On top of the world. Hong Kong’s spectacular Victoria Harbour from the Peak.
Hong Kong is without a doubt one of the most fascinating and exciting places to visit on the planet and is one of Dinah and my favourite cities. Since its return from British administration to Chinese control in 1996, Hong Kong is now recognised as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and is an autonomous territory in Southern China. The population of Hong Kong is 7.4 million, all living within a geographic area of just over 2500 square kilometres. This makes it the fourth-most densely populated region in the world. Hong Kong is also home to the most skyscrapers in the world. You soon realise this as you navigate the narrow streets bustling with tens of thousands of people and lined by buildings that reach into the clouds. We think this is what makes Hong Kong unique for, wherever you go on the island or in Kowloon, you are constantly reminded that there is a lot happening here, 24 hours a day.
Dinah and I have been to Hong Kong many times over the years on business and for pleasure. We can remember those days when the international airport was located on the island of Hong Kong itself. So densely populated was the island that you could waive to the women hanging out their washing on the balconies of the apartment buildings as you flew into land. A somewhat scary airport. Today we land at Hong Kong International Airport on the man-made island of Chek Lap Kok. Opened in 1998, the airport is connected by a series of spectacular road and rail bridges to the mainland and is around 45 minutes from the city by car or bus, even faster by train.
Getting around Hong Kong.
While Hong Kong is one of the busiest cities in the world, it is also one of the easiest to get around. Travelling in from the airport, you can take an express bus or train directly from the international terminal to Kowloon or through to Central on the island. From here, it is an inexpensive taxi ride to your hotel. Departing for the airport is just as easy. You can actually check your luggage in and get your seat allocation at the In-town Check-in at Hong Kong Station, accessed via a walkway from the IFC Mall at Central . You can then take the train directly to Hong Kong International Airport. This is really handy, particularly if you have a late evening flight and need to be out of your hotel by midday. You can check your bags in, confirm your seat allocation and then have the rest of the day at leisure until its time to leave for the airport, without having to drag your luggage around all day! Its also a crafty way to get an early seat allocation.
Getting around Hong Kong is also very easy. The extremely efficient MTR (Mass Transit Railway) service wisks you around the island or across Hong Kong Harbour to Kowloon, Lantau Island and the New Territories. The easiest and most economical way to travel is with an Octopus Card which you can purchase at any MTR station. You tap at the station turnstile as you begin and end your journey and it automatically deducts the fare. We tend to load the card up with HK$20 (about AUD$4). This lasts a considerable number of trips and it is valid for use on all forms of public transport including trains, buses and ferries. It can be ‘topped up’ at all MTR stations and at most convenience stores such as 7/11. For comprehensive information on getting around Hong Kong go to: www.discoverhongkong.com/transport. Other popular forms of transport include the legendary Star Ferries that ply between Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and other destinations on the mainland. The crossing from the Star Ferry pier at Tsim Sha Tsui on the island to Kowloon is a journey in itself and is spectacular in the evening as the lights of Hong Kong bring that city to life. Additionally, you can catch an iconic Hong Kong double decker tram along the island’s main streets. All public transport transport in Hong Kong is Octopus-friendly!
Sightseeing in Hong Kong. Where do you start?
So, what to see and do in Hong Kong and Kowloon, and where do we start? Perhaps an appropriate place to begin your Hong Kong sightseeing adventure is at the highest point on the island, the Peak. On a clear day you will get an unbelievable view of Hong Kong Harbour and the skyline that forms the foreshore, across to Kowloon and the New Territories. The spectacular vista of the Hong Kong Harbour foreshore lined by architecturally stunning tall buildings, is one of the best city views in the world. A trip to the Peak is also a great way to get your bearings. The Peak Tram is the most fun way to get to the Peak but you can also go by bus – red double decker buses. Tip: fight hard for the front row seat upstairs for the best views. These buses are also a great way to get to the other side of the island to the fishing village of Aberdeen (home of the traditional Hong Kong junks), Repulse Bay and Stanley where you’ll discover the world famous Stanley Markets. The winding road up and over the island to Stanley provides, I think, one of the best scenic tours of Hong Kong – all for the ridiculously inexpensive price of a bus fare.
