Hong Kong is a truly vibrant and beautiful city. It is a city like New York, that never sleeps. From this towering skyscrapers, to its markets, to its beautiful city parks, to great hikes and its food. It is a city, that has so much to offer.
For us, it was the logical starting point in South East Asia to start our Trans Mongolian and Trans-Siberian railway journey of 10,000km to St Petersburg, Russia.
Hong Kong is officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (“HKSAR”).
Some Interesting Facts:
- Population: 7.5 million
- Size: 1,104 square kilometre
- Population destiny: Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It has 6,659 people per square kilometre, which ranks between 2nd and 3rd in the world for population density
- GDP per capita is USD$48,675 as per 2019
- 12th wealthiest country in the world
- Currency: HKD Dollars
- Apps to be used: MTR (“Massive Transport System”) app; Maps.me app; Travel Spend app
- Distance from Auckland, New Zealand: 9,500 km or 10.5 hours of flying time
Did one know Hong Kong Island was ceded to the British by the Qing Dynasty at the end of the First Opium War in 1842? It became a British colony.
The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.
The whole territory was transferred to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China under a principle of “one country, two systems”.
We had visited HK on two other occasions on our travel to Europe in previous years. We came back to Hong Kong as the 21-year anniversary of as handover to the Chinese was just around the corner. We wanted to experience this awesome city one more time. In high sight, I was correct with my prediction. Unrest hit the city in 2019.
NORTH POINT NEIGHBORHOOD
North Point neighbourhood was during WWII used as a Canadian prison of war camp during the Japanese invasion. After WWII, during the Chinese Civil war (1927-1949) middle and rich class people from Shanghai escaped China and settled here. It is also known as “Little Shanghai”.
Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, but if one plans their trip well it can be inexpensive or as expensive as one wants it to be.
We have had ACCOR hotel memberships for years. On other occasions, we had stay on Hong Kong Island as most Western hotels are located here. For this visit, we stayed at the IBIS Hong Kong North Point.
We choose North Point this time as our neighbourhood, simply for one reason we wanted a more authentic experience and not to be surrounded by other tourists. After all, we are not tourists, we are full time travellers. We therefore have different needs from tourists.
Well, I think we achieved it on most days, we were the only Europeans on the street.
We love Asia simply due to its food. Hong Kong is an inexpensive city to eat in. I had used the Pricetotravel.com to research the prices of eating out.
The local markets in every neighbourhood are council run and are in a white building. We love exploring the local markets as it tells you a lot about the culture.
We happened to find the Java Road Municipal Services Building on Java Road, North Point. What a find, as we were wandering around, we were greeted by this Grandmother. She could not speak any English, so her daughter came out to talk to us. Every day, we went to see them and Grandma cooked for us. What an authentic experience. It was such amazing food. I still have such fond memories. Go and visit Tung Po Kitchen at Java Road Municipal Service Building on the third floor for Cantonese food HKD$60, about NZD$12.
Bro Bakery at North point serve chicken and egg custard pies for HKD$30, about NZD$6. The chicken pies were in a sweet pastry, something we are not used to, but the joys of travel and an experience.
A cup of coffee at the various Starbucks in town will set you back HKD$35 or NZD$6.80..it was to be my last Starbucks for at least 20,000km so I think one has an excuse..
Public transport in Asia is another highlight for a train geek.
The Octopus Card, on the MTR (“Massive Transport System”), is available at Hong Kong International Airport at the MTR Ticket and Octopus Selling Machines at Airport Station. It costs HKD$150.
The Octopus Card is HKD$39 to purchase and one get HKD$111 value to be used on the trains. We however thought it would get us to Hong Kong Island – North Point.
We had to change trains at Central station, but our MTR cards did not work. We only had HKD$500 bank note on us, no coins to put into the ticket machines. It was an interesting travel moment being stuck in an underground train station. Some Australian travellers, who were on their way back from Beijing, China hear us talking and came over for a chat and helped us out with their left-over funds.
Download the MTR app and Google Maps in offline mode prior to leaving home. This will save one money on not getting a SIM card . Hong Kong is very easy to get around by MTR and by foot.
FREE THINGS TO DO IN HONG KONG
We love to walk in cities. On most months of our travels, we would walk 200km per month. Hong Kong was no different, we walked everywhere where possible.
This time we wanted to see different things from the normal tourist things (more suggestions later). We wanted to see original temples of Hong Kong. I had four listed, we made it to three in two days.
