Dec 12, 2011

Hong Kong-- Bright Lights, BIG City

In the scheme of things, the 6 nights/5 days that we spent in Hong Kong was a decent amount of time to spend in a city, especially with 2 kids in tow.  But for precisely that reason, we wish we had another 3x that amount in order to have really explored the city.  There is just so much to see and do there, that you don’t even know where to start.


We spent the first day on a nostalgic tour around Hong Kong island to visit some of the places in Hong Kong which were relevant to my family’s history, including the street where I lived the first 3.5yrs of my life.  While in the midst of the current commercial state of these areas, it was hard to imagine these areas as they were some 40+ yrs ago when they were quiet residential neighbourhoods occupied by low rise walk-ups.

As we rode the double decker trams and buses, we couldn’t but help but strain our necks as we gawked at the height of most of the buildings in Hong Kong.  Almost all are at least 20-plus stories; vertical living is an understatement!

View from a double decker bus

A typical Hong Kong Tram

Our first day was capped off with a trip up to The Peak.  We took the special tram which made the 373m climb to take us to the top where stayed to admire to city lights below until after nightfall.  There was plenty to do up there too besides admiring the views including a couple of shopping malls, lots of restaurants, a playground for the kids and even Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.


Our dance card filled up quickly—too much so.  We set each day after breakfast around 10am, and returned exhausted to our room around 7:30pm.   This is what kept us busy:

Rickshaw Hop On Hop Off Tour:  For a very reasonable cost of $50 HKD/7.50 USD per person, we hopped on board the open air double decker bus for an audio guided tour of Hong Kong island.  There are 2 routes, each of approximately 50 minutes each, and you could do the routes as many times as you please in the day, and get on or off wherever you like.  Buses come by every 30 minutes.  A particularly great way to spend an afternoon with tired kids and see the sights at your own pace!

Visit to Ocean Park:  Everyone says that it’s a must-see, so we decided to celebrate our daughter’s 6th birthday there.  It’s part aquarium, part zoo, part amusement park but above all, it’s a tourist attraction unto itself for its unique location alone.  It’s sprawled over a hill overlooking the Hong Kong bay and the views are spectacular, especially from the cable car which connects the ground level to the ‘Summit’ level activities.  

Dolphin Show at the Ocean Theatre

The cable cars

The 'Summit Level' rides area
While we enjoyed our day there and loved all the Christmas decorations, we weren’t overly impressed by the selection of rides or by the quality of the shows, which were very short in duration.  And the size of the place made for lots of walking!  We were really exhausted by the end of our day.

Playgrounds: We were really impressed by how many playgrounds we saw while passing through the many different areas of Hong Kong.  We particularly enjoyed the Kowloon City Park Children’s Playground, which was extremely clean and well maintained, especially being around 8yrs old.  And of the 4 playgrounds we visited while in HK, including one at The Peak and at Stanley Market Plaza, all had clean toilet facilities located nearby.

Markets:  Hong Kong is one big shopping delight.  Aside from the many Western style shopping malls, there are specific street markets for which to find specialised things.  One of our favourites was the Yuen Po Bird Garden, where one came to shop (or look, as in our case) birds and all things associated with them.  The various bamboo birdcages for sale were especially exquisite.  

Flowers, wholesale as well as retail, were the specialty for a few city blocks in the Mong Kok Flower Market.  Many of the shops here had Christmas trees and decorations for sale too at this time of year.

Need a fish?  Then head for Goldfish Market, also in Mong Kok.  Most of the shops in these few blocks had single fish on display already in a plastic bag, ready for their new owner to take them home, which we hoped would be soon.  

For new clothes and footwear for the whole family, we found the strip along Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok to have great deals.  (Hong Kong is actually quite cool at this time of year, and we also need cold weather clothing for our trip to Canada.) Many retailers carried brand-name factory surplus stock or possibly seconds too.  We picked up 3 pairs of new ‘Levis’ jeans for the kids for $100 HKD/$13.00 USD. And footwear in Hong Kong seems to be an especially good bargain and of impressive quality.  We got Maddy a pair of fully leather school shoes for $200 HKD/$26.00 USD, and I picked up 2 pairs of ankle boots for $280 HKD/$35.00 USD –that’s for both.

