Hong Kong Victoria Harbour

Highlights of our first visit to colourful Hong Kong

Our first trip to Hong Kong was only for a few days, but it is already one of my favourite cities in the world. It is a terrific blend of historic Chinese culture and modern soaring skyscrapers, colourful lights and green parks, bustling markets and beautiful Victoria Harbour. The city is compact so even in a short visit you can see and do a lot. At least enough to realize you will want to come back soon.

Browsing on Kowloon's Nathan Road

Nathan Road, Kowloon

Getting around is easy

Getting around Hong Kong is easy with the efficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system. The MTR covers all major districts in the territory, including the Airport Express, Disneyland Resort, and the boundary with Mainland China.

Purchase an Airport Express Travel Pass when you arrive for HK$300 (CDN$51 / US$39). Both include a refundable deposit of HK$50, and include one or two single journeys on the Airport Express, as well as three consecutive days of unlimited travel on the MTR.

English is everywhere on signs and is fairly widely spoken, at least in tourist areas. So finding your way around is easy.

Enjoy the ride on the Star Ferry

Hong Kong is an archipelago of 260 islands, and one of the best ways to view the city is from the water on the Star Ferry – one of the world’s biggest travel bargains. Splurge on an upper deck single ride ticket for about CDN$0.43 / US$0.32. A must-do when you visit Hong Kong.

Star Ferry

On the first clear day of your visit, go to The Peak!

Victoria Peak is a mountain on Hong Kong Island, a dominant feature of the city skyline, and the highest point in the area. You can reach the peak via the Peak Tram, a 125-year-old funicular railway (the Tram departs near the MTR: Central Station, Exit J2).

A view of Victoria Peak, from the Star Ferry.

Once at the top, there are spectacular views of the city and harbour, as well as nature walks through the mountainous landscape.

typhoon signal in Hong Kong

I would love to show you a beautiful photo of Hong Kong from the Peak. But we made the mistake of “saving this experience for last”, and instead experienced our first typhoon. On our return trip home from Asia we arrived for our last couple nights in Hong Kong, and saw this warning in our hotel lobby.

The next morning the typhoon reached level 8, which pretty much shuts down the city. So, we spent most of that day in our hotel, until the typhoon passed through in the early evening and it was safe to venture out again.

 

Waiting out the typhoon

This view is from our second hotel in Hong Kong, the Harbour Grand Kowloon.

The typhoon was an experience in itself, and thankfully it didn’t bring any significant harm to the city or its residents. Next time we visit Hong Kong, taking the Peak Tram will be the first thing we do!

Swimming with a view

This is the view from the rooftop pool deck of the Harbour Grand Kowloon hotel. The view was so spectacular, we went for a swim even though it was pouring rain at the tail end of the typhoon. The pool attendant didn’t say if he thought we were crazy!

View from the pool deck of the Grand Kowloon Hotel

Bring your appetite

You can check here for more about what to eat in Hong Kong, but if you love food you will find a lot to love. Definitely don’t miss Dim Sum with steamed pork buns and delicious dumplings!

Ride up the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

A fun and free thing to do is a ride up the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator, the world’s longest covered people mover. It is a series of escalators 800 metres (2,600 ft) long with a vertical climb of 135 metres (443 ft). You can hop off at one the exits such as the Soho district, for a drink or meal at one of the many restaurants lining the route, which we did.

The escalator system was built in 1993 to carry workers back up the hill to apartments at the end of workday. Daily traffic exceeds 55,000 people, including many tourists. The escalators daily run downhill from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and uphill from 10:30am to midnight (so you will be walking one way). There isn’t really a viewing area at the top, as it leads to a residential area, but there are great views along the way.

Take a break in a green park

Hong Kong has a population of over 7 million, and is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Most live in small spaces in high-rise apartments, but there are also many lovely parks to escape to such as Kowloon Park, or Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island.

Kowloon Park

Kowloon Park is a cool oasis after shopping on nearby Nathan Road.

