The Best Guide You Can Get For Hong Kong
Posted May 21, 2019
Hong Kong needs little introduction. Its history as a former British overseas colony is well known as is its modern-day role as a hub of finance and unique position as an administrative territory of China. Hong Kong is a mishmash of British named streets, Chinese construction sites building structures ever higher, nationalities from across the world eking out an existence in one of the most expensive real estate markets, coupled with the most efficient infrastructure in the world, all to the backdrop of the world-famous Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula skylines and the looming Victoria Peak. To put it simply, Hong Kong is unlike anywhere else on earth.
Of course, Hong Kong’s popularity as a destination means there are lots of blog posts and guides about it. In fact, there are so many we’re happy you found your way to ours! This post will not cover everything, like visiting Victoria Peak, taking a Star Ferry ride, or a bar crawl through Central. If you’re looking for the tried and tested Hong Kong experience I suggest you read elsewhere. We do our best to avoid the standard attractions when traveling and instead focus on the more off-the-beaten path travel as much as we can of course. In a destination like Hong Kong that is hard to accomplish given its popularity as a destination, but we gave it our best.
As we incorporated Hong Kong into our trip to Taiwan we were strategic about our visit and thus stayed in two different parts of the city, making this guide stand out from the rest :) We’ve compiled everything noteworthy, giving you the broadest possible overview of what Hong Kong is about as we experienced it. Enjoy!
How to get to and from the Hong Kong Airport
Hong Kong’s International Airport (among the top 10 busiest in the world) is located 32 kilometers west of Kowloon. While the airport processes an insanely high number of passengers (74.7 million in 2018) you never feel the load, and we know well as we passed through 4 times on our recent two-week trip! Conveniently the airport provides multiple ways to reach Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, Macau and cities in neighboring China. So no matter where you’re going there’s an option for you.
To start our trip in Hong Kong we arrived on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha late in the evening and after a long day of travel we were eager to get to our hotel and dinner reservation, so we opted for taking a taxi from the airport. The taxi to the Hotel ICON in Tsim Sha Tsui cost $290 HK Dollars and took just under 30 minutes with zero traffic. It is the most convenient door-to-door way to travel from the airport, however, it is the most expensive. I only recommend it if you’re arriving late at night and staying on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. To reach Hong Kong Island your best bet is the train which we will cover below.
Just a quick note, taxis in Hong Kong are broken into 3 distinct color groups depending upon which part of the territory you’re traveling to. As most people reading this post are probably traveling to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island you’ll take a red taxi. The blue and green taxis go to other parts of Hong Kong.
By Train to Hong Kong
On our second trip to Hong Kong, we arrived late morning from Taipei and this time stayed in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. We opted for the fastest and most popular way into the city, the airport express. The train departs every 15 minutes and stops in Kowloon before terminating at the Hong Kong Station with a travel time of 26 minutes from the airport to reach the Hong Kong Station at a cost of $170 HK Dollars for two one-way tickets. The train is actually the best way to travel to and from the airport, and here’s why.
With your train ticket, you get a free shuttle from the Kowloon or Hong Kong Stations to several area hotels. Even if you aren’t staying at one of the listed hotels, tell the staff on-hand where you’re staying and they will tell you the best shuttle to take. Shuttles leave after everyone from the train has boarded a shuttle so you don’t wait very long and the journey to the hotel took roughly 15 minutes, really not much faster than a taxi and it was FREE.
It gets even better when you travel to the airport by the express train. Both the Kowloon and Hong Kong Stations offer check-in counters for your flight AT THE TRAIN STATION! We’ve traveled a lot (as you may already know) and we’ve never ever seen this service offered in any other city we’ve been to. This meant we were free of our checked bags at the train station and would not see them again until we arrived in Amman!! This service is completely free and they appeared to have check-in counters for all airlines. All other major cities should take serious note of how well Hong Kong operates!
If you really want to save money and don’t mind extra travel time you can take a bus from the airport to different parts of Hong Kong. It’s an option, but I can’t tell you much more than that as we didn’t entertain it.
