Hong Kong is a vibrant, energetic, and international city. We were lucky to be guided by a local – my friend Joyce Lam. We were classmates at the Grey Coat Hospital School for Girls in London and were reunited after over 10 years!! She was a perfect tour guide and it was wonderful to see her after all these years in her home city. She packed many activities into 2 days and kept us on our toes. Here is a sampling of the places we visited:
About an hour out of the city, on Lantau Island, there is the largest sitting buddha statue in the world. We travelled by MTR (the Hong Kong public underground system) to Lantau Island, and from there, took a cable car up the mountain. This was a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city to a place touched by a more historic and serene Chinese vibe. There were many Buddhist worshippers there to pay their respects to this gigantic representation of Buddha. We climbed up the 240 steps and circled the statue before descending down to the temple and sampling a local dessert made from soybean curds. This is a great place to visit if you are in Hong Kong.
Mong Kok Market
Mong Kok market is one of the most in your face experiences that Hong Kong has to offer. Meat, produce, clothing, and toys, are all for sale in this street market that is teeming with people, smells, and energy. We got some fresh young coconuts and a Chinese opera mask. Remember – everything is negotiable unless you want to get ripped off – and if you’re not local, you will be targeted! We found the best way to buy something is by passive haggling, as defined by Tushar. Passive haggling is when you act like you are interested, ask for the price(because nothing has a price on it), and when the merchant gives it to you, just walk away… YEP – don’t be afraid to walk away because they will almost always follow you or start to shout lower prices. Keep saying no and they will haggle themselves down in price. We haggled this lady down from $240 down to $100 without even trying. Oh by the way, keep your impulse in check because you will be overwhelmed, excited, and ready to drop cash – our advice is hold off until you are confident you are getting a really great deal. We got such a good deal that we actually felt bad about it later on in the day.
Tsim Cha Tsui
This elite shopping paradise posed a great contrast to Mong Kok market as we walked through the streets of Hong Kong. A destination for the Asian elite, Tsim Cha Tsui, offers the most luxurious of brands, with the goods tweaked for Asian markets. Walking through the streets is a great way to view the various types of architecture in Hong Kong. On one end of the spectrum, you have older run-down buildings with tiny shops on the bottom and residential apartments up top. Be careful as you walk down the streets because people’s laundry will drip on your unsuspecting head!
Waterfront and skyline – lights show
We ended our walk through Kowloon at the waterfront overlooking Hong Kong Island. The sun had just gone down and crowds of people were gathering here to watch the upcoming laser and light show. This light show is a group effort between some of the most famous buildings on Hong Kong Island and is coordinated with some cheesy music. The skyline is fabulous though, and has more than twice as many skysrapers than New York. A ride fron Kowloon to Hong Kong Island on the famous Star Ferry is one of the must-do activities here.
On our first night in Hong Kong, we went for a walk to the pier and the bars. We couldnt help but to notice the pretty young women dressed up in scantaly clad clothing on every street there was a bar or club. We asked our friend Joyce what the deal was with the ladies in miniskirts hanging outside of bars and clubs, smoking cigarettes in small packs. They are working girls, the sex trade is big and very much legal in Hong Kong. It’s also hard not to notice the western men mingling and walking around with these young ladies. In fact, some of these ladies actually are looking for a western man to marry them. It was really creepy seeing older business gentleman walking around with girls probably a third of their age, but apparently the scene is safe.
One of the best and most famous views of Hong Kong can be seen from Victoria Peak. The drive up to the top takes about 30-45 minutes, traffic and weather permitting. The views of the city on the way up were quite spectacular; there were sharp winding turns alongside cliffs, and narrow lanes filled with buses, vans, and cars.
This is where Hong Kong’s elite live, we actually saw a few (massive) houses, a rare sight to see anywhere in Hong Kong. About half way up, we began encountering a light misty fog, and by the time we made it to the top, the fog was so thick it we were in it. We exited the car, went up the elevator, and walked out to the peak; the fog had really settled in and visibility was at about 20′. Big thick drops of rain started pounding us as we started taking pictures, so we decided to turn around and head back down; at that point our only option was to do more shopping or make our descent, the weather was forecasted to get worse by the hour, and it did.
Its amazing how much western culture has influenced the people of Hong Kong, from the over the top size advertising of Clinique ads plastered over every square foot of the MTR (Hong Kong Rail System) carriagess to Luis Vuitton and Apple ads all over the city. Hong Kong has a massive tourism industry and it offers an even bigger shopping experience. Malls are scattered everywhere, from remodeled historic buildings to massive concrete buildings with the world’s premier brands. There’s no doubt that you will have the shopping experience of a lifetime, if that’s why you come to Hong Kong. If you want to catch the feel of the local shopping experience, go to outdoor markets like Mong Kok and Stanley Market. There are plenty of outdoor/indoor malls as well, but make sure you don’t end up in tourist traps. The way you know if you’re in a tourist trap mall is if you recognize a store name you’ve seen in your home country. Go to where the locals shop, the experience and selection of quirky colorful clothing and gadgets will blow your mind. The shops are tiny, averaging 50-100sq’ each. Tons of variety and fashions you will not see anywhere else. The prices are more reasonable and you get to see something truly unique to Hong Kong.
On our final night we went to our friend Joyce’s mother’s home in the middle of Causeway Bay. Joyce picked a lovely faux-meat vegetarian restaurant called Gaia, there are several of these chain restaurants scattered throughout town. All of the dishes looked like and where named after various meats, like fish, chicken, pork, beef, you name it. We even ordered one dish which was made of taro root but was in the shape of a fish. The best dish the “pork” skewers in a malay sauce… YUM! We were shocked and happily surprised to find and eat at a full vegetarian restaurant in China, and there are actually many more.