I arrived in Hong Kong on a warm September afternoon with a red suitcase and city guide pamphlets written in Chinese characters with minute English translations that promise adventure and fun. Hong Kong is governed under the principle of “one country, two systems” under China. This means that Hong Kong has its own economic and political system and it also maintains its independent executive, legislative, and judiciary powers while being a part of China. Getting from the airport in 1 Sky Plaza Road, Hong Kong to the heart of the city was easy. We purchased a local SIM card for my sister’s phone, so we could have unlimited Internet access in case we needed to Google something, and Octopus cards. Getting around the city requires a lot of train rides, thus having an unlimited pass is ideal. Aside from the Internet, almost all locals speak English here and are good with providing directions.
After checking in on a budget hotel in Chungking Mansion, my sister and I hopped on a bus to Stanley Island, a shopping center at the south part of Hong Kong. There are also a lot of nice and comfortable hotels within the Tsim Sha Tsui area if budget is not a problem for you. For those who prefer Airbnb, a lot of these can also be found in MongKok and Wan Chai.
The way to Stanley Island is a huge contrast to the busy city. Here, you will have the perfect view of the ocean glistening under the sun and lush green mountains. Tourists and locals can be seen sunbathing at the beach. As someone who hasn’t seen a Maserati in person before, I squealed at the sight of a shop sitting proudly by the roadside just between the mountain and the shore.
The Island was full of tourists who wanted to get their shopping fix. The stalls had a variety of selections-from souvenir items, everyday use, household items, and local delicacies. The island is full of restaurants and local cafes that could satisfy any foodie. I found a local bookstore with a beach themed exterior; unfortunately, their books and magazines are in Chinese.
The people in the city get to places mostly via trains and buses; taxi cabs are available, although it’s a bit pricey. There is no train going to Stanley Island though, but the good thing is buses are available every 30 minutes.
My sister brought an extra empty suitcase since Hong Kong is a shopping haven, and she was determined to fill it up. Right after Stanley Island, we went to a night market district in central Kowloon called Temple Street. The night market is basically a couple of streets purposely closed for the night so that vendors can pitch tents and lay out their goods- refrigerator magnets, tea sets, paintings, clothes, antiques, jewelry, electronics, and whatnot. Prices here are cheap. If you know how to haggle, it is even cheaper. The trick is to ask the price and then motion to walk away. The prices would go a bit lower every time.
Our second day was dedicated mainly to Disneyland. Same as almost all Disneylands, it’s the happiest and one of the priciest places. After hopping from one train station to another, the final train going to Disneyland is Mickey Mouse themed- an appetizer for everything Disney that we were about to see. Among the rides and the shows, the best part for me was the Lion King show.I sang to every song, cheered to every happy moments, and teared up when Simba’s father got killed. The crowd gave a standing ovation once the play was over. I wanted to watch another round; however, there were so many things that we still hadn’t seen and tried yet. Aside from The Lion King, the firework display and the parade of characters every night are among those things that guests came to see; however,
it rained and the display and parade were cancelled. The weather in Hong Kong is monsoon-influenced subtropical climate. There is basically mild, dry winters or hot, humid, and wet summers. According to the locals and tourists who frequent Hong Kong, the best time to visit is anytime from October to early December. Although Hong Kong experiences winter every mid-December to February, it has never experienced snow.
One of the top places to visit in Hong Kong is Ocean Park. Our third day was spent here. Having visited Ocean Park in Manila just three months prior, I almost bailed on this one. I was glad I did not. Ocean Park is home to a few pandas! Pandas are bears-large black and white Chinese mammals that are native to central China. We would have wanted to touch and hug one of those pandas, but there was a thick glass that separates them from us.
