Visiting Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a city that offers a great urban getaway. It is generally safe for tourists, and it has an excellent public transportation system. Now having reunified with China, Hong Kong is set apart from mainland China thanks to its years of being under the British.
The city boasts of a vibrant nightlife scene, and offers something for families with Disneyland being easily accessible. Markets and malls will offer a range of different shopping experiences.
For the landscape and cityscape photographer, Hong Kong offers one a true perspective of high density living. It truly has to be seen to be appreciated.
Location and how to get there
Hong Kong is well connected to the rest of world by several major carriers who all fly into Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Cathay Pacific is their national carrier, and there are multiple flights from Singapore every day on both Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines.
View Hong Kong in a larger map
There is a lot that one can do in two or three days in Hong Kong. The map above shows what one can cover in two days while staying either in Kowloon, or on Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong offers visa-free entryor visa-on-arrival to nationals of nations with which they have reciprocal agreements with.
When in Hong Kong, the most efficient way to get around is by using public transport. Ticketing is electronic. The most popular electronic ticket is the Octopus card, which is accepted on the Hong Kong MTR, and can also be loaded with cash so that you can pay for purchases at a range of stores.
Hong Kong’s train network is known as the Hong Kong MTR. Their official map is on their official website.
The most efficient way to get from the airport to Hong Kong Central is to ride the airport express. A one-way ticket costs HKD100 (AUD17). Cab Fare is about HKD350 (AUD60).
Hong Kong has good Internet and Mobile coverage, and you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card. Both 3 and CSL offer decent prepaid plans which you can typically buy at a local 7-Eleven. In recent times, many hotels in Hong Kong will issue you with an Android mobile device that can make local calls, and act as a wifi hotspot. Check with your hotel. You may not even need to get yourself your own prepaid SIM.
Best times to visit
Hong Kong is generally humid and warm during the summer months. It can get very cold in the fall and the winters. I have personally experienced temperatures of around 12 degrees celsius, and with a wind blowing, it can get quite chilly. The best times to visit are in the autumn, and in the spring of the Northern Hemisphere.
Hong Kong also puts on a spectacular fireworks display on New Year’s Eve. Hotels at this time can get very expensive.
On the flip side, during Chinese New Year, most mainland Chinese workers go home to spend time with their families. The city empties out and becomes relatively quiet.
Recommended places to stay
Hong Kong offers several places to stay. If you’re planning on staying in Kowloon, you’ll have access to a lot of the tourist attractions and the better view of the Hong Kong skyline. I’d recommend the Harbour Grand in Kowloon, which I’d stayed in back in 2013. It’s a bit off the beaten path from the Tsim Sha Tsui, but they have a half-hourly shuttle which will get you there and back every 30 minutes, as long as you show the driver your room key.
On Hong Kong Islands, I can recommend three different hotels. The East Hotel is directly above the Tai Koo MTR and offers renovated rooms. It also has one of the best roof top bars in Hong Kong offering an amazing view of Kowloon.
The Empire Hotel in Wanchai is modern and central. It’s two blocks from the entrance of the Wanchai MTR. The Harbourview Hotel, also in Wanchai is a bit further off from the Wanchai MTR, sitting across on the other side of Gloucester Road. However, it has a better view of the harbour, and is closer to the Hong Kong Convention Centre and Golden Bauhinia Square.
It’s worth noting that Wanchai is a red-light district. It is generally safe, but it is also a neighbourhood which takes on a different persona after dark. It is also not uncommon for men unaccompanied by women to be approached to enter a certain kind of establishment. If you’re a man travelling on your own, the easiest way to avoid this is to politely decline, and keep walking.
The itinerary below assumes that you arrive in the middle of the afternoon and are planning to stay for three nights and two days. It also assumes that you’re going to be using public transport.
Day 1: The Peak and Sheung Wan
Make your way up to the Peak to enjoy the iconic view of Hong Kong. The best time to do this is just before sunset so that you get to enjoy both a day, and a night time viewing. There are a few options to get to the peak. Lots of tourists like to do it by taking the Peak Tram. I’ve done this, and given how busy it gets, I feel it’s a bit over-rated. I would recommend getting a cab to take you there. Cab fare is about HKD40 or about AUD7.
Entrance to the Peak is HKD48 (about AUD8). Winds here are strong, and depending on the weather on the day, can get very cool. Make sure that you’re dressed properly.
The Peak is a major tourist attraction and gets very crowded, with everyone wanting to get their very own picture of the iconic view, and a selfie to boot. Hence, you’ll need to exercise some patience. Also bear in mind that the tourist crowds come in waves, and if you’re patient, you’ll find a window of relative calm between the peaks in crowds.
Once you’re done at the Peak, head down to Sheung Wan, and hop onto the Mid-Level escalators. These escalators are unique in the sense that they are the only one of their kind and scale anywhere in the world. They change direction in the afternoon. While you’re walking through the mid-levels, you may come across one of these pillars.
These are fare saver posts. If you scan your Octopus card here, they will take off HKD2 off your next MTR ride.
While you’re in the area, of you get hungry, I recommend that your stop at Maison Libanaise and grab a bite to eat. They are a mediterannean restaurant who serve amazing food. They are at 10 Shelley Street in Sheung Wan.
If you’re staying in Kowloon, and it’s late, you might like to catch the ferry that runs from the Central ferry terminal across to Kowloon. It’s definitely part of the experience of being in Hong Kong, and something that I would recommend.
