I recently visited Hong Kong, where my husband Foon is from, to visit family and explore a new city. Every day was jam-packed with activities, hopping on ferries, trains, and busses to get to our next destination.
Hong Kong consists of several islands, with most of the population residing in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. You'll see skyscrapers towering above, surrounded by lush greenery and the sea wherever you go. Because of the limited land area, Hong Kong was built with space efficiency in mind.The public transit is wonderfully thought out and readily available. Surprisingly, there were fewer cars than I had expected because there was nowhere to park them. Most parking spots are inside garages, making owning vehicles expensive and inconvenient.
Above: Riding the trolly and being silly
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are well-connected to smaller surrounding islands through ferries and other means of transportation. The islands offered us an occasional escape from the city and a chance to enjoy the natural beauty of Hong Kong.
Mong Kok is a lively district located in Kowloon, which is famous for its vibrant markets and crowded streets. The place is well-connected to other parts of Hong Kong by public transit. We had to squeeze into the train like sardines every time we traveled through this district on the MTR.As you walk through Mong Kok, you'll notice an overwhelming number of street vendors, food stalls, and people. If you're in the market for a goldfish, you're in luck – an entire street is dedicated to selling ornamental fish. And if you're hungry, you can find a variety of snacks and meals, including clay pot rice. Additionally, you can find a wide range of goods, from clothes to electronics. Whatever you're looking for, chances are you'll be able to find it in Mong Kok!
A quick ferry ride took us to Lamma Island, a quaint community of expats and locals. We spent the morning eating seafood from one of the many vendors offering a variety of fresh fish and dim sum.It was a beautiful hike from one side of the island to the other, and if you need a break from urban sprawl, this island is a welcome escape. Along the way, we stumbled upon Lo So Shing village, mostly abandoned and over 300 years old.
Lo So Shing village, Lil Guy Fanny Pack in Burgundy Cordura
An interesting find on Lamma Island is one of three Kamikaze Caves. A mere 90 feet in depth, this cave would be easy to walk by without much notice if you weren't aware of its existence. During WWII, caves like these were used during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to store kamikaze speedboats loaded with explosives. Occasionally, you stumble upon remnants like this, another stark reminder of Hong Kong's past.
We hiked from Foon's parents' home to the famous Victoria Peak. The mountain is well-known for its stunning panoramic views of the city and surrounding islands. A paved trail along the top of the peak made for a beautiful afternoon hike. It's no wonder why visiting Victoria Peak is considered a must-see attraction.
Foon's dad modeling his new Slacker bag on Victoria Peak
Lion Rock, located in the Sha Tin District, is named for its granite that resembles a crouching lion. Even though the hike was a bit more challenging, the view was on par with Victoria Peak. The Slacker was a great companion for days like this since the weather would change significantly depending on the area and time of day. Having a bag for shedding layers and bringing snacks and water is helpful.There are many hiking options in Hong Kong, most fully paved. Because of seasonal typhoons, if trails were left raw, they would be easily washed away by the storms.
On New Year's Eve, we rode the longest outdoor covered escalator system worldwide. I heard about this escalator for the first time on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, and I wanted to see it for myself.
Lantau Island (Ngong Ping / Tai O)
It takes 268 steps to reach the Tian Tan Buddha statue and the six bronze Devas. After spending some time admiring this commanding statue and enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains, we explored the Po Lin Monastery, founded in 1906.The Tian Tan Buddha is 75 feet tall and has three levels inside. The statue houses one of Gautama Buddha's relics, allegedly containing pieces of his cremated remains.The Po Lin Monastery is an active monastery with sprawling courtyards and gardens. Three memorable structures include the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha, and the Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda. Each building is intricately adorned inside and out.Later in the afternoon, we caught a bus to Tai O and hopped on a boat to see the canals just before sunset. This charming fishing village was the perfect place to snack on some grilled squid and relax after a long day.It is worth seeing the village from sea level to admire the houses built on stilts from below. Many come to Tai O to see the pink dolphins, but we were not lucky enough to glimpse one.
Above: Street cat begging for squid
Upon arriving in Cheung Chau, we were greeted by a crammed bay of fishing boats and bicycles. There are tons of weather-worn bicycles at the ferry exit because locals park their bikes there when visiting the big island.Longing to get as much out of the day as possible, we rented single-speed bicycles to get around faster. My favorite part was when we left the bikes to crawl through Cheung Po Tsai Cave, alleged to be the hiding place of Cheung Po Tsai, a 19th-century pirate.
Fun fact: This island is known for its annual bun festival, in which three 60-foot towers covered in buns are erected at Pak Tai Temple. One of the historic traditions is to climb the bun tower, and the higher the bun you can grab, the better the fortune for your family. For safety reasons, the bun towers and those allowed to climb have changed, but the tradition lives on.After busy days in the city, this was the perfect ending to a long trip. We spent time relaxing by the beach, snacking on pastry, lemon tea, and wonton soup.
Lin Heung Kui
Lin Heung Kui was by far our favorite yum cha of the trip. Yum cha translates to "drink tea" and is like a Cantonese brunch where tea is enjoyed with dim sum at traditional tea houses. The tea house is loud, busy, and messy but serves piping hot dim sum cooked perfectly. The egg tarts crumble, the pastry flakes, and the bao bursts with flavor and bounce. You have to be persistent to find a table, and if a server yells at you, it's because that spot is reserved for a regular. It's rare to find dim sum carts anymore, and this restaurant keeps the tradition alive.
Below: Wong Tai Sin Temple
The most memorable part of our stay was visiting the Columbarium, where Foon's grandparents, uncles, and cousins' ashes are kept. My mother and father-in-law brought roast pork, oranges, and baijiu and lit incense to each grave. Foon's father told me these buildings are often built in locations with the best feng shui, which was evident based on the serenity and beauty of the hills surrounding us.I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure abroad! We are already looking forward to the next one.