Reasons to put Hong Kong on top of your bucket list
Yay! Finally, "All Across Asia" is live and here it is: my first blog article EVER! Well, right, it took some time and to be honest a whole lot of my friends’ persuasiveness as well until I finally realized for myself that writing actually IS something that I like just as much as to travel and take pictures, which are basic requirements for writing a blog.
In addition to that, Hong Kong as my current place of work and residence is just so incredibly inspiring! I can’t help but praising this city every time I tell some of my friends back home about this awesome place with all of its appealing contrasts, so that I’ve already been successful in convincing a lot of them to come and visit me, even if they would’ve never dreamed of spending more than a short stopover in this bustling town. I am so much looking forward to sharing my experiences now with even more people through this blog and I’m curious to see how you’ll like it.
But, enough with the preliminary skirmishing, let me start to deliver some content! And what could be a better opener for “All across Asia – the Travelblog for Hong Kong and beyond” than to start with those aspects that make you put Hong Kong immediately on top of your bucket list? Here are the 15 things I love about Hong Kong:
1. Skyline Views
Of course, the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking of Hong Kong is its marvelous skyline. Actually, Hong Kong is indeed the city with by far the most high-rises in the entire world and here they are not only high, but line up so spectacular in the surroundings of Victoria Harbour and The Peak that it is really unparalleled!
Naturally, I’m more the person that is mesmerized by century- or millennia-old monuments like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, whereas today nobody can predict whether all the ICCs or IFCs will last that long. But, living here and now, I can’t get enough of watching Hong Kong’s finest gems of modern architecture from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade in Kowloon. Or from the Peak. Or from Lion Rock. Or from Jardine’s Lookout or one of the many fancy rooftop bars all over town – the perspectives may differ, but the scenery is always unique (unless there’s a day with low visibility)!
2. Hong Kong’s Nature
As hair-raising its skyline may be, living in Hong Kong for a longer term would probably not be possible if it wasn’t for the splendid nature all around the territory that allows for a quick getaway out of the hustle and bustle of this concrete jungle whenever needed. What most of the people that haven’t been to Hong Kong yet do not know is that it’s actually more than 70% green with lots of nature parks, reserves and a few of the best imaginable hiking trails right at your doorstep and easily accessible by public transport, such as the 50-kilometer-long Hong Kong Trail on HK Island, the 100k MacLehose Trail in the New Territories or the Lantau Trail on Lantau Island (70km) – a paradise for nature lovers!
Anyone who’s not in the mood for hiking might fancy a trip to one of the Outlying Islands instead. Here, it seems as if time had come to a standstill some thirty years ago and you’ll find beautiful fishing villages with villagers still leading traditional lives – only a few kilometers away from Central Hong Kong!
But you don’t necessarily have to go that far as there are also some oases directly in the heart of the city. Hong Kong Park and Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island as well as Kowloon Park and the idyllic Nan Lian Garden on the Kowloon side, to name but a few, provide you with fresh air and some interesting observation opportunities, I guarantee.
Last, but not least, I have to mention that Hong Kong also offers some really nice beaches that qualify for sunbathing and swimming. It may not be the No. 1 destination where the five-star resort hotels line up next to each other, but that’s also a good thing as the beaches usually aren’t too crowded, but clean, tidy and usually equipped with shower facilities and dressing rooms – what more do you need? Most of them are easily accessible, for instance on Hong Kong Island you only need to hop on Bus No. 6 in Central that takes you to Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay or the beaches around Stanley – there are plenty of options to choose from. As you can imagine, most of the Outlying Islands also have decent beaches. However, my personal favorite is definitely Tai Long Wan in the North-Eastern part of the New Territories in the Sai Kung District. Looking at this fascinating white beach, I bet that many would rather think of Phuket or Koh Samui, but actually it is in Hong Kong!
I have already briefly touched this aspect in my items 1 and 2: The many contrasts that you’ll find all over Hong Kong form a great deal of its uniqueness and attractiveness. An urban jungle full of skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon vs. rural fishing villages on the Outlying Islands and the opportunity to leave all the concrete quickly behind when entering one of the many hiking trails. Modern architecture, here and there contrasted by a time-honoured Chinese temple.
