Expat Travels: Hong Kong!

Friday, October 02, 2015

((Yes-the pits ARE shaved y'all))

I had the absolute pleasure of spending a few days in Hong Kong recently.

Per usual, I went solo, and had quite the time. Hong Kong is renowned for its skyscrapers and absolutely flawless skyline. For U.S. citizens, you do not need a visa to visit Hong Kong; you should know that there's no passport stamp, though (Sad face). They give you a little slip on arrival, which they take back at departure. I am in process of getting a China visa, though, as I fully intend on visiting the mainland real soon.

I spent less than $500 for flight and lodging for this quick trip. For those back in the states giving me the side-eye ;-) Skyscanner is showing the flight to HKG for less than $450 return from several cities on Turkish and Delta airlines, as of this posting. Get yourn!

I flew ICN to HKG on the Eastar Jet budget airline based out of Korea. The seats are compact and extra tight but the flight was mostly comfy.  I had a whole row to myself on the outbound:

Flying in comfort to Hong Kong; say "hey" to the lurker in back.

I stayed in the Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui area for this journey. I was walking distance from several tourist spots including the Ladies Market, Temple Market, malls and stores galore, and the popular Nathan Road. I'm usually team Airbnb but I opted to stay in a hotel this time since they were all so economical.  If you're looking to be right in the action, consider staying in the Central district. If you're looking to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city, consider the Aberdeen area. Definitely do thorough research on Trip Advisor about the area you choose and the lodging before booking. There's plenty of affordable options in Hong Kong, but it is massive. My best advice would be to stay near an MTR station, or near the attraction you're most interested in.

The nearest MTR- Hong Kong's metro rail- was about a 10 minute walk for my speed. I can't speak highly enough about Hong Kong's metro rail: it's clean, quick, cheap and easy to use. I got an Octopus card instead of a single use pass for the metro. You pay $150 HKD for the Octopus card upfront (about $19 usd). MTR will process a refund for any unused funds, less a $9 HKD fee. I was able to ride to all of my destinations and some without having to reload it but I did use all of the funds in 4 days. You can also pay for taxi rides, food and other store items with the Octopus card. It's like a prepaid credit card that was accepted most everywhere in the city.
Side note: Uber is also available in Hong Kong.

Your ticket around Hong Kong: $150HKD for initial purchase w/ability to reload.
You can only pay in HKD to purchase and reload of the card (no credit payments).

Since I was only staying for 4 days, I narrowed my list to a few sights and things to do:

  • Big Buddha and Ngong Ping Village
  • Day trip to Macau
  • Victoria Peak
  • Repulse Bay
  • Hong Kong city tour
  • Ladies Market
  • Stanley 
Whenever I'm visiting a new place I check to see if there's a red bus tour available. Hop on, hop off tours are easy, affordable ways to get a city tour, and to "hop off" and explore its major attractions. Hong Kong actually has several big bus type companies to choose from. I went with Big Bus Tours and got more than my money's worth. Not only did I get to see everything on my priority list, I also got to experience some things that weren't on my radar. I bought the Premium ticket with Night tour. The Premium ticket allowed me to ride all three routes offered for up to 48 hours, and included a night tour that culminated with the Symphony of Lights show on the skyline harbor. The ticket also included a free, roundtrip Peak Tram ride up to Victoria Peak, a free Sampan ride in Aberdeen, and a free, roundtrip ride across the harbor on the Star Ferry.


View from the Star Ferry ride, from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hong Kong central. 5 minute ride.

More boss views of that flawless Hong Kong skyline. No shortage of skyscrapers here.
For Dark Knight Fans, this is the IFC building that Batman scaled in
The Dark Knight rises (one of my all-time FAV movies!!)

Braving the top of the bus thru Central on the Big Bus red route. 
It's very HOT this time of year in HK!

Forced smile at the harbor-108 degree heat index in Fall. Whew.

The queue for the the Peak tram. Thankfully, the line moved fairly quick.

Worth the wait!

Partial view of Hong Kong skyline from the Star Ferry terminal.
Shout out to Black & Abroad apparel.

The next day I ventured off to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha. From my MTR station, the complete journey was a little over an hour: 30 mins by train to Tung Chung station, then about another 45 by bus from Tung Chung to Lantau. While I opted for the bus, most people chose the Npong Ping cable car, which is a 25 minute journey from Tung Chung station to Lantau, plus a 10 minute walk to the entrance. The bus let us off right in front of the entrance, and the ride up was quite scenic. I enjoyed it a lot.

Easy directions to Tung Chung station.

Easy directions in Tung Chung station guiding me to the 23 bus to Big Buddha statue.

