On a quiet ward in the Royal Gwent Hospital in the stillness of 3am, my sister and I planned a monumental trip, in the gentle rhythm of our grandmother’s breathing as she lay between us. Our family lived in Hong Kong when we were children, so some decades later and with four children between us, we made a big plan that night. To retrace where we grew up, went to school and still hold such vivid memories.

Holding her hands throughout the night, we put together a plan of what this trip might look like, already knowing it was going to be one that would spark open some memories of our life from that time.

So it is beyond special to always remember that our grandmother was very much part of our planning for this journey.

Hong Kong family adventure Jo HaycockWe grew up in Hong Kong for nearly four years as our father took up a civil engineer’s position with MTR, helping to build the underground rail network back then. Known today as one of the best in the world. Of course, I’m sure that was down to him. After countless questions thrown at our parents about which school, what was the name of that street, what was the name of the station Dad was responsible for building, which beach, and more specific stuff like “what was the name of that island that we regularly cycled along the dirt track and ate noodles at roadside cafe huts?”

The questions came thicker and faster than the answers they could give us.  Oh and just to clarify, it’s Lantau Island I’m talking about, and the dirt track cycle path gave way to hosting HK’s international airport along with a Disneyland for good measure.

I’d say we are moderately light travellers, even packing for six – three teens and a wannabe tween in the mix. So for a two week trip that included five days in the middle to travel to China, it took some meticulous planning. Imagine the horror when we discovered that three of six cases had not turned up on the same flight we landed on? There was a moment of…

that’s it, the whole trip is ruined!

…before we found reassurance in the airport baggage staff and KLM doing all they could to locate and reunite. We all (even those who hadn’t lost cases) made emergency buys, and made our way to the AirBnB apartment on Des Veoux Road West. Old Hong Kong at its best, and perfectly preserved in its vision, true to my memory of exactly how I remembered it as a child.

family adventures in Hong Kong Jo Haycock

We stayed 12 storeys up and above the dried food markets, a 7/11 and in our opinion, next to some of the best noodle bars and restaurants. It’s right here that I have to give a huge high five to the most instagramable laundrette (coffee bar AND art gallery) in town. All in one compact and retro space. The Panda Laundry   It became our go-to coffee and pastry stop every single morning. Funnily enough, we never once did our laundry there but I hear that they give out complimentary washing power to those that do. I’ve struggled to find a comprehensive link here, how is this little gem of a space not raved about more globally?… I genuinely miss it.


Though the last morning coffee jaunt became a bit fraught as I lost my 11-year-old on a hectic main street, all in the name of a photograph and the assumption she’d follow on there with her aunt and cousins.


Thankfully she knew the route so well, and after a heart stopping 10 minutes we found each other. That experience was a total parenting v artist fail on my part!

“Nothing is refined in this chaotic frenzy of an old-school dim sum teahouse experience”

One of our first ventures on the second day was to the Li Heung Tea House and it’s is not for the feint-hearted. Best described as a frantic afternoon tea experience on steroids, old-school Hong Kong style. No matter what time of day you visit, each table will be three-deep with people stood closely behind the chairs of people already sat at their table. They are politely watching every last mouthful taken by each table’s occupant. The atmosphere is incredible, with steam billowing from the kitchens, the constant clatter of cutlery, chatter and jasmine tea being poured from over-head height into bowls.

There were a few raised eyebrows from other diners at one point, as I drizzled soy sauce over my dessert pastry. An interesting combination, which I hope my expression didn’t give away my own surprise.

Suddenly, as if appearing by magic, would be several robust and no-nonsense food trolley ladies moving in from different corners of the room. Diners, seated or not, would flock around them waving food tickets, grabbing plates of  freshly cooked dim sum. With tickets stamped, gleefully they’d go back to their tables for all to tuck in. We got totally seduced in the process and at times, with no idea what we tucking into. With mixed online reviews, it is all about its unique experience. There is nothing quite like this tea house anywhere else in the world.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotion felt at first sight of the Star Ferry all these decades later, I closed my eyes. The smells, the sounds, I was 10 years old again.

