They say it’s not what you know but who you know; this was certainly the case on my recent vacation to Hong Kong. With a friend living out there to qualify as a lawyer and my partner working for British Airways it seemed far too good of an opportunity to miss!
After a wonderfully comfortable Business class British Airways flight (the first time I’ve actually been able to sleep on a plane) we landed in Hong Kong mid-afternoon. The first thing that struck me on our way into the city (apart from the comically stereotypical first sight of a MacDonald’s and giant billboard of Jackie Chan!) was how superior their transport system was; clean, bright trains running on time!
Meeting my friend Lucy at Hong Kong station was surprisingly easy and after jumping into a taxi we had another pleasant surprise, how cheap it was! A journey from Central to Kennedy Town (the equivalent of Westminster to Earls Court) cost us just under £5.
After settling in to Lucy’s modest flat we headed out for a quick exploration of the area. We decided we’d try hopping on the tram, one of the oldest and cheapest forms of transport in Hong Kong. This does come with the unfortunate consequence that it is extraordinarily slow, and in temperatures of 30+ degrees, 80% humidity and no air conditioning it does made the ride uncomfortable, but as one of Hong Kong’s oldest institutions it is well worth it even if only for two stops!
Our first stop was at Central where we wandered through the winding wet markets (live fish which they ‘dispatch’ to order and other oriental oddities) to the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, the largest in Hong Kong, built in 1847. The smell of incense hits you like a wall on your first step inside due to the hundreds of hanging baskets and prayer stands throughout the temple.
One thing we did notice was the unbelievable variety Hong Kong has to offer its visitors. For those used to home comforts there were plenty of Western options from Starbucks and Pizza Express to H&M and Gap! But we like a bit of adventure so decided to eat and shop local as often as possible. While there isn’t really a Hong Kong cuisine as such, their love of Japanese, Chinese and Korean food is obvious throughout the city and we certainly took full advantage of it! A particular favorite was IGAWA Japanese Restaurant at 55-57 Catchick Street, Kennedy Town.
Apart from exploring Hong Kong city, it is essential you go up Victoria Peak – you can walk up through Hong Kong Park (not for the faint hearted or easily bug bitten!) or via the country’s oldest tram which runs straight up into a department store come viewing platform. You do have to pay to get up onto the viewing platform, however if you exit The Peak Tower there’s another, free, viewing platform across the square from you, accessible by a glass lift, with equally fantastic views of both sides of the island.
The view from Victoria Peak
Another must is the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, easily accessible via the underground system known as the MTR. After a 40-minute cable car ride across the Lantau landscape the Big Buddha slowly looms ahead of you. I have to say it’s the only place I’ve seen that has a gift shop before you’ve even entered an attraction! The village of Ngong Ping which leads to the Buddha is purpose built for tourists and is quite obviously so. There is an air of Disneyland to it but it serves it’s purpose well and a gateway to the Buddha. At the foot of the stairs you will be asked if you would like a meal; this refers to the famous vegetarian café in the Po Lin monastery, where many a Buddhist pilgrim has dined. After climbing the 268 steps up, the 34m tall Buddha is completely worth the effort if not just for the spectacular views from the top. Unfortunately on our return the Po Lin monastery was shut to visitors due to renovations, however we were able to catch a bus down to the traditional fishing village of Tai O (you can get a ticket to include the cable car and return bus ride at the cable car terminal). Here you can experience all manner of dried sea life and street food. I recommend a baked oyster, delicious! As you wander around you see the latest catch laid out on racks in various stages of drying out, it’s fascinating to see the process and the braver ones among us may like to try a dried lizard on a stick! There are also some smaller local temples to visit in the area.
Cable car with the Buddha in the distance
The bottom of the steps…
Still not there!!!
The traditional fishing village
For a slightly more relaxed day, grab a bus across to the south of the island where there are some lovely beaches, the last of which is Stanley where there’s also a fantastic street market. Once a year there’s a Dragon Boat festival which we were lucky enough to be there for; it’s open to any team wanting to enter and is great fun. Nearly the entire population of Hong Kong attends as it is a public vacation, so just remember to bring plenty of water with you and try to arrive early and leave late to avoid the worst of the crowds.
For evening pursuits back in the city there are a multitude of options. Most of the ex-pats congregate around the Soho area after work for drinks every day of the week and it can get very raucous! For those wanting a quieter evening, there’s a wonderful cocktail bar in the IFC (a building with a mix of offices and shops – directly above the main bus terminal at Exchange Square) which opens up onto a public terrace with beautiful views across to Kowloon.
Another good evening activity is to head across to Kowloon to the Temple Street night market; with an eclectic mix of merchandise, it’s a fantastic place to find presents to bring back home and even a little treat for yourself! Dining options around the market vary. We sat down at one of the roadside restaurants and had, quite simply, some of the best fresh crab I have ever experienced. Some may find this a bit overwhelming so for a luxurious option try the Ritz Carlton in the ICC (the mainland version of the IFC) which is home to the highest bar on earth, Ozone, and some fantastic restaurants; we dined in the Lounge & Bar on the 102nd floor with the most stunning views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong island. This is also a convenient location to take a walk down the Avenue of Stars after dinner (the Hong Kong equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame) with some of Chinese cinema’s best-known names and one of the most romantic areas of Hong Kong.
View from The Lounge & Bar – and an example of the unpredictable weather!
From the Avenue of Stars
For our last night we had the great pleasure of a stay at one of Hong Kong’s most relaxed and lavish hotels, The Upper House. Completely focused on their guests relaxation, the hotel is a moment of calm in an otherwise crazy city! Our room was extremely comfortable and well furnished, and with the rooms starting on the 38th, have the most incredible views. A nice afternoon treat can be had while enjoying a harbor view at their 49th floor bar, Café Gray Deluxe; I recommend the Earl ‘Gray’ Martini.
Our bathroom at the Upper House – Remember to shut the blinds!
Café Gray Deluxe – despite the ‘Gray’ weather it was still a fantastic experience!
In all, Hong Kong has the perfect mix of activity and relaxation, simplicity and luxury. Although it sounds horrendously clichéd, there really is something for everyone!