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10 tips to survive Hongkong with small children

September 19, 2013

Now that I’ve gone to Hong Kong and back, and have survived a holiday with three kids, I guess I am somewhat qualified to write this post. I learned some stuff the hard way, and these lessons involved some sweat, a lot of tears, and even blood. If you’re heading to Hong Kong with toddlers or young children, you might want to keep some of these in mind.

1. Get the Octopus at the airport instead of the MTR station when you arrive

We had originally planned to buy our Octopus cards on the second day at the MTR station nearest to our hotel but I was really glad we purchased them together with our Airport Express tickets at the Airport Express Counter at Terminal 1 after touching down. We arrived in HK on a Saturday evening and the second day for us was a Sunday – which means everyone, I mean, everyone, was out on the streets. I think there were at least a few thousand Filipino domestic workers out that Sunday we were there, as well as hordes of tourists from Mainland China and HK’s own people, who love visiting the malls on Sundays.

So boy was I glad to have gotten the cards at the counter at the airport where there was no queue and zero jostling.

Octopus is accepted all over Hong Kong and can be used for transportation (we used it for the MTR, Star Ferry and the tram) and parking, at retail outlets and self-service machines. You can pay for stuff you buy from 7-11 with the card, which is really convenient.

2. When the menu in HK restaurants reads ‘steamed rice’, the rice is really steamed

When we arrived in HK on Saturday evening, the first thing we did was to travel by Airport Express to Kowloon to catch the free shuttle service to our hotel at Yau Ma Tei. That took close to an hour, including the 15 minute wait for the shuttle bus, but it saved us quite a bit of money (taking a taxi would have cost 3 times as much). By the time we checked in at The Cityview, a four-star hotel in Kowloon, we were famished. Three starving children is never a good thing, so we headed to The Balcony, a restaurant at the hotel, for our dinner. We ordered the set dinner and asked for the rice to be served first.

Who would have thought asking for rice first to feed my very hungry children would be our most frustrating wait ever.

The dishes came, one after another, but the rice didn’t, and the children remained hungry and whiny. 18-month-old Nat needed rice as his staple but the rice which was part of the set wasn’t served together with the dishes! We waited close to 20 minutes, only to realize that when the piping hot bowls of rice appeared on our table, they were not rice scooped from the rice cooker. The rice was steamed, bowl by bowl! Every grain was fragrant and steamed to perfection, and well, it was a case of better late than never for us.

So my advice to you if you’ve got really hungry kids: order fried rice or noodles or something that they can cook up quick to tide them over the hunger pangs. Steamed rice is really steamed in Hong Kong.

Rice is here! Can't wait!

Rice is here! Can’t wait!

3) People give up seats on public transportation, so learn to say thank you in Cantonese

Sunday was horrendously crowded in Hong Kong and people were packed closer than sardines in tins on their MTRs and trams (Star Ferry was less crowded). Despite that, it was amazing to see men and women giving up their seats for me, who was wearing the baby, and the two older kids. Despite the jostling and shuffling, there’s a whole lot of civility and consideration on public transport.

I made a mental note to myself that I need to teach Ben, Becks and Nat to say thank you in Cantonese the next time we’re there.

4) Don’t drink the soup

My children are soup kids. They love ban mian, which they call ‘ikan bilis noodles soup’ and all the soup versions of noodles we eat here in Singapore, like sliced fish soup, wanton mee and ba chor mee. For breakfast on the second day, we gave up waiting for a table at Lin Heung Kui and headed to one of those eateries along the street for some wanton noodles (wan tan min in Cantonese). When the noodles were served, I dished out three portions of noodles, complete with soup, for the kids.

Which was a big mistake.

Turns out that humble eateries like these don’t make broth. Their ‘soup’ is just yucky lye water (alkaline salts, or what we call kee in Hokkien) and horrible! And they don’t have wanton noodles in version dry: chilli with tomato sauce, tyvm, the way I like mine, which was a bummer.

So unless it’s a restaurant and the noodles are cooked in broth, don’t drink the lye water when you eat your yu dan min or wan tan min. Just give the kids the noodles and the dumplings.

5) Bring along children’s cutlery and food scissors, and always go to a restaurant that can strap your baby in on a baby chair

It’s impossible to get eateries and restaurants in Hong Kong to provide you with children’s cutlery and plastic plates and bowls, unless it’s Disneyland. I was well-prepared for this and brought along many kiddy spoons (the ones for soup too) and forks. My kids are 4 and 3 and 19 months and the tablespoon, soup spoon and table fork are still a tad big for them. I also brought two pairs of food scissors to cut the noodles, veggies and meat (ooh, love the char siew there!), as well as hand-and-mouth wipes (Pigeon’s wipes contain 100% food grade ingredients, so I feel at ease cleaning the scissors and cutlery with those wipes).

A note on the food scissors: remember to leave them in your check-in luggage, else they would be confiscated at the security check at the airport.