Bus terminal is across the road from the train station.

The ride on the way to Lantau, no justice.

Beautiful Lantau hillside.

Hong Kong has a subtropical climate. It was HUMID and hot, even though it's Fall there now. The heat index was easily 100+ every day. Nevertheless, I braved all 268 steps to see Big Buddha in full splendor.

Entrance before the climb.

Half way up

Stunning. Peaceful. Worth every step and some.

Wind wouldn't let me be great.

Souvenir shopping after the descent back down.

Much needed refreshment!

Strolled over to the Ngong Ping Village after but it was too hot to finish.
There are more stores and Lantau Island activities inside.

I spent several hours in Lantau but it was still early when I left. I hopped back on the Big Bus once back in Hong Kong, and took the Stanley route tour, which hit Repulse Bay and Aberdeen along the way. I got to take a Sampan boat ride, and see the fishing community. It was pretty neat.

Hazy day at Repulse Bay; there's a small, manmade beach down below as well.

Sampan boat ride experience.

Floating Jumbo Restaurant at Aberdeen- reservations required.
Cool to just ride by and revel in its beauty.
Video of my experience on the Sampan boat ride can be seen on my Instagram page: @toobusytraveling. 

It was the perfect way to end the day. While Hong Kong is most known for it's enormous city scape, it's good to see that there is also reprieve in the countryside, and plenty of culture to experience.

I rounded out my daytime trips with a visit to Macau on the final day. As with Hong Kong, U.S. citizens do not need a visa to Macau (no stamps here, either). It is known as the Vegas of China. It's unique in that is was once colonized by Portugal and their influence is still quite prevalent there, from the language to the infrastructure. You can read about my experience in Macau here.

A glimpse into Macau from the historic center, Senado Square. 

The evenings in Hong Kong were reserved for experiencing the night markets- I LOVE NIGHT MARKETS! As mentioned, I was walking distance to the Temple Market and the popular Ladies Market. The Ladies Market is several, several alleyways long, and you can literally buy anything, I mean anything there. From purses to jewelry to electronics to knock off designer clothes, they have it all. Bargain on everything, and keep your wits about you. The area is relatively safe but still very busy and crowded. I was able to get some souvenirs but none of the jade I was hoping for piqued my interest. Maybe next time.

The night time is the right time in Kowloon!

Street food galore while you shop and sightsee.

Ladies Market

Hong Kong is MASSIVE, and there are a ton of things to do. For those planning longer stays, I'd recommend the Discover Hong Kong website. It was helpful for me and my quick trip. They list upcoming events, and give advice on how to see the city and surrounding areas on your own or with a tour company. The Mid Autumn Festival was happening when I was there, so I got to see a lantern lighting and dragon festival in addition to all other things I'd planned. If turn-up or a lively happy hour is your thing, then there is plen-ty to be had in Central Hong Kong near the Lan Kwai Fong area (an expat's haven).

I saw tons of diversity here compared to what I see in Korea. Lots of Europeans and LOTS of Southest Asians. Interestingly, I was still a unicorn for many of the people here. We're still gonna call it Black Girl Magic. They're totally smitten by my presence. Yep, that's it. :-)

As with most things, there are pros and cons to these trips. Full disclosure:


  • There is literally something for everyone: the solo traveler, families (there's Disneyland Resort nearby), couples, the budget traveler and the luxury traveler. Though I'm not quite "about that life", I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Hong Kong bullies all other major cities on the luxury front. They have the most billionaires in the world, most skyscrapers in the world, most high end shopping malls per square area...so there's debauchery aplenty if you're looking for it.
  • MTR makes traversing the city proper and outer areas of Hong Kong very easy and affordable
  • The SKYLINE, my god the SKYLINE, day or night, overcast or clear day- It is marvelous!
  • TONS of shopping opportunities. Seriously, even the "little" malls are massive compared to the malls stateside or elsewhere. I visited IFC, Harbour City and Langham Place and was not disappointed.
  • The official language of Hong Kong is Cantonese followed by Mandarin and English. I had no issues with a language barrier.

