Updated: June 1, 2019
We’re back! Touch down to my first and one of my favorite Asian countries! I wanted to come to Hong Kong ever since meeting Andrew. He was born in this incredible city and to say I'm jealous is an understatement.
The sixteen hour flight direct from NY to Hong Kong was so much easier than I thought. I would highly recommend Cathay Pacific because they fly direct from NY to Hong Kong and the food was delicious (including personal sizes of Haagen Dazs ice cream). We flew out at 1 AM which was great because we were tired enough to sleep most of the flight. If you’re about 5’10”, you really should purchase a bulkhead seat otherwise your knees will be killing you.
It always so exciting landing at an airport where the signs are in an unknown language and suddenly you're the minority. I loved that feeling and I think it's because I thrive in the unknown. It definitely helped having my right hand travel buddy, but if you're ever hesitant to travel to a country that is so drastically different from your own, you should totally just go for it! You're going to learn so much bit by bit and come away from the experience so much more fulfilled.
After a handful of days in Hong Kong, I could 100% see myself living there for a part of my life (Andrew, lmk when you're up for it and I'll book the flights). Everyone always told me that Hong Kong is the New York of Asia and I definitely see that. It's a very cosmopolitan city split between two main parts: Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. When Andrew and his family lived in HK, they lived on Hong Kong Island which is where the Central Business District is and where a lot of expats live. Kowloon feels way more traditionally Asian rather than a cosmopolitan city. Everyone I have spoken to says to stay in HK Island, but I really enjoyed staying in Kowloon for that reason. You'll have a great experience either way.
Where We Stayed
For our second trip we stayed at The Disney Land Hong Kong Hotel because my family has a timeshare with Disney so we needed to use up those points! We didn’t actually go to the Disney Land park because that wasn’t the objective of the trip but it was really nice to stay in a hotel that we knew would be comfortable, friendly, and safe. It’s definitely not the cultural immersion experience I was looking for, but we were able to save some extra money there and the hotel was beautiful, located on Lantau Island just 20 minutes from the airport and another 20 minutes to central Kowloon.
AirBnbs are very reasonable in Hong Kong but just be careful of their size. Traditionally, rooms are very small in Asia, so we opted for a hotel this time around due to the fact that Andrew is 6’8” and we really needed a proper size room. The closer you are to central Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, the easier your trip will be.
How to Get Around
Uber is super easy to use and very affordable. We used it everywhere we went this trip because of convenience. We could’ve taken public transport from the Disney Land Hotel but it would’ve taken 1.5 hours whereas an Uber was just 20 minutes and cost $12. Time is money!!
The underground system is phenomenal and they use the Octopus card to get around. Download Google Maps and it’ll be easy to find out. This is definitely the most cost efficient way to peruse the city, although if you have the time walking is definitely worth it because you’ll see so much more! Side note: Octopus cards are widely accepted around the city as a form of payment, so if you’re in a 7-11 or at most stores, you’ll have the option to use that to purchase. I’ve never done it because I’m all about getting those #creditcardpoints.
The Star Ferry is the most famous, cost efficient, and fun way to get between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. It’s less than .50 to get from one side to the other and you have the best views of the city. The ferry has been around forever and Andrew has fond memories from being young and riding it with his family! There’s little kiosks at the ferry terminal and you can opt to just pay for a one way token or use your Octopus card which can be filled up at every 7-11 around the city.
Lantau Island Sights
Big Buddha (Tian Tan): Okay this one is a MUST DO! I wasn’t able to see Big Buddha until my second trip and WOW it’s truly worth the trip. Because we were staying on Lantau Island at the Disney Land Hotel, it was a bit closer for us to get to. You 100% should be on the first time slot in the morning to avoid incredibly long lines and crowds. Buy your ticket in advance to save money. There’s a cable car terminal where you take either a glass bottom or regular car to the top of the mountain. Buy your tickets here and don’t forget to print them out. Your hotel will be able to print them if you don’t do this prior to departure. We opted for the deal they had: glass bottom on the way up and regular car on the way back. If you’re afraid of heights, don’t do the glass bottom. I’m not the fondest of heights but enjoyed the experience. Once you arrive to the top (20ish minutes later) you’ll walk through a small town with restaurants and shops. Then you climb a staircase to get to the top of the Buddha. Its size will leave you speechless. There’s a combination of tourists and locals who go there to pray, so always be respectful of other cultures and religions. Remember that you’re a guest there! The Po Lin Monastery is right next to the Big Buddha. You cannot go inside unless you’re there for prayer but the outside is magnificent! My friend Margaret encouraged me to buy from the little stands outside of the Monastery because that money directly benefits the preservation and upkeep of the grounds, unlike the stores that you pass by on your way into the area.
Wong Tai Sin Temple: It's home to three leading Chinese religions: Buddhism; Taoism, and Confucianism. You should totally check out as many temples as you can because as someone who doesn't practice any of the religions, I found it to be so interesting to observe how others worship.
