Hong Kong is only about a 3 hour flight from Bangkok making it the perfect distance for a weekend getaway. There are flights going almost all day every day so you should be able to find something that suits your schedule. I opted for a 3:30am red-eye on Hong Kong Airlines. I am used to flying budget regional carriers but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. After the one hour time change, I arrived at 8am. There is an express airport rail link that takes you right downtown. I got a roundtrip airport rail link ticket and a 3 day MTR pass and it was absolutely worth it.
I headed straight to my hotel, The Olympian in West Kowloon. Perfectly situated just a few stations away from the airport express train dropping point and within a short distance of the heart of the city, I knew I had made the right choice. I wanted to treat myself a little bit as I don’t go on vacation often so I chose this boutique hotel for a few reasons. First, the location was fantastic. Second, I know from living in Bangkok that at the end of a long day in a hectic city, I want to go somewhere peaceful that feels like home. Third, all the reviews I read and all my interactions with the staff prior to my arrival were superb. An 8am arrival can be tough for some hotels, especially on Easter weekend when they are running at a high occupancy rate. The staff at the Olympian got me straight into my room and offered me breakfast as soon as I arrived. I have to say, having a couple hour rest at the hotel and some good food really made it so much easier to make the most of my time in the city. When I walked in, I was shocked by the high ceilings and huge windows with a view of the harbour and skyline. I literally went to sleep looking out a wall of glass onto the water/park/skyline. The suite was spacious and had plenty of room for either a couple or a family. The real indulgence of the room was a bathtub with an incredible view. I took full advantage of that.
After my chill out and breakfast at the Olympian, I walked through the local park and headed to the gondola that takes you up a mountain to see a big Buddha statue. I was shocked at the amount of green in Hong Kong. It’s like a polar opposite from Bangkok where there are about 3 trees. I had no idea I would be breathing so much fresh mountain air. I used a site called Klook to book a faster pass for the gondola but be prepared to wait in line even with the special pass. There is a crystal cabin option, but I went with the traditional. A lot of people actually hike the mountain and there are well laid trails to do it, but it’s a pretty serious hike so that might be a “next time” activity for me. The temple village complex is great. There are restaurants serving all sorts of international things and a few fun tourist attractions. Besides the big Buddha, there is another temple and monastery nearby with some beautiful architecture.
Now, here comes my first major tip: if the forecast says chance of thunderstorm, bring an umbrella and or a raincoat. I got up to the top of the mountain without any issues. There was a little bit of drizzle but not enough to bother me. Just as I was getting ready to leave, the sky opened up and the gondola shut down, essentially trapping everyone on the top of the mountain. So, when the gondola shuts, they bus people down the mountain one small group at a time. This resulted in a two and a half hour wait for a death-defying bus trip down to the base. Luckily, I got in line “early”, comparatively, so I was undercover, but the majority of people were stuck standing in the pouring rain for hours. Come prepared.
Originally, I had planned to go back to the Olympian after my gondola trip to freshen up before a nice dinner that I had made a reservation for at Above and Beyond at Hotel Icon. But because of the rain, I was scrambling to make it to my reservation on time. I went to this restaurant upon the recommendation of a friend and while the website is great, reading about this place or seeing photos simply can not do it justice. It was probably the most fantastic view I have ever seen from a dining room. It’s on the 28th floor with a full view of the Hong Kong skyline. This restaurant specialises in Cantonese cuisine and is well known as one of the best in the city. I know nothing about Cantonese food so I figured I’d just jump in head first with one of their tasting menus. I was served a 6 course meal of small plates including beef brisket, lobster, soup, dumplings, garoupa and dessert. The courses were paired magnificently with 3 glasses of wine and I treated myself to a glass of port at the end. If you’re looking for something a little bit fancy with an unbelievable city view, Above and Beyond is the place. Keep in mind that I had flown in on a red eye, walked around all afternoon, had a full stomach and 4 glasses of wine so my bed at the Olympian was calling me. Much to my surprise, when I arrived at my room, I had a bottle of sparkling wine waiting for me. Oh, one more glass won’t hurt. zzzzzzz.
The next morning, I woke ready to tackle the day! The only issue was that there was another warning of thunderstorms. I learned my lesson and brought my umbrella for day two and I’m glad I did; it poured rain all day. I wanted to check out some of the major temples so that was my first half of the day plan. With my unlimited metro card, it was really easy.
