Hong Kong is a popular city to visit, but for many folks it’s either a short stopover en route to somewhere else or a pure business trip. Either way, there are a few things I wish I knew before my first trip there and I’m sure they’ll resonate with any future traveler whether there on vacation or a short work break.
1. Beautiful and quiet moments are possible
I had a lot of misconceptions about Hong Kong before my first visit and chief amongst them was what it was actually like to be in the city itself. Told by many to expect constant, frenetic activity, I did find huge throngs of people, but I was also surprised by how many quiet, peaceful moments I enjoyed as well. Chief amongst them was a serene visit to the popular Man Mo Temple. Located on Fu Shin Street, Man Mo is a temple for the worship of the civil or literature god Man Tai and the martial god Mo Tai, and features a type of incense burner I’d never seen before. The spiral incense baskets fill the rafters inside Man Mo, creating layers and levels of smoke and smells that is frankly overwhelming. Windows allow in shafts of light that, when they hit the baskets just right, create ethereal moments unlike anything else I’ve experienced before. It was beautiful, solemn and undeniably special; one of those fantastic travel moments that can’t be planned, they just have to happen.
2. Wonderful food choices
True foodies will smile as they read this as Hong Kong has long been lauded as a food-lover’s dream destination, but as a non-foodie I wasn’t exactly excited to eat my way around the city. Mislead by well-meaning, but poorly informed friends, I was told to expect a lot of food that a picky eater like me wouldn’t be able to stomach. Luckily for me, they were incredibly wrong. In fact, the food aspect of visiting Hong Kong became one of my favorite parts of the trip. It started with expertly prepared dim sum at the innocent looking, but incredibly popular, Tim Ho Wan. Known as the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, the hour long lines are normal for the king of dim sum. It’s worth it too; the choice and quality of the food was exceptional and all served at normal dim sum prices. It’s not often you can say you got Michelin rated food for $10 or less, but Hong Kong is full of culinary surprises like this one. If you have a sweet tooth like me, be sure to also visit Lab Made Ice Cream. The creation of scientists turned foodies, Ronnie Cheng and Jenny Chiu started Hong Kong’s only liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor with one thing in mind – fresh and delicious ice cream. The concoctions are created in front of waiting guests, frozen in less than two minutes with clouds of liquid nitrogen steaming around the kitchen. Don’t expect normal flavors here though, they range from the interesting to the downright weird and many have a Hong Kong influence. I sampled the buttered toast ice cream on my visit, a tasty ice cream that was exactly like eating a slice of toast. Lab Made is the perfect antidote to those hot Hong Kong nights, and the always-changing flavors ensure a new experience every time.
3. Innovation and PMQ
It’s something I’ve seen more and more of in cities around the world, but in Hong Kong I found perhaps one of the best examples of creative entrepreneurship I’ve ever seen. Known as PMQ, the old Police Married Quarters is today an example of creative gentrification. Once the former housing complex was abandoned, it fell into disuse and became a neighborhood blight. Rather than tear it down, a unique private/public partnership was formed and now it’s a leading example of creative urban planning. Today the PMQ houses artists, designers and other creative types who use the space not just to create their works, but to sell them as well. A maze of boutiques, shops and restaurants, PMQ is the new hipster headquarters for the city and a great place to see a more creative and innovative side to Hong Kong. Though this is the best example of innovation in Hong Kong, there are many others strewn about town, from creative art boutiques to simple maker labs helping would-be business owners get a start in life.
4. Lots to see outside of the downtown
I always assumed that Hong Kong was just the city and that nothing else existed beyond the city’s borders. I was wrong, and along with a geography lesson about the islands of Hong Kong I also discovered the popular Lantau Island. It’s hard to believe that all it takes to escape the modern bustle of Hong Kong’s downtown is a short subway ride to one of the city’s out-islands. The MTR is the city’s convenient, fast and comprehensive subway system that connects practically all areas of the city, including Lantau Island. There is plenty to do to fill a day on Lantau, and while it may initially seem too touristy it’s easy to get away from ‘official tourist villages’ and shops and discover the true beauty of the island. At the heart of the experience is the massive Tian Tan Buddha or Big Buddha. It’s a fairly recent addition to the island, completed in 1993, but was the largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha in the world when it was built. To get to the giant Buddha, visitors must first climb the 268 steps to get there, no easy feat on a sweltering Hong Kong day. But the rewards are well worth the effort; the giant Buddha surrounded by adoring Deva statues with the fog-encased mountains in the background are a spectacular sight. The island isn’t all about Buddhism though, it was originally an island of fishermen and it’s still possible to see this way of life today. Either take the bus or one of the rare 50 taxis on the island to Tai O, a centuries old fishing village where little seems to have changed.
5. Hong Kong luxury is not your average luxury
I’m a luxury kind of guy and it’s usually a big part of my travel experience, it’s just my preference. I’ve experienced luxury travel in Asia before and know it to be the best in the world, but nothing quite prepared me for the elegance of luxury travel in Hong Kong. It starts before you even get there if you take Cathay Pacific to reach the city. All of their seating classes are comfortable with amazing service, but their Business Class service is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced. Add to that truly outstanding lounges in Hong Kong International Airport, and they’re the best way to arrive in style. Once in Hong Kong there are many choices for high-quality digs, but my best experience was realized at the InterContinetnal Hong Kong. Sure, all of their rooms feature the company’s usually high levels of comfort and service, but for something truly extraordinary the one-percenters splurge for a stay in the Presidential Suite. This 7,000 square-foot, $13,000 a night suite is the ultimate in luxurious Hong Kong living. Perched on top of the amazingly well situated InterContinental Hong Kong, the Presidential Suite has everything you could possibly want including private terrace, pool, jacuzzi, gym, office and a master bath that has both a sauna and a steam room. There’s no better place to stay in Hong Kong if it’s luxury you’re after. Even if the Presidential Suite isn’t in your budget, a stay at the InterContinental should be on your itinerary. Perched on Victoria Harbour in Kowloon, the views from the hotel are amongst the best in the city and when coupled with outstanding quality and service, the InterContinental really is one of the best hotel choices when visiting Hong Kong.
Have you been to Hong Kong? What surprised you on your first trip?