Please check state department travel advisories due to the protest before you head out.
Without further ado…. my story
After a 6 hour delay and losing most of a day, I finally reach my destination, Hong Kong.
A British colony since 1842 and returned to China in 1997, it’s always been an important international trading port and the backdrop of a ton of movies – from Bruce Lee films to Bond films and everything in between. I stayed in an area called SoHo – home to more expats and lively nightlife. After Korea, I was a bit drained and wanted something more ‘homely’? Definitely not the right word, there’s no homely in HK.
English is widely spoken however you’ll see signs and posts in Chinese everywhere, it is after all, China. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan, energetic and thriving city – so energetic, I think it makes NY feel a bit dull. The amount of people just going about their way in everyday life is something to see.
There are 4 major areas or territories, I haven’t visited all but the ones I have, I’ll list here starting with where I stayed, Soho
Hong Kong Island – Central District
South of Hollywood – SoHo
Definitely chic, multicultural and swanky – a little pricey compared to some other areas but there’s a reason for that. Art Galleries, Michelin rated noodle shops, antique shops, The Peak, LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) are all within SoHo or within walking distance. LKF is where the bars are, mainly full of expats and the like.
When you see views of Hong Kong at night with the lit up skyscrapers putting on a show, most likely you’re looking at Central or Hong Kong (Hong Kong Island). I will say although it was awesome seeing the skyline at night, it’s more hyped up than it is in reality. It’s cool but when people tell you to check out the light show, I’m thinking something along the lines of Disney lightshow, this was underwhelming. So if you were to skip this, you wouldn’t be missing much. If you’re really interested in seeing the “show”, the lights go on all night, then check Hong Kong’s tourist website – they have the show in different languages on different days of the week.
I stayed at the Butterfly Hotel on Wellington – the room is slightly bigger than most rooms in Hong Kong but typically smaller than your average hotel room size. However this is Hong Kong and everything is small. The cool thing about this hotel (I see more hotels doing this) is you get a local smartphone to carry with you, make free calls, book excursions, try to navigate using Google Maps (bad idea since Google and China don’t get along, my map kept going in circles), regardless totally Handy (<– yup that’s the name of the phone) and free of charge.
Hong Kong Island is not flat by any means, it’s quite hilly and built on levels which you can definitely feel it walking up and down those slopes. Because of this they have moving escalators on the street, typically change direction at some point in the day. It’s just in one area mainly, an area called none other than, ‘Mid-Level Escalators’. It’s part of this whole walkway system that spans over 2,600 feet and crosses the major streets on Hong Kong Island. This isn’t everywhere in Hong Kong, just one area so make sure you have your walking shoes on and ready for a workout. I tried to capture how the city is built upwards vs spread out in some of the pictures in the slideshow below.
Mainland – Kowloon / Tshim Sha Tsui
South of Hollywood – SoHo
Hope on the ferry (or subway) to cross Victoria Harbour and you’re officially in China. And you can tell you’re in the East, with its old high rise apartments with tenants drying their laundry outside their window mixed with the new skyscrapers and expanded transit routes. TST and Kowloon are home to the night market and ladies market. I will say for it being a night market, the vendors close up shop super early. Maybe it was bad night. And like Korea, if it the sky sheds one tear, people get scared and shops close up. You can find pretty much anything in these flea markets – from bags, purses and wallets to clothes, electronics and toys and even jewelry and watches. Nathan road is the main street that dissects Kowloon, lined with shops, restaurants on both sides. It’s easy to get your steps in just walking around this city. If you stay closer to the harbor, you’ll find luxury shops and hotels.
Speaking of which, while you’re here, head to the Ritz Carlton for an overpriced drink at the highest bar in Hong Kong, 103 floors up at the Ozone Bar. Perfect way to end your trip to Hong Kong. The image isn’t that clear due to the angle of the windows and reflection but you get the idea. It’s almost too high.
Disney HK, Airport and Tian Tan Buddha
While you can venture North of Kowloon and go to 10,000 Buddhas, I figured I’d get sick of counting Buddha’s after 50 so why not go to the Big Buddha instead. I will tell you, it did not disappoint and honestly may be a visit I remember for a long long time. I highly suggest spending a day visiting Tian Tan. The skytram gondola ride takes about 45 minutes one way as it zigzags and navigates above the forests below before you get a glimpse of Big Buddha. Bring water!! It’s a good walk up the steps to the great statue. Stop by the monastery, buy a trinket or take part in burning incense and sending positive wishes and good vibes to your friends and family. The visit will take an entire day and completely worth it. You can take a glass bottom tram on the way there (which is what I did) and see people walking through the trails to get to Big Buddha. It seems tempting to do but not on a hot muggy day.
Its quite easy to get around Hong Kong, at first it seems pretty intimidating since subway stops can be a bit spread out and distant from where your hotel is so it’s better to find a hotel within a few blocks of one. Here are 3 main modes of transport. I’ve entered a subway stop at one entrance, making sure I know it was door 3, and the closest to the Yves Saint Laurent store, only to navigate that underground labyrinth on the way back, exiting door 3 and ending up 3 blocks away so make sure you know where you’re going 🙂
- Subway gets you connected to various places across HK, Kowloon, etc…
- Ferry, go back and forth from HK to the mainland and take in view of the skyline from Victoria Harbour
- Ding Ding, these are double decker street trams on the island. Super cheap, super slow and they make a ton of stops. Worth a ride. There are several trams that run on the same line but go to different destinations so make sure to look at the map at the tram stop better getting on.
- Bus, didn’t get on a bus.
What a relief from Seoul, I can actually find places to eat. But the cheap family owned Michelin rated noodle shops were unfortunately not vegetarian friendly. Regardless, plenty of places to find good quality food. Just across the street from my hotel was a vegetarian breakfast spot, and it was super good. Being a city thats a melting pot with a bunch of expats makes it easier to find all types of food. Right next to the hotel, in what resembles an alleyway, a bunch of vegetable / fruit vendors were stationed. This is down every alleyway that go up and down Hong Kong.
In the end, I’d definitely come back to Hong Kong and explore more. There’s so much to see that giving it 3 days doesn’t do any justice. It’s nice to get away from the madness of the city and explore the beaches and rural areas, which I didn’t get to do with the exception of Big Buddha. I’ve heard Dragons Back is an awesome hike and people told me about different beaches that are totally worth checking out. Also Macau is so close but heard there’s nothing special about it but might be worth a visit if you’re in HK for a longer period of time.
Lastly and maybe the most important thing about this post – the pictures, enjoy. click to enlarge