The last destination on my three and a half month trip was Hong Kong. It had worked out in such a way because it was the connection for my flight back home to Heathrow. I had the chance to divide up the long journey back and give myself a few days to explore the region and eager to tick another destination off my list I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. But with only three full days at my disposal, I had the enormous challenge of selecting and cramming in the best highlights Hong Kong had to offer.
Luckily, I had made friends with a local during my travels so I was able to pick her brains for the best insider tips and tricks to get the most out of my time. So, without further ado, here’s all you need to know about how to make the most out of your layover or trip to Hong Kong.
My three-day itinerary:
1. Tian Tan Buddha
The Tian Tan Buddha (informally known as The Big Buddha) and Tai O Fishing Village are located on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island so it’s ideal to do them on the same day. The Buddha statue, erected in 1993, is a formidable sight and towers benevolently over the Hong Kong countryside at an impressive height of 34 metres. If you’re hungry you can have a meal inside the Buddha or wander to the stunning Po Lin Monastery nearby and have lunch at the vegetarian restaurant next door.
To get there take the 360 cable car from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping village (pro tip: get an advance ticket online and skip the queues), which gives you panoramic views of the city. From there it’s a short ten-minute walk through the village to the Big Buddha. You can’t miss it!
2. Tai O Fishing Village
Tai O is a small traditional fishing village and only a twenty-minute bus ride from Ngong Ping. It’s a Hong Kong highlight for me because its buildings are completely unique. The community of fisherfolk who have taken up residence there has built their houses on stilts above the water. This fascinating warren of unusual interconnected structures is a photographer’s dream and it’s all too easy to get lost in its narrow streets or its labyrinth of rickety piers.
If you can find it (because it’s quite a challenge to find) I suggest having a refreshing drink at The Three Lanterns cafe and watch the boats go by. Or, check out the weird and wonderful fish markets in the village centre and see if you’re bold enough to try what’s on offer.
3. A Symphony of Lights
Hong Kong never sleeps. The city is famously lit up like a Christmas tree every night and the view is undoubtedly breathtaking. However, every evening at 8pm it plays its part in a performance called A Symphony of Lights and it’s completely free of charge to see it. Head to The Avenue of Stars and watch as the skyscrapers across the harbour light up and flash with vibrant colour in time to the soundtrack performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. If you want a good view then ideally you should aim to get there about half an hour before it starts or run the risk of only being able to see the show through a dense crowd of phone cameras!
4. The Mong Kok Market Trail
To experience the eclectic, chaotic, vibrant essence that is Hong Kong I can think of nothing better than doing the Mong Kok Market Trail. I downloaded the map from discoverhongkong.com (see the link here) and it takes you on a route through the flower market to the famous Yuen Po Street Bird Garden tight down to the goldfish market (yes, really!), the ladies’ market and the jade market. This busy little trail is perfect to pick up souvenirs as they have everything from Bluetooth speakers to ‘I love Hong Kong’ t-shirts.
Be prepared to be disorientated and dazzled by the bustling crowds, the markets and their owners. Just remember to give yourself a budget because before you know you it might end up buying enough trinkets to set up a stall of your own!
5. Stone Slab Street / Pottinger Street
Pottinger Street or Stone Slab Street is a historical street built in 1850. It’s particularly unique because it was built, as the name suggests, with stone slabs which slope up with the contours of the land in the form of steps. The street is bustling with fun market stalls selling costumes, accessories, and souvenirs during the day. And if you want to get more out of your visit, head directly up the street until you come to Tai Kwun, a complex which used to be the Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison in the mid-19th century. The
The old prison which was in fact built by the British is a great and interactive way to get a glimpse of Hong Kong’s history. However, history aside, it’s a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture and well worth a look because it’s absolutely free!
