After many months of living in Thailand, working as English teachers, we were ready for a new adventure. So after a lot of hard work, planning and preparation, we strapped on our backpacks once more and set off on what was set to be an incredible new journey.
We had often talked of China – rice terraces, the Great Wall and a completely new culture; we decided to make it part of our trip. It was, however, totally uncharted territory for us.
In order to make the journey simpler and moreover to make the most of the opportunity, we decided to fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong, where we would spend a few days. During our four days in the city we explored as much as possible.
What I knew of Hong Kong mainly came from the old Kung Fu movies of the 60’s and 70’s. Needless to say, in 2018 it had changed dramatically! After the 99-year lease to the British expired in 1997, Hong Kong was handed back to China on the proviso that it would retain its free market economy and its social and legal systems. That’s not all it retained though. With a sprawling expat community, clean streets and shiny buildings, downtown Kowloon is a very modern place not dissimilar to London.
We made Kowloon our base for our short time in Hong Kong as it was very central. We stayed in quite possibly one of the smallest rooms I’ve ever seen at one of the many guesthouses within the notorious Chungking Mansions, a huge building of guesthouses, apartments, shops and restaurants.
The room, as I said, was very, very small. One of us had to sit on the bed whilst the other got ready in the mornings! Despite its small size, it was comfortable enough for a few days. Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time in it anyway. In true Ollie and Lynette fashion, we checked in, dumped our bags then set off to start exploring!
Sightseeing in Hong Kong
One of our first stops was to the Avenue of Stars, an open waterfront area with statues of famous people who originated in Hong Kong. For me, there was only one star that I was interested in: Bruce Lee. As a great fan of this highly trained and very talented martial arts star who was technically born in the US but raised in Hong Kong in 1940, it was a dream come true to visit this place.
We walked along the promenade, avoiding construction work in the pursuit of development, and wandered the streets, taking in the atmosphere of this different world. We stopped in Kowloon Park, a fine and well-kept green oasis. If Hong Kong does one thing well, it is the multitude of open spaces that offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
One of my favourite things to do in a city is to simply wander around and soak up the place. As we walked around the modern buildings and shops, we managed to find pockets of old world Hong Kong, where some original shops and markets still trade.
There’s Shanghai Street, which still has a number of preserved old Chinese shop-house buildings and sells kitchen accessories. We also stumbled upon the very lively Temple Street Night Market, the largest and liveliest in Hong Kong.
If you’re looking for some temple action, despite its modern facade, Hong Kong does have some wonderful Taoist temples such as Man Mo Temple, which is considered one of Hong Kong’s oldest. We also paid a visit to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, a colourful temple busy with people from all walks of life.
Chi Lin Nunnery, a large Buddhist complex dating back to the 1930s, is an equally impressive sight built entirely of wood, without any nails!
Po Lin Monastery, which is now more of a tourist hot-spot as opposed to a religious retreat, is a huge complex that draws crowds of people for its main attraction, the gigantic bronze Buddha. At 34m high it is an impressive sight to behold and draws pilgrims from all over Asia.
A must on any Hong Kong itinerary is a trip on the Star Ferry, which you can use to reach Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, across the water from Kowloon. Hong Kong island is where the city’s highest skyscrapers and the financial centre can be found; it is also the wealthiest and most modern part of Hong Kong.
As we enjoy hiking and a good view, we made an effort to reach Victoria Peak. At 552m, it’s the highest point in Hong Kong with sweeping views over the metropolis. It’s a very well-known and visited area. You can take the peak tram or a bus to reach the summit but anyone of a reasonable fitness level can make the 45-minute climb up the stairs. It’s worth it for the good views though!
The Symphony of Lights
As night begins to fall, Hong Kong is bathed in sunset light, the shimmering glass of the urban jungle adding a special kind of beauty to the place. One evening we decided to stick around the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade for the nightly Symphony of Lights.