Getting Around Hong Kong
I can say with full confidence that there is no place on earth where you have as many efficient and affordable transportation options as you do in Hong Kong. We rode the MTR (metro system) a lot, even during rush hour and never paid more than a dollar for a short ride. The double-decker buses and double-decker trams, yes they have double-decker trams are even cheaper and more enjoyable to ride. Impressively it’s really easy to get around Hong Kong.
Before your first trip on public transportation, you need to purchase an Octopus card, available inside MTR stations. There’s a deposit for the card which you get back at the airport when you return the card. We loaded $100 HK Dollars onto each of our cards and after 5 days of travel throughout Hong Kong, we didn’t use it all (also refunded at the airport). The Octopus can be used to pay for stuff at many shops like 7-11 and in taxis too, so it’s totally worth getting.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong
This is an important and difficult decision to make. Since we passed through Hong Kong twice on our way to and from Taipei we opted to stay in two different parts of the city, both very different from each other. Here’s what they offer.
Hotel ICON in Tsim Sha Tsui
The Hotel ICON is among the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in. We owe a thank you to our friend Sinéad for her recommendation of the hotel. At her suggestion, we checked it out online and loved it so much we decided to stay there ourselves. To be perfectly honest the hotel was so good we struggled to leave and explore Hong Kong on our first day. We could have easily spent our entire trip at the Hotel ICON and here’s why.
Our opinion is if you’re going to travel somewhere you should do it right, and one way to “do” Hong Kong right is to get a hotel with a view of Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong Island skyline. The Hotel ICON offers just that, so if you’re going to stay here opt for a Harbor View room. Trust me you won’t regret the decision. Our room on the 26th floor with floor to ceiling windows was totally worth the view, and not only did our upgraded room come with a view it came with an array of amenities!
The spacious room also included a complimentary fully stocked mini-bar (refilled each day), a power bank to recharge our devices while out and about, a Nespresso, hotel amenity kits in biodegradable packaging, a water filter (no plastic bottles!!), and a WiFi enabled mobile device that allowed us to stay connected and navigate the city without having to get a Hong Kong SIM card. We’ve never stayed at a hotel that offered this many high-quality amenities.
The service was exceptional throughout our stay, from the moment we arrived and were welcomed at a private check-in on the 28th floor, to the complimentary evening happy hour (more on that in a second). The staff took the time to engage with us on a personal level, offering advice and tips as if we were friends and not merely guests.
Another perk of the room with a view was that it came with two different breakfast options. One at the exclusive Above & Beyond restaurant on the 28th floor and the other at the main restaurant on the 2nd floor. Since we stayed for two nights we tried both and our opinion is the one on the 28th floor is better. While what’s available on the 28th floor is limited compared to the buffet downstairs, the smaller buffet also includes a range of different meals to choose from combined with the sweeping view of Hong Kong that can’t be matched. Another perk of the room, as if more were needed more was the complimentary early evening happy hour at Above & Beyond. The drinks and canopies were the perfect way to start the evening. The hotel staff mingled with guests ensuring everyone was taken care of when it came to their evening plans.
Sorry to keep going on about the hotel, but in case you need more to help you make your decision to stay there the hotel has a pool and bar on the 9th floor facing Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island. While Carrie had a massage at the spa located on the same floor I lounged by the pool drinking Young Master (craft beer from Hong Kong), smoking a cigar while watching the ships sail through Victoria Harbor. The perfect way to relax and unwind after a morning of sightseeing.
The Hotel ICON is the place stay, especially if you’re dead set on staying in Kowloon or are looking to mainly relax with a bit of touring around Hong Kong. We highly recommend Hotel ICON.
The Fleming in Wan Chai
Looking for something with a bit more character located on Hong Kong Island? You should consider The Fleming and here’s why. As you’re probably aware we tend to stay in locally owned and operated boutique hotels when we can and The Fleming sets the bar high for all future ones. From the moment we saw this recently renovated hotel online we knew we had to stay there. When it comes to stylish and elegant decor, The Fleming does it extremely well, with no detail left out. From the lobby and the hallways to the room, great care and attention has been taken to ensure the hotel’s design stretches throughout the property.
