Seductive Hong Kong Delights
Juicy Things To Do in Hong Kong
The Aqua Luna
The Vibe: Like a stylish movie set with hip food and drinks.
What's Juicy: The surprising and ever changing scenery whizzing by, big furry blankets to keep warm under and the outrageous fun of settling into a cozy, oversized cushion built for two with excellent food and drink service and an otherworldly adventurous feeling about the journey.
If there were one thing and only one thing in Hong Kong I'd say whatever you do, don't miss it...it's a trip to Stanley on the Aqua Luna, preferably on a sunny day. Like a mini-vacation Rice Krispy treat it snaps, crackles and pops with surprises and a peaceful change of pace from the chaos of Hong Kong on land. It's one thing to know that Hong Kong is an island surrounded by other islands. But when you are surrounded by concrete, high-rises and masses of humanity pressing in on you it's hard to really "get" the island theory. Until you get out on the water that is...then the penny drops and you realize there is an entirely different version of Hong Kong and its island environs to discover.
The Aqua Luna is a replica of an old Chinese junk. It conjures up images of the spice trade and adventure, of exotic style and the unfamiliar but vaguely romanticized notion of what it might be like to sail on such a vessel. Built for the tourist trade specifically and run by the hip restaurant group, Aqua, based in Hong Kong, the Aqua Luna is simply a perfect little treasure box bobbing along the surprisingly varied waters around Hong Kong. It has become a ubiquitous part of the Hong Kong harbor scenery as a visual accent piece and fits right in, as if it's been there for centuries. In fact it is new and modern in its offerings but feels old worldly.
There are tasty treats and drinks served by a warm, attentive staff who will also be sure you are tucked in with warm blankets if it's chilly. A wine and cocktail list with super yummy appetizers is served in both directions of the voyage, delivered to your cozy topside nest or warmer inside tables below if it's chilly.
The best part of the adventure is the technicolor scenery which delivers a surprise at every turn. The Aqua Luna departs from the intricate boating symphony of the main harbor itself, with everything from sleek high speed ferry boats bound for Macau and staggeringly massive tankers to tiny bobbing real life Chinese junk boats zipping past in dizzying proximity.
The trip to Stanley takes about 90 minutes, cruising past lush green hillsides of the islands dotting Hong Kong area waters, an amusement park perched on an improbably steep cliff, exotic looking monolithic buildings with cut-outs in the middle for mountain dragons to pass through for a sip of water from the sea according to local legend and lots of locals in water craft doing whatever they do in the water. The Stanley Market is a lot of fun to wander around for a few hours with a colorful bevy of temples, market stalls and waterside restaurants hugging a postcard perfect harbor filled with little painted fishing boats. At the end of the afternoon it's time to board your magic carpet ride back the teeming chaos of Hong Kong.
The Vibe: Birds-eye view tranquility high above the Hong Kong skyline where the noise and sensory overload of the city below fades away.
What's Juicy: The tram ride to the top is well worth the wait if there is a line as there often is and a meal at "The Peak" is a pleasure at sunset beneath a feathery canopy of trees on the back deck looking out over the South China Sea.
It's all about the view for sure at the popular Victoria Peak. On a sunny day it's blow-your-socks-off-pretty and is an excellent perch to survey your plan of attack for the coming days. It gives you the best sense of how the city is laid out, how Kowloon and Lantau fit into the puzzle and a reality check on how truly vertical the city really is. It's one of those views you nearly can't turn away from because every time you look closer, you see something even more interesting than the last eyeball full. It's also a lot of fun to go back towards the end of your visit to pick out all the spots you've been and bemoan the many you simply couldn't pack in. If it's raining, don't bother. Wait, hope and pray to the sun gods for a clear day then brave the crowds. You won't be sorry.
Explore by Foot on the Raised Walkways
The Vibe: An ME Escher painting come to life crossed with a hamster Habitrail cage where things interconnect you simply can't fathom how it's possible but sure enough you pop out of or into somewhere unexpected and (usually) surprisingly delightful.
What's Juicy: An endless supply of places to explore filled with great food, shopping and people watching.
