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City Guide: Hong Kong, China

“Hong Kong is a wondering, mixed-up town where you’ve got great food and adventure. First and foremost, it’s a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way.”

-Anthony Bourdain

Did you know that Hong Kong is actually made up of a bunch of islands?

It includes Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Lantau, the New Territories and even more Outlying Islands.  Most people think of Hong Kong Island only, which is an unfortunate thing because there is so much more opportunities for fun, food and adventure in all of its entirety.

To kick off our first City Guide, we’re covering Hong Kong on where to stay, getting around, what to do, what to skip, what to eat and a special hidden gem and tips.  For consistency and simplicity we’ll be exploring every city guide through these lenses.

There is so much to absorb in Hong Kong so here we go!

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The hotel choices are endless in Hong Kong but it may not be as cheap if you’ve traveled through Southeast Asia where nice hotels come at reasonable prices.  Even with the exchange rate, a nice 3-star hotel will still run you anywhere from $150 USD per night or more.

Keep in mind, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in.  The cost of your hotel room will be closely associated with which neighborhood you choose to stay in.

My husband, Chris, and I opted to stay in Tin Hau which is one stop away from the famous shopping center of Causeway Bay.  We wanted to be close enough to the action, without actually being right in the middle of everything.  It was such a great idea and we discovered how great Tin Hau was as a neighborhood.

Here are some things to consider while you search.

Neighborhoods

To narrow your search, pick a neighborhood to stay in.  We stayed in Tin Hau which is one stop away from Causeway Bay.  If you want to be in the middle of the action, try staying in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) or Causeway Bay.  Just know that you’ll be paying more for the sake of being in the center of all the action.  On the Kowloon side, Jordan is a nice neighborhood.  Mong Kok is a good neighborhood too, albeit more gritty and local.

Budget

Are you on a budget, mid-range or high-end hotel search? Consider staying at a hostel or a budget hotel if you’re cash strapped.  Just know that you will be sacrificing quality for a place to rest your head.  On the flip side, luxury knows no bounds in Hong Kong.  If your budget is large or you’re looking to splurge it won’t take much effort to find a classy 5-star hotel with the price tag to match. Highly recommend securing a hotel before getting to Hong Kong.

Where to Buy

The best prices are on budget travel search sites like Hotels.com, Trip Advisor hotels and more.  We purchased our hotel after doing some intense research and price comparison shopping on travel sites.  We were able to get a deep discount for staying at the same place for a whole week.  Don’t be shy about asking if there are any ‘extras.’  The service industry at nice hotels in Hong Kong is impeccable and they will go out of their way to please you – especially if you’re a foreigner.



Hong Kong has the best metro system in the world – no joke!

It is clean, fast, and incredibly efficient.  I was so impressed with their metro system that I rode it most of the time.

However, if you’re in a bind, it can be time consuming to find a metro station, navigate underground and get to your destination on time.  In that case, you can take a taxi which is very easy to get and relatively affordable.

MTR Railway

To ride the MTR you must buy a metro pass.  You can load the card with money electronically or via a reload kiosk underground.  There is usually a deposit of $50 HKD, plus however much you want to add.  This is done so that you’re not stuck in a bind somewhere – the card will eat into the deposit.  Be sure to carry $50 and $100 HKD in order to add money to your MTR pass. You can also use the metro pass on the ding-ding, 7/11 and more.  It’s so dynamic and I wish we had that option to have one card here in the states.

Taxi

Taxis are all around and are color coded for convenience.  If you’re looking to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon then be sure to hail a red taxis.  The color of the taxi will let you know where it travels to. The cost of a taxi will depend on how far you want to go.  In general, the cost is a flat rate plus an extra charge for time.  Be sure to keep an eye on the price – some taxi drivers add more than you should really be paying.  Overall, I really enjoyed the taxis and found it really helpful to show them my phone so they could read the address in Cantonese.

Ding-Ding

Hong Kong’s above ground tram line is so fun to ride and a great way to see the city without walking.  The tram line is a double decker and you can use the same metro pass to pay for your trip.  Many locals ride the ding-ding because it’s convenient, fast and is above ground unlike the metro.

Why do people call it a ding-ding and not the tram?  Easy, because the sound it makes when arriving is a ding-ding.

Star Ferry

Take in the skyline on the Star Ferry.  It offers a perfect view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  It’s very cheap to ride and drops you off in Tsim Tsa Tsui or Central.  You can get awesome photos or simply enjoy breezing through the water and watching the skyline in wonderment.  The Star Ferry is very efficient, fast and cheap to ride.  I was concerned we were going to wait in a huge line and it would take forever.  Nope.  We breezed right through, paid with the MTR pass, and got over from TST to Central in 10 – 15 minutes flat.



