We visited Hong Kong in February 2017 as part of our ‘Around the World in 30 Days’ trip. Having never been to the Asian continent before, this was our first taste of the Orient and we dove right in!
We landed at about 9am and took a bus from the airport which dropped us off right in front of the hotel for about $8 total. Very convenient! We checked in but the room wasn’t quite ready, so we dropped our bags and walked around for a bit. There is a lot of construction going on around the hotel and waterfront, which is unfortunate, but the hotel itself is quite stunning. It’s perfectly situated overlooking Victoria Harbor and all the skyscrapers on HK Island (read my review of the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel).
We walked around the neighborhood a bit and then waited in the lobby for our room to be ready. While we were out, we stumbled upon a pastry shop called Hanjuku Kobo who sells these little cheese tarts that are divine. These are akin to the Pasteis de Nata in Portugal, which are world-famous and absolutely delicious.
After scarfing down a couple of those bad boys, we went back to the hotel check out the room. Upon arrival, we laid on the bed for what was intended to be a quick rest but promptly passed out for 4 hours. We awoke at 5:30pm and groggily headed out to find some dinner. We went to this place called Arisu Restaurant, which I had found on Google for supposedly being well-priced and having decent food. It was a kind of strange setup in that it was in a back alley and no one spoke English (which was rare in HK, we found) but we got some hotpot with chicken and a couple of dumplings to share.
Hotpot is a strange thing–you literally pay to cook your own food. They bring you a pot of broth and a single burner, then whatever ingredients you ordered (we got a half chicken). Then you cook it and serve yourself. The quality of the meat wasn’t very good (I refused to eat the chicken head!) and we both left full of broth but still a bit hungry. We took a stroll along the waterfront, stopping by the Avenue of Stars which had been relocated from the waterfront to a nearby park. There, they had statues of famous people from Hong Kong. My favorite was Bruce Lee, so I sized him up a bit and went in for the high kick.
While walking around during the day, we noticed we had arrived during the Hong Kong Arts Festival and so they were featuring lots of artists and musicians from around the world doing various types of performances. Noticing that an American musician was playing right next door that evening, we picked up some tickets and checked it out.
As it turns out, the artist is a three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer, composer, singer, and record producer who has played with some of the top jazz artists in the world like Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Herbie Hancock!
The performance was really nice, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to nod off towards the end. Two days of straight travel were catching up with me and the smooth jazz was a wonderful lullaby. After the performance was over, it was back to the hotel to hit the sack and try to regulate our circadian rhythms.
We got a solid 10 hours of sleep and woke up around 8am to a dreary and overcast day. The temperature was about 55F/12.7C so it was chilly enough to need an extra layer.
Since breakfast is not included with our reservation here (we used free night certificates which provide no additional benefits), we were on our own. There are lots of Starbucks around (Protip: You can use your U.S. Starbucks card in Hong Kong as well as some other countries) so we went to one and got some coffee and breakfast sandwiches, which were quite expensive at about $25 total. But, considering I buy my Starbucks gift cards for about half off when there’s a deal, I don’t mind paying the premium.
The Peak Tram costs HK$90 (~$12 US) to go up, which is a bit steep in my opinion. At the top there is a mini shopping mall with a couple of cafes and that’s about it. I guess there is usually a decent view, but it was a rainy day when we were there so we ended up with this:
I’m usually on the fence about doing these kinds of things since they are overly expensive for what you get. All the elevators, trams, towers, and gondolas that simply get you to higher ground for a poor view and a premium cost are generally not worth the price of admission, yet the line was literally wrapped around the block for this one. Maybe it was because there isn’t a whole lot else to do, who knows. That being said, I’m a bit of a hypocrite since we usually end up doing these things anyway, but they’re a rip off in most respects. It would be much more rewarding to hike to the top and laugh at the clowns in their moving glass box, but I’ll be damned if they don’t make the ride easy and convenient to take.
One of the first oddities I noticed in Hong Kong (other than the hotpot/chicken head incident) was that they serve you warm water with your meals. I’m not sure how to feel about that, but I was taken by surprise the first couple of times it happened. At Shugetsu, we were served lukewarm tea.
After finishing up, we made our way to Man Mo Temple.
Built in 1847, Man Mo Temple is a tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo) and remains the largest Man Mo temple in Hong Kong (there are several others). Inside, there were lots of figures, fruits, and flowers as well as heavy incense being burned.
Although this isn’t a Buddhist temple (rather, it pays tribute to the Gods worshiped by Imperial China), it had a similar aura and decor as we would later discover. Because the inside was small and crowded, we didn’t stick around long and instead made our way to Western Market.
Western Market was a bit of a flop for us as well. It’s a cool building (one of the oldest in Hong Kong, actually), but is simply stuffed to the gills with shops and retailers, none of whom were selling anything of interest to us. We did pick up some cool postcards, but otherwise just made a quick loop and about-faced out the door.
An attraction that I found much cooler was the Central-Mid-Levels escalator–a collection of moving walkways that covers more than 800m/2,600ft of distance and 135m/443ft of incline on HK Island.
This contraption is, according to Guiness, the “World’s Longest Covered Escalator System”. Due to the high volume of vehicle traffic, this and other walkways in the city provide an easier and faster way to get around while towering over those at ground level. It’s a really cool idea and was very well implemented. They even have a schedule where the escalators change direction halfway through the day to follow commuting times. These guys have it all figured out!
Ok, so I guess that isn’t as exciting for everyone but I thought it was pretty cool.
As a sidenote, our hotel room came with a free smartphone for us to use around the city and included free data and calls. How cool is that?! Instead of lugging around another device, though, I just popped the SIM card out of it and plugged it into mine, so that I could use all of my own apps and such on the road. It worked perfectly and we were able to freely navigate the city without issue whatsoever. That being said, free wifi is available just about everywhere and we also have our mobile router to use.