What I didn’t brace myself for, was that some restaurants don’t even have a decent baby chair to strap an active toddler in! Ben can sit still and wait for food, and so can Becks, if we make sure she’s got stuff to do, like scribble on serviettes (I always have pens in my bag), eat peanuts or play scissors-paper-stone with someone. But to make Nat wait even a minute without strapping him on a baby chair at a table with breakable ceramic and child-unfriendly everything (think sharp table corners, hot teapots, musty carpets and peanuts) is to ask for trouble.

And ask for trouble we did, on the second night.

This restaurant apparently serves great shabu shabu and yakitori grill but it was a huge mistake taking the kids there. Even if we had asked that the grilling be done for us in the kitchen. They had absolutely zero baby chair. So when I took my eyes off Nat for a few minutes (I need a vision break too, yes?), he cut his lip and chin while playing peek-a-boo with himself with the mirror behind the bench he was seated.

I almost fainted from seeing so much blood coming out from inside his mouth and the area around his chin. There was a cut (it looked like a cm long) that was gaping and for the moment there I thought he might need stitching. His lip was swelling and his teeth started turning red with blood mixed with saliva. Thank God the two cuts closed quickly with prayer and an ice cube.

So yes, this lesson was learned with blood.

If you have an active toddler, remember to ask the restaurant if they have a baby chair for his safety.

Nat's a tough one, this boy: smiling even after a fall

Nat’s a tough one, this boy: smiling even after a fall

6) Check the weather, and leave those raincoats at home in September

Download the app MyObservatory. My good friend who lived a year in Hong Kong told me that she referred to it every day before she headed out. The app provides personalized weather services, and users can get the latest weather information specific to their locations and an overview of a week’s forecast of HK’s weather.

I should have trusted the info on the app and left the raincoats at home. What was I thinking, bringing the raincoats and windbreakers and jackets! It didn’t rained a single bit while we were there. In fact, it was scorching hot and humid in September!

7) When at Disney, be prepared to be a slave

We spent close to 10 hours in Disneyland and I’m sure the kids were very glad they did minimal walking. They only stood when we had to queue and that was all the walking they did. You can rent strollers for HKD 90 at Main Street in Disneyland – and we rented three of them. Unfortunately, the strollers cannot be remote-controlled and the poor exhausted adults had to push these kiddos everywhere we went.

It was also HOT, HOT, HOT and there was very little shade. Bring a brolly and slather sunblock generously. I’m telling you, SPF 25 is NOT enough. I got sunburnt still. Go for SPF 50 and more. I slabbed copious amounts of that for the kids and they were saved. Oh, plus the fact they sat on strollers that had a little canopy that covered their heads.

Slavery begins at Disney

Slavery begins at Disney

8) Not everything you see in the gift shops can be found in Main Street. Or at the hotels. Or at the airport.

So I read from some blogs that you can get souvenirs from Disney almost anywhere. There are souvenir shops in the two Disney hotels and one huge one at the airport. And they say whatever you see in those little souvenir corners, shops and carts in all the various lands in Disney you can be sure to see the same stuff at the mega huge shop at Main Street.

Nope, sorree‘!

See this Pluto stuffed toy here?

This Pluto is special cos' it's lying on its tummy!

This Pluto is special cos’ it’s terrycloth material and Pluto’s lying on its tummy!

Ben fell in love with it when he saw it in Fantasyland. I told him, naa, we can buy it at the hotel, I’m not gonna lug this all the way and it’s like what, only 5pm, and I’m here to announce to you that we searched high and low for it after we left Fantasyland and couldn’t find it anywhere else. Nope, not even at the airport! In the end, I had to go to the Disney Store at Nex back in Singapore, and even then the Pluto we got in Singapore looked different.

A word of advice: never ever leave the buying of souvenirs to the end of the day before the park closes (after the fireworks, that is). Buy them if you want them when you see them. At the corners. From the carts. At those themed stores after your rides. Whenever. Wherever. The stores at Main Street after the fireworks suddenly turned into the all-so-familiar scenes of frantic buying and grabbing as if an apocalypse was going to wipe Mickey and Friends out from the face of the earth forever. There was way too much pushing and shoving (I tried to go find Pluto) in the souvenir shops; and it took me a long while to jostle my way out.

9) Bubble tea is not everywhere – when you see it, tapao!

I’m a hopeless addict to bubble tea. I have it without the bubble though; I need the tea to function normally on a daily basis. So there was no *Share Tea or Drink Tea or Koi where I went. I did see a ComeBuy, and I was ecstatic. Just minutes ago before seeing ComeBuy, I was at a cha chan teng trying to psycho myself that HK milk tea could somehow remotely taste like bubble tea. Good thing I didn’t down the nai cha. I couldn’t be happier to be sipping my ComeBuy Milk Tea.

I also found a Gong Cha near the hotel we stayed. Should have tapaoed one and kept it in the fridge. Needless to say, I was zombiefied at Disneyland because there was no bubble tea.

(*Share Tea, Drink Tea, Koi, ComeBuy and Gong Cha are the names of bubble tea shops. My favourite has to be Drink Tea!)

10) Toilets are hard to find. Forget pull-up pants.

