This trip was one we planned after many years, primarily because Reema got added to our family in the middle :). So we did many trips in the middle to local places, with other friends and kids but not like this one. This was our first trip - just the three of us with stuff to do, not just laze at a beach. I was a bit concerned how Reema would hold up without other kids to play with, but she loved every minute of being a tourist - right from the airport procedures to meeting Anna and Elsa at Disneyland. All in all a short but awesome vacation!
Kids: I would definitely recommend Hong Kong to people with little kids who would like to see Disneyland; it makes for a good 5-6 day trip. Ocean Park is also a good park although not as fancy as Sea World. Some people also go to Macau but we skipped it as the kids are not allowed in the casinos. But I am told that the ferry ride and the luxurious hotels there are fun for the kids too. Barring these theme parks, I would say that there are more interesting places to visit in Europe if you are looking for museums, sight seeing, etc. Make sure to take a stroller with you as there is a lot of walking in the theme parks. Better to keep the kids fresh for the activities they are interested in, rather than get tired with a ton of walking! Tip: If you have a daughter who is interested in princess stuff, dress her up as a princess in Disneyland - she will get to participate in some parades too!
Food: We didn't get stranded for food any where, even with Reema. Hong Kong is a fairly international cosmopolitan city. There were quite a few multinational names like Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Subway, Haagen Dazs, etc. Disneyland also offered limited but reasonable veggie choices such as pizza, ice-cream, and popcorn. We got lucky to eat in a pure vegetarian local Chinese restaurant that we totally enjoyed! We also ate a regular Indian meal - naan and sabzi. Grocery stores (such as 7-11) were every where and we grabbed sandwiches, milk, etc. all the time. Local bakeries at the airport and train stations offered very good choices of bread and pastries. Good breakfast at our hotels definitely helped a lot in pushing us through the day too. All in all, food was not a problem.
Transport: Not a problem at all! All the islands are very well connected to each other via bus, train (MTR), and ferries. Public transport options were clean, punctual, and enjoyable. They were crowded only during peak office times and we didn't encounter any problems, even with Reema in a stroller. Airport transport is a bit expensive. We didn't need it while coming as the hotel provided transport; while going, we just took a taxi from Hong Kong. A tad expensive but totally comfortable given how many bags we had.
Weather: When we went in May, it was really hot and humid. Also we got hit by some unseasonal rains. But we are used to heat in India. While it was not very comfortable, it was not bothersome at all.
May 8, Friday
Just the departure day. We flew right out of Pune so that was a relief not having to travel to Mumbai. We flew Pune-Delhi-Hong Kong on Jet Airways. Reema was terribly upbeat at Delhi airport even at midnight :). Here's a photo of her posing at a small garden at the Delhi airport. We left Pune around 8pm, landed at Delhi around 10pm, and had a three-hour wait for the next flight. We reached Hong Kong around 9am the next morning. Hong Kong has three main islands - Lantau (Disneyland and the big Buddha), Kowloon, and Hong Kong. We wanted to spend three days in Lantau so we split our stay - 2 nights in Lantau and 3 nights in Hong Kong. Lantau is very close to the airport so we made it our first stop. We stayed at the Marriott SkyCity which was a stone's throw away from the airport and had a lovely view of the landing strip from the room (yet, surprisingly absolutely no noise from the airport!).
May 9, Saturday
Hong Kong - Lantau
We landed early in the morning and did the necessary formalities at the airport - getting some cash from an ATM, buying a SIM card with a data plan, grabbing some breakfast, etc. Then we headed to take the free shuttle to the hotel. Luckily our room was ready even though we arrived well before the check-in time. They also upgraded us to a nice airport-view room! We all quickly freshened up and set off for the Big Lantau Buddha also known as the Tian Tan Buddha. To get to the Buddha, you have to go to the Tung Chung MTR station on Lantau island. From there, there is a lovely cable car ride to the Buddha. Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance for our entire trip in Hong Kong. First we took the (free) hotel shuttle to Tung Chung MTR. There was a little stall there to color aprons for Mother's Day so Reema excitedly colored there for a while :). There are some good eateries at Tung Chung MTR - Subway, Haagen Dazs, Pizza Hut, and local Chinese food. We grabbed a sub to eat in the long bus journey. Then we took the local bus 42 to the Buddha. The road is fairly winding and it took about 40-45 minutes to get there.
