We were so excited about getting to Hong Kong. Without a doubt it’s one of the world’s greatest cities, and while not the most budget friendly, we knew we had to take the chance to visit.
After finding our bags we walked out of the airport and for the first time it wasn’t cold! Finally we could survive without our coats, granted it was only 22 degrees, but it was a far cry from the bitter cold of Russia and cooler climate of China.
We firstly made our way towards the bus transfer. There was a small booth, where we paid for our ticket in advance as we had no change yet, as the buses all require exact change. It was very cheap at about $36HKD each (£2.70). After an hours drive from Lantau Island where the airport is located, we arrived, directly opposite our hotel building. It was a drastic difference to China. I would describe it as what I think New York would look like if Chinese people lived there and influenced it. There were so many high rise buildings. It was pretty incredible.
We had 5 days here and these are the highlights:
Star Ferry & Central-Mid Level Escalators
One of the most famous ferry rides in the world, our eagerness to ride the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong island was scuppered on the first day since thick fog engulfed the entire harbour which would have defeated the whole point – the view. On the second day however we managed it. For the measly price of around $2.50 (20p!) we boarded the ferry and , and after immediately being told off for eating our lunch (no eating or drinking is allowed on any public transport in Hong Kong!) we were off on the short trip across the harbour.
There isn’t much to say about the ferry apart from the view is amazing and the ride is surprisingly short. But for the money it’s an essential Hong Kong experience.
Over the other side we made our way towards the Central-Mid Level escalators. I’ve long been fascinated by these though in reality it’s less exciting than I imagined. However it is a great way to get up the steep hills of Hong Kong island without breaking a sweat which I suppose is the point really. Aside from the escalators themselves, what is really impressive is the vast network of walkways around the lower part of the island – you barely have to go anywhere near the crowded streets. It’s a system more large cities should definitely adopt.
Victoria Peak Tram
This was another must see for us, the historic funicular railway up to Victoria Peak, from where the best views of the harbour and buildings of the city can be found. It’s a view that is really famous but one you want to see for yourselves.
Getting to the lower terminus, it was surprisingly busy and we were waiting at least 20 minutes to board. There is however lots of historical information and parts from the old tram system to look at while you wait, which is really interesting.
When we eventually got on, the ride was fantastic. It’s incredible just how steep the slope is – on the way back I was forced to stand and it was an effort not to actually fall over! Once out of the station the view begins to get better and better.
Once at the top you exit into the Peak Tower. This is a strangely shaped building with around 5 floors of shops and restaurants, and a viewing platform at the top. You can book a ticket for the tram on its own or for the tram and viewing gallery, which is a fair bit more expensive. We didn’t do this and I’m glad we didn’t, since once you find your way out of the maze like building, immediately opposite is another shopping centre, with cheaper eateries and most importantly a FREE viewing gallery. OK so it’s a story or 2 lower than the tower but you’re already so high up it really doesn’t matter, trust us!
After taking plenty of photos, grabbing some Vietnamese food (we were off to Vietnam the next day but we couldn’t resist some Banh Xeo) and an egg tart (for Katy, I find them disgusting) we made out way back down the tram again. I’d recommend keeping an eye on the queue, as at times it was huge, yet you could wait in relative comfort in the centre or on the viewing gallery until it quietened down.
Happy Valley Races
Long ago I had read about how popular horse racing was in Hong Kong, and had read up about Happy Valley. As luck would have it, we were around on a Wednesday night which is race night at Happy Valley! We got the MTR to Causeway Bay and walked the longer than anticipated distance to the track, though it didn’t help we circled almost the whole complex as we didn’t know where the entrance was!
After paying a measly $10HKD (77p) we were in, and instantly the atmosphere was buzzing. Live music, food stalls and most importantly, plenty of beer tents (beer was quite reasonably priced, $38 which is good value for Hong Kong).
We filled our stomachs with a cheap meal first and foremost before looking over the race guide and betting on a horse for the 3rd race. Dreaming of making our fortune we got a good spot at the front, and were excited for all of about 5 seconds until we noticed our horse rapidly falling behind the pack. Even halfway round the world our complete lack of luck with gambling continues. We made another 2 (very small) bets, both returning a net profit of nothing.
