Hong Kong, also know as the Pearl of the Orient, is truly a gem.
I only spent a few weekdays in Hong Kong, thus avoiding the ongoing weekend protests. Although I didn't observe any actual demonstrations nor violence, I did some see a bit of related graffiti and property destruction. It was also obvious that the city is emptier than usual, which is good news for tourists, as flights and hotel rooms are cheaper, the top tourist destinations have shorter-than-normal wait times and you can get into bars/restaurants of your choice, without reservations. The unfortunate, and inconvenient, side of things is that getting around has become unpredictable. Chaos is affecting services on Hong Kong’s famously efficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR) and vandalism has caused some stations to be shut down.
With generally low crime rates and excellent standards of healthcare, even with the current unrest, Hong Kong still felt safe to me. Tourists should always be alert and vigilant, but deterred from visiting they should not be.
Below is a suggested list of things to see and do and places to eat and drink in if you find yourself in this fabulous city for a few days.
*TRAM TO VICTORIA PEAK - The Peak Tram runs from Garden Road, up the mountain, ending at The Peak Upper Terminus, where you'll find the Sky Terrace. An adult return ticket will cost you HK$99 ($12.50 USD). The Peak is normally packed with visitors and is usually one of the most popular tourist spots in Hong Kong. To avoid long queues and crowds, I'd suggest taking the first tram up, at 7am. Given the current situation in HK, the 7am wasn't necessary for us, but we did still take an early train, with approximately four other people.
Nothing actually opens at the top until 10am, but to kill time before heading up the viewing platform, I recommend that you wander around Lugard Road. It's a 2.4km pedestrian path that offers sweeping views of the city and Victoria Harbour. And it's free! In my opinion, Hong Kong has one of the best city skylines in the world, with the largest collection of buildings over 500ft (150m). The density and height of the buildings is incredible.
*HOLLYWOOD ROAD - This street, in Central and Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island, was one of the first paved roads in HK. It was a prime trading area for sailors and smugglers, given it's proximity to the waterfront. Today, Hollywood Rd is the center of the art and antiques and a must see.
*STAR FERRY: This beloved Hong Kong icon is both a mode of transportation and a very cheap means of sightseeing. To go across Victoria Harbour, from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon (or vice versa) will cost you less than one GBP/USD.
*KOWLOON PARK: Escape the chaos of Tsim Sha Tsui at the tranquil Kowloon Park. Plus there's an aviary, turtles and the smallest pop-up McDonald's I've ever seen.
*BIG BUDDHA - On Lantau Island, next to Po Lin Monastery, sits a very large buddha. 'Big Buddha' is the local nickname; the official name is Tian Tan Buddha. To see Big Buddha, take the MRT to Tung Chung. You'll then need to take the 25-minute Ngong Ping 360 cable car (it opens at 10am).
You'll need to climb up 268 steps to see Big Buddha up close.
This 34 meter tall statue weighs over 250 tons and is the second largest outdoor, bronze, seated Buddha.
*TAI KWUN - After 8 years and HK$3.8 billion, the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison were redeveloped into a cultural and shopping courtyard complex, in Central Hong Kong. Definitely pop by here for some drinks in the courtyard.
*PIQNIQ ROOFTOP: This whimsical rooftop terrace is a great option for alfresco drinks and snacks served in a picnic basket.
*SEVVA ROOFTOP: This is my favorite rooftop in Hong Kong. There is a 360-degree balcony offering stunning views and a sleek, elegant decor.
*CHOM CHOM: Located in Hong Kong's Soho district, this is a great choice for Vietnamese fare, inspired by the street food of Hanoi.
*DIN TAI FUNG: Although I went in Taipei, I just couldn't stay away. DTF is always a good idea! I went to the Tsim Sha Tsui location, on Kowloon Island.
*OZONE ROOFTOP: On the 118th floor of the ICC building, within the Ritz-Carlton, you'll find Ozone, the highest bar in the world. Here you'll find unobstructed views of western Hong Kong island and Kowloon. The drinks are expensive, but it's a great viewing spot for the Symphony of Lights (SoL), which occurs every night at 8pm.
*OZU BAR: This Japanese-themed bar/restaurant is a hidden gem on the bustling Hollywood Road. It's got a chilled vibe, graffiti murals, cool tunes and a stocked bar.
*SOCIAL PLACE: This modern Chinese dim sum restaurant serves delicious dishes with a unique twist, like the sweet potato piggy bun displayed below.
*WOOLOOMOOLOO ROOFTOP: Not only is it fun to say, but it's also a vibrant rooftop, right in the heart of Wan Chai, offering a sky-high drinking experience. It was great to meet up with long lost friends of mine, from former days when we all used to live in San Diego.
*THAIWAN: I ended up at this Wan Chai neighborhood bar late night. From what I remember, it was a casual and basic place serving up a mixture of Thai and Taiwanese themed drinks.
Know Before You Go:
US citizens do not need a visa, but must show proof of an onward journey (bring a printout of your flight leaving Taiwan).
A landing card will need to be completed upon arrival (bring a pen).
Hong Kong will not stamp your passport. They will give you a landing slip that you are supposed to hold on to until you depart (I never needed mine at time of departure).
The Airport Express Travel Pass gets you return transit to/from the airport plus three consecutive days of unlimited MRT travel for $350 HKD (~$45 USD). The airport is 25-mins on the MRT from Hong Kong Station.
My UK Vodafone worldwide corporate plan covered my mobile for £5/day.
'Use Uber if you want to live' is what my friends who are locals said. I used local taxi's as they were very cheap, but apparently using Uber is safer in Hong Kong.
I stayed at the OZO Wesley Hotel in Wan Chai. It was a great location, comfortable and affordable.
As a result of the protesting, security has been enhanced at the airports, so allow yourself enough time when you depart (at least two hours).