I went to downtown Hong Kong to visit the oldest temple in the city, Man Mo. This temple is small and truly unique because it has coils of incense hanging from the ceiling which creates a captivating ambience. Wong Tai Sin temple in Kowloon was the next stop. The temple complex is huge, 18,000 square metres with several areas dedicated to Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. I have never seen so much fortune telling at a temple. There is a large designated area where you can shake a can of sticks (same as in Thailand) and the one that falls out has a number on it corresponding to your fortune. But ah, you can’t get your fortune unless you pay one of the hundreds of fortune tellers in their stalls outside the temple to give you the paper. It’s written in Chinese, so you can kick them some more money to interpret it for you. Lucky for me, I have some Chinese friends that helped me out. I got a good one! The final temple stop is one that was recommended to me by Thai people, Che Kung temple, and it was swarming with Thais. This temple was built in 1993 so the architecture isn’t particularly stunning and it’s a bit bare inside besides a large statue of the military commander Che Kung. The unique point for this temple is there is a fan that they believe will bring you good luck if you spin it. It’s a bit far away and if you’re running short on time or aren’t a believer in the magic fan, it’s skippable.
I was in for a real Hong Kong experience by the time I made it to lunch, a “red rain advisory” had been issued. I didn’t know what this meant so after some Googling, I discovered that it means big rain is coming, stay inside. This is the kind of rain that an umbrella is useless. So, I sat in Yeun Kee, a very local (and quite delicious) rice and meat place and waited out the storm. They had one of the best sauces I’ve ever tasted; it was a combo of garlic, ginger, green onions, oil and salt. I’m determined to make this at home. My next stop was unconventional, but pretty cool if you like to do stuff with locals. I got a gym pass and went to a yoga class since walking around outside was basically off the table. I’m into fitness so I enjoy trying classes wherever I go. It’s definitely not a touristy thing to do and I always have a great time.
By the time my class finished, the rain had stopped but definitely threatened another downpour. I took my chance to go see the city skyline from the Harbour View Plaza. Even though I’d seen it the night before from the restaurant, seeing it from the water and being able to get the full perspective with the mountain backdrop is truly impressive. I took the ferry over to Central Station in Hong Kong and grabbed some Mexican food at Lan Kwai Fong. Good Mexican is hard to come by in Thailand so when I walked past Cali Mex, I just had to go. Luckily, I timed everything just right and the rain held off so I took the ferry back to Kowloon just as the 8pm skyline light show started. If you can time it right, this is an awesome way to see the show so you aren’t packed in with the throngs of people on the Harbour View Plaza. Into a taxi and back to the Olympian I went for a good night’s sleep.
Sundays in Hong Kong are a really interesting spectacle. Because there are so many Filipino domestic workers who live with their employers, their expat community is huge. Sunday is their day off and they can’t hang out with their friends at their employers’ houses so they take to the streets, sidewalks, bus terminals, parks, markets, staircases or just about any outdoor space where they can lay down a sheet of cardboard and hang with their buddies. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Sunday morning started with brunch at Maxim’s with a family friend that lives and works in Hong Kong. Maxim’s is a bit of an institution in Hong Kong, I’m told; be prepared to wait if you show up at peak hours. I had a few more iconic Hong Kong spots to hit on my last day. First stop were the expat strongholds of Repulse Bay and Stanley Market. These are an easy bus ride from downtown and the views of the beach as you come in to town along the mountain side are great. I was lucky to be there for a dragon boat regatta so there was lots of activity. After strolling around these neighbourhoods for a little while, it’s clear to me why they are so attractive for expats. I felt like I was back at home, something I’ve never felt in any Asian city. The final stop of the trip was up to the top of Victoria Peak for a full view of the city. This is another easy bus ride that winds through the mountains on the precarious cliffside. The tip here is to sit on the left side of the bus on the way up and the right side on the way down to get the best views as you snake up the mountain. The view from the top is just magnificent. To go from street level looking up at all the towering sky scrapers to a mountain top looking down on all of them gives two really interesting perspectives of the city.
For anyone who’s looking for a great long weekend destination, Hong Kong will certainly not disappoint. From my brief experience, it’s clear that there’s something there for every kind of traveller. I’m looking forward to going back and spending more time getting to know this vibrant city a little bit better.
Olympian Hotel: https://www.sino-hotels.com/en/hk/the-olympian-hong-kong
Above and Beyond restaurant: https://www.hotel-icon.com/dining/above-beyond