Hong Kong is not only about a dazzling skyline and futuristic architecture; it’s perhaps the perfect fusion of east and west, modern yet traditional, with exquisite parks and bonsai gardens, incense-filled temples, a great culinary and nightlife scene, fun day trips to nearby islands, street markets full of antiques and all sorts of stuff, and much more.
In the past, when you flew into Hong Kong, the plane skimmed the Kowloon rooftops seemingly headed toward a hill, before it turned in the nick of time to make a scary but spectacular landing on a runway that stretched out into the harbor, giving the impression that you were touching down on water.
Fortunately or unfortunately the Kai Tak Airport is closed. So, you will be flying into the Hong Kong International Airport, also known as the Chek Lap Kok (CLK) Airport named after the island it’s built on.
It’s an amazing airport – a world-class modern and efficient facility with some incredible amenities, including a Michelin-starred eatery and, believe it or not, a nine-hole golf course.
Also, attached to the CLK is the Regal Airport Hotel – a top-class property with a gym, a spa, and six restaurants.
Alright, so now that you have landed in Hong Kong, what’s the best way to get into town?
The cheapest and the fastest option at your disposal is the Airport Express – a dedicated high-speed rail link that transfers you straight to Tsim Sha Tsui in the heart of Kowloon or the Central on Hong Kong Island, and all that the trip will take from you is HK$100 and 24 minutes of your time.
As soon as you arrive in Hong Kong, we recommend you buy an Octopus card, the city’s electronic stored value smart card.
The multi-purpose card can be used on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway), buses, ferries, and trams as well as McDonald’s, Starbucks, vending machines, parking meters and even convenient stores and shops.
Buy a three-day Airport Express Octopus card as soon as you land and get three days of unlimited travel on the MTR, including your trip from the airport to town and back. For HK$220, it’s a pretty decent deal.
Hong Kong’s MTR is among the best subway systems in the world, covering Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and parts of the new territories, as well.
Your other transportation option around the city is the taxi wherever you may be in Hong Kong. What’s unique about Hong Kong taxis is that they are color-coded according to the area they are dedicated to.
Red-taxis are everywhere as they cover all the urban areas, except the south side of Lantau Island and Tung Chung Road. Green taxis serve the new territories, while blue taxis operate only on Lantau Island, barring Discover Bay.
The airport and Hong Kong Disneyland are covered by all taxis.
While the MTR and taxis are excellent options to zip around the city, do find the time to jump on a Star Ferry boat across the harbor for the sheer joy of the experience. The 11-minute crossing will cost you only 25 US cents but the breathtaking views of Hong Kong will be a priceless experience.
You will not be blamed if you get the impression that nobody in Hong Kong eats at home. While it may not be completely true, eating out is definitely a big part of life in Hong Kong, what with restaurants, food courts, snack shacks, food stalls, and markets all over the place – about 30,000 of them.
Tim Ho Wan serves some of the best dim sums in all of Hong Kong and you will not find a cheaper Michelin-starred restaurant in the whole wide world.
The city also boasts the cheapest McDonalds in the world, and the best part is they serve breakfast any time of the day.
The Hong Kong dollar is linked to the US dollar, which basically means you will always get a fixed rate of exchange for your US currency – US$1 always equals HK$7.82.
The chip and pin system is not used in Hong Kong for credit card transactions. You’ll be asked to sign the charge slip for all CC transactions in excess of HK$200 and it will be compared to the signature on the back of your card, the old-fashioned way, and you will not be asked to produce any ID – your credit card is identification enough.
When you pay with your credit card you’ll be handed the terminal where you can choose to pay in HK dollars or the currency of your country. It’s recommended that you pay in HK$ as you will end up paying 3-4 percent more if you go for your local currency option.
However, it’s always good to carry some cash on you – just in case.
Tipping is not a common practice in Hong Kong and visitors are not expected to do it. In some cases where it does happen, a ten percent charge will be automatically added to your bill.
If you are paying taxi fare, simply round up to the nearest dollar.
Hong Kong is, arguably, the best shopping destination in the world with shopping malls, department stores, and street markets. If you have a couple of hours you can smash through any shopping list without having to cover a lot of distance.
Top Shopping Locations
- Central, Hong Kong Island: With some of the top boutiques and large shopping malls, Hong Kong’s business district is the place to go to if budget is not a constraint
- Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island: The Causeway Bay on the Hong Kong Island is one shopping district that has everything for all budgets, including high-end malls and designer outlets, medium-priced boutiques, affordable department stores, and bargain street markets.
- Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon: Tsim Sha Tsui is a happening luxury shopping and recreational area, with high-end shops, nightclubs, and restaurants.
- Mong Kok, Kowloon: The Mong Kok shopping area is full of traditional markets, small shops, and food stalls.
- Sham Shui Po, Kowloon: Now, this place is a delight for gadget junkies, what with stores selling all kinds of electronic and computer products at competitive prices.
