We only spent a few short nights in Hong Kong this month, but wanted to share some of our favorite activities, and of course, favorite eats! This is one of those places where you can be immersed in a totally different culture, while getting around fine speaking English. As mentioned in my last post (read here for travel tips for a long flight), we flew in partnership with Cathay Pacific on their Boston to Hong Kong direct route. If you’re contemplating an Asia trip, they are currently having a fare promo to HKG and a few other destinations. I also wanted to mention HKG is a popular hub for connecting flights around the world, so it could be fun to make a mini trip out of a layover!
What to do
In a nutshell, Hong Kong is comprised of three main sections: Hong Kong island, Kowloon peninsula, and then the “new territories” which include some size-able islands like Lantau and Lamma. Upper HK island and lower Kowloon are the most bustling urban areas, whereas you can find greenery and quieter open spaces in the outer areas. This time we chose to stay at The Pottinger on HK island (super central & convenient) and look forward to exploring Kowloon more next time!
Ride the glass-bottom cable car to Ngong Ping village. This was one of my favorite experiences during our morning trip out to Lantau island. You pass over lush trees and waterfronts on a 5km+ long ride. To get to the cable cars, take the MTR subway to Tung Chung station (which is also steps from HK’s largest outlet shopping mall), then follow the signs towards Ngong Ping 360. Tip: buy tickets online and go early in the day, otherwise lines for both can get very long!
While at Ngong Ping village, you can also…
– Climb up Tian Tan Buddha or “big Buddha.” The stairs are a pretty leisurely climb, especially if you stop for photos along the way.
– Walk the nearby Wisdom Path, with wood pillars inscribed with prayers in an infinity pattern.
– Visit Tai O, a traditional fishing village on the Western edge of Lantau island.
At the base of Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island
Watch the Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest permanent light show. It runs daily at 8PM for about 15 minutes, on the buildings along Victoria Harbour. You can also buy a ticket for the Aqua Luna sailboat and watch the show from the harbour. That time slot was sold out when we visited, so we took the earlier sunset cruise and watched the light show from the pier.
Take a hike on one of the many trails. We had planned on hiking either Lion Rock (looked like awesome views from the top) or the popular Dragon’s Back trail right on HK island, but didn’t get to due to rain. Here is a list of numerous other trail options with helpful details.
Take a daytrip to HK Disneyland, located on Lantau Island. We didn’t go but I was enticed by their restaurant with dim sum shaped like Disney characters!
Visit Victoria Peak, the hotspot for all the Hong Kong “city views from the top.” We didn’t brave the crowds this time and also wasn’t sure what would be visible in the rain.
Have afternoon tea at the top of the Ritz Carlton HK, the highest hotel in the world (or a drink at Ozone, their bar). Don’t bother going on a rainy or foggy day as you won’t be able to see a thing. Also I was told reservations for tea at the popular window seats need to be made about 2 months in advance.
Shop shop shop. A few options with a range of shopping:
– Harbour City, Hong Kong’s biggest mall located in the Tsim Tsa Shui area on the Kowloon side. You can easily get there via subway or take the Star Ferry across the harbour. Refuel with a fruity shaved ice dessert at Hanbing on the top floor of the mall and maybe catch the Symphony of Lights afterwards. Also in this area, the grand Peninsula Hotel has an attached shopping arcade with a Goyard and another Chanel and Hermes, amongst other luxury shops. FYI, Chanel is now priced lower in HK compared to US boutiques and with no tax, but it’s not easy finding specific pieces.
– PMQ, which stands for Police Married Quarters by Sheung Wan station on HK island. This large building was formerly used as housing for HK police and their families working in the surrounding areas, before being converted to design studios, art galleries, and small fashion, accessory and homegoods shops.
– Street shopping. Be prepared to bargain with the vendors! Here is a list of major street markets. We were interested in checking out the flower market and ladies market, but didn’t make it this time.
What to Eat
Now for the most fun part…what to try while you’re there! Some Cantonese favorites include:
– Dim sum, or Asian tapas/small plates for sharing, is served with tea and popular for breakfast or brunch. Traditional dishes are steamed, and include shumai pork or hagow shrimp dumplings, sticky rice with chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, buns with sweet or savoury fillings, as well as paper-thin rice noodles with filling. This is the city of dim sum served in all different styles, as you’ll see on my list below.
– Noodles and congee, often available at the same shops. Noodle soup there is most traditionally topped with shrimp wontons and/or beef brisket. Congee or “jook” is a rice porridge soup with various mix-ins, most yummy topped with a crispy, cut-up fried donut stick “you tiao”.
– Cantonese barbecue, including roast pork “char siu,” duck or goose. You can spot these specialty shops from the street as they display their barbecued meats for that day along the window. They usually have combos on the menu where you can simply choose one or two of the meats over rice or noodles.
– Sweets, like the traditional egg tart pastry with flaky crust, eggettes (egg puff waffles) or milk puddings.
– Street food or “dai pai dong.” It’s not uncommon to see lots of tables and little plastic chairs set up on the streets by food stalls. Some of these get quite bustling, especially at night given the midnight munchies culture. These places don’t speak English as much…Nick and I found the best way to order is to just look around on other people’s tables and see what looked good or was most common, then point!
Where to Eat
We didn’t even begin to touch on all the good restaurants during this short visit, but here are some of the noteworthy places we did try!
