MOOD-BASED TRAVEL: Hong Kong – City in the Sky
In the latest in his series exploring how to experience travelling as an antidote to your mood, Kyle Taylor sets out the wonders of Hong Kong.
Mood: Part of something bigger
Sometimes, we want to feel big. Central. Significant.
But, it’s equally important to create moments where your perspective of yourself is inverted.
To remind yourself you’re part of something much larger than yourself – an ecosystem of people, animals, buildings, boats, cars, subways cycles and – in Hong Kong, neon.
This allows us to remember that we are not an island, but an interconnected network that is deeply dependent on one another for our own survival and success.
There is perhaps no better place to feel this than Hong Kong.
What to expect:
Our plane lands and rolls slowly to the gate. The doors open and instantly the heavy, moist Asian air sweeps into the cabin.
Welcome to Asia. Welcome to Hong Kong, land of biggest, longest and tallest. The biggest seated Buddha in the world. The longest single suspension bridge in the world. The tallest suspended Sky Car in the world.
Pair these with the world’s most impressive skyline and you know you’ve officially arrived in the gateway to Asia, where East meets West in a brilliant show of designer brands, burger joints, hawkers and neon signs. There is really no other place like it.
No doubt, the more than 100 years of British influence can be felt in the food, the manners and the attitudes. Still, Hong Kong remains a distinctly Asian city, where walking just a few blocks takes you from glittering skyscrapers to slowly eroding residential high-rise towers.
Hong Kong is a collection of islands surrounding the main hub of Hong Kong Island (both the business and residential centre, and very up-market), which flows brilliantly into the mainland across Victoria Harbor.
Mainland Hong Kong begins with Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui (the glittering, refined yet rough seafront area full of cheap food, markets and neon) and leads north into the New Territories – Hong Kong’s idea of a suburb. From there, you’re just steps away from mainland China.
While Hong Kong doesn’t have the world’s largest urban population in absolute terms, it is home to the most densely populated land per capita on earth.
The city never sleeps. It doesn’t even take naps. 24 hours a day you’ll find yourself in and amongst it all.
Hong Kong is one of those places where just existing feels exciting. The sights, the sounds and the smells will leave you yearning for more.
Hong Kong easily provides a week of things to do.
I’ve arranged the below in two categories: a city day of markets, temples and urban delights, and an adventure day of island-hopping and getting out of the centre of it all. Either-way, you’ll feel small amidst the city madness or the lush landscapes.
If it’s urban delights your after, you must start with the infinite number of markets that seem to carry you back in time. Start on Hong Kong island with the Western Market, the Ginseng and Bird’s Nest Market, the Herbal Medicine Market, the Dried Seafood Market, and the Hollywood Road Antiques Market. This leaves you perfectly positioned to mosey into Man Mo Temple. It was the first on the island and is filled with hundreds of enormous incense oils that both smell lovely and make for some excellent photos.
From there, head down the mid-levels’ escalators – an outdoor pedestrian “highway” of sorts that eases the journey up and down the steep streets of the island. They’ll drop you onto the elevated network of pedestrian walkways that zigzag through the main business district, often through buildings and back out again. Follow the signs to the Star Ferry for your first of many rides across Victoria Harbour.
The ferry will drop you off on the Kowloon side of the island, which is connected to the mainland. The city skyline looks spectacular from here. After taking a moment to wonder at the scale of the city, stop at Smrat Pure Veg for air conditioning and exceptional India food – a specialty in Hong Kong.
Next, head to the Jade Market, the Bird Market, the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market and the Night Market. The Night Market is the only one with a non-explanatory name. You’ll find everything under the moon here.
Before taking a pre-evening break at your accommodation, take a moment of respite by watching the Kung fu in Kowloon Park. People of all ages move carefully and precisely through sequences of graceful motion. It’s enchanting.
If it’s an adventure day you want, start with Lantau Island. Larger than Hong Kong Island but with just 50,000 residents, Lantau is covered in tropical forests and surrounded by brilliant sandy beaches. Take the subway to the Sky Car and ride it up to the Tian Tin Buddha – the world’s largest seated Buddha.
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From there, take the ferry back to Central Pier and board an outbound service to Yung She Wan on Lamma Island. No cars, delicious seafood and an otherworldly “I’ve fallen off the face of the earth” feel make Lamma a must-see. You’ll feel small in an entirely different way as you look out to endless open ocean. Walk along the island’s only “road” and stop off at Hung Shing Beach and Lo So Shing Beach before digging into fresh seafood at the island’s other village – Sok Kwu Wan. Return to Central Pier from Sok Kwu Wan at sunset. It’s pure magic.
Lodging is as diverse as the city itself. If you’re splurging, a stay at the Peninsula is unmatched in Hong Kong and their high tea is divine. A more affordable option – and arguably the cleanest guesthouse in Asia, if not the world – is Cosmic Guesthouse, in Mirador Mansion. The microscopic but somehow perfectly spacious rooms will remind you again how tiny we are compared to the world outside. For something middle of the road, an AirBnB in the mid-levels on a high-up floor offers the same sensation with a bit more space.
There is perhaps no more reflective urban experience in the world than riding the Star Ferry after dark. The warm humid Asian air envelopes you as the cool breeze of the harbour keeps you cool.
The world’s most impressive skyline shines bright while you sit on a near hundred-year-old boat for a fair of about 30p. Think, ponder and reflect as you ride back and forth until you’ve gotten you fix.
Night-time in Hong Kong is all about the skyline.
The best ways to experience it are atop Victoria Peak, having ridden the death-defying tram to the top, and by watch the nightly laser and light show from the Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon. It’s cheesy, kitschy and brilliant. If you’d rather sit amongst it, head to Aqua Bar and sip a gold leaf-infused cocktail from the 29th and 30th floors overlooking the city.
When you’ve had enough, head to Yardbird for an incredible fusion meal. Reserve if you can and don’t leave without devouring at least three portions of the cauliflower.
From there, the night is your oyster.
Hong Kong has three main restaurant, bar and club districts on the main island: SOHO (classy), Lan Kwai Fong (slightly less classy) and Wan Chai (least classy). While the districts look similar to a giant American frat party, it’s best to just mosey around until you find somewhere that suits you. Most people spill out onto the street anyway and you won’t be short of chatty people eager to tell you about the current best bar in town.
Everything is open all night, but no matter when you call it quits, don’t go to bed without eating street noodles. There are spots dotted all around town and they’re the perfect end to a phenomenal day. The comfort of noodles somehow brings you back down to earth after a day in the sky.