Hong Kong Stop-Over
Who really enjoys hanging out at an airport on a long stop-over? On three occasions we have traveled through Hong Kong en route to another destination. Sometimes you’ll find that Cathay Pacific has the best prices for your route, and before you can say “Dim Sum, please,” you’ll find yourself travelling to a city that’s always intrigued you. The seats are spacious, the food tasty, and the entertainment varied. Before we left on the first of these journeys, someone had told us that we don’t need to have a visa to enter Hong Kong, and we saw it as an ideal opportunity to explore this city, even if only for a few hours.
Hong Kong is one place where the South African passport will provide you hassle-free access. Only after the first 30 days do you need a visa, which affords the average traveler with than enough time to visit the Pearl of the Orient.
Here are a few suggestions (by no means a comprehensive list) on how to make the most of your time:
1 - DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
There is more to do in Hong Kong than you can get to in a year, and the variety of activities abound. With the cultural combination of Cantonese and Colonial Britain, it’s a city of complementing contrasts, and it offers a treasure trove of things to do, see, experience and eat to visitors.
Admire Victoria Harbour from the water with a trip on the Star Ferry, followed by a stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, stopping at the Hong Kong Space Museum (expected to re-open at the end of March 2018 after renovations) along the way. You could also pop into the Hong Kong Cultural Centre to see current art exhibitions in their foyer and gallery, or even attend an evening of international music, dance or drama at their Concert Hall. Some of these events are even free. If you are a fan of Hong Kong cinema, then the Avenue of Stars are just waiting for you. Although it’s currently closed for renovations until the end of 2018, many exhibits have been moved temporarily to the Garden of Stars, including the most famous piece: the sculpture of Bruce Lee. The Hong Kong Museum of History is a must for history buffs. With many interactive displays, it weaves the story of a city state that still stands its ground in modern times.
For a bird’s eye view of the city, opt for The Tram to Victoria Peak or a Ngong Ping cable car ride at Lantau Island.
Of course, to many people a visit to Hong Kong is not complete without visiting some street markets. The Temple Street Night Market and the Jade Market in Kowloon, Fa Yuen Street Market, Flower Market and Ladies Markets in Mong Kok, Li Yuen Street Market in Central, Nathan Road Market, the Weekend Market, Ki Lung Street Textile Market and Bowring Road Market are some popular places to visit for everything from clothing to jewellery and some eclectic street food options. The markets are usually only in full swing after 11:00, so why not check out the merchandise before trying some street food for lunch?
For those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, a visit to one of Hong Kong’s urban parks is just the thing. The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is the city’s oldest park, and conveniently located in the heart of Hong Kong. Close by is Hong Kong Park, a more recent arrival, with an aviary, playgrounds, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, a greenhouse and a restaurant, among other things. On Wednesdays the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society leads free guided bird-watching walks here. Kowloon Park used to be a military site, which was donated by the military to be used as a public space. The sheltered walkways are ideal for a rainy day. Victoria Park in Causeway Bay offer another great getaway from the busy city streets. It features a swimming pool, tennis court and a statue of Queen Victoria. A stroll through the Kowloon Walled City Park will teach you more about the notorious history of a fallen crime neighbourhood, now transformed into a peaceful park.
For those of you travelling with kids (as well as those of you who are kids at heart), there are also Disneyland Hong Kong and Ocean Park. Both of these promise loads of fun for old and young, from meeting Mickey Mouse to a Chinese sturgeon, from a giant panda to the Chinese giant salamander, from thrill rides to a cable car and everything in between, the whole family is in for a treat.
One thing that’s definitely on my list the next time we pass through is a visit to some of the 263 outlying islands of Hong Kong. There’s Cheung Chau, favoured by windsurfers and seafood lovers (stop by almost any restaurant in Pak She Praya Road for super fresh seafood meals), which used to be the favourite hangout for pirates in years gone by. With no motorized traffic, it’s definitely a different kind of Hong Kong than you’d expect. Cheung Po Tsai, a notorious pirate from the 18th century, stashed loot in the Cheung Po Tsai Cave here. The Reclining Rock, not far from here, is definitely worth a visit as well. The island also features the Mini Great Wall and the North Lookout Pavillion (the highest point on the island), both with spectacular views. Lamma Island used to be a fishing village, which explains why you still find excellent seafood here. The WWII Kamikaze Cave, Fisherfolk’s Village, some hiking trails, Seafood Street, and Yung Shue Wan Main Street all seem to offer enough to keep a visitor occupied and entertained. Lamma Island also houses the only wind turbine in Hong Kong. These are only two of the islands. Names like Mui Wo, Tung Lung, Po Toi, Kat O, Tsing Yi, Grass Island and Tung Chung beg to be explored by those of us who want to encounter a more laid-back, rural Hong Kong.
Victoria Peak, the Star Ferry and the Lantau Island Ferry are all excellent options for spectacular harbour and city views at sunset. You could even join an evening cruise to experience the Symphony of Lights show from the water, to say good-bye to Hong Kong before you return to the airport.
