Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hong Kong: Must-See Attractions - Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong is internationally famous for its shopping and dining options that not so many people are familiar with the attractions it has to offer to families with kids.  This article is specially written for those families, like mine, with young kids - and are not particularly inclined to spend 5-7 days just doing the rounds of the malls.

This post will take you through Hong Kong's attractions, conveniently grouped according to location.  While there are several other attractions in the islands, I will focus on those that we have enjoyed in the Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, and the Lantau Island.

In the Hong Kong side, as the locals call the main island, the sights and shopping attractions are usually found in Causeway Bay and Central. Central is the heart of all financial and commercial activities in Hong Kong, pretty much like what Makati is for us here.  Most banks and multi national companies have their headquarters there.  This is also where you can see some of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong.  Most of the upscale designer flagship stores as well as glittering high-end shopping complexes are also located there: The Landmark, The Galleria, and the International Finance Centre Mall. 

Truth of the matter is, while Central has the swankiest malls and boutiques (that also come with the highest of price tags), Causeway Bay still remains my personal favorite shopping area in Hong Kong since it offers an excellent mix of mid-range stores and designer boutiques aimed at the average shopper (like you and me - who don't own a palace and do not shop with gold bars).  Its streets contain many independent and quirky fashion boutiques, as well as restaurants, many of which are open until way past midnight.   

Now, let me start with my list:  

Victoria Peak, the Peak Tram, Madame Tussuad's Wax Museum
Victoria Peak, the highest point in the Hong Kong island, is actually a mountain called Mount Austin, but is locally called The Peak. The view from the top offers an encompassing vista of the one of the world's busiest harbor, the Victoria Harbour; the rows of skyscrapers that prominently line up the Central district, and the nearby Kowloon peninsula.  It is because of this spectacular panorama that The Peak is a major tourist attraction and that the neighboring areas are high-value residential property, exclusive for the very wealthy.
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To get to The Peak, tourists and locals alike take the Peak Tram, a pleasant journey that takes 8 minutes ascending the mountain.  Built to great skepticism over a hundred years ago, the cable tram is a near vertical ascent to the plateau beneath the summit. In fact the incline is so steep, the wooden tram's floorboards are built on an angle to make it easier for passengers to stand upright while riding.   
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Upon reaching the summit, we got off at the Peak Tower, a dramatic architectural structure in the shape of a ship.  There is a Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum where the kids had their pictures taken with the wax replia of celebrities.  The attraction offer over 100 local and international wax figures.
 
giving Bruce Lee a left.... and a right...

To be able to see the encompassing view from the top, you need to get another ticket to access the Sky Terrace.  So if you are interested in all three attractions, be sure you get the promo tickets to the Tram, the Sky Terrace, and the Wax Museum.  

When I took the kids here a few years ago, we went during the morning to avoid the throng of tourists which usually deluge the place starting mid-afternoon and availed of the combo tickets for all three attractions.  There was no crowd and we were able to enjoy the tram almost to ourselves.  Traveling with toddlers, at that time, who might get antsy with the long wait the early visit was perfect. 

Viewing Hong Kong at night is a must, so during this recent visit, we stood in line for close to an hour for a chance to view what is perhaps one of the most beautiful night scenes in the world.
image credit 
Phenomenal Tip:   
~If you are taking the tram going up, make sure to get seats on the right side of the tram, as this side offers a spectacular perspective.  
~If it is not crowded on the time of your visit, have your kids try standing up on the tram's floorboards during the ascent for a quick and practical lesson on gravity.
~If you are cheapo (like me), you can still view the Hong Kong panorama without having to pay for the Sky Pass tickets.  This time around, I discovered that if you just go out the Burger King door you can watch the night time view unfold before your eyes - for free!  (The photo is intentionally kept small kase nakakahiya. So, Hush!) The fee is really just minimal (additional HK$20 per person)... but still, a penny saved is a penny earned.:)

Address:  Peak Tram Lower Terminus
33 Garden Road, Central Hong Kong
Tickets:  Combo ticket prices for the Peak Tram, Wax Museum, Sky Terrace can be viewed here.
   
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
For some free entertainment for the kids, we dropped by the Zoological and Botanical Gardens with its orangutans, lemurs, monkeys, birds, and other animals.  Be forewarned that the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is definitely NOT among the world's best.  No lions, elephants or giraffes here... The collection of animals is very limited, but the restful landscape still makes it worth visiting.  Nonetheless, the kids found the quiet grounds as an outlet to release some excess energy as they ran around unbounded.
 When you do decide to include this in your itinerary, think of it as a visit to the park rather than a zoo - and you will not have any unmet expectations.
J was in charge of the camera when we were in the zoo

Some of the photos of the animals taken by J:

Address: Albany Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tickets:  free admission

Christmas Tree by Swarovski.   
We really did not set out to visit the Swarovski Tree, and just casually stumbled upon it on our way to an out-of-the-way but very highly recommended restaurant. 

We did not exactly marvel at the 30 meter tall Swarovski Christmas tree constructed from 20 million pieces of rhombus-shaped silver and gold Swarovski crystal.  But then again, maybe we visited at the wrong time...
The view should be magnificent at night - as the Swarovski webpage says that over 200 pieces of Swarovski Annual Edition 2010 Christmas Ornaments come alive to project interactive lighting effects.  The fountain set in front of this incredible crystal vision spouts water six metres straight up, transforming into a wonderland of golden splendour.  
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Address: Statue Square, Central, Hong Kong  (next to Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong)
Tickets:  free admission 

Ocean Park 
Ocean Park is many places in one and always a favorite of my kids whenever we are in Hong Kong. We could easily spend one whole day here.  It is one of the best amusement parks in Asia, so you should consider it even if you are not fond of theme parks.  It is ranked by Forbes Magazine as The World's Seventh Most Popular Amusement Park.   

