The island of Hong Kong, modernity and tradition united
Before returning home, I took the opportunity to travel around Asia. I would visit Hong Kong in 3 days and then make another 20 day stop in Thailand. I wanted to get to know Hong Kong (香港) as I had only heard good things about that city. At that time I was living in Xiamen and as I was not far away it was the ideal time to visit him.
Hong Kong is characterized by a mixture of 5,000 years of Chinese tradition with 150 years of British colonial influence. This curious mixture gives the city its own personality where East/West and modernity/tradition go hand in hand.
Entrance to Hong Kong from China Mainland
I took the 4-hour train from Xiamen to Shenzhen and just arrived at the Hong Kong border crossing. Hong Kong, like Taiwan or Macao, belongs to China, but are managed in a special way. Therefore, you need to cross the border and get a new visa.
If you have Spanish nationality to obtain a Hong Kong visa you do not need to do anything. When you arrive at the border you are immediately given a 3 month tourist visa. You can exchange currency at the border crossing, both before leaving Shenzhen and when entering Hong Kong.
Just after crossing the border, take the subway and you will reach Hong Kong immediately. Hong Kong is mainly divided into 3 large regions: The island of Hong Kong, Kowloon (right in front of the island of Hong Kong), and the New Territories (everything else).
Where to stay in Hong Kong?
My first day during my stay in Hong Kong I stayed in Kowloon district, in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. Specifically, I went to one of the most emblematic places in the area, the ChungKing Mansions.
The building is famous for the Hong Kong film Chungking Express and for having the cheapest prices in Hong Kong. I was advised to go there by a friend: “It’s a very authentic place where you can find people of all kinds and from everywhere, if you go to Hong Kong you have to see it“, so I listened to him.
ChungKing Mansions, although it sounds very nice, is actually a giant building full of independent hotels that can accommodate a total of about 4000 people. The site is certainly special, but from my point of view, it doesn’t have much charm.
If you prefer to stay in the center of Hong Kong Island, a good area is Causeway Bay. Specifically, after two days in the Chungking Mansions, I changed places and went to Yesinn; a hostel with a much nicer atmosphere, cheap as it can be, and quieter than the chaotic Chunking Mansions. It also has an attic where you can chat with other backpackers while having a drink and is right next to the Wanchai district, one of the most attractive in Hong Kong.
My experience at ChungKing Mansions
Just before arriving at the main entrance a very nice Indian offered me to stay at his hotel inside the Chunking Mansions building. I agreed to visit the hotel and was surprised by its horrific appearance. I kindly told them that I had just arrived and that I wanted to take one more look around the building and if that would come back later. They offered to leave my backpack there, which I immediately rejected, and as I walked out the door, I heard someone in the background say, “You better not come back.“
It wasn’t a very good welcome, really, but well, I continued the search on my own. The whole building was a maze of hotels. On each floor, full of small hotels (flats transformed into hotels) I was crossed by foreigners of all kinds who arrived or left.
The first floor was the most authentic; full of Indian and Pakistani shops and on the corners or in more remote areas, people who offered you “hash” and other things. It’s hard to believe that this was part of China.
I asked some of the hotels I had read about on the Internet that were pretty good, but they were all full (the hotels with good reviews on the Internet, being so small, unless you book in advance, are always full). I ended up in one that didn’t look bad. It was a hotel run by Indians, the site was clean, well priced, and most importantly, there was a good atmosphere and the receptionists were friendly. They gave me a small but very cozy room. I left the backpack and started to go sightseeing.
Hong Kong in 3 days: What to see and what to do?
1. Boarding the Star Ferry
You can start your visit to Hong Kong in 3 days by getting on the Star Ferry. It is the name given to the boat that goes from the island of Hong Kong to the district of Kowloon. It’s a nice ride with good views of Hong Kong’s skyline and it only costs 4 HK dollars (less than one euro). There are two round-trip port routes:
- Central (Hong Kong Island) – Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon).
- Wanchai (Hong Kong Island) – Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon).
If you are going to stay more than two days, I recommend you to buy the Octopus card. With it you will be able to pay for subway, bus tickets and even pay in supermarkets and fast food restaurants.
2. Visiting the Star Walk (Kowloon)
In Kowloon one can visit the Avenue of the Stars; where we will find Hollywood-style gold star plaques with the footprints of famous Chinese actors, of which, above all, they stand out: Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
During the day it is a very good idea to take the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island to enjoy the ride while the skyscrapers are getting bigger and bigger until you reach the coast.
At night it is highly recommended to stay in Kowloon to see the light show that is made in the skyline of Hong Kong. The Symphony of Lights starts every day at 20:00 and lasts a few minutes.
3. Happy Valley and Wanchai Block Party
On the other side, in the area of Hong Kong Island, is the heart of the city. The best known neighborhoods are Causeway Bay, Wanchai and Central. Wanchai is an old neighborhood of Hong Kong and, for me, the most charming.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays you can go to Happy Valley to see the horse races. There is a lot of atmosphere and then, if you feel like it, you can follow the people and go directly to party in the Wanchai area. Wanchai is also known for its street markets, very traditional and typical of China.
4. Shopping in Causeway Bay district
Causeway Bay is next to everything interesting: next to the Star Ferry, Wanchai and not far from Central. It is the commercial core of Hong Kong Island and a place of contrasts.
There you will find both shopping malls and luxury boutiques as well as a street market called Jardine’s Crescent. You will also find both renowned restaurants and street stalls. Undoubtedly, it is a good place to stay and eat.
5. The Peak viewpoint and Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district (Central)
Central is another of the most interesting areas to walk around, it is the financial core of Hong Kong. It is near Causeway, there are most of the skyscrapers of the island, luxury hotels, and one of the streets with more nightlife in Hong Kong; Lan Kwai Fong.
If you do not like to take the subway is highly recommended to move with the old streetcars that run throughout the city. In Central you will also find The Peak, the most famous viewpoint of the city. It is the highest point of the island and has the best views of one of the most impressive skylines in the world. You can take the streetcar that leaves from Central and goes up to Victoria Peak.
If you feel like taking a stroll, you can go halfway up the escalators that cross the entire old Soho neighborhood. Once the stairs are over, you have to keep walking for about 30 minutes until you reach the top of the mountain. On the other hand, if you want to leave the center you can visit the giant Buddha statue: Tian Tan Buddha.
6. The Beaches of Hong Kong
If you want to go to the beaches the best thing is to get away from Hong Kong and go to New Territories. I was lazy to go so far and ended up going to Repulse Bay. Although the beach and surroundings were nice, the water was brown, so you can go to have a look and relax on the beach, but don’t expect paradisaical beaches.
In short, if you only have 3 days to visit Hong Kong, you can spend one day visiting the Kowloon area, another day focusing on Hong Kong Island and the last day relaxing on a nearby beach.
Next Destination: From Hong Kong to Thailand
After seeing most of Hong Kong I went to Thailand. I wanted to go back to where it all started 4 years ago in the company of three good friends and see who had changed more, Thailand or me. By the way, I would revisit Phuket and sign up for a 10-day Vipassana Meditation course.
A few years later, I gladly came back to Hong Kong, to change my student visa for a working visa, because I was working in Kunming as an English teacher.
Don’t waste your youth growing up.