As most of you know the past couple of weeks have been really busy, besides the 'dramas of everyday life' I had a two week holiday in Hong Kong. Holidays for some is that relaxing time of the year where they sit back, read a book, listen to music and enjoy room service. A vacation for me is where I completely exhaust myself and walk about the entire city taking videos to bring to you all and to make my friends jealous...lol.
Hong Kong it is fascinating city, one I have heard much about from family and friends. So before travelling I did my research just like any avid traveller would by browsing through dozens and dozens of websites. But I found that these websites were lacking the some of the most basic information I was looking for to make the initial days as relaxed as possible.
Now that I am back, I want to draw up a list of basic and important things that you should know before travelling that will take off that initial stress of being in a new country.. I'm not going to write a long list of places you should visit, you have a number of tourism websites for that. My list is simply designed to help you make most of your trip to Hong Kong, so lets get started!
- Best and fastest way of getting into the city is from the Airport express train. The last stop of the express train is Hong Kong island/central and the cost is HKD (Hong Kong Dollars) 100, its 170 if you buy for two people together and 180 for a return ticket. We did not know about the return ticket until I read about it in a magazine towards the end of our stay. The maximum fare is hkd 100, tickets to Kowloon are around hkd 80 - 85.
- Buy an octopus card at the airport itself. It will cost you hkd 150, out of which 100 is the credit on the card and 50 is a refundable amount if you return the card at the MTR counter at the airport (level 6). From the 50, they charge HKD 9 as a conveyance fee if you have return the card within 90 days of purchasing it. Personally I don't see the point to that, since the card is being returned anyway.
- Your Octopus card is also a debit card, you can use that same hkd 100 to buy things at most stores.
- Hong Kong, like most cities is divided into various sections. But two major sections that I found useful in understanding the place were the Hong Kong Island (the blue line of the MTR) and the Kowloon side which is the other side of the harbour. The Hong Kong island side is (property and food wise) more expensive, and contains the main Financial hub in the area (also an MTR stop) called Central
- The MTR (train) shuts around 1 am, so make sure you check the time of the last train from your stop, and you need an octopus card to use the MTR.
- You can pay for the tram and ferry by cash, in case you don't have the octopus card or run out of credit.
- Trams - The tram is cheaper and almost half the price of the train. Personally its a great way to see the city, since it runs through the center of the island. In the evenings the trains are faster than the trams, since cars drive on the tram lines subjecting it to the peak hour traffic.
- If you plan to visit Tsim Sha Tsui from the island side take a Star Ferry from the Victoria harbour in Central, its cheaper and the view is amazing. The Ferry from Macao is not from this same spot, but from a different location not to far from here.
- The Peak - Many ways to get up there, taxi, bus, peak tram and by foot. If the weather is good and you are in medically permitted to walk a lot, hike up, its a paved road that offers great views and tons of greenery. The peak tower on top of the peak has a viewing gallery, but you have to buy a ticket for it. If you are on a budget, the hiking trail does offer vivid views of the skyline, which look are quite colourful at night.
- Food - Egg puff/egg waffles (my favourite street food in HK) are available only after 2 pm in most places. The prices ranges from hkd 10 - 20. Same goes for Dim sums which at many local restaurants is served only till evening. Dim Sums are commonly sold in a 'set', which includes about 10 dim sums and a drink (similar to a meal combo), you can get half a set, which doesn't include a drink just five dim sums. The number of pieces in a set could vary in different places.
- They charge extra for tissues in some places, we paid hkd 5 for 4 pack with four pieces.
- Water at restaurants is safe to drink.
- Many local establishments don't serve just chicken. Chicken based dishes are often are mixed with other meats or seafood.
- Restaurants in central (mid - levels), Soho and on Hollywood road are open till 2am. In other areas most of them close by 10.30pm.
- Almost every restaurant has a 10% service charge added to the bill, so you don't have to tip them separately.