The Fleming’s location set in the heart of Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s coolest neighborhoods makes for an easy exploration of the territory. The hotel, which has only 66 rooms, offers them in several different sizes. For our three night stay, we opted for the medium sized room and it was more than spacious enough for us. One thing we have to note is the quality of the linens. The luxury linens were by far the most comfortable we’ve ever slept on.
Given the hotel’s timeless design, perfect location and exceptional service, if you’re looking to stay in this part of Hong Kong I highly recommend staying here. While the hotel stay doesn’t include breakfast this turned out to be a bonus as it forced us to explore the breakfast options in this part of the city which you’ll see in the where to eat section there are some great choices. The Fleming does have an Italian restaurant, Osteria Marzia on the ground floor, which we only visited for drinks at the bar.
In all honesty, we loved this place. If you’re looking for a boutique hotel on Hong Kong Island you can’t do better than The Fleming.
Where to Eat and Drink in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is world famous for its dining. It’s one of the top cities for foodies, with a wide range of food from authentic Chinese to international cuisines. Here are some of the places we went to.
Breakfast at Bakehouse
Bakehouse is an extremely popular breakfast spot in Wan Chai and for good reason as the pastries are to die for. Not only are they beautifully presented, but taste delicious. There are two lines, one for take-away and the other for dine-in with the shorter line being take-away of course. While we waited just a couple of minutes we had time to decide on what to eat. Everything looked really good, so it was not an easy choice. We ordered quiches, a pretzel, and two coffees and headed to a nearby park to enjoy our breakfast. Fair warning, while this place is delicious it is not cheap.
Breakfast at the Sheung Wan Market and Cooked Food Center
In search of something a little more local, and cheaper we went to the Sheung Wan Market and Cooked Food Center not far from the Sheung Wan MTR and the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal. We conveniently went there for breakfast before we caught a ferry over to Macau for the day.
The market and cooked food center cover three floors, the first two are where you buy everything from seafood and meat to vegetables. It’s best to avoid them, especially if you don’t have a strong stomach or are a vegetarian as the place can be smelly and the floors covered with “stuff”. The third floor where the cooked food is located is the reason you come here. It’s filled with several kitchens that sell a wide variety of local food.
We walked around and checked out most of the options before sitting down at the place that had lots of people (a good sign) and a menu in English. Finding a menu in English was a slight challenge. We ordered coffees and noodles for breakfast. The noodles were really filling, delicious and inexpensive. In search of something a little less commercial check out the cooked food center.
Tea at LockCha Tea House
If you know your history then you’ll know tea has been central to this part of the world for centuries. So when in Hong Kong one has to visit a tea house, and there’s no better other than LockCha. As an added bonus LockCha is also a vegetarian restaurant which was selected by American Express Essentials as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world.
Looking to kill two birds with one stone we went to their tea house inside Hong Kong Park (the location of their full-service restaurant). The menu of teas was 3 times the length of the food menu. As each person should order their own pot of tea we ordered a pot of the Oolong Orchid and Longjing. Naturally, we ordered dim sum, with a range of vegetarian dumplings, buns, cakes (sweet and savory), and noodles to accompany our teas! An all vegetarian dim sum is not the easiest thing to find, especially one as well recommended, so come here not only for the tea but the food as well. I should note that LockCha is not the cheapest place to eat and/or drink tea, but it is up there with the best.
Dinner at Little Bao in SOHO
We love bao and there’s no better place to have one then at Little Bao. Located just a block away from the PMQ (more on that later) this small restaurant serves some of the best fusion bao burgers and shared plates in Hong Kong. You can’t make advance reservations so the best bet is to show up around when you’re ready to eat and put your name down on the list. Luckily our wait was only 25 minutes and with lots of bars and shops nearby there’s plenty to do while you wait.
We each ordered a bao burger, I had the slow-braised pork belly and Carrie had the Impossible (vegan). Following the lead of other diners, we started with a plate of the brussels sprouts with peanuts, chili, lime and fried shallots, and Truffle Fries with truffle mayo, pickled daikon, and shiitake tempeh, both of which were absolutely delectable. We paired this with a Young Master Pilsner and Gwei-Lo IPA, both Hong Kong craft beers. The two shared dishes and one bao each ended up being the right amount of food. I was tempted to order a second bao initially but am glad I held off.
