Three full weeks in Taiwan seemed like a bit much so we decided to take a quick side trip to Hong Kong. Roundtrip tickets to Hong Kong from Taipei are pretty cheap (~$150 USD) so it was a natural choice. We took the train from the Kaohsiung main station to Taoyuan train station and took a bus to the Taoyuan (Taipei) International Airport. It’s about a 5 hour train ride and this time we didn’t have people standing behind us or in the aisle. Our flight was scheduled for 6:50 PM and our train arrived at 2:30 PM so we had plenty of time to make our flight. The flight arrived in Hong Kong at 8:30 PM and we headed to our Airbnb. At the airport, we bought the Airport Express pass, which is good for an Airport Express train from the Airport to the city and for 3 consecutive days of unlimited Metro and bus rides. You can buy this pass online ahead of time or at the airport, Airport Express stations, and Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stations. We were only staying in Hong Kong for 3 full days, so this pass was perfect for us even though it was about $45 USD per person, it was worth it. Our Airbnb in Hong Kong was in Mong Kok on the Kowloon Pennisula, the most densely populated portion of Hong Kong. We rode the subway from the Hong Kong MTR station to the Mong Kok MTR Station. The first thing we noticed was the size of the MTR stations. They were huge with really tall ceilings and masses and masses of people while still being really clean. It was around 10 PM on a Sunday so we were a bit surprised how many people were out and about, but we soon figured out that this was the norm in Hong Kong. We got to Mong Kok around 10:40 PM and there was another mass of people on the streets, bright lights, and stores everywhere. The entrance to the apartment was a little hard to find but we eventually found it and went to bed.
On our first full day of Hong Kong we decided to go to Victoria Peak, which is supposed to have a great view of the city. We took the MTR back to the Hong Kong MTR station and there were even more people around than the night before. We went to the Peak Tower to buy our Peak Tram Sky Pass tickets that costs HK$ 83 ($10.69) for a round-trip tram ride from the Garden Road Peak Tram Lower Terminus to the top, entrance to the Sky Terrace 428 observation deck, as well as the audio tour. The Peak Tram took us from the ticket office up to the mountain and dropped us off in front of the mall and small shops at the top. The Sky Terrace 428 is on the top floor of the mall, 428 meters above sea level, which gives you a panoramic 360 degree view of downtown Hong Kong, Kowloon, as well as the coastline around the city. The view is pretty spectacular and doesn’t cost much to go up to the top. There are also other good views that are free around Victoria Peak if you just bought the tram tickets and not the Sky Pass. Just down the street from the tram stop is a lookout that has another great view of downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon. It was a little hazy the day we went but it was still pretty nice at the top of the terrace. We took the tram back down the mountain and decided to walk around the tram stop. We went to Hong Kong Park, which was pretty small and unimpressive and went to a Tea Museum in the park. The park is a nice break from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, but doesn’t stand out on its own as a cool sight to see.
This night we were doing a Couchsurfing event at a bar in a part of Hong Kong called Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). After a couple of weeks in Taiwan with little substantive interaction with other people, we were ready for comfortable English conversations with some younger people and some drinks. LPK is a club/bar area where lots of expats, tourists and locals go. Thursday night is ladies night in LPK and in some places ladies drink for free all night. The place we went to however, didn’t have ladies night but did have pretty cheap drinks ($4-6 USD) by Hong Kong standards. The majority of people at the event were Hong Kong locals who all knew each other. They were largely expats from Western Europe. After a couple of drinks, we had a pretty good time meeting people. Everyone had suggestions on what to see in Hong Kong and what they liked about the city. Trains stop running at midnight and we didn’t want to get stuck without a ride home, so we headed back the apartment around 11:15 PM. The bars/clubs we passed on the way home showed no signs of closing anytime soon and everyone seemed to be having a good time making us feel old. Being out and about in Hong Kong, we noticed that a lot of people here were very well dressed and attractive. A lot of power suits and smart business skirts in downtown Hong Kong during the day and at night, the women wore classy dresses and nice accessories. I felt a little underdressed with my backpacker’s wardrobe but who do I have to impress, right?
We were pretty hung over the next day and got up late. The plan was to head to Macau for the day. We didn’t get down to the ferry until around 11 AM and realized we didn’t take our passports with us so we didn’t end up going to Macau. Instead, we went to Stanley Market which was recommended by some of the people at the Couchsurfing event. Stanley Market is in the coastal town of Stanley south of the city. It takes about 45 minutes by bus from downtown to get there. It was a pretty warm day and we didn’t bring our swimsuit but there was a beach there, along with a mall, restaurants, and fancy shops all around Stanley. The actual Stanley Market is just like a regular street market that we’ve gone to around Asia, minus the food. There were lots of little shops selling pictures, paintings, clothes, toys, etc. Apparently, Stanley is a huge dog community and the town has plaques around town stating that various world records for dog walking, dog yoga, and other mass dog events happened in Stanley. There are also lots of shops dedicated to dog clothes, toys, and grooming. It made us miss our dogs but all in all we weren’t that impressed with the town or the market. We headed back and grabbed dinner at a brisket place that Diem researched. There was a bit of a wait outside but the brisket was absolutely delicious and served in a nice broth. You had the option of just a bowl of brisket ($20) or a bowl of brisket in noodles ($5), the extra brisket is probably not worth it but it was really good. We were still recovering from the night before so we went back to rest and get ready to actually go to Macau tomorrow.
