Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel activities in Hong Kong

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Accessible fun for everyone

A family vacation to Hong Kong is probably going to involve some big-ticket attractions like Ocean Park at HK$480 adult (US$60) / HK$240 child (US$30), HK Disneyland (HK$589 adult / HK$419 child), the observation deck at the new ICC tower (HK$188 adult), the Hong Kong Observation Wheel (HK$100), or the Ngong Ping 360 experience (HK$290 adult / HK$180 child) – but there are days and days’ worth of outings that cost little to nothing at all, once you’ve covered transportation to get there.

With the Octopus stored-value card and Hong Kong’s comprehensive MTR, ferry, and bus network, virtually any part of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (and even much of Lamma Island) is accessible within an hour of almost any hotel. And you’ll find English-language signage and materials across the territory, making it easy for you to get around and understand what you’re seeing.

This link-list of free or low-cost attractions is organized by neighborhood: especially in the core areas of Kowloon and the northern side of the Island, there are several metro stations within walking distance of many attractions:

Click for larger view. Not all MTR lines and stations are shown.

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Hong Kong Island – Central and Admiralty west to Kennedy Town

Victoria Peak and the Tram – is of course the number-one tourist attraction in all Hong Kong because you want to see for yourself the same shot that everyone who goes there shows off. And it’s truly fantastic! There’s a small shopping mall up there, and food courts, and even a kids’ playground with a great view of the backside of the Peak, looking off into the South China Sea and all the container ships, tankers, drilling rigs, and support craft steaming in and out of the mouth of the Pearl River. There’s a paved loop trail going around the Peak, too, into the tropical forest and past little temples and massive mansions. It would be easy to spend the better part of the day up there. The tram station is about a 15-minute walk (uphill) from Central Station, past the HSBC main building and St. John’s Cathedral. It’s also 15 minutes (uphill) from Admiralty Station, past the Bank of China Tower and up Garden Road. It runs from 7 am to midnight, leaving every 10-15 minutes. Round-trip tram tickets for adults are HK$52, but the pass that includes travel and access to the rooftop viewing gallery is HK$99 adult / HK$47 child, which is a pretty inexpensive deal.

 Image by  Hiroki Ogawa  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Hiroki Ogawa via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Hong Kong Park occupies the space between the Peak Tram station and Admiralty Station / Pacific Park shopping complex. Free, and open 9am – 5pm, its winding outdoor paths give photo opportunities at every bend. Centered on an artificial waterfall and pond, the park incorporates some colonial-era buildings as well as a new conservatory and aviary. So no matter the weather, you’re always guaranteed to see colorful tropical birds and flowers. 

 Image by  TimOve  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by TimOve via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Just uphill from the Peak Tram station are the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. This is the oldest parkland in the territory (opened in 1864), and one of the oldest zoos in the world. It’s a 10-minute walk uphill from Central Station, or take bus routes #12 or #13. Admission is free, and hours are 6 am to 7 pm. It’s a small complex by modern zoo standards, but they don’t try to cover the world: animal exhibits specialize in monkeys, apes, and other primates; turtles and  tortoises; and native birds; while the greenhouse and outdoor gardens highlight native flowers and trees.

 Image by  Laws Wing Suaom  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Laws Wing Suaom via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

The Hong Kong Tramways (also called the “ding ding” trolleys for their signature sound) are beloved by tourists and locals alike, and stretch nearly the entire length of the north side of the island. The fare is super-cheap (HK$2.30, about US 30 cents) and can be paid by Octopus Card. They run from 5 am to midnight, so they’re a great activity if you’re awake crazy early or up late because of jetlag. Be sure to get seats on the upper level – because there’s no better way to see everyday life, and because you’ve got a better chance of catching a breeze.

 Image by  IQRemix  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by IQRemix via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Located in the Central Pier, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum tells the stories of how Chinese and Western shipping and navies developed and defended the Pearl River Delta. There’s an exhibit on historical pirates, a simulator of a modern ship’s bridge, deep-sea diving equipment, cruise liners, dragonboats, hovercraft, and more. Admission is just HK$30 adult / HK$15 child, and they’re open 9:30 am – 5:30 pm weekdays; shorter hours on weekends.

 Image by  Francisco Anzola  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Francisco Anzola via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Starting at the IFC complex and extending up 800 meters by 20 escalators and 3 moving ramps, the Mid-Levels Escalator takes about 25 minutes to ride its full length! It’s particularly handy for reaching a number of temples and shopping streets, and much like the Tramways, you’re immersed in everyday life as you walk and explore. It travels downhill from 6am – 10 am, and uphill from 10 am to midnight. So if you want to explore, remember you’ll need to either walk back to where you started, or catch a bus at one of the intersecting streets! 

 Image by  Ramdosmawm  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Ramdosmawm via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

The God of Literature? The God of War? They both come together to be venerated by ambitious students, hoping to score well on civil exams, at the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Sheung Wan station, free, and open 8 am – 6 pm. It’s a quiet and holy place, but its giant spiral incense coils hanging from the ceiling, drifting scented smoke over you, and its sculptures, metalwork, and lanterns will keep you talking for hours afterward. 

 Image by  Peter PZ  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Peter PZ via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hollywood Road itself (and the lane one block north, starting at the Man Mo Temple, called Cat Street) is full of art galleries and antique shops, little restaurants of all different cuisines, and specialty boutiques from fashion to cosplay.