The hustle and bustle had a 2018 slant, but overall nothing had changed. Even the sight of the commuters-come-fishermen gathered along the harbour side, pulling a single line from their pockets to catch a quick fish or two while waiting for the ferry to come in. Honestly and reassuringly, it felt the same.

Some days later we headed over to Kowloon for a dim sum cookery workshop. Experiencing some of the talent and pride that goes into making these little perfectly formed pastry penguins, squid and flowers was just the mindful pitstop we needed in this perfectly chaotic trip. The next best thing is tasting all your efforts afterwards. So that was lunch sorted… We left to go on and get beautifully lost around the expansive grid network of Ladies Night Market.

It took us an age to find it, getting on and off all the wrong MTR stops until dusk fell and we found it, wandering through the busy labyrinth of market lanes.

Then my 15-year old sleuth niece whispered to my sister, that she recognised the man in the red t-shirt following us since a tube ride a long while ago.

Not to linger too long on this unpleasant experience, we led him straight to some MTR station guards who dealt with the whole situation amazingly as they detained him so we could leave on the next train. It was the only time we felt any fear, it feels important to mention this part of the story.

Running for the No. 6 double-decker bus that third morning was a very important part of the this trip as we knew where it was going to take us. The scenic route up and over Hong Kong island and down to the south where we lived. My sister and I giving each other’s arms a little squeeze in excitement and disbelief that we were actually doing this. Pointing at apartment blocks and little inlet bays along the way, reminding each other of the family friends we played with and childhood antics we got up to during those times.

Repulse Bay was the first place we called home back then. We spent a good few hours on the beach looking up at the apartment block, there on the hill. It was also a surreal experience being approached by the loveliest of tourists, who’d just got off their tour bus and couldn’t leave without asking to be photographed with our girls.  On to Stanley, with its still-thriving market and more recently, shiny shopping plaza, complete with dog parking. In fact it was quite a sight seeing the immaculately groomed dogs around the beachfront that were being pushed around in doggy-prams. Our girls were in raptures.

The final stop on the bus journey was back in time to Chung Hom Kok beach and the apartment up the road and around the corner, that we knew so well as home. This was by far the strongest of the memory slideshow. I could actually hear the voices and laughter of friends from 30 years ago. The telling offs from grownups, like the time I wrote ‘Becky’ in my mother’s best lipstick on the parameter wall and let my little sister take the blame. And the time I was dared to thrown my shiny red bike off the garage roof and damage the neighbour’s car in the process. So powerful, so incredible to experience, almost like hypnotherapy in the awakened moment.

Halfway into this trip we visited Guilin, China for five days. There is no way this incredible trip would have happened without the patience and guidance of  Frontières 56 Travel – they literally took every whim, request and last minute change from us and created a phenomenal experience with mind-blowing scenery and placed us among the friendliest people in the whole world. We stepped straight off the plane and went 100 metres down into a bejewelled cave, then up 100s of metres into the hills of terraced fields full of rice. To eat produce that lunch time farmed only metres away was something else. There was a boat trip along the River Li,

followed by a bamboo raft ride which involved two deckchairs strapped on with string. Steered by a weathered raft man instructing us, by waving hand signals, to raise our feet as we hurtled down the rapids.

The last and biggest mention of this China trip goes to our beautiful patient guide, Annie. Who quickly realised that her agenda was blown to pieces by six females all needing the toilet at different times. This lady pulled off U-turns in arrangements like no other… thank you for your love and knowledge.

Last few days in HK and we gave the girls the choice of theme parks – Disneyland or Ocean Park. We were delighted they choice Ocean Park as this was the hoped for and retro answer – this was the theme park we used to go to when we lived here. It was my sister, Becky’s birthday on our last day. So we all chose to go back to Chung beach for a last swim and dance along that shoreline. Walking past our old apartment home a last time, the gate was open

Girls, you know the way to the beach, we’ll meet you there. Your mother and I are going in.

