I love Hong Kong, but honestly it wasn’t love at first sight. It slowly worked its way into my heart, making me confident to say today that I really love Hong Kong.
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My first impression was that of complete culture shock. Before coming to Hong Kong for the first time, I had spent two months backpacking all around New Zealand and Australia’s east coast. My life had been very relaxed, with no large crowds, and the food was very similar to what I was used to in America. It didn’t help that our flight from Darwin had an overnight layover in Singapore. I maybe got an hour of sleep and my husband didn’t sleep at all. (The Singapore airport however does have free WIFI and some really interesting art installations.) The lack of sleep mixed with the newness of a culture I had never experienced clouded my judgment. I was also anxious to continue my new journey into China, and Hong Kong felt like purgatory. On top of all that, our temporary apartment was incredibly tiny. But over time, I started to really enjoy all the amazing things Hong Kong has to offer.
So why do I love Hong Kong?
There are so many reasons to love Hong Kong. It is so much more than the tall buildings and shopping, although both of those things are what attract many visitors every year. The city and it’s surroundings offer so much more, from great food to amazing hiking. That’s right, there are some pretty amazing trails around Hong Kong. Another perk is the many beaches only a short ride away from the busiest parts of the island. My personal favorite things to do in Hong Kong are: eating (dim sum, Indian, Middle Eastern, fancy hip restaurants, breakfast brunch to name a few), drinking amazing espresso drinks, hiking, checking out the monkeys and other wildlife at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, hiking up Victoria Peak and around the loop trail, wandering the streets looking at all the different markets while people watching, taking the cable car up to the Po Lin Monastery, and on my last trip I really enjoyed walking the Dragon’s Back trail and exploring Lamma Island. Ok, that was a huge list, but even with all those things on the list, there is still so much more on my to do list for Hong Kong.
I am very thankful that both times I have been to Hong Kong, I was able to stay for at least a few weeks. But if you don’t have enough time in your schedule to spend a few weeks, you could still see and do a lot in just a few days thanks to the smallness of the city and territory. However, to really get a good feel for the city, the food, and all the hidden gems hidden around the city, as well as explore some of the outer parts of the New Territories, you might want to budget for at least a week to ten days.
My top thing to do in Hong Kong is eat. I ate my way through Hong Kong both times I visited. The food options are limitless, but dim sum is a big deal there. I am a creature of habit, and thus, once I find a good place I will return to it, knowing that I will get exactly what I’m looking for. Before heading into mainland China after our first trip to Hong Kong, we found this little hole in the wall dim sum place on Portland Street near the Yau Ma Tei metro stop. This place is fun because it looks like it’s been there for years, its always packed with locals, and everything is great. (They bring you an English guide for the menu so you can figure out what you want).
We of course went back our second time, but on our last day we found a new dim sum restaurant closer to where we were staying. This place was super hip, was rated on Tripadvisor, had more options, but was also a little pricier and some items weren’t as good. The photos below are all from there (DimDimSum). Sadly, I never took photos of our original Hong Kong dim sum restaurant.
Dim Sum is not the only food that Hong Kong has to offer. Being an international city you can find pretty much every type of food. There is some amazing Indian food places scattered all around, as well as Veitnamese and Thai. If you are looking for something a little cheaper, there are kabab stands all over Tsim Tsam Shui that offer a filling and delicious meal. In central you can find so many fun little eateries that offer lunch specials, brunch, and great wine. My best suggestions for you is to wander around, and find a place that has lots of people, that is always a sure way to know if a place is good.
As for great little cafes, there seems to be many new ones popping up all over Kowloon and Hong Kong. If you want advice on where to go, just ask me, I have visited at least 6 different ones. My top two from this trip were N1 Espresso & Co. on Mody Rd. in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Hazel and Hershey on Peele St. in Central. Both were stumbled upon randomly, and both were amazing! So, if in doubt, start walking, especially around Central and you are sure to find something.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without having some milk tea. With the mix of Chinese and British influence, they have perfected milk tea. Every restaurant usually has it on the menu, especially if you go to a diner like eatery. You can get hot or ice, and it is usually a little sweet. I honestly don’t know how they make it, whether it’s condensed milk, or just milk and sugar, but it sure if delicious. No other place has as good milk tea.