Traditional culture assorts well with the modernism of today’s smartphone generation. Countless luxury shopping malls are only a stone throw away from street markets selling oddities, memorabilia and cheap souvenir bargains on the streets of Mong Kok. You’ll find Michelin-rated gourmet restaurants and in the next alley traditional, yet not less popular Dai Pai Dongs or Cha chaan tangs. Traditional junks and the heritage Star Ferries cross the harbor, while modern cruise ships dock at the Ocean Terminal. All these contrasts and many more you will encounter in Hong Kong – they are electrifying and make this city so exciting and rich in variety!
4. MTR and Octopus Card
The public transport network in Hong Kong is a class of its own. A great deal of this assessment is due to the mass transit railway (MTR) that operates mainly subterranean and transports extremely reliable and in high frequencies passengers from early mornings until late literally masses of people through Hong Kong. Well-signposted it supports fast and efficient commuting for very reasonable prices (you usually pay less than 10 HKD for connections on Hong Kong Island, a little bit more for cross-harbour routes, but even the longest possible route shouldn’t demand more than 30 HKD from you.
Payment is usually done with the hyper-efficient Octopus Card. These rechargeable smart cards are real allrounders and recommended to everyone spending a few days around town. The Octopus Card doesn’t only help to save money in comparison to buying a single journey ticket every time, but you can also use it as a means of payment in convenience stores, supermarkets or even restaurants – given a sufficient balance to do so. Generally, Hong Kong is very open for cashless payment options, such as ApplePay, Android Pay or We Chat Pay, which simplifies payment processes but may raise concerns about data security. However, the Octopus Card has been the forerunner whose efficiency and popularity is second to none of the other options. You’ll love it!
5. Hong Kong International Airport and Airport Express
Located on Lantau Island, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has ever since his opening in the end of the 1990s been THE hub for air traffic in North East Asia. It may not be as challenging anymore as its predecessor, the city airport Kai Tak, had been (many people still remember the pictures of those daring landing maneuvers, if you don’t know what I’m talking about you should google it, it’s insane), but for passengers it is a reliable and convenient option for travel within the region or beyond, which is especially important for me as frequent traveler on business as well as for leisure. The only criticism I have is the baggage claim which can take up to hours and doesn’t really fit in the otherwise efficient and well-organized picture.
For those leaving Hong Kong, however, there is the much-appreciated option of an In-Town Check-in inside of Hong Kong or Kowloon Airport Express Stations. After having got rid of your luggage, you can board the Airport Express which will bring you reliably within 24 minutes to the airport. In terms of time as well as price nothing can compete with this!
If you arrive at HKIA, please check out my Welcome Guide to Hong Kong!
6. Good old Tram
Even though in today’s Hong Kong it may be a nuisance to car drivers on narrow single lanes (but who does even need to drive a car in Hong Kong?), I do like the old double-deck trams that have been commuting Hong Kong Island in an East-West-direction for over a century now very much. I wouldn’t quite recommend them regularly for longer journeys (those that include more than three MTR stops, as the MTR is also cheap and much faster), but every now and then the tram might pose an option for a little bit of slowing down in this fast city. It is recommended to use the Octopus Card to pay for the ridiculously cheap 2,30 HKD fare as the driver won’t be able to give you any change. Otherwise, this is also a good opportunity to get rid of your small coins.
7. Variety of cuisines
As an expat in Hong Kong, I am often being asked whether I’d miss German food. But to be honest: there isn’t much to be missed. Especially not if you have such a range of the most sophisticated cuisines of the world (i. e. Asia in particular) right at your doorstep. Whether you fancy Japanese sushi, ramen or udon noodles, Korean BBQ or any of the various Chinese cuisines (no, they are definitely NOT all the same) – Hong Kong has them all! Whether it should be Cantonese Dim Sum, Beijing duck or dumplings, incredibly tasty hot and spicy Sichuan dishes, Hainan Chicken or Shanghai seafood, everything is available. Indian, Thai, Vietnamese as well as Western-style restaurants, steakhouses or interesting fusion places (like, for instance, Brazilian-Japanese kitchen) can be found here. Most of them are usually quite affordable, although the price range doesn’t know any limits for those who seek the very fancy places. But it needn’t be the Michelin-star place, often the hole-in-the-wall dai pai dong in the next alley offers just as yummy, if not even more delicious food.
