12 nights in Hong Kong
You’ve no doubt seen the pictures: a vibrant, buzzing, crowded city replete with skyscrapers; each one jostling for a patch of its tiny 1,104km² landmass - that's about the same size as Longford county! But there’s much more to Hong Kong than just a mass of concrete. Look beyond its beautiful skyline and you will be rewarded with stunning beaches, fun theme parks, dense woodlands and remote villages; all the ingredients for a truly memorable holiday.
How to get around and where to go!
We visited Hong Kong with our two boys - aged 6 and 8 - in March. This is an ideal time to do so as temperatures are comfortable for sightseeing and our first post-jetlag day there dawned warm. A stubborn veil of fog refused to shift from the higher areas denying us an opportunity to view the skyline from above, so our first view of the city was from one of its famed electric double-decker trams. These trams have been transporting locals and tourists since 1904.
Affectionately known as the “Ding-Ding”, we travelled on its upper deck through the streets of the north of Hong Kong Island, the area known as Central. Its frequent stops and slow pace make it ideal for tourists allowing for ample opportunities to snap photos of city life. And at a set fare of just HKG$2.30 (€0.25) regardless of the length of your journey, is exceptional value for money.
Hong Kong also operates another entirely separate tram route. One which takes visitors to The Peak, which is often cited as being the city’s most popular tourist attraction. As our first visit to The Peak early on in our holiday was spoiled by fog, on a different day and under the auspices of our tenth wedding anniversary we were blessed with blue skies and so we took the 7-minute journey to the summit once again.
The boys were fascinated by the illusion that the surrounding buildings are leaning over at an angle. This is the result of the steep incline of the route. The Peak Tram as it is known, was Asia’s first cable funicular and has been operating the 1.3km route up to Victoria’s Peak since 1888 at which time it carried its passengers up to the Peak Hotel.
Storyboards at The Peak Tram Historical Gallery tell how the hotel fell into decline. Beset with problems of poor construction, it was consumed by a fire in 1938 which closed it completely.
At its summit today are shopping and dining facilities, and the Sky Terrace 428, so called because its 360-degree viewing platform is 428 metres above sea level, affording visitors a panoramic view of the city below.
There we stood, as the fog rolled in and out, transfixed by the seductive sight of the city below; its buildings dominating nearby Victoria Harbour which we picked out as our next destination.
Sights and waterslides
For variety, we took the number 15 bus down from The Peak to its waterside terminus at Central Ferry Piers on the harbour. The sweeping vistas of the city from the top deck made the long journey on the hot, packed bus worthwhile. Victoria Harbour is a busy thoroughfare and, boarding the infamous Star Ferry, we too were soon part of its traffic.
As much a tourist attraction as a mode of transport, the famed green and white double-decker ferries have been chugging across the harbour for almost 150 years, affording passengers a different perspective of the skyscrapers which tower over the water.
The Star Ferry is just one of the many ferry companies which ply the waters between the islands which comprise Hong Kong. And so, on another day, we took First Ferry’s fast service from Hong Kong Island to Lantau Island. This is the largest of the 263 islands which make up the Hong Kong archipelago.
The rain was pouring down as we docked at Mui Wo thirty minutes later, and we ran across the wet street to board the number 2 bus which would take us onward to Ngong Ping to see the colossus that is Tian Tan Buddha.
The bus route is a scenic one, winding its way higher and higher into the heart of the island, passing beaches (among them Cheung Sha, the longest in Hong Kong), villages and houses on its way; a marked contrast to the metropolis we had left behind. At our journey’s end forty five minutes later, the weather had changed and the sun was shining.
The kids were enthralled by their first sight of “Big Buddha” as he is colloquially known; his presence dominating the surrounding area from his lofty throne. At 112 feet high, it is the second largest outdoor sitting Buddha statue in the world and is reached by climbing 268 steps.
The reward for our efforts was a serene vantage point from which to view the island. Descending the steps again, we found ourselves in the haven of incense and tranquillity that is the Po Lin Buddhist monastery where many of our fellow visitors had come to worship. The rooms of the temple were ablaze with gilding, wooden carvings and offerings of fruit.
