Hong Kong is the phonetic translation of it’s Cantonese name, Heung gawng, meaning fragrant harbour. The fragrance of opium, spices, and perfumes may have been replaced by the smell of boiling pans of noodles and medicine tea stalls, but the smell of incense is never too far away in the temples and in housing blocks. Luckily when the assault on your senses from the sights, sounds and smells becomes too much you can escape to the protected country parkland.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated and developed areas of the world, but very few national and linguistic-cultural boundaries, you will enjoy a warm welcome.
Getting to Hong Kong
You’ll probably arrive via Hong Kong International Airport. It is described as the airport that never sleeps and is the busiest cargo airport in the world. With over 320 shops, 100 restaurants and the largest IMAX screen in Hong Kong, the airport sets the scene for a very memorable trip.
Although situated away from the heart of the city built on reclaimed land on the island of Chek Lap Kok, the airport has lots of transport options. The airport express is the quickest way to and from the city. Public buses cover most of the Hong Kong region and run until midnight. There are also ferry transfers to nine ports and coaches to over 100 destinations in mainland China.
The majority of shops, restaurants and businesses will only accept the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). There are plenty of ATMs and most places accept Visa and Mastercard.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
Hotels and even hostels can be expensive in Hong Kong. So unless you’re keen for the social aspect that comes with a hostel, I would recommend finding an Airbnb room.
Hong Kong has plenty of affordable rooms available on Airbnb constructed untraditionally as automated and private hotel-esque rooms without a live-in host. You can stay in a shared apartment in Causeway Bay for around $30 USD a night while feeling completely private and allowing plenty of space to store luggage.
If you want to splash out, I would stay in the cute western district of Sai Ying Pun where the streets are peppered with cute cafes, workspaces, bars and good views of the bay. You can also find affordable hotels comparatively to the rest of Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui such as Just Inn but I prefer staying on the island.
Things to do in Hong Kong
One of the first things to do is to purchase an Octopus card for the public transport. The public transport system is extensive, fast and cheap. It means Hong Kong can be one of the least car dependent cities. The public transport system links many of the islands making it easy to get away from it all to visit a quiet beach or go for a hike.
You will find taxis everywhere as well but they can be a little pricey.
Hong Kong is a foodie paradise. There are over 10,000 restaurants with cuisine from around the world and numerous street vendors.
Why not try a Michelin-star restaurant that won’t break the bank? Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po is an authentic venue gaining its reputation for the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant.
Most guidebooks and websites will point you in the direction of popular shopping areas such as Causeway Bay, Soho, Temple Street Night Market, Ladies’ Market (Tung Choi Street) and Sneaker Street (Fa Yuen Street). Each area has a unique feel and a mixture of big brands, limited editions and bespoke creations. Causeway Bay would probably take you the best part of a day to navigate. However, explore further and you will find that the locals avoid the main tourist areas and shop for half the price! If you continue down Temple Street the market continues after the park there are also tempting street vendors and dessert restaurants in the roads running to the east.
Not just the tourist photos of the 34m Tian Tan Buddha, sitting above Lantau Island, or the temples but look for street photo opportunities. Head for Kowloon which is perhaps the more authentic side of Hong Kong. The northern end, Mong Kok has fascinating markets, goldfish and other tropical fish swim around in their little bags hung up on the wall, meat hangs out in the open. And the south overlooks Victoria Harbour with new skyscrapers, designer shops and up-market restaurants.
Escape from the people and noise!
Braemar Hill to the east of Hong Kong Island isn’t too steep and gives great views over the east and north of the island. The hill is named after a Scottish Village. Part of the hill is in the Tai Tam Country Park. The surrounding area is regarded as an upper class neighbourhood and has mansions, gardens and well-known schools.
Much higher than Braemar Hill at 1,600 feet is Lion Rock. You need to be fairly fit to do this as there are some steep sections and it will take a few hours to reach the peak.
I didn’t hike as much in Hong Kong as I would have hoped due to the rain. But I will definitely return soon to conquer Lion Rock!