Look left, look right, look up. The people, the buildings, the heat–everywhere, just some of the wonderful–and arguably overwhelming–characteristics of a world-class city like Hong Kong. But push it all aside, and you’ve got a place like no other–abundant with rich culture, fascinating history, and mouth-watering food that perfectly represents the melting pot that is ever evolving.
People often dread Hong Kong heat during the summer. As a Canadian, I’m used to smoggy summers, too!
I spent a couple weeks there this past August, and whether you’re spending one week or one month in the area, here are 10 tips to help you master Hong Kong travel.
Get an Octopus card
It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the easiest way to move around. You can purchase one outright, or an on-loan card will get you through your trip for HK$50, refundable, plus another HK$100 ready to go.
Octopus will work in MTR train stations, buses, trams, ferries, many taxi cabs, and will even work as a payment card in many stores and restaurants. It’s a great way to minimize the amount of change you’ll hang onto if you’re using cash. At the end of your trip, the HK$50 deposit is given back, along with the remaining balance in cash, minus a HK$9 refund fee.
Airport Express: Say goodbye to dragging your luggage
Yes, Uber is here in Hong Kong, but their transit system is truly world class and easy to navigate. From Hong Kong International Airport, you can get into the city using the MTR’s Airport Express service. It’s affordable–a roundtrip ticket, good for 30 days, is HK$205–and quite frequent, bringing you straight into Hong Kong and Kowloon stations. After an almost 16-hour flight from Toronto, a stress-free ride was exactly what the doctor ordered!
Best part to enhance your Hong Kong travel experience, when it’s time to go home, MTR offers a unique service at Hong Kong and Kowloon stations, in partnership with over 60 of the world’s largest airlines, the ability to check into your flight and drop your bags off in town. This means you can spend less time and hassle hauling your bags through train stations and navigating the airport, and spend more time enjoying your final moments of your trip. This is included with your roundtrip Airport Express ticket or Octopus card. For me, this meant I was able to drop my suitcase off centrally in the morning the day of my departure, and was able to continue exploring until my mid-day flight.
Your bags must not exceed a certain size and weight, though MTR is quite generous with the allowance, and you may check in one day ahead up to 90 minutes before your flight. Full details are posted on your airline‘s pages and on MTR’s website.
Where to stay
The key is to stay central and close to an MTR stop. Hong Kong, especially on Hong Kong Island, can be very hilly and involve a lot of climbing. Its neighbourhoods are connected but span for many blocks on either side of the harbour. So the more central you are, the less walking you’ll do. Proximity to transit is important as you’ll be taking advantage of transit to get from one side to another.
My recommendations: Central (Hotels plentiful), Wan Chai (Airbnb), or Tsim Sha Tsui/Kowloon
Language and apps to get you around
Luckily, Hong Kong is a pretty English-friendly city. Being the melting pot of Asia brings many expats, international visitors, and foreign perspectives. This is represented in a lot of the culture and offerings throughout the city.
As for two great Hong Kong travel apps, Google Maps and Citymapper are key:
- Google Maps is great for street directions and store/restaurant info and reviews. I use it in every city I visit, and don’t know how I’d live without it travelling!
- Citymapper is a favourite. Enter where you’re going and it’ll tell you how to get there, which transport systems to use, complete with which subway exits to enter/go out of.
A harbourfront like no other
There is no doubt that Hong Kong’s waterfront is like no other in the world. Jaw-dropping from either side of the harbour, both day and night, the views are certain to impress you. Make sure to plan time to visit during both day and night. Between the flashing LED signage atop skyscrapers illuminating the night skies, or light show seen from Victoria Harbour during the evening, one would think this is a page straight from the future!
Timing and the HEAT
Depending on when you come, it’s hot–really hot. Hong Kong goes through humid and hot, sunny spells, followed by days of rain and thunderstorms. A lot of this happens May through September. August sees a lot of rain, alongside intense humidity and record heat, and December through February sees Hong Kong’s coolest temperatures, dipping down to approximately 10-15°C (50-60°F).
Ideal time for Hong Kong travel: October to December.
You’ll see comfortable heat and humidity for exploring and the least amount of precipitation.
If you go in the summer, like me, spend a couple bucks on a rechargeable fan. No one will laugh at you–except yourself and your friends back home!