We stood outside apartment 2A for a little while. Debating whether to knock on the door. There were voices on the other side. We decided that was enough and headed on our way to our childhood beach, for a final play in the ocean with our daughters, as we did ourselves so many times all those years ago.

As it was written – the diary notes  

DAY 1: Lost luggage x 3 cases. Emergency buys, plus for those who didn’t lose a case. Canteen noodle bar off Des Voeux Road.

DAY 2: Found Panda Laundry – washing, coffee, art gallery in one retro tiny space. Met lovely man called West, who helped us with Octopus cards. Li Heung Teahouse, weird feeling standing behind diners’ chairs waiting for them to finish. Think I ate a mystery organ, and then poured soy sauce on a sweet pastry. Star Ferry smells the same from childhood, bus up to top of Peak passing Bradbury school, caught tram down in error. “I want my luggage now” moment in a store. Luggage arrives by 10.17pm.

DAY 3: April Fools “what do you mean you need to recall the case?” prank call.  Filipino protest on the way to bus station. No. 66 to Repulse Bay, Stanley Market and Chung Hom Kok. Special time seeing our old home and Chung beach. Japanese tourists asking for photos with our girls on the beach. Souvenir necklaces for us all (and one for mum), dogs in prams, dogs parked in dog parks. Best burgers ever at Andy’s place this evening.

DAY 4: Coffee and pastries (now every morning) from Panda’s, first MTR ride from Sai Ying Pun to Sheko (calling it Shreko). Cringy sarong shopping and best Thai meal there out on the terrace.

DAY 5: Star Ferry to Kowloon. Dim Sum cooking class with lunch. Ladies Market at Mong Kok. Crowded MTR to Temple Market. Got followed for ages (Tessa spotted him from earlier on the train) reported to MTR guards. Scary dry mouth, cocktails at Ocean Terminal helped. Take-out noodles back at apartment while we pack, off to China in the morning.

DAY 6: Guilin Province China, met by our guide, Annie. Reed Flute caves, lions in stalactites. Elephant Hill (naming places through shapes and stories). Guilin means Osmanthus (forest). Daxu ancient village from the Ming / Ching Dynasty. Upgrade in the Jolie Hotel, 5* living with bath robes and special tea balls.

DAY 7: Annie accepted 6 females each needing a wee at different times. Feeling bad as we ruined her watertight agenda. The terraced fields, Miao and Zhuang (strong) people. Eating rice cooked in young bamboo shoots and grown right there in Pinga village. The local women with 2 metre long hair, washed in rice water and tea seed oil. Guilin tea farm, lessons in tea etiquette. Fire crackers going off around us, people honouring their dead.

DAY 8: River Li cruise and bamboo rafting, sat in tied-on deckchairs told to lift up feet as we go down the rapids. Dramatic light show on the river this evening, about the story of Sister Lui. Staying at New Century Hotel in Yangshui. 

DAY 9: Spent around Yangshui, no bike riding as busy cars and scooters everywhere. Girls on the tank simulator game, tickled in the face with a feather duster – part of special effects.

DAY 10: Checked out of hotel this morning, fly back to Hong Kong, MTR to Causeway Bay, more like Times Square now. Another great burger meal at Andy’s restaurant,

DAY 11: The girls chose Ocean Park over Disneyland. Retro themepark wins the day. Cable car ride, silent and long. Backs of pandas, plenty of koalas. First ride was very wet. Jeanie on everything x 3. Sculptured and smart outfits worn by tourists. Uneasy about the performing dolphins. Met Ailsa and Bella in Kennedy Town this evening, Great street food venue, took home the best kebabs tonight.

DAY 12: Last day and Becky’s birthday. Admiralty MTR photos for Dad then No. 6X to Chung Hom Kok beach. Noodles, beer and swim. We got inside the building of 68 Vista Horizon and photographed our old apartment door. Speedboat from Central Pier 9 to Rainbow fish restaurant on Lamma Island. Flying home tomorrow.

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