When I was 17 I wrote a long school essay about Hong Kong. It was something about how Hong Kong is the gateway to China for the rest of the world. My teacher didn’t like the essay too much but somehow the idea still stuck with me. And years later going there for the first time, after spending 30 days in China, I realized that in a way what I had written years ago was true. When China is standing in the rain, then Hong Kong is taking a shower. It feels like it is all the same, but somehow less drastic, more convenient, more comfortable and less rough. You will find people mostly speaking good English and you can find food and drinks from everywhere in the world. The most famous bar district is named after SoHo in Beijing’s capitalist enemy New York.
The first time I went was in 2011 during my year in Thailand. Teachers there get the whole April off and that was my time for a great adventure, which ended in Hong Kong after almost 6 weeks.
I was surprised how expensive everything is there. The infamous Mansions in Kowloon were the only places where I could and wanted to afford a bed. A “Mansion” in Hong Kong is not a fancy villa with butlers and room service. Instead it is a 3-D labyrinth where each turn you take leads you into a darker and somehow dirtier area of the building, passing by all kinds of shops, hotels and brothels. Somewhere on the 7th Floor I found a cheap place. A place here means you open the door and literally step onto your bed. There is almost negative space in the room, no windows obviously and a loud stinking air condition. But for 20 Dollars in Hong Kong, that is all you can get. If you want to have that same experience, I suggest you find the Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road in Kowloon and take it from there.
When I went again to Hong Kong this year with my fiancée, luck was on our side. Being real backpackers, the fun of traveling is also finding the perfect accommodation for the cheapest price possible. After a long flight arriving in the morning, we accidentally took the metro to Hong Kong Island. The expensive part of town. So back we went by the extremely cheap ferry to Kowloon. Backpacks on and off we went searching the city. After 10 hotels and many kilometers, we saw a nice lady walking out of a building and so we asked here and if she knows a place where we could stay. “Yes, of course, if you want you can stay at my place. I have a spare room that’s free”. Wow, sure, we should definitely check it out. We talked with Virgi all the way to her apartment. She had come from the Philippines some years ago and started as a maid. Nowadays she was helping other women from her country to find work and housing in Hong Kong. We liked her from the start and the room was also good. For 10 Euros a night we had our place to stay. How lucky can you be?
And then Hong Kong also brings a great level of comfort that rivals any big city in the west. Public transport is arguably the best in all of Asia. A quick metro ride from the Airport will bring you to Kowloon, where you will find yourself in the center of shopping, hotels and mainland nightlife. One stop further and you will be on Hong Kong Island, the fancier brother of Kowloon. Hong Kong Island is hilly and the business districts through to SoHo and up to Victory Peak are quite steep. But don’t despair; the city built the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The Central-Mid-Levels escalator is free of charge and covers almost 800m while traversing an elevation of over 135 meters.
The Fun at a Race Course
Well, so we got real lucky with our accommodation this time in Hong Kong. 7 years ago I felt also lucky. One of the coolest things you can do in Hong Kong is going to a horse racing. There are several race courts spread out over the city. There was a race going on at the Sha Tin Race course so that’s where I was going. Take the East Rail Line from Kowloon and you will arrive 40 minutes later. Pay the 10 HKD (1 Euro) entrance fee and in you are. I made my way to the betting hall and was looking around confused. Too many screens, lots in Cantonese and a mass of people. So what would a great tourist city do? They hire staff just to take care of tourists like me. One guy took a lot of time to explain to me all the rules, how and where to bet, how to see which horse has the best chances and where I could collect possible winnings. My budget was even smaller than 7 years later so I bet 1 Euro on Horse N°7, no, not Lucky Number Slevin. But almost because I did win 5 Euros. Not so lucky was a local, who apparently had lost hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong Dollar in that race. He was quite hysterical afterwards but all in all the atmosphere there is really fun. You can choose from many stands offering all kinds of snacks and drinks and just sit there watching fast horses. Afterwards you can even go down to the course and snap some pictures with the winning jockeys.
If Nepal is most famous for Mount Everest, then Hong Kong has Victoria Peak. There are four ways you can go up to the Peak. Easiest is by taking a taxi. It will bring you all way to the Victoria Peak Tower in 15 minutes or less. Prices are affordable if you compare it to the famous Victoria Peak tram. A return journey is 99 HKD for one person, while the taxi for up to 4 passengers costs also around 100 HKD from Central. That is one way though. Bus number 15 or 15c (open deck so try to catch this one) will also bring you up to the Peak via winding roads passing multi-million HKD villas. You can catch this bus from Star Ferry pier in Central or Pier 5. The green minibus (GMB) at IMC Mall will bring you up for around 10HKD.
