Hanging Out in Hong Kong

the streets of hong kongI’ve become a bit of a lazy traveler. I barely do any planning or research anymore. I hardly ever look into where I’m going until I get there. Sometimes that doesn’t bother me; just winging it has its benefits. But sometimes I regret not doing any research, because I never know what to see or do or even where to start, and I often end up missing sites and activities I know I would have enjoyed.

And I didn’t do any planning for my trip to Hong Kong either. I knew nothing about the city other than that I had to eat dumplings while there. But I knew who would know what to do—you. So I did something I haven’t done before: I let my readers plan my trip. I asked people on Facebook and Twitter to suggest things to see and do and then used their responses as a guide. I was very impressed and overwhelmed by the outpouring of ideas and information. I knew I’d never be able to do everything suggested in the three days I had in Hong Kong.

But I tried.

Friday Night
markets in hong kong
By the time I arrived at my guesthouse on Hong Kong Island from the airport, it was dinnertime and I was severely jetlagged. After eating dinner (delicious fried chicken and rice) and exploring my neighborhood, I collapsed into bed around 9pm and fell asleep within minutes. So much for Friday night!

ocean park theme park in hong kong
A few people recommended Ocean Park, so that’s where I went. It’s a theme park that features giant panda bears, rides, and an aquarium. I’d never seen a giant panda before and was pretty excited to see one, though I wasn’t so excited when it decided to do a #2 right in front of me. That was more than I wanted to see. I spent the day photographing pandas, enjoying a few roller coasters and water rides, and marveling at how you can still find huge tour groups with a flag-holding tour guide at an amusement park. I mean, is it that difficult to find your way through a tiny amusement park? PLUS, the guides had microphones so they could talk about….what? Going on the rides? Sometimes I just don’t get those tour groups.

giant panda in hong kong

To be honest, this is a pretty lame amusement park. The aquarium doesn’t have a lot of interesting fish. The rides are less than thrilling. The food’s bland. It’s way too crowded. I wouldn’t go back to Ocean Park. The only reason to go there is to see a giant panda. It’s worth the entrance fee alone.

That night, I followed the advice I’d gotten from many on Twitter: I went to Lan Kwai Fong. This area of town is one of the main nightlife areas and is especially popular with expats and tourists. It’s pretty much all foreigners. There was a carnival going on, and the streets were lined with beer sellers, food vendors, music, and dancing girls. After generous quantities of beer, my friend and I called it a night, and I went back home to finally kick my jetlag.

kowloon park
Waking up early, I plowed through some work and then explored Kowloon Island. I went around the seaport and walked around Kowloon Park, which is a lovely place. I don’t know if it’s just a Sunday thing, but everywhere I walked, I encountered small groups of Muslim women sitting around, chatting, eating, and sometimes singing. Maybe someone from the area can clue me in on why it was only Muslim women (I’m guessing from Indonesia) who were doing this.

The park is an excellent way to cool off as it’s very well shaded, though I was super sad the public pool was closed until March. I mean, come on city officials, it’s still pretty damn hot in November!

Walking away disappointed and dripping with sweat, I took the advice of every travel blogger known to man—I visited the famous Chung King Mansion. Famous for being derelict, run down, and a huge fire hazard, I couldn’t imagine staying at one of the guesthouses in the building. Sure, they’re really cheap, but even that’s too cheap for me. However, a bright point is that there are some really good Indian food stalls and restaurants on the ground floor. Delicious food at a good price. And if you for some reason need a stolen phone, this is the place to go. They have everything.

ning pong cable cars
I did the Ngong Ping 360 on my last day. This is a cable car that takes you through Lantau Island and up to see the famous giant Buddha. My whole weekend in Hong Kong was beautiful, warm, and sunny, but the day I decided to do the cable car ride for sweeping views of the city, it rained. It got cloudy. It got cold. I could barely see a few feet in front of me. But because I have an incredible fear of heights, that might have been a good thing. I spent most of the ride cursing at my friend for taking me on this thing while trying not to look down. I was miserable. Sure, the scenery was impressive when the clouds broke on the way back, but it’s not an experience I want to relive.

And the Buddha statue? It’s pretty awesome. It was gigantic and ornate. I was very impressed by it.

giant buddha on lantau island

After only a few seconds in Hong Kong, I realized three days was not nearly enough time to explore the city. I need more time. A lot more time. I didn’t make it to Macau. Inclement weather prevented me from heading to the peak for a view of the city at night. I missed the fireworks. I didn’t get to some of the outer islands or small villages. I just missed so much.

But the food…the food! Hong Kong is a foodie city if there ever was one. Around every corner is an amazing noodle, dumpling, or dim sum restaurant. Smells of noodles and pork and fried chicken fill the air. My nose guided me to delicious food stalls for three days. And as an avid sushi lover, I was overjoyed to find that there seemed to be a decent quality sushi restaurant everywhere I went.

I barely scratched the surface of this fabulous and mesmerizing city. And by saying even that, I’m being very generous with the amount of sightseeing I did.

I loved Hong Kong and regret coming to Asia so often yet never having made it here before. Hong Kong is simply an amazing and energetic city that you should visit, and I need to return for a much longer visit.

And thanks, everybody, for the great travel advice. This was my first experiment in having my whole trip planned for me, and it went extremely well. I might have to crowdsource my trips more often. You are better than any guidebook.

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  1. Great idea asking your followers to suggest places for you to visit Matt and even more glad that you enjoyed one of my favourite cities!

    I loved Ngong Ping and the cable car ride to the Giant Buddha but wished I’d had time to visit the tea plantation or the monastery near by.

    Macau is pretty good food wise as well. Lots of Portugese influence in the food still remains in the Macanese culture.

