Hong Kong

0-thelowdown-1Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of China, but I am convinced that Hong Kong is one of the greatest cities on this planet. I remember visiting as a kid, how big and crowded it was–like New York City to the nth degree. As an adult, I can tell you not much has changed my perception. Scale is everything, but what most people don’t know is that apart from the Westernized, densely crowded areas that most tourists visit, Hong Kong is also one of the “greenest cities” on the planet. The city itself is 3/4 rural with 24 country parks, scenic hills, woodlands, reservoirs and coastline. Who would have thought?

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1-flight-1My boyfriend and I stopped in San Francisco to explore the city for a few days before heading on Singapore Airlines direct to Hong Kong. California is always a great and cheap(er) option to get from the United States to Asia. This is one of my favorite airlines and they are Star Alliance Partners with many airlines, so you may be able to use points to upgrade, which we did. We are going in the Fall which is considered low season, but also my boyfriend’s birthday so we really lucked out on the cost of the flight.

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One of my best friends from college lives in Hong Kong, so we were able to crash there. Very lucky too because hotels in Hong Kong are very expensive. She lives right near the Mid-Levels which is a perfect central location to walk and take a quick metro anywhere. Highly recommend this area.

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Red-eye from SFO and I wake up in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Express from the airport is super convenient and we meet my friend to drop off luggage. No jet lag yet, so we put our workout clothes on and head up to Victoria Peak. We opt for some exercise and take the hike up and tram to descend. That was quite the hike, but so worth it. It was foggy during our visit, but still amazing to see. Head back down for lunch at Ho Hung Kee, for their famous wanton noodles. Quick nap before heading for drinks at SEVVA Rooftop Taste Bar. Perfect view and good times!

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Up early to get a coveted spot in line at the “cheapest” Michelin star restaurant in the World, Tim Ho Wan. We arrive a little after 10:30am for the first spot in the second seating. Normally I hate waiting to eat (and have been prone to leave), but they are very efficient with their seatings. Can’t get better Dim Sum and pork buns than that. It’s in the diverse neighborhood of Mongkok, far away from the business center that most people think of as typically “Hong Kong”.  We visit the street markets on Ladies’ Street, Temple Street, and Flower Market Street. Shopping can be exhausting, so we get on the Metro and go to the Chi Lin Nunnery. Sanctuary of tranquility and a nice walk around the gardens and temple. The jet lag has finally set in so we get a full night’s rest.

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Hiking with the sunrise up Dragon’s Back. There are many trails but we opt for the shortest one in preparation for our lunch at Lung King Heen in the Four Seasons. They have a great Dim Sum and Set Lunch menu in a beautiful setting. World-class service. After lunch, we jump on the Metro to see the Kowloon Walled City. This park has a lot of history and a restored yamen for architecture buffs. Very interesting park with archeological monuments and the surrounding neighborhood is also very interesting and off the beaten path. Head back to Central for dinner at a great vegetarian restaurant just off the Mid-Levels and after-dinner drinks at trendy Yardbird.

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We sleep in a little bit and head to the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. They are renowned for their Classic Afternoon Tea served in the lobby and it was a great escape from the heat outside. We get there right at 2pm for a prime table. We walk off the excess of the many varieties of colorful tea sandwiches and crumpets on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade.  From here, we board one of the authentic junk boats that were once used by Chinese fisherman, with Duk Ling. Don’t miss an opportunity to see Hong Kong from the water. On a restored junk boast is even better! Great Italian meal at Otto e Mezzo Bombana to complete the day.

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The  Flagstaff House, now the Museum of Tea Ware, is nearly across the street from where we are staying so we decide to welcome the day. Today we decide to take it easy and explore Central by foot. We descend the Mid-Levels Escalator. The sections of Admirality and SoHo are known for their concentration of luxury stores, but it is also a great area to people watch. This is also a great area to get drinks after nightfall. If you don’t like designer boutiques, I highly recommend the Rise Commercial building. Reminds me of the tiny shops in Japan and you can get clothes direct from the designers who make them. Early dinner and off to bed for a big day tomorrow.

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Getting to Macau only takes an hour on TurboJet and it is well worth it. Once a Portuguese colony, Macau is now famous for it’s gambling and mega-resorts. We stop for lunch at Fernando’s, a charming Portuguese restaurant right on the beach. Highly recommend that place. Next we hop in a cab and head to the Historic Centre. We finally get to the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the walk is worth it. So strange to see something so old next to the bustling gambling headquarters  of the World, but that is what Hong Kong is all about. Next, we head to the big casinos to play some slots. Casinos here are so different from Las Vegas. It’s a very, very serious business here. Macau was wonderful and I wish I could have stayed longer to see more of the colonial side of things, but we have to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong.  

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Another big day trip to Lantau. You can easily get there by train, just take the Tung Chung MTR and you will be there in 30 minutes. Once we arrive, it is very easy to get to the “tourist” destinations via bus. Our first stop is the traditional fishing village of Tai O. They have many boat ride options and it’s great to see the vernacular architecture of the fishing village from the sea. Next stop is the Tian Tan Buddha, known as the Big Buddha. Not that crowded since we are there on a weekday, which I would recommend. We decide to take the Ngong Ping 360 back down to the metro station. Although a bit corny, it is actually very interesting to see Lantau from the air and I really enjoyed it. After a long day, we head back to Hong Kong. We check out the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong and the pubs are packed.

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Our last full day in Hong Kong and we decide to head a little bit out of the city to Lamma Island. A traditional fishing village, we are most excited to check out the beach and hiking trails. It’s nice to decompress before our long flight home. We walk the trail to Sok Kwu Wan  for fresh seafood and enjoy the rest of the day lounging on the beach. Head back for dinner at Langham Place. We chose the traditional Cantonese restaurant, Ming Court, and it hit the spot after a long day of hiking and salt water. 

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Early stop at the Typhoon Shelter before our flight departs in the afternoon. So glad I got to see a different side of Hong Kong this time around. Until next time…

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It is the world’s most expensive place to buy a home where HKD1.5 million buys only 500 square feet. 1 bedroom apartments in Tsim Sha Tsui are sold for almost HKD25 million. The clear winner is the Peak where HKD350 million will only buy you a 4,600 square foot villa.

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The Peak Tram became the first cable funicular in Asia in 1888 and remains one of the steepest and oldest cable railroads in the world. An average of over 11,000 people ride the Peak Tram every day or more than 4 million annually.

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Feng Shui or Chinese geomancy plays a key role in shaping architecture, business and lifestyles in Hong Kong, so much so that the government had to compensate residents living around civil construction projects for disturbing their feng shui.

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The British government colonised Hong Kong in 1841 during the first Opium War (1839-43), establishing a free-enterprise economy and trading centre in Asia, whose capitalist economy, political and social systems will be maintained by China for at least 50 years after the handover in 1997.

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