Hong Kong with a toddler


Name: Marina Cilona

Travelling with: Paul (40) and Max (22 months)

Destination: Hong Kong, Macau, and Dongguan, China

Living in a sprawling country of only 23 million people means that we can’t understand what organised chaos really looks like until we’ve visited one of the populous cities in Asia. Even small urban centres like Shenzhen and Dongguan (roughly seven and eight million people respectively) make Sydney look like a country town. On our trip to China and Hong Kong with toddler Max, we find that the sophistication with which residents move about on mass transit systems, or navigate crowded underground walkways, is what makes Asia both incredible and a bat shit crazy place to take wrangle a toddler.

It turns out, however, that toddlers love bedlam and mine expended all of his otherwise ‘naughty’ energy just trying to take it all in.


We flew out at 10:20pm on Christmas night. Insane, you think? Just bear with me because there is method to my madness. Cathay Pacific are the only airline to offer overnight flights on the Sydney – Hong Kong route. I believe it’s crazier to spend 10 hours on a flight with a child who has no hope of sleep, than to spend all ten of those hours trying to get that child to sleep because, technically, it’s night time. See? Logic at its best.

Luckily, Max was exhausted from a Christmas day devoted to opening presents and treating trifle as a meal unto itself that he fell asleep on the way to the airport and slept, waking intermittently on the flight, almost until we landed. My smugness lasted until that same flight home was spent drawing garbage trucks on notepaper in the dark with a toddler who flat out refused to snooze. Fun times eating humble pie.

Our goal was to spend four nights in Hong Kong with no set plans to do or see anything specific. Our high tech stroller turned out to be useless against the throngs moving at speed down almost every street so we quickly ditched it and carried Max most places – a great winter warmer for anyone looking to combat the cooler temps.

Our day trip to Macau was a bit of a wild card. The thought of taking our child to the Chinese equivalent of Vegas wasn’t particularly tempting, but it turns out the casinos are just a small fraction of what this tiny island has to offer. Max enjoyed dancing around Senado Square while we took in the Portuguese architecture of the old city. It’s such a unique place, feeling so colonial, yet so Chinese.

Paul’s dad lives in Dongguan, an industrial city in southern China, so he met us in Hong Kong and travelled with us back to the mainland. Car seats appear to be optional in this part of the world so Max was strapped into a regular seat and spent the hour-long journey squirming til his heart’s content. With a home to relax into and a car for transport, China was much more about destination adventures like shopping and food markets, than discovering nooks and crannies in the back streets of Hong Kong.

What did you love?

The fact that this holiday was all about adventure with our son, rather than relaxing and getting away from it all.

Although moving Max around such a densely populated place was exhausting and rather intense, he was an active participant as we peered through ever shop window and visited market stalls. Because this was such a food-centric trip, Max became accustomed to trying everything on the table and, much to our amusement, began associating every animal he saw with his next meal. This was his adventure as much as ours.

What worked for you?

A willingness to tackle the mass transit system (MTR) in Hong Kong allowed us to explore areas like Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok relatively cheaply. Hong Kong is fairly extensive and the cost of cabs can be prohibitive. The MTR is fairly easy to navigate once you figure out how to buy an Octopus Card (our equivalent of an Opal Card).

Challenges of the holiday?

Exhaustion. Get ready for it. There were very few instances that we were able to take our eyes (or hands) off Max. It’s one of those hyper-vigilant holidays that will leave you happy-but-shattered. In a good way, of course.

What were your favourite moments

Watching Max try to master chopsticks.

What was the most significant thing Max got out of it?

As a hyper aware crazy person, Max really understood that we were in a different place, with different people who spoke a whole other language. He might not remember the trip, but the idea of leaving home and exploring a new place that is decidedly different from his own little world was definitely clear to him. Plus this boy rode everything from planes, trains and cable cars and really learned to take in his surrounds.

Quote from the trip

Me (at the Dongguan outdoor food market): “Bubba! What’s that?”

Max: “Turtle! Eat it!”

Me: Errrr no.