Retro: Hong Kong
I didn’t expect to love Hong Kong so much, but after I stepped off the plane, I instantly felt a connection. It was like New York City, except rowdier, more crowded, more intense, and everyone was yelling at each other in Chinese instead of English. We spent most our time just walking and people-watching, you could easily spend a week or more doing just that, but here are some of our specific favorites.
Places to Go
A few of our favorite specific attractions we went to in Hong Kong, that we recommend you check out too!
• Top of Victoria Peak, via the Peak Tram funicular. This is one of the main tourist attractions in Hong Kong, and it had been on my bucket list for a long time. You’ll pack into a small tram car with tons of other people, then ride ten minutes or so up the steep slope of Victoria Peak. At the top, there’s a huge complex of restaurants and gift shops, but most importantly, a 360 observatory where you can get absolutely breathtaking views of the city. We went here on our very last night in Hong Kong, and it was an amazing experience to see the skyline illuminated at night.
• Tsim Sha Tsui. Central is probably the most popular place for tourists to stay, but we stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui instead, and we’re so glad we did. It’s an incredibly vibrant area for nightlife, shopping, and food, with tons of street vendors and skyscrapers and neon signs and everything else that feels very iconic Hong Kong. There’s also the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which is a lovely walk where you can get beautiful views of Victoria Harbor across the water. It’s a great place to see the Symphony of Lights - a light and sound show in Hong Kong (which happens to be the world’s largest permanent light exhibit), which starts every night at 8:00pm.
• Victoria Gaol. This one is sort of a quirky attraction, but well worth it if you’ve got the time. It’s out on Old Bailey street (which is an interesting walk in itself), a prison-turned-museum located in Central. There were a lot of cool modern art exhibits inside, including some pretty creepy ones that delved into the building’s history as Hong Kong’s oldest prison. It also boasts a beautiful stone courtyard, with more outdoor art exhibits.
• Macau, I know it’s not technically Hong Kong, but they’re so close, and you’d be remiss if you went to Hong Kong without spending a night just across the Pearl River Delta. You can get there via a quick ferry ride, or on the newly-built highway. It’s a fun place to explore, it was a Portuguese territory until 1999 and is now a really interesting mix of cultural influences. Aside from that, it’s called the Las Vegas of the East and the Gambling Capital of the World, so get ready to place your bets. We spent our day there just walking and exploring, and our night there seeing a show (we saw The House of Dancing Water - highly recommend!) and losing all our money at the casinos.
Food to Eat
• Pineapple bread at Kam Wah Bakery. Pineapple buns are a quintessential Hong Kong food, you’ll see them everywhere, but arguably the best place to get these are at Kam Wah Bakery. There’s not actually any pineapple in them, but they say the outer crust on the bun (comprised of sugar and lard) resembles a pineapple. You can grab the bread from the outside of the store to-go, but I’d recommend dining in for the full experience - the place is known for having pretty rude waiters and brusque service, and it’s something I wanted to see. Also be sure to order it with butter for the full heart-clogging experience.
• Congee. We were lucky enough to get some restaurant recommendations from my Uncle Otto, he was born in Shanghai and has lived in Hong Kong for decades, and he definitely knows food. My favorite one we tried was a congee and noodles place, tucked into Goldin Financial Building in Kowloon. It’s a small place that definitely wouldn’t get any walk-by traffic (no sign, you have to enter a swanky finance building and go up an escalator) so I think they were a little surprised to see two foreigners walk in. Congee is like a rice/meat porridge, perfect for winter days when you’re sick, but also good when you’re famished after a long day of walking. I haven’t had much congee before in my life, but this was definitely the best I’ve ever had. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Uncle Otto’s.
• Cheese tea. Yes, the infamous cheese tea, sounds gross but I loved it. Basically just tastes like incredibly rich, roasted green tea, with cheesecake on top. What’s not to like? We went to a stand called Milksha in Tsim Sha Tsui. If that’s not your thing though, regular bubble tea as well is extremely popular throughout Hong Kong and is well worth a try.
• Portugese egg tart & Macau pork bun. These are must-haves if you visit Macau. Sweet, egg custard in flaky pastry, and what is essentially just a pork chop in bread. You’ll see tons of places for egg tarts, all over the city, and I’m sure they’re all amazing but we went to Margaret's Café e Nata. There was a line of course, but the best places will always have one. You’ll also see pork buns sold everywhere, they say it’s like the “hamburger of Macau”. Ours were from Sei Kee Cafe, where they were cooked to order and so so good.
• Dim sum, specifically Cantonese pork belly. Dim sum is a style of Chinese cooking where you’re served bite-sized portions of food, in steamer baskets or on small plates. There are tons of different kinds, and it’s dangerous because you want to try everything so you keep ordering more and more and more. I highly recommend steamed shumai (of any kind, really), chicken feet (they were fun and weird to try, you can also call them “phoenix talons” if you want to be coy about it), but if I had to recommend only one, it would definitely be the cantonese pork belly.
We spent our time in Hong Kong just walking the city, and honestly, it felt like that’s all we really did. There’s so much more of the city to see, places to delve deeper and more people to connect with, but for our first visit we had a great time. I know the loud noises, dirty streets, and bustling crowds may not be for everybody, but personally, I can’t wait to get back.