There are some things that just don’t feel right when put together. Christmas and 30 degree weather is one such pairing. This was my first “winter” in Singapore and although I am well aware of the city’s one season policy, my heart yearned for some cold weather. After all, Christmas and New Year feel extra special when you can cuddle in your bed with some hot chocolate and wear warm clothing[The freezing air conditioning in Singapore’s malls does not count as winter although they do give my long forgotten jackets a good outing]. So, with just a week before the holidays, Sid and I decided to go somewhere cold. Hong Kong ticked all our boxes and we were lucky to nab tickets and hotel booking at reasonable rates considering how exorbitantly overpriced travel can be at this time of the year. So, armed with our winter wear, off we went to Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China [Thank you, Wikipedia]
We were greeted by a chill in the air as we made our way to our hotel. The narrow streets through which our cab driver manoeuvred us was the perfect introduction to Hong Kong – busy, bustling, crowded and energetic. On our previous visit to the island, we did not do much so this time around I came equipped with a list of things to see and do. If you are planning a visit to Hong Kong, make sure you set some time away for shopping. Guys, don’t break a sweat. While your mothers, sisters, wives or girlfriends indulge in some retail therapy, you can drown your sorrows in one of the several electronics markets in the city with each shop outdoing the other when it comes to deals.
Tip: Travelling within Hong Kong is very convenient thanks to the extensive metro network called the MTR. Double- Decker buses (a constant reminder of the British legacy) are also a good way to get around if you have more time at your hands and want to take in views of the city. I would highly recommend purchasing an Octopus travel pass which lets you travel in both trains and buses and can be topped up conveniently across stations. While cabs are not that expensive, communicating with the drivers can sometimes be an issue. Make sure you carry your hotel’s address card with you at all times.
Here are some of my top things to see and do when in Hong Kong
1. Ngong Ping 360 and Tian Tan Buddha: Situated on the re-developed Lantau Island, the Ngong Ping 360 is a cable car ride that leads up to the Ngong Ping Village, Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. The ride offers beautiful views of the South China Sea and the landscape surrounding the area. The sighting of the big Buddha statue signals the end of the breezy ride which in my humble opinion is one of the better cable car rides I have been on.
After getting off, you can walk towards the Buddha statue. Small eateries and shops dot the area and to my heart’s delight, it is one of the few times in Hong Kong when you see vegetarian food on the streets. A beautiful white gate greets you at the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha and as you walk towards the statue, it appears more majestic. There is a decent walk up to the statue but take your time climbing the stairs. As I tried to catch my breath, the panoramic views from the top took my breath away [see what I did just there!]. One can easily spend hours admiring the views and tranquillity that this place offers. A must visit!
2. Disneyland: I am in my 20’s but Disneyland brings out the child in me. If I could, I would dress up in Elsa gowns and pester Sid to take me on all the rides. Jokes aside, having been to the Disney resorts in Tokyo, the HK establishment felt much smaller. But, it is hard to not brim with excitement and feel happy when you are in Disneyland. I can imagine that hardcore thrill seekers will be disappointed and might prefer Ocean World to this but if you want less pulse raising rides and want to feel like a child again, do include this in your itinerary. And guess what, I finally managed to get a picture taken with Buzz Lightyear!
3. Mong Kok and Causeway Bay: Also known as Shopping Heaven. If you want to skip the fancy malls and big brands then head over to these two places where you will get everything from designer bag knockoffs to phone accesssories that you never thought you needed. You can also find lots of cosmetic stores such as Sasa, Innisfree, Bonjor, Etude House here and I ended up buying tons of stuff – partly due to the price (Singapore is expensive!) and partly due to the amazing packaging. I would recommend checking these places out in the evening because there is a whole new vibe and energy to the street markets once the lights come on.
4. Wan Chai computer city and Sham Shui Po: We had made up our mind to buy quite a few electronic things on our trip. Since Sid had lived in Hong Kong before he knew the places and shops to visit as well as the bargaining tactics to use. The shop salesmen are quite knowledgeable and speak English so do not hesitate to ask questions. While prices are reasonable to begin with you can always ask for additional discount. Do not buy at the first shop you enter , instead explore the floors to get an idea of what the prices and options are before making the final purchase.
6. Nan Lian Gardens: If you want a breather from the urban razzmatazz of HK, head on over to Chi Lin Nunnery that includes the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens. You will be greeted by Chinese style landscaped gardens, lotus ponds, temples of worship and clean fresh air! There is also a wonderful vegetarian eatery on the premises if you want to try out some Buddhist style fare.
7. Hong Kong night skyline and A symphony of lights: Hong Kong’s skyline is legendary. The skyscrapers, billboards, neon lights all come together to form an eclectic sight in the night that has resulted in this becoming an attraction in itself. What makes the viewing that much more special is that it is accompanied by a light and sound show that can be viewed from Victoria Harbour and other parts of the city wherein several iconic buildings of the city get jazzed up. More details here: http://www.discoverhongkong.com/in/see-do/highlight-attractions/harbour-view/a-symphony-of-lights.jsp
Hong Kong is a true metropolis. Business centres, snazzy malls and an energetic vibe. But, its hidden treasures lie in the narrow lanes where shops hustle and bustle with activity, the eclectic street food, the juxtaposition of the old and new cultures and the beautiful islands away from the city centre.
Joi-Gin Hong Kong. You were a great winter host!