 Image by  Another Believer  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Another Believer via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Also just outside the Sheung Wan MTR station and right on the Tramway is Western Market, a beautifully-restored Edwardian warehouse now holding a number of bistros and gift shops. It’s a good stopover on your way back to Central Station.

 Image by  enqvist lau  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by enqvist lau via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hong Kong Island – Wan Chai to Causeway Bay

Golden Bauhinia Square is next to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (with its wave-shaped roof), and commands a broad view of the northern side of Victoria Harbour. The Star Ferry has one of its terminals here, and it is a 15-minute walk north of the Wan Chai Station. There is a flag-raising ceremony at 7:45 am (which is mostly of interest only to mainland Chinese tourists), and there is also a set of sculptures which young kids can climb and play on called “Ani-Com Park”, based on local cartoon characters.

 Image by  Wpcpey  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Wpcpey via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Wan Chai – The Yamataka Seafood Market is situated directly above the Wan Chai ferry pier and is part seafood wholesaler, part food amusement park. The building is split into themed areas (donburi, matcha, Japanese beef, sushi bar, etc.) which are a mix of live entertainment and small-bites snacking. They bring out a giant tuna each night at 6:30 for a theatrical carving show!

 Image by  Geographer  via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Image by Geographer via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Hong Kong Island – Tin Hau east to Quarry Bay and Chai Wan

Quarry Bay Park runs along the south shore of Kowloon Bay for a half-mile, and helps to shroud a freeway interchange from the residential towers just uphill. There are walking paths and playground and exercise equipment, a lookout tower, and the Fireboat Alexander Grantham on display. The views of the eastern part of Kowloon are excellent, and you can watch the big cruise liners dock at the old Kai Tak Airport across the water! Get off at the Quarry Bay MTR station and walk 10-15 minutes east to the park (the Tai Koo station looks closer but the walking route is about 50% longer!)

 Image by  Mark Lehmkuhler  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Mark Lehmkuhler via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Shek O is the southeastern-most part of Hong Kong Island and is one of the city’s most favorite beach getaways, because it doesn’t get the big surf like some of the outer islands do. Pack a picnic, sun gear, and swimsuits and take the Island Line (blue) to the Shau Kei Wan station, then connect to the #9 bus. There are restaurants and cafes in the small town, but nothing in the way of shopping. You can walk across “Lovers’ Bridge” out to the rocky headland and its small temple for panoramic views of the Pacific. This could easily be a relaxing full-day trip!

Hong Kong Island – Southern Side

The MTR has finally punched through the mountain ridge and connects Aberdeen station on the north with Ocean Park and Ap Lei Chau island on the south. Ocean Park is a hub for bus routes extending across the southern shore, and there are also express bus routes leaving from Central (about a 45-minute trip). Each of these would be a good half-day trip:

 Image by  Kevin Rutherford  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Kevin Rutherford via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau face each other across a narrow harbour; this area is relatively protected from typhoon winds and surges, so the big fishing fleets and family houseboats used to dock here. While much of the 1950s-1960s way of life has faded, this is still a quieter spot of the city and you can see “the old Hong Kong” as well as its famous floating village.  Along the water are parks including the Aberdeen Promenade and Ap Lei Chau Wind Tower Park offering good views and exercise. There are also two old, historic temples worth a look: Kwun Yum Temple and the Hung Shing Temple, on either ends of “downtown” Ap Lei Chau.

 Image by  Wing1990hk  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Wing1990hk via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Repulse Bay – hosts an excellent beach with a few places to eat, and a charming temple on its eastern side.

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Stanley– is a postcard-sized town at the literal end of the bus line; its street market is a great place to shop for gift bargains and clothing, there’s a nice assortment of places to eat, several old colonial buildings and museums to explore, and a delightful waterfront promenade. Even during the lunch rush, it’s never overcrowded, and it’s a fun place to search for beach glass and pottery shards. 

 The full view of TST's waterfront, with key museums and the Ferry Terminal in front. Image by  Mathias Apitz (München)  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The full view of TST's waterfront, with key museums and the Ferry Terminal in front. Image by Mathias Apitz (München) via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Tsim Sha Tsui

Kowloon’s southern shore holds some of the city’s biggest shopping centers and iconic hotels, as well as one of the most famous views in the world! It’s easily reached from two different Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) MTR stations, as well as the Austin, Hung Hom, and Kowloon stations.

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The Star Ferry runs from the TST waterfront to Central as well as Wan Chai every 6-20 minutes depending on time of day, and costs a ridiculously cheap HK$2.70 (US 34 cents) for an adult one-way fare on weekdays (there are also tourist passes for unlimited rides). The view from the middle of Victoria Harbour is stupendous! This is a must-do activity every time you visit the city.

 Image by  Benson Kua  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Benson Kua via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Avenue of the Stars– Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, this boardwalk extends along the eastern shore of TST with tributes to the city’s historic movie industry, including a large sculpture of the legendary Bruce Lee. It’s under reconstruction but due to re-open in late 2018.

 Image by  Another Believer  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Another Believer via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Hong Kong Museum of History– is your stop for learning more about Hong Kong’s natural environment and the people who have called this place home over the millennia. There are big walk-through exhibits of village life, natural ecosystems, and the city during the post-war era. Admission is just HK$10.

