From Korea to Hong Kong - Tour De Asia Stop #1
Ahhhh, Hong Kong...
A long anticipated dream destination and the first stop on my, also long anticipated, backpacking journey.
After a bit of a rough start to the trip (which involved somewhat intentionally missing my Thursday evening flight for one last Hana Sushi dinner... and then squatting for the night in my empty, but unlocked, apartment), I finally arrived in Hong kong and began my two month, mini tour de Asia.
A few days earlier, I had said goodbye to my kindergarten class at graduation (which was quite possibly one of the hardest things I've ever done... Seriously though, how freakin' cute are these little monsters?!). I'd finished my job in Korea and completed a marathon around Seoul to close my bank account, sort things out at the pension office, and tie up all other loose ends.
Turns out making an international move is hard... and there were A LOT more loose ends than I thought there would be. I had been so occupied with preparing for the move and saying my goodbyes that I really didn’t plan much of anything for the first stop on my trip. I had no idea what to expect of Hong Kong, which isn't always a bad thing... but in this case, it kind of was.
For starters, (and the only real problem), was that I thought it was going to be MUCH warmer. I had only packed one pair of jeans, one light hoodie, and a couple three-quarter sleeve tops (all of which I planned to leave behind when I left for Vietnam). The rest of my, somehow filled to the brim, packs contained nothing but island wear - bikinis, shorts, tank tops, a totally unnecessary beach ball and god knows what else.
Speaking of filled to the brim backpacks... my god was it heavy. Thankfully, once I arrived in Hong Kong, finding my way from the airport to my hostel wasn't complicated. With my backpack on my back and carry-on on my front, I boarded the airport express train, and within half an hour was at Central Hong Kong Station. From there, my hostel, Check Inn was just two MRT stops and a short walk away in Wan Chai… (not to be confused with Chai Wan which is the last stop on the line and literally on the opposite side of the city. Don't make this mistake, as it'll be a time consuming one. I don’t know why cities give metro stations such similar names).
Side note: Bethany says I’m fake for having travelled with two backpacks, but with a laptop, a drone baby, and other gadgets, (not to mention copious amounts of underwear), it was not easy to pack for 2+ months of life-ing in one bag! I gave it my best effort, and, overall, did a fairly decent job of downsizing. After seeing loads of other people toting around two (sometimes three) packs, I realize it’s a thing backpackers do, and am no longer concerned with my little sister’s hating ways. ;)
Anyway, back to Hong Kong...
As soon as I touched down and got through customs, I purchased a couple essentials - my train ticket and a SIM card. I would highly recommend picking one up at the airport. I used to go to cities disconnected… as a matter of fact, I lived in Seoul on airplane mode for well over half a year. This time, knowing that my visit would be short, I decided that I didn’t want to spend it wandering around lost. Having a SIM (and an updated version of google maps - this is crucial) allowed me to find everything I was looking for fairly easily, including my hostel.
Planning a trip to Hong Kong? On a time limit? Keep reading for my top HK recommendations - things you'll need, places I loved, (and how to get there)!
Buy a Sim Card
Being connected in Hong Kong made my visit to the city such a breeze (once I'd updated my version of GoogleMaps). I was walking the streets so confidently that I must have looked like a local... and was asked (more than once) for directions. This is even funnier, and more ironic, given that, prior to moving to Asia, my sense of direction was literally nonexistent.
There are several prepaid SIM cards you can purchase and pay for as you go, but I went with the Discover Hong Kong SIM available at the airport. There were two options -the 5-day pass for HK$88 or the 8-day pass for HK$118. (Note: You'll need to have an unlocked phone to use any SIM card abroad).
The Octopus Card is Hong Kong's equivalent of T-money in Korea and Taiwan's EasyCard. You use it to pay for everything from the train, taxis, and can even use it at convenience stores and restaurants. It was so efficient and convenient - (and saved me from having a ton of excess HK coins when I left). Just make sure you've always got it charged up! You can add money to your card at convenience stores and metro stations - and can get back whatever balance is remaining before you leave!
