Hong Kong – Five things to experience the ‘real’ Hong Kong!

We spent five days in Hong Kong – I did not shop till I dropped nor did I party into the wee hours of the morning. I did not spend a day in Disneyland or Ocean Park either. These are things that most people do in Hong Kong… And I did not do any of it! I am sure you will find plenty of shopping and partying tips floating over the net. If there is something beyond that, which you wish to experience in Hong Kong, read on…

Hong Kong: More than malls and concrete!

Hong Kong: More than malls and concrete!

Here are five things that I would recommend to experience ‘more’ of Hong Kong, in no particular order of preference:

Street shopping at Mongkok

Haggle and bargain at the Ladies Market – hours will fly by! And just to clarify, the market is not for ‘ladies only’ neither is it run by ‘ladies only’! You can buy clothes, belts, purses, crockery, trinkets, suitcases – a long list which I really cannot remember!

Hong Kong: Trinket shopping at the Ladies' Market

Hong Kong: Trinket shopping at the Ladies’ Market

Considering that a lot of shop owners do not understand English, bargaining is an interesting experience. The owner quotes a price – a number camouflaged heavily in South East Asian accent; you spend a minute to understand it, and nod your head vigorously and say ‘ No No!!! Cannot!!!’. He then shoves a calculator into your hand asking you to punch the price that you are willing to pay; you key in your quote and pass the calculator back – it’s a loop until you decide to give in at a particular price, which is acceptable to both! You can actually haggle without saying a word – interesting experience!

Hong Kong: Clothes at the Ladies' Market in Mongkok

Hong Kong: Clothes at the Ladies’ Market in Mongkok

While you are in Mongkok, may I suggest walking down the Flower Market. The colours will surely brighten your day. You can buy flowers, bulbs, Chinese bamboos – the usual stuff and parakeets, turtles, rabbits – the unusual stuff!

Hong Kong: Flower Market at Mongkok

Hong Kong: Flower Market at Mongkok

It was here that I saw the insectivorous pitcher plant, which I had read about in my Biology book as a school going child. Fancy actually seeing it after 20 years of reading about it!

Hong Kong: Pitcher plant at the Mongkok Flower Market

Hong Kong: Pitcher plant at the Mongkok Flower Market

Hiking the Dragon’s Back, with a surfing lesson at the Big Wave beach

I wonder how many people leave their plush air conditioned environment in Hong Kong to sweat a little? We spent a day hiking and regardless of the warm and humid weather, had a great time. Here is a link that tells you how to get to the starting point.

Hong Kong : View of the Big Wave Beach

Hong Kong : View of the Big Wave Beach

The hike offers great views of the blue sea. There is a prison by the sea side as well – cells with a view! We ended our hike at the Big Wave beach. It is called ‘Big Wave’ for a reason – the waves are indeed big, especially when compared to few other beaches in Hong Kong . You can rent a surf board and try your hand at surfing – at least body surfing? We bobbed up and down with the waves – a day well spent!

In the crystal cable car

In the crystal cable car

Nong Ping Village

Nong Ping village is on Lantau island and has a large Budhha called Tian Tan Buddha. While it is extremely touristy, I enjoyed the spending the day here. There is cable car to get to the Nong Ping village form the metro station. If you don’t mind spending the extra bucks, I would recommend taking the cable car with the glass floor – ‘Crystal Cabin’.

I would recommend having a vegetarian lunch at the monastery (especially the mushroom soup), clicking a few pictures with the statue of your Chinese zodiac sign and then walking up to the Tian Tan Buddha, which is 34 meters talk and then clicking a zillion pictures of the view and the Buddha. There was a higher entrance fee that included access to the top floor and the lunch at the monastery of the Buddha – could not justify the extra cost and would not recommend it. It would be wiser to simply pay for lunch.

Hong Kong: With my Chinese Zodiac at Nong Ping

Hong Kong: With my Chinese Zodiac at Nong Ping

I spent the entire day alone at Nong Ping and it surely did not seem to be part of Hong Kong. It was peaceful and quite, with a healthy green cover – very unlike the manmade Hong Kong that I had seen over the past three days. If you had only one day to spend in Hong Kong, I would vote for the Nong Ping to allow you to destress, meditate…. fill your lungs with fresh air…and your mind with energy!

Hong Kong: Tian Tan Buddha at Lantau Island

Hong Kong: Tian Tan Buddha at Lantau Island

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens

The Nan Lian Gardens surround the Chi Lin Nunnery. When I reached Hong Kong, I had no intentions of visiting a nunnery…I am happily married and have no whacky ideas! I wandered into this place as I had a few hours to kill before Ankur would wind up work and this seemed like the best option.

