8½ travel tips – Hong Kong
A year ago today I boarded a plane London – Hong Kong, spending the following month traveling across the South East of China. To celebrate the occasion, I’m sharing 8½ traveling tips for the destination:
1. The most densely populated area in the world, Kowloon Island Walled City resembles an overgrown anthill. Decrepit buildings sprout from the piles of garbage, growing tall and disappearing in the clouds of exhaust fumes. The neon signs glow is so fade, you can hear them chirring more than see them gleaming.
Loose yourself in a maze of narrow streets or climb one of the rooftops for a bird’s eye view on Kowloon’s surreal cityscape (and if you follow my example and stay in a local apartment hostel, the breathtaking panorama will be included in the price of your accommodation).
2. Funny enough, but one of Kowloon’s main highlights is the experience of turning your back on it to gaze at Hong Kong island cityscape from Star Ferry pier. Busy at any time of the day, Tsim Sha Tsui promenade attracts the majority of its visitors in the late hours, when the light show illuminates the city skyline for a half-an-hour long skirmish of laser rays. This is an experience worth going for, of not because of the actual show, then to be able to join in a conversation with other disappointed tourists, queuing to get into the metro station, before giving the whole thing up and proceeding to the nearest bar.
3. Hong Kong is a wild cocktail of Eastern traditions and Western desires to break them, which becomes increasingly obvious as the darkness falls. Busy during the working hours, the city quiets slightly as the day exhales, but just to take a deep breath and dive into the party-all-night-long. Hong Kong nightlife is so colourful, it can hardly leave anyone disappointed. So whether you will be sipping champagne in deluxe hotel or dancing your feet off on the club floor, savoring exotic cuisine in one of the Soho eateries or hunting for more exotic experience in Wan Chan district, Hong Kong won’t leave you disappointed!
4. After an energy-draining night out, head off to one of the many green isles in the busy city waters, for a morning session of Tai Chi recreational martial art practice. Join hundreds of locals (mainly elders, but not exclusively) for the forenoon exercise, or just come for a sip of fresh air and watch the slow-motion Chinese gymnastics. Moreover, there is plenty of other early-day activities in the parks for you to get your hands (legs, heads and whichever body parts you fancy) on. You can play badminton or jianczi (its Asian sister, where you abandon the racket and kick the shuttlecock with you feet), chess or cards, waltz in circles or sing communist songs karaoke-style, reading words from a blanket hung on a tree branch.
5. Every neighborhood in Hong Kong has at least one temple, lively at any time of the day. The biggest ones will traditionally attract the majority of tourist, paying a quick visit to take a glance at splendid interiors. However, there are a lot of hidden gems to be discovered.
On the southern side of Queen’s Road, an unusually dark Hung Shing Temple is concealed in the roots of a giant tree. Further West, one of the oldest on the island is Man Mo Temple, dedicated to the military deity Kwan Yu - the patron god of restaurants, pawnshops and secret societies (which explains popularity of the place).
Hundreds of incense cones are slowly burning down by the ceilings, hundreds of paper notes with wishes scribbled on them are flaming in a large oven – all for a good fortune.
6. With oh-so-many eateries, make sure you don’t miss out on tasting the delicious snacks sold on every corner of Hong Kong streets. There is a lot on offer to get your stomach rumbling impatiently, so do go wild and try as many delicacies as you can! Starting with familiar chicken wings and fried noodles (which might become a pleasant surprise if you’ve never encountered them outside your nearest takeaway shop) and gradually moving to the more exotic meats, fish and pastry, Chinese snacks dim sum make a great appetizer, as well as a quick meal on the go.Situated on the isles in the South China Sea, Hong Kong is an excellent place for tasting a great variety of sea products. You will find a wast selection in every restaurant or shop, but Tai O village on Lantau island has a fish market that will change your biases of what the sea-food can taste like!
And, of course, making sure the place looks clean and the food storage and preparation requirements are being observed is just a common sense.
7. In contrast with the Western desire for privacy and seclusion, most of Asian daily life takes place right on the streets. True, you might not sight many couples walking hand-in-hand, not to mention expressing their mutual affection in the more explicit ways (unlike us-Westerners). Nevertheless, seeing people consuming a three-course meal or taking an afternoon nap, doing their morning exercise (see Nr.4) or having a quick wash, getting their hair and make-up, not to mention dental surgery done just as you walk past, seems to be a norm.
8. Hong Kong is a place where the East meets the West and even though the hostel I’ve stayed in was situated on Gloucester Road and I conveniently had McDonalds on my right and Starbucks on the left, it was obvious that I am far away from home. I kept asking my friends questions, not understanding why people do things this way, not the other, and my companions couldn’t see the ground for my confusion.
The cultural differences are hard to understand, not easy to embrace and quick to get in trouble for. But meeting people whose background, traditions and mentality differ from your own greatly is a life-changing experience, worth traveling for to the far-away lands.
+8.5. Be sure you make a note and take a picture of everything you see and experience – a year after you will have a jolly good time flicking through your memories. I did!