Visit Hong Kong – First Impressions Of The Island City

A perfect mix of tradition and modern
A perfect mix of tradition and modern

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.

Visit Hong Kong – My 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.

An old stamp of Hong Kong
An old stamp

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.

Disabled Friendly

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

Pink signs for tourist destinations
Pink signs for tourist destinations

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

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 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.

Public Transport

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 the nearest MTR station.


There are buses going in all possible directions. Most buses are 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 time 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.

Star Ferry Terminal - Visit Hong Kong
Star Ferry Terminal

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 a 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.

The GoldFish you find everywhere
The GoldFish you find everywhere

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 Katy – a Hong Kong-based blogger. They were my windows to life in the city along with my Airbnb hosts.


The currency – illustrative only
The currency – illustrative only

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 & the 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.

The Topography

Skyscrapers & the Sea - Visit Hong Kong
Skyscrapers & the Sea

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.

Colorful skyline of the cityscape at night - Visit Hong Kong
The colorful skyline of the cityscape at night

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

City skyline – visit Hong Kong
City skyline – visit Hong Kong

I cannot really say that the city is designed for tourists. However, its tourism board offices are located in 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.

So, are you planning to visit Hong Kong?


  1. Awesome article!! I really want to go to Hong Kong! I need to go while I am still in Asia. I will make sure that I chat with the tourism people. And that’s so good to know about the vegetarian food.

  2. I miss Hong Kong! I went there for New Year’s a couple of years ago and it seemed like the entire city was at Tsim Tsa Tsui. The fireworks were surreal.

    • I stayed at the Hong Kong Island Side – but next time I visit I think I am going to stay on the Kowloon side. Not fond of too many crowded festivals, but I loved walking in the gardens of Kowloon city.

  3. Thanks for sharing this helpfull info. I ususally also withdraw from ATM when travel, but do you need much cash or is it possible to pay with your card in most places? Comming from Sweden I’m use to paying with card everywhere.

    • Lina – you need to cash to top up the Octopus card, to pick up small things like a water bottle and the mini busses do not accept any cards in Hong Kong. Even the street markets mostly deal in cash. I guess you can use cards at shopping malls and restaurants though.

  4. I love you insight on the city and the fact that you also included a section for disable travelers! <3
    I've been there with Cathay as well. It was a 7h stop-over so I just had the time to see the view from a skyscraper and to browse the markets (it was too foggy for the Peak). I loved the vibe and I'm definitely going back! I also loved that as you land you have a super organized tourist info-point that in 2' drew an itinerary for me considering that I had just a few hours. They also showed me the Paek's webcam from an iPad to show me how foggy it was! LOL super organized!

    • Sabrina – guess we do not find most cities disabled friendly, so Hong Kong stands out. HK tourism department is quite well organized, though I would like them to put some more of those pink boards. They also need to work with Google Maps on improving the MTR information.

  5. I love how you included a disabled-friendly and vegetarian sections in the post – you don’t see that very often, especially the former.

  6. Very thorough article on the place and sounds like you nailed down a lot of things on your first visit! Agree with almost everything mentioned in your article, except that I’m really surprised you find it disabled-friendly. True about the traffic lights but other than that, there are just too many stairs and slopes in the city. I find baby stroller quite challenging (small space, too many slopes and stairs in the city), I always wonder how the disabled can live and get around here. In fact, us expat parents living in HK always lament that this is a very child-unfriendly city :p…Anyway, I’m glad a visitor think HK has done well and that you liked the city!

    • Eve – Our reference points are different. I did not think from a child perspective or from elderly perspective. I just had a travelers perspective. You are right it is too up and down and too congested a place for both of them.

    • Anindiya – we shall travel together, sometime, somewhere. I did read your post on Hong Kong and I see that our itineraries were almost mutually exclusive. I did not do most of the things you did. You will see that in upcoming posts on Hong Kong.

  7. Hey! A very helpful and comprehensive article. Hong Kong is definitely on my list 🙂 Sometimes you need to take city vacations too, a break from the beaches and the mountains!

  8. I have always been very curious about the South East. However I don’t know much of the culture and now that I think of it I haven’t even read many books from this region. On my list 🙂 Nice to know the friendliness of the people. It is always a big plus for a traveler!

