When I mentioned a trip to Hong Kong to my students they all gasped in envy, but when I asked them about what there is to do there I got a bunch of blank stares. Eventually I received two unanimous answers, “Shopping and Casino!” I somehow avoided both of these on my recent visit, so what exactly did I do/ can you do in Hong Kong?
Taking advantage of my early morning departure from the airport I started my first day in HK with a trip to the big Buddha on Lantau Island. I stashed my bag in a locker at the Tung Chung shopping center and caught a bus nearby, which was incredibly easy. I opted against the tram (since it was about three times the price of a bus) and enjoyed the scenery as bus #23 wound around turns and up through the hills of the island. The Po Lin Monastery doesn't offer anything spectacular, but I would recommend the 10 minute walk to the wisdom path, which was a bit more unique. I ended my visit with the giant Tian Tan Buddha, supposedly the largest seated outdoor Buddha in the world, and it was pretty impressive. Thankfully the weather was gorgeous so I didn't mind the 100 or so stairs leading up to it or the walk to wisdom path, but I could see this being tiresome for visitors during the summer season. Before heading into the city I made stop at Tai O the small fishing village on the West end of the island. Honestly, there wasn't much there to see but it's worth the stop if you're taking the bus back from the Buddha since it's pretty much on the way.
That night I experience the fun to be had at the Chungking mansions, but ultimately found myself in bed early, ready for some quality sleep after my airport slumber the night before. The next day I decided to move to the YesInn hostel in Causeway bay and after spending 3 nights there would definitely recommend it to other travelers.
I spent the next few days exploring what all Hong Kong has to offer, both on the peninsular side and the island. I guess as a combination of saving money, getting exercise and wanting to see the city I usually chose to walk when traveling. In one day I wandered through the streets surrounding my hostel, stopped for a break in Victoria park, made my way through Wan Chi and Admiralty, eventually stopping for a lunch break in Hong Kong park. Clearly this was a popular option for many tourist and businessmen alike, as I almost had to fight for a bench to sit and enjoy my sandwich. Although I tend to opt for the local fair when visiting a country I couldn't pass up the deli I walked by while in search for lunch. I guess your food priorities change a little when coming from South Korea versus the US because a simple deli sandwich sounded ideal. On the same day, as if I hadn't done enough walking, I somewhat inadvertently climbed to The Peak. I say inadvertently because when I started on the path along the tram line I somewhat underestimated the length, height, and time to the Peak, but once I was halfway turning back no longer seemed like an option. The Peak, whether reached by foot, bus or tram is definitely worth a visit. The views overlooking the city are pretty spectacular and if you're lucky, you'll have a day with low haze.
Thanks to the little research I did before leaving I discovered that Wednesday is 'free day' at the various museums throughout the city. I day started with an enjoyable ferry ride across the harbor and stroll through the Avenue of Stars before my museum tour commenced. I started with the HK Museum of Art which was fairly interesting although I'm not sure I would've paid to see it, had admission not been free. The painting and calligraphy gallery was interesting but my attention began to fade about halfway through and I nearly ran through the antiques gallery. After some more walking and another sandwich in the park lunch (this time I had subway *gasp*) I found myself in the science museum. Reminiscent of Discovery world in Milwaukee (to which I hold many fond memories ) the museum had many hands on exhibits and served as a place for learning. Unfortunately, the noise level was through the roof and my head was aching so my visit wasn't as enjoyable as I was anticipating, but I still managed to spend close to an hour exploring, learning and observing. I would highly recommend a visit here for families, but even those without kids can find fun here, just be prepared for some noise.
The day had somehow passed and as I exited the museum the sun was already hanging low on the horizon, leaving me only an hour to spend in the museum of history. I have to give this place credit for the well designed layout, I can't stand entering a museum and trying to decide which way to go, ultimately walking myself into circles. The HK museum of history is clearly laid out with 'road signs' guiding you through exhibits 1-8, beginning with the natural environment and prehistoric Hong Kong, leading all the way up to modern day, with stops in folk culture, the opium wars and various other significant periods of history in between. Although I tend to get a bit ADD, especially when it comes to historical data, this museum did a good job of holding my attention and making me genuinely interested in the history and growth of Hong Kong. My Wednesday on the peninsula ended with a different type of cultural experience as I made my way through Temple Street night market before eventually returning to my hostel, again via the Star Ferry which provided some spectacular views.
I spent a large portion of my final day in Hong Kong enjoying a long awaited for, Dim sum meal. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events I met up with my friend Mark, also teaching in Korea, whom I met in Japan but is from Wisconsin, talk about small world and weird connections. I didn't even know he'd be in Hong Kong, but thanks to Facebook we made the connection and planned to have lunch together. Lucky for me lunch turned into an invite from his friends family to join them for Dim Sum. Seeing as it was lunar new year many restaurants were closed, making for even bigger wait times at those that were open, but thankfully the food was worth the wait. Every time a server came by with another dish for our table I thought it'd be the last, but nearly every time I was wrong. The food kept coming, tea kept flowing and good conversation paralleled it all. Dim Sum, meaning touch the heart, is generally a meal shared with others; as I was traveling solo in Hong Kong and had yet to indulge in the meal I am grateful to this family for welcoming me to join with them for the day.
Although my visit was brief I managed to see a large part of what Hong Kong has to offer, even packing in a day trip to Macau. I'm not sure if i'll be back any time in the near future, let's be honest I have many other places to go, but i'm glad I planned this spontaneous trip to drop in for the new year. Based on my three short but packed days here's the highlights of Hong Kong i'd recommend:
1. The Peak - good for hiking or just it's scenic views
2. Star Ferry ride - for < $1 you can't beat the views, make sure to check it out at night as well. *Bonus = hop on one of the trams for a unique and cheap ride through the city*
3. Hong Kong Museum of History - learn a little
4. Hong Kong Park - sit back and relax
5. Dim Sum - because you can't eat sandwiches for every meal
Despite it's small size this is a dynamic, bustling city. Possibly filled with more transplants than natives, this city holds something for everyone. From nature, to shopping, tourist sites to a plethora of museums, there's a lot to see and do - oh yeah and eat, Hong Kong is all about the food.