Hong Kong is a food and shoppers paradise.

There are so many malls in Hong Kong that I was completely flabbergasted.  On one block alone, I found three malls right next to each other.

However, one can only shop so much before all the stores start to look the same.  In that case there are hundreds of other activities to do that don’t involve shopping

Be sure to visit the Hong Kong Museum of History.  It was very, very well done and told the story of Hong Kong from its origins, to being taken over by Japan for a short time before falling into the hands of the British.  It’s an excellent way to start off your trip in Hong Kong if you love history.

There is also the Chi Lin Nunnery which has a beautiful garden and temples with great photo ops.  It’s a very peaceful place and a great spot to get away from the hectic streets.

I would personally skip the Temple Street Night Market.  If you’re into small Chinese trinkets and fake goods then visit.  However, if you’ve traveled through Asia, or through any Chinatown anywhere, then you’ve seen all the products being hawked already.

As an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, and a food/cooking enthusiast, I made it my goal to visit the knife shop that he visited in Mong Kok.  It is on a grittier side of town, very noticeably more dirty and local than other touristy spots.  However, I purchased two kitchen knives to bring back as souvenirs and I use them practically every day because they are sharp and light.

You can’t visit Hong Kong without seeing Victoria Peak.  It’s the crown jewel of the Hong Kong skyline and well worth the trip. It is a tourist trap so be patient and prepare to wait in lines.  You can take the Victoria Peak Tram which is a great, albeit very touristy, option for getting up to the top.  Here’s the kicker – once you get up there you’ll quickly realize that it’s another mall.  You have to take a number of escalators to get to the very top of Victoria Peak for the view.

If you’re in Hong Kong for a longer stay or need an activity to do, you should try seeing a movie at a movie theater.  My husband and I watched Fantastic Beasts at Pacific Place and the seating was unreal.  Imagine lay-z-boy style leather seats that you get to pick when purchasing your tickets.

Take the Star Ferry during the day and night.  It provides a beautiful view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon as you travel across.  It’s a quick 10 – 15 minute ride and drops you off at Central.



Hong Kong is the perfect destination for eating – everything!

There are literally thousands of places to eat from street food to small 6 seater restaurants to high-end Michelin starred restaurants.

The types of cuisine are also boundless.  I enjoyed an authentic Balinese meal, a legit hamburger joint and a traditional Cantonese dim sum restaurant all in one day.

Finding restaurants won’t be difficult but get ahead by downloading Open Rice, the Hong Kong version of Yelp.  Basically all of the reviews are in Chinese, but there is a simple rating system (no translation needed) and people upload awesome photos of food.

Hong Kong is well known for dim sum and Tim Ho Wan has the very best in the city, hands down.  It’s the world’s cheapest Michelin restaurant and will impress even skeptics.  Be sure to try the BBQ Pork Buns – to die for!

If you’re into spicy food, be sure to try Hot Pot.

Hot Pot is Asian fondue style eating with fresh vegetables and raw meat brought to your table.  You then cook the food in a sunken pot in the middle of the table.  You can choose spicy, mild broth or both.  Be aware though, the spicy broth is incredibly spicy, even for my taste.

The last night of our trip my husband surprised me with a special Japanese meal in the Tin Hau neighborhood.  We ate a pre-fix omakase meal with fish imported from Japan (a short plane ride away) and it was delicious.  A Japanese meal of that quality is still pricey, but compared to how much it would cost in the states it was a total steal.

For dessert, there is the famous street food waffle ice cream.  If you want something truly local though, be sure to find a Hui Lau Shan location.  It’s a famous chain dessert restaurant that serves mango drinks, coconut and mango gummy balls and more.  There are many locations all around Hong Kong so it won’t be hard to find.

Finally, if you’re adventurous, wander into a local neighborhood like North Point and check out a traditional Dai Pai Dong restaurant.  It is an activity in itself and a true taste of Hong Kong.  My local friends took me to the famous Tung Po and it was an outrageously good time.  Imagine mismatched tables and plastic stools, authentic Cantonese food, drinking beer out of bowls, listening to blaring Michael Jackson music and watching the owner moonwalk around in white boots and taking shots from table to table.  Priceless!



Shopping is a serious sport in Hong Kong.