Still, seeing them move, eat, play, and even sleep was a joy. Aside from the pandas, fishes, and sea lions, other attractions here include the rides and the animal shows. If you’re into a thrill roller coaster ride, the Hair Raiser is highly recommended. It only lasts for three minutes, but it seemed like the longest three minutes of my life. Ocean Park has two points, and both are located on mountain tops. To get to the second point where you can ride the Hair Raiser and watch the sea lion show among others, you can either take the cable car ride or the underwater train/submarine. The cable car ride which lasts for fifteen to twenty minutes would give you a breathtaking sight of Hong Kong. I could not count the number of times I said “wow” to myself.
If you have a fear of heights though, taking the submarine would be the best option for you. We took this one going back to the first point of the park, because I was hoping to see fishes and corals along the way. The train did not have windows though, and the only fishes that can be seen were from the LED screens on the ceiling. If you are not in a hurry, the fountain show is worth the wait. We watched the park’s lagoon splendid transformation into a 360-degree water screen show. They showed a tale that symbolizes the Earth and human relationships and the humans’ responsibility to protect the planet. It was a Chinese folklore told in high-tech special effects with lights and fountains.
We wanted to take a break from themed parks, so we availed ourselves of the Big Bus’ hop-on hop-off tour for the day. The tour took us to Victoria Peak, locally known as The Peak, which gave us an amazing view of the city. This is in the western half of Hong Kong Island.
Aside from appreciating the view and the adventurous tram ride going up, we learned a lot about the structures and buildings that can be seen from the peak through the device provided which would narrate fun facts about whatever it is that your telescope is currently viewing.
One of the attractions in The Peak is Madame Tussauds shop. A wax figure of Bruce Lee (famous Hong Kong-American martial artist and actor) is waiting for you by the door. My favorite was Audrey Hepburn’s figure copied from a scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Our next stop was The Avenue of Stars.
This is Hong Kong’s version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and it honors the celebrities of Hong Kong’s film industry. When the sun started to set, we hopped on another double-decker tour bus, and found ourselves bound for Stanley Island again. The difference this time was we had audio devices that narrated fun and historical facts about every important infrastructure along the way.
The final stop for the day brought us Victoria Harbour. Positioned between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Victoria Harbour (also known as Victoria Bay) this largest harbour in China gives a stunning panoramic view of the city and is considered one of the major attractions in Hong Kong.
Come nighttime, a myriad of lights from the skyscrapers would come alive and twinkle their way into the night, showcasing the famous Victoria Harbour’s Symphony of Lights. This features more than forty skyscrapers, and was listed in Guinness World Records as the world’s largest and permanent light and sound show. There’s no wonder why Hong Kong holds the title of being one of the three cities (along with Hakodate, Japan and Naples, Italy) with “the best night scenes in the world.”
Most tourists who visit Hong Kong would usually go for a side trip in the “Vegas of China”- Macau. If you are in the mood for gambling and shopping, this is the perfect haven for you. You can do casino hopping from The Venetian to Four Seasons. Macau has a very interesting cultural mix; if Hong Kong was a British Colony, Macau was a former Portuguese colony.
You can find restaurants that serve both dim sum and paella here, or get lost in streets with Portuguese filled with Cantonese speaking locals. Taipa Village houses rustic and cozy Chinese/Portuguese shops. For a more historic and cultural feel, head to the Ruins of St. Paul Church, KunIam Statue, or the Chinese temples that are situated in different corners of Macau. There are a couple of them in Taipa Village.
Our last day in Hong Kong was spent on shopping. If retail therapy is in your vocabulary, you’ve come to the right place. For shoppers who want to focus on designer brands, head to the malls such as IFC, Times Square, Pacific Place, or the Landmark, to name just a few. For those who would love to experience authentic local shopping experience, Hong Kong has a lot of options, such as the famous street markets in Temple Street and Tung Choi Street. Gems and jewelry, especially jade and pearls, are abundant in Hong Kong. The Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei is a must visit for gem lovers.
We spent our last night packing and repacking our suitcases with everything Hong Kong. After an eventful week full of themed parks, getting lost in subways, bowls of congees, and street markets, we were finally ready to go home. While waiting for our flight at the airport, my sister was already making a list of things we need to do and see on our next visit.