A Photologue About My Hong Kong Favorites
Hong Kong – It has always been the city which I call my second home. It rules my heart. Despite being an island, it has so much to offer; from adventure sports to shopping, beaches to forests. I’ve been there seven times till date and I’m yet to see it all. This post isn’t about what to do or not to do in Hong Kong. This isn’t a travelogue either. This is about the things in Hong Kong that make me want to come back again and again. My personal favorites. So here goes…
Andrew, a pilot from New York, whom I met while trekking at Discovery Bay, told me that according to him, the Hong Kong skyline is even better than the New York skyline. Even though I haven’t been to the US of A, I think I’d like to agree with him, even at the risk of sounding biased 🙂 Hong Kong’s skyline, though impressive during the daylight hours, will really knock your socks off when all the skyscrapers are lit up in the evening. And unless the weather is really bad, you will be able to witness the “Symphony of Lights”, a perfectly orchestrated light show which features 44 buildings on both sides of the Victoria harbor. Spectacular hardly begins to describe it!
Buddhism is one of the major religions in Hong Kong and has been greatly influential in the traditional culture of its populace. One of my favorite Buddhist places in Hong Kong is the monastery in Ngong Ping. Located on the Lantau Island, the monastery can be reached via a cable car ride or by trekking up the mountain. My personal recommendation would be to take the Cable Car* ride as there are treks with better views at Discovery Bay. The view from the cable car however is magnificent; especially if you take the Crystal Cabin (it has a glass floor!). The ride, which lasts for approximately 20 minutes, gives you a 360 degree view of the airport, Lantau Island and the harbour, and halfway through, you suddenly spot the majestic Buddha statue perched atop a hill. The sheer size of the sitting Buddha statue, also known as Tian Tan Buddha, or the Giant Buddha, is truly awe-inspiring.
You exit the cable car station at the Ngong Ping village which houses quaint little cafes along with the regular coffee shops and souvenir shops. There are also some small auditoriums which run regular shows about the Chinese culture, and on the life of Buddha. There is even a 4D show about Ngong Ping which is a must see. Crossing the village, we reach the staircase opposite the Po Lin Monastery, which ascends to the hill where the Buddha statue is.
After ascending 268 steps, you’ll reach the top, which is the pedestal of the statue which houses three storeys of invaluable Buddhist items. You can also have a local vegetarian lunch with the monks if you’re there during lunch hours.
If spending time at monasteries isn’t your thing, you could always trek down or take a bus to the Tai O fishing village to check out the houses built on stilts over the sea.
(*Note: As on the date of publishing, the cable car currently stands suspended till the end of May 2017 for cable replacement work)
Food is definitely the best part about Hong Kong! It’s one of the only South East Asian countries which serves all possible cuisines ranging from French to Indian to Taiwanese -you name it! Stayed there for a week once and did not have the same cuisine twice. Also, considering the umpteen number of restaurants and local markets to eat at, I can safely say that it might just take a year to cover them all.
My favorite food in Hong Kong however, is the Sushi. And its hands down the best Sushi I’ve ever had till date. The California rolls and Maki rolls are to die for. Super fresh and super affordable.
As I mentioned in my previous write up on Dubai, I have a special place in my heart for theme parks. Thus, Disneyland was definitely a priority for me during my trips to Hong Kong. Of course I wasn’t disappointed with it. Disneyland demands an entire day on your itinerary. It’s best to reach early to avoid the queues.
Apart from the Disney characters that you get to see in the various lands of Disney World, there are few things that should not be missed –
- Grizzly Gulch Mine Cars – An underground roller coaster of sorts which runs backwards. Yes, I sat on it despite being terrified on roller coasters. I thought maybe my fear of roller coasters was childish and hence I decided to prove to myself that I could do this. And in case you’re wondering, it did not go well for me at all. I shall never sit on one again. It did things to my stomach that I cannot explain.
- The Festival of the Lion King – We’ve all grown up watching the Lion King. But this particular enactment of the story is definitely worth a must watch. Along with aerial acts and magical special effects, the show also has fire dancers who literally light up the entire stage.
- Disney in the Stars – This is the fireworks show and the last attraction of the night at Disney Land. The Sleeping Beauty Castle lights up under the night sky with stunning pyrotechnics and projected Disney characters which dance across the walls of the castle. The show which lasts for a duration of 12 minutes took me back into the fairytale world that I’d created for myself as a child.
Tsim Sha Tsui – Shoppers This Way Please !
