We’ve switched the blog back to talking about some of our other travels on our round-the-world trip, but are hearts are still with Nepal. If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.
After our enjoyable time in Vietnam, we said goodbye to Della’s parents and to Southeast Asia, where we had been since January. We had originally intended for our next stop to be in Nepal, but it was easier to fly to Hong Kong next instead. Also for airfare reasons, we ended up staying in Hong Kong for six nights, which was one more than we had planned for. We hoped that we would find ways to occupy our time… and we certainly did!
We were able to use credit card rewards to get a cheap flight on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi direct to Hong Kong. We were surprised when we discovered that our seats were on the exit row! We hadn’t put in a special request or anything. The flight went fairly quickly, and we enjoyed the free wine that came with the lunch that was served.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, we bought our Octopus cards, which can be loaded with cash and used for all sorts of public transportation in the city. The helpful staff at the tourist information center told us how to use public transportation to get to our accommodations. The airport is quite far from the city center, so we knew it would be a long journey.
As it turned out though, it was quite pleasant. The bus was a fancy, new-feeling double decker bus. There was even a closed-circuit tv system so we could monitor our bags stored on the lower level as we took in our first views of Hong Kong from the upper level.
Where We Stayed
We had a pretty hard time finding a place that was both affordable and looked comfortable. We had been spoiled in Southeast Asia with big rooms for cheap prices, but Hong Kong felt like Singapore, with even tiny rooms being very highly priced. The cheapest rooms were in the Chungking Mansion (big apartment blocks are called mansions in Hong Kong) in the Kowloon area, but those were tiny, with most being around 5 square meters (about 54 square feet). We expanded our search area and found a place advertising 10 square meter rooms (about 108 square feet). The reviews were OK, so we went ahead and booked at the Yesinn Fortress Hill.
It was located in the North Point area on the main Hong Kong island. None of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance, but there is a subway station very close, and the trains run so frequently that we didn’t feel like it was that hard to see the sights.
The check-in process was a little convoluted. We found the Continental Mansions and rode the elevator up to the 15th floor where we located the reception. Here we were told that our room was actually in a different part of the building, so we had to ride the elevator back down to the ground floor, walk to a different elevator bank, and ride up to the 3rd floor. Luckily when coming or going we didn’t have to go back through reception, but the downside of this was that we couldn’t take advantage of some of the shared facilities that we near the reception.
The room was as cozy as advertised, but we actually found it a manageable size. The bed was a little smaller than normal but still big enough for two. They managed to squeeze a desk, dresser, and mini-fridge in, which were all helpful. The bathroom was very small, with the shower above the sink, but you could actually angle it in such a way that it felt like a normal shower.
What We Did
Hong Kong is a huge city, and we found plenty of ways to spend our time. It was very easy to get around between sites using the fast Hong Kong public transportation system.
Avenue of Stars and “A Symphony of Lights” – Our first night in town, we headed over to the southern tip of the Kowloon neighborhood to watch the free nightly multimedia performance called “A Symphony of Lights,” during which the buildings across the bay on Hong Kong island light up in time to music. We arrived a bit early so we spent some time exploring the Avenue of Stars, the Hong Kong film industry’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bruce Lee and Jet Li were the main names we recognized. As for the light show, it was interesting, but we think we actually preferred the show in Singapore’s harbor for pure spectacle.
Hong Kong Museum of History – We didn’t know much about Hong Kong going in, so we made sure to stop at this museum to hopefully get more background. They were running a special that day, so admission was free, but we splurged on an audio guide to help guide us through. We diligently went through the natural history and prehistoric sections, stopping to listen to every entry, but then we realized that the museum was way bigger than we had anticipated and decided we had to move faster, so we basically stopped using it. The museum had very nicely put together displays, especially in the section describing life as a British colony, where they had recreated entire storefronts. We did feel the information was a little lacking, especially at the end where they only briefly described how control was returned to China (and what it meant that it was a special administrative region that retains some autonomy).
A Night at the Happy Valley Horse Races – see separate post
Victoria Peak – The weather was bright and sunny the next day, so we decided to head to the vantage point at the top of the peak that overlooks the harbor. We rode the historic funicular up the steep ride to the top. We didn’t pay to go to the fancy observation deck, but instead walked along a nice path to either side of platform and were able to get great views.