As its self-explanatory name suggests, ocean-and-sea attractions are the main draw here, including a fantastic four-story aquarium that holds thousands of marine species, an entertaining dolphin show and a jellyfish display. 
Underwater Tunnel in the Shark Aquarium
They recently opened a new ride, the Ocean Express.  It is an alternate way to travel from the Lowlands to the excitement that is waiting at the Summit, and vice versa.  Although the scenic cable car ride is still the best option to traverse the two main lands, if there is a long queue at the cable car ride, get in line at this station and be at your destination in 5 minutes.
Waiting at the Ocean Express Station
We were at the park as soon as it opened.  It was the Holiday break for the locals, as well, so we were expecting a huge crowd to show-up mid-day.  Best to hit all the major attractions early and avoid the long queue. 

The park is separated by a large mountain into two areas - the upper area called the Headlands and the lower area appropriately called the Lowlands.  Our mission order for the day was to prioritize Headlands first, where all the major attractions are:  some impressive roller coasters, and all the marine attractions. 
C and J at the Crazy Galleon.  According to J, she found this ride is even more scary than Space Mountain
Going down the raging river
 J wearing the hood of her jacket AND a disposable parka
We hit the Lowlands attractions our way home. There is a giant panda habitat
The pandas are so far away in the actual exhibit... So this will have to do. :)
The Giant Ginger Bread House
Bungee Trampoline
Take a ride on a sea creature without getting your feet wet!
Phenomenal Tip:  
~ Ocean Park's mountainous terrain is not comfortable for those who push a baby stroller and most of the rides are not for babies, anyway.  Be prepared to do a LOT of walking as the rides are quite a distance apart.
~ If you plan on lining up for the Log Ride, it is advisable that you bring a hooded parka for the person who agrees to sit in front.  If you forget to bring one, they sell disposable parkas for HK$100 (more or less). 
~Avoid the crowd by eating your lunch about half an hour early.  Not only will you get a table easily, you can go back to enjoying the park while everyone else is busy eating, if not waiting for a table.
Address:  Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Tickets:  adult:  HK$250, kids 3-11:  HK$125, kids 3 & below free, over 65 years old free 
View complete ticket information here 

Victoria Harbour - Star Ferry Tour
The Victoria Harbour is world-famous for its stunning beauty of the sea set up against the the skyline of skyscrapers that seems to be superimposed over the ridges.
Make your way down the swaying wooden plank and board the Star Ferry, the vessel that has been plying Victoria Harbor for more than a century.  Up until the opening of the cross-harbour tunnel in early 70's, the Star Ferry was the major passenger connection between Hong Kong island and the Kowloon Peninsula. 

Phenomenal Tip:
~Crossing the Victoria Harbour on a Star Ferry has been named by the National Geographic Traveler as one of the "Fifty Best Experiences of a Lifetime."  
Address:  Catch the Star Ferry at any of the following piers:  Central, Wan Chani, Tsim, Sha Tsui or Hung Hom Star Ferry Piers
Tickets:  (Central to Tsim Sha Tsui) Adults HK$2.50 Children (3-12) HK$1.50 Over 65 years FREE 

Victoria Park
Victoria Park is one of the main city parks on Hong Kong Island.  Our hotel is just right across the park, and the view of the park is simply one of the best things to greet me in the morning.

The park has a tennis court with an enclosed area for spectators, a swimming pool, a skating rink, a bowling green, and a football field.    There is also a 600-m track for runners.   C's best gym bud and his wife who visited the same time we did, ran the track but found the crisp, chilly wind unfriendly.   I haven't tried running in Hong Kong, but maybe I should bring my running shoes next time.

It is basically a magnet for all kinds of sport enthusiasts. But don't worry if you are not the sporty type, just have a seat in one of the park benches and watch the locals stretch their limbs as they go about doing their tai-chi exercises in the early hours of morning. 

Phenomenal Tip:
~Not to be a bigot, but it's best to avoid the park on a Sunday as this area can get crowded with Indonesian/Malaysian domestics on their day-off. 
Address:  1 Hing Fat st., Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tickets:  free 

SHOPPING MALLS:

You have to admit, a FEW hours of shopping gives gratuitous satisfaction to everyone- including the kids, and even for the husband who has to pay for everything! Here are some of our favorite places to shop: 
. Times Square is one of the Hong Kong’s greatest malls, and our favorite in Causeway Bay for housing some of our reliable go-to stores.
Address: 1 Matheson st., Causeway Bay
. World Trade Center is walking distance away from our hotel and is home to our favorite Japanese brands, MUJI and UNIQLO.
Address:  280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
. Sogo is where my girls get their fill of everything Sanrio!  Also, on the basement is a grocery where I stock up on spices and other food items that are not available in Manila.  It is also where one of my favorite bread store is located, the DONQ Boulangerie. 
Address:  555 Hennessy Road,Causeway Bay 
. Everyone loves that IKEA is located right below our hotel, conveniently a few steps away from the door.
the world-famous IKEA Swedish Meatballs
I know! I know! sleeping not allowed on demo bed...  hahaha!
Cute toys
Address:  Great George st., Causeway Bay ( side entrance of Parklane Hotel, accross Windsor House) 

.Toys R Us. This store's magic hold on the kids has waned a little bit, but only because it is already so accessible now that we have branches all over Manila.
Address:  7/F Windsor House, Causeway Bay OR Ground Floor. Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui



Up next: Must-See Attractions in the Kowloon Peninsula.
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