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Archive for the ‘hk highlights’ Category

A great hidden treasure to do with kids is to head to the Aberdeen/Wong Chuk Hang public pool – official name Pao Yue Kong Swimming Pool. It’s located on Shum Wan road (this is the same road as the back entrance to Ocean Park, Aberdeen Marina and Boat clubs, and the Singapore International School).

A friend brought us for the first time 2 years ago and we keep going back. Why is it so great? It has a separate children’s section with 2 small pools each with slides, water spouts, ride on toys – all in shallow water so even the littlest tyke is relatively safe (with adult supervision of course). For $19HKD for adults and $9HKD for children (under-3 is free and you can pay with coin or octupus card) it is a great, cheap, fun activity that the kids LOVE. My kids call it the “water park” and say it’s their favorite (which is saying alot as they’ve swam at a lot of fancy pools at clubs and hotels).

I recommend going in the morning, especially on the weekend, as it can get hot and crowded.  When we’ve gone during the week we’ve often had the pools to ourselves from 10-12 and even on the weekends it’s not so bad. (NOTE: The pool closes from 12-1 everyday for cleaning. ) And if you want to make a day of it, and include a little adult fun, why not hit the pool on a weekend morning and then walk down the street and catch the ferry to the Jumbo for brunch.

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We’ve heard from several of our friends that staying at the Westin Resort in Macau is a very good weekend spent away from Hong Kong. So with my parents here we booked adjoining rooms at the resort, and headed there on a sunny, clear, Saturday morning. I was a bit hesitant to get on a ferry to Macau and I tried to not let it show to my parents. The truth is, I hate boats. Hate being on them. I was also aware that my Dad wasn’t crazy about boats, but not from the fear of sinking, which is my issue. His is a sea-sickness thing.

But I have to say that the hydro-foils, which we took, are pretty awesome. Even on a semi-rough day, the base of the boat actually sits slightly above the waves. It’s a cool sight to see. A slick, sporty looking red ferry boat, with three massive blades (one on the front, two at the back) sticking through the water, cruising above the surface. We were there in under an hour.

The Westin is an excellent place to visit. Very, very family friendly. The resort is built onto the side of a large hill/mini mountain, and the structure is layered so that it descends into the shore (if that makes sense). The point is that most of the rooms look out across the ocean, which both of ours did, and they all have these massive balcony’s. It’s spectacular.

Because it was still basically winter when we went, and the kids really wanted to swim, we stuck to the indoor pool. It also got overcast a bit. The indoor pool there is excellent, and it also has a hot tub.

We swam and hung out in the afternoon, relaxed, and scoped out the place. Around 6 we took a taxi to Fernandos, the famous Portuguese beachside restaurant. We hung by the outside bar while we waited a bit to sit. While we waited they served us their trademark Double Bock Portuguese beer in their can cozies and diced up, grilled chorizo.

After dinner, E took the kids back to the Westin, and Mom and Dad and I went to the Venetian to check out the gambling scene there and play a few hands. Mom and Dad were fascinated by all the people flowing in and out of the place. Dad and I played a hand of Black Jack. He won a hand, lost the next, and we called it a night. On the way out Mom played a few rounds of Roulette, and it wasn’t until it was too late that we figured out the best strategy (Odds, Evens, Blacks, Whites as opposed to specific numbers).

After returning, we hung out on my parent’s balcony. We could hear the waves breaking. With the middle door open, we could travel in between rooms and check on the kids. Dad and I drank the mini bottle of wine that came with the room, and Mom ordered a glass of white from room service.

The next morning, F was determined to bring T into the Kids playroom, where some young staffers baby sit the kids and play games and hang out. We basically had an hour without them. F was determined to make this happen, and we weren’t about to stop it. So E and my mom got massages and Dad and I hit the driving range.

Before we got on the ferry, we decided to squeeze in a trip to the St. Paul’s Cathedral ruins. With time running out, we walked across the Largo do Senado plaza and up the hill to the ruins. F was determined to throw a coin at the window slot that she and Grammy hit the last time — where the coin skipped across the window and almost landed on a Chinese tourists head 3 stories down. So I told Pop to give his trademark whistle right before F was going to throw the coin so I could clear out anyone below, or at least be on the look out for a flying coin. F landed the coin perfectly on the sill. We hopped in a cab that sped to the ferry terminal, with only about 10 minutes to spare.

My mom limped up to the line that says “Deficients, and elderly and pretended that she needed special treatment. So we skipped the customs lines, got our passports stamped at the “Deficients” counter and made the ferry.