 Image by  karendotcom127  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by karendotcom127 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hong Kong Science Museum– is right next to the History Museum, and houses over 500 exhibits and hands-on activities for STEM education: over 70% of the materials are interactive, so your kids can play directly with robots, vehicles, and virtual reality. They’ve recently added the DC-3 airliner that was used to start Cathay Pacific, so this is a must-see for any transportation enthusiasts! Tickets are only HK$20.

 Space Shuttle cockpit reconstruction! Image by  Mk2010  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Space Shuttle cockpit reconstruction! Image by Mk2010 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Hong Kong Space Museum– is under reconstruction but is due to reopen in Spring 2018. Admission is just HK$10 for the exhibition halls, and HK$24 – 32 for shows in the planetarium. When the exhibits re-open, they’ll be hands-on demonstrations of rocket launches and re-entry, the physics of motion, energy, and particles in space, and the history of space exploration.

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“A Symphony of Lights”– is the synchronized music, light, and laser show that takes place every night at 8 pm along the waterfront. Over 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour have been outfitted for the 10-minute event. TST is the best place to view the show, but the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai also has a great vantage point. Crowds form every night, so you’ll want to plan out your evening’s dinner and shopping opportunities to avoid lines at the train stations.

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Mong Kok

The Ladies’ Market is probably the best-known example of all Hong Kong’s evening street-stall shopping. With over 100 vendors, and open every night, it’s a fine place to look for clothing and inexpensive souvenirs. It’s 2 blocks east of the Mong Kok Station.

 Image by  MyPlace2015 mm  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by MyPlace2015 mm via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Mong Kok’s Flower Market is about a 20-minute walk northeast of the station. It’s a wholesale market that supplies flower shops all over the territory, but there are also stalls inside where you can buy cut and live flowers. You won’t be buying anything to take home, of course, but the beauty is the attraction (and there are a number of places to pick up breakfast along the way.)

 Image by  MrT HK  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by MrT HK via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Nor will you be buying anything at the Goldfish Market, about halfway between the station and the Flower Market. But you’ve surely never seen thousands of tropical fish, floating in bags, waiting to be picked up by a collector and taken home. Nor have you likely ever seen people taking their fish out for a walk!

 Image by  Warren R.M. Stuart  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Warren R.M. Stuart via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Langham Place Shopping Mall is attached to Mong Kok Station on the west side, and is 15 stories tall. It includes a large food court, movie theaters, many clothing stores catering to kids and grown-ups, toy and collectible stores, bookshops and record stores.  There are two pair of “Xpresscalators,” which connect floors 4 to 8 and 8 to 12, with no other stops. They are terrifying, but people take them all the time.

 Image by  David Boté Estrada  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by David Boté Estrada via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hong Kong’s Jade Market is about a 15-minute walk southwest of the Yau Ma Tei station on Nathan Road. This is a surprisingly low-key “farmers’ market”-style operation for all the gold, jade, and semi-precious gems inside... but then again, most of what's on sale is relatively inexpensive; you can watch artists at work and bargain for pieces you want to buy.

 Image by  Rob Young  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Rob Young via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Eastern Kowloon

Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery are a 5-minute walk east of the Diamond Hill Station on the Kwun Tong (green) line. While built separately, both are sprawling, traditionally-landscaped gardens (in the Tang Dynasty style) with several small ponds, bridges, and temples.

Kwun Tong – Fly the Flyover Park – is a rather clever re-imagining of the space under freeway overpasses to create performance space, retail and restaurant pop-ups, and a large kids’ play area. It’s located 2 blocks west of the Ngau Tau Kok Station on the Kwun Tong (green) line, and it creates and reinforces a half-mile-long promenade along the harbour.

 Image by  Mk2010  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Mk2010 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Western Kowloon

Tsuen Wan – this former fabric-making industrial districtwas converted over to housing in the 1970s-1980s, and is best-known for its Discovery Park mixed-use mega complex. Now branded as “D-PARK,” and connected directly to the Tsuen Wan MTR station, it has focused on serving families, bringing in children’s specialty stores, building multiple play areas, theme-park activities and rides, and even programming workshops and courses for kids and parents to take! Candy Park Cinemais at the far northern end of D-PARK, and concentrates on kids’ movies and light anime (often discounted).

Lantau and Tsing Yi Islands

There are plenty of high-interest/high-ticket-price attractions to the west, but two lower-cost activities are:

 Image by  andrew barton  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by andrew barton via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Tsing Ma Bridge - one of the longest in the world, has separate decks for vehicle and train traffic. It's hard to get a sense of its scale when you're going across it, so on the northwest side of Tsing Yi Island, a visitor centre has been built. Take the 308M minibus from the Tsing Yi Station to get there.

 Image by tksteven via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.5 license

Image by tksteven via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.5 license

Hong Kong International Airport - houses its own aviation-themed museum, the biggest IMAX in the entire city, a video game complex, and loads of restaurants and shopping in its pre-security areas. Plus, there are several areas to spot aircraft from inside the terminal and parking lots. Because the Airport Express train is spendy and only departs from Central and Kowloon, use the cheaper Tung Chung (Orange) Line out to its end, then catch the S56 shuttle bus to the terminal.