2 - DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO GET THERE
The Airport Express train is the most comfortable and fastest (24 minutes) way to travel from the airport to Hong Kong, although not the cheapest. If you are low on time and have around R300, a same-day return ticket is your best option. You’ll have 60 minutes’ free access to Wi-Fi on the train. Group discounts of up to 40% are available when travelling together in groups of two or more.
If you’re not in a hurry and want to save money, you might want to take the S1 or S56 bus from the airport to the MTR station at Tung Chung, then transfer to the Tung Chung MTR line to Hong Kong, Kowloon or Tsim Sha Tsui. The total journey time should take about an hour, costing around R45.
The bus service is more scenic than those mentioned above and might cost less (around R15-75), but you’ll always risk getting stuck in traffic.
Taking a taxi might be the way to go if you want to get somewhere specific without having the hassle of changing to different modes of transport and navigating between MTR stations and bus stops. This is also the most expensive way to travel. At an average price of R375 to R525 one way (and with the risk of traffic jams), it might not be the ideal option for some.
For eco-friendly motor enthusiasts, an airport transfer via Tesla Model S might be just the thing to kick off your adventure in this city. Be aware, though, that it comes with a price tag of anywhere between R450 and R3,300 one way, depending on your service provider.
3 - WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO EAT?
For breakfast, why not dive right into Hong Kong tradition and have a traditional Cantonese breakfast of Dim Sum? Although the steamed dumplings might be our first impression about dim sum, it includes a variety of bite-sized dishes, including steamed buns, spring rolls, meatballs, spare ribs, egg tarts and many more. The Jumbo floating restaurant is one of the most well-known place to enjoy a meal like this, on the south side of Hong Kong island. This is optional when you book a ticket on the Big Bus Tour. Also, One Dim Sum has a Michelin star, and serves dumplings day and night. Tsim Chai Kee in SOHO serves excellent dim sum and fish balls.
Other Hong Kong specialties include wonton noodles (usually served in a rich broth), siu mei (roast pork, duck or chicken with a unique barbecue flavour), congee (a rice porridge which gets better the longer it’s been cooked, so try it later in the day), and tong sui ( a sweet soup eaten as dessert).
Hong Kong has its own spin on tea, of course. Milk tea is an extremely strongly-brewed drink served with evaporated milk. Yuenyeung (coffee with tea) is also extremely popular here. Whether you prefer it hot or cold, it contains about a third coffee and two-thirds Hong Kong milk tea. The name originates from the Cantonese word for mandarin ducks, which are different in appearance and usually live in pairs. The concept of two different drinks combining into a pair made this the obvious choice to name the beverage.
Another treat in Hong Kong is a sample of the excellent seafood available. Lamma and Cheung Chau Islands are of course at the top of the list of places to sample these delicacies, and other options include Sam Shing, Lau Fau Shan, Sam Shing and Sai Kung. It will probably be more expensive than street food, but it’s worth the expense to taste some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have. Don’t be fooled by appearances, either. Some eateries might not look like much, but their dishes might surprise you. Do a bit of research before you go to find the spot that suits you best.
For those of you who really want to explore exotic foods, Hong Kong is a good place to forage. Although cat and dog meat has been banned for a long time, it’s a sad affair that shark fin soup is still very much in demand and being served widely. Adventurous eaters have a spread to choose from, including snake meat, duck’s heads and tongues, Pig’s stomachs, lungs, noses and ears, chicken feet and much more.
Of course, there are many international choices available, as well as fast food outlets, street foods, ice cream parlours, coffee shops and Michelin star restaurants. No-one needs to leave Hong Kong feeling deprived of a food adventure.
4 - GO!
Having made all the essential decisions beforehand, now only one thing remains to be done: Go!
Upon arriving at the airport, you’ll pass through Immigration, and depending on your situation, you might want to make a stop in the terminal to exchange money and/or buy a SIM card, which might come in handy if you’re planning to use your phone to navigate the city.
At the airport, you have free access to Wi-Fi for 1 hour per day, and the same goes for the Airport Express train. i was caught off-guard on my last visit. While i was in the airport, i quickly sent some messages to my loved ones to tell them i'd arrived safely. Then i checked my email on the Airport Express before changing to a local metro line. When i returned that afternoon, both networks were blocked, as the 1 hour time limit had expired. So i'd recommend (for those who don’t buy a SIM card to use) that you don’t access the airport Wi-Fi when you arrive. Rather wait a while and use the network available on the Airport Express, and then you have free Wi-Fi when you return to the airport for your next flight.
So, you’re on your way to Hong Kong, then? Of course, there's still the junk boats, Nan Lia Garden, the Ding Dings (trams), the wet markets, beaches, and many other things to do. Enjoy an extraordinary day in the Pearl of the Orient. Make memories. Take photos. Take in as much as you can. And then get on the plane and wave the city a fond good-bye.
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