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Four Days in Hong Kong: On and Off the Beaten Path

We were recently “stuck” in Hong Kong unexpectedly, waiting for the Mister’s resident visa to be processed, which we were pretty bummed about… NOT.  So what started as a one night journey, turned into a four day adventure.  We had never stayed on Hong Kong Island and after having found The Butterfly on Wellington, near Soho, we may never stay anywhere else.  Even though the lifts moved about as fast as a sloth, the room was clean and quaint (and even equipped with a Nespresso machine) and the location was unbeatable (as was the price – roughly $100 a night, as compared to the $250-$400 pricetag of most large hotel chains in the area).  From our doorstep, we could walk a block and hop on the escalators into the heart of the mid-levels or up into Soho, grab fresh fruit at the street market 30 feet away, or take a short walk to the ferry terminal to go island hopping.

And so, we did it ALL.

Below is a sample itinerary, more or less based on our experience, that I think gives a fairly well rounded Hong Kong experience and is slow enough to manage with young kids who still require a nap.

Day 1: Soho Walking Tour – Mid-levels Exploration and Shopping

You can spend HOURS walking the streets, exploring hidden alley-ways, and learning about the nuances of Central Hong Kong.  On one block you’ll find Prada, on the next a wet market filled with sides of beef, freshly pickled ginger, and sidewalk eateries.  Soho is absolutely full of restaurants and bars; it’d take months to experience them all.  Same goes with the mid-levels, which kind of spill into Soho.  As those with kids well know (and those without can attest to), fine dining with your trolls isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but there are a handful of restaurants open enough to accommodate a stroller and casual enough to accommodate screeching children.  Also, be sure to go shopping here.  I personally think that the shops in and around Central Hong Kong are as good as Hong Kong shopping gets.  You can buy a $500 Louis Vuitton purse (not that I would condone such a thing) AND a $5 dress to go with it, all within a few blocks of eachother.  But beware, this part of Hong Kong is full of hills – which both adds to its intrigue and the amount of sweating you’ll be doing.  If you rely on the mid-levels escalators to get you up the hills, just remember that it’s a one way escalator and runs the direction of commuter traffic (down in the morning, up in the evening).

Day 2: Lamma Island

Oh, lovely little Lamma Island.  What began as a fishing village has turned into a thriving, progressive, bohemian, self-reliant community.  After a mere twenty minute journey, you are wisked away from the city and  transported into an entirely new culture altogether.  Complete with a recycling campaign, a fantastic natural foods store, two natural foods cafe’s, and a multitude of local design shops, Lamma Island kind of stole my heart.  All that on a tropical island lined with beaches and NO cars… only 20 minutes from Central Hong Kong.  What’s not to love?

Day 3: Peak Tram

Though a little birdy told me that the lines waiting to board the tram can be HORRENDOUS (especially if you’re hungover, apparently), we oh-so-cunningly chose an off time to head to Victoria Peak, so my impatient self’s experience wasn’t a wash in complaints.  Waiting for the tram was actually a pleasure because there is a bit of a history museum set up along the path, so I got to learn all about the history of the tram.  Built in the late 1800’s, the tram has been both a draw for tourists and a form of transportation for those who dwell on the Peak.  The mall at the top is a bit obnoxious, but if you can jam your way through it, incredible views and picturesque hiking await.

Day 4: Wan Chai and Causeway Bay

Hoping to get the not-napping kids to nap, we decided to walk from Soho to Causeway Bay, which is about 4 kilometers.  Not far, right?  Throw in a few thousand people along your way, roads that require finding an overpass to get across, and a few wrong turns and it’ll feel like you just ran a marathon.  It was actually quite a pleasant walk.  Causeway Bay is home to Times Square, which could easily be skipped, as could much of the shopping there as far as I’m concerned (I mean, really, how many Coach stores does one city need?).  It is, however, also home to many smaller, boutique shops and restaurants.  Though it’ll require some serious walking shoes, I think getting out on foot and exploring through these areas is well worth a half day of time.  And we also came across a movie theater and took the kids to see Turbo (about a snail who snuffs nitrous, heard of it?), in English, which I think I liked more than they did.

Intersperse the array of good restaurants to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at and you’ve got yourself a perfect Hong Kong visit.  Restaurant recommendations aren’t my forte, but here are three I’d recommend, in and around Soho:

1) The staff at Nico’s Sputino is FANTASTIC (a good spot to grab the kids a gelato and Mom and Dad a beer).

