On the way back from a work trip in Singapore, I decided to take advantage of disembarking in Hong Kong when returning home. The ticket costs the same, so why not. The beautiful thing about traveling, at least for me, is how much I learn and all the different people I meet. Travel forces you to get out of your comfort zone and truly get educated; you shed your misconceptions.
I did some initial research before my trip but intentionally left it pretty open to be able to wander and explore. I stayed in the Ovolo Hotel in Southside. The hotel is admittedly not in the prettiest area (an up and coming -perhaps- warehouse area south on the island of Hong Kong). The service is top notch. The front desk is super helpful and snacks and drinks are in the room and are included. You must book direct to get the free breakfast and nightly happy hour. The breakfast is comprehensive and has something for everyone. Learning #1: I thought Hong Kong was just Hong Kong. I learned that Hong Kong is comprised of about 250 islands. I had no idea.
I arrived Friday early afternoon. After dumping my suitcase at the hotel I immediately started exploring. The MTR (mass transit) is super easy to navigate, clean and gets you everywhere you want to go. Make sure to purchase an Octopus card when you arrive at the airport. Also note that although you can use your credit card to load the card at the airport, you have to have cash to top it off anywhere else. The rule of thumb is to push or be pushed. Know that people are not being rude, it’s just that with so many people if you do not push you get left behind!
I decided to get the must-do Star Ferry out of the way. It is easy to just walk down to the pier and pick it up and your Octopus card works there, too. Once over in Kowloon I walked the promenade and down all the shopping streets. When I returned to HK Island, I wandered a bit, walked through the Man Mo Temple and then headed to the hotel to enjoy the happy hour.
The next morning, I wandered and basically found the Botanical Garden and Zoo by accident. What a beautiful find! All shorts of monkeys, Orangutans and birds. There were plenty of flowers and the although very peaceful, it was cool to see the skyscrapers in the background.
I then headed to the Peak Tram. If lines drive you crazy, this is not the place for you! It was pure chaos and two hours of waiting and I was there at 10 a.m. You basically are up the hill in 10 minutes. The view was spectacular although a bit cloudy. I decided to hike down instead of deal with the crowds. I somehow ended on the Central Green Trail which was beautiful with plenty of greenery and glimpses of the skyscrapers below. A word of warning, though, it is very, very steep. It took me about 1.5 hours to walk down and when I arrived where I started, the line for the Peak Tram was even worse as it wrapped up and down the streets. I cannot imagine what the wait was at that time!
Next to the Peak Tram is one of the entrances for the Hong Kong Park. There are a lot of green spaces in the city which makes the craziness more tolerable, for sure. This park was amazing. The netted aviary was like no other I have seen. The birds roamed “freely” and as an observer you really felt like one with nature. There was also a pond and man made waterfall. There is a Museum of Tea Ware that is worth a visit and is right next door to the Lock Cha Tea House. I decided to have tea (extensive list) and dim sum. It was excellent and service was pleasant. I managed to walk about 12 miles on this day-my feet were sore but my soul was satisfied.
My last full day in HK was spent heading to Lantau to see the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha). The subway ride took about 25 minutes and is on the same island that the airport sits on. Once off the subway, a walk across the street lands you at the cable car facility for the ride up to the village where the Big Buddha sits. My wait for the cable car was an hour and you can buy the tickets in advance. Employees will try to sell you additional add-ons for tours while you are up on the mountain. The add-ons are completely unnecessary as you can easily navigate all the things to see yourself.
The cable car ride up is scenic and passes over water, green hills and homes. As you get closer you can see the Buddha off in the distance. Once you get of the cable car, you are forced to walk through the tacky gift shop and then through a small village of trinkets. Keep moving and get to what you came for! Walking up the many stairs to the Buddha is pretty cool and you begin to realize just how massive it really is. Walk up the stairs and walk around and take in the view around. It is truly awe inspiring. If you look up at his head, the sensation with the clouds moving almost feels like the Buddha is moving his head–it’s pretty cool.
Once down the stairs, turn right and follow the signs to the Wisdom Path. It is a concrete path and you will pass some dilapidated buildings which will make you wonder if you are going the right way–you are, so keep going. You land at an area that has several trails. If you are prepared, take one of the more hearty hikes or look to the right and walk the short (and steep) Wisdom Path. This will take about five minutes.
When you head back to the central area wander through the Po Lin Monastery. The detail work in the ceilings, walks and statues are beyond beautiful. You cannot take pictures in the temples so try to imprint their beauty in your brain–I had never seen anything so stunning. This day trip was so opposite to the craziness of the city. I felt peaceful and satiated at the end.
I returned to the city’s energy and wandered up to Soho with the mid levels travelator (as the sign called it). I walked down through the side streets with the makeshift Chinese markets of fresh vegetables, herbs and other things I could not recognize. The streets have lots of character with daily life happening. I realized that China Towns smell the same no matter what city it resides in.
Hong Kong is a modern city. Hong Kong is an old fashioned city. It is a beach town. It is a traditional town. I loved the teaming energy and life and the mix of modern and old. Learning #2: never stop learning or exploring. It invariably makes my life more full, more open-minded and ultimately more beautiful.