As a dominant financial capital of the world with a perpetual skyline interspersed with patches of green parks and peaks, Hong Kong is a city full of surprises. The stark contrasts of the city are reminiscent of New York and left me in disbelief that I was actually in Hong Kong.
Note: HK is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. No visa is required to get into HK, but a visa is needed to travel around the mainland of China. Visas must be obtained beforehand and not at the border. Tourists can usually apply and receive a visa within 2-3 business days from the Chinese Embassy in HK.
Nearly every day had me waking up and out the door by 8am, most of the time without a sufficient breakfast. However tired I felt or whatever challenges the day had in store, I got to see a lot more of the city with an early start. From Kowloon, Macau, and Causeaway Bay to Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, there are few areas I left unexplored.
High End Hollywood
In a nutshell, Hong Kong has a NYC vibe slabbed together with Hollywood prices. It’s clean but crowded and appropriately modern.
Kowloon, in particular, is about as high end as one could go. For me and all of my fellow backpackers, it’s nothing but window shopping for us. As for the markets, well once you’ve seen one market in Asia, you’ve seen them all. I promise the street markets aren’t worth a visit unless you’re desperately seeking out top notch knockoffs.
If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, you can choose from one of the many tours offered by the HK tourism board. Some of the tours will cost you a pretty penny, and even though I can’t speak for quality, I’m sure their tours are better than the mediocre introduction tour I took with Urban Adventures.
For the steep price of $300-400 USD, I went bungee jumping in Macau. Looking back on it, yeah it cost me an arm and a leg, but at least I have bragging rights over jumping off the world’s highest bungee spot, yeah? We can discuss that in more detail later. To get there, catch the ferry from Sheung Wan station. For those who get seasick easily, not to worry. It’s a short, smooth ride. You won’t feel a thing. It takes one hour to get there, and you must have your passport to cross immigration. Once you’re there, hang on to your wallet because all of the casinos will try and vacuum the money right out of you. It’s best to steer clear, if you ask me.
If you have kids, take them to watch the Symphony of Lights from the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon side, but be prepared for an amateur show. It is nice, however, to walk along the water with the breeze flowing through your hair and seeing the skyline all lit up. If you don’t have kids, skip it. The Avenue of Stars is a sad imitation of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and there are better light shows to be seen elsewhere in the world.
The Northern coast of Hong Kong Island is essentially the city that people all over the world have come to know and love, but as you start moving South, things get a bit greener. Swallowed by parks and nature, HK boasts a landscape that many people miss out on during their visit because their heads are too buried in business. You don’t have to be one of those people though. Start small by taking a stroll through Hong Kong park in the city, pack a picnic, or practice your tai chi. You can do the same on the Kowloon side at Kowloon park where they even have a bird aviary. Work your way up to an easy to moderate hike at any of the following places:
- Take the Peak Tram up to Victoria’s Peak where you can venture off to a few different trails
- Ride the cable car up to Ngong Ping village and visit the Big Buddha. Afterwards, dodge the crowds and wind through the Wisdom Path up to the Lantau Island trail.
- Spend a few hours on the Dragon’s Back trail in Shek O Country Park on the East coast
- Easily accessible by bus, Aberdeen, home to many villages and its own country park, offers a great day outdoors
No matter what kind of physical physique, there’s a hike for everyone, whether you’re looking to simply enjoy yourself or bathe in your own sweat.
If HK didn’t have banking institutions as their foundation, the city would dissolve into nothing or so one my tour guides kept telling me. I can only imagine how overworked and tired the people are who work in any kind of financial industry. If it counts for anything, they’re some of the best dressed in the city.
Studying people on the MTR, I couldn’t help but notice how the children and even young adults seemed so animated. Without even having a conversation, I found most people to be stubbornly passionate but flexible, smart, creative, competitive, efficient, hard working, and peaceful with an underlying temper. Above all, they are a people that have the capability to kick America’s ass in any arena, if they wanted, and for my whole adult life, I’ve had a huge amount of respect for the Chinese.
To be quite honest, I was a bit disappointed with the selection of food in HK. Although mainly Westernized, even the Chinese food wasn’t anything to brag about. I was ecstatic to discover, however, that there is a Red Mango tucked away in the Soho area. It was a moment of bliss to indulge in one of my favorite treats from back home. Other than that, my diet ranged from noodles to kebabs, American to Thai. The types of food available is quite eclectic. You can find almost anything your heart desires. Whether or not it will be tasty can be a shot in the dark, however. My rule is that the sketchier a cafe or restaurant looks, the more likely the food will be tastier and cheaper. Eat at your own risk.
After 1.5 weeks in Hong Kong, it has placed in my top 10 favorite cities alongside New York City, Chicago, Istanbul, and Reykjavik.