2) Life Cafe is a great breakfast/brunch spot if you’re wanting something healthier/are a vegetarian.

3) Wagyu has great food and is good for the kiddos.

Oh, and get a foot massage.

Out of the PRC and into TST (and Stanley)

Affectionately known as TST (or maybe it’s just an acronym created for American’s with bad accents like myself), Tsim Sha Tsui is in Kowloon and is in the heart of Hong Kong city proper.  Chock full of great restaurants, bars, and more shopping than you could hope for in your lifetime, TST is a great city destination.

It’s fairly flat, so exploring with young kids is a bit less strenous than on Hong Kong Island, though it’s no less crowded, so it’s still quite exhausting; it is not easy to navigate with two toddlers and a double stroller.  Let me tell you, NOT easy.  Add to that some humidity and you better hope you brought your sweat rag cause hunny, you gonna be sweatin’.  Nonetheless, it’s nothing short of lovely and the double stroller is nothing short of necessary.  Part of the reason I’m so drawn to Hong Kong proper is no doubt because of the British flavor interspersed throughout (it was a British colony until 1998) and I feel quite nostalgic about anything that reminds me of London (I studied there a decade ago and haven’t been back since).  Full of red double-decker buses, pubs, and left sided driving, the remnants of colonial Hong Kong are everywhere.

Just walking around TST is entertainment enough in itself (though you won’t be able to stay out of stores for long.  Because shopping.  And air conditioning.).  The kids will be dizzied with the amount of eye-candy and you won’t be able to turn down street treats for long (waffles and bubble tea and such).  While a stroller can definitely be challenging to get through crowds, it’s also a nice way to keep the kids wrangled close (as in most Chinese cities, the population density makes for an INTENSE human experience).  And the shopping.  Yes, I’m well aware that shopping with kids turns into a not-so-fun chore, so do what you can to shlep them into someone else’ supervision while you…SHOP.  Or, if you’re as lucky as I, your significant other will take them for a few hours.

As far as accommodations go, surprise, surprise, we’ve only stayed at the Hyatt TST (read here for my Hyatt Disclaimer).  With quite a hefty price-tag, I’m not sure that the location justifies the expense.  Though it’s no more expensive than other large hotel chains in the area, there are cheaper options that I think are better value (unless of course, you’re traveling for business, need just one more night to qualify for the coveted Diamond Status for the year, or simply aren’t concerned about money).  That said, the location is fairly ideal.  There are restaurants, bars, and shopping a-plenty, just out your doorstep (and it’s very close to the TST MTR Station).  The rooms are very well appointed but are small, which may or may not be a big deal to you.  And there are GREAT views from the Regency Club, which is a perfect spot to catch the evening lights.

 

When You Realize That You Haven’t Listened To Music While Out And About For FOUR Years

 

You’re witnessing the exact moment, on Mother’s Day 2013, when I realized that I hadn’t put headphones on, just for the sake of adding a soundtrack to my day, for FOUR years.  Probably a bit over, if we’re really being honest here.  Sure I’ve listened to music while working out or put one earbud in to listen to a movie on a plane (where you put the earbud in the opposite ear of where your kid is and try to pretend that you’re childless and that watching the movie is actually an option, do you know what I’m talking about?).

On Mama’s Day, the baby’s Daddy gave me the day/what, in reality, turned out to be 4 hours, to galavant about Hong Kong BY MYSELF.  And so, for four hours, I walked and got lost and listened to music and stopped wherever I damn well pleased.  It was glorious.  I thought that perhaps it would make me regret the fact that this was indeed, NOT my reality, but truth be told, galavanting about with two toddlers is just as great.  Different, yes, but still great.

I realized something else while I was alone.  There are many things that one doesn’t, or isn’t able to notice, when exploring with kids.  Likely, I would have never noticed this muralists’ color palette painted on the wall if I would have been pushing a stroller/had a sweaty monkey on my back.  HOWEVER, there are an equal number of things that one doesn’t notice, for lack of a child-like perspective, when exploring WITHOUT kids.  Such as, the snail making its way across the road or how easy it is to make friends.

At the end of the day, while I do dream of a time when the kids are grown and I can ride off into the night footloose and fancy free, they add a texture to travel experiences that I would have never known existed.  And for that, I am a grateful mama.