hk 062014 part 1: 5 alternative ways to enjoy hong kong

we did it our way

in hong kong, spring ends in may and summer begins in june.

we arrived in hong kong on the the last day of may – and the weather was excellent; bright, sunny, humid and felt exactly like home (30ish degrees).

reflections @ cbd, central

blue blue sky @ cbd central

in the 5 days we were there, we did 2 hikes, filled our half-empty luggages to the seams, ate till our stomachs were bursting and had 2 impromptu foot massages. my impression of hong kong as another nondescript cosmo-city was completely turned on its head.

here’s how we did it.

1. go for a hike. or 2

hong kong is nestled in the valley of low mountains so there are many hiking options. most of them have well laid out hiking trails that are nicely segmented and numbered; probably a legacy of the colonial days. the trails are broken up into day-length stages so hikers can decide how long they want to trek. each stage ends and starts at a road so they can be readily accessed and the trails are friendly even for a couch potato (you choose the difficulty level!).

if you only have 1 day, i recommend tackling the lantau sunset peak. for more choices, check out roz’s hiking pages; it has a list of recommended hikes that includes the difficulty level, duration and accessibility. a really excellent reference.

towards maclehose trail

towards maclehose trail from wilson stage 3

heading to horse saddle peak

heading to horse saddle peak

climbing lantau's sunset peak

climbing lantau’s sunset peak and leaving the jetty behind

at the crest of sunset peak

at sunset peak but it was still too early for sunset

2. go shopping

of course, when in hong kong, you have to shop. causeway bay, central, kowloon, shenzhen are the usual suspects. but it may be more interesting to stroll at the local markets or hit the duty free outlets. you know, those mid fashion brands in citygate mall @ lantau, or the high fashion brands tucked away in horizon plaza @ aberdeen, hong kong island.

the beauty of citygate mall is its convenience. it is directly linked to the MTR via the tung chung line (alight at tung chung station) and it is very near to the airport. many tourists stop by en route to the airport for last ditch shopping. there are lots of familar brands ie esprit, club21, dkny, giordano etc. take a private lift to the 10th floor where more shopping awaits.

horizon plaza on the other hand is much less conspicuous. It is better to head there by bus #590,  which will bring you to the bus terminal of the horizon (residential) estate. while at horizon estate, you may want to pop into the shrine of prada-lovers-in-search-of-bargains, otherwise known as space. space is opposite the bus terminal and next to a wet market. it opens at 1030am. before they allow you to enter, you need to queue for a number chit which you will present when making purchases. why it is so, i have no idea.

then it is a 10 mins stroll away to horizon plaza. horizon plaza is an office like block in an industrial-looking area and houses 28 floors of design furniture, high fashion brands with unpronounceable names, kids’ clothings, toys etc; there, you can find replay, anteprima, juicy couture, marc by marc jacobs, max mara fashion group, shanghai tang etc. The address is 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau. at the lift lobby, pick up a brochure or take photos of the directory board so you know how much you have covered (or need to cover).

open air wet market @ central

local market @ central

 3. pamper your feet

because we were so beaten up by the hiking trails, we sought out foot therapy 2 nights in a row. luckily they operate till past midnight, so we were able to get an appointment even at 10pm. the first one we tried was happy foot. our 90 min foot + body massage set us back by hkd 380. it was money well spent. the next night, we went to gao foot massage. for 80 mins, we paid around hkd400. both were very good but i felt gao seemed slightly better. our feet were almost as good as new the next day. we wanted to try zenjoy which was also highly recommended but couldn’t get an appointment. book early for this one. best thing was, all 3 foot massages were within walking distance from our hotel in wanchai.

tea @ tao foot massage

a cup of tea @ gao foot massage

4. get cosy in tea cafes

other than dim sum and roast geese, there are also tea cafes. tea cafes are ubiquitous and an entrenched part of hong kong life. these establishments open from 6am to 12 midnight and hardworking hong kongers depend on them to keep their bellies full before they start work early in the morning or after a long day at work. they are great hangout places for retires too. during my previous trips, i didn’t do research and just relied on luck which always turned out dismal. this time, we came better prepared. we brought guidebooks, recommendations from friends and went out to try a new one each day (and sometimes night too). all of them did not disappoint. how was it that simple food like a bun with cheese/ham or marcaroni with vegetables or instant noodles with luncheon meat, could taste so good? and they were crowded too unless you go at 7am. most times, we had to sit elbow to elbow with strangers; that was an interesting insight into hong kong culture – practical and accommodating. after all, we shouldn’t begrudge cafe owners their rightful business. just don’t expect the overworked wait staff to smile at you.

have a bun

have a bun

or macarnoni

or macarnoni

5. try all their modes of transport 

have octopus, will travel. with the octopus card, you can hop onto the mtr, buses, coaches, trams, mini buses, ferries, taxis. except for the tram, we tried them all;  it was a good way to experience hong kong the local way.  i was impressed that amidst the chaos, there was some kind of order layered underneath, that enabled different systems to connect seamlessly with one another. again, a manifestation of the practical nature of hong kongers. the octopus pass can be bought at any mtr station. all denominations include a desposit of hkd 50. note: during peak hours, it is better to take a bus rather than taxis, as buses have dedicated lanes.

we got to try the minibus @ saikung

waiting for the minibus @ saikung

other noteworthy stuff

a. from the airport to town

the airport (hkia) is located on lantau island but connected to hong kong island and the mainland via the airport express. on arrival, just head straight into the train. yup. it is not necessary to purchase a card before boarding because you can buy it at your destination station. this way, you avoid the queue at the airport customer service counter which sometimes can get quite long especially if you arrive on weekends. if travelling in pairs or groups, you can buy the airport pass at a discount (special group deals). just check with the mtr staff. its always better to ask the mtr staff rather than buy from machines.

inside the airport express

inside the airport express

b. which pass

is the airport express travel pass, which comes with a round trip on the airport express + 3 days of unlimited mtr rides, worth it? or should i just settle for the usual octopus card? finally, i chose the octopus card because i used buses more than the mtr. and buses were cheap. here’s a discussion thread on this topic. in any case, the airport pass can be reused as an octopus. just top it up.

c. sim card

sim cards can be easily bought at any convenience store. there’s a 7-11 in the airport but it sells out its cards fast. do not fret. you can always get 1 at a convenience store in the mtr. i got mine from wanchai station. hkd 69 for 5 days with 1.5Gb data and it is plug and play. the connection was useful for navigating and last minute research. i used gps to get advice on buses to take to my destinations.

d. wan chai

we stayed in wan chai @ hong kong island. it turned out to be just perfect for us. not too touristy (more business travellers), lots of interesting stores (and branches of iconic brands), and quaint shops. our hotel of choice was ozo wesley at henessy road. the service was impeccable and the lobby exuded a nice fragrance. it was great to come home to ozo everyday.

ozo wesley

ozo wesley

what next

there are still lots to explore in hong kong:  other hiking trails, victoria peak at night, those eating places we didn’t have time or stomach to cover, more shopping, the outlying islands  …

i’ll be back.

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