…endured a crazy long 46 hour day with naps in the middle, and landed into a bustling metropolis night life.
There is SO much of Hong Kong we didn’t have time or energy (we had all three young kids with us) to explore, I can see why many people go for weeks and months rather than days, but just the city itself was an awesome experience for us small town folk. ;)
We just sat our kids on our laps and off we went, along with every other parent in Hong Kong. It felt strange and wildly rebellious at first, but then we got used it. By the end of our trip I missed the child restraints, because our kids got a little too comfortable climbing all over us in the back seat.
Oh, and thankfully most taxi drivers spoke enough English so that we could get around just fine.
The other best option is to walk of course. The streets are surprisingly clean, considering 7 million people live there. I really liked the elevated walkways that let you roam above all the traffic.
You may be asking, why not rent a car? The reason – it is extremely expensive. Gas is about $13 a gallon but that’s not all. To rent a car it is at least double what it would be here in an expensive US city, and then you have to rent a parking space for… I think it came out to $90 U.S. per day. That is just from memory though. Everything is close enough in town and many residents don’t even own a car. In fact. I don’t remember seeing a single gas/petrol station while there, so I imagine re-fueling itself takes extra planning and travel.
Now food. The best part.
We got to have some awesome, amazing Chinese food (which I was sad I never took any pictures of!), but with the exception of Owen, we all also craved a taste of home at least once a day.
I was surprised at how many American options they have there. McDonald’s of course, but also gourmet pizzerias, barbecue places, KFC, Starbucks…Subway was actually cheap there! We went a couple of times because it was fast and easy for the kids (except for Natalie who has allergies but I will get to that in a moment). A fully loaded foot long was about $4-5 U.S.
We stopped into another American restaurant which was actually a Chinese interpretation of American food. Think of how we interpret Chinese food…it’s kind of like that. Like sort of close to the real thing but not, at the same time. They played American music, had forks!, and had lasagna on the menu. Their ham noodle bake was right on actually, but their spaghetti…
Well, it had little boiled octopuses and a chopped assortment of sea animals in it, instead of meatballs. Guess who ate it and loved it? Yep. Owen. This meal was probably my favorite because it was such an intriguing study in culture mixing.
There were also 7-Elevens at almost every corner. Which was a great place to buy bottled water. Holy cow, did we buy a lot of bottled water and not for cheap. The water system in Hong Kong has improved over the last 20 plus years since I visited as a little girl (I drank it then and got very sick), but many people, especially people not used to the water, will boil it or drink only bottled water.
And now a brief word about allergies. My daughter, Natalie, has allergies and sensitivities to 8 different foods, the major ones being egg, peanut, and dairy.
I was told that much of the Chinese food we would be consuming would not be made with dairy, egg and peanut, but we experienced the very opposite. It seems that dairy has become integrated into the Chinese diet much more than most people realize. Their dishes are not necessarily cheesy or milky, but their foods are often tainted with it. It is used in glazes and processed in factories with other foods. Eggs are a common ingredient in many dishes and peanut oil is also commonly used.
There is so much more I could write on this, but I’ll save it for another post about food allergies maybe? The good news is that we were able find supermarkets that have allergy friendly foods with labels clearly marked in English with bold warnings about the presence of common allergens just like in the States. One perk of visiting the markets was that we also had a fun time perusing the Chinese versions of American cereals. We were such tourists. ;)
Aside from some sight seeing, riding the Star Ferry, and sampling the local cuisine…
(My boys loved that dried cuddle fish pictured above )
We also took a day to try to do something kid friendly.
Ocean Park, a popular Hong Kong theme park, didn’t quite pan out how we hoped, but we are still glad we tried. We went on a particularly sunny, hot day and experienced mild heat stroke (I’m not kidding). Well, my husband and I did, because we gave all our water to the kids…
…While we aimlessly searched for more places to buy exorbitantly expensive bottles of water. It was H O T.
Drinking fountains are rare in Hong Kong if they exist at all. I am not sure if it’s a sanitation issue, but you have to buy water wherever you go.
It was crazy crowded. The lines were all at least an hour long. In the aquarium exhibit, the crowd was so tight, we were in shoulder to shoulder and front to back contact with other people as we shuffled along at a snail’s pace holding onto our children’s hands for dear life.
Most exhibits were obscured by the crowd but I was lucky enough to snag a few shots for Owen who was loving every minute, despite the conditions.
Another interesting observation we made is that line cutting is commonplace. I don’t think it’s personal, maybe more cultural, but if you leave a gap in the line, other people will fill it. Fair or not. And you can’t do anything about it except tell them not to. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t let it get to you, just know it will happen.
