This post marks my first visit to Asia. And I am very excited about that. After years of wanting to go but always being bound for Oceania, North America, or Europe, it finally happened! I found some very reasonable flights with Air China, so my friend Lucy and I booked our trip to Hong Kong for early June. It did mean a 2.30am flight out of Vancouver airport, but what can you do? We settled in for a long flight before travelling to Mong Kok, the neighbourhood where we’d be staying for the week.
Travelling to Hong Kong
With an eighteen hour journey ahead to Hong Kong, one thing we needed was a drink. As all the airport bars were shut from midnight, we had to improvise a little with help from duty free. Keeping it classy, as ever.
We boarded our flight, and I was much more impressed with Air China than I thought I’d be. We had two rounds of food – prawns and rice, and also beef and noodles. I polished off the wine, took a melatonin, and was out for six hours of our first ten hour leg. Such a dream – I’ll be taking melatonin with me on every flight from now on.
Arriving into Beijing airport for our connecting flight, we were both amazed to see a Costa in the airport. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Costa, having lived outside of the UK for over two years now. Granted, our paninis and coffee didn’t quite taste the same, but it was a nice reminder all the same.
We swiftly moved on to find beer in the only place that sold it in Beijing Airport – O’Leary’s Irish Bar, of course. It may have been 7am in China, but goodness knows what time it was for us. It’s past 5am somewhere, right?
After a four hour layover and a further 3.5 hour flight from Beijing to Hong Kong, we made it! And how exciting it is to land in a completely new city, country, and continent.
Arriving in Hong Kong
First of all, we were both pretty excited to be reunited with Pret a Manger, a UK based chain of coffee shops. I’m aware this sounds pretty pathetic but having been out of the UK for over two years it was a welcome treat. I grabbed my favourite crayfish sandwich and latte, and went to find the train.
One good piece of advice I read about for Hong Kong is to purchase an Octopus card. This is extremely valid. Not only is this the primary payment method of travel, but you can also buy food and tickets with an Octopus card. You can purchase your card at the airport, which we did for around $30CAD. We used it a lot throughout our trip. We then stayed at Summit View, which is part of the YWCA, on the aptly named Man Fuk Road in Kowloon. To get there, we took a train and also a bus from the airport.
Summit View was perfect for us and very reasonable in price. Do note that as it’s part of the YWCA, one of the guests has to be a girl. The rooms are small, but clean and comfortable. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Hong Kong.
Exploring Mong Kok
Our hotel is in the neighbourhood of Mong Kok. Mong Kok actually translates in Cantonese to ‘crowded corner’, which is pretty appropriate. It’s an extremely busy neighbourhood of the city. Here, you can find a whole ton of markets, selling anything from birds to tofu. In an attempt to fight off the jet leg, we went for a walk around Mong Kok.
It’s full of craziness, people, neon lights, and exposed shops selling all kinds of gifts imaginable. We passed markets selling beauty products to pungent food products, and got lost in the crowd. If you’re visiting Mong Kok, don’t miss the following:
- Sneakers Street – as you’d predict, you’ll find an abundance of shoe shops with rare styles from brands like Nike and Adidas.
- Argyle Centre – four floors of boutique stores selling clothes and accessories.
- Sai Yeung Choi Street – here, you’ll find various shops, malls, and restaurants selling international goods. Don’t miss the street stalls selling anything from noodles to fish balls.
- The markets – from souvenirs to counterfeit designer labels, you’ll find it in Mong Kok. Don’t miss the Ladies’ Market for knock-offs, and the Temple Street Market for fortune tellings and jade souvenirs.
- The Goldfish Market – as well as goldfish in plastic bags, you can purchase pretty much any fish from the Goldfish Market. Watch out for other pets too, from dogs to rabbits in this curious market.
- Langham Place – a Mong Kok mall spread across fifteen floors. There’s a food court, designer fashion, a cinema, and even a sky bar to discover.
We passed busy streets, tons of people, and interesting markets. We walked along the Ladies Market, selling thousands of beauty products and designer knock offs.
Hong Kong Flower Market
The Mong Kok markets can be a little overwhelming to begin with, particularly in the sweltering June heat. The air conditioning units overhead also drip onto you or the pavement, so watch where you walk. We dipped into a dim sum restaurant, that appeared to be packed with locals, always a good sign. Stopping here to get our bearings, we cooled off with a drink, and plan our next steps. We nibbled on some yummy steamed prawn dumplings, and some spare pork ribs, not so yummy.
The restaurant was near Hong Kong’s Flower Market, so we went to go and explore it. We grabbed a beer each from a 7/11 and walked the colourful streets. There are dozens of stalls and stores selling exotic bouquets and houseplants. The flower market is particularly busy around Chinese New Year, as people flowers to bring good luck as the new lunar cycle begins. We passed a group practising tai chi on our way to the market.
We saw a plethora of glorious blooms and plants, and turned a corner to see the Bird Garden at Yuen Po Street. It’s a traditional Chinese garden, with stalls selling all kinds of colourful birds. Here, you can watch men feed birds in exchange for a song.
An Evening in Mong Kok
After exploring Mong Kok’s markets, we wanted to make plans for the evening. Feeling a little jet lagged, we planned to grab a drink before going to see Hong Kong’s legendary Symphony of Lights at 8pm. We headed back through the busy streets in search of The Garage Bar, a rooftop bar at the Cordis.
En route, we passed the sheer mayhem of the city. It’s a true sensory overload – the strong odours of dried fish, people everywhere, horns beeping, and towering buildings.
The cuisine was particularly interesting for me to see. You can buy anything from live eels in a tank to dried fish heads left out on newspaper.
We meandered the rows of stalls, exploring hilarious translations of English on T-shirts, to exotic looking fruit and beyond.
The Garage Bar is a lovely rooftop retreat from the crazy streets of Mong Kok. I didn’t get any photos, but the Cordis is also a beautiful hotel and was serving up a tasty buffet. There’s a food truck at the bar, and you can grab a selection of wine and beer which comes with snacks. I’d recommend a visit if you’re in Mong Kok and need to cool down from the summer heat.
A Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong
Leaving The Garage Bar a little too late, and running into issues in the form of a machine swallowed Octopus card, we made it to Victoria Harbour. Each night, the dazzling light show is held at 8pm, and you can see it from either Hong Kong Island or on the Kowloon side. As if Victoria Harbour wasn’t impressive enough with its many skyscrapers and lights, the Symphony of Lights is even more spectacular.
On both sides of the harbour, you can see the iconic buildings light up with LED screens, lighting, search light, and lasers – all synchronized to music. It’s a super impressive way to take in the Hong Kong skyline from a new angle. We watched harbourfront from the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Be sure to add this to your Hong Kong bucket list, it was a spectacle for sure. On our way back to the MTR station, we passed the legendary Peninsular Hotel – a great spot for afternoon tea, so I hear.
That’s my roundup on our first day in Hong Kong! I’m very much looking forward to our next few jam-packed days in both Hong Kong and Macau.
Have you visited Mong Kok? If so, what did you get up to? Share your recommendations in the comments below.