The ferry ride back was smooth and easy, just like the ride there. We could see after that weekend in Macau how people view it as a mini-vacation. You really do feel like you’re a thousand miles away from Hong Kong, and you’re waited on hand and foot by the staff.

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We went for a great walk in Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve with friends a few weeks ago. There is a nature walk and then three loops – red, yellow, and blue – of varying lengths. The reserve is one of the oldest forests since the government began the reforestation process. Many of the trees here date from the 1920s. The winding paths are well shaded and in the midst of dense forest.

We decided to start with the nature walk and it wound its way through a really nice forest with sign posts describing the different trees and natural habitat to take note of. It was all uphill so for the 4 and 3.5 year old it was a bit much but they made it. We had some lunch at the top (watching out for the monkeys – none of which were there) and then decided to do the shortest walk which is the red loop.

It’s simple enough to get there – we took the KCR from Hung Hom to the Tai Po Market stop and jumped in a taxi for the short ride to the reserve. If you’re looking for a good day trip that will make you feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle this is a great place to go.

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The taxi pulled into the correctional facility’s road, misheard us, and kept going. We went all the way to the jail’s gate, where a tiny, eye level window was pulled open by a guard. All I could see was a thick, metal door and a pair of eyes.

We told the driver to turn around.

“What’s a jail, Dad?” F asked. I wasn’t sure how to explain without freaking her out.

Friends joined us on our hike. It was a perfect day. Clear, cool, sunny. When we reached the Dragon’s Back trailhead, instead of going straight and up, we turned left and followed a paved path down and around the side of the mountain. The kids would run ahead and play red light, green light with us.

“Okay, now all the boys need to stand next to me,” F shouted. And then we’d switch. And so on. At this rate, we’d hit Big Wave Bay at sunset.

Our friends son got sick of the hike early, so we had to switch around the backpacks. With T on my back and F holding my hand, E dished off her child-carrying backpack to her friend, who switched the baby from the comforts of their big pack to our smaller one. He was pissed. But he managed.

F is very into riddles now, so we said riddles until we ran out of them, and then I’d make them up as we went.

“Okay, so there’s a pig, and a cow in a barn…” F would then have to figure out things like how…whatever. You get the point.

When the paved road ends, you come to an intersection. Straight down a rocky path is the way to Big Wave Bay Beach. Like most Hong Kong trails, it’s extremely well marked. A sign clearly points right to Big Wave Bay and straight to another part of the Hong Kong trail system.

Down the path we wound. At one point we stopped when our friend noticed a beautiful black and white butterfly chilling out on a leaf. It crawled on his shirt and then my finger.

T meanwhile was carrying Sesame Street Zoe in one hand, and another orange haired doll in the other. Near the bottom of the trail I heard “Dad, where’s Zoe?” We stopped and assessed whether it was worth going back up to rescue Zoe from the trail. It seemed like a gamble. Just then a jogger came down.

“Did you lose another one of those dolls? It’s about 200 meters back up the trail,” he said, huffing past. Our friends pointed out that 200 meters for a jogger is more like half a mile for a hiker. We trudged on. Hopefully Zoe found peace on the trail.

At the bottom of the trail, you come to the Big Wave Bay Beach village. It’s mainly locals with a few pads housing surf dudes too. We walked through the narrow intersections, following signs for the beach. Confusingly, Hong Kong has about four different areas referred to as Big Wave Bay, or Tai Long Wan, which is the Cantonese name (Hong Kong island, Sai Kung, and two on Lantau island).

Big Wave Bay is a great beach. The waves aren’t that big, but the beach is deep, with little shops and a restaurant, which, on this day, was closed.

We hung out on the beach, building sand castles, eating lunch. Big Wave Bay has a pretty decent sized playground that we used for the last hour. The kids ran around like crazy, playing “house” and other games.

“You’re name is John. I’m Katie and T is Sophie,” F instructed.

“No,” T protested. “I’m Kally.”

“I’m not John.” our friends son pointed out.

“But for the game, you’re John. Okay? Okay?” F asked. He wasn’t that into the house game.

Then we started playing rugby. All three were tackling each other and then me. We think the rugby game had something to do with T’s nose being slightly bloody after all the tackling and rough housing. She really is tough.

We took the minibus and MTR home. Our friends returned later for dinner and more horsing around. We ate leftovers and had a bit of wine. It was a great Hong Kong day.

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Dragon’s Back

On Saturday, December 12th, we embarked on a hike we’ve been meaning to tackle for a long time. The weather was perfect. Sunny, cool. Dragon’s Back is a 3 hour hike, according to the guidebooks and friends. We packed sandwiches and snacks. The hike takes you along the ridge line that juts out of the back of the eastern side of the island.