New Territories

The East Rail line (light blue) runs from Hung Hom and Mong Kok East stations northbound all the way to the PRC border at Shenzhen. This used to be Hong Kong’s backcountry of farming villages, but investments in transportation, universities, and public housing have made much of the area suburban commuter cities. Yet they are surrounded by vast public parkland, with hiking trails, dramatic mountain vistas, and wild animals.

Some of the original towns have features worth a half-day or even full-day trip:

 Image by  Mitchan14  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Mitchan14 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Sha Tin - the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery is quite literally uphill from the Sha Tin Station, via a 431-stair case, lined on both sides with golden Buddha statues. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to the top, so make sure your kids (and you!) are physically active and ready for the workout. Once on top, there’s a 9-story tall pagoda, numerous shrines and pavilions, waterfalls, and temples. The trek to get here keeps the crowd sizes down!

 Image by  WiNG  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by WiNG via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Attached to the south side of Sha Tin Station is the nine-story tall New Town Plaza shopping complex. It includes an IKEA, several department stores, and movie theaters. Of particular interest is the “Snoopy’s World” outdoor play space on the 3rd-floor atrium.

 Image by  Thanate Tan  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Thanate Tan via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is the single largest museum building in the territory, covering ancient and current Chinese art, Cantonese Opera, and a large Children’s Discovery Gallery with eight different hands-on play zones. Admission is free. It’s a 15-minute walk from either the Sha Tin or Tai Wai stations, or a 5-minute walk from the Che Kung Temple station (though you’d need to change trains at Tai Wai to get there, so the time savings is negligible.)

 Image by  shankar s.  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by shankar s. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Tai Po – Hong Kong Railway Museum is a converted 1913-era station, situated halfway between and a 10-minute walk from either MTR station serving the town. Admission is free. The museum holds six antique railway coaches, two locomotives, several other pieces of rolling stock, a giant model-railway diorama, and interactive exhibits on the MTR.

A few blocks downriver from the museum is the Tai Po Mega Mall, which is very much a suburban shopping center complete with food court. Unlike the big luxury-brand centers in the heart of Hong Kong, the shops here are more oriented toward middle-income working-class families. Compare and contrast what you see here with the mall in your hometown!

 Image by  Wpcpey  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Wpcpey via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

And just a few blocks downriver from the mall is Waterfront Park, the largest recreational park in all Hong Kong, and its spiral Lookout Tower. It also includes an Insect House where kids can view and interact with local bugs!

 

The West Rail line (purple) also starts in south Kowloon but runs northwest past the Tai Lam mountains to the suburban developments facing Shenzhen Bay.

 Image by  Wpcpey  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Wpcpey via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

In the Yuen Long district, Hong Kong Wetland Park was created in the early 2000s to protect and repair the ecology of Hong Kong’s northwest coast after massive residential and industrial development. It holds a visitor center with exhibits on ecology and wetland habitats, and extensive outdoor observation areas and walking paths to get up close to local and migratory wildlife, including fish and reptiles. The winter migration season especially sees many rare species! Adult admission is just HK$30 / kids are HK$15. Take the MTR to the Tin Shui Wai station and connect onto Light Rail #705 or #706 to the Wetland Park Station.

See also…

Our “Hong Kong” folder on Pinterest

And check these weninchina articles:

Impressions of… Hong Kong – Stanley

Impressions of… Hong Kong Holiday Decorations

Airport Guide – Hong Kong

What Your Kids Should Eat in Hong Kong

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

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Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel Activities in Taipei

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So much to do in the (Family) Friendly City

Some of the headline attractions in Taiwan’s capital also come with big price tags – such as the Taipei 101 observation deck at NT$600 adults (that’s US$20) / NT$540 for big kids, the National Palace Museum (NT$350), or the nightly TaipeiEYE performing arts theater (NT$550).  The Taipei Fun Pass is worth considering if you’re intending to visit all the main paid attractions. But Taipei also offers days and days’ worth of outings that cost little to nothing at all, once you’ve covered transportation to get there.

 Image by  Howard61313  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license 

Image by Howard61313 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license 

With the extensive MRT system and EasyCard in your pocket, virtually the entire city is accessible within an hour of almost any hotel. The convenience of being able to do out-and-back trips from a home base makes it easy to explore a different neighborhood each day of your trip, or even break up your day into morning/lunch – afternoon nap & recharge – evening/dinner (good not only for dealing with jetlag but also heat & humidity if you’re in the city during the warm months).

This link-list of free or low-cost attractions is organized roughly by neighborhood: especially in the downtown core there are several metro stations within walking distance of many attractions:

Click to expand. Not all MRT stations are shown - map is for general orientation only

 Image by  Zairon  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Zairon via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Downtown Taipei – South (Da’an and Wanhua districts)

Longshan Temple – Station BL10  (of the same name) on the Blue Line, then 2 blocks north – is an historic and still-working Buddist and Taoist temple. The architecture and artwork inside is bold and instructive of the pre-war period. Directly across Guangzhou Street is nicely-sized Bangka Park with its giant Zodiac tile installation, and the Guangzhou Street Night Market begins immediately to the west.

Taipei Botanical Garden – Xiaonanmen Station G11 on the Green Line (2 blocks south) - is both a serious research center and also a relaxing place to walk among exotic tropical flowers in a park-like setting.

National Taiwan Museum – at NTU Hospital station (R09) and immediately west, or about 3 blocks south of Taipei Main Station (BL12 or R10) – costing a very reasonable NT$30, this classical museum has exhibits on Taiwan’s plants and animals, as well as its native peoples.

