Kicking off my first-ever post with a Hong Kong trip with friends! I never got to write about this, especially since we flew over there on a tight budget (we spent roughly $250 for the entire trip), so now’s a good time as any. For those who might not know, Hong Kong is a small island in southeast China known for its breathtaking cityscapes and fast-paced lifestyle. I had originally pitched Cambodia or Bali but my friends decided on HK because 1.) it was only an hour away from Manila and 2.) we couldn’t afford to fly anywhere else. In case you’ve been thinking about giving this awesome city a visit, here are 6 places I highly recommend you check out:
Nan Lian Garden
The Nan Lian Garden is a beautiful pocket of greenery situated in the bustling Diamond Hill area in Kowloon. Inspired by Tang dynasty architecture, Nan Lian Garden is a menagerie of various plants, trees and flowers perfect for an afternoon of reflecting on all the horrible decisions you’ve made in life so far. There are souvenir shops located inside the garden, so if you’re ballin’ in HK feel free to spend your cash on some awesome trinkets you’ll probably forget about when you get home.
Pro tip: While Nan Lian Garden doesn’t have an entrance fee, visitors are not allowed to bring food or drinks to the park. However, you are allowed to bring water, so death by dehydration is off the table. Also, my friends and I were told by a patrolling officer to keep quiet because we were making too much noise so make sure to always be mindful of your surroundings.
Chi Lin Nunnery
If you liked the Nan Lian Garden or consider yourself a lover of exquisite architecture, treat yourself to a stroll around the Chi Lin Nunnery. We went here shortly before it closed for the day, and my best memory was staring at the lotus ponds while the sky turned into the color of a lotus flower. I listed this next because this is literally across the street. If you want to hit up two temples in the same afternoon, this is your best bet.
Pro tip: If I remember correctly you need to climb a lot of steps before you get to the temple courtyard. Make sure you wear some comfy footwear prior to temple-hopping (or traveling anywhere in general) so that all the walking won’t kill your feet. Also, the nunnery closes around late afternoon, so come earlier.
Tan Tian Buddha
Located on Lantau Island, the Tan Tian Buddha is the second largest sitting Buddha in the world. The first is my ex-boyfriend. KIDDING. The first is the Leshan Giant Buddha in mainland China. Now, if it’s your first time visiting Hong Kong, the Tan Tian Buddha should definitely be on your list of things to see while you’re there—that is if you’re willing to brave through a sea of tourists and hike all 268 steps to the base. There’s also the small detail of having to ride a cable car to actually get to the island.
Pro tip: Feeling a little adventurous? Skip the Starbucks at the Ngong Ping village and try the street food en route to the statue. It’s clean and won’t disappoint!
Po Lin Monastery
Quick confession: I was assigned to the Lantau Island part of the trip but I didn’t really plan on visiting the Po Lin Monastery on the day we went. It was still pretty early in the afternoon when we wrapped up our visit to the giant Buddha, so when we saw the signs pointing to the Po Lin Monastery, we decided to check it out on a whim. I remember entering The Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas with my mouth open because of how mesmerizing it was. Think floor to ceiling gold peppered with intricate details that may have taken years and years to complete.
Pro tip: There’s an area where you can buy and burn incense, which everyone should try at least once during their trip. Another thing, the Po Lin Monastery is a place of worship, so treat it with respect. You’ll also see monks roaming around, and as much as you’re dying to get a selfie with one, it’s best to leave them be.
My parents took me to see the viewing deck almost 10 years ago, but I had very little recollection of the visit aside from buildings and being really, really tired. Coming back to it in 2014, I realized I forgot about it as a child on purpose. Let me manage your expectations as early as now: it is a pain in the ass to get to Victoria Peak, especially when it’s high season. We went straight to the tram after our trip to Lantau, so we didn’t get to the station until late afternoon. There was a horde of tourists in line for the tram and the station was so packed with bodies, sweat and misery I thought I was in prison. Was the view beautiful? Yes. Would I do that again? Hell no.
Pro tip: Hong Kong doesn’t really have a low season since people are always coming over there, but I can advise you to avoid going during Chinese New Year, New Year, Christmas or any other major holiday. Also, you don’t have to take the tram to get to Victoria Peak. You can take a bus or a taxi, but you’ll get a different view.
Feel like blowing some serious cash in Hong Kong? Prepare your best bargain pitch and hop on the MTR to Mong Kok, Kowloon’s famous shopping mecca. Get lost under the vibrant neon signs and explore the seemingly endless rows of stalls selling anything from exotic fruits and vegetables to Nike shoes with its signature check sign obviously attached the wrong way. Whether you’re looking for pretty silk robes, “I love HK” souvenir shirts or knockoffs of almost every shoe brand imaginable, Mong Kok is where it’s at.
Pro tip: Don’t take the prices at face value—one of the great things about shopping in Mong Kok is that you can bargain for virtually anything. My personal approach involves haggling for the price I want (reasonable, of course) and if the street vendor says no, walk away. 9 times out of 10 they will yell at you to come back and acquiesce to the price you gave. I bought so much stuff on our last night I had to sit on my luggage so that it closed.
Know any other interesting places to see in Hong Kong? Tell me in the comments!