Hong Kong was the first stop of my four-month Asia trip. I went from living in a rural village in Tanzania to this large, bustling, metropolitan city. You could easily say it was a culture shock and my head was spinning! It took a few days to learn the ropes but in the end, I had a fantastic time.
Many times I use the “just wing it” method for travel, but I don’t recommend it here. Hong Kong is an overwhelming city where preplanning and recommendations can go a long way. To help, I want to let you in on the best tips and recommendations I learned along the way.
Once you get off the plane, throw your bags on one of the free luggage carts and go find where to buy a MRT Octopus Card. Just ask someone where it is and you’ll be pointed in the right direction. This pre-loaded card with fare money will allow you to immediately start using public transportation with ease. Here, bus drivers get frustrated quickly – they want people to get on quickly, swipe their card, and not ask any questions.
The Octopus Card requires a refundable deposit of HK $50 ($6.45 USD), and an initial load of HK$100 ($12.90 USD). Not only can you use it on all public transportation methods including taxis, but many retail stores also accept it for purchases.
Public Transportation from the Airport
Reach your hotel using one of these three options:
1. The Airport Bus – They’re nice, have storage space for luggage, and even free wifi. And they’re cheap, only HK $30 ($4 USD).
2. Airport Express Train – The train is faster, but it also only has four stops. I’d only take it if your hotel is close to one of the stops, otherwise you’ll have to then get a taxi from there. Price wise, it’s middle of the road, around HK $100, ($13 USD).
3. Taxi – It’s the most expensive option, around HK $250, ($32 USD). Unless you’re in a hurry, I’d skip the taxi and save a few bucks.
To make arrival easy, shoot your hotel an email ahead of time asking which transportation method is best. If it is the bus, ask them what stop to get off on and the name of the stop right before so you don’t miss it!
Hong Kong is sprawling with nice, high-end hotels. What’s more difficult is finding good, inexpensive places. You can stay in the famous Chungking Mansions and get a pretty cheap room for around $10-15 per night, but I also think that place is scary town. I went the next level up and paid approximately $30-$35 per night in two different hostels.
Urban Pack, Tsim Sha Tsui - This hostel had a nice modern feel to it. It’s clean, relatively new, and they have 4-person dorm rooms, (which is the most people I like to have in one room). On the downside, the common area is small & congested. Because the hostel selection in Hong Kong isn’t strong, this was a small issue.
YesInn, Causeway Bay - This one is also clean, they had a little better common area and a kitchen to cook in. But here you could only choose between 9 and 21 person dorm rooms, (too many people for me), and the front desk was pretty chaotic. It wasn’t a relaxing place to come home to. This may be a good option for younger travelers, but not a good one for the over 30 group. I preferred Urban Pack.
Yloft - Try this place if you have someone to split the cost with or a little bigger budget. It looks nice online and has great reviews. Rooms start at $65 per night.
Airbnb – If your traveling with a friend or spouse and don’t mind losing the social aspect of shared accommodations, rent an apartment. Airbnb has some good options in Hong Kong for around $100 or so per night. Not bad for a whole apartment.
A Few Big Attractions
Many websites and guidebooks list the top attractions in Hong Kong. Here I’d like to give you my “real deal” opinion on a few of them, along with tips to help you do them better.
1. Victoria Peak
The highest mountain on the island and Hong Kong’s number one attraction. The vista offers a truly spectacular view of the city. Hong Kong has one of the best skylines and you really can’t miss it.
On the downside, the peak also offers a pretty generic galleria mall, a Madam Tussaud’s, your classic tourist restaurants such as Bubba Gump’s & Haaggen-Dazs, and an opportunity to take your picture with a Jackie Chan statue – dream come true!
Tips on how to tackle it:
Most people travel to the top of the peak via a railway tram with views along 1,300 feet to the top. In theory this should be amazing. It’s not. The lines are long, it’s chaotic, and for some reason when tourists come here, all common courtesy goes out the window. Instead, skip the masses by taking public bus #15 to the top. Then ride the tram on the way down – a much better experience!
As an alternative you can also choose to hike the peak. There are a few different trails, most people recommending the “Morning Trail”.
2. Avenue of the Stars
Hong Kong’s take on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s located at the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which has nice city views and a great Starbucks to sit and people watch. As for the attraction itself, it’s not that cool. The site is bland and if you’re not familiar with Hong Kong’s film industry, it won’t mean much to you.
Tips on what to do instead:
Take an opportunity to learn more about Hong Kong’s most famous star, Bruce Lee. Through 2018 the Heritage Museum is running s special exhibit on his life. Entry is only $10 USD and on Wednesdays it’s free.
3. The Star Ferry over Victoria Harbor
A historic cross-harbor ferry ride.
The Star Ferry is a great way to get on the water and view the stunning skyline from a different vantage point. And at less than.50 cents USD, it’s practically free! Definitely check it out —and be sure to grab a seat on the top deck.
Tips to make it even better:
I went in the middle of the day. Instead, take a ride in the evening to enjoy the sunset. Or go even later, at 8pm, and catch a nice view of the Symphony of Lights Show held every evening. It’s been named the largest permanent light and sound show in the world.
4. Big Buddha
What is it? Of course, it’s a really big Buddha! His formal name is the Tian Tan Buddha and he’s a large bronze seated statue on Lantau Island.