I was able to buy a pre-charged card at my hostel but they an also be purchased at metro stations or convenience stores.
10,000 Buddhas Monastery
This is one of the top tourist attractions in Hong Kong, and there's no wonder why. I'd recommend it for many reasons. For one, it's free. Two, the sheer number, and variety of expressions and poses among the Buddha statues is pretty awesome. Three, it was a nice workout... (that was rewarded by a solid view of Hong Kong once I reached the top). As there are a lot of stairs, I'd recommend wearing good walking/climbing shoes.
Getting there is really simple. Take the Blue line to Sha Tin Station, and the monastery is a short walk away!
Take exit B at the station and walk down the ramp beside the bus terminus to the street. Follow Pai Tau Street around to the left. Then take the first right on Sheung Wo Che Road and walk to the end of the street. On the lefthand side of the dead end, you will see a small sign and a pathway leading to the Monastery.
Nan Lian Garden
Amid Hong Kong's skyscrapers lies the tranquil and perfectly landscaped Nan Lian Garden. This cute little garden was the most zen spot to stop and relax after climbing a million stairs at the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery... and before accidentally hiking a mountain. The Chi Lin Nunnery is nearby as well!
Take the MRT to Diamond Hill Station and walk out of exit C2 (by the 711). Walk around the shopping centre to the left then cross the road at the first intersection on the right.At that point, you should see signs and the entrance to the garden. Hours of operation are from 7 am to 9pm and admission is free!
While you're in the area, check out Choi Hung Estate (just one stop over), too!
I, very obviously, was not dressed for a hike... but nevertheless, that's how I ended up spending the greater part of a day in Hong Kong.
At the last second, after discovering not one but TWO epic hikes nearby, I decided to ditch my plans of lazy wandering and sight seeing to get a birds eye view of Hong Kong instead... and since I didn't want to waste time going all the way back to my hostel to change when I was already at the right station, I made my way up to Lion Rock in jeans and beat up converses instead.
The hardest part about this trail (if you enjoy climbing) was finding it, as there were many places that (to me) looked like possible entrances, that, in fact, were not. (May or may not have spent some time wandering around construction sites, and a bit too close to electrical towers).
The view of city from the top was well worth the climb, even on a fairly smoggy day. If you plan on doing any hike in Hong Kong, Lion Rock is definitely an epic one.
Since I had originally intended to hike Kowloon Peak, I went to Diamond Hill Station (and stopped to hang out in Nan Lian Garden for a bit before deciding to making my way to Lion Rock. You can also get there from the nearby Wong Tai Sin Station).
The walk to the trail is about 1.6 miles from the station, which I didn't mind since it was a nice day. It was also a good opportunity to see a different, less touristy part of the city. If you want to save your energy for the hike, and not worry about draining your phone battery mapping your way there, take a cheap taxi to the trail instead!
Heads up! Bring lots of water, as there's nowhere to buy any along the trail. (For extra stair master action, do what I did and combine this hike with a visit to the 10,000 Buddha's Monastery. Let's just say my legs were burningggg by the time I got back to my hostel at the end of the day).
If you're into people watching or photography, you'll find a haven for both at the edge of Kennedy Town on the notorious Instagram Pier, otherwise known as the West District Public Cargo Depot.
Though there was a slightly concerning sign at the entrance saying to keep out, that didn't deter dozens of people, locals and tourists alike, from walking their dogs, jogging, or having full blown photoshoots around the pier... (I'm talking balloons, costumes, the whole nine yards).
So, truth be told, I never would have found or known about this place had it not been for an accidental tinder date I found myself on one afternoon. I had planned to just come to Kennedy Town for brunch, but, while enjoying my avo-toast, a guy I'd matched with (who apparently lived in the area) walked by and recognized me. He offered to show me around the area, I agreed, and, after riding his (pictured) one seater bike tandem style (and receiving several bewildered stares), we ended up at the pier.