It was a cloudy and rainy day so the visibility was quite poor. But we got lucky as we were able to complete our visit before heavy rains hit us. The Big Buddha is located on a lovely little green campus which also houses the Po Lin Monastery. Here is the impressive entrance to the campus which leads to a beautiful paved walkway. On either side of the walkway are statues of twelve soldiers which represent the twleve years of the Chinese calendar cycle. Before we reach the monastery, there was a huge incense pot so Reema and Mayur lit some incense and prayed. Then we walked further to the main entrance to a couple of Buddha temples and the Po Lin Monastery .
Once we entered the main monastery, there was a little eatery - more on that later, and steps that led to two Buddha temples. Here are Reema and I posing in front of the steps . There was a small temple first with a small Buddha statue and some other warrior statues behind it. Then we went to the main temple which housed five big golden Buddha statues and 10000 smaller golden Buddha statues embedded all over the walls of the temple. It was quite a spectacular gilded sight! The temples were immaculately clean and peaceful. After visiting these two temples, we went to the eatery. This is a pure vegetarian Buddist food place. They offered full multiple-course meals depending on the number of people in your party. We were not very hungry so we just grabbed a few items from the a-la-carte menu. The food was alright - we didn't particularly enjoy it. But in case you go, the eatery closes at 4:30pm every day.
After eating a little bit, we proceeded to the Tian Tan Buddha. This statue is located on a little hillock to the side of the monastery. As it was a cloudy day, we did not get very good views of the majestic statue. We had to climb a few steps to get to the base of the statue. We walked all around the statue and inside the prayers hall below the statue. It was fairly crowded being a weekend. The air cleared up a little bit as we got down so we were able to see the statue. Now, they have set up a nice little shopping area outside the monastery campus called the Ngong Ping Village which also houses the cable car stop. We started to go there but heavy rains hit us. We barely managed to get some cover. We waited for a few minutes and then went to get our bus back to Tung Chung MTR station and the hotel. We got lucky, got the bus immediately, and reached the MTR station in an hour. Grabbed some pizza at the Pizza Hut near the MTR, and then took the hotel shuttle back. We were quite tired from the journey to Hong Kong so we crashed early.
May 10, Sunday
Hong Kong - Disneyland
The BIG day - our first one at Disneyland! The park opens at 10am but we decided to take it a bit slow!! So we ate a hearty breakfast at the hotel - it was really quite a spread and we totally enjoyed it. It was Reema's first experience with such a lovely breakfast buffet and she made the most of it, serving us and herself. We took the hotel shuttle to Disneyland - this was another really convenient perk of staying on Lantau Island in the Marriott; we reached Disneyland in 15 minutes with a very comfortable bus ride. What more shall I say? The Hong Kong Disneyland is smaller than the ones I have seen in the US, and it caters more to little children. It has Fantasyland, and bits and pieces of the other places in the park. There aren't too many big amusement rides to attract older children. It was the perfect size for Reema - she loved every minute of it! We were able to cover all of it peacefully in two days. If you are willing to let a few rides go, or you are not THAT much into princesses, I think one full day is sufficient too. The lines to meet characters were not too long - we spent about 15 mins on average to see characters. Sunday was a bit more crowded than the weekday but not very different as the park mainly caters to tourists, not local people. Food-wise - we got vegetarian pizza, ice cream, and awesome caramel popcorn. We did a bunch of rides, met some characters, saw some shows, and a parade. The usual Disney stuff! The evening parade and the fireworks were canceled due to some heavy rains at 7pm. But we covered all that in our subsequent visit to the park.
Dumbo The Elephant Ride
With Minnie Mouse
The Lion King Show
Mystic Manor Ride
Anna and Elsa
Pouch, and Olaf!
