My sister and I started our journey through southeast Asia in Hong Kong, a favorite city that I had visited a few times. But this was my sister’s first trip. I wanted to show her a few old favorites and still get to see some things new to me so as to keep us both happy.
I think we accomplished this goal, even if the whole time I was suffering from some serious jet lag. The great sleep I got on Cathay Pacific had left me well-rested when we landed — at around 7 PM. Sometimes it’s better to be exhausted and force yourself to adjust. It was also much, much hotter than I was used to. Previous visits were in September/October, and I don’t think I’ll return to Hong Kong in June if I can avoid it.
Trip Report Index
- Trip Report Introduction: Taking My Sister to Asia for Two Weeks
- Review: Cathay Pacific First Class SFO-HKG (Last of the 747s)
- Review: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong (after Renovations)
- Revisiting the Old, and Finding New Favorite Activities in Hong Kong
We arrived in the middle of Hong Kong’s annual dragon boat races, which were held off the shore of Kowloon in an area sheltered by several large construction barges. For once, taking a moment to look at the visitors’ bureau as we cleared immigration resulted in an interesting activity.
It was still too early on our first day to enjoy the accompanying beer festival, so we continued on to the K11 Design Mall, located below the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s one of my favorite indoor malls in Hong Kong because it has a lot of unique shops as well as a variety of art installations like this giant mechanized panda (and 1,000 tiny pandas).
We continued on to the bird market and flower market, making our way toward Mong Kok where I had plans to take Katherine for lunch at Tim Ho Wan, a famous dim sum restaurant. I’d never ventured quite that far north, but I knew there was a location just past Boundary Street.
Fortunately I’ve learned to recognize the Chinese characters for Tim Ho Wan, because the sign wasn’t in English, nor did the employees or other customers speak a lick of it. It certainly wasn’t their fault. I just found it to be an interesting predicament. The last time Katherine and I traveled together was in Spain, where I could at least grasp a few words that sounded similar in French or English. Here, how would I even know when they called my number for a table?
(There is another location in the same train station where the Airport Express arrives in Hong Kong, next to the IFC Mall. They are a little more accommodating to tourists and expats there. The sign is still not in English.)
It wasn’t a big problem after all. People are generally friendly. I just stayed nearby, waited for someone to waive me over, and pointed at the placemat to indicate what I wanted to eat. Katherine agreed, those baked pork buns are pretty awesome.
The next day we headed to Victoria Peak and the Hong Kong Zoo. Touristy but fun activities that I’d done before. We also returned to Mong Kok to explore the night markets and have dinner.
On our third and final full day I wanted to do something really different. I’d never been to the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha) on Lantau Island, near the airport. A long ride on the MTR took us to Ngong Ping 360, which operates a cable car up to the Buddha. I recommend the “crystal cabin” for only one reason: shorter lines. Book online to get a 10% off a combo ticket that includes the crystal cabin on the way up and a standard cabin on the return.
The glass floor isn’t all that exciting — the views are just as good looking out the windows on the side — but those views are pretty good nonetheless. You spend the first 5-10 minutes just staring out over the airport. There is also a path running underneath, I assume if you were interested in hiking up the mountain instead. We saw lots of waterfalls.
The Buddha visit was amusing in some ways. The cable car drops you off at Ngong Ping Village, a small shopping promenade that reminded me of what Disneyland’s Main Street would look like if Walt Disney had been Chinese. Most of it was just overpriced food and souvenirs. Eventually you push through it and get to the Buddhist temples as well as the stairs that lead to the Buddha. These were far more interesting.
You can pay for a vegetarian meal provided by the local monks and tour the museum underneath the Buddha, or you can just walk around and enjoy the scenery. I enjoyed the relative peace so far from the urban buzz of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Off in the distance I could see ferries moving passengers to and from Macau, while in the other direction you could see Lantau Peak, the second highest point among the islands that make up Hong Kong. You can hike over there if you like (it’s a few hours each way), or spend less time taking a path at the base of the stairs. (Learn more about visiting Big Buddha.)
I thought our visit worked out perfectly. With more time I think we would have hired a taxi or done some hiking to explore the rest of Hong Kong Island, like the fishing village of Stanley Harbor. Hong Kong Island is really only developed in a few areas close to Victoria Harbor, while the other side — like parts of Lantau Island — looks like it could be a remote resort town. It’s definitely a part of Hong Kong that I want to get to get to know better.