Capital: Hong Kong
Official language: Cantonese, English
$1 = 8 HKD Hong Kong Dollar
Stay: Aug 20th to 25th 2014
Not to many people’s knowledge Hong Kong was part of Britain’s territory up until 1997 when it was returned to China. So even though it is part of China now; they rule as “one country, two systems” where Hong Kong has its own autonomous government. Regardless of this there have been some tensions when China tried to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system which sparked the Umbrella Movement, a series of sit-in street protests that lasted for almost 3 months at the end of 2014.
In spite of these political tensions, Hong Kong has always been one of those vibrant cosmopolitan cities where you can experience both, modern Western life and traditional Asian culture. When you are walking down Hong Kong Central, which is filled with foreign business people dressed in fancy suits; you will see mostly luxury brand stores, magnificent skyscrapers and British chain stores. Then you cross Victoria Harbor into Kowloon and you will find traditional Chinese Tea Houses that have been running for more than 90 years, night markets filled with trinkets and fake goods and stall after stall of exotic street food. Moreover, a quick drive outside the city limits and you will find yourself in the middle of nature. It’s really a place where it all comes together and coexists harmoniously.
Why do people love to go to Hong Kong? Hong Kong is known for either being a financial hub, a shopper’s heaven or a foodie’s utopia.
- Hong Kong is a prominent international financial center due to having Asia’s lowest taxation rates and high commercial freedom. Making it the perfect place for anyone to start a business.
- Due to its duty free status it has become the #1 destination for luxury shoppers all over the world, especially for those coming from mainland China.
- The mix of many cultural influences and trading history has helped Hong Kong to create a unique food culture. If it’s either fancy fusion food restaurants or night street markets, you will find it all here!
When I was looking for cheap flights from South Korea I came across Ethiopian Airlines. I thought it was kind of random to take an African airline to travel within Asia but conveniently Hong Kong was a pit stop before the flight continued to Ethiopia. My friend and I bought the tickets in April and it cost 358,600 KRW ($300) round trip. It was a quick and smooth 3 hours and a half flight.
Our plane landed just before midnight and we thought that if we rushed we could make it to the subway station before it closed. Since it was almost the end of vacation season, I didn’t expect there to be many people but when we got to immigration we encountered a huge line of Chinese tourists. By the time we got out the subway was closed but luckily we were able to find a night bus N11 that took us to Kowloon for HK$ 31.
After reaching Austin Station we had to walk a few blocks. As we walked the empty streets illuminated by neon signs in Chinese it somehow made me feel like I was in one of those typical Chinese action movies. (By the way, Kung Fu fans, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were born in Hong Kong) There was a bit of a struggle to figure out which was the building we had to go in. They all looked old and dirty with a bunch of signs all over them; we started to wonder if we were in the right place. When we finally spotted the Hostel sign among all the other Chinese signs, we took the elevator to the 11th floor and finally found the apartment with the Simply Hostel sign in it. By the time we got into our rooms it was almost 2AM.
We found Simply Hostel at Agoda.com. When we looked at the pictures of the double room we had booked, somehow we had a different idea of what the whole place would look like. So actually this was a standard apartment room in a typical apartment building that they had turned into a Hostel. Even though the building looked old, inside the apartment it looked brand new. When we went in there was a narrow corridor with 4 or 5 doors that were the different types of rooms they provided. We had booked the smallest one for 5 nights at $300.
We wanted to get a cheap and simple place with just a bed and a bathroom since we had planned to be out and about for most of the day. Well, that’s actually exactly what we got. The room was so small that we had to walk one at a time since the walking space was not wide enough to fit two. Luckily we only had one carry on suitcase with us, otherwise a regular size luggage wouldn’t have fit inside. That’s when I started to get the feeling of how is it to live in an overpopulated city packed in like a sardine.
If you want to be near the night markets and be surrounded by a more traditional Chinese environment then the area between Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan road is the best. If you prefer to be in the downtown area near the malls and nightlife then the area between Central and Causeway Bay is the best.
Our Hostel was actually very well located, right on the intersection of Nathan Road and Jordan Road with tons of stores, markets and right in front of the MTR station. We found transportation in Hong Kong to be very convenient. It was very easy to get around the different locations we were visiting. I highly recommend purchasing the Octopus Card, a rechargeable card for the MTR that can also be used at convenience stores. We paid HK$ 150 from which HK$ 100 was for using and HK$ 50 was the “deposit” that you can get back when you return the card.
The best time to go to Hong Kong, weather wise, is between October and December when is not that hot and rainy. Especially if you are going to be walking all around shopping and sightseeing. Between June and September though, which is when we went and even though luckily for us it didn’t rain heavily that week, its hot as hell! So incredibly hot and humid. Adding the fact of city pollution and the big crowds, it was a little too overwhelming.
So there are 2 types of shopping experiences you can get here. You can either go luxury shopping at malls like Element and Harbor City in Kowloon. The Landmark (Central), Pacific Place (Admiralty), IFC Mall and Times Square Shopping Mall in Hong Kong Island. Or experience the outdoors typical South East Asian markets like Ladies Market, Temple Street Market, Jade Market, Apliu Street Flea Market, Fa Yuen Street Market and Cat street antique market.
