Ok, so I appreciate this is something of a niche post, but then I thought that about the roundup of specialist Lego stores in Hong Kong too, and that one continues to be one of the most popular on the blog. Who knew?!
A matter of compatibility
If you have a small person who is into trains, then there’s a good chance that you’ve been badgered into buying a train set. The issue here is that very few of the train sets currently on the market are compatible with one another, meaning that you end up tied into buying a particular brand forever more, and making it hard to source extra pieces.
I reserve particular scorn for the THREE different Thomas The Tank Engine lines currently available, none of which are compatible with the other ranges. Rarely have I seen such cynical gouging, even from the greedy behemoth that is the toy industry.
But what’s a Tai-Tai to do when her beloved offspring is clamouring for trains? You just try explaining an principled boycott to a three-year-old who loves Thomas, Toby et al and see how far you get. Nope, the only thing for it is to choose the least worst option and go shopping. And so that’s how we came to be in possession of a massive amount of — specifically wooden — trains and track.
Now, you’re probably expecting me to say something here about toxic chemicals in plastic stunting our young minds, or to hark back to more innocent times, when toys were rough-hewn and tactile and didn’t require batteries. Well, sorry to disappoint but it’s none of that. There were two main reasons for opting for a wooden set over the plastic or metal varieties:
- My child breaks things. A lot. Wood is surprisingly hard to break or whittle into a weapon without tools;
- There are way more compatible wooden train sets than the other kinds.
Oh yeah, and a third:
- I found a discount shop selling wooden sets with imperfect boxes off cheaply at the exact time I happened to be looking (more on this to follow). Kismet.
So that’s why we went wooden. But if you’re an organic/crunchy type of mum, you can benefit from all of the above, plus the added satisfaction that comes from knowing that many of the track sets mentioned are made from certified wood grown sustainably, and that they also have a pleasingly lo-fi and clunky feel too. #winning
Of all Young Master T-T’s massive haul of toys, this is the kit that takes up the most space in our (tiny) apartment, so you’ll probably also want to consider storage for your railway before you buy. Unless your pad is palatial enough for a dedicated train room, in which case your butler is probably the one reading this anyway, so don’t give it another thought.
We’ve recycled a Stokke Flexi-Bath that the no-longer-wee man has grown out of into a place to put our enormous track stash, and the engines are mostly contained within “Tidmouth Sheds”, aka a Learning Curve Engine Caddy, that we picked up from Swap-It. Both fit neatly on the lower shelf of an Ikea bookcase and contain the madness behind closed doors (though most days this ends up a little like Monica’s Secret Closet from Friends). I’ve seen some amazing storage ideas for trains on Pinterest, from storage tables to wall shelving, so have a look at the space available to you and plan accordingly.
Your collection may start off small, but IT WILL GROW. You have been warned.
What on earth am I actually supposed to be buying?
Depends on your kid, their age and how likely you think it is that they’ll get bored of the trains before
you’ve they’ve had their your money’s worth. It’s easy to start simply and cheaply and add as you go along, depending on their interest level. For my money, the basic Ikea Lillabo starter set offers a good intro to trains at HK$169.90, and you can just keep on adding from there.
So, without further ado, here are a few places that I have come across in Hong Kong and online where you can stock up on fully compatible and interchangeable choo-choos that give you the freedom to be as fickle as you like with your brands. Ride on!
British import Early Learning Centre has a few locations around Hong Kong and Kowloon, but it’s the Prince’s Building outlet that comes up trumps for tracks. Situated up on the third floor next to sister store Mothercare, I was put onto this tucked-away gem by a friend whose kids also love a bit of extreme engineering all over the living room floor (thanks, Victoria!).
The main draw here is the stash of complex track pieces by creative play brand Melissa and Doug, including track splitters to create Thomas’ branch line, rail risers and other twiddly bits that will have young enthusiasts flexing their technical muscles. Pieces are sold in packs, and are often included in ELC’s great seasonal sales, meaning that you can stock up on two-for-one or buy-one-get-one-free bargains, effectively turning your apartment into a shrine to the steam age. Just don’t blame me if you stub your toe.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 7.30pm
Shop 315-316, 3/F, Prince’s Building, Central, Hong Kong; 2810 1218
Alight at the aforementioned blue-and-yellow box for your starter set and perhaps pick up some spares while you’re here. Ikea may be nobody’s idea of a fun Sunday afternoon out, but if your little one is just starting to go loco for locos, this is a great place to start that won’t break the (piggy)bank.
The 20-piece basic set comes with a simple train and three carriages, and can be constructed in a few formations. Next step up is a bridge-and-tunnel set, and you can also pick up extra rail kits to expand your budding transport network. Super-simple Swedish engineering.
Opening hours: Daily, 10.30am – 10.30pm
Causeway Bay store: Upper Basement, Park Lane Hotel, 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; 3125 0888
Sha Tin store: L6, Home Square, 138 Sha Tin Rural Committee Road, Sha Tin, New Territories, Hong Kong; 3125 0888
Kowloon Bay store: L4, Megabox, 38 Wang Chiu Road, Kowloon Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong; 3125 0888
*Note if you’re bringing the kids — the Sha Tin and Kowloon Bay stores both have playrooms on site and are frankly a far more pleasant shopping experience than Causeway Bay!*
Wise Kids stock both Brio and Plan Toys train sets, and usually have a pretty broad range of these well-made, charming (and damned expensive) sets in store. There’s various themed collections for both brands covering everything from safari to monorail, and the build quality is really excellent, meaning that shelling out a little more now will result in years of fun to come for any younger siblings.
