During his last trip to Asia, thepickytraveller visited Hong Kong and Singapore. Whilst Singapore is more diverse in many aspects (see my post), Hong Kong definitely is one of the world’s big cities to be visited and offers what could be described as a smooth approach to China for the Westerner tourist.
In 48 hours you can easily get an idea of what Hong Kong is about. Towers, towers, advertisements, temples, more towers… Seriously, Hong Kong makes Manhattan look pale in terms of towers! They are everywhere, and they all look more or less the same. But it’s impressive. And the contrast between new and old is clashing.
The city core has basically 2 “parts”: Kowloon and Hong Kong island, with the bay between them (probably one of the world’s most beautiful city settings together with Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town). Hong Kong island (where Central is located) is way more impressive but booking a hotel in Kowloon will give you better views of the city (see my post) and is a good reason to take the famous Star Ferry back and forth. Start your visit by the Kowloon side, because afterwards it may seem bland compared to the Hong Kong island side.
After contemplating the skyscrapers across the bay (including the famous Bank of China tower) from the Avenue of Stars, walk Nathan Road north (prepare yourself to be harassed by multiple insistent salesmen trying to sell you cheap counterfeit watches) and take the metro to Wong Tai Sin station, where Hong Kong’s most photogenic temple is located: the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin temple.
One metro station further (Diamond Hill), visit the very interesting old wooden Chi Lin nunnery and Nan Lian garden.
On Kowloon side, you can skip the notorious Jade Market and Temple Street night market (they are quite a waste of time, unless you are here for a longer period). Even the light and sound show “Symphony of lights” taking place every night 8 pm on both sides of the bay is a disappointment. Now head towards Hong Kong island to find out what the city really is about!
First take the tramway (or ding ding as the locals call it), it’s a must. The clash between new and old couldn’t be more intense! Inside the Imperial trams crossing Hong Kong island on an east-west axis, seating on the wooden benches, it’s like travelling back in time. But a quick look outside immediately brings you back to the reality of fast-paced modern life.
Central district is dense, very dense. Ride the tram, get out, walk, jump back in. It’s exquisite to take your time and observe people while everybody is rushing. Get lost in narrow streets between the skyscrapers and discover small markets full of exotic things (and cheap gadgets).
In the nearby Wan Chai district east of Central visit Pak Tai temple (metro station Wan Chai), squeezed among the surrounding buildings.
Continue towards Hong Kong park. Next to it is Hong Kong’s most popular attraction (in addition to the Star Ferry), the Victoria Peak tram. First the old funicular winds its way through densely inhabited neighbourhoods (very close to the houses), then through a forest on the mountain slopes before reaching the top. It’s worth taking it, even if the weather is cloudy. Because apparently the odds of having clear blue skies up there are narrow anyway… With clouds and fog the lookout is still quite something.
Back down continue west in direction of Soho and its small uphill streets.
The nearby Man Mo temple (metro station Sheung Wan) is very interesting with giant incense spirals hanging from the roof. The strong scent invades your nostrils and stings the eyes.
Finish your visit of Hong Kong island in the wholesalers’ district of Sheung Wan but be there before 6 pm, after that all the shops are likely to be closed.
No matter for how many days your are in Hong Kong, you must allow a few hours to visit the Tian Tan big Buddha on Lantau island. Ride the metro to Tung Chung station, then buy a ticket for the Ngong Ping cable car that will take you above the mountains for roughly half an hour with beautiful views before you arrive to the village around big Buddha (the biggest one on earth). The Crystal Cabin ticket will give you 2 advantages: a glass floor (not that interesting) and a quicker access to the cable car because of the ticket’s higher price vs. the regular cabin (very interesting, as the queue can be quite long).
At first you will go through an artificial village of souvenir shops and uninteresting restaurants for tourists… But after a short while (and passing some real holy cows wandering around!) you get in front of the stairs leading to the statue. Don’t forget to visit the close-by Po Lin monastery.
Now go back to the village and try to get a taxi that will accept taking you to the authentic rural fishermen’s village of Tai O (a 10 minutes taxi ride away). Be persistent, it’s not easy… I don’t know how Hong Kong’s taxi system exactly functions and on what basis the drivers are paid, but not all of them are willing to work… “Are you free? Yes, where do you go? Place X. No, no, no!”. It’s very likely you will bump into this situation a couple of times during your Hong Kong visit (tip: in central HK try to grab cabs in front of luxury hotels, the doorman will write down the taxi’s plate number for you on a note and the driver knows about this practice so he won’t be as troublesome as when hailed directly from the street). Because taxis here are very picky about destinations they are willing to take you to… But after a few tries (including some that will rather continue playing their crazy game on their made in China tablet, others reading their newspaper and pretending they don’t understand what you want, a few just frantically shaking their head) you should succeed. When in Tai O and unless you want to wait in line for an hour for the bus to take you back to the cable car station, thepickytraveller strongly suggests asking the taxi to wait for you and paying him only after he has safely taken you back. Tai O is very picturesque but small, so you don’t necessarily need to spend a very long time here. Take your pictures and walk the narrow main street and its crowded market up before taking your taxi back to Ngong Ping village (where the cable car station is).
The Tung Chung/Ngong Ping/Tian Tan/Po Lin/Tai O area is close to the airport, so you can combine this visit with the end of your Hong Kong trip. Otherwise take the metro back to the city, have dinner at Lung King Heen or enjoy a last drink at the Peninsula’s Félix bar or the Ritz-Carlton’s Ozone bar (world’s highest bar), both on Kowloon side. Finally allow a few hours for shopping at Chek Lap Kok airport, one of thepickytraveller’s favorite ones. Bon voyage!