Walk Through Hong Kong Park and Wan Chai – After coming down from Victoria Peak via the funicular, we walked through the large Hong Kong park found in the middle of downtown. We were impressed with the large amount of green space and the variety of activities within the park. Our favorite was the aviary where we spotted a number of interesting birds. After the park, we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Wan Chai neighborhood, where we saw a mix of historic and modern structures.
The Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island – We enjoyed a day trip out to one of the more far-flung islands of Hong Kong, Lantau. The big attraction here is a big Buddha statue and monastery in the village of Ngong Ping on top of the mountains on the island. The cheap way to get to Ngong Ping is to take a bus, but we splurged and took the cable car – and were definitely glad we did so. The views were amazing, if not a little scary! The village at the top is very touristy and felt fake, but the Buddha statue was impressive, and the monastery buildings were pretty as well. We also spent an hour or so hiking into the mountains beyond the tourist facilities, where we found a path decorated with a poem written on wooden poles.
Walk Through Sheung Wan – We also followed a Lonely Planet walking tour through this neighborhood, which was originally the hub of the Chinese community and still shows many of those influences. We walked past interesting dried seafood weird herb shops – not sure even what we were seeing half of the time!
We stopped for a snack break in a small park where we found a path made of upraised stones that you were meant to walk on barefoot, like the one we saw in Battambang. This time, we took off our shoes and tried it ourselves. It hurt! We still aren’t sure what the exact purpose is.
The final stop on the tour was the most impressive: the Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest Taoist temples in Hong Kong. The air inside was thick with the smoke of dozens of mazzive incense coils burning at the same time. Outside there was a furnace for burning (fake) money offerings, just as we had seen in Vietnam.
After the walk, we continued into another neighborhood and took a ride on a non-traditional tourist attraction: the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, the Central-Mid-Levels escalator. This series of escalators goes straight up a hill from the Hong Kong harbor to a road on the top of the hill, with many restaurants and shops along the way. The elevation gain is 443 feet, and it took us about 20 minutes to get up. Unfortunately, the easiest was down is to walk, but it made for good exercise.
Star Ferry – The classic way to get across the Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong island to Kowloon is to take this old double decker ferry. It opened in 1888, and is still popular and cheap today. The ride was brief but gave us great views.
Temple Street Night Market – We didn’t do very much shopping in Hong Kong, but decided to check out the most famous night market in town. We abstained from getting a selfie stick, but Eric did decide to purchase one of the “beckoning cat” figurines, thinking it was a nice traditional Chinese item. He was later disappointed to learn that it is actually Japanese in origin!
Where We Ate
We had a bit of a mixed experience with food in Hong Kong. After Vietnam, the food seemed very expensive, and much harder to find. There were hardly any street food options, and many places that looked cheap only had Chinese menus. Over the course of our time in the city, we gradually began to find some places that interested us though.
Our favorite place was the renowned Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum eatery known for being the cheapest restaurant in the world to have received a Michelin Star. We had read about the lines being out the door, but the location located conveniently close to our hostel had available tables. The surly waitress just dropped a paper checklist down on our table and didn’t provide any further guidance, but we were able to discern that we needed to check off the items we wanted to try on the paper. Dim sum is characterized by small servings of Chinese food items, usually dumplings or other steamed delicacies. We tried to get a mixture of dumpling, steamed buns, and steamed cakes. It was all quite good, and we were stuffed! We enjoyed it so much that we went back on our last morning in town to get another round of our favorites and try a few items that we had missed the first time. It definitely merited the hype.
Another meal that stood out to us was lunch at the restaurant in the Hong Kong History Museum. Our expectations were low for a cafe in a museum, but it turned out to be a cheap and friendly place. It was decorated to resemble a diner in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s. Another nice feature was that it employed some people with developmental disabilities. We both got a set lunch which included a soup and a large entree.
The other meals we had while eating out were good, just maybe not as affordable or tasty as we had hoped.
Because everything was pretty expensive in Hong Kong, there were a few nights that we decided to just “cook” our own dinner. You may be wondering how we could possibly cook in our tiny room, but luckily there was a shared microwave in the hallway. We went to a supermarket by the subway station and bought different frozen dumplings to heat up. Not as good as Tim Ho Wan, but cheaper and pretty convenient!
Our initial worry that we would be spending too much time in Hong Kong turned out to be wrong – if anything, we wish we could have had more time! There were a lot of interesting sights to see in the big city. We regret that we didn’t connect more with the food scene and find cheap local options, but think with more time we would have been able to figure it out. Hong Kong was a good way to get a quick dip into Chinese culture and the unique culture of Hong Kong on our world trip.