Hong Kong: everything you need to know

Hong Kong wasn’t in my itinerary at all and I ended up there by accident (or fate). I had no idea this beautiful city would turn out to be one of my favorite destinations in the world. So, after it did, I decided to convince as many people as I could to visit and experience Hong Kong. This post is part of that decision.

The rumors I heard before visiting Hong Kong were all about how extremely expensive it was. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as they made it sound. I mean, compared to other destinations in Asia, the prices are definitely higher, but they were not even close to other places like Singapore and Japan. So, if you are traveling on a budget it is possible to visit and enjoy Hong Kong.

What made me love this city the most was the coexistence between old and new. The Hong Kong vibe is really hard to explain. At the same time, it offers the typical chaotic reality of big centers, it has many aspects of the zen from Eastern tradition.

HK was the first country I visited while backpacking Asia and I only stayed 3 nights. I left wanting to stay, so I suggest you stay a little longer.

HOW TO GET THERE

As I said before, I ended up in Hong Kong by chance. Searching for cheap tickets to Thailand from Los Angeles I found an American Airlines sale on tickets to Hong Kong for 40 thousand air miles plus 18 dollars. I then researched the tickets from HK to Krabi and realized it was cheaper than buying a direct flight from LA and I would have the chance to get to know a new country.

That’s how I eventually got myself to Hong Kong, even though I was planning to go to Thailand. The flight was brutal, 11 hours straight. But it was worth it.

I suggest you keep a close look on alternative routes to your main destination. Usually, traveling inside SEA is really cheap, so it is smarter to save on flights getting in and leaving Asia.

I usually use kiwi to do so. It researches different connections and routes to your destination and shows prices from your country to every place on Earth. I also use the option “Everywhere” in Skyscanner, and choose the cheapest destination from wherever I want.

  • From the Airport to the City and General Transport

You should definitely research the location of your accommodation before getting there.  Even though it is pretty easy to use public transportation in Hong Kong, you can save some money and time by planning ahead.

Hong Kong is divided into Areas, tourists usually only visit Central and Kowloon, which are the “main” ones. My hostel was located in a neighborhood called To Kwa Wan, in Kowloon. Everything was nearby, and I had access to every part of the town by public transportation.

In addition to the subway, there are different types of bus: the two-floor ones like London and really small ones, most of the same size as vans.

To access your accommodation, you can use the airport express, a superfast train from the airport to Central (115 HKD) or Kowloon (105HKD) station, and get there in around 30 minutes. You can also use public buses and pay way less (I paid 39 HKD to To Kwa Wan), but it will take around 1 hour and a half.

If you are staying in Hong Kong for a while, I suggest you get an Octopus Card. It is a rechargeable card that can be used in every type of public transportation. The minimum charge is of 150 HKD, and you can get a 50 HKD refund once you return the card.

For anyone using Airport Express, there is also an Airport Express Travel Pass. For 300 HKD you buy a return ticket from the airport and unlimited trips inside the city, using any transportation, for 3 consecutive days.

Considering the easiest access to my hostel was by bus, I decided to purchase the Octopus Card. That is why you should research first because the cheapest/smartest choice for you could be different.

You can research on the airport main website or using two amazing apps that literally saved my life in HK:

  1. HKeTransport (Including all public transportations)
  2. MTR Mobile (Hong Kong metro)

ACCOMMODATION

As I explained earlier, Hong Kong has two main areas. I recommend you stay in one of them, since you will be closer to all the main attractions, and very well served by public transportation.

I stayed in an amazing hostel. It was my first hostel experience by myself and I was very nervous. I was gladly surprised.

The Mahjong Boutique Hostel in Hong Kong

It was called The Mahjong Hostel. They have “capsule” beds so you have complete privacy. In the female dorm, the bathroom is inside the dorm (suite) and they offer everything you could need (toiletries, blow dryer, hair straightener…).

Breakfast is included, but options are limited and you have to cook it yourself. I didn’t have breakfast on any of the 3 days. The living room has books, computers, board games, guitar… They are also eco-friendly and recycle their waste.

My stay there was great, even though I didn’t socialize much. I was so jet-lagged and so tired of walking every day, that I whenever I was in the hostel I was sleeping. Even so, I had the best impressions of the Mahjong. They even returned my towel deposit after I forgot it on my early check-in. And the price was really reasonable, 220 HKD (28 USD) a night.

Besides the Mahjong, Hong Kong is really well served by hotels and hostels. I suggest you use Agoda to find the best option for your trip.

MAIN ATTRACTIONS

The main attraction of Hong Kong is Hong Kong. It might sound weird, but truth is, my favorite thing to do was to walk around and explore the city.  As it was my first experience in Asia I was overwhelmed by the cultural differences.