Tsim Sha Tsui, located on the Kowloon Island, is a major tourist and shopping hub. Most of the upmarket brands – and the not-so-upmarket ones too – and restaurants are located in this area. This place also features on my list of favorites because of the amazing neon signs and billboards covering the entire walls of the showrooms. Also, the harbourfront near Tsim Sha Tsui is where the “Symphony of Lights” takes place, so if you’re shopping in the area around 8PM, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of all the action.
While you are in Tsim Sha Tsui, you can also walk down to the harbourfront promenade located near the Hong Kong Arts & Culture Center. You can take a stroll down the harbourfront and enjoy the magnificent view of the harbour. Or you can hop on to one of the many boats that take you for a spin around the harbour.
If you would like to experience a ride on a typical Chinese junk, go for a ride on the Aqua Luna – a Chinese junk with red sails which is almost like an icon of Hong Kong – in fact, it features as a logo of the Hong Kong Tourism Board ! And there are other options too.
The Star Ferry is one of the oldest ferries that have plied the Victoria Harbor (from Hong Kong island to Kowloon Island and back) since 1880s. The tickets are as cheap as 4HKD (Rs. 36) and the ride lasts for about 10 minutes. The best route to take would be from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central as this has the best view. This is a must do in case you want to experience the “classic” Hong Kong lifestyle.
Go Take A Hike
Hong Kong has some amazing options for trekking. Ranging from easy to difficult, there’s a trek for everyone. The Hong Kong tourism website is extremely informative and provides detailed route maps for each of these treks along with how to get there.
The last time I was in Hong Kong, I decided to hike to the Lookout point at Discovery Bay. Little did I know that this 6km hike would be the most difficult one I’ve done till date. Climbed more than 500 steps, crossed a stream, got lost in the middle of the forest and then found a friend in Andrew who helped me get out and reach the final destination. And boy, the view was worth it.
Tired feet but a happy heart for sure. Next on the list is a hike to the Trappist Monastry and to Dragon’s Back. You can read about them by clicking on the names. Definitely something to look forward to.
Pedal Your Way Around
Hong Kong also happens to be a paradise for cyclists. It has special tracks for cycling all over the city and some great defined cycling routes too. I’d like to think I’ve covered Hong Kong on foot, via the MTR (metro) and by cycling, however, there are way too many routes and expeditions I’m yet to cover. My first and only cycling expedition was across the Shing Mun river to Wu Kai Sha area. It’s easy to rent a bicycle from one of the bicycle pavilions at the park next to Shing Mun river. Bicycles can be rented for 20HKD (Rs. 180) per hour or 60HKD (Rs. 720) for the entire day.
The ride along the riverside is breezy to say the least. The well-defined tracks take you through the park, amidst the tall sky scrapers and back to the greenery of the country side. You could also just choose to cycle along the length of the river.
After cycling the day away, I decided to enjoy the sunset and relax at the Sha Tin park. That’s when I found out how much the Chinese love their evening recreational activities.
Apart from the regular joggers, I got to witness various karaoke and jam sessions where people were breaking out into a dance right in the middle of the pavement (see video clip above), dance recital practices and endless games of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess).
Confucius and Taoist Temples
Along with Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are the major religions of Hong Kong. A visit to one of these temples offers a glimpse into the traditional Chinese culture which is poles apart from the modern living of Hong Kong.
A distinct feature of the temple is the incense coils that hang from the ceiling. These coils can burn for hours or even days at a stretch. In ancient days, they were used to keep track of the time.
CityGate’s Musical Fountain
The entry to Ngong Ping Cable Car station is from Tung Chung. You can just take the MTR and get off at the Tung Chung station. Exit the station and you are right at the fountain. Tung Chung is home to a residential complex, CityGate – a factory outlets mall, and another one of my favorite attractions – the CityGate’s musical fountain. There is a show every hour in the evening and it is a great place to relax and read a book in one of the cafes surrounding the fountain area.
When it comes to the street art scene, Hong Kong is not a name that is usually among the most talked about. Hong Kong street art scene tends to be more graffiti-writing and paste-ups. I did however happen to come across some really cool pieces brightening up some of the street walls. This is one of them.
These were a few of my Hong Kong favorites (in no particular order of course). No matter how much I write, Hong Kong is so close to my heart that I will end up missing out on plenty of other things. I can only hope that I get a chance to go back every time I crave for this place. This is my safe haven after all.