Here’s what absolutely blew my mind about Hong Kong: that famous skyline you associate with Hong Kong, the skyscrapers packed together, is like that because 75% of Hong Kong is protected beaches, grasslands, mountains, woodland and countryside. The 7.5 million people that live in Hong Kong all live within 25% of the country’s land, which makes many of the city areas in Hong Kong among the most densely populated in the world. Hong Kong is mainly comprised of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the ‘New Territories’, but is actually made up of 263 islands. Historically the ownership of Hong Kong has changed hands many times, but today Hong Kong is an autonomous territory in southeast China, but also part of China; it’s ‘kind of China’.
Hong Kong is magical. It’s like a social experiment that went right. The city is exciting, busy and modern, with everything you could imagine available to eat, drink and do at all times. But take a short trip out of the city and you’re in a vastly different place. Mountains and beaches and areas of incredible natural beauty actually dominate Hong Kong. It’s like Hong is the immense city and Kong is the countryside but they are both the same place. Hong Kong is a paradox.
We were there for five nights visiting our amazing friends Doug & Lauren, who not only guided us around Hong Kong and showed us a great time, but contributed their local knowledge to this blog.
We arrived to Hong Kong on a flight from London via Manila with Philippine Air. We were on our way home to New Zealand and had actually booked separate London to Manila and Manila to Auckland flights, so that we could fly Manilla to Hong Kong and see our friends. Our Manila to Hong Kong flights cost £157.29 ($1584HKD) each (return), took about 2h20m each leg, and included a 20kg baggage allowance.
I’m not sure I really need to elaborate on the London to Manila or Manila to Hong Kong route. You fly. You can fly London to Hong Kong direct with Cathay Pacific, but for us it was cheapest to stop in Manila and connect, since we were continuing to Auckland. Um, book your flights in advance?
Hong Kong airport is 40km from Hong Kong Island, and consists almost entirely of reclaimed land; something Hong Kong knows a lot about. The airport website is hilariously old fashioned, but the airport itself is super modern. Public transport links from the airport are trains and buses, the former can get you to the city in 25 minutes for $100 (HKD). There are various buses that service the route but the cost and journey time really depends on where you are going. The bus does provide excellent views when arriving into the city but my advice is to take the train and be done with it. It’s cheap, fast and will get you to the centre of the city.
Getting around Hong Kong is unusually easy when using the incredible public transport network. When you arrive to Hong Kong, get an octopus card immediately. The octopus card can be used to travel on trains (MTR), trams, ferries, buses and minibuses, but can also be used in supermarkets, convenience stores, fast-food shops, vending machines and more. You can get a ‘sold tourist’ octopus card that you keep for $39HKD, or an on-loan card for a $50HKD refundable deposit. The MTR trains are a very cheap, fast way to travel around the city.
Taxis in Hong Kong are safe, reliable and cheap. All taxis run on a meter but you will be charged extra for luggage and road tolls. There are three different colours of taxi: red taxis are the urban taxis, green are the New Territories or rural taxis, and the blue taxis are for Lantau Island. We used taxis six or seven times during our trip and always found them to be fast and cheap.
Escalators are actually a form of transport in Hong Kong and can be a great way to cut through the congested streets. The Mid-Level Escalators are the longest covered escalator system in the world. I think some of the escalator routes charge a negligible fee that you can pay with your Octopus card.
It’s worth reading up on Hong Kong transport to get your head around the myriad of options before you go there.
Hint – the MTR is mercifully air-conditioned, as are many of the walkways and tunnels that connect stations and shopping centres. Take advantage of these when it’s hot!
We stayed with friends in their apartment near Causeway Bay, so for us accommodation was free!
**Please note – prices are based on July rates.**
For authentic, if slightly sketchy Hong Kong traveller accommodation, check out Chungking Mansions. It’s a notorious 15-storey maze of restaurants, ‘shops’, offices and supposedly the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong in its hostels and guesthouses. Even if you don’t stay here, make sure to visit for the food.
Hostels with a review rating of 7.5/10 or higher have dorm beds starting at $70HKD per night, for somewhere 8.5/10 or higher you’re looking at around $130HKD per night. Three of the highest rated hostels are Rainbow Lodge and Urban Pack in Kowloon, and Check Inn HK on Hong Kong Island.
You can find private bnb rooms on Airbnb from around $250HKD per night for a double, with an average of around $450HKD per night. Private apartments start from around $400HKD per night and average about $700HKD for somewhere good. Be careful when booking bnb’s in Hong Kong, do your research; small apartments are normal but make sure you’re somewhere nice with air conditioning.
Hotel rooms in Hong Kong start at $300HKD per night for a basic double, but you’re looking at more like $1000HKD per night for somewhere nice.
Personally, I would stay on Hong Kong Island, but that might be because that’s where we were based. I don’t think area matters too much, everywhere we visited in Hong Kong was pretty awesome, and the public transport is so good that travelling around is quick and easy.
There is too much to see in Hong Kong in just six days, even with the world’s greatest friends/tour guides to take charge, I couldn’t even begin. So I won’t. I’m letting the world’s greatest friends/tour guides take charge of the blog as well! Here’s the local low-down on how to do Hong Kong by local’s Doug and Lauren.
