Clean lines, paneled glass and glossy signs that boasted both Chinese and English characters were the first things to greet me upon arrival in Hong Kong. A metropolitan known for its international vibe, Hong Kong is exactly as I expected at first glimpse.
But as I ventured into the bustling streets, the humid air and the boisterous jumble of Cantonese, it was clear that local culture reigned deep. In a zig-zagging outline of my travels through this gorgeous city, here’s how and why I fell in love.
The Efficient Transportation Network
It’s easy to see why people keep coming back to Hong Kong when the city makes it so convenient to travel in. Stepping out into the arrival hall of the international airport, I was only 24 minutes away from downtown Central via Airport Express train. There are buses connected to all districts and taxis for no-fuss commute.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg – Hong Kong’s Mass Rail Transit (MTR) network spans from the southern border to the deep reaches of New Territories. I kept my Octopus Card (top-up travel card) on me at all times; all you have to do is tap in and out of stations and pay when boarding buses. It’s simple to transfer train lines too; just cross the platform for the connecting line.
Since everything is in both Chinese and English, navigating is not an issue.
To keep things simple, I spent a full day exploring along Hong Kong Island: from Causeway Bay to Kennedy Town. Take the tram for an extra dose of local culture! Another day was dedicated to Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and the more local haunts on Kowloon side. I also took myself out of the cityscape and into nature-embracing Sai Kung.
Delicious, Wide-Ranging Noms
I gain at least five pounds every trip out because Hong Kong is brimming with eateries. Pigging out on local fare and international cuisine is guaranteed.
First thing after dropping off my luggage, I beeline to the closest cha can teng (stark and small restaurants that serve authentic foods) for a bowl of stringy yellow noodles in pork bone broth, topped with tenderized beef brisket. I ordered a side of radish and let it soak in broth for a blend of sweet and savory.
Of course, noodles and HK-styled milk tea wasn’t enough to calm my stomach so I followed it up with a filling lunch at a dim sum restaurant. The variety is spectacular; I had succulent char siu (marinated pork), spring rolls, soft buns with custard fillings, deep fried tofu…
SOHO is worth a visit if you prefer international cuisine. I treated myself to unlimited fries at La Vache and juicy steak. BEP Vietnamese Kitchen is great after exploring the nearby PMQ concept complex. Japanese food is a local favorite too.
Make sure to try street food as well! I spent a good hour taste-testing curry fish balls, garlic noodles, condense milk-slathered waffles and more along Dundas Street in Yau Ma Tei. There are also plenty of cafés around to chill in, such as Coffee Academics.
A Vertical City Full Of Culture
I could gush about Hong Kong’s dense urban set-up, street markets and colorful everything all day. Having packed my camera, I let myself get lost in the myriad of sky-scraping apartment blocks and office buildings. A lot of older structures are painted bright even if the colors have faded; walk along the entirety of Nathan Road to see Prince Edward and Mong Kok’s older buildings.
The pedestrian bridges are great photography spots too. I particularly like the Olympic Bridge in Causeway Bay as you get to watch the tram go by. After wandering for the day, I headed straight for glittering night views up high. The Peak will net you stunning views of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon side, while the IFC roof garners great harbor views. I also had drinks up at I-square’s top floor bar for the opposite panorama.
There’s More Nature Than You Think
What surprised me throughout however is the startling amount of nature in Hong Kong. One park you won’t miss is Tamar Park, a sprawling stretch of green right by harbor-side. I had just taken a ferry over from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central and found this promenade space perfect for casual sight-seeing.
You can also rent bikes and cruise down Shing Mun River in Sha Tin. I spent a solid three to four hours biking and exploring the nearby green spaces. Sha Tin Park also had a gorgeous, cozy nook that was styled in traditional Chinese garden elements including a small pond and stone bridge.
Upon a friend’s recommendation, I also dedicated a day to hiking! Lion’s Rock is a popular hiking spot but my friend suggested the trails in Sai Kung Country Park instead – the hike was challenging but the coastline view is worth it. I also got to rest at beaches along the trail. Such stunning sea views!
The Outlying Islands Are Just Splendid
The surprises don’t end there either. The same friend took me to the island of Cheung Chau. I would never have known there were populated islands that locals frequented on the weekends. Making rounds on this tiny island, I could see how it calls back to HK’s early days as a fishing village.
Humble living was inscribed in the fishing boats by the harbor, the small shops selling souvenirs, the seafood restaurants and their plastic stools, the squat housing and salt-rusted railings.
There’s so much culture to find outside of the urban noise. Hong Kong is truly a treasure trove of cultural goods that people tend to overlook for city distractions. I have only listed five reasons to come back but there are many more in the details.