The Best of Hong Kong
Hong Kong was the first place I set foot in Asia. It mesmerized me. Hong Kong has, in my opinion, the most amazing geography of any large city in the world; a mix of mountains and ocean with incredible viewpoints, beautiful city parks, and the world’s most spellbinding harbour. The city vibrates with energy. 7 million people live in one of the most densely populated places on earth, almost all in huge sky scrapers. Central buzzes with the coming and goings of well-dressed office workers while a few kilometers away in Sheung Wan you get a taste of China – temples, with wafting incense; stores selling herbs, seaweed and seafood; old men with hairy moles smoking from pipes and spitting on the ground. There’s so much to see and take in. Hong Kong is also food-heaven, with lots of amazing and cheap food. Everything about Hong Kong makes it a special place.
Top Places to see
Views from the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront. One of the most impressive views I’ve ever seen. This is for me the No.1 highlight in Hong Kong, especially at night. Looking across the harbour towards Hong Kong island it’s hard to take your eyes off the buildings and their gigantic signs, they literally light up the whole city with their multicoloured lights. There is non-stop action in the harbour in front of you – ferries go back and forth, cargo ships, trawlers, small motor boats. And the noises; the chug-chug of engines, the occasional blast of a horn. There is so much life. Victoria Peak, rising behind the skyscrapers, dominates the background. It’s a view you will remember the rest of your life (below).
Star Ferry to Central. The Star Ferry has to be experienced when in Hong Kong. The ferries themselves are painted green and are quite old and rustic, the passenger deck open (on a windy day you’ll get splashed if you sit on the sides) with rows of wooden benches. In the modernity of Hong Kong there is something old world about taking the ferry, the salty breeze in your face, the water so close. The ferry takes about 7 minutes to cross the harbour. The views are fantastic, the Peak and the colossal buildings of Central looming as you approach the island.
Take Peak Tram up to the Peak. A spectacular way to get up this 522 meter mountain. The views from the top are incredible, you’ll see the sky scrapers of Victoria Harbor all the way across to Kowloon. Walk the trails around the peak, you’ll get great views of the south coast as well. Take your time discovering the various trails, I spent a half day doing just that and it was one of the highlights of my time in Hong Kong.
Take the bus to Stanley. Take the 973 from Tsim Sha Tsui all the way to Stanley for great views of the South Coast. You’ll see Aberdeen and the floating restaurants in the harbour, Repulse Bay and some of its fancy apartment buildings, as well as the beach at Deep Water Bay. Visit the market in Stanley, go to the beach, and climb up the hill to the Kuan Yin temple. Coming back, take the 6 bus back to Central – this bus climbs the hills and affords great views of the South Coast before reaching the top. It then descends into Central, offering more great views.
Walk the parks of Central. See the attached map (map credit to discoverhongkong.com). Hong Kong Park is a horticulturalist’s wet dream with its vast gardens of colourful flowers. It has a viewing tower (great views of the highrises all around the park) as well as a fantastic aviary; parakeets, flamingos, all kinds of beautiful, exotic birds with weird and wonderful calls. Close by, the Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens are likewise worth a visit – the zoo contains many varieties of birds, monkeys, even a beautiful black panther. The highlight however are the orangutans. I was amazed by all this natural beauty right here in the middle of Central. The best thing is that it was all free!! (note that both parks are next to the Peak Tram terminus and can be combined with a trip up to the Peak).
Urban walks. If you’re in Hong Kong you have to see a bit of downtown (even if it means wading through a lot of people – try to do the following at off-peak times). Walk down Connaught Road, turning right into Central if coming off the Star Ferry. You’ll walk under huge modern highrises; see tons of people walking down the street hurriedly, cell phones held to their ears; hear double-decker buses and trams clank-clanking down the street. It’s bustling. Once you’ve had enough of this scene, hop on a tram going west to Sheung Wan for a walk through traditional Hong Kong. This part of Hong Kong is older, the buildings lower and comprised of grey cement and rusted steel. The well-dressed, well-groomed professionals of Central give way to scruffier blue-collar types in jeans and sweatshirts. Small wholesale stores sell herbs, seaweeds and seafood, workmen offload trucks, carrying large boxes of supplies on their shoulders into the stores. In between stores and apartment buildings, you’ll see some old-looking temples, the smell and smoke of incense in the air.
Hike around the Peak. Fantastic views in all direction. See this post on the Top 3 Hiking Trails in Hong Kong.
Have lunch and/or experience the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong – a cool area of bars and restaurants. If you’ve completed the walk of Sheung Wan (mentioned above), you may want to come to this area for lunch (there are some particularly good Indian restaurants). Otherwise come here at night for the best party scene in Hong Kong.
Visit the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island – The Big Buddha is 34 meters high and has great mountain and sea views over the surrounding area. Opposite the statue, the Po Lin Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums and has been dubbed ‘the Buddhist World in the South’. These are ‘must sees’ in Hong Kong.
Sky100 (above). Come here for the highest views in Hong Kong. Book your ticket in advance.
While on Lantau Island (see above), Ride 360 Ngong Ping. This is a cable car that runs a little over 3.5 miles long, spanning from Tung Chung to Airport Island. The view gives you a panoramic view of the whole area (including over the bay) and goes through the mountains. The ride lasts about 25 minutes.
Disneyland and Ocean Park- Especially great for family travel. The highlight are the Giant Pandas at Ocean Park.
Hong Kong is an expensive city – the 14th most expensive city in the world based on a study by the Economist. A great post on how truly expensive the city is, with a breakdown of common expenses here (ouch!).
Currency: Roughly 8 HK dollars = 1 US dollar. I’ve quoted prices below in US Dollars.
Lodging: The high density concentration of Hong Kong means that lodging is expensive. The price you’ll pay will vary with the geographic location. For cheaper options forget Hong Kong Island or Tsim Sha Tsui, focus instead on areas further from the harbour in Kowloon or the New Territories. Most people don’t spend more than 3-5 days in HK and don’t mind splurging a bit more. If so, I recommend my personal favorite; the Salisbury YMCA right at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui, the greatest spot to be in Hong Kong in my opinion. Rooms start at around 100 USD (cheaper than the Peninsular Hotel next door where rooms start at $540/night!).
Food: Most sit down restaurants will be roughly equivalent to Western prices. Exceptions are local eateries and noodle shops (and there are many, including in shopping malls) which will average $5/meal. Beer in a convenience store will be about $1.50/bottle.
Transportation: Individual tickets on the metro, tram and light rail service are based on distance and range from $1 to $3 USD. A tourist travel pass costs $7 USD per day and covers unlimited travel (but does not include transport to the airport). Better bet if you’re there 3 days; get the ‘Octopus Airport Express Tourist Pass’; HK$300 ($37 USD) for unlimited travel for 3 days including back and forth from the airport.
Related: The Local’s Guide to the Philippines