The hike begins at the main road into the correctional facility, funny enough, on Shek O road. A set of steps takes you up and over a high retaining wall. Within a few minutes, you reach the main trailhead. In front of you are two options: Go left, and that will lead you down and around to Big Wave Bay. Go straight up, and you’re on the Dragon’s Back trail. It was nice to finally be on a proper hiking trail. So many trails in and around Hong Kong island are paved. And that’s great if you have a stroller, or young children whom you’d like to have brave the journey.

Dragon’s Back is real trail hiking. It’s easier than it looks, to be honest. Heading south toward the ocean, you encounter two or three really steep parts. The rest of the hike has you rolling along the ridgeline. If you were to imagine it, the dragon is laying on the ground, facing away from the ocean, tail leading into the water. As you’d expect, the midpoint of the dragon’s back is the highest point of the hike.

Scrambling up the rocky, dusty incline, we reached the tree-less Shek O peak. To our left, a hang-glider set up his apparatus.

“Is he going to parachute, Mom?” F asked. We tried to explain hang-gliding but then just said to wait a few minutes and you’ll see how it works.

At the top, we had panoramic views of Stanley, Tai Tam Reservoir, Shek O, Big Wave Bay.

The wind really swirled at this point, making it cold for anyone who stayed for more than a few minutes. We sought shelter behind a small stone wall that held up a map of the area. With the wind blocked, we had our picnic with our backs to the wall.

Looking out over the green, rolling hills, mountains and valleys around us, you begin to appreciate the drastic landscape that is Hong Kong. A short taxi ride away is a jam-packed city of sky scrapers and high rises, noise, crowds, pollution.

The trail bends away from Shek O beach and down to the right leading back to Shek O Road.

When we got to the main road, we kept our eyes peeled for a minibus that would pick us and take us to the Sho Kei Wan MTR station. E went across the street to the toilet. But then the minibus came and we shouted to her. With T still in the backpack, I hustled F into the minibus, keeping my eye on E who was jogging back toward us.

As I stepped into the minibus, my eyes glanced at the 7 or 8 passengers already on board, mostly Westerners. E was now right behind me. On my second step I heard a loud thump, and watched the expressions on these people’s faces turn to horror. Their faces went from “Ahh, cute family” to “Oh my God!” T was in the backpack, something I’d forgotten as I stepped into the minibus. Her head nailed the top of the minibus as I entered, which is what horrified the passengers. I paused for a moment, waiting for a cry. Nothing.

“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s tough.”

We went to the back of the minibus, where I pulled the pack down. T was pissed.

“Does your head hurt?” I asked. Dumb question.

“Yeeeahh,” she said, eyes gazing away from me.

“Are you mad at me?”

“Yeeahh.”

“Can I get you something to eat?”

“Anyfing.” That means nothing.

All was forgotten a few minutes later when F and I taught her how to play rock, paper, scissors. F decided to improvise a bit, adding a pencil sharpener (index finger curled slightly) and pencil (straight finger) to the game. It didn’t really work but I appreciated her ingenuity.

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Sailing in Sai Kung

We got a call last weekend friends called with an offer to go sailing (it’s common here for people to own shares of a boat and have access to it every 3-5 weeks or so). I immediately wanted to but my husband was a bit more hesitant – not being very comfortable on boats/oceans. I explained sailing is very different from the rocky Hong Kong junks we’ve been on and assured him it would go well. He finally acquiesced and we decided to go.

The next morning we woke up, packed, and headed to Sai Kung via the MTR to meet them. Their boat was gorgeous and apparently is a part of Hong Kong sailing history – for exactly what I don’t remember – but I do know that it once was a part of the Jardine fleet (a big deal here). It was a wonderful day – breezy, not too cold or hot. A tiny hint of haze. We  sailed for a while, then anchored near a tiny inlet known as Whiskey beach, located on Kau Sai Chau Island (which is known for its public golf courses that requires a ferry to access). We ate pesto pasta, fruit and chips on the boat and then rowed an inflatable dingy to the beach. We spent about an hour there while the kids frolicked in and out of the water and pretended to be sand monsters.

It was about 3:30pm by the time we got back to the boat. The captain, a sinewy, elder local known as Mr.  Leung, was preparing to return to port. It was really special to see the beauty of Sai Kung by sailboat with just the wind propelling us. The kids had a great time playing and it was incredible to see how comfortable and at ease they were on the boat. We all had that great windswept feeling of being outdoors all day and exhausted – the closest feeling to a ski day I’ve had here in Hong Kong. I think F summed it up best – “it was wonderful and terrific!”