 Image by  Laika ac  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Laika ac via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – at Station R08 (Red Line) or G10 (Green Line) - while the historical exhibits in the main exhibition halls might be a bit dry for kids, the gardens surrounding the square are extensive, and the architecture is dramatic.

Yongkang Street – at the Dongmen Station (R07 / O06); 2 blocks east and then stretching southward – is the most-famous “food street” in the city, with the flagship of steamed-dumpling king Din Tai Fung on its north end. There are dozens and dozens of restaurants and cafes along the street, and the traffic they generate has also pulled in giftshops, clothing boutiques, and other stores for finding souvenirs.

The Shida Night Market (north about 3 blocks from the Taipower Building Station G08 station, or about half a kilometer south of the Yongkang Street eateries) sets up along a roadside park next to Shida University and is oriented toward college students, featuring seasonal fashions, open-air entertainment and music, and creative / craft items.

 Image by  Ken Marshall  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Ken Marshall via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Da’an Forest Park – at the Da’an Park Station (R06) – is nearly a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, with ponds, glens, and thick stands of trees. For an easy, relaxing pace and chance to get out of the built city and back to nature, this is a convenient spot to recharge.

 Image by  Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardz  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardz via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Jian Guo Weekend Flower Market – one block east of Da’an Park station – is another fun way to connect with nature during your trip. All sorts of live plants and cut flowers are on display, farmers’ market-style.

 Image by  玄史生  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0 (public domain) license

Image by 玄史生 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0 (public domain) license

Downtown Taipei – North (Zhongzheng and Zhongshan districts) 

Maji Square (Yuanshan Station R14) is on the southeast corner of the Taipei EXPO complex of convention halls but also big open parkland. The Square is a big food court but there are also places for kids to run around and play. There is a Sunday farmers’ market held here, and just east across the highway is the Fine Arts Park. (The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is inside but is under renovation.) From there, you can take pedestrian trails another 500 meters to a larger park complex (Xinsheng Park) that includes a garden maze.

Just east of Taipei Central Station (Shandao Temple Station BL13, then north 1 block and east 2 blocks) is a broad prairie park called Central Art Park which has sculptures and is a favorite place for people to take their dogs to walk around. 

 Image by  Wei-Te Wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Wei-Te Wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Downtown Taipei – East (Xinyi, Songshan, and Nangang districts)

Songshan Airport (station of the same name, BR13) is both very busy through the day and also very friendly to children. It has a big observation deck right above the terminal that is free – and you don’t have to go through security! There’s also a respectable food court in the pre-security section.

 Image by  Tzuhsun Hsu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tzuhsun Hsu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 Image by  Rob Young  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Rob Young via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

One of the big-name attractions on the Blue Line is the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (station of the same name, BL17). While there is understandably a lot of space devoted to the leader’s history and biography, there are also general art exhibits which kids may find interesting. Many travelers also comment on the hourly changing-of-the-guard military ceremonies!

 Image by  Gordon Cheung  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Gordon Cheung via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Raohe Night Market (Songshan Station G19) has a mix of traditional street foods as well as tourist-type merchandise on offer, but it also includes the Wufenpu garment / fabric wholesale market – family members interested in fashion and crafts may want to make a visit.

 Image by  Jirka Matousek  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Jirka Matousek via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The last stop on the Red Line (for now) is Xiangshan Station (R02), just past the Taipei 101 complex. Just outside the station entrance and stretching south is Xiangshan Park, with trails and playground equipment.  At the very far end of the park is the trailhead for Elephant Mountain. If you and your kids are physically active and want a hiking challenge for several hours, this is your place for outdoor adventure literally in the heart of the city. The reward is the stunning view over the city, literally eye-to-eye with the skycrapers.

 Image by  McKay Savage  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by McKay Savage via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Northern Districts

The Shilin Night Market (one block north of Jiantan Station R15) stands on ground used for trade and warehousing for nearly 400 years, has inhabited its current building for over 100 years, and is the biggest market of its kind in the city. By day it functions as a food wholesale terminal, but by night it is a literal shopping center and ultimate food court.

 Image by  Taiwankengo  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Taiwankengo via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

The Taipei Children’s Amusement Park (Shilin Station R16 or Jiantan Station R15; take the “Taipei Children’s Amusement Park shuttle bus” from there – or it is about a 20 minute walk from Shilin Station) has a cheap NT$30 admission, and kids under 6 years old get in free. Rides are extra, but also cheap at NT$20-30 each.

 Image by Tianmu peter via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Tianmu peter via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

The National Taiwan Science Education Center is right next to the amusement park and is a good-sized kid-friendly science museum, and it incorporates some English in its exhibit texts. Admission is NT$100 for adults, NT$70 for kids. It also has a 4-D projection theater with its own separate admission price.

 Image by I,  Latinboy  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by I, Latinboy via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

The Taipei Astronomical Museum is right next to the Science Education Center and of course specializes in outer space. Admission is only NT$40 for the exhibits hall and NT$100 for the IMAX shows.

 Image by  Tony Lin  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tony Lin via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

From the Dazhi station (BR14) walk 2 blocks south to the Keelung River to access the Meiti Riverside Park on the north side of the river. The Dazhi Bridge can also be crossed to get to the Yingfeng and Dajia Riverside Parks on the south side. This is where the dragonboat teams practice!

