Hong Kong is one of the major cities in Asia and the world. Landing at the airport, the immigration does not stamp your passport. Instead, I was given a piece of paper that looks like a bus ticket which has the date you arrived. It’s up to you to figure out when your visa expires which is normally 90 days after entry. The first thing to figure out was how to get to the city. I took bus number A21 that passes through the city centre.
Before you exit the arrival hall, there will be a counter selling express train tickets and the Hong Kong rechargeable transport card called “Octopus”. First time purchase includes the deposit and top up totalling HKD150. The journey takes around 45 minutes to an hour. I would recommend sitting at the front seat on the upper deck of the bus so that you can admire the view especially when the bus passes through the Tsing Ma bridge. The express train was expensive for me.
I stayed at YHA Mei Ho hostel in Sham Shui Po which is a few kilometres outside of the main tourist area. There were other choices especially at Chungking mansion smack in the middle of Kowloon, the centre of all the action in Hong Kong. After reading the reviews of the hostels there, I decided to pay a bit more. Check in was at 3pm though so I had loads of time to wander around the area.
The hostel used to be part of a public housing scheme but now converted into a hostel. At the ground floor of the building, there’s a small museum detailing the background of the area.
The public housing in the area started due to the need to house fire victims after one of the largest fires to happen in Hong Kong ( which was back then a British colony ). Behind the hostel building is a hill that you walk up by stairs and admire the landscape. There will be lots of people here during sunset either to exercise or to take photographs. There’s also a market that spans across a few streets nearby the area such as Un Chau, Fuk Wing, Fuk Wa streets and Cheung Sha Wan Road.
I would say the city centre is full of markets both day and night. The livelier spots were in Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon. Just walk along Nathan road and you will stumble upon all the famous markets. You can also stroll through Kowloon Park that also contains the Kowloon Mosque. Apart from the Kowloon Park , there are a few small parks along the road where you can see the residents hang out playing chinese chess, basketball or even sing karaoke.
While you wait for the sunset, perhaps you can walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade which has an almost similar view as the Star Ferry Pier. Unfortunately, when I came there were major construction works going on and some attractions such as the Avenue of Stars along the promenade were closed. However, the Garden of the Stars was still opened. the garden contains the statues of some of Hong Kong’s famous artists. Nearby is the Hong Kong Museum of History ( HKD 5 for students ) and Science Museum.
By sunset, the buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon turn bright with light displays. I preferred the view from the Kowloon pier near the Star Ferry Terminal looking towards Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong island. A lot of the bus lines will stop or pass through here.
To get to Central district on Hong Kong Island, you can either take the metro ( cost a bit more) or the more scenic but slower route via the ferry from Star Ferry Pier ( HKD 2-2.80 one way depending on weekday or weekend ). Ferries are frequent throughout the day. The ferry stops at Victoria Harbour next to the International Finance Centre Building ( containing a mall and offices ) and takes around 20 minutes.
The area around Central and Wan Chai is where a lot of the sky high buildings housing international financial companies are located. All these buildings are crammed on a tiny strip of flat land served by the Island line and a few tram networks. Have a ride on the trams if you don’t feel like walking. Trams rides are simple to use as it operates from East to West of Hong Kong Island on both directions. Enter from the back and exit from the front. There’s also shopping malls and the bar area called Soho where people unwind at the end of the working day.
Another attraction on the island is the Central – Mid level escalators and walkway system. Most parts are one way so depending on the time of the day, the escalators might head upwards or downwards. Tough luck if you are headed the opposite direction of the escalators as it means you’ll have to use the stairs. Along the way up, are high rise residential buildings ( I can only imagine how much it would cost to rent or buy ), mosques, supermarkets etc. It’s like a community of it’s own. It’s pretty amazing how on weekends it feels like it’s far away from the hustle and bustle of the city below because it’s so tranquil and quiet up there.
If you don’t fancy taking the stairs back down, you can also use the community buses. They are small buses for up to around 15 people though. I didn’t get a seat so I decided to walk back down along the roads. The roads are narrow and steep hence the reason why the big buses can’t make the journey up. On the way down, I stumbled upon the Botanical Gardens. It is not very big but who would’ve expected there to be space for a Botanical Garden in the midst of the concrete jungle. Entrance is free. Sweet!
One more major Hong Kong attraction is Victoria Peak ( HK$ 32 ) which can be reached via tram. Queues are horrendous ( I waited for 1.5 – 2 hours on a weekend and missed the sunset). My tip would be to go up the peak early in the day by taking the double decker buses from Victoria Harbour / Central ( I took bus no 15 from Admiralty Station, HK$9.20, ~40 mins ). Sit on the upper deck as the bus will terminate at the peak anyway. This is assuming you don’t mind missing the sunset. Even if you want to see it, I would still prefer the bus up than the tram. Not sure how the queues are on weekdays though.
The view from the bus is wonderful as it snakes it’s way along the hair raising and narrow roads up the hills. Other reasons why you take the bus up is because it’s cheaper and the traffic will be headed downwards towards the city in the daytime so you would be going at the opposite direction.
You can take the tram on the way down and the queue would not be too bad. I was disappointed with the view from the tram as it was covered by trees. There were a few glimpses of downtown area here and there but the tram is usually packed so you won’t be able to enjoy the scenery anyway. The journey is also very short hence an anti climax after waiting so long for the ride.
At Victoria Peak , the tram stops in a mall and you will have to go up a few floors to get to the observatory at the top of the building. There’s an entrance fee. The view is amazing and you’ll start to wonder how they managed to fit in more than 7 million people in such a small mountainous area.
Another tip is to go outside to another building , Victoria Peak Galleria (next to the observatory building. Go up to the viewing platform and you’ll have an almost similar view as the observatory. The drawback is some of western side of the city is blocked by the observatory building. If it’s any consolation, the free viewing platform has free wifi.
So the highlights of my HK trip were :
1. The day and night markets as well as the shopping areas along Nathan Road passing through Mong Kok, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon.
2. Watching the sunset from Kowloon Public Pier next to Star Ferry Terminal
3. Taking the public ferry to cross to Hong Kong Island and the Central- Mid Levels Escalators.
4. Bus and tram ride to Victoria Peak
Accommodation @ YHA Mei Ho (3 nights) = HK$ 570
Transport ( Octopus card ) = HK$ 250
Food ( mostly junk food 🙂 ) = HK$200
Other personal expenses = HK$110 ( including the HK$5 student entry to the Museum of History )
TOTAL = HK$1130
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