Rediscovering Hong Kong

Here’s how to survive—and even enjoy—traveling with your family to Hong Kong

At a glance

  • Hong Kong may be synonymous with shopping, but I wanted to incorporate arts and culture in the itinerary, in hope that the kids internalize that travels don’t equate to wanton consumerism.

M+ MUSEUM More than just a museum, it’s an homage to all things visual

Jerry Seinfeild once said—and I never forgot this—”There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family.” This kept me calm in my younger years—or at least stopped me from setting the mattress on fire—on the days when our family traveled.

If nothing else, it assured me that my family was as dysfunctional as everyone else’s.
Despite setting out with good intention, we would inevitably almost always be defeated by frustration brought about by travel plans gone awry (which is largely because no one wanted to be the one to shower first) and the genetic propensity for blowing the smallest things out of proportion.

BANQUET STREET Ocean Park’s food stalls honoring HK’s gastronomic past

As we got older, we became wiser—so just stopped trying to travel together.
Until this year, when the lifechanging lessons brought by the pandemic and the arrival of children in the family turbocharged the adults into deciding we needed to celebrate this new lease in life. Here’s how the 11 of us, with ages ranging from six to 60, survived family travel.

Pick a great home base

My mother wanted to book in Mong Kok, but navigating the narrow busy streets might have posed a challenge as she was in a wheelchair. My father wanted a room with a view. The area should have good, cheap food, said my brother. Toy stores, the kids demanded.
SERVICE WITH A HEART Anybody can make a great hotel, but it takes one with a heart to make guests feel at home

On our first night, we stayed at a hotel which promised to be in proximity of good food and good shopping. We had to walk 30 minutes to the nearest teahouse because everything in the area closed after 9 p.m. The next day, we moved to an old favorite. Marco Polo Hong Kong had a view, was attached to the biggest shopping mall, the Harbour City, so it had toy stores and shops, and of course, ramps and elevators, and a Café de Coral at the corner.

My determined brother even found local teahouses selling cheap food on the streets adjacent to fancy Canton Road, most of them open until 1 a.m. If you want to keep the peace, pick a convenient home base so people can go their separate ways and do what they want without needing to involve the entire family.

AN UNASSUMING NOODLE SHOP Off Canton Road Mak’s Noodle is a foodie institution from the 1920s

Introduce new interests

Hong Kong may be synonymous with shopping, but I wanted to incorporate arts and culture in the itinerary, in hope that the kids internalize that travels don’t equate to wanton consumerism. Located in the West Kowloon Cultural District, the new M+ museum has plenty of interactive exhibits that require the use of the senses and inspire kids to think for themselves. That was my altruistic motive.
MUST SEE Victoria Dockside’s massive cultural hotspot, the K11 Musea, spans 1.2 million square feet

My personal motive was to check out the limited-time Kusama exhibit, running until May 13. “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” is the artist’s largest retrospective in Asia outside Japan. This features more than 200 works across six themes, and showcases three new works. M+ has three cinema houses, a learning hub, and beautiful restaurants that overlook the harbor. At Sonic Topologies, you can even hear “sounds” coming out of your art. Kids can input their opinion on the museum’s iPad. PS: Try not to get too offended when you see rotary dial phones you used only 15 years ago displayed as if they were remnants from the Ice Age.

HELLO, HONG KONG Victoria Peak’s new tram features impressive skylight ceilings

Get in touch with your inner child

There’s a reason HK is always the first country many Filipinos go to. Many places here, especially Disneyland, Ocean Park, and Victoria Peak, are magical. I would pay to experience these three for the first time again. The second best thing is to witness people you love go through them the first time. Thanks to the refurbished Peak Tram, I did get to experience something new too.

The tram, which has been carrying locals and tourists to HK’s highest spot since 1888, is now on its sixth reincarnation. I can remember when it was still its iconic burgundy red. Now it’s a green tram featuring skylight ceilings, in a swanky new termini with step-free areas to accommodate wheelchairs—impressive changes that are the result of a HK$799 million upgrade project instituted during the pandemic shutdown. While waiting to board, my six-year-old nephew watched animated videos on LED walls and ceilings showing animals that live at the Peak.

And while I might not have experienced the first-timer’s thrill of watching buildings get smaller as we got higher, I also made sure my nephew did not, as I blocked his view to record my Tiktoks.

DREAM IN COLOR Disneyland Hong Kong’s Castle of Magical Dreams replaced the Sleeping Beauty castle, and pays tribute to 12 Disney princesses and two Frozen queens

Create new memories together

Calling the K11 Musea a mall would be like calling the Hope diamond a stone. The glitzy architectural marvel towering over Victoria Dockside spans 1.2 million square feet and incorporates a mall and an art gallery, making it a literal cultural showcase—a flex to the best money can build and buy.

There are giant walls swathed in expensive plants, million-dollar artworks scattered throughout, and a MOMA shop. Since it just opened in November 2019 and we’ve never been here, we all created new memories, which consisted mostly of getting lost trying to find the Nature Discovery Park, a rooftop farm with 180-plus plants and animals and an aquarium; the open Peacock Playground, named after the nine-meter statue, so my nephew could spend five minutes playing while we all grumbled about how hungry we were; and how we all walked starving despite the more than 65 restaurants here, because my brother—without having checked any menu—decided the place was too expensive for us, based solely on the Portuguese limestone façade of the building and the atrium’s massive centerpiece, a gold ball, a spherical chamber featuring LED lights that flashed a thousand different jaw-dropping light effects. If he asked, I would’ve told him that there was a Five Guys.

We did have a new favorite core memory here: Finding a quiet spot by the waterfront, watching our little ones oooh and ahhh as they watched the Festival of Lights and Sounds show—still so magical after all these years.

WELCOME TO THE PEAK The waiting area at the Victoria Peak termini has LED TVs from floor to ceiling, where guests are made to feel like they’ve stepped inside the world of the Peak’s animal inhabitants

Appreciate the changes

No place reminds me of my age and the breakdown of my body as theme parks do. Now I have to sit it out as the younger ones line up for the wildest rides. Ocean Park’s Hair Raiser was the gold standard for me—what other ride threatens to pitch you over the South China Sea like this floorless ride does? They scattered (with their Fastrack passes) to scout the 91-hectare property and choose from over 80 attractions. I find a chair and sit in comfortable silence with my mom, as we console ourselves with some of the best theme park food—Italian gelato, Wagyu cubes, calamari (Ocean Park has the best theme park chow).
MEMORIES FROM CHILDHOOD The author at Ocean Park

The kids come back, say they’re planning to visit the recently opened Ocean Park Water World (a free shuttle ride away), the HKD $4 billion development that is now Asia’s biggest water park. There are 27 rides and attractions, including a giant water slide, they say. I’m not so old that I don’t feel a twinge of envy. But I also realized that there had never been a moment in this trip—and even in previous trips—that my aging mother and I just enjoyed quiet, alone time together. This is a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, I recognized even as it happened, in this theme park I’ve loved since I was a child. And then it starts to drizzle, the kids’ faces fall, plans are dropped.

Oh well, there’s always a next trip.