The tram to Victoria Peak is very much a tourist attraction (for both the Chinese and non-Chinese). The line took about an hour to get through so if you have impatient kids, plan accordingly. The real worry I had was that my son would need to go to the bathroom while waiting in line, but we were fortunate to avoid that!
The train itself is a fun way to get up to the peak, with views the whole way as you climb up the tracks. It is a fairly short ride at about 15-20 minutes (so waiting an hour seems a bit of a waste) and we were disappointed to find that the top is just a big mall (there are malls everywhere in Hong Kong). We expected to find a beautiful area to walk around and catch the views, but instead we found restaurants and shops and had to actually go to one of the floors in the mall to get views of Hong Kong. It was right at this time that our baby daughter started crying incessantly, cutting short our visit to the peak and forcing us to get in line to go back down on the train. While the views were nice, we didn’t really feel bad for having to leave quickly since the mall atmosphere is not what we expected or wanted.
Outside of the attractions, there was a really nice park (Hong Kong Park) near our hotel that we walked to most days. Like the monastery, it was a nice respite from the constant movement one finds in Hong Kong. In fact, the park was large and had a number of attractions that our kids loved, like an aviary, pond with fish and botanical gardens.
I began by saying that Hong Kong may not be the ideal place with young kids and one big reason is that restaurants, some of the attractions above and the streets for walking are not ideal for strollers or young kids. For example, many of the restaurants don’t have high chairs or require reservations even if they’re nearly empty. One restaurant in particular basically told us we would need to leave when the lunch crowd comes in as they don’t normally serve kids. This, along with crowded streets and busy attractions, makes Hong Kong a less desirable place until kids are at least a few years old. While there’s certainly enough to do and we had few issues during our limited time there, we did consciously choose to not go out as much since part of the trip was simply to acquaint our daughter to international flying.
Overall, Hong Kong is a very interesting city (municipality?) with much to offer, but I’d wait until kids are older to take advantage of much of it.