  • I did not mention my hotel because I don't recommend it. It was clean and efficient, and I literally only slept there since I was out and about from sun up to the wee hours of the following morning. Be really careful with what you choose. I was happy with the accommodations but the customer service lacked all around, and I think I could have got a slightly better area for the price. Most things I was unsure of, I had to figure out for myself since the front desk staff was largely useless. Meh
  • If you have and love your pink lungs, prepare for the chain smoke that is virtually inescapable. My GOD, it seemed that EVERYONE in this city smoked. From the young women and kids on up to the very elderly, damn near everyone was sucking a cancer stick. And it totally consumes the air. It got so bad that I knew I was going to come home sick (not to mention the drastic temperature drop in Seoul that I was NOT prepared for upon return). Make Emergen-C or Airborne your friend as soon as you get home. The second hand smoke is too real.
  • This may be a pro for someone else but I was totally not expecting 90%+ humidity and triple digit heat indexes in the Fall. Yes, I checked the weather and saw low 80s with high chances of rain. Mother had other plans, I sweated out every outfit I brought. That coupled with the cigarette smoke that consumes the air made breathing a lil unpleasant for a mild asthmatic like myself. I endured.
  • I'm always open to dine where the locals eat, I believe it enhances the experience. The food was absolute struggle in Hong Kong for fake ass vegetarians like me. I tried, though. I really did. But there was at least one day where my stomach growled nearly the entire day. There are western options, but the food doesn't taste the way you're used to it, so even that was a fail. Most of the money I spent in excess, went toward finding decent food for my tastes.

This was supposed to be creme brûlée. It was more like eggs over easy with sugar on top.
Did I mention I HATE eggs? No custard in sight. :-(

"Chinese soup"; they made no mention of the snail as part of the delicacy.

Not bad but not that good: fragrant rice (delish), Hainanese chicken (no flavor), veggies and more "Chinese soup"
 The tequila sunrise saves the day.

The $12 salad featuring iceberg lettuce, pre-poured caesar dressing, croutons and about 4 meager sized shrimp. Mercy me.
Pescatarian struggle: there is plenty of beef, pork, squid, octopus, insects and other unidentifiable delicacies to be had for those who indulge. 
Found Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at the Peak shoppes...YAY!
Oh heavens, cajun shrimp and bread. The real thing, too.

God saw my struggle and had mercy on me. Amen for this broiled fish 'n shrimp entree.

Street juice made on site. I had SEVERAL of these a day at $25HKD, or $3 usd.

Pick your pleasure, the prices can't be beat!

Pineapple, passionfruit, beets and carrots. My go-to breakfast, and sometimes dinner. Nom nom.

Seen in Langham Place, Mong Kok, Kowloon. Fitting!
All in all I had a blast and did everything I wanted to do and some. Thanks to some diligent research I got my culture junkie fix, my tourist fix and I ventured to other, nearby locales in just four days time. There's so much more that I knew I didn't have time for; I barely scratched the surface so I will be back (during a cooler month), and I'd definitely recommend a visit Hong Kong!

Here today, Hong Kong tomorrow. Until next time!

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  1. Nice!! I'm currently living in Korea as well, and I'll be heading to Hong Kong for a long weekend in January! Cool post!!


  2. Fantastic adventure you had there :-). You managed to squeeze a lot into just a few days. I think with proper planning, you can be frugal and travel nicely as you have shown in this post. Hong Kong had never been on my list and l added it a few months ago, this post just might move it up a notch :-)

  3. WOW! This is awesome and beautiful. You traveled there alone? For real?!?! OMG!! How did you manage with the languages etc? Who took those solo photos of you? EVERYTHING done here looks GREAT!! Good for you my dear. Thanks for sharing this travel experience.

  4. Hong Kong has never been high on my list, but it looks like you had an amazing time. I am sure I will get over there sooner or later when I least expect it. Great that they have Uber there as well. I am guessing that means buying a sim card there would be more necessary.

  5. It looks like you had an AMAZING trip! We're living in Japan right now and when my mom comes to visit in March, we're going to Shanghai and Beijing. I so wish we had time to fit in Hong Kong too.

    All the Best,
    Allison | www.LiveLifeWellBlog.com

  6. Looks amazing, I would love to travel more. How is it traveling alone?

  7. Hong Kong is such a great destination. We visited in 2013 and stay out in Kowloon at the Crown Plaza. The hotel was exceptional. We also had challenges with food. My travel partner is Muslim so all pork items were out, the local food didn't appeal to us, so we ate at California Pizza Kitchen a lot. Other than that, we had an exceptional time and can't wait to go again.

  8. Wow that is soooooo amazing! I've never even been to another country but I definitely hope to one day.

  9. Great pictures. I'm glad you did get some food that was good. I love the black and abroad shirt.

  10. OMG take me with you on your traveling quest! I want to go to Tokyo this year but Hong Kong is on my list too. I pinned this for future references because I have ideas where to go now!

  11. Hong Kong is on my list of places to check out, but I'm worried about the food! LOL And judging by your experience I have the right to be LOL!

  12. Great information. I actually hadn't thought much about going to Hong Kong but perhaps I will reconsider. You got a great price.