There is really no limit to what you can find in these markets. From cloths, fake goods, jewelry, trinkets, Chinese ornaments to electronics and house appliances. It can be very hectic and overwhelming with so much stuff showcased and you may even become puzzled when trying to decide what would be good to bring home.
- So aside from clothing and electronics it would probably make sense to buy something Chinese since after all this is kind of China. Chinese tea, Chinese medicine, Jade jewelry or Chinese handicrafts are good options.
- As you might probably know, Asia has an obsession with beauty products and here you will find all kinds of products from China, Japan and Korea at very low prices.
- Snacks like Egg rolls, wife biscuits or pineapple shortcakes from Kee Wah Bakery are a traditional gift choice as well.
- If you are into Teas then you should definitively get a Blooming Flower tea. It’s a dried flower bulb that blooms when you pour hot water. Definitely a very pleasant visual experience.
So if you are not really into shopping what else can you do here?
- To go to Victoria Peak you first have to take the Peak Tram to go up the mountain. The entrance to the Sky Terrace and round trip on the Tram cost HK$ 56. I recommend going as early as you can. We went in the afternoon and we had to wait in line for about an 1 hour just to buy the tickets and then fight our way in to get on the Tram. Why was it so hectic? I assume most people have encountered Chinese Tourists when travelling around but in a country like this where more than 60% of tourists are Chinese is yet another level of chaos. I was honestly scared that I would get stomped on as everyone rushed in as soon as the doors of the tram opened and everyone was so desperate to get a front seat. There was a lot of yelling, pushing and even arguing. But once at the Sky Terrace you can see Hong Kong’s amazing skyline. You can even get headsets to listen about the history of the city and see how it has evolved.
- People kept telling us to go as high up as we could, even best if it’s at night. HongKongers are definitively proud of their skyscrapers. We went to Ozone Sky Bar, one of the highest bars in the world located at the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. But you will have to wait a while to get good seats facing Victoria Harbor and of course drinks will cost more than HK$ 150.
- Instead of crossing the Islands by subway take the Star Ferry from TST Promenade in Kowloon to Hong Kong Central Station for HK$ 2.5 and enjoy the Harbor view. Or pay a little more and take a cruise on a traditional Junk Boat.
- Lan Kwai Fong and Soho are the main night life areas. Full of bars, restaurants and live music. You can spot most people in suits having a drink after work.
- A little out of the way on Lantau Island you can find Tian Tan Big Buddha and Disneyland Hong Kong. This is also where the International Airport is located. It takes around 30 minutes on a direct train from Kowloon Station to get to Disneyland. This Disneyland incorporates Fengshui and traditional Chinese elements which makes it different from the others.
- Enjoy Hong Kong’s Nature Parks. You can find these nature parks all over the different Islands of Hong Kong.
You can’t come to Hong Kong and not have Dim Sum. It would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Towel.
We read about LIN HEUNG TEAHOUSE located at 162 Wellington St, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island. A very old and traditional restaurant that serves Dim Sum. We knew it would be a challenge to order food as most of the employees don’t English and the menu is all in Chinese. But despite knowing there would be communication issues, we decided to go and give it a try. Once we got there we had no idea what to do or how to proceed. We entered this big open room filled with round tables with 5 or 6 stools each. What we already knew was that you are supposed to just seat in any empty stool you find. Even if there are other people already sitting at the table. So we just stood next to a table and waited for someone to leave. Once we had found seats, an old Chinese man came and put a big bowl of hot water in front of us. He also laid out some smaller bowls, chopsticks and a receipt paper. Then he asked about our drinks… well, that was according to the translation of the people sitting next to us. So we got tea. What kind of tea? I have no idea.
So first you are supposed to rinse all of your utensils in the big bowl of hot water to clean them. Then you take the receipt paper and walk towards one of the trolleys with dim sum. Grab the plates you want and the lady will mark on your receipt which ones and how many of them are you taking.
I was looking around the other tables to see what everyone else was having. Aside from Dim sum, Chinese roasted pork it’s one of my favorite dishes. So when I noticed it at one of the tables I couldn’t help myself but to ask the man at the table if he would be so kind to order one of those in Chinese for me. When the order came, it was a dish of chicken feet. Yes, somehow what I meant got lost in translation… I tried to return the dish back to the kitchen but there was no hope there. Anyways the man understood what I really wanted the second time around so I ended up with a dish of chicken feet and a dish of roasted pork in front of me. The chicken feet actually were not that bad at all. It’s just that the presentation of the dish and its gluey consistency makes it unappealing. All in all, it was a unique experience. Sitting next to complete strangers, trying to figure out the local food and just the whole environment. We were not very successful in finding many dishes but this is what we had:
- 叉烧 Char Siu (Steamed BBQ Pork)
- 鳳爪 Fung Zao (Chicken Feet)
- 肠粉 Cheong Fun (Steamed Rice Roll)
- 古法炸蛋散 Gufazha Dansan (Fried Egg Sticks w/ Honey)
Another great Dim Sum place was Tim Ho Wan located at 9-11 Fuk Wing St, Sham Shui Po. This is regarded as one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong. Here we didn’t have any trouble at all ordering and we could finally try some real good Dim sum. The menus were both in English and Chinese. They had a picture and an explanation of what the dishes were which made it really easy for us to choose.
