Stay tuned for my Hong Kong food diary, coming soon on my food blog!
This August, I spent a weekend in Hong Kong. I met up with my friend Natalie, who showed us the best food and deals.
This travel diary contains an introduction to Hong Kong and its fast-paced lifestyle, basic transportation tips, haggling tricks, and more!
Hong Kong, though studded with mountains and surrounded by water, is actually reminiscent of Manhattan. Wander around Times Square, lit up in a myriad of flashing colors and lights, or walk along Victoria Harbour at night and take in the gorgeous, record-breaking (tallest in the world) skyline. Flashing lights, moving signs and billboards outline banks, office buildings, and even a Ferris wheel.
Hong Kong, the world’s most vertical city, is filled with over 1200 skyscrapers and dozens of sky-high residential buildings, and is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Because the island is so small, but there’s so much going on, property is extremely valuable.
Now I understand why Natalie is never timid about asking for directions. To survive in this city, you’ve got to be bold. CONSTANT VIGILANCE, as Mad-Eye would say. Oh, it also helps if you can speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and/or English.
While street vendors and employees tend to be reluctant about helping you with directions, regular joes on the street are more often willing. Perhaps this is because the territory is teeming with foreigners, and over time, they’ve learned to help each other out.
Spend an afternoon wandering the city, and you’ll grow accustomed to the way life speeds up here. Everyone walks around as if they’re late for something. Or maybe they’re just eager to escape the humidity and heat. If you aren’t aggressively power-walking, you’ll get swept away in a sea of fashion-forward individuals. Even the escalators operate as though their time is quickly running out.
If you’d prefer not to drop a small fortune on public transportation, opt for an Octopus card during your stay in Hong Kong. The system is extremely efficient and reaches all over the city. A subway ride costs about 6 $HK, and the bus costs 33 $HK. You can even use your Octopus card at some restaurants and stores, including 7/11. (Smack it, smack it, in the air)
One highlight of Hong Kong’s public transportation system, other than its access to a punctual, hygienic and reliable subway system, is the dozens of double decker buses running all over the city.
We enjoyed a 180-degree view of the city from the front row on the top level of a double decker. Riding through downtown Hong Kong, we discreetly people-watched from above, our headphones in. Our commute brought us over bridges, around mountains and past the Port of Hong Kong, a huge shipping container port, allowing us to take everything in as the sun slowly set.
We visited a well-known Korean skincare and makeup store called Etude House, and also walked around a popular street market called Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, where haggling is a must.
Here are some lessons I learned.
1) Embrace the role of foreigner. Reveal that you are from out of town and see if they will be sympathetic towards this! You never know.
2) Don’t convey a strong interest in a product. If they can sense how much you want that Spongebob dressing gown, they’ll never lower their price!
3) Try for a bulk discount. “I’ll buy two of these blowtorches if you skim off a few dollars.”
4) Start with a much lower price than what you would be satisfied to pay. The vendor will almost always say no to your first offer, but they will drop their original price. You can slowly work your way towards the middle and leave with what you believe to be a good deal.
5) Don’t ask, request. If you ask timidly, you are showing weakness! Be firm and confident.
6) Compare their products with those of other vendors. You can say in a loud voice that “the other stand had cheaper shoelaces.” This can often prompt them to lower their price if it shows that you do have other options.
7) Pretend to walk away if they won’t lower their prices.
8) Actually walk away. Haggling is huge in Hong Kong, and you can probably find something similar from another vendor. There are endless opportunities to practice your bargaining skills in this city.
Hong Kong’s highest tourist trap, Victoria Peak, welcomes more than 11,000 visitors every day. My mom and I waited in line for two hours (Sundays are their busiest day, who knew?) and took a tram up the side of the mountain, our ears popping, VIP tickets (83 $HK for access to the Sky Terrace, 428-meters above sea level) in hand.
This time/money-suck is also filled with all sorts of restaurants and little shops, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Wildfire (which I loved – mini-review up soon on Cat the Critic), and even a traditional teahouse. Madame Tussauds wax museum is also a part of The Peak, but unfortunately, separate tickets are required to enter.
Pro-tip: make the trip down the mountain on foot if you don’t want to wait in line for thirty minutes and pay for a ride back down on the tram.