When traveling around the world is hard not to thing about Hong Kong as one of your first destinations. It is, without any doubt the Asian capital city, vibrant, colorful, active, touristic, genuine, and very rich historically speaking.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997 with special conditions (such as the one country two systems). At that point it became a special administrative region with its own autonomy; different economic and political systems, different language, traditions, passport, and even currency (Hong Kong Dollars).
All these changes in their cultural inheritance, policies and costumes are the main facts that make Hongkongers feel different from the Chinese. This, and also the fact that Hong Kong itself is considered one of the top ten stronger economies in the world.
Visa to Hong Kong (HK)
Due to the fact that HK is a special administrative region, visas are managed autonomously from China. Although it is worth mentioning that a tourist visa to HK is far easier to issue than a Chinese one. Many countries will have the option to get a tourist visa on arrival, mostly citizens of the USA, EU, Australia, and some South American countries (Colombia included). This visa has no cost and in my case it was a very easy and straightforward process, it didn’t even take long, my passport was not stamped, I was giving an entry ticket instead, which I though I had to keep, but luckily I didn’t (I lost it anyway). But make sure to check your eligibility to this visa on arrival with your local consulate.
Getting to Hong Kong
Getting to Hong Kong is quite easy as its international airport is one of the five biggest hubs in the world. It gets direct flights from Europe, Australia, USA, and many other Asian cities. Most of the big airlines run direct flights to HK.
You can get there by train from Shenzhen, PRC, or by ferry from Macau. In the last two cases, also make sure that you have either been issued a Visa, or you are eligible for a tourist Visa on arrival. The customs procedure will be done either on the train or ferry station.
From the Airport
Hong Kong International airport is located on Lantau island, it was built in a piece of land claimed from the sea (Chek Lap Kok island). There are a few ways to get to your destination; train, taxis, bus, and hotel’s shuttles. The most common are bus and train, with prices range from 30 HKd (Hong Kong dollars) by bus, to 60 HKd (~8 USD) by the airport express train which can be taken inside the airport. Both options will require you to buy an Octopus card.
Although I found an even cheaper way to go to Kowloon: I bought an Octopus card at the airport to take a bus to Tung Chung station (~8 HKd), this station belongs to a different line t the airport express, and from there I took a train to my final destination in Tsim Sha Tsui – Kowloon (~16 HKd) reducing transport costs by almost a third.
The Octopus Card
This card is a great ally for the tourists, this is a pass which allows you to access most of the transportation systems within the city, bus, train, ferry, and even the cable car to the Peak (in HK Island). It may also be used to buy groceries in some convenience stores and for purchases in vending machines.
There are some different types, but the best option for visitors is the tourist Octopus card, which can be bought for 89 HKd (a refundable deposit of 50 HKd included) at the airport, train stations, and some grocery stores around the city.
Where to Stay
When I did my research about the accommodation in HK I noticed that in general it’s freaking expensive! mostly in the island of Hong Kong. The New Territories were considerably far from the main district, so, according to this, the best district to stay in was Kowloon which is on the mainland and just across of the island of Hong Kong. If you are looking for a central place close to transportation, nightlife, important city landmarks and attractions, good food, and affordable stays, you will be looking for Tsim Sha Tsui in South West Kowloon. Although the accommodation is entirely conditioned to the visitors’ budget and the sort of activities they are after.
The Infamous Mansions
In Tsim Sha Tsui the most affordable places to stay in are usually found in buildings called mansions. The name might suggest that it is somewhere for a fancy stay and to splurge while sipping a cocktail… well, It’s not! I stayed in the most widely known, Chunking Mansions which is a seventeen story old building comprising several hostels managed by different families, shopping stores on the first floor, and exchange stores with very good rates also in the first floor. The entrance to the place looks sketchy, and when going inside the building it also looks a bit scary, I and my brother (whom I went with) even thought about looking for another place, but once we went inside our accommodation, it was very neat, well maintained, and it even had restricted access, which ensured safety; this is pretty much all that I needed. I wouldn’t say that the mansion is a dangerous place, but the common areas of the buildings are in bad conditions and the first floor near the entrance is basically what you could call an illegal sales ghetto. Not the easiest place for a female solo traveler, if you want a nice view of the city or for couple getaways, but still, it is an experience itself!
Other Mansions around are Windsor mansion, Mirador mansion, Hong Kong mansion, and Magnolia mansion.