May 11, Monday
Hong Kong - Ocean Park
The original plan had been to visit Disneyland on this day so we could finish all of Lantau Island and move to Hong Kong in the evening. But the weather forecast predicted rains and we really wanted to catch the evening parade and fireworks at Disneyland that we had missed the earlier day. We also had to move our luggage to the new hotel which would have been tough in heavy rains. So we switched gears and decided to go to Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Once again, we enjoyed our sumptious breakfast, checked out, and lugged our luggage to the new hotel in Hong Kong. This was a bit arduous involving bus travel, train travel, walking, picking up the stroller on steps, phew!! We reached our new hotel - the Metropark Causeway Bay Hotel - a decent place, well located in Hong Kong with easy access to the MTR right across the street. Its just wasn't as luxurious as the Marriott.
Ocean Park was a short bus ride away from our hotel. We had to walk a little bit from the hotel to the bus stop and from the terminal bus stop to the park but luckily we had taken Reema's stroller. There was some rain off and on but it did not bother us and in fact, helped to keep us cool. Ocean Park is huge, spread out over a large area, which is also hilly. The lower area houses the aquarium and mini zoo, some kiddy rides, and some shows. The upper area houses the dolphin show, a big amusement ride area, and a polar exhibit. You can take the cable car or the train to the upper area. We did that right away and first saw the dolphin show. We did a water rafting ride but Reema was not eligible to sit in the other advanced rides which had height restrictions. We visited the polar exhibit and saw a walrus, penguins, etc. Reema sat in a little roller coaster and a tower ride which took up to a height for spectacular views from the top.
Then we headed back to the bottom via the cable car. It was a lovely ride with some excellent views of the entire park and other parts of Hong Kong. A tad scary but of course nothing happened :). At the bottom, we saw the Sea Lion show. Reema sat in a bunch of kiddy rides such as the carousel, train, and played some fun-fair-type games. We also saw the great panda - black and white as well as the red one. Someone from the park security took our stroller thinking that it was abandoned so poor Mayur had to run around to retrieve it. Finally we got it at the park exit. By then we are all quite tired so we decided to call it a day. Ocean Park was not as pish-posh as Sea World in the US but it was a good local park with nice scenic views of Hong Kong. It was a good one-day visit for kids, especially as a break from Disneyland.
Ocean Park Entrance
View of Ocean Park
Raging Waters Ride
Arctic Blast Roller Coaster
Just as we were stepping out of the park, torrential rains hit us. We just waited at the exit of the park under some shelter for almost an hour. Here we had some good fun with local Chinese tourists. They spoke no English so there was means of communication between us. But they were all in love with Reema! They wanted to take pictures of her, they held their umbrellas for her so she would not get wet, they wrapped her nani around her so that she would not feel cold :). It was all very hilarious! As the rain receded, we took a bus back to the hotel. Mayur found a nice Indian restaurant walking distance from our hotel so we went and had a nice hot dinner there.
Penguin Feeding Time
With Polar Animals
May 12, Tuesday
Hong Kong - Kowloon
After spending three days in the area, we finally got around to seeing Hong Kong city and Kowloon :). Again we ate a good breakfast at the hotel, not quite the spread at the Marriott but fairly decent nonetheless. The hotel shuttle dropped us to the Wan Chai Ferry Terminal from where we took a ferry ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon. We got lovely views of the Hong Kong skyline as well as Kowloon from the boat. On the other side, we first stopped at The Clock Tower. Along the water on the Kowloon side, there is a paved path, similar to the one in Los Angeles, called 'The Avenue of the Stars'. Here they had stars embedded in the road for the famous actors and actresses of the South East Asia region. We recognized a few names like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow-Yun Fat, etc. They also had a commemorative statue of Bruce Lee and a bunch of other statues for film making. It was a very hot and sunny day so we didn't spend too much time here.
Since it was quite hot, we decided to see a local temple in Kowloon and then split - Mayur and Reema would chill at the hotel while I finished some shopping. We proceeded to visit the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple located a little north in Kowloon; it was a short 30-min ride by MTR from the ferry station. It was a beautiful local temple - massive entrance bang in the middle of a crowded city! There were very colorful lanterns decorating the inner courtyard. Reema did her incence stick thingie like in Lantau. Outside of the temple, was a small area where there were three statues of a priest marrying a man and a woman. People had tied red threads in this area, with hopes of getting married :). Reema also wanted to tie a thread but the attendant there stopped her saying that it was not for children and that she should come back after 20 years when she wanted to get married :).
