The definitive list of must-knows before you visit the city of skyscrapers.
When I was 21 I moved to Hong Kong for five months – and I can say without a doubt it was the most exhilarating five months of my life. The city is a hub of excitement, and I can’t recommend travelling there enough. Below are all the things I wish I had known when I first stepped foot into this amazing city.
First things first. The Octopus Card is a must for all visitors – this card costs HK$50 (a refundable deposit), and will be your life line in Hong Kong.
The Octopus card can be used for anything from public transport to convenience store purchases to food – just look for an Octopus reader wherever you shop. You can buy the cards at 7/11 (pro tip: 7/11 will be your favourite one stop shop for most everyday amenities. More on this below).
Transport from the airport
The best way to get into the city from the airport is the Airport Express. To get from the airport to the city costs between HK$70 and HK$115, depending on where you need to get off. There are other methods of transport from the airport (cab, bus, etc), but taxis are pricey and much less efficient, as they have to battle Hong Kong traffic, and buses are cheap but definitely not worth it if you have big bags and are tired from your flight. The Airport Express is a smooth, air-conditioned rail service the offers wonderful views as you make the 24 minute journey into the city.
In North America, 7/11 stores are quite common and convenient – but in Asia, 7/11 reigns over every other corner store. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve used a 7/11 more than a handful of times while living in Canada for 20 years. In Hong Kong, rarely a day passed by without me stopping by my local 7/11 at least twice. They have everything – household amenities, cell phone plans, Octopus card reloads, microwavable meals, alcohol, snacks, electronics, and scores of other useful items. Make sure you mark out your closest 7/11, as its probably your cheapest option for daily conveniences. If you plan to get a cell phone plan in Hong Kong (which I would definitely recommend, as they tend to be cheap), go to 7/11 and get a prepaid sim card. If your phone is unlocked you can load up your sim card monthly with unlimited data for approximately $15 US!
Food and Drink
One of the hardest parts of living in Hong Kong for me was the diet. I was on a strict budget, and my apartment didn’t have a full kitchen (just a microwave and a hot plate). Even if I did have a full kitchen, most Hong Kongers eat out for most meals – groceries are expensive, and Hong Kong food culture is taken seriously by most residents.
The food was incredible. I can’t rave enough about my favourite restaurants, and the sheer amount of options you have for every meal.
Unfortunately, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may struggle a bit in Hong Kong. This isn’t to say its impossible; I know of some amazing vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and Western food is very common. But you will pay a lot more, and you may have to travel farther for meal options.
The big, must-try dim sum restaurants are Tim Ho Wan and Din Tai Fung – two world class restaurants for decent prices. Get ready to feast on delicious pork buns, soup dumplings, and other mouthwateringly delicious Cantonese cuisine.
There are a million other restaurants with fabulous culinary fares – but it wasn’t restaurants I struggled with. It was the every day, budget friendly meals that were difficult for me to find. If I wasn’t careful, I found myself eating packaged ramen or microwavable 7/11 food way too often. The sodium content caught up with me, and I found myself often dying for some fresh vegetables.
The most typical cheap food in Hong Kong is cafe food – an interesting fusion between East and West, belaying some of Hong Kong’s fascinating history. Some examples: Hong Kong style chicken noodle soup, Hong Kong style toast, etc.
In Hong Kong’s often sweltering heat, its important to stay hydrated. Unfortunately for some Westerners who are used to drinking ice cold water to quench their thirst, Hong Kongers tend to prefer warm or hot water. It can be bewildering for Westerners to order water at a restaurant and be given a steaming cup of freshly boiled water, too hot to even drink. They do this to prove the water has been boiled, and is therefore safe to drink – so if you’re adverse to hot water like I am, stock up on the refrigerated bottled water in 7/11!
Hong Kong is known for its skyscrapers, and the bustle and rhythm of the city amid a sea of glass buildings is truly a spectacular sight.
But my absolute favourite part of living in Hong Kong was the hiking. Just a short metro ride outside the city and you’re in fabulous, lush, rolling hills with some of the best vistas in the world.
And the best part is that with the gorgeous weather, you can hike all year round! In July and August when the temperatures are at their peak, choose hikes that end near the ocean so you can submerge yourself in the cool waves.
Later in the year when temperatures drop you can attempt the harder hikes – my personal favourite was Sharp Peake in Sai Kung, an area in the beautiful New Territories.This hike definitely isn’t for amateurs, and you’re far away from civilization so make sure you stay safe. But despite the risks, standing on this rocky perch high above a deserted beach was one of the most incredible moments of my life.
Nightlife: LKF + Wan Chai
Hong Kong nightlife is one of the best things about the city. The two neighbourhoods I found myself consistently visiting were Wan Chai and LKF, both easily accessible by metro or bus. Wan Chai Wednesdays were legendary – hop over to Wan Chai on Wednesday nights for amazing drink specials at various bars all around the district. Cocktails range from free for ladies to about $3 US. Our personal go to was a bar called Devil’s Advocate a rowdy biker-type joint that played catchy music and offered mixed drinks for a HK$20 note, but definitely hop around to find your favourite.
LKF, Hong Kong’s central clubbing scene, is definitely not for everyone. A mix of locals, expats, and tourists congregate in sloppy masses around a few square blocks in the Central district. All sorts of clubs and high end drinking establishments offer the promise of wild nights full of dancing and booze. Alcohol is expensive here, so I would definitely recommend buying drinks at the 7/11 and drinking on the street rather than paying ridiculous amounts for shots at the clubs. (Don’t worry, sipping your Heineken on a curb in full view is completely legal! Just don’t get too messy.) Find the clubs that aren’t charging cover, and spend the night dancing till your feet hurt. LKF is great if you treat it right – go with a group of friends, let loose, and enjoy yourself.
Hong Kong has a million things to offer, and 5 months there wasn’t long enough to fully explore. Above all, I would recommend walking around, taking in the sights, and talking to locals – they’ll be able to give you the tips the best bars, the best beaches, the best food, and everything you need to make your Hong Kong travels memorable. Although technically Hong Kong is part of China, it is a truly unique place, and very different from the mainland. Most locals are proud of their Hong Kong identity, and do not identify as Chinese. It is truly one of the most exciting cities in the world, so make the most of it!