Top things to do in Hong Kong
HK is a city of over 7 million inhabitants, and if you are pressed for time, you better know what you are after history? architecture? want to see some shrines? all of the above?; Well, you can do them all, but since this is an enormous city I would recommend to locate the places on the map to make the best of your time.
Since this trip’s team was made of an architecture enthusiast and an adventurous traveler, we picked a few shrines, some Iconic buildings and a number of landmarks. Among the things I would definitely recommend:
- The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery: An amazing place, when you walk up to the main temple it depicts somehow the tortuous path of a Buddhist monk to achieve the highest level of spirituality. Which is most amazing about this monastery is that its name fully represents what you will actually get, you will find thousands of buddhas of a wide variety of colours, forms, postures, and sizes along your visit.
- Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple: this is a majestic complex which compresses a number of small temples and statues where locals and visitors from China go to pray and leave some gifts for their god(s). The imperial guardian lions alongside with the statues of warriors were the features that impressed me the most.
- The Chi Lin Nunnery: A truly impressive temple, it has been made out of wood, exhibiting beautiful wooden-gold buddha images and crafted rocks around two soul-soothing lotus ponds gardens. The nunnery will get you two by the prize of one because it is connected by a lookout bridge to the Nan Lian Garden, an amazing place where colors, water fonts, and natural forms merge into a series of mind-blowing landscapes.
- Avenue of stars: The HK equivalent to the Hollywood boulevard, located in Kowloon bay.
- Victoria Peak: A complex of restaurants , stores, malls, on the top of the mountain. It is very touristy, but the views to the city are great. The experience includes the cable car to go to the top (you can use your octopus card for this).
Macau: Just at a 45 minutes ferry ride. Macau is also a PR China’s Special Administrative Region (former Portuguese Colony) and it is considered as the “Asian Las Vegas”, check my post on this.
- Ngong Ping: Located in Lantau island on the peak of the mountain, one of the highlights.
- Lan Kwai Fong: Not everything has to be landmarks or tourism. This area is party central, so go have a drink and relax for another day of long walks.
- Get the ferry to/from Kowloon bay at night: Probably the best view of the city at night, and even better if it’s at the time of the city lights show. The best of all, you just pay for a normal ferry fare.
Others like the Cultural centre, harbour city, the zoological and botanical gardens, Man Mo Temple, and Cat Street gallery will let you experience the magnificence of HK Island.
Hong Kong Buildings
If there is something iconic in Hong Kong, either from postcards or movies, is the view of the skyscrapers from the bay. The tallest being the International Commerce Centre (Sky 100) in west Kowloon, this building’s 360° views may be the best lookout to understand how enormous and overcrowded this city is. The International finance center is a big piece of the master plan for the reconfiguration of Central Hong Kong north. Alongside with these buildings some of the most renown edifices are; The bank of China, the HK convention and exhibition center and the HSBC bank.
Local markets and experiences
All the above are peoples’ favorite places to go in Hong Kong, but these next places would be specially targeted to experience the society:
The ladies market and the temple street market are a few blocks destined to street sales of all kind of useful and useless items. It is worth taking a look around these areas but even better, to go and spend a Sunday night in the temple street market’s noisy and attractive activities.
On the day I as going back, I was having a walk in HK Central in front of HSBC building, and I saw a big crowd of ladies lying in the grass while playing table games, small gambling, singing, and dancing. I found this unusually interesting and I asked someone what was going on. I was told that they were on their day off and that they are mostly working woman; maids, cleaners, and saleswomen. I thought it was great to see as a cultural experience.
Ngong Ping: A highlight
Ngong Ping was, definitely the highlight of this trip. This place is located on Lantau Island. You can go there by cable car, or by bus, being the bus the budget option, although it would take more time (~45 mins), both are taken from Tung Chung stations.
At the cable car station at the top, there is a really nice and beautiful small village with eateries and shops, the village was constructed in a Chinese style, and although is a bit touristy it has plenty options for a nice lunch or for buying some souvenirs. However, the top features in Ngong Ping are the Big buddha, the Po Lin monastery, and the Wisdom path. To get to the Big Buddha some more stairs would need to be climbed, but it is worth doing it, you will have a great view of Lantau island, in a completely calmed and relaxed place. Take a look at my Flickr gallery of images of Hong Kong for more photos.
Currency: Hong Kong Dollars
Most spoken languages: Cantonese and English