“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” – Buddha
Hong Kong, China
If you’re doing a long haul journey, like the one we just did from the UK to the land down-under, often these routes require a stop. If you’re already paying for the flight, I say grab two or three days somewhere you may not have visited otherwise. This is what Hong Kong was for us. It’s a destination we may not have considered as a trip in itself, however a ticket to Australia with Cathay Pacific meant we could stop and see this little piece of the world, almost for nothing. If you are interested in learning more about stopover cities, check out the airlines that get you to and from your destination and their respective hubs to see where your next adventure could take you as an interesting side trip. This month, join us in Hong Kong as we share with you what we spent our stopover doing.
Navigating Hong Kong
Hong Kong is made up of many islands, the largest namely Lantau Island, Hong Kong Island and the peninsula of Kowloon. Each area has its draws but choosing a place to stay doesn’t need to restrict you as all three are well connected and easily accessible in a few days. We chose to stay on Kowloon in a typical sky-rise hotel with views of Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 but was under British rule for many years prior to this. Perhaps for this reason, navigating around the city on public transport is doable with both Chinese and English maps available. Take bus A20 or A21 from the airport for our personal choice of hotel on Kowloon, Panorama by Rhombus.
Panorama by Rhombus Hotel
Panorama by Rhombus is best experienced if you choose a room with a Harbour View. We loved our floor to ceiling window and requested a high floor so we could wake up and fall asleep with Victoria Harbour. The streets below are bustling with shops and vendors, local businesses and party-goers. Hong Kong never sleeps and the buzz and noise and pace of life here is constant. Rhombus hotel has a fantastic Sky Garden on the 40th floor which is a great place to watch the Symphony of Lights, with an outdoor viewing balcony of the city. The rooms are modern and spacious, with everything you could wish for and more! The highlight for us was ‘Handy’, a 4G smartphone that was ours for the duration of our stay. It provided us with free internet and free calls and we took it out and about with us to avoid getting lost in the big city. It also provides discounts for popular tourist attractions and is a fantastic, innovative idea for travellers in new cities.
Eating Veggie in Hong Kong
Food-wise you are spoilt for choice in this area and in Hong Kong in general. Whatever your taste and budget, there’s multiple restaurants to suit. Try local food such as noodle soup or dim sum, and as the biggest tea producer in the world, you can’t visit an area so closely connected to China without tasting it’s brews. Don’t be surprised to see menus boasting food options like chicken’s feet or ox tongue! If these don’t sounds at all appetising, there are many local vegetarian options around, as well as Japanese, Thai, Indian and Western cuisines available too. The smaller restaurants immediately outside our chosen hotel are fantastic value for money. If you fancy a little splash, about a 10 minute walk towards Victoria Harbour, some slightly more upscale restaurants offer views over the water as you dine. In Kowloon, we liked Tsui Wah for lunch or breakfast, and Kung Tuk Lam for dinner.
Day 1 – Hong Kong Museum of History
On your first full day, the Hong Kong Museum of History has a world-class tour free of charge that gives you a wonderful insight into this unique place. It is an interesting account of how the islands were formed, the history of its first inhabitants and the many rules Hong Kong has come under since. Learn about Chinese opera, Chinese festivals, fishing the waters of Hong Kong or harvesting rice. Allow around three hours to wander this exhibition and take in the many visual experiences. This is a great first thing to do in Hong Kong to aid your understanding of the city’s people, food, languages and culture.
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After the museum, jump on the MTR for just two stops to Central station, situated on Hong Kong Island. The MTR is the easiest way to move between the islands and is only slightly dearer than the buses. The trains and stations are well laid out for the millions of journeys that are made daily. They are also kept remarkably clean. Lights indicate the next stops so that you can easily check your route and similar lights also show you which side of the train to exist from. Central station connects you to other main lines and it’s the stop you want for Hong Kong Park and Victoria Peak Tram.