There are three original temples left on Hong Kong Island, being:
- Wan Chai Pak Tai Temple,
- Hung Sing Temple, and
- Man Mo Temple.
WAN CHAI PAK TAI TEMPLE
Wan Chai Pak Tai Temple is the largest temple in Hong Kong island.
One walks thru the local wet markets of the neighbourhood of Wan Chai. The street markets have all sorts of wares for sale. We love markets at the best of times, but seeing markets in Asia is something else. Such a wonderful part of daily life in Hong Kong. The Temple is located on Lung On Street in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.
Pak Tai Temple is a Grade 1 listed temple and heritage building. The Pak Tai Temple was built by local residents in 1862 during the Tongzhi reign of the Qing dynasty and was completed in 1863. The temple was declared a monument in 2019.
It is dedicated to God of Pak Tai, (Emperor of the dark heaven) for whom followers believe uses his spiritual powers to protect against disasters.
It is of typical 19th-century Chinese temple architecture with grey brick exterior, nice murals above the entrance, tiled decorative roofing. See the dragons upon the roof as well as the nicely carved stone dragons to the sides of the entrance as one walks into the beautiful historical temple.
The interior features a centre shrine with a three metres tall Ming Dynasty bronze cast of Pak Tai of 1603. The temple has a number of antique bells cast dating to 1863 and is decorated with a large number of lotus lanterns. It will leave an impression on you.
- OPENING HOURS: 8am to 5pm daily;
- COST: Free, and
- MTR STATION: Wan Chai
HUNG SING TEMPLE
Hung Sing Temple, is a Grade 1 listed temple and heritage building. It is a small temple, just on Queens Road East, the main road running through the centre of Wan Chai.
It was constructed in 1889 to enshrine Hung Sing, God of the Sea. Fishermen used to worship Hung Shing at this temple, which only makes sense when you realise that the temple used to be right on the shoreline. Astonishing as it is now, when the temple was built in 1847, it was directly across from the sea so Hung Shing was right at hand to protect them from both the ocean and bad weather. Now it is landlocked by reclaimed land and tall rise buildings. Imagine what Hong Kong would have been like in late 1880s.
In the main hall the most important god is of course Hung Shing but I was more intrigued by Kam Fa, the golden flower goddess who secretly learnt martial arts from her father and became a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor in the Tang dynasty.
- OPENING HOURS: 9am to 5pm daily;
- COST: Free, and
- MTR STATION: Wan Chai
MAN MO TEMPLE
The most revered of the three above Temples is Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. It is also one of the oldest Temples on Hong Kong island.
Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was, besides a place of worship, a court of arbitration for local disputes when trust was thin between the Chinese and the colonialists.
The Man Mo Temple sits quietly in the middle of towering skyscrapers, reminding passersby that the bustling financial centre used to be a fishing village. It remembers one of a bygone era. It must be my favourite Temple in Hong Kong.
The Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the god of literature (Man) and the god of martial arts (Mo), who were worshiped by students in ancient China that wished to pass their civil service exams. During ancient Chinese times, being a civil servant in the imperial government was a highly coveted position. The exam covered topics such as literature and knowledge of the classics.
The Temple is part of a complex, that spans three blocks and two alleyways to include the Kung Sor and Lit Shing Kung. Back in the day, the Kung Sor (which roughly translates to the modern-day district office) was used to settle disputes and discuss community affairs among the Chinese. The Lit Shing Kung was built for general worship of all heavenly gods.
The structure is built with a gable roof supported by ornate granite columns with traditional Chinese motifs. While the roof is adorned with woodcarvings and plaster mouldings, the interior is covered in murals and ceramic figurines. Enormous coils of incense hang from the ceiling of the temple with little red pieces of paper on them, containing the wishes of the worshipers.
From the moment one walks in, you are captivated by the smell of incense on all the wooden spirals suspended from the roof. We had visited this beautiful temple on a previous visit, it inspired us to visit just temples on this visit. A visit to this temple is highly recommended.
- OPENING HOURS: 9am to 6pm daily;
- COST: Free, and
- MTR STATION: Sheung Wan
SYMPHONY OF THE LIGHTS
A Symphony of Lights is a daily light and sound show. It is the world’s largest permanent light and sound show according to Guinness World Records. As of 2017, there are 42 participating buildings in the show.
Hong Kong has the world’s largest number of skyscrapers, with 317 towers taller than 150 metres and the third-largest number of high-rise buildings in the world. The lack of available space restricted development to high-density residential and commercial complexes packed closely together on buildable land. Single-family detached homes are extremely rare and generally only found in outlying areas.