Day 2: The Big Buddha and Kowloon
Many tour operators offer trips to the Big Buddha. While they offer a bus tour to the giant statue, and stops at fishing villages and bridges, if you’re someone who prefers your independence, you can do this on your own in half a day. I’d recommend going early. The crowds start building up at around 11:00am at the Big Buddha, so you’re best off leaving Hong Kong Central station by 9:00am.
From Hong Kong Central, hop onto the Tung Chung line and go all the way to Tung Chung at the end. This trip has few stops, and will take about 35 minutes. If you hop on at Hong Kong Central, you are pretty much guaranteed to get a seat. At Tung Chung, you will need to get onto a cable car which will take you to Ngong Ping village. Visit their official website for full details.
You have the option of riding in a regular cabin, or a premium crystal cabin which has glass floors. I personally preferred not to look at the ground beneath me when suspended in a cable car and chose the former.
The cable car ride last 17 minutes and will get you to Ngong Ping village, from where a short walk will get you to Tian Tan Monastery, and the steps to ascend to the Big Buddha.
90 minutes is perhaps sufficient to visit to both the Big Buddha and the monastery. If you get hungry, there are lots of places to eat around Ngong Ping village which has been built to serve tourists.
It’s worth noting that when the weather is bad (rains and high winds), a cable car ride is not for those who have a weak stomach. It’s also worth checking if the city is on a typhoon watch, at which stage the ropeway is closed. The last cable car ride from Ngong Ping is at 6:30pm. It’s a good idea to be heading back to Tung Chung on the ropeway before that.
After a tour of the Big Buddha, make your way back to Kowloon and stop at the ICC building and the Sky100 viewing deck.
This viewing platform will offer you panoramic views of Hong Kong, and is particularly good on a clear day. A ticket costs HKD168 (about AUD29), or you could get a Sky and Stars ticket for entries before and after sunset for HKD220 (about AUD38). An hour here is sufficient to take in the views.
From here, hop onto the Kwun Tong Line via Hong Kong Central and make your way to Diamond Hill and the Chi Lin Nunnery. There’s a food court at the top of Diamond Hill station where you can grab some lunch. The Chi Lun Nunnery has all the aesthetics of an ancient monastery, yet it is a very modern one. While Hong Kong has a nice array of temples, if you had to visit one, I recommend that you make it this particular monastery. An hour here ought to be sufficient.
You can then hop back onto the Kwun Tong Line towards Hong Kong Central and get off at Mongkok to visit the markets. There are five markets that are among the best known, all set aside in their own streets.
The Ladies (Night) Market is the crown jewel of Mongkok street market and runs for three blocks from the Mongkok MTR. The evening brings heavy tourist traffic; the night is when the market truly thrives. It’s a great place to find something to catch your interest, or something that might be practical. The amount of time that you spend here depends on how far you get drawn in. If you had time for only one market, make it this one. 60 to 90 minutes is a reasonable amount of time to expect to spend here. As a rule, you never accept the first price offered to you, and very often, you can seal a deal when you walk away, and then state that you only have a certain amount of cash to part with and that’s all you’re going to pay. (Make sure that you’ve set that exact amount aside).
Fa Yuen Street Market is a toned down and more practical version of the Ladies Market. Afternoons are the best time to visit this market.
If you’re in the market (no pun intended) for a new pet, Goldfish market and the Bird Market and Garden might truly appeal to you. One can find an array of exotic fish, turtles, lizards and insects for sale at Goldfish Street market, and an array of Birds at the Bird Market and Garden. A passing visit requires about 30 minutes each, though you could easily spend more time here if you were inclined to scratch beneath the surface. Goldfish street market is best visited around lunch time, and is on Goldfish Street. The Bird Market and Garden is on Yuen Po Street.
Rounding off this list of markets is Flower Market Street which is a great place to shop for houseplants, bonsai, flowers and orchid arrangements. This is best visited in the afternoon. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here for a passing visit.
As the sun begins to set, consider getting some dinner before arriving at the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui. This part of town has some interesting architecture. One of the most striking pieces is the Space Museum which is an overturned hemisphere surrounded by water.
Hong Kong puts on a daily light and laser show over Hong Kong Harbour. The show lasts for about 15 minutes, with lasers shooting across the harbour from the city’s skyscrapers. If you’re in Hong Kong, you should not miss this. While this is best viewed from Tsim Sha Tsui, if you happen to be on Hong Kong Island at the time, the best place to view this show is from Golden Bauhinia Square at the foot of the Hong Kong Convention Centre.
If you have a full day available, a trip to Disneyland may strike your fancy. You could also spend a day in Central Hong Kong checking out the malls, or take a day trip to Stanley.
A day-trip to Macau is also a popular option that lots of tourists take up.
- Your camera and lenses. I would recommend a wide-angle lens for cityscapes, and a mid-range zoom lens (around 24-75mm) or general street photography. Hong Kong’s density makes it almost impossible to ever use a telephoto lens in the city. The only place that I have every used a Telephoto lens is at the Big Buddha to get a close-up profile shot of the statue. If you can live without this shot, I recommend that you leave the heavy telephoto lens at home.
- Any ND or polarising filters that you plan to use (day-time shoots only).
- A micro-fibre wipe/cloth to keep the lens clean;
- Cable release.
Non Camera Gear
- Comfortable walking shoes.
- Towel to dry yourself in case you get rained on.
- Appropriate outer gear. Consider the season at the time that you’re travelling.
- A hat.
- A small torch or flash light (for night-time shoots only).
- Water and some snacks (you will be probably get hungry and thirsty while walking around).
- Hand sanitiser,
- Mobile phone.