Hong Kong. Wow. You’re one of those cities we all hear grand stories about. The sceptic in me kept on warning me not to built up unrealistic expectations that won’t be met when I arrive. Unrealistic expectations… not in Hong Kong. This city is so easy to love! From the moment you see the harbour and the skyscrapers, I just wanted more and more of the place!
Having arrived from Mainland China where most things are a mission – getting around, the crowds, the language barrier, the spitting, babies crapping on the streets and so on, I was really looking forward to a more relaxed time in Hong Kong. From the moment I arrived, I felt this city was designed to be clever and easy to enjoy. Getting through passport control at Hong Kong International took 1 minute. Finding the right bus took 2 minutes. Understanding the bus network is easy as it’s in both Cantonese and English – bliss! No need for Google Translate! And Google works here – no need for a bastard Chinese VPN!!
I mustn’t be unfair to Mainland China, however. As much as Hong Kong is China (or a Special Administrative Region of it), one mustn’t forget it was a British Colony until maybe 20 odd years ago. It’s history is vastly different from Mainland. Both places are special, some more than others though 🙂
It’s so easy. The golden rule is to get an Octopus Card – they are good for most public transport networks and you can even use it to pay for food. It’s a great concept – almost a one card fits all. It’s WAY faster paying with an Octopus Card – even faster than Visa and Mastercard’s PayWave. I can’t wait for this system to be more widely adopted in other countries!
The MTR (the Hong Kong subway system) is world class. The bus network is world class. The ferry system is world class.
It is sodding expensive here. After day 1 I conceded that the budget will be blown to hell and back here. It was bound to happen at some point and I guess I’m glad it happened in Hong Kong. As a matter of reference: a beer at a pub will set you back HKD80 (R150) and a Marks and Spencer sandwich will cost around HKD45 (R85). A single trip on the MTR will be around HKD 10 (R19) – not too bad.
Accommodation as a backpacker – expect to pay around USD20 a night. I stayed in Kowloon – brilliant location right by a subway stop so I guess that price is justified. The hostel is super cramped though – you can’t turn around in the shower – you literally have to walk in, shower, and then reverse out!
What to see
Victoria harbour: A must – it’s that typical photo you see of Hong Kong. Make sure you go in the day time as well as the night to see the lights – it’s phenomenal. At 8pm every night there is a light show called the Symphony of Lights. Worth the time. Also, catch the Star Ferry across the harbour – only HKD2.50 and you get some incredible views of the city!
Here’s a short video of a laser light show near the harbour:
Victoria Peak: You can either catch the tram up to the Peak or a public bus. I opted for the bus as you drive on the Peak Road and get to see how the rich and famous live here! The Peak affords one some of the best views of the city.
Sheung Wan: An area of the city that I felt still had a traditional and modern element that both intertwine seamlessly. There are incredible skyscrapers and right next to them are local butchers and vegetable shops. I loved it here. Check out Hollywood Road for antique shops and the Man Mo Temple.
Central: Take a walk though here to check out the big bank skyscrapers. The HSBC building is particularly impressive. If you’re one for the big brands (no names mentioned but Ronelle Singh) here is the place to come – I’ve never seen such a dense cluster of Louis Vuitton’s, Prada’s, Burberry’s and Versace’s in my entire life. If shopping is your thing – check out Causeway Bay too.
Quarry Bay: I liked this spot – it’s got an old feeling to it but there is strong evidence of encroaching modern skyscrapers. It’s also home to one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen – it’s old, looks derelict and has this feeling about it – I love it!
Dragon’s Back Trail: An awesome trail in the city – voted one of the best suburban trails in the world. It’s about 8.5km’s long, FREE, and ends on a beach. What more could you want?
Lan Kwai Fong: If you want a party – this is where you need to go. But be prepared to shit blood. It’s so expensive it’s unreal. Make sure you drink at home and then nurse one R200 beer for 4 hours when you’re there! A good friend of mine, Kendal, correctly informed me that the most popular pub in Hong Kong is the 7 Eleven, where beers only cost HKD 10 🙂
Eating: You’re spoilt for choice. I reckon you download the Yelp app and search good restaurants around you. Try Dim Sum. Hong Kong is also home to the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant – it’s really good and won’t break the bank!
The Temple Street Night Market is also home to some great street food.
Macau: Sadly, I ran out of time to get here but it’s an old Portuguese colony that is now the worlds largest casino hub – bigger than Vegas!
Visa’s: South African’s don’t need a visa!!
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