I had just a few days, but a very clear mission: explore Hong Kong and try to discover the city’s most memorable experiences. The invitation from Cathay Pacific was great, but the airline’s home city is even greater – from colourful local transport options, to attractions such as Disneyland, Ngong Ping, and the temples, I returned with mega pixels of memories.
1. The MTR: Rapid convenience
It’s hard to get lost in Hong Kong thanks to the MTR, one of the best rapid transit systems in the world. These mostly underground trains can cover vast distances in minutes and are clean, cheap, comfortable and very easy to use. Follow the colour-coded lines and you’re all set. Just get an Octopus card to save time – these will buzz you through the barriers without even breaking stride.
2. The tram: Cheap and colourful
I’m from Kolkata, so the trams are a connection that made me feel instantly at home. Called ‘ding dings’ by locals, they are the more relaxed option for navigating the city, slowly rolling through the streets and roads. I took a ride on this colourful double-decker taking in the skyscrapers and street life for just HK$2.30 a ride.
3. North Point: Historic, multi-layered neighbourhood
North Point for me was an iconic trip. Chun Yeung Street Market, roasted duck, dumplings, Java Road cooked food centre; the place is magical. There’s Sunbeam Theatre for Cantonese opera, the historic State Theatre shopping arcade for local food and chats with the vendors. I would go back to North point in a heartbeat to roam its streets. This picture captures it all – the century-old tram, the modern architecture contrasting with the tenement buildings, the characteristic signboards scrawled in Cantonese script.
4. Architecture: Living history
My first brush with the heritage architecture of Hong Kong was the State Theatre in North Point, originally known as the Empire Theatre when it was built in 1952. Standing tall and sturdy among the other buildings, in recent years its future has been a subject of debate as property developers buy out the many small shops inside. The lobby of the Sunbeam Theatre, the last remaining independent Cantonese Opera theatre in Hong Kong, is another place where history engulfs you the moment you enter.
5. Disneyland: Fantasy day out
I had mixed feelings heading to Hong Kong Disneyland without my son, but they soon left once I arrived. I was lucky enough to catch the Flight of Fantasy Parade as I entered – a celebration of the most popular Disney characters with aerialists and acrobats. And I made sure I captured a selfie with Buzz Lightyear to take home to him. A ride on the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars in the Wild West town of Grizzly Gulch left me wishing even harder my son was with me – just so he could hold my hand!
6. Sunset cruise: Skyline views
One of the other cheap and convenient transport options in Hong Kong is the ferry – especially if you want a quick five-minute hop across from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. But there’s also an hour-long tour every evening aboard a traditional junk boat, the Aqua Luna, cruising up the harbour past Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, North Point and Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s a perfect way to catch both the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon skylines, as well as the Symphony of Lights laser show which takes place around 8pm. So plan your day well if you’re aiming to be on the water in time for this.
7. Tea at Ngong Ping: Craft brew
A ‘crystal cabin’ cable car (complete with a glass bottom for hair-raising views below) takes you to Ngong Ping village, but the views are just one part of this journey. The goal, at least for this trip, is the Li Ngong teahouse. Decorative porcelain tea bowls are placed on the table like works of art and the tea is brewed and poured in the traditional way. Once refreshed, I head outside to a courtyard housing restaurants and a sitting area, a perfect place to relax before setting out up the 268 steps to the famous Buddha.
8. Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery: Positive prayers
If you’ve had your tea in Ngong Ping village, it’s time to take a look at the Tian Tan Buddha outside Po Lin Monastery. It’s one of the biggest seated Buddha statues in the world, and the monastery is more than a century old. A tour inside radiates positivity from the prayers and wishes of people who stop by. Feeling serene from the smell and smoke of large incense sticks being burned by visitors, I also said a little prayer.
9. Tai O Fishing Village: Peace and seafood
A few days before I flew to Hong Kong, a tropical cyclone uprooted a 70-year-old tree at the entrance to Tai O village. But that didn’t stop me enjoying this haven on the western edge of Lantau Island. From India, bustling with vehicles, it was a surprise to hear that Tai O is vehicle free and best explored on foot or by bicycle. Resting in a courtyard, surrounded by multicoloured walls, with the smell of dried fish and fermented shrimp paste wafting over on a breeze gave me a real sense of daily life for the villagers – something I will never forget. For a few moments, I fantasised about running away from the hectic modern lifestyle of home to retreat to this laidback corner.
10. Man Mo and Wong Tai Sin temples: Urban wishes
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a visit to its temples. Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road in Central has calming, Zen atmosphere within. ‘Man’ represents the god of literature, while ‘Mo’ represents the god of warriors, bringing perfect balance to the universe. Wong Tai Sin Temple, meanwhile, is named after a healer, and is believed to be the best place to get your wishes fulfilled. Yes, you guessed it, lots more travel was my secret wish!