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Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ Hong Kong has a very impressive growth story – from a tiny fishing village to a buzzing and exciting cosmopolitan metropolis. It is a city that has retained the old-world charm while catering to the persuasive needs of changing economy. Owing to the fusion of the eastern and western cultures, I have often heard the term ‘Asia’s world city’ being associated with it.
HK has always been a country that has confused me as a traveler. The towering skyscrapers, ‘the pace of a jet place’ lifestyle, small residential areas, the dense population – though these have always intrigued me, they’ve also made me wonder if I would enjoy a vacation there.
Well, I ultimately ended up not having to make that decision at all, as my daughter made it for me. A few months prior to her birthday, our 4-year-old sat me down and had a rather ‘serious’ talk with me about how the only thing she wanted as a present was a trip to Disneyland. We also had parents visiting then who seemed as excited at the thought of exploring the melting pot, and of course, of indulging the grandchild! And thus began mission ‘Vacation Hong Kong’.
Travel Planning Guide
Best time to visit
The weather is typically mild through the year. However, the autumn season i.e. October to early December is the best time to visit HK. The summers can be quite humid and the winters quite chilly so pack wisely if you wish to travel in those months.
Nationals from over 170 countries enjoy a visa-free stay in HK for periods ranging from 14-90 days. However, please note that beginning January 2017, Indian passport holders will need to pre-register on the government site to avail the free 14 day visit visa. Singapore passport holders can stay visa-free in HK for up to 90 days.
Hong Kong Dollar or HKD which is pegged at 7.81 HKD to 1 USD or 6 HKD to 1 SGD (as of January 2018). There are several currency exchange counters across the city which are open till late. Many ATMS also accept international cards to dispense money.
The standard electrical voltage in Hong Kong is 220 volts AC, 50Hz
The public transportation is the lifeline of the country. The land transport consists of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), buses, trams and taxis. The city also has ferry services between HK and the outlying islands.
Octopus is a must have accessory in HK. This contactless smart card is a one-stop solution that works as a payment system on all modes of public transport (including MTR, buses, trams and ferries), shops, department stores, supermarkets, fast-food and retail outlets, bookstores, convenience stores, cinemas, public swimming pools, car parks etc. I highly recommend loaning a card and staying hassle free through the trip. The On-Loan Octopus card is a rechargeable stored value card that is perfect for tourists. There are differential rates for adults, senior citizens and children so ensure you get the right one. The card can be returned at customer service centres to reclaim your deposit. Click here for more info about Octopus.
Where to Stay
Both hotels and Airbnb are popular options to stay. We prefer Airbnb for the extra space, especially while travelling in a group and/or with kids. Here is a listing of the popular areas to stay in. We chose an Airbnb apartment in Wan Chai and it was very convenient in terms of accessibility.
Hong Kong Island – Central / Wan Chai / Admirality
- Close to business district
- Centrally located in terms of transport hubs
- Close to high end shopping outlet
Kowloon / Tsim Sha Tsui
- Close to dining options
- Adjacent to street markets
What to Do: My Pick of Top Attractions
Having a kid along means planning to spend 2 days at the wonderland. However, I must admit the excitement is contagious – we were a happy bunch of 30 somethings and 60 somethings, being led by a 4-year-old on a trip to relive our fairy tale fantasies. From the photo opportunities to the themed rides to the lovely cheerful staff and the carnival that brought the whole fantasy world alive, it was a truly a trip that got etched in our memories and made each one of us that kid we would again love to be.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car (& Lantau Village)
The biggest sitting Buddha built outdoor
This spectacular 25-minute ride offers you a breathtaking view of the mystical blue seas and the lush green mountain scape. The cable car takes you to Lantau village which also houses the Po Lin Monastery and The Big Buddha. The Big Buddha is is the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoor. The monastery also has an interesting path called the ‘Wisdom Path’ which encourages the devotees to chant the heart sutra in Chinese. The Monastery also serves delicious vegetarian meals for a nominal fee and gives you a true flavor of the local cuisine – subtly flavored yet delicious. This trip can be quite surreal and takes you to a zone where modern times and experiences seem to be intermittently forgotten.
The Victoria Peak is the highest point of Hong Kong at an altitude of 522 feet and is the perfect vantage point to get a bird’s eye view of the island. The scenery evolves from the buzzing high rise buildings and busy harbor to the night where the twinkling lights and patterns leave you mesmerized. The peak station also houses the Madam Tussauds Museum featuring over 100 celebrities in their waxed best.
The best and most effective way to reach Victoria Peak is by tram. The exciting 1.4 km long journey in a colonial styled tram gives you ample opportunity to explore the city from varying heights. The tram can get incredibly busy during peak times so buying tickets ahead of time maybe a good idea.
The harbour is an important landmark since the British empire and plays an important part in trade today too. It hosts the city’s skyscrapers and business district and is a pretty sight in the evenings. The skyline boasts of two of the twenty tallest buildings in the world around the small bay. The Star Ferry is a fabulous way to discover the coastline and is exciting for the kids too.
Hong Kong grows on you. Although I found it too fast paced for a holiday, I did feel a certain connection and almost started missing it as soon as my plane took off. It is a unique experience – smaller spaces, crowded roads, a MTR system which is older than modern Singapore; complemented by the bustling business district, high end boutiques and cosmopolitan population. So, put on your most comfortable walking shoes, do your research on packing well, get your itinerary right and get set to enjoy the happening city that is Hong Kong. And of course, if you need help planning your trip, email us.