Miramar Entertainment Park (BR15 Jiannan Road station, 1 block southeast) is essentially a Western shopping mall, heavy on the movie theaters and upscale dining, but it has a quite large Ferris Wheel. For a bigger family this could get a bit spendy, however (NT$150 to ride Monday-Friday and NT$200 on weekends). 

 Image by  Lord Koxinga  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Lord Koxinga via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Southern Districts

The Taipei Zoo, at the end of the Brown Line (BR01) is over 100 years old and one of the largest in East Asia. It has both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including ones on tropical rainforests, Australian animals, a bird aviary, a children’s petting zoo, and of course a panda enclosure. Admission is just NT$60, and preschoolers get in for free.

 Image by  Tzuhsun Hsu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Tzuhsun Hsu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 Image by  billy1125  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by billy1125 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 Image by  Sonse  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Sonse via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Maokong Gondola picks up at the Zoo and travels up the mountainside to Maokong village, famous for tea-making. This would be a several-hour excursion, and with roundtrip fares at NT$240 (with NT$40 discount for using your EasyCard), it’s on the fence whether this activity should be included in this article J

See also…

Our “Taipei” folder on Pinterest

And check these weninchina articles:

Airport Guide – Taipei Taoyuan International

What Your Kids Should Eat in Taipei

Activity sheet – Wordfind – What Your Kids Should Eat in Taipei

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

Lahaina (Maui, Hawaii) Historic District – for the “other” Sun Yat-Sen museum

 

Girl at Taipei Zoo photo by 國禎 吳 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 

Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel Activities in Tokyo

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For a city with an expensive reputation, a day’s outing with kids does not have to be spendy!

A family vacation to Tokyo is probably going to involve some big-ticket attractions like the Skytree (tickets $9 - $20), Tokyo Tower ($3.50-$9.00), the Epson Aqua Park Shinagawa ($22), or Tokyo DisneySea ($48-$74) – but there are days and days’ worth of outings that cost little to nothing at all, once you’ve covered transportation to get there.

With the Suica stored-value card and Tokyo’s comprehensive rail network, virtually the entire city is accessible within an hour of almost any hotel. The convenience of being able to do out-and-back trips from a home base makes it easy to explore a different neighborhood each day of your trip, or even break up your day into morning/lunch – afternoon nap & recharge – evening/dinner (good not only for dealing with jetlag but also heat & humidity if you’re in the city during the warm months).

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This link-list of free or low-cost attractions is organized around major stations on the Metro or the Yamanote city loop line, within reasonable walking distances:

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Shibuya

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Harajuku/Omotesando

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 Image by  B Lucava  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by B Lucava via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Shinjuku

 Image by  Justin C.  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Justin C. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 Image by  Luca Mascaro  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Luca Mascaro via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Ikebukuro

  • The Namjatown indoor amusement park inside the Sunshine City shopping center has inexpensive tickets (¥500 adult, ¥300 child) with much to see and kids’ games to play, but at heart it’s a shopping arcade and food court.
  • The headquarters store for manga / anime chain Animate
  • Tobu, the city’s single largest department store, with a giant food hall
 Image by  Kakidai  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Kakidai via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

 Image by  Vasyl Gladysh  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vasyl Gladysh via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Ueno/Asakusa

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 Image by  rdnk  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by rdnk via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Akihabara

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 Image by  Perry Li  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Perry Li via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Downtown/Tokyo Station

 Image by  Reggaeman  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Reggaeman via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Shinagawa

  • The Shinagawa Shrine is one of the larger green spaces in the central city and holds a large festival in September.
  • The Sengaku-ji Temple is one of the main Zen Buddhist temples and is a famous graveyard.
 Image by  Marc Dalmulder  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Marc Dalmulder via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

 Image by  Dennis Amith  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Dennis Amith via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Meguro/Ebisu

  • The Institute for Nature Study is a large, wild area (¥310 admission for adults; kids are free) that has been allowed to regenerate naturally since World War II. Because of this, it is also a significant archaeological research site.
  • Yebisu Garden Place is a large shopping and dining complex.
  • The Otori Shrine is just a few blocks from the Meguro station and holds big festivals in September, November, and at New Year’s.
 Image by  江戸村のとくぞう  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by 江戸村のとくぞう via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Ginza / Shimbashi

hotelview.JPG
 Image by  Nigel Goodman  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Nigel Goodman via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Akasaka

 Image by  Wing1990hk  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Wing1990hk via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

 Image by  掬茶  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by 掬茶 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Roppongi

 Image by  fox kiyo  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by fox kiyo via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

 Image by   Mark J. Nelson  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Mark J. Nelson via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Odaiba

(take the Yurikamome Light Rail from the Shimbashi or Shiodome stations)

Please comment with your additions and suggestions below, or tweet us at @weninchina!

See also…

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/kids/tokyo-with-children

https://globetotting.com/japan-kids-tokyo-guide/

http://packmeto.com/7-free-things-to-do-in-tokyo/

And check these weninchina articles:

Impressions of… Tokyo – Harajuku

Impressions of… Tokyo – Meiji Jingu

Airport Guide – Tokyo Narita

Airport Guide - Tokyo Haneda

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Family Meals in Asia

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Skip the hotel restaurants, eat better, and have more fun!