Dinner at Three Blind Mice
Tucked away on a small side street, Three Blind Mice has a great selection of international dishes. For dinner, I had the Fish & Chips with a Gwei-Lo Wit (local craft beer) and Carrie, the Black Pepper Tofu with a House White from New Zealand. The food, service, and decor were amazing. To be perfectly honest I really struggled with what to order as several dishes like the Jalapeno Mac n’ Cheese and the Scotch Egg sounded so good I was really torn over what to order. In the end I was happy with what I ordered.
Three Blind Mice is small (only 5 tables inside) and is a must if you’re staying in Wan Chai, but be warned that unless you make reservations in advance you need to come on a weeknight as tables go quickly at this popular spot.
Drinks at a Rooftop Bar
Given Hong Kong’s world-famous skyline the city has several rooftop bars. We checked out CÉ LA VI in Lan Kwai Fong, a part of the city filled with bars and restaurants. The view is pretty cool and worth it even for just a drink, or if you stop by during happy hour, 2 drinks. Come early as it fills up quickly.
Whiskey at Djapa
This Japanese-Brazilian (Hong Kong’s first) fusion restaurant has one of the most extensive lists of Japanese whiskey I have ever seen. While the whiskeys aren’t cheap, they do have a wide selection, most of which I had never heard of. We opted for two of the lesser known whiskeys! Djapa was a great place to wind down after a day of sightseeing. As you can see we didn’t touch upon the food, which if we hadn’t just eaten would be worth exploring!
Food and Drinks around Temple Street Night Market
Temple Street is famous for its night market and thus attracts a fair share of tourists and locals. Wanting to see what all the fuss is about we walked from the Hotel ICON (20 minutes) over to Temple Street. We followed the lead of others and ate at the no-frills Temple Spice Crabs restaurant. While the meal was delicious and inexpensive, what’s really noteworthy was the gem we stumbled upon after our meal. In search of a bar to have a post-dinner drink at we found this newly opened bar nearby. Since we’re not ones to pass up on an opportunity to check out a stylish new bar serving Kung Fu beer (microbrewery in Hong Kong) we popped in and had one. Sadly this place is so new they don’t have a presence I can find online. The best thing I can do is tell you they are located near the intersection of Ning Po and Woosung Streets, directly across the street from the Parkes Street Refuse Collection Point. Looking for somewhere a little more local, then find this place!
Whether you’re in search of an egg waffle, bubble milk tea, or gyoza day or night, street food stands have you covered. They can be found near or inside MTR stations, on side streets, or along main thoroughfares, really just about any place, you’ll frequent. One place we returned to twice was Hana Musubi (inside the Wan Chai MTR) for their delectable omusubi (triangle shaped pieces of Japanese rice filled with meat (also non-meat options) wrapped in seaweed). These are no ordinary rice balls (onigiri). Carrie was a huge fan because of their good selection of vegan options!
Essential street foods you have to try while in Hong Kong are egg waffles, baoza, and gyoza! All three make for perfect late night snacks.
What to See and Do in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of those destinations that has it all, from exploring nature to shopping or even taking a boat trip. Here’s what we suggest.
Shop at PMQ
Shopping is big in Hong Kong, whether you’re looking for electronics, high-end clothing, or like us you’re in search of local, eco-friendly products. The old police barracks, also known as the PMQ located in SOHO is now a space dedicated to local artisans who have shops spread out over two buildings covering 5 floors! There’s no place better to buy local products then at the PMQ. We could not pass up the opportunity to buy tea at Gong Fu Teahouse, kitchen goods at Bamboa home and organic health products from Live Zero, the later which sadly you can’t get in Amman.
We loved the shops so much we returned a second time and happened upon the Taipei festival! The courtyard was converted into an area filled with stalls selling food and drink from Taiwan and a stage for live performances. We were thrilled to see Taiwanese craft beer was available!
Shop at Loveramics
Loveramics is a popular place to buy ceramics, so much so that many restaurants like Little Bao and others use their products. To go with all the tea we bought in Hong Kong and Taiwan we bought a tea set here! They have two locations, one of which is located in the historic Tai Kwun, a collect of former police station buildings that are now filled with bars, restaurants, and shops.