I’ll write more about Macau in a separate post. It was good to see, but a little underwhelming compared to Vegas. We caught the ferry back from Macau back to Hong Kong around 5:30 PM so that we would arrive in Hong Kong around sunset. We watched the sunset by the pier and then made our way back to the Victoria Peak Tram so that we could see the Hong Kong skyline at night. Going up the tram was pretty crowded but the wait wasn’t that bad. We had to wait for 3 trams to come and go with full loads before we could get on. This time we didn’t pay for the Terrace 428 entry and instead just went to the terrace along the walkway next to the tram. The skyline was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. We heard there was a light show at 8 PM but I think we might have just missed it because we got to the top around 8:30 PM. That was a bummer but we still came away happy. We took some pictures and then made our way back to the tram to go down, or so we thought.
The line to get on the tram down the mountain was backed up for what seemed like forever. We stood in line for a bit but the line wasn’t moving and we knew the last tram was at 10 PM so we looked for other ways down the mountain. We saw a cab and asked him to take us down the mountain. I guess he knew the demand because he quoted us $300 HKD (~$40 USD) for what should have been a $10 USD ride. We kindly said no, and looked for the bus that went down the mountain. We saw the line, which was pretty bad but not nearly as long as the tram line was. The line was actually split into two lines and we got in what we thought was the shorter line. The bus came about 10 minutes later and we weren’t too hopeful that we could get on. The bus was a pretty big double-decker but there were a lot of people in front of us. However, for some reason the other line stopped getting on the bus and our line kept cramming on board. I kept thinking that the bus was full but our line kept moving and we got on. We thought we were going to be the last ones on but the bus driver kept letting more people on. There were probably 20 more people after us that got on and we were packed tightly on board like sardines. The ride usually takes 45 minutes down a windy road because the bus makes frequent stops on the mountain. Tonight though, the bus wasn’t stopping until the bottom. We saw some frustrated people trying to wave down our bus as we flew by. We were very grateful the bus didn’t stop because we just wanted to get down as fast as possible and felt fortunate to get on the bus in the first place. We caught one of the last metro trains back to our apartment at the bottom of the mountain and went to bed because we had to pack and leave for Taiwan tomorrow.
Our flight was scheduled for 5:30 PM to go back to Taipei so we basically had a full day in Hong Kong. During our night out with the Couchsurfing crew, one of the guys really recommended that we go to the top of the Ritz Carlton where there is a bar called Ozone. He said that each drink is about $200 HKD (~$26 USD) minimum but that the view was worth it. We don’t really have the budget to splurge too often but we were smitten with Hong Kong so we decided to experience the view from the other side of the island. We weren’t able to go there at night but we saw that they had a bottomless champagne brunch at a couple of their restaurants. One restaurant was Ozone on the 118th floor and the other was Tosca on the 102nd. There were different options for each restaurant depending on what type of champagne you wanted. We looked up both restaurants and found out that Tosca was a Michelin starred, cheaper, and still had amazing views and champagne that we really liked (Veuve Clicquot) so we chose that one.
Brunch was from 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM and we were there early to get our money’s worth. We were one of the first people in and were able to explore the entire floor. It was a beautiful room with a huge chandelier, fountain, amazing views of the city, and quite a spread of food. The buffet included lobster, foie gras, prime rib, lamb, salmon, tuna, a variety of meats, cheeses, salads, and a wonderful dessert bar. I think we did a pretty good job of pacing ourselves throughout the entire meal. We stayed the entire time the restaurant was open. I did 6 rounds of food and lost count of the champagne we drank but by the end of the meal we were really full and well buzzed for our train to the airport and flight to Taipei. This meal was definitely a treat and I would say it was worth it even though I typically don’t like spending that much on food in general but the combination of the view, food, and champagne was definitely worth the price ~$230 USD for both of us.
Hong Kong reminded me a lot of New York. The tall skyscrapers, diverse community, busy streets, subways, and amazing food are really something to experience. I found it to be a nice mix of mainland China (both Cantonese and Mandarin) and the West. It’s not too hard to find English speakers, menus, and signs, while still being immersed in Chinese culture. It’s not as expensive as New York or London, but it’s not cheap. As you can see in our budget so far, we almost spent as much in the 4 days in Hong Kong and Macau as we did during our entire time in Taiwan. However, Hong Kong is a wonderfully modern, memorable, and classic city that we’ll definitely have to return to. As the saying goes, “You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” - Nury Vittachi.
See the full gallery here: Hong Kong