- There are two kinds of Taxi's in Hong Kong, one which can seat four passengers and one which seats five (you've seen those on How I Met Your Mother). Since we don't have these in India or the UAE, I thought its worth mentioning.
- Happy Valley has a race course where they have races every Wednesday from fall to spring, you can go to happy valley by Tram, bus or train.
- If you like walking, you can actually walk around major parts of the city and discover local stores in the by lanes of Hong Kong University area (HKU), Wan Chai, Hollywood road, North point etc
- Causeway bay is like the Times Square of Hong Kong, it also has a big mall called Times Square. It can also be compared to down town Toronto. It's filled with tourists and residents all the time, this is where I had the most expensive egg waffle worth hkd 20, it was cold and not at all worth it. In Mong Kok I had one for hkd 10, near Victoria park and Wan Chai they were priced at 12 and 14. Causeway bay is targeted as a tourist place and so the price of everything is higher compared to the rest of the city.
- Street shopping is best done in Mong Kok (Kowloon), and Li Yuen Street East and West. Don't be afraid to bargain especially in Kowloon. We got a toy for HKD 50 which they had priced for 180 initially and another bag for 80 for which they had quoted 180 as well. There are various streets in Mong Kok that sell various things like clothes, souvenirs, flowers and pets, make sure you give yourself enough time to walk around especially if you are coming here from the Island side, and in case you don't get the time to go again. Kowloon is a very crowded and even more so on the weekends, so be prepared to face the rush especially in Mong Kok.
- There are a number of supermarkets around like park and shop, welcome, 759, and convenience stores like seven eleven and Manning's all over the place. They even have seven elevens on many MTR stations. If you are looking to stock up on things for a longer trip, I suggest going to park and shop, I found it to be cheaper over all compared to the other supermarkets
- MTR stops offer a number of shops and garb and go food places in case you are looking for a quick bite or in mood for retail therapy.
- You cant eat or drink on the train, as per the official rule you cannot do that once you tap in with your octopus card.
- The MTR stations have many exits, so make sure you read the sign board as soon as you are off the train. Most touristy places and important buildings are listed on them. This also means the walk from some of the entrances to the actual train can be quite long. We had to walk almost seven minutes from the entrance of MTR stop near our hotel to the train, so plan your trip accordingly, and if there is a tram stop nearby just take that.
- There are many bakeries and you will suddenly see long ques outside around 6pm when fresh hot food from the oven is bought out. This is the best time to grab something since its still hot. They don't have microwaves, so once its cold, its cold, more of a take it or leave it philosophy.
- Hong Kong is a small city, with a lot of space constraints. Their malls are vertically big as compared to the mall that wide and only have two to three levels. Here they have 20 story tall malls. There many buildings with stores on the ground floor and restaurants on the upper floors. You will see sign boards of restaurants with 3F, 6F, 8F on them, which represents the floor they are on.
- Google maps for walking is still in its beta version and very unhelpful as you get closer to your destination. On many occasions I found myself walking around in circles since google kept rerouting me at every turn. From my experience it works best when you are at least four to five kilometres away from your destination. To solve this issue it's best the exact location of the place you want to go before leaving your hotel.
- Every journey has to come to an end, and Hong Kong makes that easier! You can check in your luggage and get your boarding pass at the dedicated check in counters at IFC (International Financial Center) mall which is right above the central station. But to do that you have to buy a valid airport express ticket first, tap in and go to the check in counter. you can exit and tap in with the same ticket again when its time to head to the airport.
Now that you have the basics sorted why don't you scroll down and have a look at some of the videos from my trip to Hong Kong and give you a sense of what the place is like. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.
Night Life in Central
Tsim Sha Tsui (TST)
Kennedy Town adventures
Man Mo Temple
St Johns Cathedral
Hong Kong Park &Museums
Cheung Kong Park
Chinese New year Market at Victoria Park
Hiking up to the Peak