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Hong Kong: What are the must sees for a family of 4?

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Hi,
We (a family of four with kids 6 and 8) will be in Hong Kong for about 5 days in early February. Can anyone recommend the ideal sights we should see, considering we have kids with us? I'm interested in parks, neighborhoods, restaurants, markets, boat cruises, etc. that may be a bit unusual and as authentic as possible. I'm not interested in zoos/Disneyland types of stuff; rather the experiences that are there that can't be replicated at home. For example I'd love to go to a park but one where we could see the local vegetation, perhaps some interesting architecture, and early morning Tai Chi. Any restaurant recommendations for local food that is kid-friendly and reasonably priced would be great too!
Thanks so much - Barbara

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    My thoughts and suggestions are below:

    1. You will, unfortunately, just miss out on Spring Festival/Lunar New Year, which will be January 23- 25 2012. You don’t give your exact dates, so if you are here the first week in Feb, you may still catch some lion dances which will continue to take place during the first 10 days or so of the new year. These are performed for businesses as well as for individuals to bring luck. If you hear loud drums and crashing symbols, follow the noise until you find the crowds and the “lions”. The 15th day of the Lunar New Year (about Feb 6) is the lantern festival, and you may see this celebrated in parts of town (esp Kennedy Town) ask at your hotel or see the Discover Hong Kong website.

    2. Temps will be cool to cold and you most likely will have more overcast days than sunny days, but still pleasant for touring and esp for walks and hikes so be sure to get out there. We can also have very pleasant sunny days in Feb, it will just be a matter of luck.

    3. Tai Chi can be observed in many places. Depending on where your hotel is located, you most likely will be near a small park or a waterfront location where you will find people practicing it in the morning. Well-known locations include the Kowloon waterfront by the Star Ferry Pier, Hong Kong Park in Admiralty by the Peak Tram base station, the Botanic Gardens above Central, the Lugard/Harlech Road area of the Peak and Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. But most any small park, esp in the Kennedy Town area in Western Hong Kong Island, or Public Square Street park in Mong Kok, would have small groups of people practicing Tai Chi. You can also join a free class sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, I think they offer it M/W/F mornings, see http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/things-to-do/images/tai_chi.pdf

    4. Very little architecture built before about 1960 still survives in Hong Kong. Even less built before 1900 survives, and most of this is concentrated in a small area of Central which can be seen on a walking tour, either self-guided or with someone like Jason Wordie, see www.jasonswalks.com. On Saturdays there is a guided tour of the old and new architecture of Central led by architects from the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, see http://www.hkia.net/UserFiles/File/others/architecture_walk_2011.pdf . Or you can just take it all in by crossing on the Star Ferry between Central and TST and walking along the waterfront esplanade in TST, both day and night. And then take in the view from the Peak day and night as well to get the overview from above.

    IMO a walk through Hong Kong Park in the morning may fit all of your criteria in that it would give you a chance to see Tai Chia performers (you may have to hunt around for these, look off the main path areas and also in the Tai Chi Garden area) You can also appreciate the contrast between the skyscrapers which surround the park and the charming 2-story colonial Museum of Tea Ware with it’s wide verandahs and wodden shutters (excellent museum and even more excellent Lok Cha Tea House for dim sum; they offer tea classes at their shop in Sheung Wan as well, see http://www.lockcha.com/home/). There is an aviary in the park as well which the kids might enjoy. The park is near the bottom station of the Peak Tram.

    5. With kids you may want to include the pink dolphin cruise (see at http://www.hkdolphinwatch.com, but this would be weather permitting and seas can be a little rough in Feb). There is also a junk cruise on the Aqua Luna (see www.aqua.com.hk) or the Star Ferry Harbour Cruise (see http://www.starferry.com.hk/tour.html). Otherwise, you can take ferry rides and visit outlying islands (again weather permitting), temples, walks/hikes and assuming they aren’t squeamish, the “wet” markets with live fish and street butchers should keep them interested. Take a ride on the little street tram (upstairs), as well as upstairs on a double decker bus (#6 to Stanley the most scenic, although the #973 to Stanley is also quite a pretty ride.) The beach at Repulse Bay is very long and wide and has an interesting temple at the end (you won’t be swimming in Feb, but on a sunny day this is a pleasant place for a walk, and can be included as part of a trip to Stanley).

