What is Hong Kong? One of those large cities in the world where there is something for everyone, be it nature or architecture. There are unlimited opportunities to enjoy yourself here, eating delicious Asian, European cuisine or a mix of both, enormous buildings, historical places and incredible nature. There also used to be a time Hong Kong was considered to be a go-to place for shopping.
Before my trip I was reading guidebooks on Hong Kong and it seemed that all of them wanted to proclaim that if you haven’t done one specific activity, be it riding on a double-decker tram/visiting The Peak/eating dim sum or riding Star Ferry (and numerous other versions), you haven’t been to Hong Kong! After reading a few of those I got the impression that most probably at this point even those living in Hong Kong wouldn’t qualify as having been there, as it’s just impossible for someone to manage seeing and doing all of that! For this visit we only had two and a half days, which was not nearly enough, so this travel story could be useful for other hurried or in-transit visitors. I believe you can spend several weeks in this city and it still won’t be enough to get the true feel of it. I always knew that I’ll visit Hong Kong someday, and now, coming back home, I know that I will surely return!
We arrived to Hong Kong from Macau on a ferry, paying roughly 18 euro per person (ride lasts almost an hour) and arrived straight to China Ferry Terminal on the Kowloon side. What is Kowloon? Hong Kong has several parts – the island of Hong Kong, with many famous skyscrapers and The Peak; Kowloon peninsula (where we were staying, this used to be considered the suburban area of the city, but looking at all the hotels, shopping centers and skyscrapers doesn’t seem so anymore) and numerous other islands. We only set foot on Lantau and only because the airport is there. But from what I have heard, it’s worth a visit if you have the time. I am surely planning on visiting the other islands when I come back, as just few kilometers outside of downtown you get a completely different view of the place!
As Hong Kong is the final destination in our very short vacation (this time not writing in chronological order, as we arrived to Hong Kong from Macau and there we got from Guangzhou), we try to relax a bit more, but in the end we are still running around exhausted, as we want to see everything, which also means a lot of protein bars and junk food, as we never have time to sit down.
The officer doesn’t ask us as anything at the arrival point, just takes a look at our passports and gives us an arrival card (no visa needed for Latvian citizens). Unfortunately, no stamps, same as Macau, so we miss out on a new tattoo in our passports. To exit the terminal you have to walk through a large labyrinth like shopping mall. Finally we exit on the street and immediately see a double decker bus outside. This is just a regular means of transportation here! The hotel shouldn’t be far, so we proceed on the foot. Enormous advertisements, grand shop windows and skyscrapers. I feel like I am in a cleaner version of New York or London, if you don’t pay attention to hieroglyphs. Even the size of the city is similar – roughly 7.5 million inhabitants live here. There are plenty of locals and tourists on the street and I feel like I am no different than anyone else, no one pays any attention to me.
Before arrival at the hotel I was trying to get up the courage to ask for a better room, but somehow got shy at the check in and decided to stick with “just” club harbor view I had booked. Got a room not far from the famous 2713, which supposedly has harbor view even from the bathroom with a nice tub. We also see the harbor, as promised, but not from the bathroom and no tub, however, the room is nice. Isn’t too cheap, but since there are the last few days of our already short vacation, I decide to splurge a bit, and 60 euro discount from various coupons helps too.
Hong Kong Park and Edward Youde Aviary
One of the must-see places in Hong Kong for me was the Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong park. Since we arrived in the afternoon and it took as a while to get downtown, I was afraid we won’t manage to get to the park before closing. We decide to take the metro to get over the harbor, and it works perfectly. You can also buy single ride ticket (but mind that you will need smaller denomination bills for the machine, and regular ATM’s might give you too large bills), or use Octopus card (which seems to be accepted everyone – even the ice-cream trucks take it). Metro is organized very well, it’s easy to understand where you need to go and how you can get a ticket, and you can find out all about in in advance online here.
Finally we reach Hong Kong park and it takes a while to find the aviary, as we approach it from the wrong side. The entrance is free and we are there before closing! Immediately we can see dozens of birds in the branches, eating corn from the feeders, running on the ground and entertaining tourists by flying from one side of the handrails to another. If just a moment ago I was all nerves about finding everything in a new city, now I am relaxed and really enjoying the company of the birds. The aviary is impeccably clean; you can see staff (wearing some serious coats and hats) cleaning every dropping with a brush and water, and doing rounds every few minutes. There are some 80 species and 600 individual birds in this aviary, representing South East Asia, Indonesia and New Guinea regions. Colorful and not so much, large, small, flying, running, pigeons and pheasants, it will be a fun place for adults and kids alike. We enjoy this place so much that even with the limited time we have in the city; we decide to come back on the last day.
Right next to the park is the tram stop for The Peak, where you can see the whole city under your feet. We naively get excited on being able to get to the end of the line just in time for the sunset, unfortunately, it turns out that it was only the line for the tickets and there is another one for the tram. It seemed that it is possible to purchase tickets in advance, but I saw several people with tickets still waiting in the same line as everyone else. It’s dark when we finally get to the top. To be in time for the sunset one should come two or even three hours before. For the best view, buy Sky Pass ticket which costs 83 HK$ (return journey included too and entry ticket to the terrace, 1 HK$ is roughly 0,12 euro). The best view from the tram is on the right side.