But who cares, we had a fantastic night out for not very much money! And where else can you watch horse racing surrounded by skyscrapers? Happy Valley is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Hong Kong on a Wednesday night.
Hong Kong Disneyland
(Katy) This was something I had been looking forward to so much! I’m pretty much a geek for Disney, although not many people know it.. But now they do! We had booked our tickets in advance to get a discounted rate. The metro line actually goes straight there so from our hotel we took the half hour train journey to the park. It was great, not as busy as we had anticipated luckily. The special Disney line from Sunny Bay direct to Disneyland was an interesting ride, with Mickey Mouse windows and handles!
When we arrived we rushed to collect our tickets, there were no queues so we entered the park! We were going to have so much fun here! We found our place on the map and headed straight through the Main Street USA to Grizzly Gulch and the Runaway Mine Cars roller coaster. It was empty so there was again no queue! Straight to the front we boarded the coaster. It was such a great thrill to get on a coaster again. The coaster itself wasn’t the scariest but it was surprising. I won’t give it away but it was so awesome we went on it 4 times throughout the day.
The whole park is pretty small in comparison to Florida. But it was enough for us, we went on every ride at the park except the little children’s ones we couldn’t fit on. We stayed for a full 8 hours, making the most of our time there. Perhaps due to the locals not liking thrill rides, the queues were actually longest at the children’s rides!
There are several areas in the park including Toy Story Land, Tomorrowland, and Fantasy Land. A lot of the areas are the same as the American or Paris parks but we didn’t mind as it’s been a long time since we went to one!
The main rides, aside from the Mine Cars, are the famous Space Mountain (which we also went on 4 times) and the RC Racer in Toy Story Land. All 3 are minimal thrillers, being Disney, but it’s great for adults and kids though but if you’re looking for killer coasters this isn’t your thing. The park itself is cheap by western theme park standards ($450 or £35 per ticket) and this shows in the rides and the size of the park. However it was still great fun. They were undergoing expansion while we were there, there’s a new Marvel area coming which we were gutted about not seeing, which should make the park more attractive to older guests.
All in all, a definite must if you love Disney like me but not if you’re looking for epic thriller coasters.
It’s impossible to visit Hong Kong and not talk about the food. It is fantastic although it’s worth bearing in mind it is generally more expensive than China and other Asian countries. We thought we would be eating dim sum every day but in fact we only managed it once as there was so much choice!
We ate several times in local Chinese restaurants in downtown Kowloon which were certainly an experiance (and cheap!) and also had an excellent Indian curry in Chungking Mansions – there is a large number of curry houses here due to the Indian population. We visited the Taj Mahal club which we would recommend, however prices were not as cheap as I imagined, probably around the same price as a curry back in England.
We also sampled lots of savoury and sweet buns from the various bakeries, I love the super soft BBQ pork buns! I also got some very good takeaway Sushi which was a fraction of the price of Sushi back home.
Basically, Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise!
While in Hong Kong we also visited the botanical gardens, which are well worth a visit and free, checked out the Avenue Of Stars, which is HK’s version of the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and visited the Hong Kong museum, which was a seriously good museum and comes highly recommended.
Where We Stayed
Apple Hostel was situated on the 10th floor of a 16 floor block tower called Chung King Mansions. The mansions are infamous in Hong Kong for being home to most of the budget accommodation in the city with the bottom floor a maze of people trying to sell you sim cards, phones, suits, drugs and watches, as well as being home to loads of restaurants and money exchange shops. Some people find it intimidating but honestly we found it fascinating, it’s like a city within a city, and most of the touts leave you alone if you politely say no thanks.
As we entered we found the elevator, which always had a long queue as there are only 2 for the whole building. When we arrived we were escorted into our tiny box room, which was actually quite cosy. We had a window luckily (a lot of rooms didn’t!) and it was an en-suite with a double bed. Although tiny, the place was decent, recently furnished and very clean. You can’t expect much else in Hong Kong, where space is at a premium. It was one of the more expensive rooms we have stayed in, but again, it’s an expensive place!