So, I admit, I actually didn’t go see Buddha. I heard the statue itself is incredible. And I like the “idea”of it: a serene cultural experience allowing you to get in touch with your own inner Buddha. But, I heard it’s not like that. The statue itself was only built in 1993 so it doesn’t have a true historical appeal. It’s crowded and surrounded by Ngong Ping village, a sort of tourist mall that I’m sure doesn’t feel all too “Zen”. It does, however, offer a scenic cable car ride – a cool experience if you’ve never ridden one before. Because I’d already seen a few big Buddhas in Asia and have also experienced cable cars, I passed this time.
Tips to make it better:
Just because I didn’t go, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. If you do:
- Buy your tickets online in advance, allowing you to skip one line.
- Try to visit on a sunny day; otherwise Buddha will be covered with fog.
- Arrive first thing in the morning for fewer crowds. It opens at 10am.
- After visiting Buddha, you can bypass the village.
My favorite neighborhoods to walk around
While I didn’t get to spend time everywhere, here are the two areas I enjoyed most. If you have your own favorite, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Soho & Noho
These are both hip & trendy local neighborhoods. Here you’ll find an array of cool cafes, bars and quirky boutiques. It’s upscale, but with character. I found Central a bit more generic with it’s pretentious high end shopping. If you like New York City’s Soho, you’ll like it here. And, if you want to pick up a few non-cheesy souvenirs, I saw some great options on Upper Lascar Row.
I’d spend less time in Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay and come here to get your fill of shopping and street food. It’s a bit more traditional in nature and you’ll see a bit of everything. This area is home to the Ladies’ Market is one of Hong Kong’s best. It not only has bargains for women, but you’ll also find food stalls and an open-air market. Outside of it, you’ll find many others selling a wide variety of merchandise: flowers, electronics, books, sports equipment and much more.
Four Fun Activities You Should Do
These were on my list. I wanted to do them, but for a multitude of reasons I couldn’t. But you totally should! Then you can tell me about it and I’ll be super jealous!
1. Hit the beach
There are several to choose from, but I heard the most beautiful & clean beach without crowds is Tai Long Wan. Directions in the link. It’s harder to get to, but supposedly worth it if you’re up for the challenge. And after a day in the sun, you can head over to one of their rustic beach bars.
2. Go to the Races
If you go between September & June pay a visit to Happy Valley Racetrack. The locals love to bet on the ponies, and I “bet” it would be super entertaining to see HK’s take on horse racing. Live racing wasn’t going on the week I was there, but if you get the chance, the action happens on Wednesdays at 7:30pm. Plus it’s only a little over $1 USD to get in.
3. Go Clamming
Head to Shui Hau on Southern Lantau and visit the Fung Wong Bungalow Centre. They’ll give you a rake and bucket to dig up your treasures along the wide beachfront. Once you’re done, head back to Fung Wong and the owner will cook your fresh clams up in his wok. I wanted to do this, but had a bit of a miscommunication on the directions. For you, start at Tung Chung MTR, then take buses 11 or 23 and get off at Shui Hau Village. Write this on a piece of paper to show people nearby who can help you if needed. Fung Wong is located at 44 Shui Hau Village.
4. Spend a Weekend in Lantau
I wanted to check out the China Beach Club, an eclectic restaurant/bar on Mui Wo – a less traveled part of the island. But if you have three days to spare, I love Time Out Hong Kong’s recommendations for a weekend getaway. Everything they outline looks fantastic.
Where to Eat & Drink
There’s a lot of delicious food to be had in Hong Kong! You can’t go wrong popping into a local noodle soup joint for a good, cheap meal. But because the city is congested with so much, sometimes it’s hard to find something on the fly. To avoid the long decision making process, here are a few places to put on your list:
One Dim Sum, Prince Edward
You can’t go to Hong Kong without having Dim Sum. All travelers are told to go to Tim Ho Wan, but a few people told me One Dim Sum, was even better. Since I didn’t go to Tim Ho Wan, I can’t compare, but I can say DSO was tasty and inexpensive! The steamed rice sheet rolls were my favorite.
Canton Pot, Mongkok and Lin Kee, Tsim Sha Tsui
Go to one of these spots for Hot Pot. Canton Pot is a bit expensive and fancier. Lin Kee is cheaper and a spot locals and regulars hang out in. Take your pick.
Mak’s Noodles, and Kau Kee, Both in Central
Here it’s all about noodle soup! Mak’s is known for Won Tons; Kau Kee for Beef Brisket Noodles.
Tai Cheong Bakery, Central
Everyone said I had to have Egg Tarts in Hong Kong. I honestly didn’t think they’d live up to the hype, but I was wrong. These treats are delightful! They look simple, but you get them warm so they melt in your mouth!
I am a sucker for cafes/coffee shops, I can spend hours sitting in them. And there is no shortage of coffee in HK. Here are four places that aren’t Starbucks:
18 Grams, Mongkok
Coffee Academics, Causeway Bay
Hazel & Hershey, Central
Just pick based on location and where you are!
Quinary, Soho – for people who like cocktails by the most creative mixologists
Club 71, Soho – a hole in the wall serving simple drinks frequented by an artsy, liberal crowd
Flutes, Soho – for champagne lovers
Butler, Tsim Sha Tsui – a tiny bar specializing in fancy cocktails, whisky, and personal attention
Rockabilly, Lan Kwai Fong, Central – simple bar, simple menu, cool retro feel
The Roundhouse Tap Room, Central – it’s all about the craft beer here
I hope you find my Hong Kong travel tips helpful! While, this just scratches the surface of where to go in this city, I think it’s a nice mix of options. Happy Travels!