Even after getting to the top (and again walking through an enormous shopping mall) I still don’t understand if there were other viewing options if you did not purchase the ticket for the terrace. If we would have had more time, we would have looked for an alternative viewing point for the city from the top, seemed that some of those roads in the park would have been better. Pack a jacket for a windy day, as it might get cold at the top and it will come in handy for the line for the return journey boarding.
Sai Kung East Park
The next day is the hiking day! We had this determination to wake up early and go to Sai Kung East park before 9 am, but we are exhausted from the previous days, so we sleep in and get to the park only at 1 pm. Getting to the park takes a while. First we take the green MTR line to Choi Hung and exit at C. There are green buses right outside, we take 1A (costs 8,40 HK$, you drop the coins in the box next to the driver, no change, or Octopus is accepted too). It takes you to the Sai Kung fishing village which is famous for its seafood. Bus 29R goes from here to Sai Wan Pavilion. Unfortunately on weekdays there are just a few of those per day, so we take a cab. From there we then proceed walking to Sai Wan Pavilion. I had read in numerous guidebooks that there are boats available from Sai Wan and Ham Tin Wan beaches back to Sai Kung. Maybe in summer or on weekends, but we unfortunately found out not long before sunset on our own that there were no boats on the day of our hike. Walking back to Sai Wan Pavilion wouldn’t really be an option, as the last bus of the day would already be gone and from there it’s a few more kilometers to the next bus stop.
There are numerous trails in the park, and it was difficult to pick one (but we were forced to walk two more because of the boat fiasco). You can walk whole day or just a few hours, walk to the dam or proceed in the opposite direction looking for the deserted beaches. The nature is amazing here, blue-green water, empty sandy beaches, rocks, bushes and birds. Even wild cows!
The paths are made of concrete and there are steps, the only uncared for path was the one to the waterfalls and, since it was dry season, there wasn’t much to see anyway. As we slept in, we reached the park at the worst possible time for taking pictures – middle of the day. So this time pictures don’t do justice to this place, as it is much nicer if you come in the right time of the day.
Walking first to Sai Wan, then to Ham Tin Wan beaches and finding no boats we contemplate what to do. Turn back or walk Pak Tam Au for “few” more kilometers? We meet a group of expat hikers (Thai, Belgian and American, all very surprised when hearing word “Latvian”) and they urge us to come with them, as it’s not too long until the sunset. They are on their way to the bus and have been walking for seven hours already today! Although the ladies are in their fifties, they keep up one hell of a tempo both up and down the hill and we just barely tag along!
Unfortunately the way back is not too exciting – green bushes both sides of the road, abandoned fishing village and… we see a boat. This one is headed to the opposite side of the small inner harbor. Despite seeing no sings on several trail crossings we manage to get to the bus stop just five minutes before the bus arrives and we head back to the city. Sunset and the “blue hour” are long gone by then, so we are stuck with black sky and bright neon lights.
Star Ferry offers several routes in the harbor, one of them from Hong Kong to Kowloon. National Geographic Traveler calls it one of the best things to do in Hong Kong, others say if you haven’t done it, you haven’t been here and yet others call it best value cruise in the world. We only pay 2 HK$ per ticket (which is cheaper than metro).
The journey doesn’t take too long and in the evening there weren’t too many people interested in doing it, so we have full view to see the harbor, red sailed Aqua Luna and lightshows on the skyscrapers. We walk back to the hotel, no detour to Avenue of Stars as it’s closed for renovation. To be honest, I enjoy Kowloon side much more; the view is better here, so seem to think also numerous photographers offering their services, as well as amateurs taking pictures when we come back on the last day of the visit.
Last Day in Hong Kong
We spend our last day walking in the city, enjoying the upper pedestrian walks; see the downtown, Wan Chai, with contrasting small crumbling houses and enormous skyscrapers. Walk both sides of the harbor again and meet a group of pupils doing their English assignment on us. They also enjoy taking pictures with us, as we are significantly taller than average Hongkonger. In the evening we also go to the famous Temple Street Market, where you can by Chinese-made purses, wallets and other small items. Basically all of the same we saw in Guangzhou just a week before, but more expensive. Unless you have a dream and it’s a knock-off purse with a large logo on it, most probably you won’t buy anything here.
At the end of the day we relax a bit in the hotel lounge area and then head out to find the free Kowloon shuttle bus that stops at the hotel across the street. Airport express is 90 HK$ per person, you can immediately check in you bags there and proceed to the train. 20 minutes later you will be in the airport.
It’s quite possible that after visiting India everything seems clean, fluffy and smells nice. But I am still surprised if people wait in line for the bus or entering the metro car is according to signs drawn on the floor, or the fact that it’s forbidden to eat or drink in any public transport. Service was nice everywhere, most of people spoke at least some English (although not as good as I had expected) and the traffic in the city was very well organized and understandable.
It didn’t seem even for a moment that we should beware of pickpockets or anything worse. The only intrusive behavior was on Nathan Road from numerous knock-off Rolex sellers. Other than that the city was very unobtrusive, and did not seem as tourist-packed as Macau felt like. Our visit was short and I still have the feeling that there was so much more to explore! It’s a city where there is something for everyone – shop, walk, enjoy food or take pictures. Although it may seem that large cities have a certain pace, it didn’t seem so in Hong Kong. People walked slowly on the streets, enjoying the scenery and talking to each other, it all seemed very peaceful and I am sure will do the same next time we visit!