Why Hong Kong remains one of my top travel destinations.
For me, Hong Kong is the perfect getaway destination. Besides the city’s flawless and mesmerizing scenery – it was a place I could go to escape the pressures and demands of Western culture. I can honestly say it’s a place where you can lose yourself in euphoria. The vibe of the city felt as though I was at the center of the universe, with everything revolving around me. Strangely though there is still a certain serenity lingering in the air. I suppose this composure is created by the people living and working in Hong Kong, who are calm and collected whilst going about their daily business, but at the same time adding to the hustle and bustle. What I adore the most about traveling here is the richness the culture adds to the region. The island’s cultural wealth is so evidently alive within its people, surroundings and museums – that you can literally taste it.
I did quite a bit of research before my trip to the Far East and I learned that often the best advice comes from people who have previously been to where you’re going. So sit back, relax and I’ll let you in on a couple of secrets that travel books and agencies may not be able to share with you.
When my plane started descending toward Hong Kong International airport, I was amazed by how beautiful this city is. Split by various islands with a mountainous and dense forest back drop, low clouds rolls from the mountains over the cities sky scrapers – it’s a sight to reckon with for sure. I couldn’t help giggling to myself though as Hong Kong’s buildings remind me of enormous hair curlers neatly positioned at the foot of the mountains, they appear to be watching their reflections in the tropical green sea waters. These skyscrapers are built in every size and colour you can possibly imagine. It was an entertaining sight to say the least.
In Hong Kong the ideal district in which to stay is Kowloon. I stayed in a hotel called Guangdong which is located at Prat Avenue, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. It was ideal for me as I didn’t want to spend unnecessary money on transport or waste a lot of precious time. I wanted to be ‘where it was all happening’. By staying close to the main attractions you can walk to wherever you plan to visit and walking allows you to explore and see a lot more than you would sitting in a taxi. Certain tourist attractions will require a bit of light traveling and using the train, bus or ferry is great for touring purposes. During the evening Hong Kong taxis are your best bet for going to places like their famous night markets. The taxis are reasonably priced compared to other major cities like New York and London.
Did you know: Hong Kong is a city built on islands, linked by a rapid transit system MTR (Mass Transit Railway), which in some parts (like from Kowloon to Hong Kong island), runs under-water? There is a tragic story about how men died building this under water tunnel and the complexities of its construction is just another one of its many indications that Hong Kong is in some ways ahead of the West – technologically.
There’s a rumor about how cheap electronics are in Hong Kong. From my experience, this isn’t completely true. Obviously you’re not going to be paying inflated transport taxes etc… as the electronics are primarily made in China so you’ll find that an iPod for example, is going to be the same price as in your local shops – just minus the tax. If you’re buying electronics at incredibly low prices in Hong Kong watch out because it could be counterfeit. However, there is a reasonably priced shop in Kowloon called Sony that sells everything from cameras and iPhones to iPads and laptops. You can’t miss it – it looks like a mini casino with its huge flashing Sony sign. When I bought from there, a guy named B or Bee assisted me, he was quite a character and you can bargain with him on the prices. I have to give him recognition for being one of the best salesmen I’ve ever come across.
Another one of my treasured finds was a teddy bear shop in Kowloon called The Teddy Bear Store. They have every possible fluffy animal you can think of with the most adorable faces and expressions. If you like shopping, Kowloon is the place to be. Keep in mind that the shops open late around 10 or 11am because they close at 11pm every night. Don’t make the same mistake I did – I woke up early to indulge in consumerism and ended up waiting around until the shops eventually opened at 11am. If you’re looking for an authentic Asian experience, you should know that Hong Kong has strong Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian cultural association, but is also VERY westernized. You’ll see places like Hard Rock Café, Starbucks Coffee, Mc Donald’s, Chanel and Louis Vuitton throughout the city. There is also a fantastic perfume shop in Kowloon called Sasa where you can buy the top brands of perfume for half the price charged in malls.
Hong Kong’s Big Bus Tours are very reasonably priced and will take you to some extraordinary places. You’ll go to a diamond shaping and setting factory, Jackie Chan’s mansion, Repulse Bay and Victoria Peak where you can view the whole harbor and most of the city. At the diamond shaping factory, the guide will ask you a question regarding the people who shape the diamonds and if you get the answer correctly you will win a real ruby. Repulse Bay was fascinating – it’s a beautiful beach that you are allowed to go to if you’re on a tour. If you go alone, you will have to pay quite a lot of money to enter or may be restricted completely as the beach is actually reserved for the rich and famous. On either side of you (from where you enter the beach) are two massive statues known as the Kwan-Yin shrine. On your right is the Goddess of Mercy and on your left, the God of Mercy. The guide told me that their purpose is to guard the people and the island. The Kwan-Yin shrine was erected after the 19th century battle where the British attacked that particular bay.
Another great way to do your sightseeing is by water. The Hong Kong Star Ferry is a great way to see the city in its entirety and you’ll learn about the fishermen who live on their tiny fishing boats. You can also take a ferry to the island of Macau, but keep in mind you will need a visa, regardless of whether you have an American or British passport. Something that put me off from going to Macau was that the currency is Pataca’s and not Hong Kong Dollars (HK$), so you will need to exchange your money and pay departure taxes. There are just so many exciting places to go that for me, Macau ranked low on my list.
I’ve only touched on a couple of many elements that took my breath away, but I hope you now have a taste of what Hong Kong is about and remember half the fun of the trip is making your own exciting discoveries. Here are a few sites that should help you plan your trip:
- Discover Hong Kong
- Big Bus Tours.com
Wishing you all the best of travels.
About The Author: Vanessa Abrahams is a promotions manager for a South African casino. She’s an avid believer that worldly wisdom is the sole preserve of the well travelled. In her spare time, Vanessa writes for a variety of publications on travelling, cooking, and living well.