When we were back on the dock packing up, Mr. Leung would squirt the kids with the hose he used to clean the boat. They’d run away, laughing, and ask for more. While the adults pulled all the remaining stuff from the boat, we realized that the children were now only in their shirts and underpants, running up and down the docks. They all discarded their pants when they got too wet. We have this great image in our head of them walking back to the car together, chatting away, in their underpants, like it’s no big deal. Ah to be a kid again.

(Please note, the sailboat to the left is LIKE the one we were on.  The water was incredibly calm on the day we went sailing, unlike the choppy waves shown here. It really was a perfect sailing day).

Our advice: if offered the chance to sail in Hong Kong take it!

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25102009(003)“I’m tired, Dad,” T said to me, mid-yawn, at the end of our hiking/camping trip.

And so it went at the end of our journey, when the kids were tired and delirious, and the adults were hungry. We’d just hiked into Tai Long Wan, camped out on the beach, and hiked back out. Our friend and neighbor, his two children, joined E, myself, F, and T on the journey. Tai Long Wan beach is famous in Hong Kong, known as the region’s most picturesque stretch of sand. And it’s true. It’s hard to think of a more dramatic seaside landscape that any of us had ever seen before.

There are multiple ways to get there, all of them originating from Sai Kung. One route takes you along the MacLehose Trail. This is a three hour plus journey from Pak Tam Au, about 10 minutes outside of Sai Kung centre. The three hour hike sounds great if you’re an adult traveling without children. Another option is to skip past Pak Tam Au and head straight to Wong Shek Pier. From there you take a five-minute speed boat trip to Chek Keng Pier and pick up the MacLehose Trail. It’s “45 minutes” up and over a mountain and down into Tai Long Wan, according to all our guidebooks. Forty-five minutes minus children of course. This was the option we chose. One can also take a slightly larger boat all the way to Tai Long Wan or, if you’re capable, take a helicopter. We saw about two or three helicopter landings from our camp site – not sure if people were aboard or just supplies.

The actual hike for us started at the damned MTR station. I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to Sai Kung on the MTR. It takes at least one or two switches to get to Diamond Hill or Choi Hung.

When we got off at Diamond Hill, we made the mistake of taking the double-decker, 96R bus, which we thought would be faster because it goes directly to Wong Shek Pier. The problem is that the bus makes multiple stops along the way, and has one hell of a time making it up the hills that roll up and down into Sai Kung. It felt like we were on the bus for an hour. I’m pretty sure we were, come to think of it.

And to add insult to injury, when the 96R arrived in Sai Kung Centre, it stayed there. A lady passenger said something in Cantonese to the top deck. Everybody except us stood up to leave. “What did she say” Our friend is taking Cantonese lessons and is fresh off a trip to Guangdong Province where he practiced the language. He wasn’t sure. Anyway, the whole point of taking the 96R was to go directly to the pier. The 94 bus in front of us serves the pier as well. But at this point, we grabbed our bags and hopped a taxi to Wong Shek Pier.

A man greeted us the minute we arrived. “How many people?” We counted. Total trip from Wong Shek to Chek Keng would be HK$120, or less than $3USD per head. The boat trip was the part I was most nervous about. Turns out, the boat trip you’re supposed to get nervous about is the one that takes you direct from Wong Shek to Tai Long Wan. On rough days, boats won’t risk the journey, and the ones that do have capsized.

The Chek Keng boat ride really is five minutes, and it doesn’t even touch the ocean. You skip over an inlet, jumping a bit when you do breeze past a bit of the South China Sea. The kids loved the speed boat. “We goin’ fast, Mom,” T yelled. The “speed boat” is not a Don Johnson, Miami Vice Cigarette, rather a Sam Pan with a high powered motor. Thankfully, two dads and their kids were onboard, going to the same place we were. One of the dad’s told me how to link up with the trail. We’d have figured it out, but it was reassuring nonetheless.

When you get off at the pier, you walk to the right around the inlet. The trail will bend off to the right and then bear left, into the woods rather than continuing around the inlet. From here is a set of 20-30 steps. The key is to turn left at the top – this is the MacLehose trail. We did.

Within 7 minutes, we heard from our oldest: “When are going to get there. My legs are tired.” Pretty soon it was no longer “tired” and instead, “my leg hurts.” F started to fake limp. It was hot and getting steep. T was silent most of the way, perched on E’s shoulders. She knew she had it good.

