When we stepped off the Hong Kong airport bus on April 5th into the VERY VERY HUMID air, crowded by more people than we could imagine, and bright lights and signs in every direction we looked, our senses were definitely overwhelmed!
We were excited to learn more about this city and get out and explore. And explore we did!
Below is a summary of the things we did in the city, which is worked into a handy “to do” suggestion list in case you happen to visit Hong Kong in the future. And if you haven’t read our last blog post with information and statistics of Hong Kong, click here to read that FIRST before you read below.
Po Lin Monastery is a Buddhist monastery located on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. In 1993, a very large bronze Buddha statue was erected, called the “Tian Tan Buddha” statue (known informally as “the Big Buddha”), and since then the Monastery was added as a major spot to visit on the world map. This huge, bronze Buddha statue took 12 years to complete!
In person, we really thought that the Buddha was very impressive for its gigantic size. We tried to plan our trip here on a non-rainy day and succeeded. However, it was still cloudy out, which provided for some very white-sky photos . . . but we were just happy to be able to see the Buddha clearly. Apparently the people who visited the day before said it was so foggy you could barely see the Buddha’s face!
To get there, we took the Hong Kong subway to the Tung Chung Station, then took the New Lantau Bus No. 23 to Ngong Ping to the Buddha. Most people take the funicular—which is supposed to be a pretty spectacular view—but the line that day for the tram was 2 HOURS LONG, and plus the bus was cheaper. Just make sure to HOLD ON!—the bus ride was pretty crazy!
After you visit Big Buddha, you can easily take a bus about 20 minutes east to a small fishing village called “Tai O.” (Or, go to Tai O first and hit Big Buddha afterwards.) This was a lovely treasure of an area, just for the small village size and CULTURE you faced as you meandered through the small paths, which were too small to really call “roads.” The beginning area is full of a lot of vendors selling different dried fish (think: beef jerky… but instead the meat is FISH! yiiick!) and other interesting things, and then you are eventually walking through the village area with all the housing. As we walked among these very small houses, I felt kind of invasive and a bit rude, as some of these houses were divided up across the pathways and were OPEN, so you would walk by a woman knitting in her rocking chair, or a group of men sitting in their living room watching horse racing. Most of the houses were on stilts, suspended over the water, and it seemed like the outside walls were actually made of thin metal, or something not very sturdy, as you could push in the side of the house easily. It was pretty humbling to see how poor the houses and area seemed, but yet there was also a sense of community and trust, as I can imagine everybody in the village knows each other and has many friends they consider family.
Anyway, you only need a couple hours here to explore, maybe more if you want to grab a meal or go on a longer hike.
[See a video from our visit to Tai O here.]
To get to Tai O, take the Hong Kong subway to the Tung Chung Station, and then take New Lantau bus #11 to Tai O. If you want to visit Big Buddha first, then take a bus or tram up the mountain to get there, then from Big Buddha and Monastery area, take bus #21 to get to Tai O.
The view of the sprawling city of Hong Kong can best be seen from Victoria’s peak, which is definitely worth the time and money to visit. Note that Saturdays and Sundays are BUSY, so try to go on a weekday if you can. Take the tram up the mountain, and maybe have lunch at one of the many restaurants around (make sure to go outside and check out the restaurants in the other buildings as well.) When you are done exploring the area and checking out the view, you can walk down the hill down the streets if you want the fresh air and exercise… or just take the tram back down instead if you wish. We took the tram down, as we didn’t realize you could walk down—and plus we were worried about the possibility of rain. The extra charge to see the 360-degree city view from the upper deck at the peak is also worth it… but unfortunately for us it was another foggy day when we visited. Oh well! We could still see some of the city skyline and nearby skyscrapers, so we were still pleased with our overall experience.
**You can either visit here during the daytime for sunny skyline views, OR instead, you might want to visit here before sunset, and stay for the 8pm light show (see #4 below.)
