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Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Budget Travel Series: Hong Kong (Part 1)

   It has been 2 weeks and I am still missing the bright lights, landscaped gardens, architectural wonders, dim sum, milk tea, and the awesome transportation system of Hong Kong.

   It is such a fast paced city, where mostly everything (from eating to shopping) is done briskly but efficiently. It is highly urbanized; but the rich culture of the fragrant harbor manages to seep through the island's surface. Sky scrapers coexist seamlessly with zen gardens and old temples; and street vendors hawking everything from souvenir items, techie accessories, to fried food can be easily found near huge shopping complexes. And speaking of shopping, there is something for everyone here- there are the street markets dedicated to ladies' fashion, boutiques selling apparel by local talents, and avenues with rows of luxury stores. And with a dizzying array of cuisine to suit all palates, one could never go hungry after long hours of shopping and exploring.

Hong Kong's famous harbor on a foggy day 

The egg-shaped Hong Kong Space Museum

The Hong Kong Observation Wheel in Central

Western Market in Central, the oldest surviving market in Sheung Wan

   With so many things to do, stuff to eat, and places to explore, it can all seem chaotic at first. But once you take it all in that's when you realize that this is exactly part of the allure of Hong Kong. Some friends have been asking about my itinerary for this trip and I would be very glad to share it here with you. 

   I came with a few goals: to learn, to experience, and most of all, to relax! I think vacations are pretty much useless if I just end up tired and broke haha.

   I'm breaking down this post into several parts, as this was a 4 days and 4 nights trip. I wanted to visit more places and experience activities that were uniquely Hong Kong without draining my bank account. So that meant more parks and temples, and less shopping malls. I didn't exactly have a day to day itinerary, I just listed down what I wanted to see and do and came up with a masterlist, I spent a little time reading up on HK (on the internet and a Lonely Planet guide book) plus scouring IG and Pinterest for posts by locals and narrowed it down to these:

Places To Visit:

1. Man Mo Temple (Sheung Wan)
2. Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden (Diamond Hill)
3. Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
4. Apliu Street Market (Sham Shui Po)
5. Shek Kip Mei Garden Hill
6. Temple Street Market and Sneaker Street (Mong Kok)
7. Cat Street/Antique Street (on Upper Lascar Row)
8. Chungking Mansions (TST)
9. Disneyland
10. Any park/museum we'll accidentally stumble upon (which happened to be Kowloon Park and Heritage 1881, respectively)

Kowloon Park

Fa Yuen Street aka Sport Shoes Street or Sneaker Street (Mong Kok)

Enjoying a little peace and quiet with this breathtaking city view on top of Shek Kip Mei Garden Hill

To Do:

1. Ride the Star ferry at night (TST-Central and vice versa)
2. Ride the tram (Central)
3. Get an octopus card
4. Eat at a dai pai dong (outdoor, open-air food stalls)
5. Have HK-style breakfast at a cha chaan teng (tea restaurants serving affordable Hong Kong and Western style fare)
6. Eat Indian food at Chungking Mansions

Riding the tram through Central

 Beef balls at Haiphong Road Food Market

Fried snacks at a street food stall in Mong Kok

Save some for dim sum!

What to expect:

1. Weather:

   Hong Kong has 4 seasons:
  • Cooler winter months are from December to February
  • Spring is from March to May, with temperatures ranging from  21-24°C   
  • The hot, humid months are from June to September
  • Autumn is from November to December.
  • *Rainfalls (light to heavy) tend to occur all year round
 #ootd! Packed space-saving skirts, tights, and tops for easy mixing and matching. Weather was quite unpredictable, glad I was able to pack light clothing for higher temps

2. Electrical Outlets:

   Bring a travel adapter for your electronics, because not all hostels provide this. However, if you forgot to bring one, you can purchase an adapter at street markets for about HKD 10 up. Their outlets look like this:

Type G outlet

  • Hong Kong dollars- preferably enough for the whole trip
  • Credit cards are also widely accepted (even at convenience stores)
  • Octopus Card- it is a contactless, stored-value smart card. It can be used to make electronic payments in many establishments and is the widely used payment system in all types of public transport in Hong Kong (MTR, buses, trams, the Star Ferry).This is very helpful especially if you stay there for several days or plan on taking public transportation a lot.  This is such a time and stress-saver haha. Octopus cards are available at all MTR stations and at the airport customer service.
My on-loan Octopus card

4. Mobile Networks:

   Stay connected without having to pay exorbitant roaming rates by purchasing a local prepaid SIM card, available at 7/11 stores. We got a China Mobile Sim (HKD 88) with 3 days unlimited data use.

5. Navigate:

  •    For the techie: Google Maps to the rescue! Try saving offline maps or screenshots of the locations you're visiting, and if it's possible, Chinese versions of it too. There is also an app called MTR Mobile which makes it easy to figure out navigating HK by MTR.
  •    For the traditional: if old-school maps are more of your thing, there are maps provided at the airport so don't forget to take one upon arrival. It's very detailed, down to the streets, and there is an MTR and bus guide on it too.
  •    Lost?- We got lost several times despite having both Google Maps and the old school map, and we were fortunate enough to come upon people who were kind enough to help us. This is also where Chinese versions of the maps come in handy, because not everyone can understand English.

   Hope this little overview was helpful enough. Are you planning to go to Hong Kong anytime soon? Stay tuned for the next parts of this series :D Specific IT, directions, and more coming up :)