Hong Kong is abundant with cheap street eats and cafés. There are too many to list in this Hong Kong travel tip guide, but a few Hong Kong travel musts include:
- Hong Kong-style breakfast at Australian Dairy Company in Kowloon
- Dim sum at Tim Ho Wan in Central
- Roast goose at Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai
- Wonton noodle soup at Tsim Chai Kee Noodle in Central
- Beef brisket at Kau Kee in Central
- Afternoon tea at Lan Fong Yuen
- Street food
- Chinese barbecue at Yat Lok in Central
- Night market eats at Temple Street in Kowloon
- Hong Kong pastries and buns
I was surprised by the number of fellow Canadians I met along the way. There is a hilariously Canadian restaurant called The Big Bite in North Point. Here, they serve Thanksgiving extravaganza specials, Canadian beers, and yes, poutine!
The simple rule of tipping
Unlike in North America, you rarely tip–it’s not part of the culture. There are a few exceptions to keep in mind.
- HK$10-$20 to hotel bell hosts and maids
- Round up to the nearest HK$10 for taxis
- 10 per cent to hair and spa services
- HK$50 to your tour guide
That said, if you get exceptional service, or feel inclined to do so, feel free to leave a higher tip.
Where to get the best views
Situated at the top of Hong Kong Island, a short (and steep) tram or taxi ride will give you breathtaking views of the megacity, with a Sky Terrace 428 observation deck and Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Go before sunset.
On the other side of Victoria Peak in Tsim Sha Tsui, sky100 brings you up–well, 100 floors up, in 60 seconds–to an observation deck of the International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong (for now). You’ll find gorgeous unobstructed views of Victoria Harbour and the city all around you. Tickets start at HK$169, and there is a café by The Ritz Carlton Hotel where you can enjoy light refreshments.
Located near Hung Hom and the Whampoa district, the Kerry Hotel by the Shangri-La Hotel group offers stunning amenities like a rooftop infinity pool, outdoor café, cocktail bar, and harbour-view lounge chairs where you can relax, enjoy the peace and quiet, and just watch the world go by. I’m a sucker for a good infinity pool, and this one’s for the books. Delightful spa services are available to help you slip away and detach from the busy rush–even just for pool day during your stay in Hong Kong.
A Hong Kong travel must when here, Star Ferry is situated along Central Pier and brings you straight into Tsim Sha Tsui. Go at least once during the day and evening, and you’ll get the perfect ‘gram of the skyline on both sides. In the evening, you’ll see the Symphony of Lights show at 8 p.m. on the harbourfront–lights on many of the large buildings, connected and harmoniously synchronized to music. Make sure to download the app beforehand.
It’s the obligatory observation wheel, but this one will only set you back HK$21, or US$3. See the city from this unique perspective, but be sure to grab tickets online and arrive for your designated time slot.
If you have room for two day trips, must-visits include Lantau Island and Macau.
Full of deep history, featuring the Tian Tan Buddha or Big Buddha, and a quaint village with restaurants, entertainment, and the historic Po Lin Monastery. Accessible via the Tung Chung MTR line in just over a half-hour from Hong Kong Island, followed by a picturesque 25-minute, 5 kilometre ride up and into the village on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, Lantau Island is a great way to pull yourself out of the hustle and bustle of the city.
While not technically Hong Kong travel, this is the perfect day trip by ferry from Hong Kong. Departures are available from Sheung Wan or Kowloon, from two ferry companies: TurboJET to Macau Ferry Terminal, and Cotai Water Jet to Taipa Ferry Terminal, closest to the Cotai Strip. Macau offers a unique view of both the country’s European influence as a former colony of Portugal, and Las Vegas-like evolution–all while under 100 kilometres from Hong Kong.
You will need a passport to visit, and clear Macau and Hong Kong immigration centres upon arrival and re-entry.
Plan a day (or two!) and see Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Pauls in Old Town Macau, eat Portuguese custard tarts, get lost in the tiled winding streets, and a short ride away is what seems like the Las Vegas of the East!
Featuring casino resorts by familiar names like MGM, The Venetian, Sands Resorts, and The Parisian, with hotels like the Four Seasons, JW Marriott, and The Ritz Carlton, and food, entertainment and shopping for the whole family, the Cotai Strip will have you walking around for hours.
There are plenty of free casino shuttles operate out of both ferry terminals, bringing you back and forth and between hotels all day long, plus an open-top, hop-on hop-off bus tour will bring you around all of the must-see areas in as little as 70 minutes. That tour will set you back HK$150, or approximately US$20. Perfect for people crunched for time and want to see everything!
Finally, as for cash, Macau’s official currency is MOP (or Macanese Pateca), but is interchangeable with Hong Kong Dollars at parity.
Have more Hong Kong travel tips? Submit them in the comments below, or to Master Travellr here.