A Week long trip backpacking across Hong Kong is a once-in-a-lifetime experience which takes you through insanely varying landscapes, cultures and lifestyles. It's not the Most Expensive City in the world for nothing.
Hong Kong | I spent four months in Southeast Asia last year before moving to Delhi for a new job. I made it for almost two months before I started itching to take off again. And I chose the Independence Day-long weekend, so I could travel for a while without taking too many leaves at work. Then began the hunt for a country perfect to be explored in a week. Being a backpacker who travels slow and long-term, this seven-day holiday challenge was very real for me.
After going through several options of amazing places that I could go to, I finally chose to visit Hong Kong. As unlikely a candidate as it may seem, there were several factors that made me choose this vibrant city as my next destination. Here are some of them:
1. Hong Kong has a visa-free entry policy for a period of 14 days for many countries including India. All you have to do is fill up a pre-arrival registration for Indian nationals and carry a printout of it while travelling to Hong Kong.
2. Hong Kong’s status as a country has always confused me. “It is China, and also it is not China”. In simple words, under a ‘one country two system’ policy, Hong Kong gets to be an independent region of China with its own government, immigration policy, consulates and even its own flag till 2040, making it “the most country like country that isn’t a country“. What happens after 2040 is a mystery for everyone.
3. Hong Kong is small enough to be covered in a week, though no time is enough at any place. Given the cost of travel involved and only 14 day visa-free access, one week sounded perfect. Also language is not a problem, as apart from Cantonese, the residents can understand and talk in English.
4. New Delhi has good connectivity to Hong Kong and Macau. I choose to fly with Malindo Airline from Delhi to Hong Kong and Air Asia from Macau to Delhi. A round-trip flight costs around Rs 28,000 from Delhi.
5. Its proximity to Macau offers a chance to explore another lit place that is famous as the gambling capital of the world. Macau’s status as a country is as confusing as Hong Kong, and it has an immigration system of its own like Hong Kong, that gives Indians visa-free access to the country for 30 days.
6. Finally, Hong Kong has the best of everything. This place will not disappoint any type of traveller. Whether you like splurging at your favourite world-class brands, hiking through the most beautiful trails, dining at the best restaurants, spending a lazy day at a gorgeous beach or browsing through all kinds of art, this stunning city has you covered.
After having decided on visiting Hong Kong for seven days, I had another task that I never ever did before any backpacking trip – planning. It was more important than ever that I plan my itinerary given the short time I would have in the place. So after researching about the country, I made a basic plan that would allow me to get a glimpse into the life of all three islands of Hong Kong, with a day in Macau as I had my flight back to Delhi from there.
I also found out it is pretty expensive to travel in Hong Kong, but you can travel for as low as HK$350 or around Rs 3,000 a day, if you follow these four basic thumb rules of backpacking:
Rule 1: Always use public transport and avoid taking cabs
Hong Kong has a world-class public transport system. You have the option to travel on the effortless Mass Transit Railway popularly known as MTR or buses and trams that connects the city efficiently. A British girl I met told me that it was pretty similar to the one they have back home. Hong Kong was under the British rule from 1841 to 1997, so strong influences can still be seen in the culture and architecture here.
Tip: Buy an Octopus Card right away as soon as you reach airport. It makes everyday in Hong Kong a breeze and you don’t need to carry the exact change. It costs HK$150 and you will get a balance of HK$100 and HK$50 will be refunded when you return the card. It is like the metro card we use in Delhi only more powerful as it is accepted on all public transports, all K-circles department stores and also in some restaurants and shops.
Rule 2: Always eat where the locals eat
When you are backpacking, you cannot afford to splurge. So instead of eating at fancy places, choose a place where you see locals hanging out. Remember, if it is crowded, it is for a reason. I had the most amazing food at the most unexpected places. Also, when you are not sure if you like the local food, there is always a McDonald’s you can depend on for a few days.
Rule 3: Couchsurf or stay in hostels. Also, an Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel
As everywhere else, I chose to stay in a hostel in Hong Kong. I also couch-surfed on my last day here. Macau’s hotels are very expensive and people generally take a day-trip here from Hong Kong.
Rule 4: The best things in life are free
There are several free things you can do in Hong Kong, such as going hiking in the countryside, going for free walking tours, art museums, harbour light shows or simply enjoying the street music as you observe the world go by. Travellers are different from tourists. The best way I can put it is that we are not driven by any to-do list at the place we travel to, but we want to live in that place like locals and experience its culture. That doesn’t keep us from visiting important tourist spots, but it is only that we would prefer an alternative choice to the mainstream any day.
You can check out the latest events happening in Hong Kong on their very well-maintained government website – Discover Hong Kong.
So here is how I spent my seven-day vacation in Hong Kong and Macau:
|DAY 1||Ngong Ping|
After landing in Hong Kong and clearing immigration, I headed to Ngong Ping, where I had booked my stay for the night. I wanted to take it easy in Hong Kong, starting from a calm place and working my way up to the most densely populated region of the world. Ngong Ping is a tranquil village located on the Lantau Island, where both the international airport and Disneyland are located. The peace and quiet, misty lush green beauty, exquisite Chinese architecture, lifted me up instantly after a long flight.
Transport : Take Ngong Ping 360 rope car for HK$65 or take bus S1 from Airport to Tung Chung station then take bus 23 from Tung Chung Bus Terminus to Ngong Ping Bus Terminal for around HK$20.
Stay : YHA Ngong Ping SG Davis Youth Hostel
Eat : Take some food if you will reach the hostel late, as shops close by 7pm. An average meal will cost HK$40.
