I had no idea what to expect as I stepped out onto the streets of Hong Kong for the first time. Perhaps I should have researched a bit more before our arrival (total understatement), but sometimes it’s fun to just throw yourself into a new city… ask some locals for advice… and wing it. We only had 36 hours to explore, and my plan (if you can even call it that) was to get a few tips from our hotel, rely on the guidance of a few local friends… and hope for the best.
We flew in from Tokyo after months of living in Japan. It was immediately apparent that I was in a totally different world the moment we arrived…Hong Kong is a world of extreme contrasts.Click To Tweet
Modern skyscrapers share the block with junk shops. Women click-clack Gucci shoes down dingy alleys. Popular brands have big stores on the same street as pawn shops.
With every step our nostrils were filled with different smells… from temples wafting incense to fried everything as we strolled past street vendors.
While exploring the streets we often realized we were on the wrong level, nowhere near where we wanted to be. With multiple elevators, bridges and tunnels weaving through the city like a jungle of junctions, it’s easy to get lost… this city literally has almost four levels to it! These were the moments I started cursing myself for my grand idea of ‘winging it’ in Hong Kong.
My only agenda when booking our accommodations a few months prior was to stay somewhere unique. I desperately wanted to avoid the standard, monotone suites I found while researching hotel options, and searched to uncover a boutique gem. J Plus Hotel by YOO was the trendy choice for our short stay… and as we entered the lobby, filled with playful lighting and cutting-edge art, I knew I’d done at least one thing right!
J Plus Hotel is on a street full of action (in the heart of Causeway Bay), just steps away from some of Hong Kong’s best shopping, dining and entertainment. The airport shuttle bus stops right outside the lobby door, making our quick trip very convenient. We loved the unconventional creativity of the renovated space – it felt funky, yet luxurious… quite a difficult feat! When we checked in, we were provided with a free mobile phone to use for local calls or as a wifi hotspot. Every hotel should provide one of these!
The highlight of our stay at J Plus was by far the staff. Here we are, two lost little nomads looking for a good time in Hong Kong with no clue what to do. Tony and Wilson spent a great deal of time helping to develop an impromptu itinerary, with suggestions based on rain or shine!
I owe my Hong Kong recommendations to the staff at J Plus, and a friend who has been living like a local here for a while now. With only 36 hours, and no plans upon arrival, our time could have been truly disastrous! On the contrary, we came… we got confused… we saw some big views… and we ate our weight in fabulous food. Here’s what you should do with a short stay in Hong Kong…
We spent most of our time in Hong Kong stuffing our faces, and recommend you do the same. Below I have listed unique spots that bring quality Chinese food to a whole new level… but first, here’s a video that provides a better taste of what you’re getting into. The world is your dumpling!
Tim Ho Wan, the Dim Sum Specialists
A former (famous) Four Seasons chef creates a magical, budget friendly experience that even received a Michelin star! We’ve splurged on a few Michelin starred meals during our time globetrotting, most of which started with fancy attire and ended with empty wallets. Tim Ho Wan is known to be the cheapest restaurant to receive this accolade in the entire world! This alone makes it worthy of a visit. Wear what you want – the dress code is casual. Prepare to wait in line – it is well worth the wait. Indulge in as many dumplings as you can fit in your belly, and be sure to try the famous pork buns – our personal favorite.
Man Mo Café
You have a choice – on one hand, fabulous French food… on the other, delicious dumpling. PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER! This fabulous fusion really was the pinnacle of our dining experience in Hong Kong. Truffle brie dumplings… foie gras dumplings… pork belly… the list goes on. Each ingredient perfectly wrapped in thin dumpling skin. On our next visit to Hong Kong, I’ll likely eat here once… twice… three times a day. It’s that good. This restaurant was pure ‘stumble upon’, and proof that sometimes winging it does have amazing outcomes.
Fu Sing Shark Fin
We were a bit intimidated by this menu. It’s enormous, the translations are poor, and the pictures showcase lots of scary (“what the hell is that”) seafood options. We explored a bit, thoroughly enjoying some of our choices while others weren’t quite as palatable. This restaurant does make our recommendation list for one reason though – the famous fried rice. They took what should be a very standard dish, and made it more amazing than anywhere else serving up fried rice.
Shopping seems to be a dominant, everyday activity in Hong Kong. You eat, work, drink and shop – all part of your daily routine. Most of the shopping takes place on neon-lit streets, with international brands dominating the scene. You can also find tent-filled alleys selling secondhand clothes, gadgets and gizmos where you can haggle your way to a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag… I’ll be damned if I can tell the difference. Being the bearers of only one suitcase each, with no room to spare for such nonsense, this scene did not appeal to our nomadic ways. Browsing antiques, however… well that is a scene we thoroughly enjoyed.
Our favorite street to stroll, without a doubt, is Hollywood Road. This unique causeway was one of the first roads built in British controlled Hong Kong. It’s where Chinese traders first brought goods, and the tradition lives on with dozens of independent antique traders filling the alleys today. There’s no better place in the world to find top quality, Chinese antiques. Whether you’re in the market, or simply there to browse, the street takes you back in time… feeding your senses with the smell of incense from nearby temples, and a visual array of sculptures, jewelry, vases and other golden and jade pieces for which Hong Kong is known.
What’s so fascinating, especially for my fellow architecture-loving friends, is the dense, network of skyscrapers that are crammed into such a small space. The city didn’t have much room to expand laterally, so it built up… up, and away until Hong Kong became the city with more skyscrapers than anywhere else in the world. Many of the world’s tallest buildings call Hong Kong home. It’s hard to really understand the magnitude and density of this development… unless you head to the highest point on the Island – the famous Victoria Peak where you can fully absorb a birds-eye view.
This is, without a doubt, the biggest tourist attraction in all of Hong Kong. The Peak Tram takes you to the top, where you’ll find a shopping and dining experience all catered to tourists. You can hike to the top as well, for a more ‘authentic’ experience. I say that with a bit of sarcasm, as we saw hundreds of tourists hiking their way to the top. This is one of those times it’s best to concede… admit you are indeed a tourist, and just embrace a day of tickets, lines, and audio tours as you learn more about Hong Kong’s fascinating history.
Our time in Hong Kong was short, but it didn’t take long to realize that we were experiencing a uniqueness like nowhere else in the world. The British seizure of Hong Kong transformed the culture. We didn’t need a visa to visit Hong Kong (as we would have anywhere in China)… because it isn’t really China. Hong Kong is a city of the world… an international hub. It isn’t quite Chinese, but the flag flies from its buildings. Their legal system is separate… their passports are their own… their official language is Cantonese and English (not Mandarin)… and their currency is unique (the Hong Kong dollar). There are indeed relics of the past, but Hong Kong is a city all its own – this is what makes Hong Kong great.