6. Victoria Peak
Victoria Peak offers the best views of Hong Kong and I don’t exaggerate when I say I could look at it all day long. There are many ways to get to Victoria Peak. You can bus it, get a taxi, or the most popular way, get the tram. However, rather than wait hours in the queue for the tram I decided to walk. It was a nice albeit steep walk through the park to the top and it was well worth the effort when I was greeted with spectacular views of the city below.
Once you make it up there you can find a shopping mall which caters to any need from souvenirs to activities and refreshments. Otherwise, to get the best (free) view walk along to The Lion’s Pavillion Lookout Point. The best times to go is late afternoon because you can watch the city below as the sun sets and the lights flicker on. It truly was a wonderful end to an amazing few days in Hong Kong.
Pro tips for getting around Hong Kong:
- Get yourself an on-loan Octopus card from the MTR (Mass Transit Railway)ticket machine as soon as you walk into the arrivals hall at the airport. Octopus cards can be topped up and used on public transport as well as certain shops. On-loan cards are priced at 200 Hong Kong dollars of which 150 HKD is your starting credit. The best part is that you can put as much money on as you like and if you make sure to return the card at the end of your stay you’ll be refunded the remaining amount that’s left.
- You can only top up your Octopus card with cash unless you’re at the airport so remember to take out a few hundred Hong Kong dollars just in case you’re running low on your commute. Most, if not all MTR stations have cash points somewhere in their vicinity. If you ‘re unsure where to find one there’s always an information desk on hand.
- Get cash out if you want to do any shopping at the street markets. This tip can be especially useful if you’re on a budget and want to keep track of your spending. Having a specific amount of cash on you can help establish how much you’re willing to spend and will even motivate you to shop around for a better deal.
- The public transport in Hong Kong is pretty straightforward to use and the MTR is probably one of the best underground transport systems in the world. However, when it comes to buses it gets a bit more complicated because in addition to the one most people are familiar with there is the sixteen seater minibus. The difference is that when you want to get off you have to call out to the driver. I never used one when I was there so I’m unable to give first-hand advice. Luckily, you can always tell what kind of bus you’re getting at the bus stop and unless you’re going further out of the city there are always other transport alternatives if you’re not quite confident enough to try it.
Mix and match your itinerary with some other suggestions:
1. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
If you’re keen to get off the beaten track then The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a worthy activity. It has a bit of a long steady uphill climb to reach it but to keep you company are dozens of gold painted Buddha statues which lead you up the mountain to not one but five temples. Once at the top you are rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and a peaceful environment to relax in. They even have a cafe!
2. Kam Shan Country Park
If you’re a hiker or you’re interested in seeing the wildlife then Kam Shan Country Park is a good place to go. The park is famous for the family of macaques who live there and visiting these cheeky monkeys is a popular activity among tourists. However, if you plan to go don’t take food of any kind or anything resembling food containers (that includes plastic bags). After years of being fed by visitors, these clever creatures know exactly what to look out for and how to get it, and they can be very aggressive about it too.
3. Nan Lian Garden
On the whole, Hong Kong is a busy and crowded metropolis but it doesn’t always have to be if you know where to go. Nan Lian Garden is a Chinese Classical Garden. It is designed in the Tang Dynasty style with carefully built hills, water features, trees, rocks, and wooden structures. If you need a break from the city then this garden is a perfect tranquil oasis where you can relax and unwind.
4. Dragon’s Back
The Dragon’s Back is ideal if you want to do a big hike but you don’t want to go too far out of the city. It takes an average of four and a half hours to complete and you’re treated to beautiful coastal views along the way. You even finish the trail on the beach so remember to pack your swimwear!
5. Hong Kong Museum of History
So, you wake up one morning to heavy rainfall? No problem! Soak up some culture indoors by heading to The Hong Kong Museum of History. The museum has an impressive collection squeezing in about 400 million years of history with objects relating to archeology, history, ethnography and natural histories of Hong Kong and South China. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re a history buff or if you feel adrift on a rainy afternoon.
Thanks for reading,
If you enjoyed this then you might like 8 Reasons to put Fiji on your bucket list now.