Shop til you drop

From bustling markets to upscale boutiques – everything is available in Hong Kong: traditional Chinese tea and herbs, tailor-made suits, fresh produce, cheap electronics, and Gucci and Dior children’s boutiques for parents with an abundance of disposable income. We went to the Temple Street Night Market, but there are many more, including the Ladies Market and Stanley Market.

Temple Street Night Market

The Temple Street Night Market – One of the great markets in Hong Kong, with produce, electronics, and even Chinese opera singers. See here for more of our experiences in Hong Kong by Night.

Walk around and see what you find

Walking and exploring is one of our favourite things to do, and Hong Kong is a perfect place to do it!

 

Rosary Church - the oldest catholic church in Kowloon, completed in 1905.

Rosary Church – This colourful church is the oldest catholic church in Kowloon, completed in 1905.

bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong

Bamboo scaffolding at construction sites. I’m fascinated by everyday things, done differently from how we do it at home.

Colourful Hong Kong

Finding shade on a hot day, with colourful lanterns from the mid-Autumn Lantern Festival.

Take a side trip to Lantau Island

One of the more popular side-trip options is the short hop to Lantau Island, where you can see the (very) Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, as well as Tai O fishing village. We enjoyed both, although the cable car up to the Monastery area wasn’t operating due to wind, and I think we would have enjoyed it more than the bus ride.

 

Po Lin Monastery at Lantau Island

Big Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong

 

 

We just scratched the surface on our first Hong Kong visit. But I’m already looking forward to our next trip.

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Tim Ho Wan

A Delicious Taste of Hong Kong

At about 8:30 am we took our place in line at Tim Ho Wan, famous as the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. There’s a lot of food to try in Hong Kong, as we discovered, and this was a great place to start.

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan, the World’s Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant

Dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine served in small or bite-sized portions, often steamed in baskets. It is most common at brunch and is served with tea. There are no reservations at Tim Ho Wan, so we arrived at its Wharf Road location about 30 minutes before opening, and were able to get in the first seating. The service inside is quick, so if you do have to wait the line should move fairly quickly.

Many dim sum restaurant have carts of food come by your table, and you can point to what looks good, but at Tim Ho Wan you submit your order on a menu form. We aren’t dim sum experts, so we asked a young man we met in line to help us choose what to order. He ordered a variety of their most popular items, including a variety of steamed dumplings and their famous BBQ park buns. It was more than we could eat, and came to about $15 US. The food is so affordable that you could almost try anything you want on the menu.

Between its reputation and price, Tim Ho Wan is a Hong Kong must, and a good benchmark for future dim sum sampling. We really enjoyed the fresh and tasty food, and that’s what it’s all about at Tim Ho Wan.  The decor is basic, servers are efficient, and once finished we moved on so others could have their turn. I can see us returning for more dim sum next time we are in Hong Kong.

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan, Wharf Road location, North Point, Hong Kong

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan

(above) Must-try famous BBQ pork buns – the bun itself is sweet, delicate and crispy on the outside, with a sweet BBQ pork filling; and chicken and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf.

(below) The opened chicken and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf; shrimp dumplings; delicious steamed pork dumplings with shrimp.

tim Ho Wan dim sum

Charlie Brown Café, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

This kitschy cafe is completely Peanuts everywhere you look, from the Charlie Brown statues and lights, to the Peanuts art on your latte. We were only stopping for coffee and a smoothie, but they also serve a variety of breakfast and lunch items. It has a nice cafe atmosphere for grown up kids, but younger kids would love it too.

Charlie Brown Café

Pie & Tart Specialists

After lots of walking around exploring Hong Kong, you might be looking for dessert or a cheap and tasty snack. Pie & Tart Specialists is a Hong Kong style bakery chain selling sweet and savory pies, and of course they caught my eye. I chose the cheese milk tart, with a delicious still warm custard for HK$8, which is about $1.30 CDN ($1 US). They have counters facing the street, so it’s easy to pick up something to take away.

tarts

More Delicious Food

Like most destinations if you just wander around a block or so off the main streets, you can find great food.  If the place is busy, that is usually a good sign. We had one miss on our trip, as happens, but overall we loved the food in Hong Kong. It is such an international city that you can really find any kind of food here, but it’s more fun to eat as the locals do.