To get to Victoria’s Peak, the most scenic option is to take the Peak Tram from the Peak Tram Lower Terminus on Garden Road. You can reach the Lower Terminus by bus 15C from the lay-by outside the Star Ferry pier in Central, or walk from MTR Central Station, Exit J2. More information here: http://www.thepeak.com.hk/en/2_1.asp
Every night at 8pm (if the weather is good), the whole Hong Kong skyline lights up with a fun and spectacular light show that twinkles from skyscraper to skyscraper along the waterfront in Victoria Harbor. It is named as “The World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by the Guinness World Records, and it is also rumored that the show costs about $44 million HKD each year to produce!
I’m sure you can see the light show from pretty much anywhere in the city (there are like 88+ buildings that participate in the show), but there are several special designated areas around the city that also play music that goes along with the lights! I have to admit—It was very “Disneyland-ish” and overall I kind of thought it was somewhat cheesy, but in the end it didn’t matter because it was pretty incredible and impressive to watch the lights flash on and off and change color, synchronized to some lovely music! Personally, James and I ended up watching the show on the shore near the convention center, but I heard the view from Victoria’s peak is pretty amazing!—however, the downside there is that you don’t get the music to go along with it on the peak.
Places to watch & listen in English: Along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Hong Kong Cultural Center and the Avenue of Stars, in Wan Chai at the promenade outside the Golden Bauhinia Square (English only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights), and on radio every night on 103.4FM along the harbor or by calling 35 665 665. Or watch the show from Victoria’s Peak, but you won’t get the music to go along with the show.
The Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong is modeled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California. It is located along the Victoria Harbor waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Much like the star walk in Hollywood, the Hong Kong Avenue of the Stars honors celebrities by placing engraved stars on the ground with their names on it . . . although this star walk specifically features celebrities of the Hong Kong film industry, including Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Jet Li.
Not only is this area interesting because of the different celebrities names on the ground, but you get a FANTASTIC panoramic view of the Hong Kong Island skyline and Victoria Harbor in this area as well! At night, you can catch the 8pm light show (read #4 above), or by day this is a lovely walk to enjoy the view, the ocean, and the attractions in the sun. Maybe even pack a lunch and eat on the benches nearby, or stop at an eatery and enjoy some food!
To get to Avenue of the Stars, take the metro to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station and take exit J, the follow the signs to Avenue of the Stars. You could also take the Star Ferry (read #10 below) from Hong Kong Island to Central or Wanchai.
I LOVE having picnics and just eating outdoors in general (especially if you can do it cheaply), so I was REALLY excited when I read about how you are able to bring your own food and alcoholic drinks to the rooftop patio of the IFC mall! There’s a convenient grocery store and sandwich shop on the first floor of the mall called “CitySuper,” so we picked up a couple sandwiches, chips, and a bottle of wine and headed to the rooftop. What’s really cool about this area is that there are several “hip” restaurants and bars up on the rooftop, but the outside patio area is not owned by any of them . . . so you are FREE to bring your own food and alcohol and use the nice chairs and tables to congregate and enjoy the city view!
Unfortunately . . . we were once again plagued with rain and had to move to some nearby benches that were under cover, but we still drank our wine and had a little romantic night together while we enjoyed the view
The IFC building is located at 8 Finance Street, Hong Kong. Enter the IFC mall area and head towards CitySuper, grab your food and drink (or get cheaper alcohol ahead of time at 7-eleven and carry it along), and then take the elevator up to the mall rooftop.
Among the busy Hong Kong streets and many high-rises littered throughout the city, is it refreshing to find green areas scattered amongst the skycrapers. Hong Kong Park is one of them. It was surprisingly hard for us even to find this park at first, which is a bit odd because it’s actually quite a large park . . . but is just a bit hidden into the hills. There are several areas of the park with sitting areas, ponds, trees, monuments, statues, and other things like any other normal park… but what makes this one unique is that it had a FREE aviary and greenhouse as well! The aviary was quite wonderful, just for the many different colored birds you got to see feeding up close and flying around your head, but also because when you look up through the mesh “ceiling” of the aviary, you could see skyscrapers all around! It seemed SO strange to think we were in this serene and peaceful bird sanctuary, just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world!
Address : 19, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong. Take subway to Admiralty Station and take exit C1.