Doug & Lauren’s HK Tour
Start your first day in Hong Kong by taking in the sights of HK Island from the top level of a ‘ding-ding’ (tram). The best route is the North Point to Sheung Wan route, which covers the most diverse and interesting neighbourhoods on the island. The tram will cost you HKD $2.30 for an adult.
If you arrive in the afternoon, grab a cheap six pack of Tsingtao or Blue Girl and chill out in the public space on top of the IFC mall in Central and watch the sunset over one of the world’s most spectacular harbours. You can also sample some tasty street food nearby in one of the many dai pai dong’s (open-air food stalls) which are located just north of Queens Road East.
The next day drop in for a coffee at The Cupping Room in Sheung Wan. If you’re feeling peckish, stop for some high quality, bargain priced dumplings at Dim Sum Square. Duck into antique stores and view some awesome street art in and around Hollywood Road (Upper Lascar Row market not to be missed). Also check out Man Mo Temple, dedicated to the God of Literature and the God of War. Built in 1847, it’s one of Hong Kong’s oldest temples; beautifully decorated and filled with the aroma of incense coming from the huge coils hanging above.
Once you’ve climbed up and down the many steep hills and escalators around Sheung Wan and Central, you’ll no doubt have worked up an almighty thirst. Stopping in for a drink or two at one of the many air conditioned bars around SoHo will help you recharge your batteries.
After a drink, go for a stroll around the city oasis that is Hong Kong Park and visit the free bird aviary. Finish your evening off by catching a ride on the Star Ferry and take in the sights of the Hong Kong harbour. The ferries operate approximately every 10 minutes and will cost $2.50 or $3.40 for an adult depending on the time of the week. The Star Ferry has been operating for over a hundred years and is something you must experience when you visit Hong Kong.
If you’re after a few more drinks, head to Lan Kwai Fong to experience the crazy expat nightlife, choose from a multitude of bars or duck into “Club 7Eleven” for a Tsingtao. Spill out onto the street and take in the chaos. A beer at 7Eleven will be a third of the price of a beer at one of the bars next door.
If you want to live like a Hong Kong expat for a day, take an all-inclusive food and booze junk boat trip with a group of mates or randoms to Millionaire’s Bay. The trips run from about 10am to 5pm and will usually include breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day and all you can drink alcohol and soft drinks. It will cost you at least HKD $400 per person but it’s absolutely worth the experience. You can lie on the top deck and work on your tan, back flip off the roof or relax on a pool noodle with a sea breeze cocktail. Once you get back to dry land, you can rest those weary sea legs by laying out on the grass in Tamar Park in Central and watching the many boats pass by.
Hong Kong is famous for some of the best shopping in the world, ranging from high-end designer brands in fancy malls to cheap knock-offs in chaotic street markets. If you prefer to shop at markets, personal favourites are the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok and Wan Chai market. Here you can choose from good quality knock-off watches, bags, clothing and electronic goods. Don’t be afraid to bargain! Start at about a third of the asking price and go from there. You’ll find you rarely have to pay more than about half the original figure.
If you’re in Mong Kok for the markets, escape the chaos of the most densely populated neighbourhood in the world by sampling some local brews at Tap: The Ale Project. Or if you’re in need of a pick-me-up, try a coffee from Knockbox, a must for coffee purists.
After shopping, head to Cameron Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, where you will find the infamous Chungking Mansions, an international hub with a sprawling maze of stores, hostels and restaurants on every level. Find your way to Khyber Pass Mess Club for some cheap and seriously good Indian food.
At least one of the days in Hong Kong should be spent out of the city, exploring its natural beauty. Approximately 70% of the region is national park, boasting beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, hidden waterfalls, marine parks and wetlands set amongst a green, mountainous landscape. A lot of visitors to Hong Kong are not aware this exists and few make the time to experience it while visiting the city.
The best way to experience the landscape of Hong Kong is by doing something the locals love to do, go for a hike. One of the most picturesque places to do this is in Sai Kung East Country Park. Out past Sai Kung you can visit some of the most pristine beaches in Hong Kong along Tai Long Wan and cliff jump into the amazing turquoise water at Sheung Luk Falls. From the city, you can catch various modes of public transport to the start of one of many hiking trails. Another, less strenuous way of getting to the secluded beaches and islands in the area is by catching a speed boat from Sai Kung. A speed boat from Sai Kung to Sai Wan will cost you around HKD $100 each way.
Another must do when visiting Hong Kong is to spend the day at one of Hong Kong’s 263 islands. One of the best and most accessible islands to visit is Cheung Chau. On this island, you can hire a bike to explore the jungle paths, temples, local shops and restaurants around the island. You can also laze on one of the many beaches. If you arrive between April 30th and the 4th of May, you should definitely check out the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. The festival has been running since the 18th century and the centrepiece of the festival is the bun snatching event by Pak Tai Temple. The event involves young men and women climbing up a 60-foot bamboo tower covered in buns and collecting as many as possible. The higher the bun, the more fortune it’s supposed to bring the contestant’s family.
Best places for food in Hong Kong
Best places for a drink in Hong Kong
Best places for coffee in Hong Kong
WOW. And that’s that ladies and gentlemen.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Doug and Lauren for contributing their knowledge to this blog and for showing us such an incredible time in Hong Kong. Your generosity is astounding and your positivity kept our travel wary minds upbeat. It was so nice to just let go and be shown your city, it’s a time we will cherish. Love you guys!
Hong Kong for five nights;
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