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Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong Travel Guide

Culture

For those who might not be familiar with the Hong Kong culture let me warn you it is a fast paced one. People of Hong Kong do everything fast. They eat fast, they speak fast, they walk fast, they even breathe fast. There is a famous saying that “A New York Minute is a Hong Kong second” and I can definitely attest this to be true. Even if you never blinked you would still surely miss something. It is this fast-paced mentality though that people can often mistake for “rudeness” as people speed by and seemingly cut you off unnecessarily or when you’re dining at a restaraunt and they seem to want to rush you out the door. Don’t take it too personally, as it is just the nature of the culture to want everything to move as quickly as possible even to the point of throwing all pleasantries out the door (as well as slamming that door shut as quickly as possible). It also has nothing to do with the fact that you are a tourist as this is the way of the land whether you are a visitor or a born and bred local. Brush it off and just enjoy the high speed ride.

The main spoken and written language here is Cantonese although most signs and menus are written in both Chinese and English. Majority of people here also speak at least some basic form of English so if you speak either English or Cantonese it is fairly easy to navigate your way around. Of course I would always recommend you learn a few phrases in the native language (or as much as you can), but it’s nice to know you won’t be at a complete loss if you haven’t quite mastered the Cantonese accent perfectly before arriving. If you don’t speak either English or Cantonese then I’m sure you’ll find a way to manage like any tourist would in a foreign country.

Where to Stay

The debate between staying in Hong Kong Island VS Kowloon will probably forever wage on.

Hong Kong Island tends to be slightly more touristy being home to some of the hottest tourist attractions like Victoria Peak. It is also more Westernized being that it was the original area that the British settled and where many British expats still remain. It is also home to the main business district of Hong Kong so it understandably attracts business visitors across the globe. The scene on Hong Kong Island tends to be slightly more modernized and this is reflected in the availability of trendy restaurants and night life.

Kowloon is a peninsula north of Hong Kong Island. It is considered to be more residential than Hong Kong Island although it is also home to some of Hong Kong’s hottest shopping areas, luxuriously landscaped parks, and also offers up iconic views of the Hong Kong skyline complete with a nightly light show.

My personal opinion? Choose whatever sites/attractions/activities interest you most and base your stay on that. To be perfectly honest though it won’t make a drastic difference either way as Hong Kong’s transportation system is so vast that it is easy enough to travel between the two. I usually stay in Kowloon whenever I visit as that is where my family is from but I’ve never had any issue or loss in efficiency because of how easy it is to travel within Hong Kong. The one thing I would recommend though is that you choose a spot close to the MTR subway which will make your mobility a thousand times easier.

Transportation

Hong Kong: Transportation
Hong Kong: Transportation

Hong Kong pretty much has it all in terms of transportation. Buses, subways, cabs, uber, and the iconic Star Ferry!

While many options exist my personal recommendation is that you walk or take public transit. Hong Kong is an incredibly walkable city and for those times when it may be a little bit too much for two legs and a heartbeat to handle the public transportation system is one of best in the world being vast, efficient, and inexpensive.  I really wouldn’t recommend you take cabs or uber (unless you’re flush with cash) and to be honest being the densely populated place Hong Kong is a car is not necessarily the most efficient way to travel due to high traffic congestion. And I would never even entertain the idea of renting a car and driving myself there. Let’s just say driving here is not exactly for the faint of heart.

Pro tip: If you plan on taking public transportation (which you absolutely should!) get yourself an Octopus card which can be purchased at any MTR subway station in Hong Kong. This is an electronic transportation card which can be filled with a balance and used to pay for trips on all public transport. You just tap your card when you enter and tap off when leaving. Price is determined by distance of your trip. The nice thing about this card too is that it is also accepted as a form of payment at majority of shops, restaraunts, and vending machines which makes it convenient to have all ’round.

Also something to note is that the only way to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon is either by car, public transport, or the star ferry. There is no way for you to walk between the two despite what Google Maps tells you (trust me, Google Maps will happily give you walking directions even though it’s not possible). If you want to travel between the two I would recommend taking the MTR if you’re looking to be efficient. The Star Ferry is also a great option as it is inexpensive (only $2 HKD per trip about 30 cents CAD) and offers scenic views of the harbour. It does however take longer than the MTR so if you’re in a rush better to take public transport.

