First-timer’s guide to Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, prepare to be amazed by the contrast of the modern with the old, with the amount of people on the streets and especially with the food. The lights of the skyscrapers at night and the Buddhist temples, give an even more divergent and special touch to the place.
Hong Kong was colonized by the British and only in the late 1990s became one of the Administrative Regions of China (the other is Macau). The colonial phase has greatly influenced the culture of the place, and now it is possible to find a mixture of East and West in Hong Kong.
Despite having 7 million inhabitants, receiving more than 50 million visitors a year and having one of the busiest ports in the world, Hong Kong is not the final destination of many travelers. Some people visit "only" because they are in Asia and decide to take a little leap there, or just enjoy a few hours of connection, which is really pity.
With the numbers above, you can imagine that the place is quite chaotic, right? There are a lot of people in the subway stations, in the malls and in the street markets. But still it is possible to find quieter streets, in places a little further away, that are a true refuge.
If you are planning your first visit to Hong Kong, read on to find out what you can do there and enjoy what the city has to offer.
Practical information to visit Hong Kong
Visa: Most nationalities are allowed to enter the country for a certain amount of days without the need to apply for a visa. Check here if that is your case.
Currency: Hong Kong dollar (HKD).
Language: Chinese, but English is perfectly used and even street signs are in both languages.
Transportation: The subway covers a good part of the city and can be used at various times. Buy the Octopus card to make it easier to get around. The first purchase costs HK$ 150 and then you recharge according to your needs. There are taxi drivers in several places, but often they do not want to use the meter.
What to do in Hong Kong
When planning a trip to Hong Kong consider the unpredictability of the weather. Do not stress yourself with a fixed itinerary and be open to changes. With that in mind, keep reading to find out what to do in there.
From Victoria Peak you can have the classic view of Hong Kong, with the buildings of Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the Bay. To get there, go to the Central subway station (blue or red line) and head towards the Peak Tram. The tour starts at the Peak Tram (you can use the Octopus to pay) and after this short ride, you will have access to several shops, restaurants and a viewpoint, but this one is not so impressive.
For a better view, postcard worthy of Hong Kong, you will need to buy a ticket to go to Sky Terrace 428 - choose to go on a good weather day, so that nothing obstructs the visibility.
A 34-meter statue of the Buddha sitting high on a mountain is one of the must-see attractions for anyone going to Hong Kong.
The Giant Buddha is located in Lantau, so it takes some time to travel there (reserve at least half a day for this tour). It is better to go when the weather is good, so that the Buddha is not obscured by the clouds.
To get there, go to the Tung Chung subway station (orange line) and then head to the Ngong Ping Cable Car. The 6 km to the entrance of the complex is accessible in a cable car that, for an additional value, has glass floor.
When you reach the top, if you want to get closer to the Buddha, climb the 268 steps and take some time to admire the mountains and calmly visit the complex. If you have time, visit the nearby Po Lin Monastery too.
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a not very visited place. When we were there, we found a quiet, serene place, with very few people around, quite unlike many places in Hong Kong.
Away from the more touristy areas of Hong Kong, getting to the monastery is not so difficult. The nearest subway station is the Sha Tin (light blue line) and on leaving the station you need to head towards the mall and enter the street lateral to it - the entrance is a paved path surrounded by trees.
After arriving at the entrance is when the challenge begins: there are 431 steps to actually reach the top of the monastery, and the heat and humidity can make the task less enjoyable. But along the way you will have the company of 500 statues of Ahrat (one who has already attained enlightenment) each different from one another.
The place is not a functioning monastery, since no monks live there. In total there are 5 temples, 4 pavilions, one pagoda and one veranda. Of the temples, the main one is the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas, that in fact does not have only 10,000, but 13,000 statues of Buddha that go floor to the ceiling, covering all walls.
The monastery was founded in 1949 and finished in 1957 by the Reverend Yuet Kai, who dedicated his adult life to Buddhism. Although he was in old age, he joined the other disciples to personally carry the temple building materials to the top of the mountain.
About the founder: Just after leaving home, the Rev. Yuet Kai burned two fingers of his left hand. Then he cut a piece of his breast so that he could divide them and so light up 48 lanterns in oil and offer them to Buddha, making 3 votes to show his dedication: Never seek a life of luxury; read and study all the Buddhist scriptures; and benefit the greatest number of people through the spread of Buddhism.
Entry is free and it is prohibited to take photos inside the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Street markets are part of Asian culture. In Hong Kong, Temple Street Night Market is the best known, with opening hours from 4 pm to midnight. The nearest subway station is Jordan (red line).
There you can find several stands selling bags, clothes, bags, cell phones, pen drives, and everything else. The quality of everything can be questioned, but you can go just to look and eat something, as there are also restaurants nearby that sell local food.
For those who want to buy something, the slogan in these places is: negotiate. The initial price is always inflated, considering that the customer will bargain until the reduction.
Find photogenic places
Walking around without a destination in Hong Kong is guaranteed to find photogenic places. But if you want to go with a certain purpose, be sure to check out Old Town's street arts and antiques shops spread around the area.
Another attraction that is not touristic, but has become very popular is the basketball court of Choi Hung Estate, which is one of the oldest and most famous housing estates in Hong Kong and has gained tremendous visibility because of social media.
Boat ride in Victoria Harbor
The boat ride across the bay is one of Hong Kong's most popular tours, from which you can see both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
But if you do not want to go on a boat trip, at least try to go to Victoria Harbor to see the Hong Kong skyline (go in the late afternoon and enjoy the change of lighting of the buildings with the arrival of the night).
Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights is a free music and lighting show that takes place every night at 8 pm and lasts about 15 minutes. If you have already seen the show in other cities, you can skip this part, if you want.
For those who enjoy it, Hong Kong has several malls with numerous luxury stores - and all the shops are tax free. So, if you have a shopping list, take the time to visit one of them. If you want visit just one, then go to Harbor City.
Hong Kong was a wonderful surprise and we'll be back. Thank you for your visit and I hope you enjoyed it.