Kau Kee 九記牛腩: nearly century-old noodle shop famous for their beef brisket noodle soup, which is a staple in Cantonese comfort food. Nick said this was his favorite meal and really enjoyed the broth flavors. They churn bowls of these out like clockwork at this small shop so prepare to eat elbow to elbow and share tables with strangers. Lines gets long but we got lucky with no wait during an off-peak hour.
Go for: regular beef brisket e-fu noodle soup and try the orange-y hot sauce. I decided to branch out and get their curry but thought it was overpowering (would be better over rice), and spent the rest of the meal trying to sneak bites of Nick’s.
Cost us: ~$10 USD per person
Dim sum critters at Yum Cha
Yum Cha: adorable dim sum critters but also pretty good other food, in a modern setting filled with natural light. Tip: we waited nearly an hour for a table but they do take reservations, which most ppl made.
Go for: critter dim sum like the “barfing custard bao” which my husband entertained himself with for a good 5 minutes over. We also enjoyed the dan dan noodle soup with shrimp wontons and salted egg yolk green beans
Cost us: ~$25 USD per person
Left: Yat Lok roast goose rice plate Right: Wong Chi Kei crab congee + wonton noodles
Yat Lok: no-frills traditional Cantonese barbecue meats shop. Apparently Anthony Bourdain ate there as well, which I didn’t realize even as a pretty avid No Reservations enthusiast.
Go for: barbecued meats over rice plates for lunch. They’re most known for their roast goose and roast pork, and you can ask for some ginger scallion sauce on the side. Ginger scallion sauce is a reminder of home for me and I could wolf it down just over plain rice.
Cost us: ~$10 USD per person
Soft serve gelato + ice cream with eggettes from Oddies Foodies
Yee Shun Dairy Company (multiple locations): cafe specializing in milk pudding desserts, which are like an Asian panna cotta. Also serves traditional HK breakfast or snacks like milk tea and fried pork chop with sunny side up eggs, which several diners were eating. The Australian Dairy Company is another popular, similar-style cafe.
Go for: Nick tried a whole bunch and his favorite was the ginger milk pudding, served hot.
Cost us: $4 to $5 USD per pudding
Left: Egg tart at Tai Cheong Right: Yee Shun milk puddings plain, w/ ginger, and red bean
Yardbird: Trendy restaurant specializing in yakitori skewers and other chicken dishes. This is located within a whole area in Sheung Wan that appeared popular with expats, and was full of pricier “hipster” restaurants and nightlife with English-only menus. We were bummed we didn’t get to try Little Bao in the same area due to some mis-planning…we kept reading about it, plus the chef used to live in Boston!
Go for: various chicken skewers (they were all very tasty, including the unusual ones), corn ball fritters, chicken and egg rice. I’d suggest sharing the Sundays sake instead of cocktails, which were $$ and on the weaker side.
Cost us: $60-80 USD per person for dinner, including alcohol.
Asian dessert-inspired cocktails at the Envoy – so good! ($15 USD+ per drink)
Clockwise from top left: turnip cakes, shumai, filled rice noodles, pork buns at Tim Ho Wan
Tim Ho Wan (multiple locations): a dim sum shop known as the world’s cheapest Michelin star-rated restaurant. We went for this reason, and thought it was good but not worthy of the super long lines during peak hours.
Tip: If you just want to try their famous pork buns, you can get them as take-out.
Go for: roast pork buns with a sweet crust on top (like traditional pineapple buns), rice noodles
Cost us: under $10 USD per person
Left: yakitori at Yardbird Right: lunch at Mrs. Pound
Mrs. Pound: speakeasy-style Malaysian fusion restaurant dressed as a stamps shop (like ink pad stamps, not mail). Press down on one of the stamps to get the sliding door to open.
Go for: the novelty. Lunch was not bad and reasonably priced (dinner is notably more), but not the most memorable. This was another one of those fully English-speaking places with English menu.
Cost us: ~$10 USD per person for lunch. Cocktails were ~$15 USD and up.
3D latte art at Allegretto Cafe (cute but I wouldn’t go out of your way for this)
Other Tips for Visiting Hong Kong
Take the MTR subway, which we thought was clean, timely, and fairly easy to navigate. Get a re-loadable Octopus subway card early on at the airport. These cost 150 HKD which includes 100 HKD on the card for you to use, and a 50 HKD deposit. You can also use these as a debit card, at 7-elevens and small shops that accept the Octopus but not credit cards.
Also take the Airport Express subway which speedily goes from a few central points in the city to the airport. Check with your hotel which might have a free shuttle to/from the nearest Airport Express station. You can also check-in your luggage at one of the city stations up to a day before flying!
Exchange enough currency. Most of the “modern” restaurants and stores accept credit card, but many places as well as the Octopus card system and all taxis did not.
Look for public restrooms inside the myriad of luxury shopping centers. They were always very clean!
Foodies can check out OpenRice, which is like an HK Yelp. Be warned that reviewers there are super critical so even the highest-rated restaurants might just be pushing 3 out of 5 stars. I mostly used this to look up photos of popular dishes or to search around a certain area.
Prepare for the humidity. My hair rarely held a curl so I styled it up most of the time. I also applied minimal foundation and finished with this travel-sized SPF50 makeup setting spray.
Make a custom map to pinpoint everything you want to do and see where they are relative to each other. This definitely helped us navigate the islands of HK more efficiently. I’ve included our map below, with a bonus addendum that Nick snuck on there!