Christine Armstrong (deputy headteacher at The British School of Beijing’s Sanlitun Campus), her husband Ian, their daughter Sophie (age 6), and their son Jack (age 4). Both Sophie and Jack attend BSB.
Sophie, Jack, and I (Christine) flew from Beijing to Hong Kong with Air China. Ian took a train from Changsha. We stayed at the Silvermine Beach Resort (www.silvermineresort.com) on Lantau Island – a no-frills, mid-range hotel in Mui Wo. You could more or less fall out of bed straight onto Silver Mine Bay Beach, and it was warm enough in February to have breakfast by the beach on some mornings. We arranged the entire trip ourselves via Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk).
Normally, I would expect a trip to Hong Kong to cost about half the price that it did, but it was Chinese New Year. Flights and hotels (breakfast included) came to around RMB 18,300. From the airport, we jumped into a blue taxi for Lantau and headed to Mui Wo, which cost about RMB 100 one way. Since we were on an island, we factored in RMB 100 per day for the ferry and other forms of transportation. In total, we spent about RMB 27,000 for the trip (including attractions, food, and drinks).
The Best Part
The best part of the trip was being so close to other islands. We used the ferry every day, visiting a tourist attraction in the morning and spending the afternoon on a beach. On Hong Kong Island, we saw the town of Stanley, The Avenue of Stars, Tsim Sha Tsui, Ocean Park, Po Lin Monastery, The Peak, and more. From our base in Mui Wo, we went to Discovery Bay, Peng Chau, and Cheung Chau. Every island had a unique character; you could explore little shops, buy ice cream and cold drinks from vending stalls, or go on a walking tour with well-marked trails. The most popular trail is on Lamma Island; it was great to end with seafood and a cold beer!
The Worst Part
Although my children would disagree, the worst part was our visit to Ocean Park. The crowds were just too much for any sane adult. We managed to miss the queues for the cable cars, but they were soon thousands of people long. Some food and drink stalls ran out of stock, and by 2pm, we couldn’t get ice cream. We had planned to meet up with another family, but it was just too busy. However, the kids had a great time. Luckily, the bus service back to Central was run like a military operation; we managed to get on a bus within 10 minutes of leaving the park, along with hundreds of others.
An Unexpected Moment
There were many festivities in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. After I bought a coffee at The Pacific Coffee Company in Mui Wo, the lady who served me called Sophie over and gave her a hongbao. My daughter was very excited, but I tried to minimize her disappointment by telling her it was probably a token for HKD 5 off a drink or something. When we got on the ferry, Sophie opened the envelope to find a crisp HKD 10 note. She was ecstatic! She spent it on a “diamond” encrusted hair clip later that day.
Mui Wo is a haven from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong life. We ate cheaply at the Food Market, a series of small Chinese restaurants overlooking the bay. We recommend the steamed prawns, and black bean and chili clams. There are alternatives, including The China Bear pub, The Kitchen, a pizzeria, a Turkish restaurant, and a McDonald’s. All are family-friendly. There are also two supermarkets, a 7-11, a bar, and a few curiosity shops. All of these were a 10-minute walk from our hotel.
The Silvermine Bay Beach Resort itself also serves meals and drinks. Both the restaurant and bar have a terrace overlooking the bay. If your kids are old enough, they can play on the beach while you sit on the terrace. The hotel also rents out bicycles and pedal boats. Families can also follow the Lantau Trail from the resort and visit the waterfalls. However, there’s no road outside the hotel; the biggest challenge was walking the seven to eight minutes from the ferry or bus terminal (you can save effort by hiring a taxi). On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about cars around the hotel.
Everyone in Hong Kong and the Islands were English-speaking; even vendors running stalls had a smattering of English. It was lovely to use public transport (including taxis) without having to resort to a phrasebook.
Show up early for tourist attractions.
Be sure to note ferry times, as some only come a few times a day.
Hong Kong has many beaches, and they aren’t crowded in February. Most locals consider it too cold, but it felt perfect for us visitors from Beijing.
Hong Kong was a nightmare for strollers. On the other hand, the Islands had lots of space
and flat areas to stroll around on.
If you visit Po Lin Monastery, take the bus from Mui Wo to get there and take the cable car to get back. At 1pm, there was no queue no get down but hundreds of people waiting to get up.
For a cheap, family-friendly outing, check out the plaza at Discovery Bay. There’s a tradition of people sitting outside with take-out and beer, cider, or wine bought from a 7-11 or Fusion. They may read a newspaper or simply enjoy the sunshine while the kids play in the plaza. When you need a bit of exercise, wander down to the playground on the beach. Stay there until 8pm to see the fireworks from Disneyland in the distance.
photo courtesy of the Armstrong Family