We made our way back to the hotel to rest up for a bit, and I went to the gym (which is very good at the InterCon!). I hadn’t worked out in about 3 days (since we lost a whole day flying), so I needed it. After washing up, we headed to a small restaurant called CaterKing Dim Sum for dinner. It was close to the restaurant we went the previous night for dinner. The food ended up being pretty tasty and very cheap, but the setup was odd.
We were seated at a booth with another couple (two teens who spent the whole time taking selfies) which was a bit strange for us. But, our food was good and came out fast, so we can’t complain.
So, Hong Kong Oddity #2: being seated with other groups/couples at the same booth.
On the way back to the hotel, I heard some music off in the distance that sounded like Steve Aoki. I mentioned this out loud and then when we were in the lobby, I did a quick Google search only to find out that it was indeed Steve Aoki playing a concert across the way on HK Island! Wow! Turns out, there was a music festival called DragonLand going on this particular weekend and he was one of the headliners. I wish I had known–it would have been great to see him live! Oh well. There was another day of the festival featuring “Pop” singers including Black-Eyed Peas, Iggy Izalea, and Carly Rae Jepson. We checked online to see if we could get some tickets but they weren’t available so we decided just to walk by the next day and see if we could get some at the door.
We settled down for the evening by having a drink in the hotel lobby (for free, courtesy of my “Welcome Gift” as an IHG Platinum member) and took in the stunning harbor view:
On Day 3, we checked out of the Intercon Hotel and moved over to the Sheraton (my review) since we had no more free night certificates–wah! The Sheraton was fine, but it just wasn’t on the same level as the Intercon in any regard. The check-in was slow, the lobby felt stuffy, and the “Platinum Lounge” was one of the worst I’ve seen (it was basically a room that they turned into a lounge, but had only apples and a soda fountain. Strange). The Intercon was really nice, but we also didn’t get as much out of it since we didn’t have access to the lounge and didn’t get free breakfast.
Anyway, we checked in at about 2pm after leaving the Intercon and then headed out to the Culture Center across the street (where we had seen the concert on our first night). When we walked by earlier we saw they had daily shows at the planetarium on various things like the Arctic, Dark Matter, etc., so we decided to check one out. Little did we know how popular these things are, because when we got there to buy our tickets 10 minutes before showtime it was already sold out. Damn! Instead, we got tickets for the next showing on Dark Matter an hour later. To kill the time, we took a stroll down the Rodeo Drive equivalent, passing by every luxury shop you can imagine. Absolutely none of that stuff interests me, thank God.
For lunch we stopped at one of the food trucks they had parked outside of the Cultural Center and picked up some chicken and noodles. Nothing special.
We walked around a bit more, wandering in and through the nearby Kowloon Park.
They had a decent amount of green space, but not much going on. When a park is surrounded by skyscrapers it loses a bit of its appeal in my eyes.
An opportunity to tell you to wash your hands was never missed! Despite that, I never saw any bottles of Purell for public use.
Later that evening we made our way back across the harbor to the DragonLand festival. As we were approaching we could hear Carly Rae Jepson singing.
At the door, we were told that we could indeed get tickets, but they would cost 880 or 1680 HKD–about $120/$240 respectively. We saw them for half of that amount online, so we pointed out that it was already 6:30pm and the performance was only going on for another couple of hours. Didn’t matter, they said, so we left. Not worth it. We walked around the perimeter a bit and found a spot where we could see the stage through the fence and could clearly hear the music. We hung around for a couple of songs and then headed off to find a Dim Sum place that was recommended to us by a friend called Dim Sum Square. It took us about 20 minutes to walk there on already-tired feet, but we eventually arrived to find a hand-written sign on the door saying, “Today [Feb 26] we close at 5pm”. Well, that sucks.
We settled for a Japanese place next door where we had some chicken and lamb for an outrageous price, then walked back to the stage. There, we heard the end of the Black-Eyed Peas’ set at the same spot and then hopped back on the ferry around 10pm to head back to the hotel. What a long and great day!
On our last day, I woke up at 6am feeling pretty refreshed and decided to go out for a run.
I did just a short loop around the neighborhood and then went to the gym in the hotel (read my review here!) to get in some shoulder and back sets before meeting going to breakfast. Breakfast was included with our room and we were able to take it in the “Cafe” on the second floor, which was a huge buffet restaurant.
We fueled up, packed up, and grabbed an Uber to the airport. After a fast few days in Hong Kong we were ready for Bangkok!
Impressions of Hong Kong
- It was very crowded–to the point that it was a struggle to walk around anywhere.
- Not a whole lot to see tourist-wise. The attractions like the Peak Tram and Statue Park were pretty lame. It’s very much a business-oriented city.
- Food was expensive and portions were small. Anything decently priced was in a weird restaurant (like CaterKing where we had to sit in a booth with other couples) and anything in a regular restaurant was exorbitant and portions were minuscule. That being said, everything we had was delicious.
- Hotels giving free phones to use was awesome! Never seen that before and probably won’t anywhere else.
- It was much colder than I expected, and we never really saw the sun.
- They are obsessed with sanitization, cleanliness, and starting things on time. I like it!
- I don’t think I’d care to visit again for a short time or with tourism in mind. If we had more days and could have made it to Macau or somewhere else a little further from the city I think we would have had a better overall impression.
- Although not a touristy city, there were lots of cultural things to do and see which we much prefer. They have shows and performances on a practically daily basis and a quick Google search can get you in front of a band or in a museum in no time. This was our favorite aspect of the city, and had we known about DragonLand beforehand it would have been even better!
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.