The Ladies Market, which is also in Mong Kok, is more of an Asian market where you have to haggle over the price for touristy goods such as watches, mobile phone covers, handbags, clothing, footwear, and souvenirs.  We found it to be quite over-priced though, compared to what we’ve seen in SEA.

Stanley Market was also a good place to go for touristy stuff as well as kids’ clothing at discounted prices.  


  •   Disneyland HK (the smallest Disneyland of them all)
  •   Visiting the many outlying islands, such as Lantau    Island
  •   Taking the ferry to Macau ($240 HKD/$31.20 USD per person, return, including kids)


Budget accommodation is a bit of a misnomer as far as Hong Kong is concerned.  The YMCA, which incidentally was full during our time here, charges $90 USD per night for a double room.  Two and three star hotels start at around $100 USD/nt.  

So we had to turn to hostels.  But even these are not all that cheap, not for Asia anyway.  Their rates are based on a per person per room charge and are highly dependent on the size (ie dimensions) of the room itself.  Based on a recommendation from a fellow backpacker we met in Vietnam, we booked our room at the Ah Shan Hostel in advance on the Hostelworld website.  Our usual budget average of $25USD per night on a room during this trip had to be doubled.  
So for $50 USD we got ourselves a double (closet) room and one of the kids had to squeeze on the floor.  The room was spotless though and had a plasma television, WiFi connection, and one of the best hot water showers we’ve had in Asia.  And the location in Mong Kok (Kowloon) was very convenient too.


Hong Kong was everything and yet nothing like we’d expected.  On one hand, it was as busy as we’d expected, especially at nighttime and on weekends.  Sunday afternoon on the streets in Mong Kok was especially hectic and difficult to walk around especially with children due to the crowds of people.  Not sure how much the holiday shoppers contributed to this situation though.

But on the other hand, Hong Kong was much cleaner than we’d expected.  The streets and footpaths were practically devoid of any rubbish, and we thought the air was quite clean too, especially for Asia (but this was possibly due to the time of year that we were there).

We also found the cost of living in Hong Kong to be rather expensive when compared to the rest of South East Asia.  Although the cheapest bowl of soup noodles that we found cost $13 HKD/1.70 US, that was more the exception.  The average price of a typical mean in an ‘average’ restaurant started at around $35 HKD/$4.55 USD.  As we mentioned earlier, our ‘budget hostel’ still cost us $380 HKD/$50 USD per night.  And in our 5 days there, using public transportation to get around cost us approximately $250HKD/$32 USD each.

Overall, there is certainly not a shortage of ways to spend your money in Hong Kong and there are lots to do for everyone beyond mere shopping.  It can be very overwhelming to the senses though but that can be countered with a nice trip out of the city.

Streets of Mong Kok at night


  1. Good story and review of Hong Kong- it is one very cool city but a bit of a shocker after SE Asia.

    We wrote a piece on Hong Kong in 2004 which may echo some of your observations:

  2. Thanks for visiting Chris, and for your link :)

  3. A really well put together and informative post - wish we had it before we went! I love the boat picture.

  4. Thank you! So glad we have our camera back now so that we can include pretty pics in our post again :)

  5. I'm revisiting the page now as we may fly into Hong Kong from Vancouver! If we do we are hoping to spend a few weeks there but the costs are scary!

    1. Hong Kong is certainly interesting, but it's gotten much more expensive in the past few years (from what we've been told). A week is enough, especially if shopping isn't high on your priorities, and that shouldn't put too much of a dent in your budget. But keep in mind, that as a 'first stop', you'll have to factor in jet-lag and culture/trip shock too! Good luck!