When the sun sets in Kowloon, the fortune tellers come out and the traders set up their booths and lay out their merchandise along a five-block area of Temple Street. The Temple Street night market is a popular street bazaar with traders selling trinkets, jade, electronics (which I assume are most likely refurbished), bags, menswear, antiques, and more. There are also many great restaurants that line the street as well, serving noodles, seafood, and hotpot.
And, of course, your visit here would not be complete without checking out the fortune tellers or listening in on the funny outdoor karaoke places nearby!
In our experience, the area seemed a bit strange to us, especially near the fortune teller booths, but it was definitely interesting, different, and fun to check out. After we wandered through the booths for awhile, bought a few souvenirs, and enjoyed some dinner in the area, we called it a night!
The Temple Street Night Market is located on the 5 blocks between Jordan Road and Kansu Street in the Kowloon are of Hong Kong. The nearest subway stops are Jordan and Yau Ma Tei.
Your visit to a big city like Hong Kong would NOT be complete unless you live like a local and take a city street car and try some Hong Kong food. With double-decker buses and streetcars galore, it is almost impossible to NOT test these babies out! Instead of forking over a ton o moola for the subway, jump aboard the more scenic—but much slower—Hong Kong streetcar and head to the top level towards the front. It is pretty entertaining to watch all the people and other buses, streetcars, and cars bustling below! The first time we took a streetcar in the city, I leaned out the front window on the top level and couldn’t stop snapping photos and videos! [Click here to see a video I shot from a HK streetcar here.]
As for food, since Hong Kong is a bit more westernized than most cities in mainland China, it can be tempting to just focus on all the fast food chains and western food (pizza, sandwiches, Italian food, etc.), and we TOTALLY got swept up in it all (yay, Pizza Hut!) but make sure to sample the local cuisine: roast duck, dim sum, shark’s fin and abalone cooking, poached chicken, wife cake and the mooncake. Also, try out a “cha cha teng” restaurant. James and I visited “Mido Café” in Kowloon, which is known as a “cha chan teng” type restaurant. We ordered a pork dish and a chicken dish, and both came with a tasty sweet and sour type sauce. We enjoyed two beers with our meal as well . . . but then felt a bit rushed to down it all because the restaurant was closing and they were kind of making us uncomfortable! The food at that restaurant, overall, was decent, but we didn’t think it was *too* special. But at the time, it was convenient for us to stop for dinner there before we visited the temple street night market (#8 above.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t end up getting to ride the Star Ferry, but it sounds very lovely!
The star ferry carries passengers across Victoria harbor, between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. On this lovely 8 or so minute ride across, you can take in amazing views of the Hong Kong Island coastline, as well as watch some shipping vessels sail by. If you catch a sailing just before 8pm, you’ll be able to catch the nightly “Symphony of Lights” show (read #4 above), and the boat will actually stop mid-harbor for a few moments so you can snap some photos!
It costs only around 30 cents each way for an upper-deck seat . . . avoid the lower deck, as it can be quite crowded and often is full of the smell of fuel.
There are three docking points for the Star Ferry:
1. Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier: take the subway to Tsim Sha Tsui Station, take exit L6. Walk to the clock tower along Salisbury Rd.
2. Central Star Ferry pier: take the subway to Hong Kong Station, take exit A2. OR take the subway to Central Station and take exit A. Walk to the pier along Man Yiu St.
3. Wan Chai Star Ferry pier: take the subway to Wan Chai Station, and take exit A1. Take the sky bridge to the Hong Kong Convention Center, and go down to Convention Aveat Harbor Rd.
More information can be found at: www.starferry.com.hk
Overall, our experience in Hong Kong was definitely a case of REALLY giving a city time to “marinate”. . . at first when we arrived to the big city, we were overwhelmed with the amount of people, vehicles, lights, and chaos and didn’t think we wanted to stay for more than just a few days. However, Hong Kong definitely grew on us as we explored the city and surrounding areas, and James and I both really loved it in the end!
It ALSO peaked our curiosity even more, as we wondered how mainland China would compare?? Hmmm . . . you’ll just have to wait to find out!
To see photos from our 8-day visit in Hong Kong, click here.
To see a video of us walking down a street in Hong Kong that had tons of meat and fish shops, click here.