Hong Kong is for many a destination in it’s own right, but for the time pressed traveller it can be an excellent place to stop on route to another far-away destination.
We were travelling to New Zealand, Sydney and Bali for our Honeymoon and decided upon Hong Kong Airport as our ‘hub’. We would pass through the airport a total of 5 times in those three weeks so it made total sense to nip outside of the airport and actually experience the place itself – sort of like a ‘freebie destination’ if you will!
So what does a jet-lagged, overexcited traveller do with 2 nights in Hong Kong?
If you’re anything like us, we wanted to do everything and absorb as much of the culture as we could possible manage! We had the evening when we arrived, then one full day, then the following morning to explore all that the city and island had to offer…
Here’s the low down of our Hong Kong experience – which was in fact the first time we had been on this kind of ‘exploring’ trip! The time in brackets is how long we spent on this particular activity.
How did we get there and where did we stay?
Hong Kong’s public transport is a doddle to use and excellent value for money. We wandered away from baggage re-claim and easily boarded the airport link train which took us right into the city. From there, we hopped onto the free shuttle bus (part of the ‘airport express’ service) which dropped us right outside the front door of our hotel! Easy peasy. I would completely recommend it, and even as a newbie traveller it was not in the slightest bit stressful or intimidating.
We were staying at the Eaton Hotel, which is on Nathan Road in Kowloon – a cracking location for exploring the city by foot. The room (a deluxe room) was very small, but our tour guide later explained that this is normal due to overcrowding in the city – space is at a premium!
One thing to note – possibly unrelated – is that it’s well worth telling the hotel or travel agent that you’re on honeymoon (if you are – I’m not saying make it up). You’ll find that there’s a good chance of free fizz, chocolates and fruit in your room when you arrive at your hotel. I count that as a bit of a win.
Avenue of the Stars (1 hour)
It’s worth a wander down to the Avenue of the Stars, especially in the evening when there is a vibrant atmosphere around the water’s edge. It’s worth a look, but there’s not actually much to do there apart from looking and snapping pictures of yourself with your hands in the handprints of the stars!
Obligatory Jackie Chan handprint photo.
Symphony of Lights (30 mins)
Every evening at 8pm, approx 40 buildings on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour (i.e. the island side) team up to put on a light display for 10-15 minutes which is usually accompanied by music of some kind!
Grab a seat on the wall that runs between the harbour and the avenue of the stars and wait for the show to begin! It’s free, so worth sticking around for if you happen to be in the area, but was less spectacular than it could have been due to a smoggy mist hanging in the bay on the night we were there!
Hong Kong Island Tour (1/2 a day)
We pre-booked a tour on the recommendation of our Trailfinders advisor. It was cheap as chips – like £40 each or something- so it made sense to go on the tour because it was as cheap as getting a taxi round the island anyway! Our tour was operated by Tour East and included the main island attractions: Victoria Peak, Repulse Bay, Stanley Market and Aberdeen fishing village.
Massive floating restaurant amongst the house-boats. Pretty random.
Our guide was awesome – she told us ‘off the record’ facts like how much rent she was paying and how much more it would cost to live in the different buildings we drove past. The only thing to be mindful of was ‘up-selling’ like when we visited the Jade factory – the hosts showed us how the jewellery was crafted but then tried to sell us some. I think it comes with the territory really, but if you’re offended by that kind of thing then perhaps a more ‘exclusive’ tour would be more your thing!
Victoria peak and the tram down should not be missed. I’m not sure I’ll ever be on a tram which descends a mountain at that angle ever again. Unfortunately the hong-kong-smog had descended again and the ‘spectacular view’ from the Peak was significantly obscured for the whole duration of our visit. Thankfully there was a poster up there showing what the view was supposed to look like. No stunning photograph opportunities for us, but well worth making the trip up there for a wander around and to take the tram down.
Another funny thing about the tour was the fact that everyone on the coach had a picture taken at some point during the day by ‘Simon’ who was the secondary tour guide. We only realised what it was for when we arrived back at the coach for the return journey to the hotels – the tour guide had printed everyone’s faces onto customised china display plates, and was attempting to sell them to the relevant people for HKD 250 each – around £20.
Not a single person on the coach bought one, so the poor bloke had around 20 awful looking plates to take back to the office that night. I do wonder whether he has more success usually.
Afternoon & Evening Markets (3-4 hours)
I love a good market, especially those which include food. Despite warnings from friends and more experienced travellers, I was keen to taste the local food and that included sea urchin dumplings from a corner stall. Perhaps not the wisest decision given I would be on another long flight to New Zealand within 48 hours, but worth it for the taste! Excellent nosh.