The sign lights are just like the movies. The city is alive and vibrating. Out of nowhere, as you walk in one of its super modern streets, you come across hidden, beautiful and mysterious temples. At night the spectacle is even better, the lights become alive and it is like a dream.

Man Mo Temple in Holywood Street

But I won’t lie to you, Hong Kong is a metropolis and it has all the “problems” metropolis have (except lack of security). People are always in a hurry, the streets are constantly packed with people, and the noises and smells are very strong. However, in my opinion, all of that just added to the city’s personality.

I suggest you walk around the streets downtown, stopping by temple Man Mo on Hollywood Street, and discovering the incredible street art all over the city.

  • Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is a mountain in the middle of Hong Kong. From it’s top you can see the entire city.

View from the top of the Peak

The terrace has different souvenir shops and restaurants (including a Bubba Gump that made me laugh out loud). You can access the top of the mountain in many ways: from bus, taxi or by the Peak Tram, the most traditional and old way. The tram is a little more expensive (100 HKD), but it includes the entrance to the terrace, so it is worth it.

  • Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

Another cool attraction, the best, in my opinion, is the Big Buddha. The also called Tian Than Buddha is located in Lantau island and it was one of the most beautiful things I saw on my entire trip. Besides the gigantic statue, on the top of the mountain, the attraction includes a cable car ride with a breathtaking view and a pathway with many cool things to discover.

To get to Lantau you can use your Octopus Card and get a metro to Tung Chung station. From there you take a cable car (Ngong Ping Cable) up the mountain. There are two different cars: the regular and the “Crystal” one, which is basically a car with glass walls, including the floor. The second option is more expensive, but I thought it was worth the money since it was beautiful and avoided a long long line. I paid 290 HKD on a return trip, a regular car would have cost 210 HKD.

I suggest you don’t limit your visit to the statue: the top of the mountain has a lot of things to be explored. Some cows walk around the temple, and there are a lot of Buddhist monuments and a trail that takes you to the Heart Sutra (Prajna Paramita).

The Heart Sutra, one of the best places to meditate in Asia

I suggest you take a whole day to visit the Big Buddha, and still get there early. The statue is usually full of people.

Oh, there is also an outlet by Tung Chung Station, which seemed a little strange to me. The prices are really great, but I was on a very low budget, so I preferred using my money to pay for the attractions, which were not that cheap.

  • Ladies’ Market

Speaking of shopping, Hong Kong is a consumer’s paradise. It offers everything, from super expensive high-end stores to super cheap street markets. It is a perfect destination if you love to spend hours bargaining. Or just looking (as I did).

The Ladies’ Market in Kowloon is a street market you have to visit. There are a thousand tents, with every sort of products and gadgets you can imagine. They have cheap electronics, accessories, bags, costume jewelry… The list is infinite.

The prices are really affordable, but get even cheaper if you bargain. And they take bargaining very seriously. An old lady even slapped me to get me to buy an iPhone case.

I consider it to be a very cool thing to do in the evenings, or at night. As soon as it gets dark the cities get lighted up by the shop signs and you feel like you are in a Jackie Chan Movie. Actually, everywhere in Kowloon makes you feel that way.

I love Hong Kong Nights

It is a more Chinese area than downtown Hong Kong, so walking around Kowloon streets is a great way of having a taste of the Chinese culture.

There I found the famous rotten eggs and so many other traditional foods (as a vegan, I only watched).

Who is down to try these?

The noises from the crowd are really interesting, and I felt like a true explorer there, lost in the midst of it all. I hope you can enjoy the same feeling.

Oh, and I also got a tattoo there! I found Girls Tattoo HK by chance, walking around Kowloon on a rainy day. It is a studio owned and run by girls and I recommend it 100%. I loved my tattoo.

  • Eat Dim Sum

It is a capital sin to visit Hong Kong and not try Dim Sum. Even though food, in general, is amazing there, dim sums are the main reason people call Hong Kong a food paradise.

And the best thing is: they are super cheap. Even the ones served at Tim Ho Wan (a Michelin starred restaurant) cost around 15-20 HKD.

I suggest you also try truly Chinese dishes, especially the ones sold in Chinese restaurants in Kowloon. Ít was always the cheapest and tastiest option.

VISIT HONG KONG

One of the many street arts all over HK

Unfortunately, I only had 3 days to explore Hong Kong so I missed on so many cool things. But I am happy I have many reasons to go back.

I am even happier to have been able to visit and talk about Hong Kong to so many people. I hope I also inspired you to put Hong Kong on your next itinerary.

I will always be grateful to this amazing city. It was through the emotions Hong Kong provided that I was welcomed to the Asian culture and reality. And I will always remember it as a town that welcomed me with open arms.

 

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