When I was planning to Visit Hong Kong, to me, it just stood for banking and financial services. I could visualize its glass and steel skyscrapers with bankers in their designer pinstriped suits and latest mobile phones. Well, that image has not changed after the trip, but many more aspects now make up this city-state. Earlier this year I had written a post for the city-state Tourism Board talking about my Hong Kong Wish List and I am so happy that I could visit most of it within a few month’s time. It’s like the Travel Gods were really tuned in.
My Visit Hong Kong First Impressions
Here are my first impressions & things you need to know before you plan your holiday:
Do I Need a Visa?
No. Hong Kong is Visa-free for Indian passport holders. You just need to fill in a simple form online. Provide your passport details to get an instant pre-arrival authorization. Take a print and you are all set. Yes, there is no Visa fee. For an Indian Passport holder, this is a blessing to have such a hassle-free entry process.
Yes, there is no Visa fee for Indian Passport holders. Believe me, this hassle-free Visa process is a big reason to visit Hong Kong.
Safe Place to Travel
I traveled solo to Hong Kong. In my attempt to see and experience as much as possible, I stayed out till late evenings. I used public transport – MTR, Buses, Trams and even walked a lot – at no point, I felt I am not safe.
One reason is, of course, the fact that you are never alone, there are always people around you, that gives you a safety net. I did walk some back alleys alone, but I always felt safe.
At the road crossings where you wait for the pedestrian sign to go green before you cross, Road signs are complemented by the audio signals.
Besides the disabled, it suits the mobile phone generation, most of who cross the road while looking at the mobile screens based on the sound based signals. In fact, by the third day, I also waited for the sound to indicate that I can now cross the road.
Follow the Pink Signs
Most places in the world have brown boards for places of tourist interest. This city has them in Pink. Personally, I prefer the cheerful pink to melancholic brown. These pink signs happily lead you to the nooks and corners with some known and some not so well known tourist destinations.
Cantonese is the main language spoken in Hong Kong. All the signboards and the most public information is available in both Cantonese and English. So, as long as you understand English, you get all the basics. It may sometimes be challenging to converse with people as some people do not speak English. I felt lost a couple of times when I was doing my walks and Google Maps did not help. I had to depend on local help for directions and that was a challenge at times.
Note to self – It helps to pick up some words of the language of the destination you are visiting.
Vegetarian food is available, but you must be able to explain what you mean by being a vegetarian. Seafood and at times certain meats are understood to be vegetarian. There are ample vegetarian and vegan restaurants, so if you plan your day around them – it works. I intended to keep moving and stop for lunch or snacks when I felt hungry and that posed a bit of a challenge. One day I had rice with sweet potato tempered with salt and pepper. I called it survival food. Italian food came to my rescue a couple of times as a Pizza or a Pasta can always be made vegetarian.
I did try vegetarian Dim Sums at a Chinese Restaurants – they were tasty and so light on the stomach.
My best food discovery was – Nai Cha or the Milk Tea that is available both as hot and chilled. I loved the chilled version & would visit again just for this.
Direct Flights to Hong Kong from Indian Cities
Hong Kong is well connected with all major Indian Cities. Cathay Pacific flies from Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Cathay Dragon from Bengaluru & Kolkata.
For me, Mumbai is the best connection. 5-6 hours direct flight and you are in Hong Kong. My flight from Mumbai was at 1 AM IST that landed in Hong Kong around 9:30 AM local time – giving me almost all day to explore.
Hong Kong has probably one of the best public transport networks in the world. It has an underground metro system – called MTR. MTR network is like a parallel underground city. Every station has so many exits that literally everyone lives close to an MTR station. There are street maps at the MTR exits that let you decide which is the best place for you to get out. Unfortunately, these exits are not marked on Google Maps, so you need to know what is the exit closest to you. Ask anyone, they would direct you to nearest MTR station.
There are buses going in all possible directions. Most buses are a double-decker, so if you sit on the upper deck, you enjoy the lovely views. As a traveler, buses were my favorite mode of transport in Hong Kong as I could see the city moving around me. Buses also dropped me closest to the destinations I wanted to visit. With MTR, you need to walk a lot both within the stations and from the station to the destinations.
Trams are a reminder of the good old days. They constantly reminded me of trams in Kolkata. They are slow, not airconditioned, but they let you absorb the sights, sounds, and smells of the city. I had to skip them most of the times in the interest of time, but I did take one joy ride, just for the experience. There are so many trams moving around – painted creatively, they look like toys moving on the roads.
Heritage Tram called Peak Tram takes you to Victoria Peak in vintage style while giving you a slanted look of the city.
To travel between two main islands Hong Kong and Kowloon – there is a ferry called Star Ferry.
For traveling to and from the airport I used the airport express. It takes just 21 minutes to reach the center of the city – be it central on the main Island or Kowloon Side. Fast, comfortable and reliable.
Pro Tip – Buy return ticket on Airport Express, it works cheaper than two one-way tickets.
Hong Kong has all kinds of people. I met the kindest people and some of the rudest. While walking around Wan Chai – I was searching for a temple. I asked the two elderly men who were chatting outside a shop. It took me a while to make them understand what I am looking for – my pronunciation was the culprit. When they figured out I was looking for the temple, around the corner – they laughed and I laughed with them. It was one of my beautiful moments there.
Most people who are not very comfortable with English would try to ignore your questions at the cost of sounding rude.
I happened to meet a college friend who is now living here, after 20 years. I met another friend’s friend who has lived there all her life and I met a Katy – a Hong Kong-based blogger. They were my windows to life in the city along with my Airbnb hosts.
Hong Kong has its own currency and passport even though technically it is China.
Here is the funny series of exchange rates that I was quoted by various agencies for 1 HKD.
- Forex Websites – Rs 8
- My Bank – Rs 8.92
- Forex counter at Goa Airport – Rs 9.4
- Forex Counter at Mumbai Airport – Rs 10.75
- The Forex Counter at Hong Kong Airport – Rs 12
I ended up withdrawing from the ATM & net landed rate was about 8.3 Rs – Not Bad.
This is a case in point to tell you why I suggest ATM withdrawals in my Packing Checklist Post.
Hong Kong is just hills and sea. On a couple of islands, mankind has managed to carve out space for itself. So every time you walk in the city, you are either climbing the hill or coming down. There are very few flat surfaces.
It is the only place I know of, where there is an escalator connecting the downtown office area with the residential areas called Mid-Levels. You must see this.
When I traveled to Victoria peak or to the quaint Stanley village – within minutes I was traveling from the congested skyscraper filled streets to the wilderness. There is a sudden transition from the chaos of a metropolis to the calmness of nature. From being surrounded by glass and steel, you suddenly land among the blue waters of the South China Sea dotted with green islands.
Finally, remember Hong Kong was a British Colony till 1997 when it was handed over to China. So, residents are still in a transition state with a special status. It is an interesting time to visit them.
Hong Kong Tourism
I cannot really say that the city is designed for tourists. However, its tourism board offices are located in the strategic places and the staff is very friendly.
I used the Tourism Board website extensively for planning my trip. And to acquaint with the destination.
I spoke to the Tourism department person at the airport, as soon as I landed. I shared my plan with her and she gave me all the relevant information, suggested a few changes and handed me maps and walking routes. Everything she told me was helpful.
My second encounter was at the Tourism office at Star Ferry Terminal in Kowloon. I was starving – unable to find a vegetarian food place. The lady literally walked me to a small restaurant close by.