- Temple Street Night Market: This night market is spread over several blocks where clothes, purses, souvenirs and all kinds of knick-knacks are sold.
- Pacific Place, Hong Kong Island: Here you will find some of the best high-end stores as well as moderately priced ones.
- Festival Walk, Kowloon: This is a multi-level complex for shopping, dining, and leisure activities suitable for all budgets and all shopping styles.
- Landmark, Hong Kong Island: Landmark boasts many of world’s most prestigious brands and some of the finest restaurants – all under one roof. However, if economy and budget are your concerns, then this is not the place for you.
- Harbour City, Kowloon: The Harbour City is the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong and is a must-visit-spot offering great shopping, dining, entertainment, and sightseeing.
- Times Square, Hong Kong Island: One of the busiest malls in Hong Kong, The Times Square on HK Island boasts very high to moderately priced American, European and Japanese stores.
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s get down to some serious sightseeing, and what better place to kick-off the adventure than Victoria Peak!
So, let’s head straight to the Peak Tram to start our steep seven-minute journey to the highest peak in Hong Kong at 552 meters.
On reaching the top you’ll be stunned by the vast views of Victoria Harbour below and towering skyscrapers almost everywhere you see, with Kowloon off in the distance on the mainland.
You can pay and go up to the sky terrace for a better vantage point, but the free views from the peak are breathtaking enough.
A short walk away from the complex you’ll find lesser crowds and you can enjoy the views in relative solitude.
For a ground-level view of Victoria Harbor, visit the place at sunset and watch the sky change colors and enjoy the views of Hong Kong from a different perspective.
And while we are talking about views and vantage points, the 46th-floor Skydeck at the Central Plaza building would be nothing less than a sin to miss. The place affords 360-degree views of Hong Kong and there’s hardly ever any crowd – so, you have the place to yourself, and the best part is that it’s free!
Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights is another event that you’re just not supposed to miss, come what may.
This sweeping light and sound show, a daily event organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, dazzles hundreds of spectators watching from the waterfront on both sides of the harbor.
Watch the skyscrapers sparkle in the night with blinking lights and laser beams synchronized with five different themes, including “Awakening,” “Energy,” “Heritage,” “Partnership” and “Celebration.”
While you can watch the show from both the Kowloon and Hong Kong Island side of the harbor, we would recommend the Kowloon waterfront simply because of a better view of the other side where most of the skyscrapers are located. Or, better still watch the action from a moving vantage point on a sightseeing ferry.
Nan Lian Garden
Like most parks in Hong Kong, the Nan Lian Garden across the Chi Lin Nunnery is a tranquil place that soothes your nerves no end, as you stroll through the garden with soft music playing in the background, birds chirping in the trees, beautiful flowers all around, colourful fish swimming in the clear waters and a golden pagoda in the middle of a lake.
Chi Lin Nunnery
Once you are done enjoying the offerings of the garden, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hop across to the Chi Lin Nunnery, a Buddhist temple complex dating back to the 1930s. You’ll be surprised to learn that the entire wooden structure was built without the use of a single nail.
Noon Day Gun
This daily noontime ceremony, at a site on Hong Kong Island near the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, involves the firing of naval cannon.
It’s a short ceremony in which a uniformed guard marches up to a bell, rings it, and then marches up the steps to the mounted gun and fires the artillery piece in a puff of smoke and deafening sound.
Double Decker Trams
Ride through the streets of Hong Kong on one of the city’s earliest transportation systems and enjoy the urban views from a fabulous vantage point. You can even charter your own party tram and enjoy the ride with music and drinks.
If you are a souvenir hunter, then Lascar Row is the place you’d want to go to. You can either shop at outlets that sell some really expensive antiques or browse through the many street-side tables where you’ll find all sorts of trinkets and other antique items that may strike your fancy.
Man Mo Temple
This magical temple filled with incense, which can be somewhat overpowering, is dedicated to the God of Literature Man Tai and the God of War Man Cheong and dates back to 1847. It was believed that worshipping the two gods would help students do well in the civil examinations of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Let’s go out of the city a bit now and get a little closer to nature on Lantau Island. You can take the aerial tramway to the island where some great attractions await you, including the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, more commonly known as the Big Buddha.
If you want a clear frontal view of this giant sitting Buddha, visit in the afternoon when the Buddha is not silhouetted against the sunshine, as it is in the mornings.
HK Museum of History
If you fancy museums and history, be sure to visit the Hong Kong Museum of History in Tsim Sha Tsui, which highlights the city’s history and cultural heritage. While you may be required to pay for viewing the temporary exhibits, the permanent ones are free of any charge.
The Hong Kong Park
The Hong Kong Park is another unbelievably calming experience within all the hustle and bustle of the city, with streams and waterfalls and swaying palm trees and chirping birds all around in the walkthrough aviary which boasts more than 600 birds.