by Nancy Bach
Our three kids were ages four through nine when we arrived in Hong Kong. It wasn’t just a foreign country to them, but the whole “big city” situation was unknown. We constantly scouted out activities that gave them opportunities to enjoy hands-on outdoor fun.
1. Take the ferry. On our first days in Hong Kong we explored local transportation. The Star Ferry is an activity as much as it is transportation. Hop on at Central, grab a seat at the front so you can hang out the windows, and watch the buildings of TST (Tsim Sha Tsui) grow larger and larger. You’ll see all types of boats in the harbor, from small junks to cruiseboats to high-speed ferries and the one-of-a-kind red-sailed Hong Kong Tourist Association junk.When you disembark at TST, jump back on the ferry, race to the new front, flip the seatbacks, and watch Hong Kong approach. Bring a skyline map to pick out the buildings and get to know them from this viewpoint before you stand beneath the towering giants back on land.
2. Do a double-decker. Specifically, the #6 (not express) to Stanley is a treat. Climb to the upper level and sit on the front right if you can. Then enjoy the ride up winding Stubbs and Wong Nai Chung Gap Roads and down the other side to Repulse Bay and Stanley Bay Roads. Your windshield will scrape the branches of the trees and you’ll feel like you’re hovering over the ocean as the bus sways around the hairpin turns or slows to inch past another double-decker coming from the other direction. Stanley Market is a child’s delight. It’s a perfect spot for an early visit so you can stock up on souvenirs to send home to family members. (Later you’ll still enjoy the market for its very good restaurants and everyday clothing stores. Check Ann G or the rugby/golf shirt stores and you’ll find my Kodak business card from 1995!)
3. Enjoy the Peak. You can drive there, but the most exciting ride is a ride up the Peak Tram funicular from Garden Road. This small train makes its slow and creaky way upward a 45degree angle. Kids get a kick out of the unusual gravity effects. At the Peak take a walk around Lugard Road and look at the western harbor, especially if the US Navy fleet is in (generally around Thanksgiving and Christmas). Then enjoy the view overlooking Central and TST, a most impressive sight on a clear evening. Pick up refreshments at the bulk candy store or Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop and then find a seat outside and let the kids splash to their hearts’ content in the programmed fountain.
4. Take a fast ferry. Hydrofoils and catamarans are a thrill. They whip up the surf going to the outlying islands or Macau. One great trip is to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. There’s a small shopping mall to explore that’s less overwhelming than Central, so kids can feel more at home, and it has several nice restaurants. We especially enjoyed a juice bar that had make-your-own drinks with any kind of exotic fruit imaginable. The highlight of the trip for the kids was a short hike behind the racquet club to a stream with waterfalls and pools that flowed over smooth rocks into shallow pools. We slid over the rocks and sat in the pools letting the water flow over us. Nowadays, of course, Disney is just across the bay, if that’s more to the kids’ liking.
5. Island hop. One of our first weekend outings was to Cheung Chau to see the Cheung Po Tsai pirate cave. Take a flashlight! It’s not a very large cave but it’s a great place for kids to get away from the hustle and noise of Hong Kong. With rocks to climb and a “mini great Wall of China,” it’s better than Disney. Lantau Island is good for a trip to see the Giant Buddha. Take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for a thrilling ride to the Po Monastery, climb the stairs to the Buddha, and then purchase incense from the young monks to place before their shrines.
6. Visit Monkey Mountain. That’s our nickname for the area around Tai Po inhabited by wild monkeys. You can bring bread to feed the monkeys (although it’s strictly forbidden!) and watch their tribal tactics as they climb the hills, swing through the trees, and join you on the path. I was busy taking pictures of their antics and felt my four-year-old tugging on my pantleg. I looked down and it wasn’t Patrick; it was a mother monkey looking for a handout!
7. Enjoy the water. Charter a captained junk to take your family and new friends from Aberdeen out onto the ocean for a day. Again, it’s a great contrast to the cacophony of the city itself. Picnic, sun, and enjoy the views. If there are no typhoon, shark, or pollution warnings, you can take a dip in the ocean as well. Up in New Territories, we hired a small boat to take us and camping gear to Sai Wan Beach on the far eastern side of the country. We ate around a campfire, read stories aloud, camped overnight, and woke to see the sun rise over the ocean.
8. Get dirty. If you follow the road past HKIS in Tai Tam down to the ocean you’ll find a saltwater bay. At low tide locals look for edible mollusks. Our kids looked for opium bottles said to be left behind from one hundred years earlier. We didn’t find any but they had fun in the muck. (You can buy these painted bottles at Stanley and plant a few for their discovery!) Just up the hill is a spot for permitted camping.
I asked our kids their favorite HK kids’ activity. They told me simply playing “Manhunt” in the dark in our Hong Kong Parkview apartment complex. Simple things can be the best!