After the temple, as planned earlier, we split. Mayur took Reema back to the hotel and I took the MTR to the local Ladies' Market in Kowloon. The Ladies' Market was a short 0.5km walk on a pedestrian-only street lined with tiny shops on both side. Sort of like Fashion Street back in India. The shops mainly carried purses, dresses, kiddy stuff such as bags, fake Disney items, shoes, etc. I actually had a good time shopping here and haggling, contrary to my usual 'I-hate-shopping' attitude :). I bought some purses as gifts for family and Frozen (the movie) stuff for Reema. The Ladies' Market is a good place to shop for gifts and souvenirs and purses but be prepared to haggle. I got things at as less as 20% of the originally quoted price. Another good place is the Temple Street Night Market which is also famous for dining but we were not able to make it there.
I had a very interesting experience in the Ladies' Market. I liked a purse at a shop and the shopkeeper quoted HKD 300 for it. I wanted to get three such purses and asked for a price for three purses. She asked me what I was willing to pay for them so I said HKD 300 for all three. She pretended to be outraged but then reluctantly agreed to give them to me for that amount. When I opened my wallet, I discovered that I only had HKD 250 or so and I needed some cash to get back to the hotel too. So I told her to take me to an ATM. At this point, she held my hand and did not let go of it for 15 mins thereafter! She took me to a Bank of China ATM but I told her that I needed an HSBC ATM. She had no idea where to find an HSBC ATM. I promised her that I would withdraw the money and come back to get the purses. She was certain I would not return. I started getting upset because she would just not leave my hand. So I told her that I would give her HKD 200 from my wallet for the purses and she should leave my hand. After a lot of yelling and abuses from her side (I was very firm in my offer :)), she gave me three purses for HKD 200!! The irony of the whole thing was that the HSBC ATM was two shops away from the Bank of China ATM but she did not know that :(.
After my shopping, I got back to the hotel. We all got ready and headed off to The Peak - the most Patel place in Hong Kong to get good views of the city, especially at night. We took a bus from our hotel to the base of the peak from where there is a lovely old tram to go to the top. Unfortunately, there was a huge line to take the tram. At this point I must say that Mayur's SIM card with the data plan was most useful. We had used it many other times as well but this time was very helpful. It suggested an alternate bus route and we were up at the peak in 30 minutes. The road was winding but lovely and it was a great place to live I think. At the top of the peak, there is a nice shopping mall and eataries. They are some spots with paid viewing but the free viewing terrace is also good enough. We got some nice views of the city in daylight, and at night as the sun set and it got dark. You can easily spend the evening at this place and eat a nice dinner atop the terrace which is much cooler compared to the rest of the city.
From the peak, we went to my nephew Vikas' house where we met his wife Sweta, daughter Sonya, and son Neel. They have a lovely apartment close to the peak. We sat and chatted at their place for some time and then headed out to eat dinner. She took us to a lovely local vegetarian Chinese restaurant. We loved the food there - dim sums, noodles, curries, etc. Without her, we would never have found this place or known what to order here. The kids were also making their own sauces from a DIY suace bar with a lot of exotic ingredients. Sadly I forgot to take any photos of the family and the food :(. She dropped us back to the hotel; we really enjoyed our time with them and the local food was a special treat.
May 13, Wednesday
Hong Kong - Disneyland
Day Two at Disneyland! This was an early start for us as it took an hour from our new hotel in Hong Kong to get to Disneyland by MTR. Also we wanted to get to the park at opening time 10am. Basically they dole out limited passes for (1) meeting Anna and Elsa (princesses from the movie 'Frozen') and (2) participating in a princess parade with them. We were at the entrance before 10am and the first to collect the passes for both events. Note that Reema had to wear a princess dress to be allowed in the parade; luckily she had one that we got from India so all was well :). Disney has a special train that runs for one station into Disneyland - it had some cool stuff like Mickey-shaped windows, Mickey-shaped handles to hold, Disney character statues in the train, etc.