It was the first time the boys had been exposed to the iconography of a religion other than Christianity and so many questions were asked and many answers were attempted as we made our way from shrine to shrine, their worldview expanding as we went along.
Leaving the monastery, the ease of getting around Hong Kong and the integration of its public transport system were once again apparent as it was a just a short walk to the cable cars which join up with the metro system in the north of the island to take you back downtown. The cable car ride is a highlight of a visit to Lantau.
The 25-minute journey offers breath-taking (or breath-holding!) views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and out towards the sea and the airport. At 5.7km, it is the longest bi-cable route in Asia and one of the highest in the world, taking you up to a height of 600 metres at one point, something we hadn’t realised prior to boarding. The boys were delighted! We were less so... This is definitely not one for acrophobics and I was very glad we hadn’t opted for the glass-bottomed “Crystal Cabins”. I could see plenty, thank you very much!
The T Hotel
A full day is needed to see all the sights of Lantau Island, and it was four weary bodies which trudged back to the comfort of our hotel room that night. For the 12 nights we were in Hong Kong, we stayed in T Hotel, where the “T” stands for “Training”. Part of Hong Kong’s hospitality and culinary training institute, the hotel is staffed by trainees who are continuously supervised by managers.
The trainees are extremely eager to please and oblige, and are highly attentive at all times; running ahead to open doors, pressing the correct button on the lift and greeting us with smiles and a chorus of “hellos” when we returned to the hotel each evening. There were little standout touches by the staff too. On our wedding anniversary we were given a handwritten note and a beautiful basket of fruit. And of course they didn’t forget the boys.
Every night, they left them a new bath toy on their pillows and because our stay coincided with Easter, each of the three nights of Easter weekend there was a handmade Easter egg waiting for them when we returned to the room. Culminating on Easter Sunday with a handmade chocolate bunny! The service was truly exceptional.
Our ocean view room had a picture window affording us panoramic views out over the South China Sea and was spotless and well equipped and because the kitchen staff was part of the Culinary Institute. The breakfast buffet was a delight to awake to each morning. There was a large choice of food to suit all palates and it was beautifully presented.
Of course no trip to Hong Kong with kids in tow would be complete without a visit to Disneyland. Smaller than its American, European and Japanese cousins, its relatively small size makes it ideal for younger children. It is very manageable to get around its seven themed lands in one day without too much walking for little legs.
The heavy rain showers put somewhat of a damper on our time there, however it was not enough to spoil the undeniable magic of our first Disneyland experience. Buoyed up by our time there, we would have liked to visit Ocean Park also; Hong Kong’s perennially popular marine-life theme park which celebrated 40 years in operation in 2017, but time didn’t permit. The closest we got to it was on the bus ride out to Stanley village one day, when we saw it from the upper deck of the bus.
The village of Stanley feels far-removed from the bustle of the city, yet it is easily accessible by a number of buses from the city centre and the journey time is only about 45 minutes. I had read that Hong Kong has some beautiful beaches and on the way out, we passed two of them; Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay; gorgeous crescent-shaped stretches of yellow sand.
At the terminus in the village, a rocky beach and a promenade are flanked by restaurants, bars and shops. Together with its beautifully designed shopping arcade and its street market, the area has Mediterranean vibe and is a lovely place to while away an afternoon.
Hong Kong Highlight
For me, the most memorable aspect of our time in Hong Kong was the city’s light show; “The Symphony of Lights”. The best vantage point is at Tsim Sha Tsui harbour. Looking across at Hong Kong island, 45 buildings star in what the Guinness Book of World Records has named as the "World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show". Lasers and lights synchronise with music in celebration of this wonderful city.
The whole spectacle, which lasts about 15 minutes, perfectly captures the colour, vibrancy and excitement of this amazing place and enraptures you in its magic. It’s hard to describe how just breath-taking it is in real life. It was very fitting that we witnessed it on our last night there - it was the perfect finale to the perfect holiday.