You can get there from Kennedy Town Station or HKU Station (but HKU is a bit closer if you're walking). Take exit B2 and walk down Hill Road. Taking a left on to Des Veaux Road W will lead you straight to the West District Public Cargo Depot (aka Instagram Pier).
This was a really cool and colorful spot that I would definitely recommend checking out. After a big rainstorm, you'll be able to catch an epic reflection of the sky in the puddles on the pier... (and, speaking of catching things, while you're in the Kennedy Town area, head to CATCH for a delicious brunch and a refreshing mimosa or three).
If you've seen Alan Walker's Sing Me to Sleep music video, Martin Garrix's Insta photos while visiting the city, (or really any photo of Hong Kong beyond Victoria Peak), chances are, you recognize this building. Though it's a bit off the beaten track, and not exactly on TripAdvisor's Hong Kong top 10, for me, the stacked urban architecture of Montane Mansion was my number 1 must see.
There are two different courtyards to explore, each with their own view. You must take a set of stairs on the street level to access the courtyards.
This has been the location of several photo and video shoots, and is basically an architectural photographers dream, but it's important to remember that it is, first and foremost, a residential area... so flying your drone through the courtyards probably isn't your best bet. Though I'm sure they're used to it, I felt a bit bad about hanging around snapping photos of what is home to so many people.
Montane Mansion is a short walk away from both Quarry Bay Station and Tai Koo Station. I went to Quarry Bay and walked out of exit B alongside King's road, (though you can also get there by heading to Tai Koo and out of exit A).
Victoria Peak, according to TripAdvisor and numerous other travel blogs, is supposedly the number one, absolute top "Must Do" thing for tourists visiting Hong Kong. Personally, I found it to be just a little bit overrated. Don't get me wrong, the view is pretty dope... but the tram line was INSANE and, due to my limited backpack wardrobe, I absolutely froze once I reached the top. For me, it just wasn't worth the money or time I spent getting there (and the line to get back down was even longer).
There is a trail from HKU that will take you up to the peak, but since I was in a hurry to see the sunset, I opted to splurge on the tram instead... However, I probably would have been better off walking. Since the tram line was so long, I missed the sunset by a long shot. By the time I arrived at the peak, it was well after dark. Aside from the long lines, (and freezing at the top), Victoria Peak does provide a great view of the city lit up at night.
To get to the peak lower tram terminus, go to Central Station and take Exit J2 onto Charter Road. Turn left and walk down Murray Street then continue straight down Garden Road. You will see the lower tram station located on the left. Cross over Garden Road and you're there!
Again, I found Victoria Peak to be a bit overpriced and overrated. For an equally good view of the skyline, with shorter lines and more personal space, go to the Hong Kong Observation Wheel instead... (or take a hike up to Lion Rock)!
Man Mo Temple
In the middle of bustling Central Hong Kong lies calm Man Mo Temple - a tribute to Man (the God of Literature) and Mo (the God of War). If you stick around long enough, I guarantee you will leave smelling like the many incense rings burning inside.
From Sheung Wan station take exit B and walk alongside Des Voeux Road Central. Turn left on to Cleverly Street then turn right and walk a few meters down Queens Road Central before taking a right on to the staircase known as Ladder Street. It took me AGES to find the temple because I was trying to walk along actual streets and sidewalks and didn't think to look for staircases. After that cross Hollywood Road to Man Mo Temple.
Star Ferry - Victoria Harbor
Though there are definitely faster and more effective ways to cross the harbor, if you're going to do it at night... you might as well do it inexpensively, and while getting a kickass view. According to local food Tinder date, who you can read about at the end of this post, it's actually the cheapest way to cross the harbor - (cheaper than the MRT or a taxi).