8. Hong Kong Party Nights
It might not be as loathsome as infamous Bangkok and you definitely have to become accustomed to the prices for drinks here, but then Hong Kong definitely knows how to party! Usual Hong Kong party nights would start in one of the many restaurants and decent, stylish bars of SoHo where the people would warm up before they head down to neighbouring Lan Kwai Fong (“LKF”). This area, basically a square of streets which are free of cars during nighttime, becomes the temporary home of all party-goers (among them a lot of tourists for which this place is the natural choice if they’re in for party).
If you’ve got stamina, you can head further to the raucous part of Wan Chai around Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road, where the bars and night clubs (e. g. “From Dusk till Dawn” or “Mes Amis”) will still be open even if the ones in LKF have already closed for the day. But be aware that this is also partly Hong Kong’s red-light district, so don’t trust everyone here too much and know that some of the girls are just interested in your money. My advice to avoid next day’s hangover: having a sumptuous pancake feast at the 24/7 American breakfast temple “The Flying Pan”. And it’s also highly recommended to stop by a 7-Eleven on your way home and treat your wasted self to a sip of hydrating coconut water. You’ll thank me for that!
That gives me the cue: 7-Eleven. This convenience store (and the similarly widely prevalent Circle K) is definitely a reason to love Hong Kong – even though this store is not exclusive to Hong Kong. I even think that Germany is just one of the few countries where you cannot find any 7-Elevens. As I worship this life-saving chain so much, I really don't understand why.
You can get everything you might spontaneously need here and can even top up your Octopus Card (with which you can also pay your purchases, of course) and pay your bills, it’s amazing! You will find one outlet on literally EVERY corner of the city and opening hours are – as usual in Hong Kong – a customer’s dream. Moreover, as it is also widespread around the areas of LKF and SoHo, 7-Eleven offers to many Hong Kongers and visitors alike a good alternative to the expensive drinks in those bars around you. Just grab yourself a cheap beer and enjoy it on the corner of the street (which is – thank god – absolutely legal in Honkers) while listening to the music pumping out of the shacks nearby and still being able to talk to one another and understand what’s being said.
10. Organization of the city
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this 7-million-plus metropolis of Hong Kong is how everything works out fine. Extremely efficient. During rush hours, MTR staff would apply mass management measures to control the hordes of people commuting from A to B, whereas later on they would shut down some of the escalators to save energy during periods of low demand. You will continuously hear some good advice on how to behave in certain everyday situations, which seemed a little bit of overly didactic to me at first, but it helps to make Hong Kong a comparatively well-mannered place, especially if you look across the border… People would naturally queue up and wait for their turn and everyone respects the unwritten rule of Hong Kong escalators: Stand right, go left.
Especially impressive for me was how the city dealt with the first Stage 8 typhoon I encountered in Hong Kong last year in August, which was also supposed to be the strongest for the last 20 years. Every citizen was always well informed – either via TV/Radio, announcements in MTR stations or push messages from the Hong Kong Observatory weather app – and all actions and precautions were announced and distributed in due time, so that everyone could prepare. No one got hectic, nobody was panicking, it was like business as usual until the predefined time from which on nobody was supposed to be out on the streets anymore – and at that time public life really came to a halt until the authorities lifted the ban and downgraded the storm again. Perfect management of an extraordinary situation!
11. Taxi fares
It’s expensive to take a taxi in Germany. Incredibly expensive, so I would usually never dream of hailing a taxi at home, I’d rather walk a few kilometers. All the better that you don’t have to worry about taxi fares in Hong Kong, they’re absolutely affordable. There might still be cheaper places in Asia, but looking at the cost-of-living-to-taxi-fare ratio I am pretty sure the 852 is unparalleled (except for Singapore, perhaps) in the world. Thus, taxis are a good option if it needs to be fast or if you want to get back to your home or hotel at night time when the MTR doesn’t operate anymore.
