I HAVE NEVER considered Hong Kong a bucket list destination before, but I did anyhow make a 6D5N trip last month alongside my younger sister, my girlfriend and her cousin.
Getting my geography and sense of navigation right was a top priority. I started out vaguely knowing that the country is made up of New Territories, Lantau Island, Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and many other islands. Done!
It was winter when we were there and the air was (no surprises) cold. Not the harsh type of winter you get in Europe. It was tolerable in the day with temperatures at about 21 deg celsius. Temperatures can drop to 16 deg celsius and plus the winds… it can get chilly especially when you are on higher grounds in Hong Kong or out on the outlying islands.
So we stayed in the Kowloon area in an accomodation whose room I think are meant for dwarves. Understandable though, considering Hong Kong with its populated city size and challenging land resources. Nothing to complain about since we were mostly out in the day, heading back to the hotel at the end of it. Landar Hotel Prince Edward was conveniently located a 5-minute walk away from the MTR (their equivalent of subway trains) station. It was also pretty easy to get about the night markets from where we were staying. A decent stay I would say.
The night markets and streets boast many. Many. Many. Many shops. And malls. Everywhere!
And if you are a fan of sweet desserts, they really have all kinds… milk custards to egg tarts to mango sago to glutinous dumplings. I’m not someone into foodography, food usually goes straight into my mouth before I even remember to snap a photo. In any case, we were usually out shopping when we were not eating. The Hong Kong official travel guide website has a detailed list of where to head to for shopping. My favourites would be: 1) Stanley Market for little knick knacks and art, 2) SoHo in Central for boutiques, vintage finds and quaint cafes, and 3) Citygate Outlets for high-end discounted products (Yay Kate Spade!).
We took a trip to Lantau Island, where the popular Ngong Ping Village is. Travelling there was relatively easy, MTR to Tung Chung and getting on the cable car from there. The cable car ride was scary though! It’s 5.7km long! Not that I’m afraid of heights, but I have an active imagination… thinking of the possibility of cable snapping or the car being hit by too strong winds. I made it to-fro unscathed at the end of the day, thankfully.
It was a very touristy place, with attractions like the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. Would have loved to do a hiking trail, but not at that point in time as we didn’t have a full day to spare and I wasn’t travelling with my hiking buddies. The Walking With Buddha segment was particularly informative for cultural noobs like me.
On the other end of Lantau Island lies a fishing village called Tai O, accessible via buses that come from Ngong Ping. Tai O is a community of fishermen who built their houses on stilts above waters. I thought the stilt houses were different from the ones you see in Malaysia – as they were mostly two storeys. It was a pretty sight; with the excursion boat chugging along the rivers, looking out into the distant mountains and me wondering in amazement how sanitation works for these people.
Tai O village had a string of shops and hawkers lining its streets. We stumbled upon Solo Cafe and sat down to have a cup of coffee. I had an affogato despite the friggin’ cold. It was quaint really – overlooking the river. The owner of the place was also accommodative and left us with bits of history about Tai O as a fishing village and the establishment of its police station.
“M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse, ohhhhhh yeah!”.
Hong Kong Disneyland was a definite stopover during the trip, who cares that I’m 23. The MTR on the resort line was too cute! The windows were shaped like Mickey’s ears! I didn’t get to meet Mickey though (speaking like he’s a friend), but Buzz Lightyear did wrap me up in a warm embrace! We did all the touristy things in a theme park like that… riding trams/boats/carousels/bumper-cars, catching the timed shows and 5pm street parade, capturing Kodak moments, shopping for souvenirs. The night ended with a spectacular view of fireworks above the Sleeping Beauty castle at 8pm. Fun fact: Did you know that the Sleeping Castle was modelled after Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany?
Oh, and I bought myself a pair of Minnie ears.
Stanley Bay is a must-go. It may be a little far off from Kowloon, situated on the Southern end of Hong Kong Island. Accessible though via MTR to Central and then taking a 20-min bus down a winding set of roads with a view to kill. My eyes feasted on the seaside, the coastal bungalows and the Audis/Ferraris/BMWs/Mercedes that passed our way.
The area also hosts the famed Murray House which is essentially one of the oldest surviving buildings in Hong Kong from the Victorian-era. Built in 1840s, it was then used as a command centre by the Japanese military during the Second World War. The building was apparently “dismantled” from its original place in 1982 and rebuilt at the current location in Stanley. I’m thinking Legos now. The Murray House is home to restaurants and bars at present.
Stanley also offered its fair share of shopping markets, with crazy up/down lanes. Shopping is mostly though for art pieces and homewares.
Shopping in SoHo was clearly my element. There, the shopping experience is more boutique-styles – similar to Haji Lane in Singapore. If you’re lucky, you’ll wander into a shop on the upstairs that you might have missed if you’re too engrossed looking at street signs trying to navigate. It’s nice to get lost once in awhile.
So we stumbled upon this vintage shop called Bang Bang 70s. They carried the really old Chanels and Ferragamos… lots of shoes, clothes, watches, accessories and bags whose leather quality is so well-preserved. The owner of the place was saying that many who come to Hong Kong drop by to specially make vintage purchases. Well, so did I. I walked away with a 1980s Francois Marot Paris messenger bag (and left behind HKD800), best buy of the trip!
Apart from shopping, SoHo also offered many art galleries and chic cafes. If you walk down a road, you might even chance upon the mid-levels escalators in Central. Really cool concept. Because the area is steep and hilly, people travel up/down via these escalators. They are on an incline, and really looooooong. I was simply amused at having to take one escalator after another, only realising that we were heading in the wrong direction after 15-minute of uphill climbing.
We took a tram up to Victoria Peak one evening. It was almost a vertical climb, similar to travelling up Penang Hill in Malaysia. I read that at its steepest part of the route, the tram is actually at 27° to the horizontal. I lost my sense of up/down/straight/crooked halfway up.
It was really cold up there, with the chilling winds and having to queue in the open for the return tram back. But it was worth the experience I thought. We got a chance to visit Madam Tussauds Hong Kong and meet Johnny Depp. I was also bewildered by the incredibly tall Yao Ming… how can a human being be standing at 2.3m? I’m only up to his abdomen.
The view of the Hong Kong city skyline is best captured from up in the Sky Terrace 428. It was such a pretty sight of the buildings and skyscrapers with Victoria Harbour in the background – occurred to me how densely populated the city is. But it was a lovely feeling, as if you are at the top of the world. Looking down, it also occurred to me how huge the world really is.
It was a good 6-day trip of food, shopping and sightseeing. If I was to return to Hong Kong again in future, I would definitely make time to visit Lamma Island and Tsim Tsa Sui Promenade which we missed out on this iterinary. I have seen pictures of these places, and they look pretty.
Bye Hong Kong, it has been nice meeting you.