This lazer show takes place at 8pm and lasts for around 20 minutes; it involves buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour and has become the signature icon for Hong Kong. If you get a clear night, it’s a real audio visual feast!
Eating in Hong Kong
Hong Kong offers every kind of culinary experience you could desire from Michelin star restaurants to cheap street eats, western pub grub to authentic Indian or Thai cuisine. Supermarkets and 7-11 stores are everywhere, ensuring expats and travellers alike can find comforts from home.
Of course, Hong Kong is notoriously one of the most expensive cities in Asia so for two vegetarian budget travellers, eating out wasn’t the easiest affair. Even though street food was plentiful, it was, predictably, very meaty. We did, however, find a good go-to was vegetable noodle soup; a huge bowl of broth with assorted veggies and fat noodles did the job just fine.
Thankfully, we were already accustomed to using chopsticks as the chance of a fork and spoon in local eateries wasn’t very likely! We also sampled some Chinese delicacies such as Chinese buns – steamed bread with a sweet red or black bean filling. More often than not though, they come stuffed with pork or chicken.
Hong Kong’s Outer Islands
If you have more time, it’s possible to escape Hong Kong’s urban setting and head out to the New Territories, which contain small farms and villages, as well as some industrial installations surrounded by mountainous country.
Home to the Po Lin Monastery complex, Lantau island isn’t exactly idyllic like the New Territories but you can still find beautiful mountains and beaches. It is also where you’ll find the likes of the airport, Disneyland and the Ngong Ping Cable Car.
The outer lying islands of Hong Kong provide much needed respite from the congestion of the city. Mainly for local day trippers, Lamma is a great place to sample seafood. Cheung Chau is another popular spot, which used to be a pirates den. Nowadays, however, you’ll find no treasure or men with parrots on their shoulders, just a handful of local day trippers with their feet up, eating food or hitting the surf!
Hiking in Hong Kong
Those in search of hiking can head to Lantau island, where there is the Lantau trail and Fung Wong Shan, Hong Kong’s second highest peak after Tai Mo Shan. There is also the Dragon’s Back hike, which we definitely would have done had we had more time, which runs through Shek O Country Park on Hong Kong island and offers beautiful coastal panoramas. Other walking or sightseeing tours and day hikes can be arranged by Walk Hong Kong or Big Foot Tours.
If you’re heading towards mighty China, Hong Kong makes for a great stopover for a few days. It offers headline sights, world class shopping and restaurants and clean streets to wander. It’s the kind of city that allows you to take in the impressive urban surroundings that make Hong Kong such an iconic place and then, within an hour, be among traditional fishing villages or rolling peaks.
Getting around Hong Kong
The public transport system in Hong Kong is easy and convenient. To get from the airport to the city centre, other than by taxi, you can take the Airport Express Line or one of the very regular airport link buses. Both of these options are a lot cheaper than a taxi and the train link is extremely fast.
To travel around the various islands of Hong Kong, buses are a great option. The most important terminals are Central and Admiralty. From Kowloon, the Star Ferry bus terminal has buses running up Nathan road to Hung Hom train station.
Hong Kong also has a Mass Transit Railway (MRT) system consisting of under and over ground trains, transporting up to 4 million people on a daily basis. With about 90 stations, trains run from 6am until around 12 or 1 am with a frequency of every 2-14 minutes. It is clean, fast and safe.
Getting to China
For those heading towards mighty China, there are several options. Over 100 airlines operate from Hong Kong’s international airport to worldwide destinations. A ferry from China Ferry Terminal is also possible; ferries run from here to a select few mainland ports.
Buses to destinations in neighboring Guangzhou province and trains operating to Shanghai and Beijing are also available but will, of course, take a lot longer!
The most recommended option is to cross the border into mainland China and then pick up onward transport on the Chinese side. Domestic buses and trains are far cheaper than those originating on the Hong Kong side.
Click to read all about our Highlights of Yunnan Province!