I booked my tickets two months in advance. I am not sure if that is late but I think it was just enough to get a good deal. There are flights that can take you to HK via Singapore or Malaysia but they double the time of otherwise 5.5 hours journey. So if you have time you could do that or simply take the direct flight - Dragon air or Cathay pacific.
For my travel guide, I bought both Eyewitness from DK and Lonely Planet. While DK is small, handy, filled with pictures and has a nice map, the Lonely planet guide is extensively researched and captures some of the smallest of the smallest details that may be considered off the tourist track. I would personally recommend the Lonely planet guidebook.Perfect for those who want to explore a country on their own. It also lists what is free and how to get around. But, make sure you buy these books just before you travel to get the latest edition. My DK was not of the latest edition and hence it did not even list the hostel I stayed in.
Before you travel you have to come to terms with the fact that HK is expensive. Even though a HK dollar will exchange to only Rs 8, it does not mean that it is cheaper. You get nothing for $1HK. Even a good meal will cost you HK$100. And as far as the hotels go they are very expensive.
If you are looking for a budget that is below HK$300 then you have to go to the guesthouses in HK island or Tsim Sha tsui in Kowloon. You will find several small guest houses in Chung King mansion as well. But what to know is that these rooms are very small; as wide as your two arms stretched and the places look really scary but having been in HK, I can say its very safe to be around there.
For an experience you could stay there but I would advice the youth hostel dormitories instead. Specially the YHA Mei Ho youth hostel were we stayed. They are just amazing. If you are looking at private rooms, then they are available too at around HK$600 (Includes breakfast). They have a few other branches around HK. There is one away from the city crowd at Mt Davis supposedly providing one of the best views of the harbour. But this is on a hill that does not have public transportation. You will have to either walk or take a taxi there. I also saw one on Ngong ping where the Big Buddha idol is. This Website should aid you better on their locations.
The advantage of staying in Mei Ho was that we could cook dinner almost everyday at their common kitchen. You can also do laundry for HK$30. The only drawback would be that it is slightly away from the harbour. You spend HK$20 up and down to get to the central district. But thats perfectly okay because the hotels cost a bomb anyways.
If you are looking of luxury, then book a nice hotel in HK island. They might charge you anywhere from HK$1200 onwards. The rooms cannot be expected to be big but will be spacious enough and have all the amenities. They also run free shuttles to central MTR’s. Macau Ferry terminals. The one we stayed in on the last day was Island Pacific on Centre street.
First Thing You Need To Do After Landing At The Aiport -
As soon as you walk out of the airport, the first thing you might need is the local currency. You could get them from a Forex at your home country or just land up here to find several counters that provide you the exchange. They accept cash only and for that you will have to carry that of your home country currency. But the best deal is to use your ATM cards that has Mastero or Visa to withdraw some big chunks of money. I have heard they give the best exchange as compared to all the others. But make sure your card works with withdrawals outside the country. My Citibank card worked where as the SBI card did not. You might have to activate that on the card before traveling.
So once you have your money walk out and opposite to the airport is the MTR station. Buy an Octopus Card there. Its a must if you want to travel without counting change everywhere. Octopus card is your replacement for cash. It is accepted almost everywhere - In buses, MTR, in shops, for buying all kinds of tickets and many other places. It just deducts the exact change when you show it to the reader and has discounted fares too while traveling. You can put in HK$1000 max on the card and they take a refundable deposit of HK$50 to be returned when you surrender the card. These cards can be recharged in any 7-Eleven shop or many other outlets such as a reception desk in a mall or a MTR customer service desk.
In any 7-Eleven you can also buy a SIM card. You might need a SIM card if you want to use internet while on road for google maps or something. I was recommended by a friend to buy This Card.
It costs you HK$48. But do not misunderstand. It says WiFi free but not 3G. So it drinks money if you directly use it for navigating. So what you need to do is to dial *131# and receive internet options for 1 day, 3 days or a week. Choose your required package.
You will also need to buy an adapter for charging your electronic devices. This must be available in small shops everywhere or in the hotel you are staying. Make sure it works with the current and voltage of your device.
Traveling Within HK -
From airport you could either take the airport express that is really fast but charges you HK$200 or a taxi that might be equally expensive or just walk to the nearby bus station and take a really inexpensive ride to the city. Kowloon was HK$14 ticket and HK island central might be around HK$40.
HK has a beautiful public transport system. They have MTR’s, Buses, Green minibuses and ferries everywhere. So with your octopus card in hand, you can just travel like a local. Just get accustomed to the rail lines and bus routes and you are all set. The buses charge you a fixed price from your stop to the last stop no matter where you get down. So the trick is to know the last stop of the bus you are traveling in. If its a long distance bus you may end up paying more for a shorter ride. If you are traveling only few stops then choose a bus route that is traveling within the city and you might save half the price.
