What to Do and See in Hong Kong
Hong Kong holds a special place in my heart (check out why here). For my 10 year anniversary trip, I wanted it to be extra special. Hong Kong is among Asia’s most dynamic city. You can enjoy a glorious mix of food, languages, and cultures here. Even though this city has a population of 7.3 million, you can find calm bonsai gardens and green parks at almost every turn. You can experience Buddhist temples or go to see the Tian Tan Buddha statue made of bronze on Lantau Island. For Westerners, the most interesting part of the trip is duty-free shopping and world-famous cuisine.
In a huge metropolis like Hong Kong, there are countless amazing places to shop that entire books are written about it. So, I decided to keep it super simple for you and write only what seemed the most interesting to me.
As a New Yorker, I decided to skip large stores such as Zara, Dior etc, because we have (at least) one of each of these stores in NYC. At the same time, all of these stores have different products in each country though, so it is still worth checking out. My time was limited, so I thought it was better to head straight to the local shops!
Beauty Shopping! For the beauty obsessed, there is a beauty store called “Sasa” on nearly every corner (about 1,000 in HK. By comparison, there are 16 Sephoras in Manhattan)! At Sasa, you can find all the well-known Asian makeup and skincare brands like Cle de Peau, Sulwhasoo, and SK-II. There are some French and American brands at some locations too like Nuxe and Bioderma. You can buy Japanese mascara, Korean facial masks, Korean makeup brushes, double eyelid tape, heart-shapes mini nail polishes, fragrances sunscreen sprays, travel size everything, and MORE. (ps more beauty content to come - it deserved another separate post!).
Ladies Market! The Ladies Market is definitely worth a stop. Its perfect for little gifts to bring home like stackable bracelets, glittery key chains, holographic backpacks, and if you bought too much: suitcases. If anything showed me how much I have grown as a person and traveler, it was in comparing my first visit to the Ladies Market in 2008 to my visit there this trip. The location was the same (Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon) and what the sellers had on display, but this time I bought almost nothing. It wasn’t because I didn’t like anything, it’s because in 2008 I had a three-bedroom house in the suburbs, it was my first trip to Asia, and I was in serious awe how cheap everything was. I went crazy for micro tea sets (three, to be exact), likely-fake jade bracelets, cheap silk scarves, a pack of eight purses (to “gift to my friends”), fake enameled bracelets, shantung silk placemats, high heels, and who knows what else. This year I shopped smarter. I felt myself in a different person’s shoes as I looked over the piles of jade bracelets with a smile, thinking of my former self’s excitement over them. I bought one gorgeous cashmere scarf/blanket for the airplane ($10US), one delicate Hermes-esqe square silk scarf, and yes – two pink quartz gua sha massage tools, of course. :)
One-Size Boutiques! My guilty pleasure in Asia is shopping at the one-size clothing stores. If you hate trying stuff on like I do, these are easy-breezy. Things here go up to about a size 8US, but the quality is quite good, unlike many one-size stores we have in the US. You can recognize them by their bright lights and names like “Believe” or “Royal”. On the racks, you’ll see only one of everything, but the pieces you’ll actually take home are in the back, new and wrapped in clear plastic. I cleaned out three or four of these stores and spent only $300 on about fifteen pieces.
Symphony of Lights! The most remarkable attraction to see in Hong Kong is Symphony of Lights. Many people travel to Hong Kong just for this light and sound experience, which is completely free. The best view of the skyline you can get from on or next to the water. There are many tour operators and boats that offer cruises (if water is your thing) at different prices.
Splurge - My favorite way to see the Symphony of Lights was chartering a private boat with Viking Charters. This was without a doubt the most memorable moment of my Hong Kong trip and if you’re looking for something with masssssssive wow factor (think, wedding proposal, taking a potential client out, a big birthday party), this is most certainly it. I was picked up on a 100’ long yacht that had three decks. I headed straight up to the top to see the entire view of Victoria Harbor. The experience on this boat I could explain with just one word – dreamlike. I love being on the water and it was a perfect 75’ evening. I could not help myself from jumping up and down like a little kid as we sailed onto Victoria Harbor to see the Symphony of Lights start at 8pm. Special thanks to my sweet coxswain for taking countless photos of me at his wheel!
Save - If you don’t want to spend too much on a boat trip, there are some good cheaper options, such as Aqua Luna, a traditional Chinese junk boat ($45/adult). Their schedule opens up about two weeks in advance and the SoL cruise is about 45 minutes long.
Free - watch it from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade - perfect for budget travelers or last minute planners.
Hong Kong is known for its famous cuisine that is best described as a combinationof Chinese, European, Japanese and Korean influences. Some people even call this city “A Gourmet paradise”. Here you can find everything, from amazing luxury restaurants to delicious street food.
WonTon! One restaurant that I really enjoyed was Michelin-star wonton “Tsim Chai Kee”, where I ordered the king prawn wonton noodle for about $4US ($31HK). This restaurant is located by the longest escalator in the world.
IG-worthy Dim Sum! Another place that you should try is Yum Cha, that you can find in four locations in the city. This place is definitely Insta-worthy. But, plan ahead as they are closed mid-day, and not every location has every cute animal bun all the time. When I went to one on Granville road in TST, there were two they didn’t have at all and the doggy sausage rolls were only during certain afternoon hours. I still sat and took forever taking pics of my pink and white BBQ piggy buns, pineapple-filled baby chick pastries in a caged birdhouse, and matcha-filled green tea buns and they didn’t mind. Also, I got my leftovers to go, so I’d say they are definitely Insta-friendly as well.
I usually stay at AirBNB’s, but this time I decided to hotel it. The Hotel Icon is highly rated in Hong Kong (#3 to be exact!) and I loved the modernity of her architecture. I was surprisingly upgraded to the Club 80 Harbour Suite (thank you SO much!), and it was beyond breathtaking with its 280’ view of Victoria Harbor, gigantic living room, and bathroom that I never wanted to leave. Did I mention the mini-fridge with free snacks and drinks, and the most divine amethyst bathrobe I’ve ever touched? And yes, I bought one ;) Special thanks to the staff for patiently snapping these photos for me.
Central Mid-Levels Escalator! I don’t know why I’m fascinated with Guinness-book type things, but I am! The Escalator is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world (if you want to know where the longest indoor one is, its in the Moscow Metro station). Its become quite a tourist attraction, so there are a lot of restaurants and shops along it (including Tsim Chai Kee that I mentioned above).
Victoria Peak! No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a trip to Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is the hill on the western side of Hong Kong and has views that are out of this world. The best way to get there is by Peak Tram. You can also walk up the hill by stairs, but I have to warn you it is a long trail!
Tian Tan Buddha and Lantau Island! Tian Tan Buddha (or “the Big Buddha”) on Lantau Island is another massive and recognizable landmark in Hong Kong. This 112 feet tall bronze seated Buddha statue is one of the largest in the world. You can get to Lantau Island by cable car where you can also see Po Lin Monastery or Ngong Ping Village as well. This 20-minutes scenic cable car ride is an attraction by itself, providing gorgeous views of Lantau Island and the aqua South China Sea!
Hong Kong is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. I spent much of my time at beauty trade show called CosmoProf Asia (sorry, its for beauty pros only :( ) but could have stayed at least another two days to get in a few more must-see places. I think a week here is perfect, but more time here would be well spent as well.