Junk Boat in Hong Kong – Family Travel Experience
Have you ever had a travel experience that stays with you, one that feels a part of you somehow? Summer 2017 was a good summer for our family. We lived temporarily in NYC for nine weeks, then we visited Hong Kong for two weeks and afterwards traveled around Southeast Asia for another two weeks. Needless to say, it was a fantastic summer full of new experiences and amazing travel and food memories. During our time in Hong Kong, we had an experience that I’ll never forget. I love the quote that says, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” This experience was one of those breathtaking life moments for me.
The Junk Boat
We visited Hong Kong in July and August of 2017, tagging along with Nate’s work trip. Nate needed to work during the night on a couple days to match with the US East Coast time zone, therefore, he had some free time during the weekday. We took full advantage of the opportunity and went out on a junk boat for two days during our stay in Hong Kong, which helped combat the oppressive heat of Hong Kong in the summer.
The name “Junk Boat” caught me off guard at first. Junk boat? Really? It makes it sound, well, a little junky. But trust me. A junk boat (or at least this junk boat) is anything but junky. The name “Junk Boat” means an ancient Chinese sailing ship. Junk boats are used today in Southeast Asia and India, but primarily in China. There really is no better way to see the beautiful city of Hong Kong and all of its little islands than on a junk boat.
Our junk boat was much bigger than I had imagined. There was a downstairs bedroom and bathroom area and a good sized kitchen. There was a living room area with a dining room table. The front of the boat was a fun place to hang out, but our favorite spot was on the top deck. With the large shade above us and a comfy big blue mat, it made for the perfect place to relax. The boat was stocked with drinks for us in a giant cooler, to enjoy throughout the day. It was the perfect setup for a perfect day out on the water.
Our Private Junk Boat Captain
Our captain, Ah Lau, was a friendly local guy, born and raised in Hong Kong. He has been driving this junk boat for 30+ years. You can see his confidence and passion for what he does when he’s at the wheel. He knows the islands and coastline of Hong Kong so well because he’s been on these waters countless times. He doesn’t use GPS, but just knows his way around by heart. He took us to so many great places that we never would have been able to visit otherwise, places that we didn’t even know existed or were worth visiting. Ah Lau was our own personal captain giving us a private tour on the waters of Hong Kong. It was a dream come true!
Our Day on the Junk Boat
We spent a good portion of the day just lounging on this large blue mat. It was seriously so heavenly. Jimmy was at the age where he didn’t wander that much but was content with just sitting and hanging out. I was still breastfeeding at the time, so we snuggled a lot during feedings. I had tried to wean Jimmy before this trip and was doing really well, but it all went downhill when we got to Hong Kong. He didn’t love Asian food at first and started wanting to breastfeed more often than not to make up for it. I was concerned that he wasn’t getting the proper nutrition through food alone, so I let go of all the weaning progress, and let him breastfeed as much as he wanted. It wasn’t in the plan, but that’s life with kids right? The best part was when we all took a nap together on this mat. It was a little piece of heaven- my two boys laying next to me, asleep, all snuggled together, with the warm sun, the salty ocean smell, and the slight movement from the waves. It was magical, and I wish I could do it again!
Dealing with Seasickness
The first day out on the junk boat, the weather was perfect. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The second day was a bit overcast and windy. The wind made the waves stronger which made the boat rock a bit more. Jimmy actually threw up from being seasick. It was one of those moments of panic that mothers face, but we got through it. Such a mess! I felt like I was going to throw up as well, but luckily, I never did. Poor Jimmy though, experiencing his first seasick experience. Luckily the waves calmed down after an hour or so and we were fine and feeling better for the majority of the day.
Swimming and Paddle Boarding in the South China Sea
Ah Lau took us to some great swimming spots. We were ready for anything, so we got our suits on and jumped in. Jimmy was a little cautious. After being in for a bit and then getting out again because he was scared, we kept asking him if he wanted to get back in the water. He kept saying, “No!,” over and over again. We finally coaxed him in and got him used to it. Once he was comfortable, he kept dipping his hands in the ocean water and sucking the salt off of his fingers. Such a funny memory. He loved the salty taste!
Our junk boat was full of fun water toys. We had a blast going paddle boarding in a calm alcove near the shore. It was very close to a sea turtle breeding ground, so we couldn’t get near the beach area. We took turns paddle boarding because Jimmy was too young to go on it safely. Nate went out first while I watched Jimmy, and then we switched. Team work when traveling with kids is the way to go! I’m so glad we continue to travel and explore the world even with a little one in tow.
Eating at a Local Fishing Village
My favorite part of our junk boat experience was the food. I’ve always loved trying new cuisines and having new food experiences while traveling. Ah Lau took us to some really memorable villages to eat. He would drop us off at these little no-name fishing villages to find some dinner. Sometimes he would dock the junk boat and wait for us and other times he would leave and come pick us up in a couple of hours. It was our job to find a place that we liked, eat, and then meet back at the set time. At first I was very skeptical of these fishing villages and the food that they served. I was worried about their cleanliness and of all of us getting sick, especially Jimmy. Some didn’t look too promising at first glance. No Michelin starred restaurants here, but just casual, local, simple, family owned restaurants, serving the food that they know best. Once I was reminded of this and relaxed a little, I realized what an amazing experience that I was stepping into. We got an authentic local travel experience, one that you don’t plan for. It was an experience that just stumbles in front of you, and you walk away a more cultured person because of it.