We spent the morning mainly meeting princesses and characters. First we did a few rides in Toy Story Land and Adventureland. We did a boat ride through a forest which had artifical animals. Reema was terribly confused about what was real and what as not, and at one point she even asked us if the water (in which the boat was sailing) was real :). Then the million-dollar moment was meeting Anna and Elsa :). After that, we met a bunch of other princesses - Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, and Snow White. Reema also got to walk down the castle with Anna and Elsa and a bunch of 30-odd other girls who had come dressed as princesses, the most popular one being Elsa :). We saw 'The Golden Mickeys' show which was like an Oscars show, ate lunch, and Reema took a nap while Mayur and I took turns doing Space Mountain again. At 3pm, Reema participated in the afternoon parade and was able to dance with some of the princesses Then we did the Autopia (driving a car) ride and met other Disney characters such as Pooh, Goofy, Mickey, and Tinker Bell. A few more rides, the night parade, fireworks and crashed at night after such a long day of walking and travel!!
With Anna and Elsa
With Snow White
DISNEY CHARACTER MANIA!!
With Mickey Mouse
With Winnie The Pooh
With Tinker Bell
RIDES AND STUFF
Driving a car in Autopia
Small World Lit Up
May 14, Thursday
Hong Kong - Repulse Bay and Stanley Market
Last day of the trip! We had almost the whole day to spend as our flight was later in the evening. We packed up and ate breakfast. Our hotel had a lovely pool and view of Hong Kong city from the top floor. Sadly we didn't get time to hang out there. So we just took a quick look on this last day before we left. We left our bags with the concierge at the hotel, and headed off to Repulse Bay Beach in south Hong Kong. It was a very scenice winding bus ride and we got beautiful views along the way, especially of Ocean Park. Mayur and Reema swam at the beach. It was not an open sea beach so there were no waves. Nothing much compared to Goa but Reema enjoyed it anyway, especially playing with the sand as usual.
After spending some time there, we went further south to another local shopping place called Stanley Market. Stanley Market was a bit more upscale than the Ladies' Market. They had some nice local products including fine clothes, statues, trinkets, paintings, etc. But it was also terribly touristy. So it was way more expensive (for the same items) compared to the Ladies' Market and no bargaining. I was disappointed since I still needed to pick up a few items. In the meanwhile, we also grabbed lunch at a local French pastry shop - another branch of this place is also at the top of the peak. Since we still had some time on hand, we decided to quickly go to the Ladies' Market before heading back to the airport.
Reema insisted on coming for shopping so we all went back to the Ladies' Market. I knew exactly what I wanted so it was a quick second trip. Then we went back to the hotel, freshened up, and collected our bags. We took a taxi back to the airport. That was a nice ride as we got to see a lot of Hong Kong. MTR is all underground so although it was a fast mode of transport, we did not see much of the city that way. Our taxi driver was a hero and completed the 45-min ride in 30 mins. We had a safe journey back. Mayur had booked a hotel for our long layover in Delhi so we also got a good night's sleep and reached Pune the next morning well rested.
We really enjoyed our trip - the first one with just the three of us. Two thumbs up!!
Hotels that we stayed in (my scale of 1 to 5 stars):
Hong Kong - Lantau
SkyCity Marriott Hong Kong Airport
1 Sky City Road East, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau, Hong Kong
Lovely hotel - a stone's throw away from the airport. We stayed here on Lantau Island as we spent three days in Lantau - visiting the Buddha, and two days in Disneyland. It worked out really well compared to taking long train rides from Hong Kong or Kowloon. The hotel was excellent - luxurious rooms with a spectacular view of the airport, especially at night. We loved the breakfast buffet spread and swimming pool. They have complimentary shuttles to the airport (5 mins), Disneyland (15-20 mins), and the closest MTR (metro) station Tung Chung (10 mins). All in all a great place, especially if you have stuff to do in Lantau. I would have spent an extra day there just to enjoy the hotel - swim, sauna, leisurely breakfast :).
MetroPark Hotel Causeway Bay
148 Tung Lo Wan Road, Hong Kong
This hotel was a standard Hong Kong style hotel with a crammed room just enough to fit a bed. It was a fairly decent place, just not luxurious like the Marriott. They had a roof-top pool with a spectacular view of the city. The hotel was clean with a fairly good breakfast spread. The location was very good because there was a bus stop serving many buses and a MTR station with 2-3 minutes walking distance. The hotel also had a complimentary shuttle to the ferry pier to go to Kowloon. Not a bad choice to stay on Hong Kong Island.