I was SO excited to write about Hong Kong and share everything I’ve discovered there with you. But let me start with telling you, that you either you love the city or you hate it. I for my part fell hard for this mega city, and I totally wasn’t expecting it! What made me fall for it? I can’t really tell you. The city is fascinating, big, noisy, smelly, it’s mixing things that shouldn’t go together, it’s tradition, it’s modern age, it’s packed, it’s green…it’s everything – except boring!
Back in the days, Hong Kong was a tiny Chinese fishing village, then a British colony and since 1997 it’s a special administrative region from the People’s Republic of China. With this, the city is largely independent of mainland China. For many travelers, this translates to: you don’t need to get a Visa!
Hong Kong is located on the southern coast of China and consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and over 200 islands. The largest island of them being Lantau Island. With close to 8 million people of various nationalities, Hong Kong is the world’s fourth most densely populated region. And this translates to: Hong Kong is a freaking expensive city!
This didn’t keep us from stopping over during our world trip and I’m so glad it didn’t. And when planned wisely, you don’t even have to spend a fortune here. For me, and probably for every traveler starting to plan a trip to Hong Kong, the city can seem a bit overwhelming. With this post, I’m trying to give you a little overview of where to stay, what to see and where to eat, as well as how to plan a day trip to Macau.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
One of the first questions that comes up when planning a trip to Hongkong is in which area to stay. The first thing you need to know is this: Hong Kong is divided into different neighborhoods on different islands and it can take a long time to reach the different points of interest. So before booking accommodation, I’d advise you to read up on the different neighborhoods and plan out what you’d like to see or do. Below I’ve compiled a brief overview about each neighborhood, so you have a base to choose where you’ll want to stay. If I can give you just one valuable tipp it’s this: stay close to a MTR (Hong Kong’s Metro) station. This will make your life SO much easier and you’ll save a lot of time (and money). Here we go:
Central, Hong Kong Island: The Central Business District of Hong Kong is international, clean, amazing and – expensive. This is where you can find the Peak Tram station, office buildings, hip international restaurants, shops and some amazing street art. If you’re the average traveler, this won’t be the place you can afford to stay. And to be honest, if you can afford it, it might still not be the best option, as you will miss out on a lot of what makes Hong Kong Hong Kong. I still ended up being over here a couple of times, because I loved the dining options, street art and shops here, but it had definitely more of a New Yorky feeling to it. So absolutely do come here, but maybe stay somewhere else to get the real taste of Hong Kong.
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon: This area is tourist central and every visitor inevitably lands here sometime during his/her stay because this is where the Star Ferry docks (and you really should not miss a ride on this ferry!), which connects Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and it’s where you’ll have the best view of Hong Kong island across the harbor.
Yau Ma Tei & Mongkok, Kowloon: This is an adjacent district to Tsim Sha Tsui, which is a bit less shiny but more fascinating than Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s what Chinatowns in other cities look like and it’s a photographer’s dream. This part of the city offers you a glimpse of what Hong Kong must have looked like decades ago and this is where we stayed and where I can give you a Hotel recommendation: The up-otel has opened it’s doors in early 2019 and we really liked our stay here. The rooms are tiny (as everywhere in Hong Kong) but the bed was super comfortable, everything was clean, the neighborhood very safe, the next MTR station just down the street if you happened to get out the right metro exit, and they offer free coffee and craft beer! What else do you want? You can use my booking.com code to get 10% off your reservation of any hotel in Hong Kong.
What to do in Hong Kong
Where should I start. I mean, there are the obvious sights that you should totally visit, because they’re awesome and I will break some of them down for you (because I have such pretty pictures I am DYING to spread ;-)) But what I really urge you to do is: wander! Go get lost in the streets of Hong Kong. Take the MTR to a random stop and start to walk. Hong Kong is diverse, every neighborhood is different and there’s seriously so much to see! If you don’t have much time and want to see all the sights, you could still go to those and just wander off the streets around a place. Especially rewarding are strolls around Central on Hong Kong Island, because there’s some pretty amazing street art to be found. Below you can find my picks about what to see and do around the city.
The Peak: Let’s start with the obvious. No visit to Hong Kong is complete without visiting its backyard mountain and even though literally every tourist will go there, you shouldn’t miss out. Because let’s be honest here, the view is freaking spectacular! You can skip the long line of visitors at the bottom of the Tram if you have bought an Octopus card (which I really recommend) and you can avoid the crowd if you choose to walk the circular path around the mountain.
Central: The first 400 meters of the 800 meter long escalator that bring people up or down the hill (depending on the time of day) are a must. The area around Hollywood Road makes for an excellent stroll around galleries and antique shops. It’s also where you can find one of my favorite temples in Hong Kong: Man Mo.
Man Mo Temple: This temple is one of the oldest and busiest temples in the city and a picturesque tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo). Both of whom were worshipped by ambitious students looking to succeed in the civil examinations of Imperial China. Even today it’s often busy with students or policemen delivering offerings to the gods or lighting one of the curling incense coils.