So we stopped and had lunch, eating quickly before the ants ganged up on our bags. Lunch energized us, particularly F, who walked behind or next to her older friend the rest of the way. When the kids started to get tired, we played games. “I spy” covered nearly 45 minutes of hiking. “Twenty questions” helped too. At the top it really does get steep. And then the descent is quick and sharp, into Tai Long village where there are more dogs than people. We ordered water and Gatorade and Pocari Sweat. Twenty more minutes and we were at Ham Tin village, an area with tiny stone cottages that apparently has housed the same family descendents for numerous generations.

26102009(015)We passed an outdoor restaurant and stepped onto the beach. Loungers sat in plastic chairs, drinking beer, eating fried food, and soaking in the hot sun. We set up the tents. T took off all her clothes and sprinted toward the water. The ocean was a perfect temperature, not too hot or cold. It felt great to cool off after 2 plus hours on the paved trail. A note to parents reading this who want to try this hike: a stroller can be brought, but I think the downhill would be too dangerous.

Our friend was in charge of building the fire. A few of us from various sites started picking apart a pile of branches and wood, only to find out that they’d be collected by a group interested in making a fire of their own.

“You knicked our wood,” a tall, blonde woman in a bikini said to me as she walked past. She was smiling, clearly giving off that it wasn’t a big deal. I was embarrassed. Of course that pile of wood was collected for another group. I apologized profusely.

“No worries. We have to collect more wood anyway.” She and her boyfriend couldn’t have been nicer about it. So we stole wood for our fire.

The fire would serve us well. The flames kept the pan hot for our macaroni, chicken, lentils and sausages.  The kids gathered bark for the fire. It was a perfect night.

Graham Crackers are not easy to come by out here. I’ve only seen one box, several months ago. Zero since. So we bought chocolate biscuits, and smooshed the marshmellows in between. None of the children liked marshmellows that were even slightly burned, so we did away with those. We even ate the ones that fell into the sand. Food tastes better when you’re camping.

26102009(004)It was a clear night, though we had some light pollution from the outdoor restaurant. The outline of Sharp Peak stood above us in the distance. The kids went to sleep relatively well. We sat by the fire that we barely managed to keep going, telling travel stories and sipping some whiskey.

The sunrise woke T and F. It was the first time that they had seen the sun so early in the morning, and they were utterly fascinated. The perfectly shaped orange ball was shaded by some morning haze, allowing us to look at it without hurting our eyes (I told the girls that we can’t look too long). The four of us went on an adventure up past the restaurant. It was at this point when I realized how little people respected the cleanliness of the beach. They left their beer bottles and trash on the sand. Cups and forks were strewn about, thrown there on the beach as if someone were meant to pick it up. Broken glass was ample. Yes the scenery was nice, but it did depress E and I that the people using the beach, ex-pats and locals alike, treated it poorly. E actually suggested the kids do a beach clean-up and collected a bunch of debris in some big garbage bags. Our friends daughter felt that the people on the beach should thank them for their efforts and we all agreed with her sentiments.

At our friend’s request, I’d hauled a five-gallon metal pot for boiling water, knowing full well that nearby villages would have plenty of bottled water. But he was insistent, and I relented. The pot was perfect for the scrambling, actually, and for sand castle building. But for us, the point of lugging the pot ultimately came down to one thing. Boiling water for coffee. We set up the pot so that it sat on the fire’s remaining flames, jammed in place by jagged rocks.

I’d bought French press friendly coffee the day before, knowing our friend was bringing the plunger. Seated with our backs on the log, facing the beach, we ate our greasy sausages, grisly bacon, and sandy eggs, drinking, smooth, hot black coffee. It was a “fucking conquest” in his words. And it was. We savored every bite, even the last few that were particularly sandy (at least one sausage fell into the sand and was summarily thrown back on the pan).

26102009(021)The kids ran around the beach for an hour, building sand castles, tunnels and swimming. We were on the trail by 1pm. It was a steep climb back up the ridge. (This picture is on the way out – with the beach we camped on in the background).

The bus from Wong Shek pier to Sai Kung was jammed. Some of the kids were falling asleep standing up. It took more than 15 minutes for an “astute”, adult passenger to realize that it’d be a good idea to offer the kid a seat (people do give up seats for women and children, but not often). From the bus terminal in Sai Kung center, I walked straight to Jaspa’s restaurant without looking back. We drank two ice cold Victoria Bitter beers and chowed, along with everyone else, our lunch at the cozy, family friendly restaurant. A taxi and two MTR trains got us home by around 5 pm. It was a hell of a trip, made possible by four adventurous, daring young souls.

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