Hong Kong is very much a walking city but not in the traditional sense. Here, most of the walking is conducted on raised walkways which connect the buildings at levels above the street with stairs down to the roads. It makes for a wild labyrinth of interconnected pods where you find yourself suddenly in the lobby of a 5 star hotel or face to face with a shiny new Apple store. It's like a people mover at Disneyland without the mover part.
The "Mid-Levels" is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world at around a mile long. It runs only in the down direction in the morning for commuters headed into work and only up in the evenings to get them home again. There are stairs alongside the escalators for the fit or those whose schedules differ from the intended norm.
The escalators climb through entire neighborhoods straight up a hillside above Hollywood Road more or less, passing countless restaurants, shops, apartments, street access points and more. For most of its users it's merely the way to work and back, but for a visitor it offers easily half a day of engaging entertainment.
The Vibe: Exclusive and splurgy but worth every penny as hands down the best way to see the area.
What's Juicy: The posh private rooftop "China Clipper" is nearly worth the price of the ride alone with stunning harbor views and that unmistakable air of "special".
A polished and friendly staff whisk you from the lobby of the iconic Peninsula hotel to the private "China Clipper" lounge adjacent to the rooftop helipad. Think first class airport lounge but small and surrounded by views to die for. Intimate seating areas to lounge in before departure give you time to appreciate aviation history of the China Clipper which flew between San Francisco and Hong Kong, with an enchanting collection of memorabilia and plane parts worked into the architecture. Be sure to arrive in time to enjoy the Club before your flight. The flight itself gives you an unparalleled view of the harbor and Hong Kong surrounding islands and areas. Well worth the Juicy splurge.
Explore the Parks and Gardens
Hong Kong Park
The Vibe: Lush and diverse with a lake, aviary, tons of trails to wander and an air of Zen peacefulness.
What's Juicy: The very fact that plunked right in the middle of a vertical and subterranean concrete jungle is an oasis of green, green, green with singing birds everywhere, palm trees soothing your soul and seemingly cheerful, happy people everywhere you look.
Nowhere more than Hong Kong Park do I keep coming back to my original impression, that it reminds me of Honolulu meets China. Its got a tropical vibe to it which surprised me. Indeed, it turns out that Hong Kong and Honolulu sit at the same latitude. There are tropical plants in lush abundance, humid warm breezes and sweet smelling flowers everywhere in this charming park.
If you stay in any of the Pacific Place hotels, they sit just at the edge of the park and the park paths are the perfect route to walk to the burgeoning and hip Hollywood Road dining and design scene.
Don't miss the aviary filled with unique birds, the lovely vegetarian Lock Cha Tea Shop, the lake filled with swans and the arboretum.
The Vibe: Larger, more gritty, crowded and urban than enchanting Hong Kong park but equally filled with greenery and interesting diversions.
What's Juicy: The flamingo lake with its goofy pink characters and lush setting including a flowing waterfall, people watching and the easy (and necessary) escape from noisy, smelly and annoying Nathan Road.
With museums, a rose garden, several water features including a lush lake inhabited by flamingos and a giant aquatic sports facility, Kowloon Park offers something for every one of all ages. The aquatic center offers four indoor heated pools including an Olympic sized pool, a diving pool and a free form leisure pool. There are three outdoor recreation pools with areas for kids and just hanging around in the sun.
The high-tech hip hotel, The Mira Hong Kong, offers rooms which overlook the park from across Nathan Road, and its standout restaurant "Cuisine Cuisine" is decorated to feel like the park is reflected in the space.
One thing the markets all have in common is controlled chaos. Be prepared to be jostled and smushed, have your senses completely overwhelmed with colors, smells, sounds and temptations and be fried by the end of a jaunt through one of them. That being said, they really are a hoot and shouldn't be missed. There is a market for all kinds of different things, including flowers, birds, goldfish, electronics, ladies' clothing, men's clothing and more. The "Night Market" is a little bit of everything and is most notable for the proliferation of blinding neon everywhere you look.
Get High at Night
There are a dizzying array of cool venues in the clouds in this vertical city offering glittering night time views oozing style and bling.
Ozone: At the top of the Ritz-Carlton lies a sparkly diamond of a view centric perch. With truly awe-inspiring views from every spot, it's worth the jaunt to have a few drinks.