The hustle and bustle of the markets at sunset was brilliant. We bought a few small souvenirs (little porcelain cats) for our friends and family. I also bought two tops from the ladies market which came to a grand total of HKD 20 after I put to work my excellent haggling skills. When I worked out later that this was the equivalent of £3.30, I did feel a bit bad for the stall owner!
Hong Kong Ladies Market at night. Note the low canopies not designed for tall people.
After wandering around the markets for several hours, we decided to grab some more street food. This time is was some fish balls, grilled octopus, cod roe dumplings and a large sausage-type-thing! All of it tasted amazing.
Thinking “not sure this is a good idea before a long flight” and eating it anyway.
Jade Market (2 minutes if you’re not one for the hard-sell!)
We went to the jade market to check out some of the craftsmanship having heard good things from the locals. We were in there for all of around 30 seconds when we were pounced upon by several stall owners at once who were trying to put jewellery on any uncovered part of my body and pull me over to their stall whilst giving me their best sales pitch.
I’m not one for an infringement of the personal space rule, so I politely (obviously) shook off the jewellery, said thanks and shot back out of the market gate. Phew. Never again.
Pretty pleased with myself having escaped the grasps of over-enthusiastic jewellery sellers in the jade market.
I don’t normally eat fast food, and McDonalds wouldn’t be my first choice of food back in the UK. McDonalds in Hong Kong though – totally different! It’s like a proper cafe (McCafe, in fact) and served excellent coffee and delectable cakes such as macarons! My favourite hot drink – a green tea latte- was cheap as chips, so I was happy to grab breakfast there when we slept in… again.
Expect to be troubled at your table by ‘beggars’ asking for food or money. This was something I wasn’t prepared for but quickly because accustomed to in the fast food places in the city.
A nice surprise from ‘McCafe’ – a green tea latte!
Kowloon Park (1 hour or so)
Just off Nathan Road is the somewhat calmer Kowloon Park. Head there for a welcome break from the craziness of the city. There’s often groups of people practising tai chi which is quite interesting to watch!
If you’re feeling up to it, try the Kowloon Park fitness trail – a 500m route with 8 exercise stations dotted around it. It’s designed so that it can be used by the young through to the elderly, so you can imagine how crappy I felt when I couldn’t do the ‘easy’ versions of the instructed moves!
Trying to look professional at the monkey bars. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I got.
Dim Sum (2 hours)
I love dim sum. We asked one of the hotel staff where we could go to sample some good local dim sum and he pointed us in the direction of the ‘Cheers Dim Sum‘ restaurant.
We fundamentally didn’t grasp the idea of dim sum (being that it is more of a light snack than a large meal) and ordered enthusiastically from the menu. The menu wasn’t in English, so we relied on the pictures heavily.
Our server laughed when he placed down the 10th plate on our table. We were looked upon by the locals as if we were a museum exhibit as we waded our way through our tremendous feast of dim sum. It was incredible, and an absolute bargain!
The remainder of our time was spent generally wandering around, taking pictures, stopping for drinks and food – typical touristy things! It’s not the kind of place where you would be short of things to do for a few days but I can’t say I would stay much longer than 2 or three nights because I think that was enough time to see the main attractions!
If we had another day then we might have gone to see Mickey Mouse at Hong Kong Disney, but we were so excited about getting to New Zealand that after 2 days were ready to move on.
At 5″10′ without my afro hair, I’m used to having to buy my jeans from the ‘Tall’ section of Topshop and used to sitting with my legs at an angle on every form of public transport. Despite this, when I’m at home I’m actually comparably small since my husband is 6″4′.
Sure – we realise that we’re both tall but never have I felt taller than walking the streets of Hong Kong! This was compounded by locals telling us we were ‘very big’ and pointing out that we might benefit from their tailoring services as we would probably struggle to fit in the clothes from the shops. Thanks guys.
Would I go back?
I really enjoyed my time in Hong Kong and it was an excellent stop-over but for us but not a destination in it’s own right. This is especially true if you have to travel 12 hours to get there! For that reason I probably wouldn’t go back unless I needed to visit somewhere nearby and had some time to kill. I’d probably try flying through another long distance hub (maybe Dubai?!) and see what they had to offer!
ARE YOU PLANNING A TRIP?
Head over to my travel planning page for hints and tips on how to maximise the benefit of your annual leave!
The 5 Week Wanderer