Hong Kong is an energetic and vibrant city that provides plenty of family fun at any time of year. It has a striking fusion of modern urban living and Chinese tradition, and you’ll find plenty of contrast everywhere, from the fast-paced neon streets of the city centre to the slower-paced rural settings of the outlying islands. Old temples sit cheek to cheek with futuristic skyscrapers, and as for the views of Hong Kong harbour by night, they are nothing short of breathtaking.
About Hong Kong
Hong Kong facts
Full of bustle, noise, stunning views, daring skyscrapers and very fashionable people, Hong Kong is a vibrant slice of Asian urban life. Hong Kong Island is home to the main business district at Central, although the far side of the island has quiet fishing villages and good beaches. Around Central stand the city’s most spectacular skyscrapers, backed by the hill simply referred to as The Peak (actually Mt Victoria), the view from which will take your breath away both by day and night. Across the harbour, Kowloon is a peninsula off the mainland and is more crowded, more shabby, but undoubtedly a more authentic display of Hong Kong life.
These vessels have been chugging across Victoria Harbour since 1880, giving riders an unparalleled view of the city skyscrapers and the mountains beyond.
Tai O Fishing Village
This part of Lantau Island is about 40 kilometres from Victoria Harbour, but it may as well be a different planet. The locals in Tai O Fishing Village have built their homes on stilts above tidal flats. The best way to view this incredible community is on a boat tour and, if you’re lucky, you may even spot a pink dolphin!
Hong Kong Disneyland
To get to Hong Kong Disneyland, simply jump on a bus or train. You can take the MTR Tung Chung line to Sunny Bay Station, then onwards to Disneyland Resort Station. It takes just 21 minutes from Kowloon Station and 24 minutes from Hong Kong Station.
Divided into seven areas – Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Toy Story Land, Mystic Point and Grizzly Gulch – most of the attractions are geared towards families with small children.
Thirty years before Disneyland came to town, Ocean Park was Hong Kong’s original amusement park. Combining wildlife viewing with roller coasters, it makes for a fun day out. The resident pandas are the real stars and little ones will delight in getting so close to these black and white cuddly creatures.
Best time to go to Hong Kong
If possible, visit during the cooler months such as August to November, or you’ll be sweating before you get out the hotel door. Humidity can be a killer in Hong Kong, and while winter can be cold (think overcoats and chilly Melbourne winds), consider visiting for the festive season because the Christmas decorations will make your trip truly memorable.
Between the months of March and May, summer is hot, humid and sunny, with occasional showers and thunderstorms. The temperature can exceed 31 degrees Celsius but high humidity levels can make it feel even hotter. Average temperatures range between 26 and 31 degrees Celsius.
Between the months of June and August, autumn is made up of pleasant breezes, plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Many people regard these as the best months of the year to visit Hong Kong. Average temperatures range between 19 and 28 degrees Celsius.
Between the months of September and November, winter is cool, dry and cloudy, with occasional cold fronts. The temperature can drop below 10 degrees Celsius in urban areas and average temperatures range between 12 and 20 degrees Celsius.
Between the months of December and February, temperatures and humidity rise in spring, although evenings can be cool. Average temperatures range between 17 and 26 degrees Celsius.
Passport and visa requirements
Australian passport holders don’t require a visa to enter Hong Kong as long as the passport is valid for six months from the date of departure, and the stay is no longer than three months. You will need a visa for mainland China if you are continuing there after Hong Kong.
Hong Kong International Airport is modern, efficient and very clean but can get very crowded, so keep a watch on your kids, especially as you have to negotiate escalators and shuttles to get to the baggage area. There are plenty of ways to pass the time should you be there for several hours, including a playground, TVs, napping rooms, showers and massage centres. There are also restaurants, cafes, bars and fast-food outlets offering both Asian and Western food. There’s plenty of duty-free shopping available, although sometimes the prices don’t seem any better than in the city itself. There are also pay phones, ATMs and currency exchange.
There are two main railway lines which are mostly underground in the city centre, the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) and the Mass Transit Railway (MRT). Get an electronic Octopus Card for HK$100 (rechargeable) for convenience. Children under three travel free, those from three to 11 years pay half fare. Buses run from 6am to 12.30am and many connect to KCR and MRT stations. There is also a tram line with rattling double-decker trams that kids will love; it runs from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan
Ferries run to various outlying island and also connect Central with Kowloon. This is the famous Star Ferry, an eight-minute ride that’s a not-to-be-missed experience for its views of Hong Kong Harbour.
Food and drinks that kids will love
There’s no doubt that Hong Kong’s superb cuisine is one of the highlights of a stay in the city, and well worth exploring. The city has the best Chinese food in the world, most of which is Cantonese. Try to be adventurous, and if you can, get someone to translate the Chinese menu, which will have far more exciting dishes than the English one. Check prices before you eat in Chinese restaurants, especially if ordering fish and seafood, which can be much more expensive than in Australia and is often priced by weight.
Don’t leave without going to a dim-sum restaurant, where you’ll be presented with a hundred different steamed foods in bamboo baskets. With such a wide choice, it’s also a great place to have a family meal. Chinese desserts are likely to appeal to children with their mixtures of custards, jellies and exotic names such as ‘sweet snow frog jelly soup’. There are several chains around town that specialise in dessert and drinks.
