After realizing that accommodation prices in Hong Kong were significantly more expensive than any other destination on our list, we decided to only spend a few days there. Not nearly enough time to really experience the city. Although we spent all three days exploring from dawn until dusk, it felt like we barely scratched the surface of what the overwhelming metropolis had to offer. The unique landscape of Hong Kong, crammed between the mountains and the harbor, is a dramatic backdrop for a hectic and crowded melting pot of cultures and cuisines. From bird markets and 50 cent noodles in the morning to glamorous rooftop dining and speakeasy cocktails in the evening, Hong Kong can feel like 10 different cities combined in one. Here are a few of our favorite things to see and eat while visiting.
If there is one thing we have seen our fair share of during our travels in Asia, it’s markets. Morning markets, night markets, vegetable markets, meat markets, floating markets… the list goes on. Thankfully even for two jaded market visitors such as ourselves, Hong Kong offers a bunch of interesting options. For a full day of market hopping, take the MTR to Prince Edward station and start at the aptly named Bird Market. The stalls lining the narrow corridor display a rainbow of bird species, caged parrots, parakeets, and canaries hanging everywhere you look. Along with the vendors, elderly locals gather to show off their prized pets, hanging them in the trees to sing for passersby. Although small, the bird market is the only one of its kind that we have encountered in our travels and definitely worth a visit. After the bird market, head around the corner and stroll through flower stalls on your way to another unique animal sight, the Fish Market. Although it’s more of a pet store street than a true market, the way the stores display their fish out front is one we haven’t seen anywhere else, all the fish are individually bagged. Hundreds of little plastic baggies, each containing a cup of water and a little fish, are hung on street side stalls. If you are wondering how they can possibly feed all these individually bagged fish, you are not alone. We didn’t ask, but we guess they empty them back into one big tank at the end of the day for feeding. Heading south from fish street you can hit the huge and popular Ladies Market or the Temple Street Night Market for all of the usual tourist t-shirts and trinkets that you might want.
If you only pick one thing to do while in Hong Kong, heading up to catch the view from Victoria Peak would be a good choice. If it is not too hot, the hike (it is a steep walk) up to the peak can be fun, starting with the Central-Mid-Level escalators downtown (the longest outdoor escalator system in the world) before winding up past the mountainside apartment buildings with million dollar views. If a steep hike in the heat doesn’t sound appealing you can always take a taxi or the cable car up to the top. Walk the Circle Walk around the peak and take in the sights of the city and harbor stretching out far below.
For a closer view of the city skyline, take the Star Ferry across the harbor. The quick trip offers beautiful views of Hong Kong at a much lower price point than the junk ship dinner cruises. If you time it right, you can avoid the crowds gathered on the Avenue of Stars and instead watch the nightly Symphony of Lights (city skyline laser show) from the boat.
If architectural Instagrams are your thing, then you are going to love Hong Kong. The seemingly endless concrete jungle of unique and colorful apartment blocks creates a background for a sea of tourists looking for the perfect shot. Although there are probably hundreds of interesting spots to choose from, the three most popular are Choi Hung Estate for its rainbow-hued basketball courts, Lok Wah Estate for its row of circular doorways, and the Yick Cheong Building for its towering wall of apartments. Unless you arrive at the crack of dawn, don’t expect to have any of these popular spots to yourself though!
Not an attraction or destination but an interesting phenomenon unique to Hong Kong is the hundreds of thousands of woman who gather to socialize on street curbs, pedestrian walkways and subway stations every Sunday. These woman are for the most part migrant workers who come to Hong Kong to work as housekeepers and maids. These women usually live with their employers and work incredibly long hours. The law demands they are given 12 hours off a week, and lacking the extra money to spend in restaurants or movie theaters, the woman gather together in public spaces to eat homemade feasts, listen to music, and hang out with their friends. It is quite a sight to see!
Hong Kong is famous for its decadent dim sum and for good reason, some of the best Dim Sum spots in the world are found here. Although we were only visiting for a few days, we made sure to fit in two delicious dim sum feasts, at two very different price points. For the budget traveler, be sure to check out Dim Dim Sum. There is usually less of a wait then some of the other famous spots around town and the food is just as tasty, plus it is only $2-$4 per plate. If you are looking to splurge a little, head to the extravagant Fook Lam Moon. The multi-story dining hall is all old school Hong Kong luxury, with over-attentive service and very well-dressed diners. Although just couple dumplings will set you back $10, the dim sum is some of the best in town and the experience is fun for a special occasion.
Much like Peking Duck is the specialty in Beijing, Roast Goose is famous in Hong Kong. The most famous spot in town, Kam's, was right around the corner from our hotel but had a line down the block whenever we passed. Instead, we went across the harbor to Chan Kee. The half goose is enough to feed 2-3 hungry people and it will only set you back $28.
Another Hong Kong specialty, these little sweet tarts are best when freshly baked and warm out of the oven. The breading is perfectly flaky on the outside and soft on the inside and the egg custard filling is just the right amount of sweet. Grab a few to go from Honolulu Coffee Shop and eat them while strolling the neighborhood.
For a creative cocktail, check out Back Bar, the small bar hidden behind popular restaurant Ham & Sherry. When we first arrived and saw that the front door of the restaurant was locked and the lights were off, we wondered if we had been misinformed. But when a couple spilled out of an unmarked door down the alley and started aggressively making out, we figured we were probably in the right place. The restaurant closes at 11PM but the bar stays open until 1 or 2 and the drinks are strong and delicious.