Hong Kong: Instantly a Top 5 City
The fact of the matter is, Hong Kong was a last-minute addition to our six-month RTW (Round the World) travel plans. Peru was first, a slight stop back in the States, and then onto Southeast Asia and all its glorious food and budget-friendliness before heading to Europe. I’m not even sure how the big HK even made the list in the first place, although I do know I made the executive decision on bringing it up.
Prior Knowledge of Hong Kong
Everything I knew about Hong Kong prior to our visit was hearsay. Random bits and factoids I picked up from a lifetime of internet searches and pop culture references. For example, I knew there was a thriving film industry in Hong Kong thanks to people like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen. Clearly, I only knew of martial arts themed films.
I knew Hong Kong was once a colony of Great Britain, but was unsure if it was now a part of China or not. I also assumed Macau was like a Chinese Las Vegas and am currently still making that assumption as I have not yet traveled there.
Will it be easy to get around in Hong Kong? I wasn’t sure. It seemed like their public transportation system functioned pretty well according to everything I’d read, so in my head I compared it a bit to NYC. I was naive.
How’s the food? I had read a lot about Hong Kong being a foodie mecca, but I wasn’t exactly sure what for. Chinese food? I mean, you ask an American what Chinese food is and the ensuing sentences will definitely include the words “orange” and “sesame.” I knew we shouldn’t expect an Americanized version of Chinese food, but I also felt that food in Hong Kong wouldn’t be quite the same as in mainland China.
Will it be chaotic? Yes. That’s what I thought. It’s home to more than seven million people and it’s basically China, which is home to more than 1.3 billion people. It is for sure going to be chaotic.
Arriving in Hong Kong
After a lovely 16-hour flight from San Francisco, we arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport, which is one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world.
All of the signs throughout the airport were written in multiple languages, including English. This made it extremely easy to navigate to and through Immigration, Baggage, and Customs. It was also easy finding the bus that stopped near where we were staying. These double-decker city buses were spacious, had room for luggage, and had multiple screens displaying the full list of stops and how much time it would take before we arrived to each one. These displays showed all information in multiple languages, including English.
We booked a nice closet in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. Room. I mean, we booked a nice room. But, really, the room was really small and, joking aside, I actually loved it. Maybe it was my half-Korean side basking in the efficiency, but it was only for two nights and it worked out perfectly for what we needed. Our bus stop was literally at the doorstep of the building we were staying in.
Honestly, that first night couldn’t have been any easier and I never would have expected getting around in a foreign country to be so simple. My first time riding the NYC subway was more difficult and that’s in the country I’m from, in the state I grew up in. Huge kudos to Hong Kong for setting the bar so high for ease of arrival.
Our General Take
We stayed four nights total in Hong Kong, all in Kowloon. We originally planned for three nights, but as we researched more and more it became apparent there’s a lot to do in this city.
I think part of the reason I was excited to add Hong Kong to our list is because of all the options for activities. If you like outdoors activities then go on any number of hikes with amazing views on any number of islands around the city. If you like food then try out all the amazing street food options (including Michelin-star street food) or awesome restaurants throughout the city. If you like urban exploration then there’s no better place than the night markets, monster buildings, and skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Really, there’s something for everyone.
There was a lot to choose from, but in the end we only had time for a select few special activities (other than just walking around and eating) during our stay in Hong Kong.
You can find instances of trees seemingly growing within man-made objects (like sidewalks or walls) all throughout the city, but in Kennedy Town on Hong Kong Island, you can find a whole street of tree roots growing straight down a wall. For us, we didn’t do too much other than take some pictures and just stare at this sight, but I’d still say it’s worth a stop, especially if you’re in the area.
You should head between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (or vice-versa) at some point and, when you do, you should try out the Star Ferry. It costs about $.50 one-way, so it’s basically like a free ferry ride on Victoria Harbour. Just do it, it’s worth 50 cents. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see a famous red-sailed junk ship. Also, if you time it right you can catch the Symphony of Lights as you’re crossing the harbour. Now that has to be worth $.50, right?
Hong Kong Architecture
We did check out the now-famous “Monster Building” that can be seen in popular movies like “Transformers” and “Ghost in the Shell” and we’re glad we did, but honestly you can see very cool buildings all over Hong Kong. Everywhere we went I couldn’t help but look up and stare at the next tall apartment building with crazy designs and/or colors.
The Temple Street Night Market is the most popular. For us, we went for the experience of walking through and the photo op. It really is quite a sight, especially from above. If you’re in need of some souvenirs, you’ll find them here. You can also find plenty to eat in the area. We ended up getting a famous egg waffle right near the entrance.
We were interested in multiple hikes, but we ended up having time for just one, which was the Kowloon Peak hike. This hike includes “Suicide Cliff,” a famous, and semi-dangerous, spot for resting and taking photos. Unfortunately, all four of our days in Hong Kong were filled with fog, including the day we went hiking, so we couldn’t see too much of the city from up above, but we still had an enjoyable time getting out into nature. It was also humbling to see an elderly Chinese man doing the hike just fine while we were huffing and puffing all along the way. Another hiker told us that the Chinese man did the hike everyday.
Avenue of Stars
At some point in your travels throughout the city you should end up near or at the Avenue of Stars, especially if you take the ferry to/from Tsim Sha Tsui. This is an area for walking/running along the harbour that was modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame, although this one celebrates the Hong Kong film industry.
It can get busy during the day/night, but the views can be well worth it of the skyline across the water. If you come for sunrise there will be a lot less people. The hotel we stayed in for the latter two nights overlooked this area so it was easy for me to just walk down one morning.
There are limitless options for food in Hong Kong, but there were a few we were able to try that we enjoyed. If you want to try some great street food with some high recognition (Michelin-star) in Kowloon then check out Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Buns and Mammy Pancake. There are plenty of others, but we tried those and liked them quite a bit!
Also, eat some food from 7-11. Seriously, we loved it. Egg salad sandwiches. Onigiri. Seems funny (and it is), but their stuff is actually pretty good!
Why It’s a Top 5 City
Just about everything about our experience here was enjoyable. We had no trouble in getting around because the bus system and MTR are great. Also, it’s extremely easy to get an Octopus card right when you land and then use that for your entire stay. All public transport will accept it and so will many convenience stores (7-11 and Circle K) and restaurants. It made everything so easy.
Food is good and there is lots of it, all over the place. Ramen, dumplings, dim sum, ham & egg salad, McDonald’s, and whatever else you could want. We even tried a more fast-food Chinese place with lots of choices and that was good. I wasn’t sure what a “rice bake” was before this visit, but I will be craving it from now on.
Even though there are millions of people in Hong Kong, it didn’t have that busy feeling. Yes, you will see lots of people everywhere, especially lines of them if you’re in a popular photo spot, but it’s all more efficient here, organized even. You don’t have hordes of people crossing streets and running through traffic. They actually wait for the lights to indicate that you can cross, which is something that surprised me greatly.
Basically, Hong Kong is comprised of so many things I wish New York City could be. Namely, organization, efficiency, order, not-chaos, etc. I think you get the picture. And, don’t get me wrong, I actually like New York.