Hong Kong was the one stop on our trip that was purely based on curiosity. For once, we had no work commitments or deadlines. Instead, we just had a new city to explore and two little girls to take to Disneyland.
Arriving in Hong Kong feels a lot like landing at globalization’s epicenter. The bridges that crisscross the harbor between the airport and Hong Kong Island pass by thousands upon thousands of shipping containers. If you’ve ever wondered just how much “stuff” there is in the world, come take a peek at Hong Kong Harbor.
Getting to our hotel on Hong Kong Island was a bit of an adventure and involved getting yelled at (and yelling back at) a grumpy bus driver and hauling our luggage and a sleeping W hither and yonder. We all let out a sigh of pure relief when we finally got there.
After failing many times over to book an Airbnb in Hong Kong, I ended up booking a “family room” at a smallish hotel. This turned out to be quite lucky. In a city starved for space, our family room was actually two rooms combined, meaning that we could all collapse on our own beds for a little bit of quiet and a quick nap in the glorious air conditioning before heading out to get a feel for Hong Kong.
If Seoul was a study in contrasts, Hong Kong was a study of palimpsests. Our first stop was the Hollywood Road Park, which was adjacent to our hotel. It was a lovely, quiet space with a koi pond, pavilions and, of course, a playground. The park’s occupants were a good sampling of the city: a group of women doing aerobics, older men relaxing and chatting underneath the pavilion, a few runners, and lots and lots of children—children speaking Cantonese and English (from Britain and Australia, mainly), French, German, Mandarin and more.
After the park, we went to an early dinner at a too-hip-to-go-to-with-two-kids bar/restaurant (there seemed to be a lot of those in our neighborhood) and went back to the hotel for an early night.
The following day we took the famous Star Ferry across the bay to Kowloon. The ferry is an ancient old thing, but it is fast and affordable and provides the most gorgeous views of the Hong Kong skyline. On the water, you can see how modern skyscrapers have carved into jam-packed colonial streets, displacing some of the original elements and merging with others.
Once we got to Kowloon, we headed to the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Center and Kowloon Park. The park is a great green oasis, with a sprawling aviary and amazing pool, which we made a point of returning to later in the week. After a few hours of exploring Kowloon, we made our way back to the city, again taking the Star Ferry to enjoy the view. (Pro-tip: there are different token vending machines for the top and bottom deck of the ferry.)
The next day, Tuesday, was a Disney day, which left us all happy but very tired, so the day after, Wednesday, was pretty low-key. We made our way over to Hong Kong Park (noticing a theme?) on a double-decker trolley. Although it was quite hot and hazy while stopped in traffic, it was a fun way to see the city. (W is missing from all of our Hong Kong Park pictures because she was passed out in her stroller. Disney does a girl in!)
On Thursday we went back to Disney for another great day, which meant that by Friday, we were just wiped. So, we took it easy, grabbed some pastries from one of the many nearby bakeries, played in the playground by our hotel and eventually made our way back to Kowloon park to enjoy some time in the pool. Well, actually pools. This public swimming hole had four different swimming pools across three different levels, each with a different vibe. For just a few Hong Kong dollars, this was a great way to cool off and relax.
Saturday was our last day in Hong Kong. We took advantage of “In Town Check-In,” which is a service offered by the airlines to check in for your flight and, more importantly, check your luggage, at one of two central train stations. This allowed us to really enjoy the day and not have to worry about schlepping our luggage. Other large cities: please take note!
We decided that since this was our last day in Asia, we should make our way over to see the “Big Buddha.” The Big Buddha is the largest Buddha statue in Asia and in addition to being a sight worth seeing in and of itself, it can only be accessed by a gondola. But not just any gondola. This gondola takes about 20 minutes and makes three 90-degree turns up and over the bay and into the hills. We dropped our carry- on bag at the luggage drop at the bottom of the gondola and hopped right on. We all really enjoyed the view and had fun watching hikers trek up the mountain path toward the Big Buddha. We vowed to come back when the girls were older so that we could make the hike, too.
When we got to the top of the gondola, though, we were really shocked. While there was absolutely no line for the gondola at the bottom, there was a huge line snaking well outside the gondola station at the top. So big, in fact, that it reached the signs announcing, “90 minute wait time to board.” Oops. It turns out that we had, oh, 95 minutes before the luggage storage, where we left our carry-on, closed for the day. We also hadn’t realized that there were many, many things to do at the top, including a small hike and climbing up the Big Buddha
itself. Poorly planned on our part.
We rushed to take a few pictures, then Carrick got right in line and the girls and I wandered around a bit, got some ice cream, and then waited in line with him. We ended up getting our luggage with about five minutes to spare. And it was a good thing, too, since our next stop was the airport.