In HK island, take the trams. They are slow but they are cheap and a lot of fun. HK$ 2.3 from anywhere to anywhere.
To cross the harbour, the cheapest way is to take a star ferry thats around HK$2 but obviously they are slow. Buses and MTR add HK$9 to just cross the harbour tunnel.
Lantau island is well connected by road and MTR while for Lamma and Cheung Chau islands you have to take ferry from the Central piers. There are two piers spaced away from one another to avoid confusion. One is called the Central piers. 8 of them have ferries to cross the harbour or go to the islands. The other pier near Sheung Wan MTR station is Macau ferry station that runs turbojet to Macau.
Just outside the Central piers you shall also find the City tour buses. They take you on tours around HK island. If you are traveling for few hours then that may be your best way to see some of the important places.
In the new territories, you can travel by light rails. They are just awesome. You could also take a bus ride. Every station, every train, tram or bus have maps and announce in both English and Cantonese. So not to worry.
At every MTR station are maps telling what exit has what nearest tourist attraction and once you take those exit there are signboards in pink colour that will lead you to these places.
To the Victoria peak you can either take a tram or a bus. Tram is more expensive but they are very fast as compared to the long but fun ride uphill on a bus; specially if you sit in the first row of the upper deck of a double decker.
Culture and People -
People of HK are extremely disciplined and friendly. They almost never interfere into your affairs but if you need help finding something, they try their best to help you. If they cannot speak English they will direct you to someone who does. It is absolutely safe and there is no fear of theft at all here. Even on the 31st night when it was horribly crowded, they walked to the nearby metros on the designated path, following a queue.
Most youngsters speak English. But somehow it is not difficult to communicate here.
What to Buy -
I think its always important to buy something or the other where ever you go. For yourselves and for your family and friends. HK has a lot to offer from Cheap products from China in the small street markets to top global brands at IFC mall. Temple street night market, Jardine's crescent or Apliu st flea market can offer you really inexpensive china stuff. But you need to bargain here and try your luck with the authentic products. I would recommend electronic shops in Mong Kok which sell good Hong Kong brands. Of course they too are made in China but is recognised in HK.
I am a big fan of shops that sell only custom products. Like I found one that sells only tea and tea pots. Another that makes perfume and some creative items. It is easy to find small interesting shops. But somethings that I bought based on my interests are - Lots of tea, a tea pot, art materials, a monopod (selfie stick) and some other random stuff. I am sure HK has something or other for everyone.
What not to miss -
There ar many top sites listed in several websites and travel guides. So I do not wish to repeat them here. Apart from them here are some rather small things that I experienced and found interesting.
- Night view of the island from the Victoria peak.
- A shop in the main street of Cheung Chau island that sells everything related to tea.
- Trek on Section 8 of the HK trail that includes the most scenic Dragon’s Back.
- Family trail trek that covers entire Lamma island.
- Tai O, a beautiful small village in the west coast of Lantau island with its stilt houses and a creative shop called Chamber fairy store that sells some custom products.
- Light rails, MTR and tram rides. Bus to the peak, of course.
- Temple street night market to see their interesting display of products.
- Tiny shops of Mong Kok inside the tall buildings.
- Free view from the 65th floor of the Bank of China tower.
- Firework during New year.
- Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple to see the practice of fortune telling through chims.
Vegetarian Food -
There are a lot of Indian restaurants around HK. Your Lonely planet guide can help you locating them. Chung King mansion has several of them with two pure vegetarian restaurants. (Smrat and Sarvana) Tandoor nights in Tsim Sha tsui, Clay oven in HK island close to Kennedy town are few others I went to. Ocean park has two restaurants near cable car station that serve indian option. Morocco’s Indian restaurant in Cheung Chau island offers some good vegetarian options as well.
Apart from that, many monasteries provide vegetarian meals. There are also a couple of vegetarian Chinese restaurants. But sometimes they also consider fish as vegetarian, so you may want to check before ordering.
From HK island Macau terminal you can board a turbojet for HK$164. Or take a helicopter for a lot more money. Frequency from Kowloon is less and I have heard that you might have to walk a kilometre from the nearby MTR station to get to the pier there. So advisable is to take them from HK island. Make sure you book the return tickets also because its crowded like crazy here. And you might end up getting a journey time that is lot later because of the crowd. Carry your passport as you are exiting HK and you need to return the copy of the immigration form. Make sure you stay till dark in Macau to view the night life in the casinos. You can also exchange your HK$ to Macanese pataca here. Many accept HK$ but it is advisable to carry some local currency. The Macau ferry station also has ATM’s if you want to withdraw there. There are free buses run by casinos so use them as the mode of transport rather than paying for it on a local bus. And take a ferry back not later than 10:15 PM from Macau to reach HK on time for the last train or bus. Else, you might have to depend on taxis.
You do not need a visa for Macau but you might need it for other one day trips to mainland China like - Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Links to my Posts related to HK & Macau-