Everyone that comes to Hong Kong, even if for a few hours or a week, should do the Symphony of the Lights
- WHERE: Best viewing spots are at Ave of Stars on Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, outside the Hong Kong Cultural centre on Kowloon;
- TIME: 8.00pm every night for 15 minutes;
- COST: Free, and
- MTR STATION: East Tsim Sha Tsui.
On the way back to our hotel, we took the Star Ferry from the Symphony of Lights
Star Ferry have been operating in Hong Kong since 1888. The ferry goes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It has been rated “Top 10 Ferry Rides in the World”. It is wonderful to see all the lights on Hong Kong harbour at night.
Until the opening of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1972, the Star Ferry remained the main means of public transportation between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side.
- WHERE: Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui or reverse
- COST: Monday to Friday HKD$2.70 or NZD$0.50; Weekends and public Holidays HKD3.70 or NZD$0.75 included in MTR card
- FREQUENCY: Every 20 minutes
- TIME: 6.30am to 11.30pm, takes 10 minutes to cross the harbour
A such nice way to finish the evening. Our neighbours happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time on holidays, so we have a great evening catching up with them after 22 months of living in Australia.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS MUST SEE IN HONG KONG
TIAN TAN BUDDHA, NGONG PING, LANTAU ISLAND
We came back to Hong Kong just to see and experience this beautiful Buddha. The mountains were covered in fog as we got up to the top of the Buddha, it made this experience so special to see the rain clouds rolling in over the South China Sea.
The Big Buddha, or Tian Tan Buddha is on top of Ngong Ping on Lantau island. It is the largest Bronze statue of a Buddha in the world completed in 1993.
The statue is sited near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong.
We have seen a number of other large Buddha statues around the world, but this was sensational.
The statue’s base is a model of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. One of the five large Buddha statues in China, it is enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar.
Surrounding it are six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These symbolise the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.
The statue is 34 metres tall and weighs over 250 tonnes, and was constructed from 202 bronze pieces. Visitors have to climb 268 steps to reach the Buddha. The Buddha’s right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction, while the left rests open on his lap in a gesture of generosity. He faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south. It is totally captivating standing on the platform looking this amazing creation.
There are also three floors beneath the statue: the halls of the Universe, of Benevolent Merit and of Remembrance. In the halls is a museum explaining how the Big Buddha was constructed. Very interesting actually, a bit like the museum at the Statute of Liberty in New York, USA.
We spent the whole day up here exploring in conjunction with Po Lin Monastery.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Take the Tung Chung Line to Tung Chung Station;
- Change stations to Ngong Ping Cable Car at Tung Chung station:
- Take the Cable car up to Ngong Ping Cable Car Ngong Ping Station
- Walk from there for about 15 mins, if one does not stop at the shops on the way up.
ONLINE OR QUEUE
I did not buy the tickets online; we just went to into the queue. If you buy the tickets online, you get to exchange your voucher and you don’t have to go into the first queue. Overall waiting time would have been 20 to 30 mins, then you wait another 20 mins to get into the cable car.
- Standard cabin, or
- Glass bottom cabin.
We opted for standard as I don’t like heights.
COST: HKD$470 for 2 persons, or NZD$92
PO LIN MONASTERY
Po Lin Monastery is a Buddhist monastery, located on Ngong Ping Plateau, on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. The giant Buddha statue is an extension of the monastery.
The monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu Province on the Chinese mainland and was initially known simply as “The Big Hut” . It was renamed to its present name in 1924.
The main temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives. The Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas is filled with all golden Buddhas. It was unbelievable to see something so exquisite.
The Monastery has a vegetarian restaurant onsite. The restaurant is located in the monastery grounds and provides a great alternative to the expensive touristy restaurants in the village. There are two options available – a set menu (with multi-course items) or a la carte order from the cafe. We went with the latter as it gave us the flexibility to pick and choose what we wanted to eat. We ate some really tasty fried vegetables, tofu, noodles, bean curd and mango pudding! All yummy.
- TIME: 11.30pm to 4.30pm
- COST: HKD$63 or NZD$12 for 2 persons for lunch
Nobody leaves the place without admiring the architecture of Po Lin Monastery, from the Chinese entry gates to the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It is break taking. It leaves an impression on one for the rest of your life… hoping to be able to return to Hong Kong in one day.
We were going to return to Hong Kong on our way home, as we are not done with this city. However, Covid19 got in the way.
To say “We love Hong Kong is an understatement” it is a city, that has so much to offer.