Ladies Market: If you're looking for a killer deal, you'll definitely want to check out this market, night or day. You also may want to set a spending limit or you'll be leaving Hong Kong with a whole lot more than you came with. This opens no earlier than 11 a.m. YOU MUST BARGAIN! They will 100% know you’re not a local and jack the prices up. Be firm and know what you’re willing to pay before you start negotiating.
Temple Street Night Market: This is another killer market that lights up at night. Make sure you hold your bag/wallet super close to you. Same rules for bargaining apply here!
Gold Fish Market: The animal markets in Hong Kong are really cool, but don't attempt to take any pictures because you'll get yelled at! If you know anything about fish and aquariums in the US, you'll know that exotic fish are super expensive. Basically you can get all of the same fish here for dirt cheap. On the same street, you'll see tons of puppies, bunnies, and other small animals for sale.
Symphony of Lights: At 8 p.m. the entire city of Hong Kong lights up for a symphony. Participating buildings coordinate with the music that plays and hundreds of people come out to watch this show. It really is magical.
Sky 100: Come here for amazing views of the city and drinks at the top of the Ritz Carlton.
Kowloon Park: We walked through the park on a Sunday morning and it was so peaceful. There were tons of people meditating and exercising. When you're in it, it's easy to forget that you're in a huge city.
Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court: This is a super cool sight to see. “Choi Hung” actually means “Rainbow” in Cantonese! It was made way before Instagram and social media was big, but well worth the trek there. The Choi Hung Estates were built in 1964 to provide affordable housing for the city, because real estate is very expensive in Hong Kong! The colors can’t help but make you feel happy. We got there early (7 am) to avoid tourists or crowds, but we didn’t beat the early risers of the community who were having sword practice or exercising. Later in the morning kids will come out to play basketball. Everyone is friendly and knows their home is a popular tourist site. Just try to be respectful. Don’t stay there too long, don’t be too loud/draw attention to yourself, and just smile when someone looks at you. It’s the best way to preserve a good relationship so others can enjoy the spot for years to come. We took an Uber here and back as it was the fastest and easiest way. The exact address is: 2 Tse Wai Ave, Ngau Chi Wan, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Island Sights
Stanley Market: Once you get to HK Island, you'll want to call an Uber and take a 25-minute ride to this market where you can buy tons of local art and other souvenirs. There's great restaurants along the water as well. You'll enjoy the ride on the way there as you pass tons of huge homes and beaches. It's a nice reprieve from the bustling city of Hong Kong.
Victoria Peak: You absolutely cannot miss Victoria Peak when you come to Hong Kong. It gives you the best view of the city. Lines can get very long, so I recommend getting there first thing in the morning. You'll take a tram all the way up the peak and take more escalators to the highest point of the lookout deck. It's worth getting the full ticket for the lookout because you won't get the same view otherwise.
World's Longest Escalator: Hong Kong Island is a suuuuper hilly city so this escalator is much needed. When you think it's going to end, it just keeps going. You should definitely ride it just to see what a local's commute is like and all the little restaurants along the way.
Alex Croft x GOD Graffiti Wall: This is a very picturesque and fun area that we stumbled through. This mural is famous for depicting old Hong Kong townhouses located on Hollywood Road.
Alto: It's a stunningly beautiful restaurant with a gorgeous view of Hong Kong.
The Peak Lookout: This is one of the most authentic restaurants at Victoria's Peak. There will be tons of touristy spots, but this has a beautiful view and delicious food.
One Dim Sum: This is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant and is so worth going to. Everyone raves about it.
Din Tai Fung: This is a well known chain restaurant that locals and tourists alike love! You order from an extensive menu on a piece of paper and the food comes out quickly. It’s delicious. Thanks for the recommendation, Margaret!
The New Punjab Club: This is a delicious, restaurant located on Hong Kong Island. The service was impeccable and although it’s on the pricier end, this restaurant is well worth it if you’re looking for a special night out!
Take full advantage of all the local restaurants too. The food is so delicious and affordable.
Packing & General Quick Tips
I purchased this universal adapter for this trip because we were going to other countries that have different outlets and it was a LIFESAVER! Usually I travel with different individual pieces but this made it super easy. Plus, it’s $12.99 on Amazon Prime. Purchase here!
Hong Kong is humid and warm, so definitely pack shorts, t-shirts, dresses, etc. I only brought one jean jacket and I didn’t use it because I was so hot!
I only bring 3 pairs of shoes when I travel: sneakers of some sort (Nikes or Adidas Stan Smiths), one pair of flip flops and one pair of “dressy” sandals for dinners. Don’t bother bringing heels because it’s way too impractical.
Convert cash because it’s the only way to purchase from the markets and it’s easier to purchase things with cash (like the Star Ferry token)