Ocean Park came highly recommended over Hong Kong Disney, because it’s less expensive, closer to the city, more exciting.., but something that we didn’t consider is that most of the rides there were only barely suitable for Owen, and my husband and I. Our younger children were not old enough to ride anything except for the carousel. Not wanting to leave each other in a crowded foreign place where we couldn’t use our cell phones, we opted not to ride anything we couldn’t stay together on.
Our saving grace was the gondola ride, which we rode twice. The view was breathtaking, we all got a little leg room and some nice wind to cool us down.
Tip: The line to the gondola ride on the entrance side of the park is at least an hour wait. Take the train (almost no wait) to the other side of the park. The line for the gondola coming back is minimal if there is any line at all.
Not wanting to leave Hong Kong on that sour note, I took Owen and my parents on a wild crazy adventure to the Lady’s Market at night. We rode the subway, discovered that a lot of young Chinese people speak almost perfect English and are really helpful (a pubescent guy rocking to his ipod, with his hat backward, and sagging shorts is almost a sure sign he speaks English :)) and haggled to our hearts content.
I was conservative and only bought one thing for each person in our family, but for the prices I got I kind of wish I bought more. We totally got taken on our first purchase but by the end we had a better technique down. Here are my tips:
– Show some interest in an item and then promptly act like you don’t want anything. Do NOT accept the first offer. Haggle for at least five minutes before accepting a price. Even walk away a few times if you are after a high ticket item. I got my husband a Messi jersey and shorts for 100 HK (about $12-13)! The only problem was when I really actually did not want something. They would sometimes leave their booth and track me down to haggle with me! That was a little crazy.
– Buy in bulk. I wished I had bought more jerseys because if you buy in bulk the price goes down even more. I bet I could have easily gotten 3-4 jerseys for 200 HK.
– Bring cash. They don’t accept anything else.
The street markets are not the only place to get a good deal either. My husband is not a night person, but I am. So, one night while he went to bed with the kids, I explored the streets of Wanchai at night. I found small shops and street vendors that had crazy good prices and really interesting merchandise. I didn’t buy from most of them, but one of them had lace, chiffon dresses and tops for $5-7 U.S. There were NO SIZES on any of the items. Crazy right? They also didn’t let you try anything on. Everything looked to fit my Asian build so I went for it. It was a gamble, but I snagged a few items anyway which I am pleased to report fit perfectly. (phew) It was such a fun little thrill!
If you are thinking, what? You walked the city by yourself …at night?
I was perfectly safe. Hong Kong, for being the busy city that it is, is relatively very, very safe. I hear it has to do with the merciless justice system they have in place. It doesn’t seem to stop pick pockets though, so kept an good eye on my purse.
Another interesting part of our visit was seeing people flock to Natalie. Many Chinese people in China have never seen a fair skinned, light eyed, light haired person in real life, so her presence was a bit of a novelty for them. That, coupled with the fact that she is a cute little baby, meant that she attracted even more attention.
We had people on many occasions snapping pictures of her like she was a celebrity or tourist attraction, on the street, while in line…anywhere and everywhere. While we were in the lobby of the hotel my brother was staying at, she wandered up to a Chinese family and as you can see above, they picked her up and took pictures with her!
It was the craziest, funniest, coolest, weirdest thing on the whole trip. I am still laughing as I write this!
I didn’t mind either. As long as people were respectful to her (she shied away from some gawkers but then approached others) and didn’t bother her for too long, we just let it happen.
Overall, we had a pretty amazing adventure of a trip. It wasn’t easy with kids, but I am so grateful for what we learned and experienced with them.
My sister-in-law’s parents, who are Hong Kong residents, were awesome tour guides and made our stay a more informed, comfortable experience.
Oh and remember what I said about how safe Hong Kong is? See the picture one above ^^^? I snapped that in the Hong Kong Airport. I am sure not all of their law enforcement looks like that, but if that doesn’t strike fear into your heart…
As does that caravan of luggage we toted with us. ;) Oh boy. Thank goodness smart carts are plentiful and free outside the U.S.
Another interesting observation – a lot more people dress up (think dresses, nice slacks, or fashion statement type clothing etc.) to go everywhere in Hong Kong, including the airport! Our comfy work out clothes type attire in anticipation of the 15 hour plane ride was not the norm! We could tell we were back in the US just by what everyone was wearing. Oh yes, and the presence of drinking fountains. :)
The last leg of our trip was significantly harder to do with kids than the first, but all that aside, I hope to go back one day.
I also miss the view from our hotel room…
and that beautiful, ever changing Harbor full of lights.