 

What to See

Victoria Peak

Hong Kong: Victoria Peak
Hong Kong: Victoria Peak

Ok, so you will see this place on every tourism site as THE PLACE to go to in Hong Kong. Well they’re not wrong. It’s worth it to visit this view even if you’ve been to Hong Kong over 10 times like I have. It’s breathtaking and it pretty much sums up everything that Hong Kong has to offer. Often referred to as “The City of Contrasts” Victoria Peak is the place where this rings louder than anywhere else in the city as you see the sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers set against blue water of the harbour and the mountains covered with lush greenery.

The Peak Tram of course gives you the best views on your way up but lineups are long. You can also take the bus up or even walk but I would only recommend this if you are in good health as some of the hills up are very steep.

Diamond Hill Chi Lin Nunnery & Nan Lian Garden

 

Hong Kong: Diamond Hill Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Hong Kong: Diamond Hill Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

 

What to Eat

Cha Chaan Teng

A “cha chaan teng” translated is a “tea house”. They are Hong Kong’s equivalent of the North American diner and a must try if you’re looking to sample a piece of traditional local life. They are known for extensive menu options which offer a unique style of Asian comfort foods with a Western flair. Breakfast offerings are particularly popular and are often available all day. Eat classics like eggs served with ham, various types of egg sandwiches, and the famous Hong Kong Style French toast served with a dollop of butter and corn syrup. Heartier versions are available too including a Hong Kong classic macaroni served in a broth with vegetables and some sort of meat. Although cha chaan tengs are incredibly popular for breakfast they also serve lunch and dinner and depending on the place everything may be available at all hours of the day. So have breakfast for lunch or dinner for breakfast! One of the most attractive things about cha chaan tengs though is the price point. Breakfast typically only costs around $5-$6 CAD with lunch and dinner options ranging anywhere from $10-$15 CAD and all meals come with drink. Make sure to order the HK style milk tea, a strong black tea (typically a blend of 3 strong black teas) mixed with evaporated milk. An iced version will cost you about 50 cents more but worth it on a hot day. If tea is not your thing you also have the option of coffee (both hot and iced) as well. Some options you might want to check out for cha chann teng:

Mido Café

Mido Café is located on the Kowloon side and it is one of Hong Kong’s oldest cha chaan tengs. Built in the 1940s it maintains it’s original retro charm and gives you a taste of original old world Hong Kong. I’ll be honest, the food here is nothing spectacular. It’s pretty standard actually. In fact if I’m being brutally honest I’ve had better cha chaan teng back home in Toronto even. But you don’t visit Mido Café for their food, you visit for their ambiance. Despite the lack luster meals I would say it’s still a must visit even if you only go once just to experience the original décor which is unique and one of the few places that still embodies classic Hong Kong. While I didn’t try the baked pork chop rice they are supposedly famous for it so perhaps it is better than the breakfast I had. I guess I’ll have to make a repeat visit one of these days to find out.

Hong Kong: Mido Cafe Interior Booth Seating
Hong Kong: Mido Cafe Interior Booth Seating

 

Hong Kong: Mido Cafe Interior
Hong Kong: Mido Cafe Interior

 

Hong Kong: Mido Cafe HK Style Breakfast
Hong Kong: Mido Cafe HK Style Breakfast

Australian Dairy

Another classic cha chaan teng you may want to visit is Australian Dairy. Known for the fluffiest scrambled eggs locals line up out the door all day for this cha chaan teng. The steamed milk pudding here is also a popular and classic Hong Kong dish and is silky, smooth, and not overly sweet.

Fast-Food Style

Finally there are fast-food style modern cha chaan tengs which are located all throughout Hong Kong. They are often chains but serve their take on the classic cha chaan tengs including, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Price points and offerings are similar to that of the classic places with each one offering slightly different variations and sets to choose from. Some popular chains that you will see littered throughout the city are Fairwood, Café de Coral, and M.X. The food at these places is actually quite good, especially given the price point, and the convenience and accessibility of so many locations makes it an easy choice if you’re on the run or on a budget. If you’re not able to visit one of the classic cha chaan tengs I would still recommend you at least visit a fast food style one just to get an idea of local life here.