One of the things that was extremely difficult to locate, besides bubble tea, was the toilet! We could hardly find public toilets and even despite asking so many people at the MTR station where the toilet was, we couldn’t find one in the station or near it to help Ben answer nature’s call. At Ladies’ Market and Electrical Appliance Street, we searched for toilets everywhere and there was none in the malls! I kept having to tell Ben to hold his pee in and even wanted to put on the diaper for him at one point, because it was just all too frustrating to be searching for a toilet for a boy needing to pee A LOT.

Of course, clean toilets are aplenty if you hang out at the more upmarket malls in Hongkong Island. Where we were at Kowloon, we always needed to get a drink at a cha chan teng or wait till meal times at restaurants to use the toilet.

Fortunately, Becks and Nat had diapers on the whole time. I’m not about to put myself in a situation where I have to bring three kids to pee. At different times. All the time.

On hindsight, I should have made them wear the Velcro ones instead of pull ups. Pull-ups are supposedly convenient to remove (just tear sides – easy if it’s not soiled) but difficult to put on. Especially when the kids are wearing jeans and socks and shoes. To pull up the pull-up, they’ve got to remove their shoes and socks and take off their jeans. Very tricky if the toilet floors are wet and dirty. If I’d brought along Velcro ones, they’d be easier to remove (just unfasten Velcro). And to wear them, all I need to do is to get them to remove their pants to knee level without taking their legs out and fasten the diaper with them in a semi-squat position (it takes skill to wear it for them standing up, but then again, I’m a mom of three!).

So just for the record, I need to say that it was hell changing Nat’s poopy diaper on the plane. He refused to lie down on the changing table. He was wearing a pull-up. He stood while I removed a diaper bomb of yesterday’s dinner. There was some turbulence. He refused to stay still while I cleaned. Let’s just say shit happened. If he had worn a Velcro one, it would have been much easier to remove, roll up and dispose. This tearing-a-pull-up’s-sides business always leaves you with a mess especially in a confined space.

And of course, may I also add Tip#11 for mums like me who have three young children? Don’t be a hero. Bring your maid. Bring a troop of babysitters. You need all the help you can get.

You’re most welcome for these tips.

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  • Reply Christine Canlas September 27, 2017 at 3:52 PM

    Hi. Im travelling in hongkong-macau,with my 1yr old and 3yr old this coming december. Should I bring two strollers? Though I heard in Disneyland, u can rent. But im worried, If were in Macau, do they have strollers for rent? Or is it better to bring baby carrier?

    • Reply MotherKao September 27, 2017 at 3:56 PM

      I definitely think it is more convenient to wear at least one baby and then bring one stroller. It might be hard to manage!

  • Reply Joanne April 5, 2017 at 11:42 AM

    HI, Elizabeth,

    I plan to bring my gal to HK on OCt, and she will be around 20mth by then. would like to know how to handle your kid when they going to shit ot change diaper? Usually you will out whole day from morning till night?

    • Reply MotherKao April 5, 2017 at 2:34 PM

      Hi Joanne, the diapers with the fasteners are much easier to put on and take off on the plane. Ask the stewardess to show you the changing table for your child in the toilet.

      When I went to HK, I stayed at a hotel where it’s near everything, so we always went back for our nap when the kids got cranky. Hope this helps!

  • Reply Elaine November 16, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    Hi Elizabeth, I chanced upon your blog when I was searching for “HongKong with children”. Yes, heading there in a few week’s time too. I love the narration of your trip, with all the amusing-but-very-real encounters that your children had. So much enjoyment (and of cos apprehension.. hurhur) reading about your trip!

    • Reply MotherKao November 18, 2016 at 1:46 PM

      Hi Elaine. Thanks for the kind words, glad I could prepare you for your trip to come! Have fun!

  • Reply Melody - Travel Chic Mom June 4, 2016 at 4:05 AM

    I like your point on people giving away seats on subways, it’s really important to learn some basic words in Cantonese when we go to Hong Kong!

    • Reply MotherKao June 4, 2016 at 10:52 PM

      I miss Hongkong already, Travel Chic Mom. Love your blog! Thanks for stopping by mine!

  • Reply Ann September 24, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I just got back from HK too with my 2 toddlers. The first night there, my husband lamented why every year he pay so much money to torture himself!! But it was worth it when we headed to disneyland and you could just see the kids’ amazement and excitement. I downloaded tons of new puzzle/game apps on my iphone to keep them occupied on the plane and waiting for meals. I would also add, bring enough milk (in case they are finicky with the food there) and probiotics (mine kena LS!).

  • Reply Susan September 19, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Thanks. Your post is so timely. Oh the kids cutlery is a good suggestion. In fact, I’m going to bring one of my lock and lock containers that can double up as storage too. I’ve already downloaded the MTR app too. I’ve been teaching Sophie simple Cantonese. Hopefully, she’s still remember them when we’re there .

    • Reply MotherKao September 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Lock and Lock is a good idea to tapao food you can’t finish too, cos there’s just so much to eat in HK! Enjoy your trip!

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