Mamoz: The cool factor at Mamoz are the 27th story floor panels made of clear plexiglass which let you literally stand above the city seemingly miles below. The drinks at the bar are a ton of fun with concoctions ranging from exotic to over-the-top sexy such as an order-ahead specialty drink made with dry ice and served in a hand-carved ice sculpture. It's a lot of fun to watch the bartenders hand carve ice for their creative libations.
Tea Time in Hong Kong
Tea at the Tiffin, Langham Hotel
The Vibe: Traditional English country club feel with a dash of China opulence.
What's Juicy: The cozy seating areas and traditional English tea service.
Tiffin at the Langham Hotel in Kowloon offers a traditional tea experience in an elegant space. The seating is comfy with quiet, intimate spaces to tuck into at this traditional, European flavored hotel with a loyal following. Traditional English tea service is served in the Tiffin lobby lounge with all of the accotrouments you would expect, including the layered silver finger sandwich trays and delicate flowered china. It's a lovely way to take a quiet time-out from the crowds outside.
Tea at the Peninsula Hotel
The Vibe: Packed with tourists and often a long line for this iconic, traditional tea service.
What's Juicy: The tradition of the experience.
The Peninsula Hotel has an impressive lineage of VIP visitors and history which makes the lines and crowds potentially worth the iconic experience. The treats are tasty, the service is brisk and the tourist people watching can be fun. My favorite part aside from the traditional tea service was to watch the doormen clad in their smart Peninsula uniforms greeting incoming guests with warmth and flair.
Explore by Ferry
The Vibe: Brisk, busy, no dawdling getting on and off means of transportation used by thousands of Hong Kong folks all day and night. Open air fun with not so fun wooden seats.
What's Juicy: The price of admission for the best show in Hong Kong and the fun of being part of the local scene.
On a warm sunny day I rode the ferry back and forth across the harbor many times over just for the sheer fun of it. At about forty cents a ride you simply can't beat the cost to get out and about in the world's busiest harbor. The crews are efficient and friendly while they move massive numbers of people around between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It's also a great front row vantage point during the nightly "Symphony of Lights", a spectacular laser light show (think Pink Floyd + waterfront skylines) which utilizes more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor. The ferries run every 10-20 minutes up until around 11 PM.
Experience a Hong Kong Taxi
The Vibe: Part Mr. Toad's wild ride, part death-defying hurtling through densely traffic-filled space in a cute red car which somehow makes up for the death-defying part.
What's Juicy: For one the cost. Taxis in Hong Kong are a surprisingly good bargain to get around town if you don't feel like taking the MTR. They are also ubiquitous therefore easy to find anywhere, anytime.
Taxi rides in Hong Kong are a great way to get around if not totally terrifying at times. Many hotels give you a card with English - Chinese translations for requests like "Please don't change lanes so often" and "Please don't drive so fast" if that gives you a clue as to how the experience goes. Drivers don't speak much if any English, so enlist the hotel staff to make sure the driver knows where you are trying to go.
Juicy tip: Luggage is charged per piece that you put in the trunk which can actually add up and easily triple the cost of your ride. Consider holding your luggage in your lap or putting it in the back seat with you to avoid the excess charges. Also, always ask for a receipt. If you leave something behind it's easier to track down the taxi, and, it ensures a more accurate fare.
Explore by Streetcar or Tram
The Vibe: An up close kaleidoscope view of the action at street level with the locals.
What's Juicy: The front seats on the top level of either the double-decker bus or tram affords a rung-above street level to give you a really fun and up close perspective where you can look into second story windows and beyond. It's like an amusement park ride for about a quarter.
They are easy to hop on and off with the right change or an Oyster Card and run constantly. Mind the numbers to know where you are going and be very careful to look the right way when they are approaching.
Explore by MTR
The Vibe: Clean, efficient, crowded and will get you virtually anywhere.
What's Juicy: Ease of use, number of stops to get you close to anywhere you want to be and relative affordability to get around.
The MTR is the underground subway system which is well developed and well run. It's a great way to get into the city from the airport (although a taxi above ground is a much prettier ride). It can be sardine-style packed at all hours of the day and require a surprising amount of walking to get from one station to another but it's very efficient and easy to use. My favorite feature is the live signage which shows you which stop you are approaching and which other lines it connects to so you know where the heck to get off. Also, the signage at the stations is excellent for guiding you out the right exit in the often overwhelming maze of options.
