Autumn is the best time to be in Beijing. The weather is cool and crisp and the air is generally clean. The worst part about autumn in Beijing is that it lasts for about one hot (or should I say cool and refreshing) second. One day it is sweltering hot, the next day it is delightfully cool and crisp and the next day you are digging out your puffer jacket and Uggs. So, with this in mind, we had planned on staying put in Beijing for our 10-day fall break. (Yes, you heard me correctly…10 whole days. Feel free to hate). But, at the last minute, I found some super cheap flights to Hong Kong and next thing you know we were booked in for a mini 5-day urban vacation.
In the days leading up to our departure, I passed the time envisioning our family in Hong Kong; riding the ferry across the still seas on a clear, sunny day, shopping for adorable clothes, taking a frameable family photograph in said adorable, newly purchased clothes, smiling over dim sum, casually strolling through the narrow streets while ducking in and out of boutique home good stores, drinking cocktails on rooftops…the list was endless.
Now is the point in my story where I beg parents of young children to please stop laughing. No, I was not high when I was doing my Hong Kong day-dreaming. Looking back, I like to think I was just really, really optimistic. And maybe a tad cocky. I mean…we travel. We have been places. We are city people.
Seriously…what was I thinking? Adorable clothes? Mindless, casual shopping? Strolling? These are not words that you should use to describe life with small children. One should especially never use them to describe life with small children while on an urban family vacation in Hong Kong (or probably anywhere).
Here are 10 infinitely better/more accurate words to use to describe an urban family vacation in Hong Kong:
- lines for days
- chicken nuggets
- overpriced plain noodles
- uneven pavement
Were there were moments of pleasure and enjoyment? Yes. Definitely. But there were easily just as many moments of frustration and total friggin’ exhaustion. This can be best summed up by looking at his picture:Or this one:
At the end our days touring the city, we found ourselves climbing into bed (the one that we were sharing with 2 other miniature humans), and asking the very poignant question, “Was that shit worth it?”.
And I’m not gonna lie…as I sit here right now writing this, I still don’t know. I think I may still be recovering from the trauma. But I will say this, if was forced to do it all again tomorrow (and let’s be clear…I would have to be forced) I would do it WAAAY differently.
Wanna know what I would do (or wouldn’t do, as the case may be)? Awesome. Cause I’m about to tell you.
- I would not bring my kids. I know. This sounds harsh. And maybe it is…but Hong Kong is not actually meant for kids. There are all sorts of blogs that will tell you differently and you will be tempted to believe them…but they are full of shit. Trust me. Here is the thing…Hong Kong is an amazing city. It is an amazing city that you will never get to truly enjoy if you have kids in tow. So yes, you can bring the little tyrants. But seriously don’t. Hong Kong is sexy. Kids…not so much.
- I would lower my expectations. Lets pretend I HAD to bring my kids. Ugh. Fine. In this case, instead of envisioning shopping outings and leisurely lunches, I would envision lengthy pool sessions and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think the worst part about our little urban adventure was knowing that there was a million and one things we wanted to do right outside of our hotel but all our kids wanted to do was play with their friends in the pool. I mean, fair enough. It is hard to explain to a 1 and half year old why going to Macau would be a really interesting cultural experience. They don’t really get it. Had we gone on this trip with the mindset that this was going to be a pool vacation with an occasional quick outing to a nearby store or restaurant, I think we would have had a better time. But no…because we are idiots…we tried to fight it; we tried to pretend that we didn’t have kids. And this, my friends, never ends well. It always ends with one child dead asleep on your lap at dinner and you eating spaghetti bolognaise for the second night in a row. Fact.
- I would not pack fancy clothes. Again, if you aren’t bringing kids…by all means pack the fancy clothes. If you are bringing kids, skip the fancy clothes and just pack snacks. Remember, you are going to spend all day at the pool and Hong Kong snacks ain’t cheap. Packing one 50 lb. suitcase full of straight apple sauce squeezies makes a thousand times more sense than packing even one pair of high heels.
- I would not stay at a trendy hotel with a swanky bar on the 32nd floor named Sugar. For reasons I really don’t feel like I have to explain, this is a horrible idea. Don’t do it. I don’t care if your kid wears miniature suspenders and has a faux hawk; your kid is not trendy. And you, and your kid, will be hated on the regular when staying at a trendy hotel. So how do you know if your hotel is too trendy for kids? Easy. Let me give you a fool-proof guide:
- If the pool doesn’t allow you to order food to the pool area – it is too trendy.
- If the pool area does not have a trashcan in the vicinity of the pool area because that would upset the design aesthetic…it is too trendy.
- If the shower has no door on it, so your 1 ½ year old can walk in and out of it (with your iPad) according to her own free will…it is too trendy.
- If the room service menu does not serve at least one of the following items: macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fish sticks or fried rice…it is too trendy.
- If there is a sign in the hotel lobby that reads, “Quiet is the new sexy”… it is too trendy. Obviously.
- I would not bring a stroller. Hong Kong’s narrow sidewalks and extensive subway system is not exactly built for stroller life. You spend a lot of time negotiating paths and waiting for elevators. It is a total hassle and pretty exhausting. So yeah, I don’t recommend bringing a stroller. Except…and here is the catch…you NEED a stroller. You have kids, remember? And they have shit. Tons-o-shit. So either you have to carry that shit on your back like a Peruvian pack mule or you can stuff it in a stroller. Not too mention your kid WILL at some point throw a huge temper tantrum and refuse to take one more step. If you don’t have a stroller, guess who gets to carry all 40 pounds of them through the streets of Hong Kong? Ding, ding, ding…yup…you got it…YOU! So, yeah. Going without a stroller? NOT an option. But going with one? Yeah that also sucks. I rest my case.
- I would not go to Ocean Park. Ocean Park is like a cross between Disney World and Sea World. But much less cool and much more Chinese. And guess what? Despite being an amusement park whose whole purpose is to entertain small people…it is surprisingly not all that stroller friendly. To be fair, we did not do out homework on Ocean Park and we basically mucked it up from the get go. I will say this, once we stopped treating it like an amusement park and staring thinking about it like a zoo, it was WAAAAAY better. And Beau did have a great time. But that being said when we asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, He did not say, “seeing the Giant Panda and the Walrus at Ocean Park”. You know what he said? “Playing with Lucy and Liam at the pool”. Go figure.
- I would not “wing it”. It being a last-minute trip, we really did not have a plan. We sort of just thought we would play it by ear and figure it out as we went along. In hindsight, that was a pretty dumb idea. Nine times out of 10, what our non-plan translated to was wandering around lost and getting really hangry. My do-over trip would be planned out to the minute. And my plan would look something like this: 7:30 a.m. – Wake up. 8:00 a.m. – Go to playground and then the pool. End of plan.
- I would book a direct flight. I don’t think I have the energy to even explain this…but let me just give you this little golden nugget of advice: cheap plane tickets are cheap for a good reason. Will you save a bit of money? Sure. Will you want to kill yourself and those around you when going through customs and airport security for the 2nd time in 2 hours? Yup, uh huh. So…all things considered it is probably not worth it. You really want to go on vacation? Splurge on the direct flight.
So there you have it…a do-over trip done right or at least slightly better. But of course, whatever you do, don’t actually listen to me and take my advice. I think I have provided you with enough evidence that I have a severe inability to make sound decisions.
And with that I leave you with some Hong Kong snapshots. Note that there is not a single frameable family photo in the bunch.