Hong Kong is full of contrast and contradictions, it is a part of China but it is also independent, it has mountains, deserted beaches and a skyline that rivals New York, it has a culture that embraces both Buddhism and a frantic pursuit of material wealth. With this amazing character, Hong Kong is an incredible place to visit when you travel in China.
With a visa run planned during the Chinese October holidays, I decided to stay in Hong Kong for 6 days and see the best of Hong Kong or as much as I could during that time.
Day One – Airport Bus, Fireworks & New Friends
I had a bed booked at the prestigious Wang Fat Hostel in Causeway Bay so the first step after clearing customs was to get from the airport on Lantau Island to Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. There are two options for getting to into Hong Kong from the Airport, bus or train. Trains are very fast and efficient but expensive with HK$100 for a one way ticket. Buses take longer, cost between HK$20 and $40 and have excellent views of Hong Kong. I caught the E11 Airport Express bus for HK$21 and got off in Causeway Bay after an enjoyable one hour ride on the upper deck of the bus with grandstand views.
That evening was the 30th of September and there was a massive fireworks display at 9pm on Victoria Harbor to celebrate the Mid Autumn festival. I checked into the dorm at around 7:30pm, changed into shorts, t-shirt and sandals and was out on the street 5 minutes later looking for a good spot to see the show. Ended up on the waterfront in Tsimshatsui rubbing shoulders with a crowd of thousands watching the fireworks that lasted for around 25 minutes and brilliant
Back in the dorm later than night after the fireworks I met Davo from the UK , Chez from Australia and a guy from Seattle who’s name I can’t remember who had all arrived in Hong Kong that evening. Davo had a similar list of places to see and things to do so we decided to hit Ocean Park the following morning
Day Two – Ocean Park, Street Food & Dancing in Wanchai
After buying food and water from a Welcome supermarket near the hostel, we caught the 72A bus on Yee Wo Street. Using Aberdeen Tunnel, the bus went through the center of Hong Kong Island and we were at the entrance of Ocean Park in literally 10 minutes. With a ticket price of HK$280, Ocean Park is Hong Kong’s most expensive tourist attraction after the best forgotten Disneyland. Some parts of Ocean Park such as Old Hong Kong are tacky and a waste of time. Other parts such as seeing the giant Panda An An in action and the Ocean Theatre with dolphins and sea lions are excellent. Overall a day at Ocean Park is not a cultural experience but is good fun and the HK$280 is well spent.
After leaving Ocean Park late in the afternoon Davo and I headed back to the dorm to catch up with Chez and sort out dinner. Hong Kong street food. One of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to experience a country’s culture and way of life is to eat genuine street food. On Hong Kong Island that meant going to Stanley Street in Central where mobile restaurants serve delicious local dishes in the evening that you eat on portable tables and chairs set up on the street. We jumped on Hong Kong Island’s classic tram and were at Stanley street within 30 minutes. The selection from the menu was mouth watering and I ordered Black Pepper Beef & Chilli with rice for $43 that was delicious. Sitting on a back street with new friends surrounded by locals, eating delicious food cooked in front of you is a memorable experience.
On Hong Kong Island there are two places to go dancing. Lan Kwai Fong in Central which is very hip and cool and full of well dressed locals, expats and cashed up tourists OR the area of Wanchai around Jaffe Street and Luard Road which is raw, unpretentious and a little sleazy that is full of Filipino domestic helpers, sleaze bag expats looking for Filipino domestic helpers, music lovers and tourists looking for fun. We alternated between drinking cheap beer from the local 7/11 store and dancing at Neptune II and New Makita. An excellent night that finished around 1am.
Day Three – Visas, Star Ferry, Temple Street Market & More Street Food
The first part of the day was taken up by filling in paper work and submitting my passport to a visa agency. Boring but unavoidable. You can read up on Hong Kong China Visa runs here.
