Hong Kong is an incredibly unique mix of Western and Eastern cultures. Even the landscape is unreal: tall, skinny skyscrapers, both new and old, are built right into these huge and beautiful mountains. It’s almost futuristic. Although it’s a very small region, there is so much to do in Hong Kong that there’s no way I could possibly cover everything in this last post, and I’m still scratching activities off my bucket list even with only two weeks left; however, here is my best effort to summarize all the incredible things you can see and do.
1. Go on hikes
I am not an athletic person. I actually think I did one hike in my whole life before this year. However, the views from the peaks of Hong Kong are breathtaking. Although the stairs and steep slopes can be exhausting and even scary (I really had to overcome my fear of heights here), it is definitely worth it once you are standing at the top. Hikes that I did include Dragon’s Back, Sunset Peak, Mount High West, Sai Kung, Lamma Island, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, and Lion’s Rock. They were challenging on a whole new level for me, but I honestly recommend all of them, especially during sunset/sunrise. There are also fun activities you can do while on them to make them more fun; for example, the hike in Sai Kung was during a camping trip, and we rented tents and slept on the beach before hiking back. Likewise, the Ten Thousand Buddhas hike culminates in its namesake temple, and the entire journey up takes you past hundreds of golden Buddha statues, all with different poses, features, and garments. However, I think the most difficult—and rewarding—trip was Sunset Peak. We actually started that one in the dark at 2am, where we climbed steep stairs for two hours, and then huddled together on the peak in the freezing cold clouds for another two hours. It was worth it though: the sunrise was unreal. Definitely one of my favorite memories in Hong Kong with one of the biggest payoffs.
2. Go shopping
I am also not made of money. However, to avoid any sort of mall or street market in Hong Kong is to never go outside. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are malls everywhere; I had no idea that Hong Kong was such a wealthy region before coming here. I can’t say that I bought any designer items, although it seems there’s a Louis Vuitton on every corner, but I definitely spent too much on shoes and clothes, décor, and souvenirs. From Causeway Bay Plaza to the IFC Mall to K11, there are lots of huge shopping districts to explore. One of my favorite areas was Sneaker Street, where for blocks, all you can see is sneakers; I must’ve walked in ten Adidas stores in the short time I was there. There are also a lot of street markets, where you can bargain for cheap trinkets, go thrifting, or learn about more traditional practices. For example, we visited a stall on the historic Ma Wa Lane, where we bought seals that stamped our Chinese names. The owner of the stall, Master Ng, has been mastering this craft for the past 40+ years and showed us every step of the process. He even allowed us to take part in the carving. It was really cool to learn about the art of handmade chop and its importance in Chinese history.
3. Visit Tsim Sha Tsui, the tourist hotspot
Better known as TST to the exchange students, Tsim Sha Tsui is right across the harbor from Hong Kong Island in which HKU is located (and where I live). It’s only a short subway/ferry ride away, but contains many tourist attractions, amazing restaurants, and cultural landmarks. Museums that I visited include the Palace Museum, Art Museum, Space Museum, and M+. They were all either free with student ID or super cheap from a student discount. Also on the same block are K11, a famous “art” mall; the Cultural Center, where I saw the HK Philharmonic Orchestra perform; Ozone, the highest rooftop bar in the world; and the Avenue of Stars. It’s also nice just to sit by the water with friends and look at the skyline, as the views of HK Island from TST are amazing.
4. Take a tram to Victoria Peak
This was one of the first attractions I traveled to in Hong Kong and it certainly raised the bar for all that follow! I would definitely recommend doing this first, especially if you’re only staying in Hong Kong for a short time. You can take a tram up the side of a Victoria Peak, which overlooks HK Island, the harbor, and TST. There is an observatory at the top that offers an amazing view of the below landscape, highlighting the unique architectural makeup of Hong Kong. It’s equally stunning at night, and you can even watch the buildings come alive during the TST lightshow.
5. Take day trips to islands
Hong Kong is home to many outlying islands. Having arrived here in late August, aka the hottest and most humid season, it was the perfect opportunity to take day trips to them all. Two of the ones I would recommend are Lamma Island and Cheung Chau Island, where you can relax on the beach, shop for souvenirs, visit temples, and even hike. The local lifestyle on these islands was so different from the city life of HK Island, so it was really interesting to see such a big cultural contrast only a ferry ride away. These islands also specialize in seafood; the coast was lined with markets with an assortment of live creatures on display, many of which I actually couldn’t identify. We ate at restaurants in these markets during both island visits, where we got multiple fresh seafood dishes for less than US$10 in total per person. Recently, we also took a day trip to Lantau Island, which is much bigger in comparison, and also accessible by subway and bus. We took part in a mindfulness meditation activity with Buddhist monks at Lotus Pond Temple and visited the Big Buddha, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Hong Kong.
And of course, between all of these sightseeing activities, explore and eat! Again, Hong Kong is a crazy blend of city and jungle; there are so many things to do here that I didn’t get to mention in this final magnum opus of a post. The culture and history I experienced and learned about here is invaluable and super unique. It will be so bittersweet to leave in two weeks, but I couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend four months abroad.