Noodle soups are a delicious and inexpensive option. We ducked into this little soup place when it was pouring rain and it was perfect.

It was fun to try Hong Kong versions of menu items we commonly order when we get Chinese take-out at home. (left) Singapore noodles are my favourite, with stir-fried rice vermicelli, curry, bean sprouts, peppers, bbq pork, and shrimp. Despite the name, it’s not a dish common in Singapore. (right) The spicy ribs with peppers were also delicious.

Street Food

There are numerous options available from street food venders all over Hong Kong. Depending on how adventurous you are feeling, there are all kinds of grilled and fried meats on a stick. You can also find desserts such as freshly-made waffles. Look for crowds to ensure the food is tasty and fresh.

I’m looking forward to our next visit for another delicious taste of Hong Kong. Do you have a favourite Hong Kong food?


 

First Impressions of Glittering Hong Kong by Night

Of course I have seen photos and movies of Hong Kong, but I still had that “pinch me, I’m really here” feeling. It’s always a thrill visiting somewhere new, and this is one of those places I had wanted to visit for a long time. Arriving at night, Hong Kong made a glittering first impression with its soaring skyscrapers, colourful signs and dazzling harbour.

The Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival

The night we arrived, the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival was taking place in Victoria Park, just a couple blocks from our hotel on Hong Kong Island. This festival is held throughout the region, and Victoria Park’s celebration is the biggest. Along with dragon lanterns, there was a multitude of others representing everything from flowers and toys to fairytale characters.

Hong Kong lantern festival

It was a fun atmosphere with families and friends taking photos with the beautiful lanterns.

lantern festival Hong Kong

Hong Kong lantern festival panda

Lantern Festival Hong Kong
dragon at Hong Kong Lantern Festival

Hong Kong is a big festival city, so there is a good chance there will be one taking place during your visit. I would suggest checking online for Discover Hong Kong’s list of festivals throughout the year.

And then there’s that Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour is especially beautiful at night. This particular night was just after the city was shut down for a typhoon, but as soon as it had passed the shops opened up and people were out again. There is also a nightly sound and light show called A Symphony of Lights, which involves more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour.

Hong Kong Skyline

Avenue of Stars

A popular spot for viewing the harbour on the Kowloon side is the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and the Avenue of Stars, similar to Hollywood’s Walk of FameThe statue below of action hero Bruce Lee is a highlight.

Bruce Lee

A couple local characters we came across.

Shopping at night

If you still aren’t tired, don’t worry, Hong Kong is open late! It’s is a great time to wander around and take in the activity and lights.

shopping for traditional Chinese items

Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise, with everything from traditional shops selling Chinese tea and herbs, to fun markets and luxury brands. We picked up some cheap electronics at the Temple Street Night Market, where you can buy all kinds of items, snacks and even hear opera singers.

Getting hungry? As you are touring Hong Kong by night, try some yummy street food. Anything on a stick! Of course this is the tip of the foodie iceberg in Hong Kong, and if you want more food in Hong Kong, click here.

Our visit to Hong Kong reminded me of New York City, in that it’s a great place for a short break, as it is quite compact. But like New York, it’s a place I can imagine visiting again and again, and never see it all. Next post I’ll tell you what we saw in Hong Kong by day!

Butterfly on Victoria Hotel

All nights come to an end, and if you are looking for affordable accommodations, we really enjoyed our stay at the Butterfly on Victoria Hotel. It’s a small, clean, modern hotel, with helpful staff and free wifi.  The room is small, but nicely decorated, and the bed was comfortable. It’s located a couple blocks from Victoria Park, and only a couple blocks from the Tin Hau MTR subway station.

Butterfly Hotel

Have you visited Hong Kong yet?