A Family Trip to Hong Kong
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we invited readers to pitch us ideas, and we sent five of them on assignment. This writer, her husband, and their two kids headed to Hong Kong for a week.
That night, we come upon a ping-pong tournament on TV. At that moment, we know we're in China.
To get to Ocean Park, Hong Kong's answer to SeaWorld, we figure we'll use the metro. But when the train arrives, well.... We're from California. We don't have many opportunities to practice our subway skills. When the next train pulls in, we get into linebacker positions at the front of the line. The doors open, and we surge, motivated by fear of failure and by other riders pushing from behind. It's clear that the locals find us amusing, but we don't mind.
Ocean Park straddles a hill on Hong Kong Island. It doesn't hold a candle to SeaWorld—except in one area: giant pandas! The San Diego Zoo has a panda exhibit, but we've never actually seen it. The lines have always been ridiculous. But at Ocean Park, we see four pandas up close. Cassidy declares pandas to be her new favorite animal. Christian is less impressed until one yawns. "It has real teeth!" he says.
We hail a (surprisingly cheap) cab and speed off to Stanley Market on Hong Kong Island. In the first hour, we buy so much that we begin to get jelly arms from having to carry it all. Two hours later, we exit the market with two new suitcases laden with clothes, books, purses, jewelry, and anything else we can justify buying. Minutes after leaving the market, I begin to miss it like a long-lost friend.
We hop on a double-decker bus back to the hotel. Robert and I follow the kids up top to the front row. The bus goes all over the island before passing through the tunnel to the mainland. It's like a crazy IMAX adventure that lasts almost an hour. I can't believe the ride is only $5 for all four of us. I'll never forget the kids' wide-eyed faces.
On the bus, Robert talks to a college student, who lets us know which stop is most convenient for us and even offers to get off and assist us with our loot. We're skeptical, but it turns out he's just a friendly guy who wants to help. We tell him that he has a place to stay if he's ever in California.
That night, we go to the Avenue of Stars (Hong Kong's "walk of fame") to watch "A Symphony of Lights," the nightly show along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. The fog that has rolled in adds a bit of drama to the light beams shooting through the sky and the neon swirls on the buildings.
As we walk to the Tsim Sha Tsui terminal to catch the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, we come upon kids in matching tracksuits clustered around people who are obviously tourists. The kids are students practicing their English. After we answer their questions, they give us a handmade pamphlet about Hong Kong and their teacher snaps a picture. Our kids love it (which means we help out three groups of students).
For less than $1 total, all four of us take the nearly 10-minute ferry ride. The old boats have a vintage feel: The benches are wooden, with a shared metal backrest that can be moved to face either direction.
In the Central district, we poke into the nearest mall for picnic fare. Then we jump on the ferry back to Kowloon and eat as we watch cruise liners and fishing boats sharing the harbor.
The open-air Jade Market, in the Yau Ma Tei district, is spread out across two blocks, and we're amazed to discover how much cheaper the jade is there than elsewhere. The kids pick out carvings representing their animals from the Chinese 12-year calendar and tie them to their jackets. Christian is then free to shop for a gift for a friend. Vendors present trinkets to him, and he ponders them for a moment before waving them off. Soon he and Cassidy are bartering just like smaller versions of Robert and me.
We decide to spend the rest of the day revisiting the places we loved the most. For the kids, that means returning to the buckets of turtles they wish they could smuggle home. Robert has us go back to the food court for more udon noodles and Korean pork. And that night, I go up to the hotel lounge for one last look at the skyline. The trip is already over? There's still so much to see and do. I steel myself for the brutal flight home. This time I have no plan, just a head full of new memories—and three more pieces of luggage.
011-852/2336-6916, jetwayexpress.com, half-day Hong Kong Island tour $22
Harbour Plaza Metropolis
7 Metropolis Dr., Hunghom, Kowloon, 011-852/3160-6888, harbour-plaza.com
Jade Garden Restaurant
3 Salisbury Rd., Star House, 4th Fl., Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, 011-852/2730-6888
Hong Kong Museum of History
100 Chatham Rd. S., Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, 011-852/2724-9042, lcsd.gov.hk/hkmh, $1
Aberdeen, Hong Kong Island, 011-852/2552-0291, oceanpark.com.hk, $27, kids $13
Tung Choi St. bet. Argyle and Dundas Sts., Kowloon
Tung Choi St. bet. Mongkok and Nullah Rds., Kowloon
Kansu and Battery Sts., Kowloon