The summer holidays are starting to look endless! We are staying in Hong Kong and don't have much money to spare. Can you recommend some activities for us to do as a family?
The hot summer days can seem a lot longer when you are stuck in a flat with a background chorus of 'I'm bored!' Fortunately, there is a wealth of activities in Hong Kong that are either free or fairly cheap.
At the beginning of the holidays, kit out your children with notebooks and pencils so they can draw or write about their experiences. You could even create an 'eye-spy' game based on things you know they will see on your travels.
Sometimes, behaving like a tourist in your own city can lead to treasures. Start with a trip to the visitors' centre in the Kowloon Star Ferry terminal and collect leaflets on activities, special events and organised day trips. Pick up a Hong Kong Museum pass, which give a year's worth of access to seven of our finest museums (including the Science Museum, Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Space Museum) and the question of what to do on a rainy day will be solved.
Outdoor activities are restricted by the typhoon season and your tolerance to heat. We are lucky to have a number of safe swimming beaches that are easily accessible by bus. Take a hat, sunscreen and a T-shirt to avoid sunburn and bring your own water. Most beaches have barbecue pits which are (relatively!) clean and free. Bring bags to sit on, and take away rubbish in, foil to cover your grill, barbecue forks, charcoal and whatever food takes your fancy. You may have to queue at peak times; on Sundays people do tend to take up residency for the day, but weekdays are normally wide open. If you prefer your water chlorinated, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department offers an unlimited access pass for HK$300 (half-price for children aged three to 13, students and the over 60s), which can be used at 20 of our 21 public swimming pools. With a bit of planning, you could build the swimming into a day trip. Kowloon Park, for example, is not too far from the museums and is surrounded by greenery. You have a decent amount of entertainment with access to showers and cool water if the day becomes too hot.
Until August 20, the Hong Kong Public Libraries (www.hkpl.gov.hk ) will host a cornucopia of activities designed to encourage children to read. The events are mainly free. Not only are there mini-concerts and paired reading games, but also activities to draw out reluctant readers and encourage the more able. There are also art workshops including origami and drawing. I like the storytelling with puppets, which is hosted by the Hong Kong Harp Chamber. If your children don't speak Cantonese, you may want check whether English speakers will be catered for. Most of the events are held at Central Library, so you can stop by the Victoria Park pool after some serious reading.
Exploring the New Territories can give a different perspective to Hong Kong living. If you take the MTR up to Fanling and then hop on the No 54K minibus, you will find yourself on the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, which winds around an old walled village, parts of which date from the 18th century. Another village worth a visit is Kat Hing Wai, which is a No 51 minibus ride from the MTR West Rail Line's Kam Sheung Road Station. While in the area, you can also take the No 64K minibus to Kadoorie Farm (www.kfbg.org.hk ),which is 15 minutes from Tai Po. Among the highlights are the wildlife sanctuary, an organic cafe and a fine reptile garden with animals rescued from illegal traffickers. Admission is HK$10 (free for under 12s).
Ocean Park is always a winner with children and recent developments have added polar activities to the mix. But carry a cardigan, as the temperatures are designed to be penguin-friendly. Some of the rides (such as The Abyss) are definitely not for smaller children, but there are options for thrill seekers of all ages. Adult tickets are HK$280 and children's HK$140, but you might want to consider a Smart Fun annual silver pass for HK$610 for adults and HK$305 for children.
If your children are older, sharing decisions about activities can avoid the misery of dragging them where they don't want to go. Combined with internet research, you can schedule a few longer trips interspersed with shorter excursions that will produce a summer you'll all remember!
Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is the director of the Brandon Learning Centre and prepares students to study abroad