Hong Kong: Modern Day Fast Food Cha Chaan Teng MX
Hong Kong: Modern Day Fast Food Cha Chaan Teng MX

Street Snacks

Street snacks are a fun,  tasty, and inexpensive way to experience Hong Kong through your taste buds. Popular choices include curry fish balls and of course the Hong Kong Egg Waffles. Wash it all done with Vitasoy, a soy based drink that comes in multiple flavors and is basically an institution in Hong Kong. Find this drink EVERYWHERE, in grocery stores, convenience stores, and even served in some restaurants it’s as common here as Coke and Pepsi is in North America. If you come in the winter time make sure you get the one that comes in a vintage glass bottle. I unfortunately visited in the summer so the glass bottles were not readily available but it’s still good to drink even in the tetra drinking boxes.

Hong Kong: Street Snacks
Hong Kong: Street Snacks

 

Dim Sum

You basically didn’t go to Hong Kong unless you had dim sum. The city is abundant with classic choices and is even home to what is dubbed the cheapest Michelin star restaurant,Tim Ho Wan, which earned it’s shiny Michelin star for their dim sum. While you can never go wrong with classic dim sum here are some modern day versions that are definitely worth a visit:

Yum Cha

If you have even some basic knowledge of Cantonese (like me) the name of this place might confuse you as the term “yum cha” in Cantonese (which means “drink tea” in English) is also often used interchangeably with “dim sum”. So if someone says “Let’s go yum cha” they often mean going to go eat dim sum.

Despite the confusing moniker Yum Cha is a must visit for anyone looking for a modern and whimsical twist on this traditional Hong Kong ritual. Here you will find classic dim sum buns shaped into cute animals and creatures. It’s the ultimate in instagrammable dim sum but it also happens to taste good as well.  The space here is also bright and modern with sleek marble tables and pretty honeycomb tiling. A stark contrast to most classic dim sum places, which let’s just say prefer to focus on the food rather than atmosphere.

Hong Kong: Yumcha Dim Sum
Hong Kong: Yumcha Dim Sum

The Dining Room

The Dining Room is a Shanghai style restaurant which also has dim sum available. Mix and match larger Shanghi style dishes with delicately shaped pieces of steamed dumplings and other dim sum dishes. What’s slightly different about the style of dim sum served here is they also offer the option to order sets which contain single pieces of different styles of dumplings/dim sum dishes which is a stark contrast to classic style of dim sum where each dish typically contains 3-4 pieces of the same item.

Hong Kong: The Dining Room
Hong Kong: The Dining Room

 

Fruit Stands

Hong Kong is abundant with market street style fruit stands. I always visit these daily while I’m in Hong Kong as they offer fresh and inexpensive fruits and produce. It is not uncommon for me to eat 5 mangos in one day as they they are only about $1-$2 CAD for a set of 5 and are always perfectly ripe. Lychee, papaya, dragon fruit are also great choices or if you’re not the type to be put off by the scent durians are also a good value with high quality.

Hong Kong: Fruit Stands
Hong Kong: Fruit Stands

Where to Shop

If you love to shop then Hong Kong will become your Mecca. Whether you like like to haggle in the streets to knock $5 off those beaded accessories or buy $150,000 couture dresses Hong Kong has something for everyone.

I’ll focus mainly on Hong Kong’s classic street-style markets as I do think they bring something unique to Hong Kong and Asia in general but if you’re more the type that prefers large shopping complexes that have everything from H&M to Chanel there is no shortage of those in Hong Kong and Google will happily direct you there.

Ladies’ Market

Getting it’s name from the number of vendors that sell discount clothing and accessories for women don’t be so quick to walk by as they offer clothing for both genders.  There  is also an abundance of accessories for both men and women, house wares and decor, children’s toys, electronics, and is also great if you’re looking for inexpensive luggage and souvenirs.

Hong Kong: Ladies Market
Hong Kong: Ladies Market

 

Temple Street Market

The Temple Street Market is an iconic strip in Hong Kong that is often featured in movies and on TV. During the daytime it’s quiet with vendors not opening shop well until late afternoon but come nightfall this street market becomes alive with vendors selling electronics, men’s clothing and accessories, watches, antiques, jade, and souvenirs. It’s also the place to be if you want to have your fortune told or to check out shows by street performers looking to make a few extra dollars.

Hong Kong: Temple Street Night Market
Hong Kong: Temple Street Night Market

Café

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