We have been back from Hong Kong for a few weeks, and it just now feels like life has re-settled into a regular routine. The backpacks are unpacked, the souvenirs are handed out, and now it’s time for the blogging to begin!
Our time in Hong Kong was wonderful and a great introduction to Asia for the two of us. Everyone we encountered was quick to smile, there were endless places to explore, and the food was phenomenal. While I’m still writing “A Vegan’s Guide to Hong Kong” (expect that next week), here’s a round-up of our very favorite things in Hong Kong and nearby areas. So, in no particular order, here are five activities and destinations that shouldn’t be missed during a visit to Hong Kong:
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
About a 45 minute train ride outside of Hong Kong City, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is in the small village of Sha Tin. It’s an easy 10 minute walk to the beginning of the path, during which you’ll pass by a small square with local vendors selling snacks, flowers, and incense. Once you reach the beginning of the trail, be prepared for a bit of a hike. The meandering path up the mountain is lined with unique gold-painted arhat (the Buddhist equivalent of saints) statues, ranging from familiar meditation poses to the outright bizarre.
At the end of your walk, you will be greeted by the monastery, a beautiful sprawling area full of (you guessed it) more statues and temples. With the smell of incense lingering in the air, you can visit the nine-story pagoda or the temple that is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery’s namesake, filled with nearly 13,000 unique Buddha statues inside. As a bonus, the small restaurant up there is entirely vegetarian and has the world’s best spring rolls.
Note: Fake monks will occasionally try and scam tourists by asking for ‘donations’ by the entrance. These are not real monks and should be ignored. One tried to put a bracelet on my wrist but quickly backed off when I gave them a firm “No thank you.”
Hong Kong Park
Visited by complete accident, we wandered into Hong Kong Park after skipping the nearby Peak Tram and its ridiculously long line. A wonderful green oasis in the midst of the city, the park features tons of flora and fauna for the curious visitor. We arrived later in the evening, so the Aviary and Tea Wares Museum (both of which looked awesome from the outside) were already closed, but there was still plenty to enjoy.
Throughout Hong Kong Park you’ll see a plethora of animals like families of turtles, brightly colored koi fish, and friendly pigeons. The path around the lake is the optimum place to go for a stroll, or take a packed lunch to eat on one of the many benches. Don’t forget to visit the Vantage Point Tower, which gives an uninterrupted view of the entire park.
Cheung Chau Island
Our trip to Hong Kong fatefully fell on the date of Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival. The bun festival, a Taoist tradition, celebrates the island surviving a devastating plague hundreds of years ago, and also coincides with Buddha’s birthday. The festivities include specialty handmade buns (I highly recommend the lotus seed ones), an almost endless string of parades, children dressed up as deities, and vendors hawking everything from hand-painted shirts to mini-bun key chains.
While the festival is an opportune time to visit Cheung Chau, which is a 45-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong Island, there are many other features on the island that make it worth a visit. A gorgeous beach, adorable fishing vessels, an ancient pirate cave, and various temples make Cheung Chau a destination for any time of the year.
Day Trips Outside of Hong Kong
I know, I know. This isn’t a must-do that’s actually in Hong Kong, but I think it’s a great option for those who want to do a little extra exploring during their trip. For those spending the majority of their time in Hong Kong, there are plenty of opportunities to do a little country hopping to places like China, Macau, and even Taiwan. While there, we took two Viator tours, one to Macau and the other to China. While Hong Kong and Macau are all technically part of the People’s Republic of China, these three regions are distinct enough in culture that they’re all definitely worth a separate visit.
Knick Knack (Knock Off) Shopping
Visiting shopping districts or malls has never been a big interest for Peter and me. We’d much rather hit up a local flea market or craftsperson for souvenirs and trinkets to commemorate our trips. I write all this to say, the shopping markets in Hong Kong are a serious must-visit. Full to the brim with knock-offs of everything from Star Wars Legos (take note of the curvy font that actually say ‘Star Wart’) to jade statues that were undoubtedly just pretty glass, there are tons of stalls and areas to explore with wide-eyed wonder. While this cheap (and fascinating) area may not be to everyone’s buying tastes, it’s at least a hilarious place to spend an hour or two while looking at the horrendously painted or misspelled products. Some of our favorites to visit were the Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies’ Market.