We spent 5 nights in Hong Kong, which was just enough time for a ‘highlights tour’ (and a bit of running!). It was pretty hectic with lots of different food to taste, numerous stairs to navigate in the alleyways of Sheng Wan and cute ‘shop cats’ to spot in many of the establishments. The weather at the end of March was great – not humid and around 20-25°C which was pleasant exploring weather. This is what we enjoyed…
Taking the tram up The Peak is one of the quintessential Hong Kong experiences. The tram itself is a century old, and the track is extremely steep in places (we were happy not to be walking up!). From the Peak lookout, on a clear day you can see all the way across to the New Territories, but unfortunately it was pretty hazy when we went up.
Our tip is to skip the tourist shops, Madame Tussauds etc. at the tram station and instead take a walk around Luggard Road. With lots of greenery and heaps of butterflies when we visited, it’s far removed from the frenetic city below. The views of the city below are pretty good too!
Walking around Central and Sheng Wan
Walking around Central and Sheng Wan is a curious mix of high finance and expensive shops, contrasting with narrow alleyways specialising in antiques or herbal remedies. There are lots of expatriate influences (wine and cheese bars being a favourite!) but equally lots of traditional Chinese shops and temples.
In some ways Central Hong Kong is reasonably pedestrian friendly, as the steep slopes mean that the roads wrap around the contours and the up/down alleyways are pedestrian only stairs. However, this does make it tiring to walk around, even if you’re just ambling! Of course there is the mid-level escalator to help you gain elevation more easily and it’s worth having taking ride for the novelty factor of being on the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator. Sights to check out when walking around Hong Kong downtown include Man Mo Temple, Cat Street, HSBC Building, Hollywood Road and POHO. Taking a tram should also be on the Hong Kong tourist list!
Symphony of Lights
Although the Symphony of Lights show itself is only quite short, we enjoyed viewing the city skyline before and after. Our suggestion would be to take the Star Ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui where you can watch the lights and lasers on the Hong Kong side. After the show, we had fun walking around TST and sampling some street food.
Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha, otherwise known as Big Buddha, claims to be the “largest seated bronze Buddha in the world”. This immediately had as thinking about other classifications of giant Buddhas as it implies there are larger Buddhas made from other materials or in other positions i.e. standing or reclining…
The Buddha sits in the mountains of Lantau island and can be reached by bus, cable car or a lot of uphill hiking. We took the cable car from Tung Chung which had a long queue to board. The journey was around 25 minutes, first over the bay and then the mountains, but again it was quite hazy so we couldn’t fully appreciate the view.
The cable car terminus is at “a culturally themed landscaped garden called Ngong Ping Village” but is really a collection of tourist trap shops. After rapidly walking through here, we enjoyed walking around the Po Lin Monastery and the trail out to the Wisdom path. This beautifully framed Lantau Peak, hiking up here woud be more our kind of activity if we returned!
The Buddha itself was pretty impressive, as were some of the religious visitors who were prostrating themselves on every step on the way up. I wouldn’t have had the stamina!
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens were an unexpected highlight of Hong Kong. Amongst a backdrop of skyscrapers, the gardens were beautifully landscaped with ponds, pagodas and what I call ‘asian trees’. I had always thought that they grew like this – but apparently not!
There were also lots of lovely bonsais and even a special showing of competition winning bonsai, including one which was over 400 years old!
And for the rock lovers out there – the gardens even had a ‘rockery’ which I assumed would be like a Japanese style garden with raked stones, but instead was lots of showcases of polished rocks with calligraphy!
Hong Kong has many outlying islands, which have a completely different vibe to the main city areas. We took a trip out to Lamma Island, which has a population of around 6,000 people and a much more rural feel. Unfortunately, there is also a giant power station on the island and the exhaust stacks are pretty hard to miss from most viewpoints. However, when you ignore this (vital) part of infrastructure, the beaches and hills are very pretty.
Lamma’s main town is Yung Shue Wan, home to lots of expats, and the narrow main street (for pedestrians and bikes only) is crowded with cafes, bars and souvenir shops. We strolled along the street to the local temple and then stocked up on some pastries at a French bakery.
One of Lamma’s main attractions is the “Lamma Island Family Walk” which is a 4km path from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan, a fishing village on the other side of the island. This was a nice walk, although in hotter weather it could have been unpleasant. Along the way we saw small villages, farms, beaches and great views of the power station!
