Hong Kong is the inside of a velvet pinball machine. One that is surprisingly easy to get to. When I first met her, I was on board a traditional junk ferry. I had just gotten off a cruise and had only 48 hours in Hong Kong. The ferry was heavy with the scent of deck stain and canvas as it scuttled across the harbor like a water bug – dipping around looming cruise ships and between dilapidated fishing boats. The ferry shoved its way through the fog and to the foot of Hong Kong. The city, rises up out of the sea, featuring glass spires that crackle with every color of the world, each skyscraper wreathed in incense. The sound of cars, bells, and scores of languages crash upon you like a physical force. It’s upon stepping foot on Hong Kong that you know you’ve arrived in one of the greatest cities on earth.
Let’s assume, that like me, you only have 48 hours there. The bad news is that you have to drink this all in as quickly as possible. The good news is that the city never sleeps. After you set up camp in Hong Kong, I would recommend that any traveler start with food, although I really don’t think there is any other way. The food scene in Hong Kong is a loving mother, as soon as you step foot on the island she scoops you up and welcomes you home. I wasn’t in Hong Kong more than ten minutes when an older woman on a side street grabbed me and had me sitting in her restaurant.
The food is as varied and balanced as the island, a meeting point for every culture in Southeast Asia and beyond. My favorite local treat was hot CocoCola with lemon and fresh ginger. I couldn’t get enough of it. It couples well with everything from the high-class sushi bars to the middle-range vegan scene to the street food. No matter what kind of food you’re interested in, I guarantee, you can find it on a streets of Hong Kong. It will, however, invariably be on a a stick.
Once you’ve temporarily satisfied your hunger, there is a Pandora’s box of excitement to look into. If time is short, then I find it’s best to start high and work my way down. The giant Buddha is a must-see if you’re in Hong Kong. It’s 260 steps to the top, but the view of the city is beyond compare. However, I found the view at The Peak to be my favorite. You can take the red tram to the top, stepping out into one of Hong Kong’s many markets. The red tram is the cheapest way to get to the top of Hong Kong and feels like a very tame, yet very exciting roller coaster. Not only are the markets at the top extraordinary but the 360-degree view will linger in your mind forever.
From there you can work your way down through the shopping districts. I cannot stress enough how important it is to savor the shopping in Hong Kong. There is a flavor for every palate. You need only to turn a corner to switch from high-end designer bags and custom dresses to jade and pearls. Turn again and find yourself in the butcher district, where it feels like tradition has kept the march of time at bay for 100 years. This is also an excellent time to start scouting out the bars.
If you’re going to spend the first half of your stay riding the tram, visiting the parks, and shopping like the locals do, then you deserve to splurge in the evening. Hong Kong can be surprisingly affordable if you budget yourself accordingly. My recommendation is to use your daylight hours to explore and wrap yourself in the exoticism of the island. Once darkness begins to fall, let your inhibitions (and your wallet) creep out.
Viewfinder Tip: Make sure you budget for Hong Kong’s expensive taste. Pick one activity to splurge on and depend on public transportation. Don’t fall prey to local cabs.
The must-see bars when crunched for time include (in this order) 001, Aqua Spirit, and California Vintage. 001 is my favorite speakeasy-style bar in the world. In the middle of a market on Wellington Street, there is a single unmarked door with an antique doorbell, illuminated by a spotlight. Ring the bell and push through the brusque doorman’s questions and you’ll be rewarded with the finest cocktails in the area. If, however, you want delicious cocktails with a friendlier waitstaff (they’re also consequently gorgeous), then make your way to Aqua Spirit in uptown. This swanky bar offers an incredible view and an even better scene. For the middle ground between the three, there is California Vintage, a surprisingly Pacific Northwestern inspired wine and cocktail bar in the middle of Hong Kong. The best part of these bars is the food, ironically. Each one boasts a rotating menu of flavors that ensnare the essence of Hong Kong. They are all a fusion of flavors, with none of them leaving you wanting.
The best way I’ve found to close a day in Hong Kong is with the light show. You can only catch the true light show on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. The world’s largest light show, it lives up to its reputation. The entire Hong Kong city skyline gets involved and you can catch the music on 103.4 FM or by calling into the local number 35 665 665. If you miss the actual light show, don’t worry; the view of the city as you cruise on a ferry out to the airport is more than rewarding enough.
What do you normally look for when you have a short time in a city?