And the cheapest way is as usual hiking up to the Peak your self. Hiking from Hong Kong Central is most common. Although being the most direct and likely route, it is also the least interesting.
Take the mid-levels escalator to Cain Road
Walk through the Hong Kong Botanical gardens
Take Old Peak Road
Pok Fu Lam lies on the other side of Victoria Peak and also makes for a nice starting point.
1 Take the bus 4, 4X, 7, 30X or any other bus going along Pok Fu Lam Road and alight at the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road stop
2 The turning is not that obvious, but walk back a few meters and you will see the large green signs pointing to the Pok Fu Lam Public Riding School.
3 Go past the riding stable, and then continue up into Pok Fu Lam Country Park, which is signposted.
4 This becomes a walking trail, the Reservoir Trail. Walk along the edge of the reservoir, not taking any side turnings. The path is variously labeled Pok Fu Lam Family Walk and Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road. Do not take turnings onto HK Trail sections 1 or 2.
5 The trail comes out behind The Peak Galleria, around where the road entrance to the Bus/car Park is.
Note that also those public transport options will only bring you to the Peak Tower. It is not yet the peak itself but it is the spot to be when you first arrive. The Peak Tower is a modern and surprisingly big shopping mall with many restaurants too. And right next to it is where you want to be to have that amazing view over Hong Kong Island all the way to Kowloon and further. Arriving in the late afternoon is best so you will, after a while, also see the skyline at night.
We arrived in time at the Peak Tower to also hike up to the real peak. Passing more expensive houses and seeing less and less tourists, we really enjoyed this hike. Very few people can pull themselves away from the skyline view and make it up there so you will finally have some peace from the city hustle and bustle. It is very lush and green up there with a few parks to relax at. At the very top you’ll have views towards the city center and the ocean on the other side.
9 Million visitors come to Hong Kong every year and there are almost as many reasons to do so.
SoHo is famous for being a very relaxed bar district which caters to the many expats and locals of Hong Kong Island. It lies just beneath and next to the famous super long escalator. So coming from Kowloon take the ferry across the harbor and walk a few hundred meters up the hill. On a weekend night you will quickly hear music leading your way. From fancy cocktail places to cheap beer stations, it is all there. Nowadays you can also have a hookah and for the cheap experience buy your beer in the 7-11 and enjoy it somewhere on the steps of the many stairs leading up to Victoria Peak while enjoying the view. But I am talking ahead of myself already; first we had to eat of course. And when in SoHo, you are never far from some great street food places. Head to Stanley Street and right next to The Butcher Club, a nice burger restaurant, you will see many plastic stools and tables on the street, smoke in the air and a vibrant atmosphere. We had a very tasty Asian dinner there and met expats from Japan. What a coincidence since we were going to Japan after Hong Kong. You see, SoHo at night is just a fun place to be.
Coming from Abu Dhabi, I was in the mood for a nice hookah and for that Tsim Sha Tsui is your best bet in my opinion. We took the ferry back to Kowloon and after trying a rooftop bar with a great view we were looking for more of a local vibe. Knutsford Terrace is the place. Almost 20 bars are sitting tightly next to each other and on a Friday night it will be just packed. You can eat, drink and smoke. Prices are much cheaper than on Hong Kong Island and it was also much closer to our private hotel with Virgi.
You must have heard of Peking Duck, the epitome of Chinese Cuisine some say. If you can’t make it all the way to Beijing, try it here in Hong Kong. It really is a delicacy though I have to admit my fiancée enjoyed it more than me. I am more into chicken, I guess. But if you want to try, go to the Celestial Court Chinese Restaurant on Nathan Road for the best experience.
A beautiful day
The last day we had reserved for some more highlights. Take the Red Line from Tsim Sha Tsui to Prince Edward Station, walk around 400 meters to the east and there you are, in the middle of a bird market. You can buy the tiniest little sing birds, big Aras, birds that talk and good luck birds to release with a prayer. They all come with their price of course with the cheapest starting at 300 HKD. Next to the bird market, there is a flower market so if you can’t afford the parrot, buy a big orchid for your girlfriend.
Walking through a city is always best so after taking cool pictures we headed south back to our place. On the way we stopped at a big Chinese temple. Along its walls many fortunetellers were sitting and offering their services in Cantonese and English. My fiancée had a go at it and after a while I thought why not try it too. In my opinion those people just really know how to talk to people and are very good at guessing. But that some old person in Hong Kong knows what will happen in my future, that’s just too abstract for me. Anyways, the talk was nice and our last night in Hong Kong came to an end with good fortunes awaiting, apparently.
Hong Kong is easily a city you can visit multiple times. I came back recently and already know what I would do if I could go again. There are restaurants where you can fish your own fish, tropical beaches and companies that let you smash furniture to relief stress. I’ll be back!
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