But you have to be aware of one thing: as attractive the prices may be (always insist on using the meter which should be standard, also during nighttime!), as unfriendly are some of the taxi drivers. You just simply have to accept that some of them don’t want to (or are not allowed to) drive you through the harbor tunnel to the other side, while they may refuse other routes that seem unattractive to them. Just keep calm and carry on – the next taxi offering the next chance is already approaching!
12. After Work at the horse races
If there’s one after work event where the whole expat community of Hong Kong gets together, it is the horseracing events in Happy Valley. Every Wednesday (except for the brutally hot and humid summer months of July and August) these events take place in front of a surreal skyscraper scenery. You can be part of it for just 10 HKD, but how much money you will spend in the end depends of course on your betting skills and luck.
But even if you’re not into gambling there’s a lot to see and do around here: You can observe gambling-crazy Hong Kongers meticulously studying today’s competition while the Westerners rather watch out for beer, food and live music which creates the impression of a small festival. In Hong Kong on a Wednesday? Then you MUST NOT MISS THIS!
What applied to the food, also holds true for Hong Kong life in general: You don’t have to sacrifice anything. There are supermarkets that sell international goods (for example a great variety of German beers), there are large and well-functioning international communities (of which, kind of surprising to me, the French rather than the British one seems to be the biggest) and lot of international events where you can get to know people from all over the world that are now (temporarily) calling Hong Kong their home. While the Kowloon side is predominantly Chinese, Hong Kong Island is a real melting pot, which is fortunately also accepted by the real Hong Kongers. I have never encountered any problems with discrimination or insults. Actually, I feel like Hong Kong is one of the safest places in the world. As also the level of English spoken is generally good, living in Hong Kong is really convenient and easy.
14. Manageable size
In spite of the more than seven million people living in Hong Kong, the city is pretty straightforward, though. Especially Hong Kong Island sometimes seems like a village to me, everything is easily accessible and you can get around on foot, if you like walking. For instance, I only need to walk for half an hour from my home in Wan Chai to work in Sheung Wan. In the end, it is not much more than a narrow strip of skyscraper building between the harbor and the mountains, so that the city can only grow vertically while other megacities like Beijing or neighbouring Shenzhen extend laterally as well.
Here in Hong Kong, each skyscraper complex with its 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants each is like a small town in itself, but distances are rather short. And even in massively populated Kowloon orientation is not much of a problem, as you just have to watch out for its life line, the mile-long Nathan Road spanning in North-South direction. No matter where in Kowloon you are, it is basically never more than three blocks away and brings you back on track if ever you should get lost in the hustle and bustle of Mong Kok or Yau Ma Tei.
15. Junk Boat Trips in summer
The last item on my list is primarily an expat event, I would say. Young Hong Konger’s nowadays also like these trips, but originally it catered more to the desires of international people who wanted to have a party with a few beers or some harder stuff and the possibility to refresh in the water.
It’s great fun to sail out on these junk boats into one of Hong Kong’s many nice bays and just enjoy life there. You can do a lot of water activities such as banana boat, wakeboarding, water skiing or you just relax in the sun on the top deck of the boat or swim to the nearest beach and do the same over there. Most of the time, alcohol plays a major role in this event as well. The price for a junk boat trip depends on the question whether food and drinks are included or the principle “BYOB” (“bring your own booze”) applies. If you rent a junk privately, you’ll pay a fix price which you can divide by all the participants you can get to join. As always: the more, the merrier!
Alright, that’s it for starters. Fifteen reasons to love Hong Kong that came to my mind rather spontaneously. What is your experience, what makes Hong Kong irresistible and incomparable to other places? What is missing on my list? And which point can you perhaps absolutely not agree to? Please let me know about your opinion and leave a comment, I’m happy to receive your feedback!