In 2015, my boyfriend and I were all booked to go to Nepal but a week before we left the earthquake struck and we had to redirect to Turkey. Last year we gave Nepal another try, and as a bonus, we had a fourteen hour layover in Hong Kong. Dim sum, BBQ pork, the Big Buddha, here I come! It was no easy feat visiting Hong Kong in a day, but we did it!
First off, I would recommend that if you have only one day in Hong Kong, don’t do what I did! My first mistake was that I had assumed all the markets in Kowloon would be open bright and early. Back home, markets open at the crack of dawn, but not in Hong Kong! We were wandering the empty streets at 8AM, as not much was open until 10AM. So, my recommendation would be to go to Hong Kong Island first and head right up to The Peak to avoid the crazy lines ups. Then go to Kowloon, and finish the day at Lantau Island which is close to the airport.
We started our day super early arriving in Hong Kong at 5AM. While we waited for the gates to the train station to open, we had a coffee from McDonald’s and sorted out our transit card. We bought an Octopus Card which was the easiest and most economical of the transit cards. It covers all modes of transport for $50HK, and we had just the right amount for a day of travel.
After discovering that both the Flower and Bird markets opened at 10am, we stumbled upon the Goldfish Market. Here I am with a big ‘ol bag of goldfish. Tempting, but ultimately not a good souvenir. But the turtles were so cute! Even though the other markets were closed, walking through the quiet streets of Hong Kong was really peaceful, and we past a lot of elderly folk practicing Tai Chi. The heavy, humid air was filled with the sounds of chirping birds and the faint honks of traffic; the calm before the storm.
We continued down Nathan Street, the main street in Kowloon with a similar vibe to Broadway in Manhattan. A bit grungy and bustling with life; the connecting thread of the city. Our tour of closed markets continued with the Ladies Market, so instead we stopped for our first bite of dim sum. As you can see, I’m full of glee at the idea of authentic dim sum for breakfast. Verdict? Juicy, flavourful bites of Siu Mai (minced pork and shrimp parcels topped with crab roe) were everything I dreamed they would be.
We wandered down Shanghai Street and Reincarnation Street as markets started to open for the day. The Jade Market had many pretty items, but I felt a bit overwhelmed. We were their first customers and were pounced upon whenever we stopped at a booth, so we didn’t stay too long.
The Chinatown in Toronto has the same vibe as Kowloon, so I felt right at home. The hanging BBQ ducks in the window were a familiar sight, and their perfectly roasted, shining skin looked just as appetizing as I remembered.
We walked through the very pretty and quiet Kowloon Park. Strolling among anime statues, gazebos, huge trees, manicured shrubs and more elderly practicing Tai Chi, the park was a peaceful break from the busy city streets.
I would describe Hong Kong as an infusion of NYC and Japan. The busy, gritty streets of the Big Apple mixed with the Asian grandeur and odd Western influence of Tokyo.
We ended up at the waterfront, passing the Space Museum and the Clocktower along the way. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find the Bruce Lee statue, I think it was hidden among the construction that was taking place in that area. Next time!
This landmark Clocktower was the last remnant of the old Kowloon railway terminal, and was the last stop for trains coming from the mainland as well as the famous Orient Express from London. I liked the random, colourful popsicles that were scattered along the fountain in front. They complimented the palm trees!
The historical Star Ferries have plied between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon since 1888! I would definitely recommend taking this short ferry ride across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island. As we admired the towering skyscrapers that lined the shore, the skies overhead were starting to look quite ominous.
Hong Kong Island was completely different than Kowloon, being the more modern area of the city. Huge department store complexes, futuristic banks, glass towers and winding flagstone lanes were reminiscent of Tokyo and Los Angeles. We didn’t have enough time to explore much past the central area, but I found this part of Hong Kong cold and corporate.
The main attraction here is to venture up to The Peak, the viewing platform in the Sky Terrace of of a huge anvil-shaped mall. To reach Victoria Peak, we traveled on a tram, a funicular railway that has been running since 1888. The steep ascent was a bit of an adventure, covering a distance of 1.4 kilometres and an elevation of just under 400 metres. A tourist trap for sure, but The Peak is still a “must see” attraction in Hong Kong…on a sunny day.
Unfortunately for us, after waiting in a long line and being packed like sardines into the Peak Tram, by the time we arrived at the top the rain had started. While I’m sure the view of Hong Kong would have been spectacular from the highest lookout in the city, all we could see was thick and misty fog. Next time! Sigh.
What does one do when you’re rained out? Go find something awesome to eat of course! We found this Dim Sum restaurant just outside the main complex, and promptly ordered all our favourite dim sum: Cha Siu Bao (pork buns), Lohr Bahk Goh (pan fried turnip, shrimp and Chinese salami cakes), Har Gow (prawn dumplings) and Cheung Fun (rice pastry rolls filled with shrimp and sweet soy sauce). Everything was so yummy, it was almost worth the crowds and rain! Dim Sum saved the day!
With only a few hours left, we jumped on a cable car and traveled out to Lantau Island – the site of the famous Big Buddha. Visiting Lantau Island was the highlight of our day in Hong Kong, and I wish we’d had more time to explore this beautiful site.
The Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride from Tung Chung to Po Lin is an adventure in itself. The 25 minute journey sweeps over 4 miles of scenic views of Hong Kong, the airport, the South China Sea and the lush North Lantau Country Park.
The 112 foot bronze Buddha statue was a breathtaking site to behold, from the moment you first see him sitting peacefully in the distance…
…gradually travelling closer…
…until finally we were standing at the foot of one of the largest seated Buddha images in the world.
We didn’t have time to climb the 260 steps or explore the monastery, gardens and temples around the island, but I fell in love with Lantau Island and the Big Buddha. You can almost feel the peace flowing out over the land from this magnificent statue. I will return to you one day Big Buddha!
A trip to Hong Kong would not be complete without some BBQ pork and duck! We squeezed in one more meal at the airport – and paid an arm and a leg for it! Do you really want to know how much this was? It pains me to write this…but for this dish plus some greens, two beers, two teas (they charged us for tea!) and “complimentary” apps that they charged us for (I didn’t even want peanuts!) – we paid $80 Canadian!! In comparison, the same meal would have cost no more than $30 tops back home. But I have to say, the pork and duck were delicious! I mean, just look at that crispy skin and juicy meat!
As our day in Hong Kong came to an end, we were tired but pretty impressed with ourselves for packing in so much in one day! Lots more to see – and eat – but at least I know what to do next time (and will definitely avoid eating in the airport!). By far my most fun layover to date!
BUDGET FOR ONE DAY IN HONG KONG
(includes food, entry fees, transportation and ridiculously expensive meal at airport)
ITINERARY FOR ONE DAY IN HONG KONG:
6:00AM Depart airport for Hong Kong Island
7:00AM: Hong Kong Island: The Peak
9:00AM Star Ferry to Kowloon
9:30AM Star Ferry Pier: Clocktower, Bruce Lee statue
10:00AM Nathan Road (Kowloon Park, Jade Market, Ladies Market, Goldfish Market, Flower Market, Bird Market)
12:00PM Lunch in Kowloon
1:00PM Depart for Tung Chung
2:00PM Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car to Lantau Island
2:30PM Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
4:00PM Depart for airport
5:00PM Check in for 7:00PM departure flight