Juicy Tip: Buy an Octopus Card which you can add funds to as often as necessary if you are going to use the MTR (subway/metro), busses, coaches, ferries and tramways. It makes it SO easy to just swipe like a local and keep moving with the sea of humanity flowing into whatever mode of transportation you happen to be boarding.
Explore Underground Worlds
The Vibe: An entirely hidden world of restaurants and shopping snakes underneath the city offering hundreds of restaurants and many ways to drop your cash.
What's Juicy: The cleanliness and variety of what you find below ground which is all interconnected in ways that make it easy to traverse entire sections of the city without ever breaking the surface.
Shopping malls, office buildings, residential spaces and hotels all connect underground to form a massive second city below ground. The MTR system (underground trains) run through these hubs with efficient stations making it ridiculously easy to sample zillions of restaurants and shopping venues in every area. Pop up to street level and find yourself in one different world after another as the neighborhoods are all vastly different around Hong Kong.
Aberdeen Harbor and the Jumbo Floating Restaurant
The Vibe: Cacophony of colorful little junk boats, million-dollar yachts, fisherman and locals doing their thing with a giant, touristy floating restaurant bobbing in the midst of it.
What's Juicy: Getting to the floating restaurant happens via a funky, fun little junk across the busy harbor to hop off at the mouths of a gang of golden dragons.
Aberdeen Harbor is an easy bus ride from Hong Kong which affords a low key tour of the areas outside of downtown. The harbor is a typhoon shelter and houses every kind of boat from rotting old fishing boats to jewel toned junks on up to sexy million-dollar yachts owned by local stars, expats and the wealthy. The fishing industry is in full swing here, easily seen with a walk around the perimeter of the harbor.
Yes, ok it's touristy, but the floating restaurants are actually also frequented by the locals, particularly the upper level of the famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Personally I think the floating restaurants are kind of fun for a quick trip.
Big Buddha & Lantau Island
The Vibe: An adventurous island trek to see a giant golden buddha serenely perched on top of a mountain.
What's Juicy: Getting there is most of the fun, your choices being a gondola over the tops of the mountains (fastest) or a bus along scenic winding roads (slower but oh-so-pretty) or a ferry (always fun and underscores the island aspect of the adventure).
Something about taking an adventurous trip to see a giant buddha on a mountain top instills a sense of pilgrimage that feels engaging and fun. Just getting to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island is a trip and a half whichever way you go. All three modes offer something different.
By gondola/cable car:
Ngong Ping Cable Car leaves from the Tung Chung MTR station. It carries you over the mountains and drops you at the Po Lin monastery where the Big Buddha lives.
Take the ferry to Mui Wo from Central then bus number 2 from the Mui Wo Ferry Pier.
Take the MTR to the Tung Chung station then bus number 23 (45 minutes) to the monastery. This is one of the prettiest bus rides I've ever taken with winding views of the South China Sea at every turn and lush island scenery along the way. The coaches are modern and comfortable. Note that they can be very crowded on return and lines form at the end of the day to wait to fit on one.
This is really an all day adventure from Hong Kong if you take the bus both or either direction. Plan to go in the morning if you are taking the bus so you don't end up in the potentially massive end of the day lines to get back.
There is a spartan but tasty vegetarian monastery canteen on site. You buy a meal ticket at the kiosk. The temple itself is an absolutely beautiful great hall with eye-popping colors everywhere, singing birds in abundance and an unmistakable air of grace.
Visit a Temple
There are temples tucked in almost everywhere you go if you know where to look, both in Hong Kong and in surrounding areas.
The temple in Stanley is small but charming, an easy way to get a sense of what they are about. The lovely temple at the Po Lin Monastery at the Big Buddha on Lantau Island is large, accessible, colorful and quite beautiful. In Macau, the A Ma Temple is mobbed by visitors but quite spread out and worth a jaunt through with a perfect lunch pairing at the lovely Posada Sao Tiago Hotel. In Aberdeen the real deal, smelly, busy and dirty but less touristy and filled with locals doing what they do in their temples is open to anyone interested in wandering through respectfully.2 of 7