There was a time in my life when I never thought I’d visit Hong Kong, much less visit it more than once. Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Hong Kong with Cathay-Pacific a few times, each experience in this dynamic city better than the last. I have unexpectedly fallen in love with this quirky group of islands, which is why I want to share a few experiences I’ve enjoyed that always make it a fun and exciting city to visit.
Hong Kong has a global reputation as a foodie city, and it’s a title well deserved. Residents take their meals very seriously and thanks to its somewhat unusual history, you’ll find a little bit of everything in this sprawling metropolis.
Classic dim sum though is still perhaps what Hong Kong is best known for, and locals all swear by the quality found at 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.
For something a little different, try Ho Lee Fook. Quirky and little too hipster for its own good, the food luckily rescues this restaurant from being too cool for school. Meant to evoke old school Hong Kong hang outs with the funky vibe of 1960s Chinatown New York, rock music and dim lights set the stage for a rock-inspired meal. The food itself though is pretty traditional, just good Chinese classics served up family style so that everyone can enjoy them. No matter what you decide to eat in Hong Kong, I find it impossible to believe that you won’t enjoy the food experiences throughout the city.
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 the popular 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 over the decades.
Hong Kong is manageable on nearly every budget, but if you’re going to splurge a little then this one of the best places in the world to pamper yourself. First, be sure to arrive in style via Cathay-Pacific Airways. One of the best airlines in the world, I’ve found all of their classes of service to be comfortable and relaxing, but for a special splurge be sure to check out their Business Class. Featuring fine dining, fully lie-flat beds and their legendary in-flight service, it’s a great way to arrive in Hong Kong well rested. Once you arrive in Hong Kong you are spoiled for choice when it comes to nice hotels and I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in three luxury hotels, all of which I can strongly recommend. The InterContinental Hong Kong, Upper House and The Ritz-Carlton are all very different luxury hotels, but each excel in their own special ways. Add in amazing views and it’s a luxury experience you’ll never forget. Around town there’s more shopping than you ever thought possible, and when your feet have had enough be sure to check out some of the many Michelin starred restaurants in town. Yes, if you’re a luxury traveler like me then Hong Kong is one city not to miss.
On my last trip to Hong Kong, I wanted to do something a little different, off the beaten path. That’s how I found myself standing outside one of the newest subway stops in the city, deep in the heart of Kennedy Town. This long-neglected area of Hong Kong is going through a very rapid change thanks to the opening that new subway connection. Walking around with my guide from Little Adventures in Hong Kong, I learned a lot about what life in Hong Kong was like decades ago, a lifestyle still on full display in Kennedy Town. From joining locals for milk tea and egg tarts to strolling the waterfront, it was a wonderful way to learn a little more about this dynamic city.
Beauty of Victoria Harbour
The beautiful waterway that seems to tie everything together, Victoria Harbour is an important part of any travel experience in the city. Your first view will probably come from your hotel room, but you can also walk down to the waterfront to take a classic Hong Kong ferry across the water. Every photo I’ve ever seen of the city includes these beautiful boats, either a traditional junk or the more modern ferries, and it’s just one of those experiences everyone has to try. Before you cross the water though, spend some time in Kowloon and walk along the waterfront, not just to enjoy the day but to visit the slightly unusual Walk of Stars.
Unexpectedly Quiet Moments
For as frenetic and teeming with people as Hong Kong can be, I think what has ultimately endeared it to me is how many special, quiet and deeply personal moments there are to be enjoyed. I first noticed this when visiting the oft-photographed Man-Mo Temple. Standing innocently on a quiet street, from the outside it doesn’t look like much, but inside is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. Swirling incense holders fill the room, creating rings of fragrant smoke that, when the light hits it just right, is positively otherworldly. There are many such temples around the city, built long ago and left out of respect for those who live nearby. Investigating them is a treasure hunt, a way to seek a little solace in the urban core. Temples aren’t the only place to find some peace and quiet though, whether it’s walking along the waterfront or traveling out to one of the other islands, there are many ways to get out of the metropolitan chaos and find your own private moments of Zen.
Hong Kong is a complex city in nearly every sense of the phrase. But it’s also a fun place to explore, an exciting city to experience in person and a destination that begs for repeat trips. It would take a lifetime to really start to understand this at-times enigmatic city, but along the way there are many experiences to enjoy.