    There are numerous walking and hiking opportunities. The Dragon’s Back walk on Hong Kong Island is great to do in Feb and then you can include Shek-O Beach and its temple. (IMO this is best on a Sunday as public transport options are better.) But with 5 days you have the chance to get to outlying areas including Lantau (where the Big Buddha is located.)

    The Science Museum is very good, as is the History Museum. The Museum of Coastal Defense if very interesting is in a lovely waterside setting with room for kids to run around outside, and is near two completely untouristed temples in the eastern end of Hong Kong Island; which itself is not really frequented by Western tourists. There are several village museums in outlying areas (like the one near Sai Kung) which give an idea of what local village life was like centuries before the British arrived. On weekdays you would have these places much to yourselves.

    6. For some other ideas, click on "Destinations" above, and then scroll down to Hong Kong. A helpful description and basic itinerary suggestions will come up. The Fodors guide book to Hong Kong is excellent. Frommers.com also has a website with similar info and their guidebook is pretty good. The National Geographic guidebook has more unusual suggestions outside the main tourist areas (some of these really require a car). Also check the Hong Kong Tourism Board website at http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/ for other ideas, as well as the Leisure and Cultural Services Department website at http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/home.php to see all events and museums offered by the government.

    Finally, please search this board for my list of personal reccos called “Cicerone’s Reccos for What the Locals Do for Fun in Hong Kong (Hint: We DON’T Go to those Awful Night Markets....)” this should give you some ideas for what to do, including a list of walks and some sources for more walks. For a quick photo of one walk, click on my name above and see my profile. For a description of some of other favourite walks on Hong Kong Island, see my posts called “Cicerone’s Favourite Hong Kong Walks II: Paradise Found! From Happy Valley to Stanley in High Heels! (Almost) The Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path” and “Cicerone's Favourite Hong Kong Walks III: The Dragon's Back” and “Cicerone's Favourite Hong Kong Walks: Severn Road, The Peak “. You can find all of these posts by clicking on these links:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/cicerones-reccos-for-what-the-locals-do-for-fun-in-hong-kong-hint-we-dont-go-to-those-awful-night-ma.cfm http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/cicerones-favourite-hong-kong-walks-ii-paradise-found-from-happy-valley-to-stanley-in-high-heels-alm-1.cfm
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/cicerones-favourite-hong-kong-walks-iii-the-dragons-back.cfm and at http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/cicerones-favourite-hong-kong-walks-severn-road-the-peak.cfm.

    7. I have a long list of restaurants, too many to post here, but if you send me an email at ciceronehongkong@live.hk I would be happy to send it to you.

    8. Finally, on a personal note, I am uncomfortable with the word “authentic”. Nothing is completely authentic; we are all a product of our experiences and outside influences. And that includes cultures. For example, one of the most popular “local” snacks here is the egg tart, which is not Chinese at all but was brought by the Portuguese; however it is a resolutely “authentic” Hong Kong experience (and be sure to try one, part of the experience includes queuing to get one fresh from the oven). Ocean Park is certainly a home-grown Hong Kong experience. To someone born and raised here, it is part of the fabric of Hong Kong life, and if you want an “authentic” Hong Kong experience, perhaps you ought to go there, despite your aversion to theme parks. (They have pandas, something you don’t see many places, and this may fit some of your other criteria.) There is nothing more touristy than the Peak Tram, yet I would say it should absolutely be #1 or #2 on any tourist’s “must see” list. Finally, Hong Kong Island was mostly barren rock with little vegetation before the British came and planted it heavily with non-native plants, and much that you see today on the island is not native. It’s still pretty and green, but perhaps you see my point about limiting yourself to “authentic” experiences.

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    Cicerone,
    Thank you SO much for these amazing tips! I will also check out the additional links you sent me as well as emailing for the restaurants. I hesitated using "authentic" for exactly the type of reasons you explain here...but I think you get the idea based on what you outlined - perhaps a poor word choice on my part, but I think we're on the same page. Thanks so much!!!

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