When I first came to Hong Kong, I had no idea there was such great hiking. The best part is that most of it is super easy to access via subway, ferry, or local bus (and of course taxis). Hiking up Victoria Peak from Central metro is a great way to get your sweat on. Once you get to the top, it’s a super easy walk around the peak. It allows for nice views as long as the smog/fog isn’t too thick, and the weather is nice.
The last time we visited, I decided we needed to check out some of the other hikes, so I opted for the very popular Dragon’s Back hike on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island. It is easily accessible via Chai Wan station on the MTR (for exact instructions I consulted this site, which also has information on some other great hikes: http://www.sassyhongkong.com/top-5-hikes-in-hong-kong/). To be honest this hike would be best in the summer or when the weather is really warm, because once you finish the trail you can take the bus into Shek O and head to the beach for a nice swim. The views of the beach from above will make you want to jump into the light blue waters.
Lamma Island is another great place to stretch your legs and get away from the crowds. We got a really late jump on the day so didn’t have a chance to explore the southern end or walk out to the wind mill. The walk from Sok Kwu Wan to Yung Shue Wan was really nice, and Yung Shue Wan is a super cute trendy area with lots of bars, restaurants, and nice grocery stores like I would expect to find back in Santa Cruz, California.
Po Lin Monastery is a wonderful day trip. (And if you are into discount shopping, there is an Outlet store right outside the metro on the way to the cable car. But be forewarned, it can be crazy busy there.) I recommend choosing a clear day, especially if you are taking the cable car (there is also a trail to hike up to the monastery which is on my to do list for next time). Once up the mountain, you can see the large Buddha sitting on the hill looking over the monastery. Of course, in true Chinese fashion, to get to the Buddha and monastery you must walk through a mini strip mall, because consumerism and religion seem to go hand in hand. It’s worth it to buy a lunch ticket for the vegetarian meal served in the monastery, and the ticket also allows you to go inside the Buddha. Since my last visit they have opened a few more halls with gold Buddha statues. There are also trails that will take you to the top of the hill behind the monastery and back down the mountain.
There are temples sprinkled throughout and around the city. Some are quite small, consisting of just a small shrine where you can make offerings and light incense. Others are quite large and fun to explore. Po Lin Monastery (mentioned above) is a wonderful day trip from the city. It can be a refuge away from all the crowds, but can also be just as crazy, especially around Chinese New Year.Another fun monestary to visit that had hardly any visitors when I went is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. The name is a bit of an exaggeration, but there are a lot of golden buddhas. Also, there are wild monkeys that live around the monastery that are constantly trying to steal the fruit offerings, so you might have a chance to see a monkey in the wild. This link will help you find your way there and give you more information about the temple.
One of my favorite temples to go to around Chinese New Year is Wong Tai Sin. It is an easy metro ride away from anywhere in Hong Kong and can take a while to weave through all the various buildings. It also has a peaceful pond and garden area where you can quietly sit and enjoy the scenery. Supposedly, the garden is a miniature of the garden in the Summer Palace in Beijing.
Right next door to Wong Tai Sin is the Chi Lin Nunnery, which is also quite beautiful, and the Nan Lian Gardens. Together with Wong Tai Sin temple this is a wonderful day trip.
I could keep going about all the wonderful things I have enjoyed doing in Hong Kong. It is a wonderful city that can be overwhelming at times but has so much to offer anyone, whether you are there for a 24 hour layover, or if like me you end up having to stay for a few weeks or more. It has activities for everyone and enough great food to keep everyone in your family or travel group satisfied.
Have you been to Hong Kong? What do you think about the city? What was your favorite, and not so favorite parts?
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