Hong Kong is, of course, famous for its shopping. There a numerous major shopping malls on the island of Hong Kong with all the big international brands on offer, and all accessible by MTR. Cross the harbour by Star Ferry or MTR and you’ll find the shopping meccas of Kowloon, Nathan Road and further up Nathan Road, Mongkok. Here in Mongkok you’ll discover the jade markets and just off Nathan Road, the so-called Ladies Markets. The Ladies Markets are absolutely the best place to buy ‘knock-off’ branded merchandise. How about a Rolex watch for AUD$30? Warranty? Forget it! But make sure that you haggle hard. As rule of thumb, I start just below half the price they are asking. You’ll soon know if they are serious about selling you the product. And don’t feel bad, it is all part of the game. The markets are open during that day but they really come to life in the evening. Adjacent to the Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre you can check out the laser light show. It is on most evenings (check tourist guides for times). The lasers shine across the harbour from Kowloon to the skyscrapers along the shore line of the island, providing a spectacular and colourful show of lights.
One of our favourite destinations on the island is the antiques shops and markets of Hollywood Road. We bought a 1000 year old Chinese clay figurine (with certificate of authenticity) from a store here a few years back and it takes pride of place in our display cabinet at home. The best way to get to Hollywood Road and the antique markets is from Central across Queens Road. Climb the steps or take the elevated travelators. It’s definitely worth it.
Hong Kong has one of only 5 true Disneylands in the world. If theme parks are your go, Disneyland is definitely worth a visit. The best way to get there is by MTR. It takes about 30 minutes from the island or Kowloon. Check out the best way to go on: www.hongkongdisneyland.com
The other gig must-see attraction, one that is more of the spiritual kind, is the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. It is located adjacent to the remote Po Lin Monastery. This is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist monasteries and is often referred to as ‘the Buddhist World in the South’. The climb to the top of the statue is directly up 250 worn stone steps. Once on the platform you can explore inside the Big Buddha. You will also enjoy an excellent view of the entire monastery complex and off in the distance, the rugged mountains of the island. To help safeguard your ongoing travels, you can purchase prayer beads that are blessed by the monks from the monastery at the Big Buddha site.
To discover all of the many incredible things to see and do in Hong Kong, pick up a tourist map and start walking. It is the best way to see the city. Or visit: www.discoverhongkong.com
Where to stay?
Hong Kong offers a huge choice of accommodation, from hostels right through to 5 star hotels. We choose to stay on the island of Hong Kong rather than on the mainland in Kowloon or Mongkok. For us, the island offers more of the atmosphere of the ‘real’ Hong Kong. Generally we stay in the Wan Chai district. Centrally located, it is one of the older residential districts of Hong Kong. Wan Chai offers a variety of hotels, restaurants, street markets, coffee shops and ex-pat bars and is walking distance to the shopping precincts of Causeway Bay and Times Square. It is also within easy walking distance of the prestigeous residential area of Happy Valley and the Happy Valley Race Course, a favourite destination for locals and visitors looking for a great night out and a little flutter on the ponies. Race meeting are held on Wednesday evenings during summer. Again, check local events guides. Our hotel of choice is the Charter House Hotel on Wan Chai Road. It is reasonably priced with modern rooms and suites, a sports bar (downstairs), restaurants, lounges and a 24 hour gym. It is also very well located between Wan Chai and Causeway bay MTR stations. Check the hotel out online then shop the accommodation sites for the best room rates.
So, in a nutshell, that is our Hong kong. We could write for ages but we think that is far better that you discover this cross-roads of this world city for yourself.
Pinyin yilu pingan (In Mandarin – have a safe journey).
Tips for the Trip
The cost of flights to Hong Kong varies considerably, depending on when and how you want to fly. We think that October/November in Hong Kong is a great time to visit the island. Not too hot. Not too cold. Booking airfares and accommodation these days is as easy as going on line. Do your homework and search out the best airfares. Then think about where you want to stay. On the island or on the mainland? As we’ve said here, our preference is the island. Choose a hotel that is close to public transport, an MTR station then get an Octopus Card. It makes getting around that much easier.
One excellent online location for discounted airfares is a site called “I Know the Pilot”. Download the app and you’ll receive regular discounted airfare offers – some almost half price. You may have to travel between designated dates but if you have the flexibility to do so, you will save heaps.
Main picture: Hong Kong Harbour and skyline from the Peak, looking across to Kowloon
- From simple to elaborate, shrines are everywhere in Hong Kong and are to be respected
- 250 worn stone stairs straight up to the Big Buddha
- Dinah enjoying the view from the top. The climb is absolutely worth it
- Obesity in Hong Kong? Not really. A bit of fun at a mall entrance in Wan Chai
- This is a restaurant exclusively for children
- Original stone wall of a WW2 air-raid bunker in Kowloon
- This is where you’ll find all the best antique shops in Hong Kong
- And where you’ll discover one of the most interesting temples on the Island
- Our favourite restaurant in Times Square in Wan Chai
- John, is it really you? “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”