At Sok Kwu Wan we had a tasty meal, sampling the fresh seafood and admiring the super yachts bringing rich people to their island lunch. The ferry ride on the way back was very scenic, with great views of the southern coast of Hong Kong Island.
Markets & Shopping
Although Hong Kong is supposed to be great for shopping, we didn’t really spend much time in the traditional tourist markets (Ladies Market or Temple Street Night Markets) or at the high end stores. Instead, we wandered through some of the markets in Mong Kok where clusters of shops sell similar items.
The Flower Market is made up of a few streets of shops selling a variety of beautiful flowers and garden products.
The most popular item was definitely large phalaenopsis orchids. Some of these plants were huge with flower stems over one metre long and more than 20 flowers (they were commanding a fairly steep price).
There were also lovely bonsais, lots of bulbs to plant for spring, herbs, carnivorous plants and heaps of nice pots and planters for small apartment style gardens. Some shops were selling cut flowers and there was even a huge three story flower shop with an amazing array of fake flowers!
After wandering through the flower shops, I was feeling inspired for my return to our small garden.
In the morning the more elderly Hong Kong residents bring their pet birds to the Bird Market to socialize. There was less activity when we visited in the afternoon, and it was a bit sad to see the birds on sale in very small cages. However, the birds are much loved pets and the market also sold lots of bird treats including live crickets, worms and other creepy crawlies! It’s an interesting cultural experience.
Goldfish Market is a road that houses a collection of pet shops, but the best are aquarium related. This was a fun area to browse and some of the displays were as good as going to a paying aquarium. There were shops specialising in koi and goldfish, marine fish and corals, and freshwater tropical fish. The most amazing was a shop selling only discus fish which were huge and very expensive (and appeared to have won lots of prizes).
Back in Central, a great place for handmade items and interesting souvenirs is PMQ. The building is the former married police quarters with the rooms turned into funky small shops. There are also restaurants, bars and an exhibit space. Definitely worth a visit.
Hong Kong is a food lover’s paradise! To start our tasting adventure, we went on the Hong Kong Foodie Tour. This visited a wonton noodle shop, roast meat restaurant, Chinese herbal tea shop, preserved fruits shop, dim sum restaurant and finished with an egg tart. The highlight was the roast meat shop where we were taken to see the ovens at the back of the shop and all the roasted meat hanging up. Our barbecued pork was also very tasty! The preserved fruit shop was interesting, as I wouldn’t venture into such a traditional shop alone, and the variety of different fruit and nut sweet treats was extensive. I think we have started developing more Asian taste buds – we liked the sour lollies that others on the tour didn’t!
Hong Kong is famous for dim sum, including some of the cheapest Michelin starred restaurants. Therefore we headed to residential street in Mong Kok for lunch at Tim Ho Wan. This was an experience, I think all the tourists must go to different branches as we were the only westerners there when we dined. To start you tick off the menu items you want on a list, this is collected by the one of the many wait staff and then the assorted dishes are plonked unceremoniously on the table. The famous char siu bao was pretty tasty but I’ve decided I’m not a huge dim sum fan.
We also tried traditional roast goose. Luckily on our food tour we learnt about how to pick the difference between roast goose and the cheaper roast duck that some restaurants try and pass off (it’s all in the head bump). Other fun food items we tried included egg waffles (we had quite of these for desserts) and pan-fried buns.
For date night, we treated ourselves to Japanese degustation at Ronin. This is a small restaurant (about 20 seats), which specialises in seafood and Japanese whiskey. It was expensive but delicious! The staff were also excellent, we enjoyed chatting with the barman and drank some great wine and sake.
Hollywood Road and the SOHO/POHO areas also have a great selection of wine bars, cafes and restaurants. Our favourite finds were drinking craft beer in a back laneway at Craftissmo and from there spotting a jamon shop selling 68 month aged Spanish hams (and bottles of red wine). No liquor license, no problem – although the proprietors can’t open the bottle for you they will supply glasses and tables outside!
Also check out Little Bao – a small place with very yummy fusion food (and Asia’s best female chef 2017).
A few things that took my fancy in Hong Kong…
Shop Cats – There were lots of shops with resident cats. The Chinese herbal tea shop we visited had not only passed through several generations, but a had a few generations of shop cats too!
Slope registrations – In such a steep city and with heavy rain too, all the slopes have been numbered and have registration and regular checks. I have never seen so many private stairs for engineers to use for checking slopes!
Street art in progress – I think we were visiting during a street art festival as there were walls in progress everywhere.