Hong Kong has always held a place close to my heart. My mother and her family immigrated here from Hong Kong years ago, so it has always been an important place to me. Ever since I was small, Hong Kong seemed like a faraway place, a marker in my family’s history. I had always wanted to visit, so when my mom told me we would be going this spring break, I was ecstatic! I had so many expectations for the trip, and even though I was only there five days, they were all fulfilled and more.
Hong Kong is an incredibly bustling city with different facets and features to it. One second, you’re pushing your way through a busy MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station, and the next you’ll be strolling next to the sparkling ocean at Stanley Plaza. And speaking of the MTR, it’s just like BART, but a million times better and totally not like BART at all. The subway comes every five minutes, there are glass panels up to block the tracks from people waiting, people are all pretty quiet and keep to themselves and it’s pretty clean as public transport goes. It’s safe to say it was a total breath of fresh air coming from more than a year of dealing with BART and AC Transit.
The food is another highlight. Hong Kong is a food-lover’s paradise, so it’s hard for me to remember every restaurant we went to. There’s some version of 85º Cafe or Sheng Kee Bakery on every corner, and there are plenty of boba places to keep you satisfied. Foods from all over Asia fill the streets and dim sum is taken very seriously. I’d definitely recommend just trying one of the street food options or hole-in-the-wall restaurants. They probably won’t give you water or a napkin, but the noodles and char siu (barbecue pork) make it all worthwhile.
The moment we arrived, I was a little disoriented by the countless skyscrapers, busy streets and cars driving on the wrong side of the road, but I immediately loved it all. From the incredible congee/jook (rice porridge) in the mornings to the busy Wan Chai district where we stayed, every part of the trip was magical. Not only is Hong Kong an incredibly fast-paced and international city, but it is also a place with a deep history and a distinct culture that sets it apart from other places I’ve been to in the world.
I somehow spent most of my trip up in the air, above the city, so it was only fitting that I found myself at one of the highest points above the city within a few hours of hopping off the plane. We took the Peak Tram up, which has been around since the late 1880s. For any Los Angelenos or fans of “La La Land,” it’s a lot like Angels Flight! The line was pretty crazy and getting a seat in the tram involved a lot of pushing and speed-walking past people to stay with your group, but the views from the tram were totally worth it. Once you make it to the top, you can go up to the Sky Terrace, which basically gives you a 360-degree view of the island, the city and the ocean. Despite the smog and clouds, it’s incredible to behold. The sprawling and very vertical city is surrounded by lush green hills and water.
Yeah, amusement parks are a little cheesy and a bit overpriced for many, but this park isn’t to be missed. Why? Because they have pandas! That’s literally all you need to know. My trip was made when I saw the cuties stuffing themselves silly with bamboo. My mom and I agreed that we could go home right then and there because we had seen all we needed to see. Not only does Ocean Park have pandas, but it also has some pretty sick rides, such as an oceanside sky tram and a VR roller coaster. It’s a great place to bring out your inner child and just have some pure, unabashed fun (and see pandas)!
While it was a long journey through lines of tourists waiting to get on the cable car up to the island, the hours of waiting were totally worth it for the incredible views on the way up and the gorgeous views of the South China Sea when you get there. The cable car is called the Ngong Ping 360, which takes you up to the Tian Tan Buddha, the Ngong Ping Plaza and the Po Lin Monastery. You can either take a normal cable car or one with a glass bottom. The glass-bottomed cable car was certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s a crazy experience to be flying past miles of the coast and mountains! You can also see the hiking trail below, where some extremely brave hikers make the long trek over the mountains rather than take the sky cable car. It’s a 25-minute cable car ride high in the air until you make it, which is pretty terrifying if you don’t like heights like me, but after a few minutes, I was too busy being blown away by the sights to be scared.
When you first get off the cable car, you arrive in a cute little touristy village that you have to walk through before you can get to the Giant Buddha. We didn’t try all of the food options, but we did try Honeymoon Sweets, which had some amazing traditional Chinese desserts. I ordered the almond tea with sago, which was a super fresh and sweet almond milk soup with tapioca in it — I would highly recommend it. After walking through the village, you’ll walk past a row of statues and, if you’re lucky, a bunch of water buffalo just chilling on the grass. After walking up the steps to the Tian Tan Buddha, you’ll be tired but also totally awestruck by the view. The Giant Buddha is cool to take pictures with, but it’s also an important landmark for Buddhists, so it’s important to remain respectful of the people who are there for religious purposes. The ocean on one side is bright blue and sparkling, and the rolling green hills on the other side is just as majestic. It’s a fantastic landmark and a totally gorgeous view that you definitely can’t miss.
Think European seaside village on the Mediterranean, but put it in Asia and on the South China Sea. You’ve got Stanley! This perfect day-trip town overlooks the clear bay with pubs, restaurants and an adorable shopping area. There are vendors on the side of the cobblestone path and people with their families enjoying the sunshine. Down the street, Stanley Market is a fun jumble of vendors and shops selling little gifts and trinkets geared toward tourists. If you walk past the H&M, you’ll find a little trail that will take you up a hill for some beautiful views of the bay and the lovely Pak Tai temple in a former pirate’s cove. Stanley is easily one of the most Instagrammable places in the world, so don’t miss out on this little gem by the sea! Its quaint atmosphere and relaxing feel is easily accessed by a double-decked bus from the busy city.
While I spent most of my time on Hong Kong Island, I did manage to get over to the mainland for a bit. We took the Star Ferry over and landed at Kowloon, which is filled with big hotels and shopping centers. Definitely take a little walk through the Peninsula Hotel — it’s incredible fancy and does a mean afternoon tea. For any history buffs out there or anyone interested in learning more about Chinese history, and Hong Kong’s more specifically, definitely check out the Hong Kong Museum of History! Hong Kong’s history of dynasties, British colonialism, ethnic groups and traditions is fascinating, especially for an American whose history education has been very Eurocentric. It’s a nice walk through the ages that will only take you about two hours, so you’ll have lots of time to explore the rest of the city and the amazing food around!
There’s so much more of this vibrant city I didn’t get to explore in my five short days there. I can guarantee you that if you visit, you’ll be planning your next trip the moment you leave. It’s a city of business, shopping, culture and a history of colonialism. In all its years of existence, Hong Kong has forged its own distinct feel from the rest of the world. It’s vibrant and fast-paced, but it’s not hard to find some calm in the mountains or by the ocean. Whether it be the tasty food or iconic skyline, Hong Kong is impressive without even trying. If you ever find yourself there, you’ll find yourself falling in love with this city fast, so make sure to take a deep breath and just enjoy the view.
Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].