  2. I’m guessing the muslim women hanging out in the parks are the household maids from Indonesia enjoying their day off. If I’m not mistaken they get every other Sunday rest.

  3. Cool idea. Sounds like you are taking a channeling your inner Tim Ferris by letting others/fans suggest what to do next. I usually find that bloggers always have the most useful info when I am trying to research my next destination over watered down forums. I think thats how I discovered you actually by looking for somehow who’s experienced what I was looking for. I have tried both methods of travel and a little planing goes a long way as long as you’re flexible and nothing beats suggestions of people who have been there. Keep up the good stuff.

  4. Valerie

    I’ve been studying here in Hong Kong for the past 4 months, and still have a huge list of things to do here. If you get a chance next time check out Cheung Chau Island, or try one of the amazing walking trails across Hong Island or the New Territories. Make sure you come back here, and check out more of one of the world’s most diverse cities!

    • NomadicMatt

      There’s so much to see. I feel overwhelmed. I never thought Hong Kong would have so much to offer but I am pleasantly and happily surprised.

  5. Andy

    The Indonesian women, as someone has already stated, were likely live-in maids. I lived in Hong Kong in the late 80s, so my info is a little out of date. At that time the vast majority of expat maids were Phillipino.

  6. The cable cars look really cool. I’d put that on my list of things to do when I go. I was supposed to go to Hong Kong a few years ago, but do to certain circumstances the plans had to get canceled.


  7. seqiah

    the muslim women/maid hanging out in the parks enjoying their day off is a common sight here in Kuala Lumpur. I’d venture a guess it’s the same sight in other Southeast Asia countries

  8. Kan

    Hong Kong and Singapore – both amazing foodie cities in the world! Next time you should look into spending some time at Happy Valley racecourse for a few awesome drinks over some horse betting and then head down to the local hawker eateries and just soak yourself in AMAZING food.

  9. Arron

    Hong Kong is my most favorite place, I have been there 3 times since 2006 and will be back there in October 2012. By the way I love the picture you used for Sunday – it just so happens the picture I use for my Avatar on most sites was taken from the opposite side of the shelter thing (sorry can’t remember what they are called).

    Oh I got excited about the Pandas aswell and thankfully they did not do a #2 in front of me.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

  10. I just spent two weeks in Hong Kong (on the airport now) and even that wasn’t enough. Sadly the cable car was under scheduled maintenance when I went to Lantau, so I missed some of the spectacular views. I also visited the Cheung Chau and Lamma islands, which I’d definitely recommend!

  11. I like the idea of letting readers plan your trip. I recently let my readers pick if we were going to Laos or Vietnam next when my boyfriend and I couldn’t agree. Unfortunately, he totally won. Need to fix the votes next time.

  12. ‘And the Buddha statue? It’s pretty awesome. It was gigantic and ornate. I was very impressed by it.’ Travel writing at its best? :( After really trying to see why so many people follow this blog and hanging around for a couple of months, I must say I’ve had it. The above-quoted sentence is the last straw. I give up. This is really not meant to be offensive, but I’m simply voicing my opinion, and I hope it doesn’t come across any other way.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’m sorry the content has disappointed you over the last couple of months but I take your criticism to heart and it’s things like this that make me strive to become better.

  13. Thanks for your post, Matt! You’ve given me a couple of extra hints for my month in Hong Kong next year. I’m sure you’ll get back and see much more!

  14. Planning on working in Hong Kong in the near (probably far) future. I used to be the trip planner but now Adela does a lot of it. Although I like knowing what to do before we get there, I sometimes prefer just winging it and seeing what happens and taking each moment as it comes. Get some great stories that way.

  15. Matt

    I did something similar with Hong Kong. When I was on Facebook, I made a poll letting everyone vote on the place I should travel of 4 choices (Cairo, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Iceland). Hong Kong was the winner. Best skyline in the world.

  16. Al

    Can I suggest that the next time you come here you don’t waste your time on our theme parks (Ocean Park) and overpriced tourist attractions (The Giant Buddha) but actually get out and experience the real Hong Kong? Here’s a list to start you off:

    – Lugard Rd loop of The Peak
    – Tai Tam Reservoir loop
    – Temple St night market
    – Chi Lin Nunnery
    – Wong Tai Sin Temple
    – Kowloon Walled City Park
    – Sai Kung waterfront
    – Stanley Market

  17. peter viragh

    Thank you Matt, for your comments on Hong Kong. We are going to Beijing, Xian, Xinang, and also
    Hong Kong. My only question is did you feel safe, in the streets with so many people.?

  18. Jane

    the muslim women are probably domestic helpers,

    plus you need to go to the right places in lkf, there’s actually lots of locals.

  19. Tim Hk

    I’m a Scottish guy who has been here in HK for 7 years now, great city to visit, friendly and very safe , just watch the traffic!
    Bars/places/ venues change very frequently due to high rents but there’s always loads to do and Matt is right, it’s foodie heaven.
    If you have time I’d like to recommend a few other things if you visit. Get a ferry over to lamma island , nice hike from one ferry stop to the other. Cheung chau also a cool little island with great seafood and nice walks. Try and get there early as Hkers are notoriously late for everything and if you head out early you will miss the crowds especially at weekends. Take the ferry to ‘ sok kwu wan’. Another little hidden gem is on the peak. Most tourists head up there on the tram and it’s great, but if you walk up the hill you can see from the peak, up lugard roads there’s some lovely gardens , green grass ( not much in the city) and a really nice area that many don’t get to.
    I would personally avoid Disney and ocean park unless you have small children. There’s are a very odd and random statue park near Repulse bay, ( tin hau and Kwun yum statues) free to get in and fascinatingly tacky! Enjoy the city !

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