Whether you're going from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, or vice versa, you'll get an awesome view of the skyline if you choose a bench that's facing the right direction. Every night at 8 PM you can catch the Festival of Lights, a big lights and music show coming from the skycrapers on the Central/Wan Chai side - (so if you happen to get the ferry at that time, be sure to choose a seat facing that direction to enjoy the show on your ride).
I rode the Star Ferry to the Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon side, arrived in about 10 minutes, and it only cost me a few dollars on my Octopus card. Once there, you can walk along the Promenade, or browse the shops on Nathan Road.
To get to the Central Star Ferry pier, head to either Hong Kong station (exit A2) or Central Station (exit A). If you're taking the ferry to the central side, you'll find the Star Ferry Pier by going to Tsim Sha Tsui station (exit 6).
Prices will vary depending on whether it's a weekday, weekend, or holiday, but (at the time of this post) the Star Ferry runs daily from 7:20 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Choi Hung Estate
Colorful Choi Hung Estate is one of Hong Kong's oldest public housing estates and the home of the infamous rainbow basketball court. If you follow travel Insta-accounts or photographers abroad, chances are you've seen this multi-colored court. I've seen photos of it so many times that I knew I had to make the trip to see it myself... The only problem was that the photos I'd seen never had the location tagged. THANKFULLY, I ended up on an accidental tinder with a ginger fella who we'll call Ron Weasley. (If you're wandering how dates happen accidentally... be sure to read til' the end).
Weasley was an artsy photo dude and told me which subway station to head to if I wanted to find the court. Despite Ron's (somewhat vague, but decent) directions, I still spent a good 20 minutes wandering around the estate looking for the basketball court. All of the buildings have the same happy rainbow color scheme, but, like I said, I wanted to find THE basketball court... and FINALLY, I did.
Just in case you're ever looking for this iconic spot, here's a tip to save you the aimless moseying - LOOK UP! If you're looking for the basketball court on ground level, you'll never find it because the basketball court is actually on top of a parking deck (which is really near subway station exit and entrance to the complex... so if you wander in amongst the buildings like I did, you've gone too far).
As you can imagine, this place becomes a photographer/Instagrammers playground later in the day, but when I went just after sunrise it was just filled with local old timers walking laps, watering the plants growing in the garden, or (as pictured) doing aerobics.
To get to Choi Hung Estate head to the subway station of the same name (easy, right?) When you arrive take exit C3 or C4 and head to the parking deck! Take the stairs and you're there. I'd recommend going early when there are locals and it's not just a photo-shoot frenzy.
Tai O Fishing Village
At the far west side of Lantau Island you'll find Tai O, a small fishing village, and one of my favorite places I visited in Hong Kong. Coming from Seoul, I was damn near sick of cities, so it was really cool to get out of the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle to this small, quiet (albeit still a bit touristy) fishing village.
Also... try the Donuts in Tai O - Delicious and worth the wait if there is one.
If you're going to make the trip to Lantau Island to visit the fishing village, you might as well make a day of it and go to Ngong Ping Village and the Big Buddha as well. Located not far from Tung Choi station, it's kind of on the way to Tai O and will help break up the journey a bit. The Po Lin Monastery is also by the Big Buddha, and is definitely worth seeing if you're in the area.
To get to Ngong Ping, first take the train to Tung Chung Station at the western end of the orange line. Once you arrive, walk out of exit B around the corner (to the right) and across the street to the Tung Chung Bus Terminus. Bus number 23 will take you to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha. The Po Lin Monastery is also there and definitely worth checking out (check the first map below for a pin)!
From the Big Buddha, you can take bus number 21 to Tai O Fishing Village. (Bus 11 Will take you from Tai O back to Tung Chung).
If you want to visit Tai O first (map 2), take bus 11 from Tung Chung and then Bus 21 to the Big Buddha in Ngong Ping Village. Bus 23 will take you back to Tung Chung - or you can catch the cable car from Ngong Ping if it's running (which it unfortunately wasn't when I was there).