A few months ago I booked myself a long layover in Hong Kong en route to Cape Town. I had about 10 hours to run around the city in the sweltering heat and found myself drunk on euphoria, on the mere rush of it and I plan on going back sometime soon. I once heard that Hong Kong is like New York but on steroids, though I haven’t been to New York to make the comparison but I do live in Seoul, another mega city, and Hong Kong is definitely something else! There’s such a rush to it, a movement that can’t be explained, but you feel it in the streets, the atmosphere is a constant mirror of life spinning around you and you can’t stop, but you also don’t want to.
If you haven’t travelled to Asia before, I’d highly recommend a trip to Hong Kong! Throw away your fears of not speaking ‘the language’ because here, everybody speaks English. No seriously, everyone! You will have no trouble getting around, asking for directions or reading a map as I think most people fear a language barrier when looking into travel destinations. Keep your stereotypes aside, because this place is filled with surprises!
At the Airport
Once you walk out the Arrivals section everything is pretty straight forward. There’s a counter for you to drop off any excess luggage you may have and to get your rail ticket. When I got to the counter, not only did I get my ticket to Hong Kong station but I also bought a 1 day unlimited subway pass and took a fair few maps and guides for the train, which was free by the way. Most of the maps were in English and were very user friendly. I am extremely lazy with travel planning or just planning in general, so getting these maps at the airport was just what I needed. I mean, I didn’t go in blindly or anything, I had the subway map with me already and I knew more or less where I wanted to go. I highly recommend getting an unlimited subway card if you plan on moving around a lot throughout the day. Or if you’re like me and play things by ear, just get it anyway, it will give you peace of mind.
It’s pretty easy to get around Hong Kong via public transport. I downloaded the subway map before departure and it was pretty straightforward. The city is almost the size of the country so the subway map is super easy to navigate. I expected an efficient transport system, seeing that this is modern Asia where progress is everything, but I didn’t expect the subway to arrive every 2 minutes! I’m used to a 4-6 min wait in Seoul for subways and buses but this was new to me and what an amazing trait! Also, the subway connects all the tourist hot spots so you’ll have no trouble at all. I’m not sure if there’s WiFi on the subway but I did connect to free WiFi somewhere at the subway stations.
If you’re going to Hong Kong, chances are you’re going to end up at Victoria Harbour. The river seems to be endless so getting across the river by ferry can be quite a memorable experience. These ferries are dirt cheap and still run on an old token system which is surprisingly fun to use as you stand at what looks like a vending machine to get your token for the ferry. Little surprises like these just make the trip all the more memorable. Just the charm of it, the feeling that you’re being transported back to an older time in such a modern city is sweet and somewhat surreal.
*Unfortunately, I am not able to write about the trams in Hong Kong. Though they are plentiful and charming on their own, I wasn’t able to hop on one that day. But I would love to go again and experience more of the city!
Places to Go
The places you choose to visit on your trip is completely dependent on you and what type of experience you’re looking for. Because the country is so small and the subway system so well connected, you can visit a fair few of these spots in a day. There’s so much to see! HK’s top attractions on any list would probably be: Victoria Peak, The Big Buddha, Victoria Harbour and Disney World, to name but a few. The country has a lot to offer you and you’ll never regret seeing these places. But that’s not what I did. My main reason for visiting Hong Kong was to visit Arabica coffee shop. All I wanted to do was to enjoy a good cup of coffee in a new city relaxing at the harbour. Though there wasn’t much relaxing done that day, I sure did enjoy every bit of it. So here’s where I went.
There are countless access points to the harbour at various subway stations and ferry terminals that it’s almost impossible not to see it! I chose to take a ferry across the harbour because, a.) I thought that would be awesome and b.) because Arabica was at the Star Ferry terminal. I am not one for boats but it’s always when I’m travelling that I find it ever so appealing. The harbour boasts an amazing view of the city’s skyscrapers so it’s basically like being in every Instagram picture of the harbour, except it’s real! I loved being there, especially on the ferry because it was so hot & humid that when the drops of water lightly splashed my face I was incredibly grateful for something so refreshing. Also, August is probably not the best time to visit Hong Kong weather wise. Just saying.
I hope I never forget the charming streets of Wan Chai. I hope I don’t forget the band that played outside the station and how it gave life to an already exciting area. I hope I don’t forget the long road I walked through looking for a specific restaurant where I stopped to stare at the architecture, the buildings that puzzled me, the ones that surprised me. And the trams… the colourful, expressive, cute little trams that took over the road. There was so much to see in such a small space it thrilled me. I was so joyful in that moment I couldn’t believe it. I was completely in awe of everything! If there’s one place I’d go back to see, it’s these streets.
There’s nothing like roaming the streets of a new city, the feeling of excitement as you’re pushed between the hustle, between the music of the street performers, the everyday swarm of commuters, seeing the architecture and taking it all in. Kowloon is marvelously excessive. The shopping one can do in a day will most likely put you in a lifetime of debt. Hotels and designer stores line the streets of this bustling neighbourhood, whilst the old classic red taxis drive past you. It’s most certainly something for the eye. I walked from the Tsim Sha Tsui star ferry terminal to Kowloon Masjid which is right by Kowloon Gardens and it was the best decision I made that day. I also met an amazing woman at the Kowloon mosque and I am still in contact with her. She is one of the strongest women I’ve met and I am so thankful to have made the trip because of that.
Meeting people as you travel is arguably the most important thing. There’s so much to learn from other ways of life that we can receive a personal experience upon making contact. Because they offer us something we could never have learnt from a travel guide or even a blog post. Connecting people from different walks of life is why we travel, it’s to spread a message of love, of understanding and realising that we are always more similar than we are different and I think that’s an important lesson for all of us, especially in the time we’re living in. We need to travel. We need to cross borders. We need to open ourselves up to others, so we can be taught, so we can be humbled, so we can find love for one another. I hope this post inspires you to travel, and to travel more!
What are you waiting for?