The number of malls is downright outrageous and out of control.  After a while you’ll realize that many of the luxury stores are duplicates, sometimes having up to three of the same stores in different strategic locations in one mall.

I honestly thought that I was going to buy more luxury products in Hong Kong, but I didn’t because the prices were often the same, or more, than retailed here in the states.  I spent so much more on skincare and beauty items that can’t be purchased in the states.  Check out Sasa for awesome cosmetics and skincare stuff.

Bespoke Clothing

My husband purchased a couple bespoke suits made in the same week we were there.  It took two fittings to produce two custom suits in the fabric he wanted.  The cost of the suits was $350 a set and well worth it.  A good quality men’s suit is very expensive – a bespoke one is even more.  There is a reason why custom suits are so popular in Hong Kong and it was a great gift.  These shops also usually sell a select number of custom made suits and dresses for career women.

Malls, malls, malls

IFC, Landmark, Times Square, Pacific Place, Harbour City, and Horizon Plaza are great malls if you want to splurge.  There you’ll find global designer brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. There is also a large number of midrange malls with second and third-tier brands, fast fashion and local fashion stores.  Pace yourself, there are very many floors and it’s easy to wear yourself out by trying to see everything.

Street Markets

If you’re into bargaining then check out the street markets.  The most famous ones are in the neighborhoods of Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Jordan.  You can go to Ladies Market and get some clothes or the Electronic Market.  My favorite is the kitchen supply market where they sell everything from chopping blocks, knives, plates, bento boxes and all varieties of kitchen tools.



For all the great things going on in Hong Kong, there were still a couple things that didn’t quite impress me.

Here is my list of things to skip:

  • Hong Kong skyline light show – It was touristy and underwhelming.  The skyline adds some very faint lazer lights but that’s about it.
  • Body Massages – Go for the foot massage, skip the cheap body massages.  It’s not worth the money and the local expertise in relaxing massage isn’t there unless you’re doing a luxury massage at a high-end hotel.
  • Avenue of the Stars – It feels like an impersonation of Hollywood’s Star Walk.  Skip if you don’t want to see wax figures.
  • Waffle Ice Cream – It’s an egg waffle with a couple scoops of ice cream.  It was good, but not worth spending time to find or wait in line for.
  • Fish Balls – You can get curry or regular fish balls at street stalls.  It was ok, but I wasn’t a big fan of the fish balls.

Check out L’attitude in Tsim Sha Tsui for an afternoon or evening dessert.

Their coffee and ice cream creations are so cute and come with cotton candy puffs.

While you’re waiting for your awesome ice cream creation, they have a box of photo props with cute sayings and animated characters to take pictures with.

After a full day of shopping and sight-seeing, my husband and I randomly found L’attitude and enjoyed some afternoon dessert and took a load off.

To locals, this is a tiny chain serving coffee and dessert.  They have locations in South Korea as well.  I just loved this place for it’s quirky cuteness and tiny atmosphere.  Great find!

 



I’ve rounded up some of my tips for traveling around Hong Kong!  I hope you find them helpful and informative.

  • Purchase a metro card.  You can use it on the MTR, the ding-ding, and even at 7/11 and other stores.
  • No tipping necessary and you can leave your dirty plates on the table, even at casual dining places.
  • Carry a coin purse.  Hong Kong uses a variety of small and large coins.  They will add up and get heavy.
  • Stores open at a later time.  Be prepared for late morning store openings.
  • Stores stay open later.  Because they open late, they are open into the wee hours.
  • If you don’t see a price, it’s designed that way.  If you’re a tourist they will charge you more than locals.  That ranges from food to trinkets to postcards.
  • Take the airport metro into Central.  It’s going to take forever to get from the airport to Hong Kong Island in a taxi.  The airport line is 20 minutes and goes straight into Central station.
  • Keep your eye on the taxi meter.  Some taxi drivers tend to add a couple more dollars here and there by pushing on a button when you’re not looking.
  • Google Maps is really good in Hong Kong if you find it hard to navigate.  Life saver!
  • The further north into Kowloon you go, the grittier it gets.  Watch out and travel carefully.
  • Explore other islands.  Lantau and Llama Island are not too far away and you can get there by boat cheaply.
  • Look up!  Hong Kong is a metropolis ruled by skyscrapers.  There are thousands of small companies, stores, and cool spots on higher levels of buildings.  Remember, the ground floor is the most expensive rent so most companies have to lease up.
  • Visit Macau!  It’s a 45 minute boat ride away and makes a great day trip.

 

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