Police Married Quarters (PMQ): In 1889, this house was used as one of the first schools providing Western education. In 1951, the site started its next incarnation as the Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters — the first dormitory for Chinese rank and file police officers. Hong Kong’s population was rapidly expanding at the time and the need for a larger police force was urgent. The provision of living quarters was an attractive staff benefit. The site included 140 single rooms and 28 double rooms, with a semi-open design that allowed greater interaction between the residents. In 2009, it has been revitalized as a hub for creative and design industries and you are now able to find a myriad of little shops in there.
Gough Street: Just steps away from Central, Gough Street is a very quaint and up-and-coming shopping area that is packed with trendy stores and great eats!
Tsim Sha Tsui: It’s here you will have the best view of Central’s skyline. Take a stroll along the promenade. The best time to do this is at sunset or during Hong Kong’s Symphony of lights around 8:00 pm.
Chi Lin Nunnery: Here you can see Chinese craftsmanship at its best. The wooden temples and the exhibition of bonsai and stone sculptures give the place a very special atmosphere in the middle of the urban jungle.
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple: Apart from having a mighty long name, this temple claims to ‘make every wish come true upon request’. This miiiight have something to do with its popularity. Home to three religions (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism), its natural setting and beautifully ornamented buildings make it as much a scenic attraction as an important religious center. In this temple you’ll encounter worshippers praying for good fortune through offerings and fortune tellers.
Choi Hung Estate or Rainbow House: The Choi Hung Estate was built back in 1964 to provide locals with affordable housing. They painted the buildings in rainbow colors to make it look cheerful – and Instagram went crazy. Sadly, I’m not known to be a person early to rise, so when I was there, about seven gazillion other people were there, too. I have very mixed feelings about Instagram places. I usually love the places because they’re spectacular. But more often than not, I end up questioning humanity after having watched the people doing whatever it is they do for the ‘gram.
Montane Mansion aka Monster Building: Quarry Bay is a densely packed neighborhood in Eastern Hong Kong, but perhaps no building is quite as condensed as the «Monster Building». I came here because I was reading up a lot about the housing situation in Hong Kong (intense! Go google «cage people Hong Kong» and you’ll understand why). The picture above is a residential house in Quarry Bay that gives you a glimpse of how densely packed this area is.
Curse Grannies: Under the Canal Rd Flyover between Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, you can hire little old ladies to beat up your enemy – no joke! From their perch on plastic stools, these rent-a-curse grannies will pound paper cut-outs of your (romantic) rival, office bully or whiny celeb with a shoe while rapping rhythmic curses. It was so much fun to watch and might very well be what I want to become when I grow old! 🙂
Dragon’s Back Hike: Hong Kong is probably the only mega city where you can be out from the concrete jungle in the real jungle within 30 minutes from downtown. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle from the city, just take a bus out to Shek O and hike the last leg of the Hong Kong Trail. This 8.5 km hike is more of a meandering path than a true hike (from a Swiss perspective) but offers spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and its shoreline. The trail belongs to the most popular hikes, so avoid going on a weekend. You can find a detailed map and description of this and other hikes on the Hong Kong Tourism Board Site.
Where to eat
People! Food! Good food! In abundance! I’m pretty excited about this topic, can you tell? 🙂 I love good food and I get pretty excited, when I find hidden gems in beautiful settings. I have found excellent food in Hong Kong, but not necessarily in beautiful settings. Because here’s the thing: In Hong Kong you can eat the best food in the most authentic settings. And with authentic I mean hole in the wall places with plastic stools and no English menu. But there are also the posh new places in Central, with an international cuisine. And you know why I could never ever be a food blogger? Because I always dive into the food as soon as it arrives, before I can even think for a split second about taking a picture. I’d say I will try to do better in the future, but I don’t want to lie to you. Nothing can get between my food and I. You get to look at pictures from wall decors instead 🙂
Ho Lee Fook: This place deserves a price for most creative restaurant name. And maybe also for most creative interior design. And the food was excellent, too! Come early or make a reservation. Lines can form up pretty quickly and you really don’t want to wait for a table for 2 hours when you’re already hungry.
Kai Kee Noodle: This might have been one of the ugliest places I have ever eaten at, but the noodle soup was excellent! If you’re looking for an authentic place to eat, don’t miss this one! Located at 15C Carnarvon Rd in Tsim Sha Tsui. Look for bright yellow signs.
Oddies Foodies: Have you ever heard of Eggetts? No? I didn’t either before coming to Hong Kong. I either must have missed a trend or they are the best kept secret out there. Because eggetts, my friends, are egg-shaped waffles made in heaven. They’re fluffy, savory, and oh so yummy! Rumor has it that Oddies Foodies at Gough Street makes some of the best eggetts (combined with Italian low-fat gelato, but I stuffed my face with just the waffles :-)).