- Baked Bun with BBQ Pork 酥皮焗叉燒包
- Pork Liver Vermicelli Roll 黃沙豬润肠
- Prawn Dumpling 晶瑩鮮虾饺
- Dumpling Teochew style 潮州蒸粉果
- Congee with lean pork, century egg and salted egg 金銀蛋瘦肉粥
- Glutinous rice with lotus leaf 古法糯米鸡
Another place where we had more dim sum was at U-Banquet at Causeway bay. This time we went with a friend who ordered the food for us because once again the menu was in Chinese. It was weird because we had heard that most people in Hong Kong could speak English due to being under British rule, nevertheless we did encounter difficulty communicating.
Going back to talking about eating with strangers. We also went to this really small old restaurant called Mak Man Kee located at 51 Parkes St, Jordan. This place is famous for their wonton noodles. When we arrived there it was already packed full. A man came and tried to seat us in a really small booth across an old man who was already eating. One thing might be sharing a big round table but another to share a tiny booth where plates from both sides barely fit. Anyways it was kind of awkward at first and after we ordered our noodle soups the man started talking. We were shocked to find that he had almost perfect English since we hadn’t really been successful with communicating with other old people. He started telling us about how he had come to that restaurant for many years and how the food was so good. He even shared some of his food with us and recommended some other dishes for us to try. He was very kind and funny.
Moreover Toast Box is a good option for breakfast or afternoon snacks. There I had a Toast with Kaya (creamy coconut spread) and noodles with spiced pork and egg. Other treats that are also a must to in Hong Koong are Eggette (egg waffle), Hong Kong milk tea, Yuan Yang coffee, mango delights at Hui Lau Shan, pork floss bun (I know it sounds gross but its actually very delicious) and all kinds of baked goods. I would recommend to always bringing tissues as they are rarely offered at restaurants and it might be a good idea to carry hand sanitizer as well.
Hong Kong was a really fun experience. Since I assumed most people spoke English I didn’t imagine there would be any problem or cultural shock. But after all, this is still Asia and I felt I could get a glimpse of what China might be like. I really loved the food and I felt that there was not enough time to try them all. I also think it’s a great place for shopping and provides to all price ranges. I believe that many westerners like Hong Kong because here you can get the comforts of modern life and still get the experience of traditional Asian culture.
1 DAY TRIP TO MACAO
Official Language: Cantonese, Portuguese
$1 = 8 MOP Macao Pataca
Located at around 64 Km from Hong Kong. Just like Hong Kong, Macao was returned to China in 1999 from the Portuguese and follows the same “one country, two systems” rule. Macao is a very rich country due to their gambling business. Often referred as the Las Vegas of Asia.
On our last day we decided to go to Macao. We took a COTAI WATER JET round trip which cost HK$ 300. Day trips to Macao are very common and we even bought the tickets a few minutes before boarding. It was a quick 1 hour trip.
Because of my nationality I had to pay HK$ 100 for a visa at the immigration office when I arrived. But aside from that it’s very easy to enter Macao. Outside the port you will find many shuttle buses from the local Hotel&Casinos. Just take any of them for a free ride to the city. We chose The Venetian hotel bus.
We arrived to the Casino area and had to walk across the city of dreams towards another hotel to take a shuttle into the downtown area. You can save money by taking these free shuttles but sometimes you will need to wait in line for a while.
We visited The Facade of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Monte Fortress. For a more cultural view you can go to Taipa Village. We walked down Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro to Senado Square. This street is where all the stores all located and it was flowing with Chinese tourist. The stores sold mainly beauty products and Chinese beef jerky called Bakkwa. Most stores sold this and you could even try some. At first they looked very weird with a very bright red glossy coat but it was actually very delicious.
Since the exchange rate between Hong Kong Dollars and Macao Pataca was the same, we didn’t need to exchange money here. We just paid with Hong Kong Dollars.
Of course we couldn’t leave Macao without having some egg tarts. Portuguese egg tarts are super famous here and we went to a popular place called Cafe e Nata. The line was very long and there was no place to seat but it was totally worth it.
After that, we took the shuttle bus back to the casino where there were also shopping areas and later we hopped on the ferry back to HongKong. The next day we took the N21 bus on Nathan Road towards the airport which cost HK$ 33.
I had been to Brazil many times before so it was really cool to be in an Asian country where most of the roads had Portuguese names and signs with both Chinese characters and Portuguese. All in all we got to experience 2 different countries with 2 different kinds of western influences all in one trip. Before going to Hong Kong we hadn’t planned to go to Macao so it was a nice surprise that made our trip even more complete. Safe Travels!