    • Ishita, Hong Kong would be more of South China. It was a British Colony till 20 years back and that gives it a very different character. Even I have not read many books on China – apart from a bit about Opium trade in Amitav Ghosh’s books.

  9. Yeah right you are. Have you heard Anchee Min?? Her books are very good apparently and I’ll buy one soon for Kindle. No space for paperbacks currently 🙁

  10. Dear Anu, thank you very much for your mention! Nice article, it is quite special for me to see Hong Kong through the eyes of a traveler.
    We are celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong these few days. I think the scale of the festival is a bit like Diwali in India. Many people celebrate it. Consider coming to Hong Kong next time during the festival. I can bring you somewhere which are not that crowded, while you can still admire the moon and lanterns ????

    • Katy, I would love to come and see the ancient festivals of Hong Kong and China. I attended a feast in Hyderabad for Mid-Autumn festival – where the Chef made a vegetarian moon cake for me with red beans. It was nice. He also told us the story of how messages were passed using mooncakes – I want to hear those stories.

  11. It kind of sounds like you went to europe. lol
    When you say vegetarian in Austria and Germany, most people will think you are eating seafood and fish too. Do you eat eggs because noodles are rarely made without eggs. Having some locals being friendly and the other half being rude is something what once can find anywhere in the world. It has almost always something to do with the language (or the ethnic look). Tourists visiting europe just don’t understand that English is not a language there. Only the British and Irish island are English speaking and that’s it. People have not spoken English and they never will and lot of people are outraged when they go to europe and when a local seems to be rude but what is actually happening is that the local feels awkward and just doesn’t know how to react. The same must be happening to Hongkong locals too. As visitors we need to be aware that English is not a world language, as some have been trying to make us believe.
    Anuradha I feel like visiting Hongkong after your reading your post. 🙂

    • Helene, I agree with what you say about language. I think it was the language that was a barrier and maybe too many tourists too.

      I was really hoping that the Vegan App would help me but it did not. I would also blame Google maps – it was pretty misbehaved in helping me with navigation in Hong Kong. Most places it works like a charm. As my local friends said, businesses move very fast in Hong Kong and specially restaurants. They close soon and apps are not updated regularly.

      I know I may be consuming eggs in various forms – but I avoid whenever I know, else I would not be able to travel at all.

  12. The next time you’re in HK, do take the ferry to Lamma Island for some beautiful and easy walking trails. Plus the lifestyle is so much more laid back compared to the city.

    In terms of food, I was fortunate to have a local colleague take me around, so had no problems with vegetarian food. Noteworthy was this place serving mock-meats called the Kung Tak Lam Shanghai Vegetarian Restaurant at the World Trade Centre. I also tried this unique dessert called Dragon’s Beard Candy (made with spun sugar)…. highly recommended for your next visit!

    • Yes, Rohan – I have a long list of things to be seen next time I am in Hong Kong. It includes islands and New Territories. Like I said if you search a vegetarian restaurant and plan your itinerary – there are a lot of options, but if you want to eat on the go, it can be challenging. I will try Beard Candy – is it like our Budhi Mai ke ball or Ice Candy?

  13. Hong Kong is the Perfect destination for Holiday love Hong Kong…
    Hongkong one of the nearest tourist spot from India. Hongkong the main city of China is located in the Pearl River estuary. It has a sub-tropical climate with distinct seasons. It is has got both man-made and natural attractive spots. One of the natural attraction is the village Tai O located at the Lantau Island is famous for fishing. There are various mangrove spots which are man-made attractions. The Lantau Island has got other man-made attraction which is a dream of every child. Hongkong is the main revenue for China via tourism. The main purpose remains to be shopping electronic products, clothes, jewellery, beauty cosmetics, and health products. This makes women spend time more here. Times Square the most popular shopping area is the biggest mall.

  14. Hong Kong is indeed a wonderful place to travel. This is an absolutely fantastic blog I would say, It is so informative to me as I have a scheduled trip to Hong Kong this year with my family and it will help me in knowing their culture and people before visiting. I’m hopeful that it will prove to be very useful for me. Thanks to the author of this blog for sharing.


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