Visit : Tian Tan Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery
|DAY 2||Tai O Village|
After checking out from my hostel the next day, I took a bus to Tai O Fishing Village. It was as quirky as I expected it to be, with the beautiful village surrounded by mountains and the ocean. I spent time browsing through local shops and eating local seafood delicacies. I also took a boat ride that goes around the village and if you are lucky, you may spot dolphins. After spending half a day here, I headed to Causeway Bay where I had booked a hostel for the night.
Transport : Take a bus from Ngong Ping Village to Tai O. To reach Causeway Bay from Tai O take a bus to Tung Chung and take an MTR to Causeway Bay station.
Eat : Local seafood at Tai O village. Blue Girl Beer and Asahi Japanese Beer is inexpensive and smooth.
Visit : Walk around and get lost in Tai O Village as you enjoy its oriental aura.
Causeway Bay is located on the Honk Kong Island and is nothing like Lantau Island. It is the modern part of Hong Kong with world-class shops, restaurants, skyscrapers and a busy cosmopolitan city life.
I just went around getting lost, eating and also picking up little interesting things I could get my hands on. The Peak is a hot tourist spot that I ditched that day. At night I went to Lan Kwai Fong to explore the city’s nightlife. This place is known for the coolest pubs and bars of the city. I found the prices of drinks pretty costly there. A local introduced me to the concept of the seven-eleven bars where you buy a beer from a department store at the cost price and drink it on street along with several other people doing the same. Make it a party if you want. Today was also the night I got a free ticket to Disneyland from a girl in my dorm who couldn’t go herself.
Transport : To reach Lan Kwai Fong take MTR from Causeway Bay to the Central and walk your way to reach LFK. You can take a tram to The Peak for a stunning view of the city.
Eat : Egg waffles, fish balls, dumplings and Japanese food in Yoshinoya. Choose from a selection of wines and beers at any department store such as 7/11 or K-circles.
Visit : Lan Kwai Fong, Causeway Bay, The Peak, Victoria Harbour
I woke up with the excitement of a three year old as I was going to Disneyland. I took an MTR to the Disneyland Resort Station. The MTR that goes to Disneyland is also decorated based on the Disney theme and stops at the park entrance. I spent the entire day here. My favourite ride was the Star Wars roller coaster and I also loved the Virtual Reality journey of Hong Kong with Iron Man. By evening, I was as exhausted as a 90-year-old on the treadmill after a day at Disneyland. On getting back, I just chilled in the hostel having amazing conversations with backpackers from around the world.
Ticket cost: $65
Transport : To reach Disneyland, take an MTR to Tung Chung then change the station to the Disneyland pink line MTR.
Eat : Everything is very expensive inside the park, so eat a heavy breakfast before you go.
I moved to another hostel in Mong Kok to experience the most densely populated area of the world – Kowloon. It was as intense as I thought it would be. I had met a girl in the hostel and spent the day with her going to and fro on the star ferry and we also went to Braemar Hills that is an alternative to The Peak where we enjoyed a stunning night view of the city minus the crowd. At 9pm, we attended the Pulse Light Show at the Discovery Bay.
Transport : Take an MTR from Mong Kok to Tsim Sha Sui and take a star ferry that costs HK$3 to the central pier.
Eat : Egg tart, fish and chips
Visit : Braemar Hills, Discovery Harbour, Central Pier, Pulse light show, Avenue of Stars
|DAY 5||Temple Street Market|
I dedicated this day to exploring the shopping scene of the city. I went to the Ladies Market, Jordan Street, Temple Street with a loud echoing voice in my head “world is a global village now, you get everything everywhere and you can live without buying that”. I succeeded in getting away with buying things that were absolutely important and that I would have eventually bought back at home too. Big win in the alluring sparkling shopping streets.
Transport : Take an MTR from Mong Kok to Jordan station.
Eat : Forest Korean Restaurant
Visit : Ladies Market, Jordan Street, Temple Street
|DAY 6||Hong Kong University|
I spent the day with my lovely Couchsurfing host at the Hong Kong University area. He had a view to kill for from his rooftop. We spent the time walking around exploring, eating and talking into the night at the harbour. I had the most amazing dumplings in my life here at Treasure Lake Seafood Restaurant.
Transport : Take an MTR from Mong Kok to Central then change to Blue Line for HKU.
Stay : I couch-surfed
Eat : Everything you can at Treasure Lake Seafood Restaurant.
Visit : Hong Kong University streets
After a delightful breakfast, I said goodbye to my host and now good friend, and Hong Kong. I took a ferry to Macau from the Central Pier. It takes only an hour to reach Macau from Hong Kong. After reaching there I took a bus to Largo do Senado, popularly known as Senado Square in Old Macau. After spending most of my time there and hogging on delicious Portuguese egg tarts, I took a bus to the Venetian Macau which is the modern part of Macau with all the luxury hotels. I went to the Venetian to admire the glitters of the rich and decided to eat instead of gambling. Here there was no dress code required, I saw people in their pajamas at the gambling tables focusing hard, even at midnight. Gambling sure is the sole reason people visit Macau, but for me it was because I had a flight to catch.
Transport : Take a ferry from the Central Pier to Macau, it will cost HK$165.
Stay : I did not stay in Macau. I had a morning flight so I slept at the airport.
Eat : Portuguese egg tarts
Visit : St. Paul Ruins, Venetian, Water Show at Lisboa.
The housing crisis in Hong Kong has led to average real estate prices go as high up as HK$11,000 per sq foot. Most people still live with their parents, as they cannot afford to move out. The minimum wage is HK$3,500 per month and 1.3 million people are living below it. In the sparkling city, you see in pictures it is easy to forget to go deeper into the issues a country is facing. But with all the given problems, the way the people of Hong Kong carry themselves with a deep love for their country has won both my heart and respect.