We walked through this fishing village and I had quite the culture shock. We saw a lot of whole fish, heads removed, hanging from strings in the open air. It seemed like they were making some sort of fish jerky. Not my style but maybe tasty for some! No one spoke English at all, which was very different than mainland Hong Kong where many people are highly educated and speak English very well. Interacting with people that rarely see tourists made us the focus of everyone’s attention. A few local ladies were flirting with Jimmy. They couldn’t get enough of him. He was in the spotlight for the day with his blonde hair, blue eyes, pale white skin, and little waddle when he walked. He was only one and a half at the time. It kills me now to see these pictures and realize how much he’s grown!
There were rows of restaurants lining the water all with practically the same exact menu. There wasn’t a single visitor eating at any of them! We awkwardly passed by each one, not knowing which one to choose, as each invited us to eat at their specific place. Fish tanks lined the walkways with all kinds of freshly caught seafood inside. The smell of seafood was very strong! There was no doubt in my mind that our seafood was going to be fresh, likely caught a few hours before. We even saw some fisherman come in off of a fishing boat with large bags of squid that they had just caught hours before. They brought it up near the line of restaurants and started cutting open all of the bags. Loads of squid were streaming out of the bags and onto the sidewalk. I had never seen so many squid in one place in all of my life! They were getting ready to dump the squid into the restaurant tanks. And let me tell you, we ate some of the best calamari I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have been more fresh. (It was practically still swimming.)
Remember before how I mentioned Jimmy not loving the Asian cuisine and gravitating back to breastfeeding for all of his nutrition? Well, he loved this meal at the fishing village! We got a noodle dish that he was really into. He practically ate the whole plate himself. As an appetizer, they gave us some tiny dried fish. They were the whole fish and really crunchy. Nate gave one to Jimmy, and he ate it. Jimmy called them “crackers,” and then kept asking for, “more crackers.” I guess it was kind of crunchy and salty like a cracker… but maybe a bit more fishy. Ha! Besides the noodles and calamari, we also enjoyed some spring rolls and all of the food was absolutely spot on. Such a surprise from what I expected! Goes to show that you can never judge something from a first glance.
The whole thing was such a surreal experience - sitting there with a view of the South China Sea, eating authentic Chinese food, enjoying calamari from squid that we literally had just seen brought in from the fishing boats, being in a place that is practically untouched by tourists, and interacting with the locals. It was one of those life moments where you wish you could freeze time and just soak it all in before it’s gone.
Dried Eel for a Treat
After lunch, we walked around the village for a bit. We went into a nearby shop and ended up buying some packaged ice cream bars. The man working was so sweet with Jimmy and was trying to interact with him the best that he could. He gave him some dried eel as a treat. He acted like it was a normal thing to give to a child, as if it was candy or something sweet. So rewarding to have these types of travel moments that really open up our world view and let us see life through another’s eyes.
An Evening on the Junk Boat
If we thought daytime on the junk boat was gorgeous, the day just kept getting more and more incredible as the night went on. Seeing the sunset from the boat was unreal. The colors were so brilliant. It wasn’t just seeing the sunset that was fantastic, but seeing the sunset over the Hong Kong skyline as we gradually cruised through the channel. That is what made it extra special. It was like heaven on earth being with my little family in this perfect moment. I didn’t want it to end.
Symphony of Lights at Victoria Harbor
As we approached the Victoria Harbor, we were arriving just in time for the Symphony of Lights laser show on the Victoria Harbor. This show is unreal and has become a signature icon for Hong Kong. It shows every night at 8:00 PM and lasts for 10 minutes. It was as if we planned it that way, approaching the harbor right as the show began. I’m sure Ah Lau knew exactly what he was doing but for us at the time, it just seemed like perfect timing. It couldn’t have gone any better. We were all snuggling on the top deck on the big blue mat watching the light show with a perfect view of the Hong Kong skyline city night lights. Jimmy had fallen asleep in my arms by this point. It was such a peaceful moment and a travel day that I’ll never forget.
How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Junk Boat in Hong Kong?
So now that I’ve shared about our amazing experience on a junk boat in Hong Kong, you’re probably wondering how much something like this costs?
An experience like this is not cheap. You can pay anywhere between $700 - $1,200 a day, per person. Often you have to have a minimum amount of people on the boat as well, typically around 25, but it depends on the company. You can rent a smaller boat like the one we were on from around $5000+ a day. If you want to add in water play equipment to use throughout the day, like paddle boards and rafts, or even a speed boat that is pulled behind the junk boat for wake boarding and tubing, there are extra fees, sometimes as high as $4,000+ extra for the day. Some companies even offer an on board masseuse that stays on the junk boat all day, giving massages to anyone who wishes. Now, that sounds amazing!
This type of activity is definitely expensive and something that not many people can afford to do or get the opportunity to do. We were very lucky that this was a private corporate charter boat used for client events which was offered for our use and the only requirement of us was to tip the captain at the end of the day and to pay for his meals. (Ah Lau would call in a order at the restaurant we were eating at, and they would bring dinner to him to eat on the boat.) And that was it! A whole day out on the South China Sea in a junk boat for very little money. It was almost too good to be true, and I feel so lucky to have enjoyed such a bucket list travel experience at such a little cost.
Check Out These Links for How to Rent a Junk Boat in Hong Kong:
Thank you Hong Kong for this amazing experience. If you’re planning on visiting Hong Kong, I’d recommend checking out a junk boat tour to see the different islands and to see Hong Kong in a whole new way. It will be an experience that you won’t ever forget, and I’d say it is worth every penny! Happy travels!
Have you been on a junk boat before? Have you visited Hong Kong? I want to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!