The big Asian cities have developed a reputation for having ridiculously expensive dining, and stories like consumers paying $27,000 for a cantaloupe or charging over $100 per person for a sushi dinner don’t help that perception.

While reports like these get attention, the fact is these kinds of dining experiences are largely meant for big-business entertainment and big-government lobbying – and have nothing to do with how everyday people eat.

After all, you couldn’t get that many people to live, much less thrive, in a place where they couldn’t afford basic meals! “Eat like the locals” is great advice for learning more about a culture, but it’s also an important strategy for keeping expenses under control for a family vacation overseas.

Not only will these options save you money, be culturally enlightening, and provide entertainment, but by not having to order from a menu - and instead see what your choices are – both you and your kids will be more comfortable with your food orders. And it might even get you to try something unexpected!

 Image by  LERK  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by LERK via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Konbini / Convenience Stores

East Asia's convenience stores such as Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart are the traveler's best friend: open early when the streets are empty but your jet lag tells you it's breakfast time; open late when you realize you need detergent, plastic bags, or a fix of peanut butter. Without the burden of selling fuel or needing parking lots, these stores have evolved their formats to occupy seemingly every street corner in major cities, from northern Japan all the way down to Indonesia and out into western China.

 Image by  amanderson2  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by amanderson2 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Their selection of basic goods is comparable to a small grocery store - including bread, milk and juice, cereal, and fruits and vegetables - and most have a broad selection of hot and cold deli foods, including familiar Western fare like sandwiches, fried chicken, and roasted meat as well as Asian favorites such as onigiri and noodle bowls. These counters are resupplied frequently through the day, so the food is quite fresh. We found surprisingly good quality options at a value price. 

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If your hotel room has a mini-refrigerator at a minimum (and ideally a microwave), make the corner C-store your first stop to stock up on breakfast items: it's so much better to eat breakfast in pajamas and thoughtfully plan your day instead of having to scramble to get dressed and presentable to shuffle through a bland hotel buffet or walk down the street for McDonalds...

 Image by  Hiroaki Sakuma  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Hiroaki Sakuma via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Depachika / Department Store Food Halls

Unlike what has happened in North America, in Japan and Korea the traditional department store has continued to be a vital part of everyday life in the big cities. 

Departments stores are typically sited near major subway stations to maximize commuter convenience (the rail companies developed the land, and started the stores, after all...), and so those are popular shopping sites at lunchtime and during the evening commute.

 Image by  Frances Ellen  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Frances Ellen via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

To keep shoppers in stores longer, many locations expanded their in-house cafes and restaurants into full-sized food halls and catering showrooms - perfect for having a meal before the long train ride home, or for picking up provisions en route. The variety on display behind the counters is simply astonishing: baked goods and sweets; seafood and meats; prepared salads, sandwiches and soups; Japanese, Chinese, Korean, European, Indian, and American specialties; plus sit-down dining from casual to elegant.

Even if you aren't hungry, the spectacle of a great depachika is worth the visit alone!

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Street Food, Festivals, and Farmers’ Markets / Fish Markets

While food trucks are finally becoming a frequent sight in North America, in East Asia they’ve been preparing hot, fresh food from carts, trucks, and “pop-up” tents for centuries. Seasonal festivals such as at New Year's or Mid-Autumn will see carts and tents in temples and public squares, but many cities also have regular evening street markets or hawker centers (like the famous ones in Singapore and Taiwan) where food is the main attraction. 

 Photo by  Jorge Gonzalez  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license. Watch out for that durian!

Photo by Jorge Gonzalez via Flickr, CC 2.0 license. Watch out for that durian!

Major cities will also have morning fish markets (like the famous Tsukiji in Tokyo) or farmers' markets where food stalls catering to the vendors and traders will also gladly sell to tourists. As with outdoor stalls anywhere, look for the crowds to find the freshest, tastiest (and by extension most safe) choices. "Point and pay" is the universal language, as almost always prices are clearly marked.

 Image by  Allan Watt  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Allan Watt via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Where Not to Go in China

5 Places where Americans should probably avoid Family Travel

Despite political tension between Western governments and the Communist Party administration in Beijing, once you’ve arrived in China as a traveler – and especially for families with children – you’ll find that many people you encounter are genuinely glad to see you, are kind, and eager to help. We’ve found ourselves in unexpected conversations (in English!) in parks and grocery stores with parents who want to tell us about their child studying in the U.S., or a trip they took there, or once they know where we’re from, ask about the chances this year for the Minnesota Timberwolves (they’re never good.)

So while we enthusiastically promote Americans to travel to China with their kids, we still have to acknowledge there are some areas too sensitive for Westerners to roam around, or on the edge of danger to bring children to. If you’re in-country for a week or two, and especially if you don’t have strong Mandarin skills, these are areas that would have the potential to ruin your trip.

 Image by  Max-Leonhard von Schaper ; CC 2.0 license

Image by Max-Leonhard von Schaper; CC 2.0 license

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Anywhere near the North Korean Border

Amazingly, during the 1990s-mid 2010s, there was a not-small tourist trade in Liaoning Province to take Westerners right up to the Yalu River border with North Korea to look across and try to make contact with people on the other side, based out of the Chinese border city of Dandong.  Oh yes, some people got arrested and thrown in North Korean prisons, forcing their governments to make deals with the regime there to get them released. And there’s still a market for Chinese tourists to look across the border

 Image by  Shinsuke Ikegame ; CC 2.0 license

Image by Shinsuke Ikegame; CC 2.0 license

More recently, the Chinese government has started cracking down on these activities as Beijing is growing more uncomfortable with the belligerent government in Pyongyang, and trying to weed out Westerners on their side of the border who they think might be trying to agitate the situation.