Met up with Davo in the afternoon and caught the Star Ferry from Wanchai to Tsim Sha Tsui. The Star Ferry is a very convenient way to cross from the island to the mainland, only cost HK$2.50 and has absolutely brilliant views of Victoria Harbor. With a couple of hours spare before my passport was ready to pick up, we caught the glass lift at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers, walked through the Chunking Mansions (the ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui) and had an early dinner.
After picking up the passport, we walked north through the backstreets of Tsim Sha Tsui which is a travel experience itself, towards the Temple Street night market. On Austin Road near the corner of Parkes Street a couple of blocks away from the market we spotted a small street side restaurant with cheap take away meals we could not resist. The dishes ranged in price from HK$27 to HK$32 and included mouth watering delights such as Rice Curry Pork Ribs and Fried Rice Noodle and Beef in Soy Sauce. We grabbed our meals, found a comfortable shop step around the corner and had an outstanding 100% Hong Kong style meal.
The Temple Street market itself was an anticlimax and the market has seen much better days. Still worth a visit if you have a night free in Hong Kong, just don’t expect too much.
Day Four – Victoria Peak and the Ozone Bar, the World’s Highest Bar
Going to Victoria Peak to enjoy the spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbor is one of the really touristy activities you have to do. Just don’t catch the Peak tram which is a waste of money and will leave you stuck in a queue for at least an hour like Davo and I did. There are plenty of buses you can catch to Victoria Peak. Once you get to the peak, pay HK$30 to the access the Peak Tower which has the best views on the Peak. We ate lunch on the Peak Tower then hiked down the south west side of the peak. The hiking trail down the peak is several kilometres long and goes through attractive bush that is crisscrossed by creeks and waterfalls. The hiking trail ends at a major road and we caught a bus back to Causeway Bay.
The Ritz-Carlton in West Tsim Sha Tsui has the Ozone Bar which is the world’s tallest bar. With an evening free, Davo and I decided to see for ourselves if the Ozone Bar lived up to it’s reputation. Dressed in sandals, worn shorts, a t-shirt that had seen better days and carrying a day pack and with Davo not looking much better, we were not the Ozone Bar’s typical clientele. Luckily the staff at the bar entrance were professionals, used to tourist riffraff and let us in for a quick look at the bar. The views more than justified the bars reputation and it was surprisingly affordable with a glass of beer costing HK$90. Don’t order the 2002 Louis Roederer champagne, That cost HK$168,000 a bottle.
Day Five – Stanley Market & Beach and a Rooftop Movie
Davo and I were getting lazy so we had a quiet day. Caught the MTR to Chaiwan on the east side of Hong Kong Island then ride a minibus clockwise around the island to Stanley Beach. We lazed around at St.Stephens beach for a couple of hours then slowly made our way through Stanley Market. The beach is semi secluded, well maintained, has excellent facilities and is a great place for a lazy afternoon. We finished the day of by catching a bus from Stanley that went around the east side of the island back to Central.
The entertainment that night was relaxing on the roof of our hotel with pillows pilfered from the dorm watching an Australian Drama “Blame” on my laptop.
Day Six –Po Lin Monastry, Tian Tan Buddha and the Airport
Davo had a plane to catch from Shenzhen to Shanghai so he was off early. My plane from Hong Kong back to Changchun did not leave till around 6pm so that left enough time to visit Lantau Island’s Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. The great thing about seeing the monastery and the Buddha is they are on the way to the airport and you only need a couple of hours. You catch the MTR (subway) to Tung Chun on Lantau Island which is the last stop on the Tung Chun line and only cost HK$23. You can then catch the gondola to the top of the mountain which cost HK$125 or you can catch the bus which costs around HK$10. I took the Gondola.
The Tian Tan Buddha sitting on the top of the hill is very impressive but the highlight for me was the main hall of the Po Lin monastery. Just standing quietly inside the main hall admiring the elaborate alter housing three statues of Buddha and watching worshippers pay their respects was a very fulfilling experience. After catching the gondola back to Tung Chun, I caught the S1 bus to the airport. The bus trip from the bottom of the gondola station to the airport took less time than the walk from the airport entrance through Hong Kong’s massive airport to the correct check in counter.
Useful Links for Travel in Hong Kong