Buy Chocolate at Hakawa Chocolate
Hakawa Chocolate is a tiny artisanal handmade bean to bar chocolate shop is located at the top of Gough Steps and is a must if you love chocolate! We grabbed two bars, my favorite being the spicy Sichuan. They also have chocolate drinks!
Explore Hong Kong and Kowloon Parks
Despite how urban Hong Kong is, the city has lots of green space. There are parks dotted throughout the territory, many nestled between the skyscrapers. Two parks we recommend checking out are the Kowloon and Hong Kong Parks. Both parks are tranquil places to escape the hectic urban environment that is Hong Kong.
Kowloon Park, just north of the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station is larger and definitely less crowded compared to the Hong Kong Park, close to the Admiralty MTR. The Hong Kong Park has an aviary filled with unique species of birds. It’s totally worth exploring, even if you have to fight the crowds to get through the park. Be sure to bring your camera! Both are great places to escape the heat and rest for a few.
Go Hiking in Hong Kong
Given Hong Kong’s hilly landscape it makes for some great hiking, including some of the best urban hikes in the world! There are several popular and well-known trails, including family walks which are more manageable, especially if it’s hot and humid.
We opted for the Wan Chai and Bowen Road Fitness Trails which we could easily reach from the Wan Chai neighborhood we were staying in at the time. While the Wan Chai Trail was extremely steep, the Bowen Road Fitness Trail was a pleasant flat surface that provided several panoramic viewpoints of the Hong Kong skyline. This trail connects to Lover’s Rock which has even better views of Hong Kong. Quite possibly the best thing about these two trails is that they aren’t crowded and those you’ll pass are more likely to be locals than tourists.
A popular trail to hike is Dragon’s Back, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hike it during our visit. Another extremely popular hike, especially for tourists is the one up to Victoria Peak, we didn’t do this hike either. There is a tram that takes you to the top as well.
A quick search on Google Maps will show you over a dozen trails that criss-cross Hong Kong Island all providing different viewpoints of the city and coast and various levels of hiking difficulty. Many trail-heads can be reached by either bus or MTR. So if you like hiking definitely bring your hiking shoes or boots to Hong Kong.
Walk the Promenade
One of the best ways to soak up the views of Hong Kong is to walk along its famous Victoria Harbor. The best vantage point, in my opinion, is from the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon Peninsula as you look across the harbor towards Hong Kong Island. You can reach it from the East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR or if you’re lucky enough to be staying at Hotel ICON you can walk there (5-minute walk)!
Symphony of Lights
One of Hong Kong’s top draws is its skyline in case you haven’t noticed. Each night at 8 pm multiple buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor coordinate a light show which is best taken in from a traditional Chinese junk boat. There are several boat tour operators offering different types of tours, but only two offer them aboard a traditional Chinese junk boat. We rode on the Aqua Luna, one of two traditional Chinese junk boats doing the Symphony of Lights tour. Honestly, if you’re going to take a boat ride you might as well go on a traditional boat.
We decided to be a little touristy one night and take a boat cruise during the light show. The cruise included a free drink and music on-board coordinated with the lights. Another advantage is being able to see both sides of the Hong Kong skyline from the middle of the harbor. The light show as you’ll see below was spectacular and an experience we highly recommend. Our advice if you do book is to line-up early-ish to ensure you get one of the better seats towards the front of the boat.
Day Trip to Macau
Another popular thing to do if you’re staying in Hong Kong is to take a day trip over to Macau. We certainly did and to be honest weren’t thrilled with the experience. I certainly get the allure of traveling there, but would encourage you to read our post on why we think you should reconsider the idea.
As we’ve shown, Hong Kong truly is a world-class destination. From its scenic world-famous skyline and urban hiking to its vibrant culinary scene, or its shopping and nightlife, whatever your pleasure is Hong Kong has you covered. We could go on and on about how much we loved visiting Hong Kong and hope we can incorporate a visit into another trip soon. If you’re traveling to Asia from the far reaches of the globe chances are high you’ll pass through and if you can stay a night or tow you should make the most of your visit. Hopefully, this guide helps!
Photography by Albert and Carrie Bond
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