If you are
crazy game enough to splurge over HK$4000 (!) in one hit then you’ll get your integrated transport network delivered direct to your door for free (Outlying Islands and DB excepted, natch).
Cyberport store opening hours: Daily, 10.30am – 7.30pm
Shop 101, The Arcade, Cyberport, Pokfulam, Hong Kong; 2613 8800
Admiralty store opening hours: Sunday – Wednesday, 10am – 8pm; Thursday – Saturday 10am – 9pm
Shop 134, 1/F Pacific Place, Admiralty, Hong Kong; 2868 0133
Prince’s Building store opening hours: Daily, 10am – 7pm
Shop 301, 3/F, Prince’s Building, Central, Hong Kong; 2377 9888
Causeway Bay store opening hours: Daily, 10am – 7pm
Shop 303 – 305, 3/F, Lee Gardens Two, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; 2506 3328
Komodo Kidz is a proper treasure trove for anyone wanting to build an extensive railway set without blowing the budget. This frill-free warehouse was previously hidden away in an unassuming office tower near Central Library in Causeway Bay, now relocated to Wong Chuk Hang, and specialises in end-of-line items (sometimes with imperfect boxes) at a fraction of the usual price.
They stock both the wooden Thomas and the harder-to-find Chuggington lines, both with absolutely loads of specific themed sets (e.g. dockyards, cranes), along with accessories and characters. We have been back again and again to expand our ever-increasing Thomas collection, and always leave with more than we intended.
Opening hours: Weekdays, 10am – 6pm; Saturdays vary. On a couple of occasions Komodo have been shut for lunch breaks, etc when I’ve popped by on the off-chance, so it’s best to call ahead if you’re making a special trip.
2/F, Phase 2, Regency Centre, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong; 2559 9734
I’m sorry, but I can’t stand Toys “R” Us. Not sure if it’s the back-to-front “R”, the incessant chirpy jingles that seem designed to drive you out of your mind, or just the fact that they are a large and faceless corporation (I’m not counting that stupid giraffe as a “face”) that seem to suck all of the joy and fun out of the very products they are selling.
Aaanyway… aside from all that good stuff, they do stock a small range of compatible track, and so I suppose I’ll have to let them in to this roundup. This Universe of Imagination set is very decently priced and this train table is pretty rock-n-roll too if you have the space available. Just don’t expect me to like it.
Toys Club doesn’t waste time messing around with wooden sets from the wrong side of the tracks (gedditt?), instead opting to carry just Brio, which as I mentioned before is both great quality and pretty exxy. Stock up at two locations, or online.
(Young Master T-T was just looking over my shoulder as I type this, and so my laptop screen is now covered in smeary fingerprints, as he was jabbing excitedly at this Metro station set. And to think, I left London to escape the bloody tube… )
Ap Lei Chau store opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 6.30pm; Sunday and Public Holidays 11am – 6.30pm
1913 Horizon Plaza, 2 Lei Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong; 2836 0875
Central store opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 7pm; Sunday and Public Holidays 10am – 6pm
5/F, On Hing Building, 1 On Hing Terrace, Central, Hong Kong; 2167 8474
If you can’t find what you’re looking for at any of the locations above, or, like me, are just plain lazy, why not try ordering online? It’s quick, it doesn’t involve dragging an angry three-year-old protesting out of a toy shop, and it has the critical advantage of being possible while simultaneously having a cup of tea and a slice of cake with your feet up on the sofa. Oh yeah!
Here are a few, mostly UK-based options courtesy of the world wide web (check the above Hong Kong store listings as many offer online delivery too):
This simple-yet-ingenious invention extends the possibilities of your current track, making every piece into a bridge component. The Bridge Clip is available to buy online and ships to Hong Kong in a matter of days, meaning that über-viaduct you’ve been planning is now within reach. Costing just US$5.98 (HK$46), this has given us hours of creative building so far.
The Great Little Trading Company is basically a click-hole of gorgeous things that you can easily lose a day exploring. This train set is pretty much complete with everything you’d need, but beware the international delivery costs (between £35 – £150, depending on what you order). Could be a contender if you’re planning on doing a really huge shop.
Home of those tearjerking Christmas ads you’ve seen all over Facebook, UK high street stalwart John Lewis have a great range of own-brand wooden train track sets, all of the high quality you’d expect from a brand that’s “never knowingly undersold”. There are various international shipping options from £25 but you will need to call customer services and speak to them on the phone to arrange Hong Kong delivery.
Wooden Toy Store is an online retailer specialising in… yes, wooden toys. They stock an impressive range of Brio railway sets and track and will deliver worldwide. Shipping fees are calculated on final weight so you’ll need to add everything to your basket first to get the final tally.
Alternatively, if you have a tame mule available to bring items direct to you from the UK, this Tesco wooden set is staggeringly good value at just £12 / HK$140, or else the incredibly comprehensive Bigjigs Rail range offers every single part you could possibly ever need at great prices. Perhaps have a chat with Grandma and persuade her to leave a little bit of room in her suitcase amongst the boxes of Yorkshire Tea and Curly Wurlys next time she’s in town for a stay?
As ever, this roundup is based on my own research while building our own huge rail network so I’d love to hear of any more options available, either here in Hong Kong or online, in the comments below.
Next stop: Total Living Room Takeover.
Interchange for: Stumbling Over Tracks, I Just Trod On Thomas, and Where Did All My Cupboard Space Go?