Day 1 – Victoria Peak
From the station, walk around 20 minutes to the bottom of Victoria Peak. The tram costs 90 HKD to ride return, inclusive of the Sky Terrace 428 viewing platform, or if you pre-book online, the price is discounted. We decided to head up for sunset but the tram was so busy and queues so long that we ended up on a much later tram than we’d hoped for. Go extra early and allow time for heavy queuing. Also bear in mind the trams are crowded and you may not get a seat. It’s worth the ride once for the experience of climbing Victoria Peak at such an incline, around 27 degrees at its steepest point, but I would recommend just purchasing a single ticket and then walking down the well-lit footpath. It’s a tough walk with the path very steep for most of the way but a much quieter way to take in the peak and allows for stops to admire the view at leisure. This walk takes around one hour on foot back to Central station.
If you want to ride the Victoria Peak Tram, we highly recommend you purchase Skip the Line Tickets in advance of your visit.
Day 2 – Ngong Ping Village
For your second day, don’t miss Lantau Island’s Ngong Ping Village where you can find the Tian Tan Buddha and ride the gondola Ngong Ping 360. From Tsim Sha Tsui station head to Central station and then change lines for Tung Chung station. This journey is around 50 minutes. From the station, Ngong Ping 360 is a two minute walk. Purchase tickets in advance to avoid a little bit of queuing and bear in mind that you may at peak times wait longer for crystal cabins. We rode the cheaper, standard cabins and the views were fantastic. The journey up to Ngong Ping Village takes roughly twenty-five minutes and you can see the airport, Lantau Island and the sea beyond. For a lower cost option, you can choose to take the bus up to the village instead but the gondola is well worth the money for the views and photos it gives you on a clear day.
If you are planning your trip to Hong Kong, check out the best advance booking prices for Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Standard Cabins.
Ngong Ping Village is a beautiful little collection of shops and restaurants, showcasing the Chopstick Gallery or Vintage for Chinese dress. Wander through the village and enjoy the views but make sure you head to the Giant Buddha. A short walk from the village, 268 steps lead you up to this magnificent and glorious statue. It’s free to go up and the view from the top, behind the back of the Buddha, is breathtaking. After you have snapped the Buddha from all the angles you desire, head back down the steps and over towards the Po Lin Monastery. Here, Buddhists light incense of all sizes in prayer and worship. The fragrant smell fills the air and the sight is colourful and fun. There’s a vegetarian restaurant here or choose to head back to the village for more food options.
Li Nong Tea House
To do not miss Li Nong Tea House to learn about tea leaves, Chinese tea and how to brew the perfect cup. We highly recommend choosing to sit in and order a pot of fresh tea. The staff will demonstrate how best to brew the leaves and then leave you to enjoy the process in peace. Tea drinking is a wonderfully calming way to pass the time and has many health benefits too. Hong Kong is well known for its lights and noise and you must immerse yourself in the city experience to fully appreciate this destination, but don’t miss this opportunity for relative quiet. A day spent high up in the clouds away from all the white noise with an unbeatable cup of tea in my hands was my favourite moment on this trip.
In conclusion, Hong Kong is certainly not for everyone. Get ready for an invasion of personal space, deathly road junctions and just about everything shopping-wise your heart could desire. Personally, I prefer the more intimate moments which can still be found in this thriving city home to more than 7 million people. Pick a private spot to view the Symphony of Lights or find your own viewing spot at the top of Victoria Peak instead of paying for the Sky Terrace 428 ticket. Definitely enjoy tea unrushed and savour the real flavour of local leaves expertly brewed, and take the opportunity to learn about Buddhism and experience the peacefulness of prayer. Hong Kong is a perfect choice for a few days city stop on a long haul flight to break up the journey and to experience somewhere new. We highly recommend Cathay Pacific airlines, Hong Kong’s flag carrier and are grateful for the opportunity to have visited this vibrant and unique Chinese city en route to Australia.
Another great stopover city close to Australia is Christchurch in New Zealand.
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If now you need more, check out my other City Stops Travel Diaries.
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