To find a wide variety of eateries and low prices, head to Tsim Sha Tsui along and around Nathan Road, where you’ll find everything from restaurants to snack houses, and cuisines from all over the world. Central is trendier and more modern, while neighbouring SoHo goes for world cuisines in dozens of ethnic restaurants.
There are a few things to consider when eating out in Hong Kong. Note that a great deal of Chinese food contains peanuts or is cooked in peanut oil, so if your family has an allergy you need to be vigilant, especially as it might be hard to communicate the importance of peanut-free cooking to the waiters.
Hong Kong has always had a reputation for good shopping, and while this is still true, it isn’t the bargain paradise it used to be. Good value can still be found, but you have to hunt around, and often bargain hard. You also have to be canny when buying electronics, because devious sales tricks abound.
Among the good buys in Hong Kong are watches, cameras, designer fashions and tailor-made suits. Chinese antiques and porcelain are superb but not necessarily cheap. Shops usually open anywhere between 7am and 10am and close between 7pm and 12am. December to February and July to September are popular periods for sales, especially before Christmas and in the run-up to Chinese New Year.
Thanks to the South China practice of grouping similar businesses on one street – if it’s worth shopping, it has a street. You can find the likes of goldfish, birds, clothes, electronics and shoes. Here is a list of the streets and where to find them.
Central has plenty of marbled shopping malls among its skyscrapers such as the Galleria, Landmark and Prince’s Building.
Kowloon isn’t quite as fancy (with the exception of the fantastic Harbour City mall, where there is also a gigantic Toys R Us) but has an abundance of shopping centres and department stores, as well as factory outlets. Nathan Road goes for smaller shops, where bargaining is a must. Further north in the Yau Ma Tei district you’ll find lots of street markets with clothes, toys and other consumer items. The kids will enjoy hunting for T-shirts and jewellery, and will love inspecting the weird Chinese goldfish, even if they can’t pack them in their suitcase.
One of the most luxurious malls in Hong Kong is Festival Walk at 80 Tat Chee Avenue in Kowloon. It has an ice-rink, which is the perfect antidote to the heat and a good place to leave the kids so you can browse to your heart’s content.
It is usual to leave a 10% tip in hairdressers. Hotels and high-end restaurants may add a 10% service charge, however, you should always check if it is added to your bill. You can still leave your small change for the staff.
Taxi drivers will not expect you to tip. However, they may round up the fare.
You should tip between 10 and 70 HKD per person and split this between the tour guide and the driver if there is one.
What to wear
Hong Kong is often hot and humid, so light, loose-fitting clothing should be worn. Be sure to have hats and sunscreen on hand to protect your family from the hot, tropical sun. Most Hong Kong Chinese dress fairly conservatively, and well.
220 volts AC, with some outlets taking three round prongs and others two square prongs.
Health and safety precautions
No vaccinations are required to enter Hong Kong but ask your GP what precautions are recommended. Although Hong Kong is considered clean and healthy, it’s still a good idea to get basic inoculations like tetanus and hepatitis if you haven’t already had them. Recent outbreaks of hepatitis here have been linked to eating raw shellfish.
To be on the cautious side, drink only bottled or boiled water, though the tap water is considered safe.
There are many snakes in Hong Kong, and some are deadly, but you are unlikely to encounter any.
The official languages of Hong Kong are Cantonese and English. The use of Mandarin, mainland China’s official language, is becoming more common. While many young people speak English, some of the older generation does not, and a lot of the English spoken, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t particularly good.
Hello – nei-hou (ley-ho)
Goodbye – joi-gin (joy-gee-n)
Thank you – ng-goi (mm-goy)
How are you? – neih hou ma (nee-hoe-ma)
I’m fine thanks – ngo-hou-hou do-ze (nor-ho-ho daw-zer)
What’s your name? – nei-giu-me-meng (neu-giu-mei-meng)
My name is… – ngo-gui (nor-giu)
I don’t understand – ngo-m-ming (nor-m-ming)
How much is this? – gei-do-cin (gey-daw-chin)
Choi Hung Estate
A city landmark that is fast becoming a photographer’s hotspot is the Choi Hung Estate, one of the oldest and most famous public housing estates in Hong Kong. Located in the Wong Tai Sin District of Kowloon, the estate houses over 18,000 people. It first came to people’s attention due to it’s rainbow-coloured walls, which are thought to be painted so by the government to lift the spirits of the residents.
Built in 1993, Hong Kong’s iconic Big Buddha Tian Tan is hidden away in the lush mountainside of Lantau Island and is one of the biggest seated Buddha statues in the world. To get to the top, visitors must climb 260 steps, but the views at the end are well worth the hike.
Victoria Harbour is perhaps the most photographed place in Hong Kong and enjoys incredible views of the city skyline. Fisherman and boats make great subjects during the day, and come night time, watching the lights of the city illuminate the night sky is a sight to behold.
Temple Street Market
Temple Street Night Market is the largest and most festive in Hong Kong. The famous street bazaar is located in Kowloon’s Jordan district and is famous for selling men’s clothing and accessories. The hundreds of stalls and colorful lights make it a wonder to witness when the action really begins later in the evening.