Hong Kong: Nan Lian Gardens

Hong Kong: Nan Lian Gardens

I was totally overjoyed walking through the Nan Lian Gardens – manicured lawns, rows of bonsai, a small water body and a tea tasting room. I would have tried the tea tasting, had it not been prohibitively expensive – HKD 2400 or so – the cheapest one! As of now, I have left the tea tasting experience to a China trip.

Hong Kong: Tea house at Nan Lian Gardens

Hong Kong: Tea house at Nan Lian Gardens

By the time I sauntered into the Chi Lin Nunnery, it was 5 pm and the gates were closed. I could not enter the main halls. However, the architecture of the nunnery was something that I had never seen earlier – I have neither been to China nor Japan. If I do go to Hong Kong again, I will revisit this place while the nunnery gates are open.

Hong Kong: Chi Lin Nunnery

Hong Kong: Chi Lin Nunnery

If you do land here in late afternoon/early evening – suggest that you head straight for the nunnery and then relax as you explore the gardens.

Eating at a village restaurant

Trying local food is always a must do! However, till the last day, we were struggling to find anything vegetarian, except noodles – enjoying local food seemed like a No-No in this land! On the last day, one of Ankur’s friends (who herself is from the Sichuan province in China) offered to take us out for some authentic Sichuan cuisine to a little restaurant in a village on one of the islands (Yi Zhan Restaurant in Hang Hau village). She spoke with the chef and ensured that there was plenty of vegetarian food to eat. What a delight! Sichuan cuisine is spicy and hot! It surely does pose a challenge to the Indian chillies as well. Our Indian palettes, which were starved for the past four days, made merry! The chef made an eggplant, shaped like a dragon – haven’t had a tastier preparation of the vegetable till date!

Hong Kong: 'Dragon' Eggplant

Hong Kong: ‘Dragon’ Eggplant

Making life easy… Some tips to help you ‘live’ Hong Kong

Buy the Octopus card: It works everywhere – metro, buses, coffee shops, grocery stores! Must have the minute you step out of the airport

Use public transport: The metros and buses connect most places and ensure that you get to your destination without twiddling your thumbs while you are stuck in traffic

Buy standard items from the food malls – Want to shop for some novel rice or exotic rice? Step into a food mall and pick it up – assured quality and reasonable prices

Dear vegetarians: Vegetarian local food is pretty much unheard of! Stuff yourself up at breakfast time – carry a fruit. There are plenty of coffee shops that will have a vegetarian sandwich to help you survive. Good Italian, Mexican and Indian restaurants in SoHo have at least a couple of vegetarian dishes if your palette is craving freshly prepared hot food.

As always… Send me an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help!

Let the travellers’ tribe grow!

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12 Responses

    1. Suzanne ….Hong Kong has something for everyone…malls to let you shop till you drop…Disneyland to keep kids busy….secluded island trails to burn some calories….big Buddha to humble you….
      You can enjoy it the way you want to…

  1. Love that you managed to find somewhere quite in Hong Kong, something that's not so easy to do from all of the articles and videos I've seen these past few weeks.

    Great tips for veggies too, that in most restaurants (with a little fluttering of the eyes) you should be able to get a vegetarian meal.

    1. Thanks for the tip….will soon try it in Croatia…
      Lantau Island and Nong Ping…on a weekday when everyone is at work are great…surely not like the rest of HK…..same is the case with Dragon's Back.

    1. Going to a new place and not being able to experience even part of the culture is sad! Well….if you do plan a trip to HK again, you possibly know what all to do!
      Did Pizza Hut happen because you wanted veg food?

    1. Hi Manish! In fact, we didn't do any of the baby friendly activities in HK. For a 3 year old, we would highly recommend a day at Disneyland. Keep one day for Ocean Park…they have pandas there! A day picnic at the Big Wave beach would be fun too.

      In Macau, the House of Dancing Water is highly rated and does allow children as well. You could spend a day in the Ventian and take a gondola ride as well – the little one will love it!

      HK has more stuff to do if you have a kid…Macau is more for the grown ups.

      How long is your trip?

  2. My suggestion if you want to experience the real Hong Kong 🙂
    1. Visit a residential area and experience the neighborhood food
    2. Visit a local wet market
    3. Take a tram ride "ding ding"
    4. Enjoy dim sum at an old restaurant……

    1. We would love to do few of these the next time we are there. However, being vegetarian greatly restricts our food options in South East Asia. 🙁

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