I planned my trip to Hong Kong on whim because of a steal of a deal on budget airline, Scoot, when they were running their “GARANG50” promotion in conjunction with Singapore’s National Day and Golden Jubilee celebrations. I snagged awesome round trip tickets at only $209 with taxes and 20kg baggage included. I was patting myself on the back for my quick fingers and speedy window refresh skills.
Since it was my first visit to Hong Kong, I took some time to familiarise myself with Hong Kong: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and New Territories on Google Maps. I even used my favourite travel organiser app, TripCase (available on both App Store and Google Play) along with the My HK Guide to pull together my itinerary.
Here are the highlights from all that planning, a list of ten ways that I experienced and enjoyed Hong Kong that I think you’ll enjoy too.
1. HAVE A BREKKIE QUICKIE HONG KONG STYLE
Similar to how in Singapore we have our Kopi O (Coffee Black) or Kopi C (Coffee with Condensed Milk) with Kaya Thick Toasts, Hong Kong has its own breakfast quickies: typically a Macaroni Soup with Ham Slices, fluffy Scrambled Eggs on Toast, Instant Noodles with canned pork or beef and French Toast accompanied with a cup of piping hot milk tea.
Order efficiently, eat fast and leave in a jiffy – that’s how the locals do breakfast. I recommend monkey see, monkey do if you’re unable to read Mandarin characters, speak Cantonese or make sense of how to order. Just point at something you find looks delicious in the restaurant and nod fervently.
Then again, you’ve never been to Hong Kong if you’ve not been told off by a frustrated and time-conscious server for either taking too much time to order or for making them repeat themselves more than twice.
Macaroni and Ham Soup with Fresh Milk from Australian Dairy Company
Scrambled Eggs with Truffle Soil on Toast
2. EXPERIENCE THE BUSTLE OF CENTRAL
Central (中環) is where all the buzz happens. The bustling central business district of Hong Kong is where you’ll find the skyscrapers housing financial institutions towering high above the streets, luxury brands aplenty in building after building of shopping malls, and Ding Ding (trams) along with public buses all around running like clockwork.
If shopping isn’t your cup of tea (as it is not mine especially when I am travelling), Central is the perfect place to people watch. Hong Kongers are immaculately dressed and you can expect professional and stylish individuals brisk walking intensely across Central at peak hour. Get out of the way or keep with the programme and move quick or risk getting a death stare or nagged at.
For a feel of daily life in Hong Kong, take a risk and hop on one of the public buses and upper levels of a Ding Ding tram. It doesn’t cost all that much and you can conveniently tap your Octopus card for easy payment.
Tall skyscrapers in the central business district of Central
Look out for the Ding Ding (tram) and public buses
3. BRUNCH ON DIM SUM AT A TEA HOUSE
What is a trip to Hong Kong without an indulgent session filled with dim sum (点心). In Hong Kong there are a few ways you can experience dim sum.
There’s the traditional dim sum diner where you’ll hustle with the locals and tourists alike as middle aged or elderly staff push around trolleys of freshly prepared dim sum from the kitchen. It’s battle for the bamboo baskets of small bites and if you snooze, you lose.
Then there are the established tea houses which offer a more leisurely experience. Some tea houses like the one I visited, Luk Yu Tea House, have reserved dining areas for regulars on the first and second floors to recognise them for their loyalty. New customers are allocated a table on the third floor. Here you can take your time to order a selection of dim sum and the servers will bring them to your table as they are ready from the kitchen. Of course, you pay a premium for the service and atmosphere.
Enjoying a variety of dim sum at Luk Yu Tea House
Buns, tarts, lotus wrapped glutinous rice and more
4. VISIT A TAOIST-BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Believe it or not, Hong Kong has over 600 temples. A majority of the Chinese population in Hong Kong believe in Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism. Sometimes, even a combination.
Many temples such as the one I visited, the famous Man Mo Temple located at Hollywood Rd, are home to a number of gods, but with one main god. Donations are received for incense sticks used for prayers and fortune sticks. Entry to the temples are usually free.
Pray for blessings from the Taoist-Buddhist temples around Hong Kong
Make a fervent wish
5. DISCOVER WAN CHAI
Wan Chai has a past as colourful as its buildings. Formerly known notoriously as a seedy red light district, some iconic buildings in the area are now maintained by the government to hold on to Hong Kong’s heritage.
A stroll from the MTR to the Blue House in Wan Chai will see you passing by bustling fish markets sold in stores facing out into the road. It’s an interesting and different side of Hong Kong if you’re thinking of taking break from shopping and eating.
The Blue House, one of Hong Kong’s preserved heritage buildings
Shophouse at Wan Chai
6. HUNT DOWN GRAFFITI
Hong Kong has a plenitude of graffiti and it’s one of the mediums for advertisements. This creative freedom is one of the contributing reasons for Hong Kong’s vibrancy and life.
Hunting down the graffiti or discovering them as you take a walk around the city is an engaging activity on its own. Some graffiti are polished caricatures and more refined than others which are quick fun doodles.
Distinctive stick figure graffiti by Mr Andre (André Saraiva)
A smiling “pau” graffiti
7. SEE THE SIGN(BOARD)S
There’s nothing that screams “HONG KONG!” more than the signboards jutting out from buildings in an almost organised mess.
I enjoyed taking photos of all the different loud signboards on every street because it gave every street so much character. Each sign tries its best to jostle away some attention in the midst of other equally attention grabbing signboards.
Also everything looks different in the day and night. In the day, its quaint and almost “old school”. At night the neon lights come on and everything changes.
Signboards crowding every available space above the streets
Buzzing neon lights
8. ENJOY A QUIET EVENING AT HERITAGE 1881
If you’re not a fan of shopping, you should still pay Heritage 1881 a visit. This white washed Victorian-esque building is a monument, luxury shopping mall and heritage hotel (much like our Raffles Hotel) all in one.
A historical spot in the city, the Heritage 1881 was the Former Marine Police Headquarters from 1880s up till 1996. It’s lovely to just spend a quiet evening at the rooftop gardens or strolling around the mostly al fresco courtyards which are open to public. Of course, if you like, while you’re there you can also admire exquisite IWC timepieces from the IWC Schaffhausen Flagship Boutique or pop into Cartier if you so please.
Beautiful Victorian architecture
Looking out from the courtyard
9. EAT LIKE A LOCAL AT A DAI PAI DONG
Eat like the locals do at a dai pai dong (cooked food stalls). The dai pai dong are fast becoming an endangered species of Hong Kong dining scene and these traditional food stalls and restaurants are disappearing making way for more sophisticated restaurants.
These eateries are the equivalent of Singapore’s outdoor zhi char or hawker stalls and are typically found outdoors.
There are also some dai pai dong who have moved on with the times and have taken up multiple units and moved their businesses indoors, complete with air conditioning. The spaces are still cramped, but the food is great.
An indoor dai pai dong
Delightful local Hong Kong favourites
10. TAKE A POST-DINNER STROLL AT MONGKOK
Mongkok is crazy alive and constantly buzzing with energy. It’s home to several night markets: Ladies’ Market, Fa Yuen Street Market, Goldfish Street Market, Flower Market Street, and Bird Market and Garden. But be warned, get your feet ready for some major walking!
Take a break while wandering down the streets as many buskers add to the entertainment for the night then continue your people watching and shopping to your hearts content. While most of Hong Kong’s malls are pricey to shop at, the markets are a great place to shop for those on a budget!
Streets of Mongkok
Traversing through Mongkok using overhead bridges