Liaoning and Jilin Provinces are also uncomfortably close to the North Korean nuclear test site; Chinese media has started talking about health and safety risks of fallout and radiation-tainted pollution should an accident or an attack take place there. Should the North Korean regime collapse or launch an attack against the South, this border is also expected to be overwhelmed with refugees.

 Image by  DvYang ; CC 2.0 license

Image by DvYang; CC 2.0 license

The “Nansha” Islands

For many years the ocean south of Hainan Island and north of Singapore has been contested, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and the People’s Republic all making claims on some part of it, often overlapping. From the mid-2010s, Chinese forces have occupied many shoals and reefs in the South China Sea and have converted a number into airfields and small naval bases. 

In 2016, a number of chartered airline flights were sent to these islands, and cruise ships have begun runs with tourist groups. The Chinese government has stated they want regular travelers visiting the islands (bolstering their claims and making it less likely in the future for other countries to try to take the bases by force.)

Not that it’s likely, because the PRC really doesn’t want Americans wandering around the South China Sea, taking pictures of military outposts – but if you are vacationing on tropical Hainan Island (lots of resorts and beaches there), “just say no” to any off-island overnight cruises.

 Image by  bvi4092 ; CC 2.0 license

Image by bvi4092; CC 2.0 license

 Image by  Dennis Jarvis  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Tibet

I’m not going to try to give you a briefing on the Tibetan situation, and I’m not going to express my personal opinion on the matter on this site. This is probably the situation that Beijing is most sensitive about, and they’ve made it clear they want no Western involvement in the issue.

To ensure that ‘undesirable social elements’ do not get introduced to the local native population, the Chinese government requires an “internal visa” for travel up to the plateau, over and above the tourist visa to China itself. The process for getting this visa is complex, and the government strictly limits how many are issued- and to which nationalities. Which means if you’re an American just wanting to travel to Lhasa with your family outside of an organized group, it isn’t happening (and probably not in an organized group either.)

 Image by  Mondo79  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Mondo79 via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

The Chinese government has been spending heavily on airports, has set up a new airline for the region, built a high-speed rail line there, and has been promoting internal tourism (Han ethnic group) to the region, so the travel infrastructure is getting put in place. Perhaps someday the only issue for Westerners' visits will be altitude sickness...

 Image by  Marc van der Chijs ; CC 2.0 license

Image by Marc van der Chijs; CC 2.0 license

Xinjiang

China’s western-most province borders the Central Asian “-stans”, including a tiny piece of Afghanistan. For the 19th and 20th centuries, this region was guarded to prevent the Russians or roving bandits from invading the Chinese heartland, but otherwise the mostly-Muslim people were left to trade with their neighbors and practice their faith. Being in the remote middle of the historic Silk Road, Xinjiang’s Uyghur residents were a mix of all the peoples who traveled and traded it for a thousand years – speaking a Turkic Arabic, sprinkled with elements of Eastern Han and even European culture: definitely a people apart from the coastal cities. Post-Revolution Chinese government policy changed this approach by sending industry, rail and highway links, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Han settlers westward into the capital Urumqi and the other main cities. In the 1990s this area was lauded for its domestic and international tourism potential, for its unique culture as well as wildlife and unique ecosystems.

 Image by  momo ; CC 2.0 license

Image by momo; CC 2.0 license

After the Middle Eastern wars of the late 20th-early 21st century, local frustration with the Han colonization, which could not be resolved through Communist Party channels, started to mix with people who had been fighting the Russians and Americans in Afghanistan and beyond – and their radical ideologies, and their weapons. Predictably, violence came. Terrorist attacks against Chinese government and industrial interests became frequent.

To try to stop the terrorism, Beijing has sent many troops into the region, restricts where Xinjiang Uyghurs can travel and what they can access on China’s local Internet, and has imposed regulations on Islamic practices. Big, explosive attacks have largely ceased, but smaller incidents have happened here and troublingly in other parts of China. While foreigners have not been targeted, places like train stations, markets, public squares, and mosques are under tight security, and your passport won’t get you privileges if a police action takes place.

 Image by  Gabriel Jorby ; CC 2.0 license

Image by Gabriel Jorby; CC 2.0 license

Remote parts of Qinghai

If not for the deserts, harsh weather, near-total lack of English signage… and being the jumping-off point for both Tibet and Xinjiang and all the ethnic tensions those two areas engender, Qinghai would *still* be a heck of a long way from anywhere. Slightly less of a long way with high-speed rail links being constructed, but out past the main cities of Golmud, Xining, and Baotou, just the right kind of huge, uninhabited place where you’d put a nuclear test site.  The giant nature preserve of Qinghai Lake is on the main highway and rail line, and a legitimate (and safe) tourist destination – just don’t decide to rent off-road vehicles and try to do some exploring in this Texas-sized area.

 Image by  Ken Marshall ; CC 2.0 license

Image by Ken Marshall; CC 2.0 license