Hong Kong was the perfect place to start are first trip to Asia. It gave us an introduction to the crowds, smells, and food we would encounter in Vietnam, but in a controlled, overly sanitized, and easily navigated environment. Hong Kong is a great mix of traditional and modern – shiny new bank buildings are nestled next to open-air fish markets and ancient Buddhist temples.
The biggest culture shock visiting Hong Kong was getting used to the crazy amounts of people jammed into such small spaces. There are highrises everywhere, with tiny apartments in them (we actually stayed in a someone’s spare bedroom, booked on airbnb.com). The markets and shops were almost claustrophobic. And yet, even with 7 million people in such a small area, there were some remarkably tranquil parks and hardly any car traffic.
The transportation system in Hong Kong is amazing. Simply amazing! It’s super cheap, the Octopus smart cards take care of everything, and there’s a plethora of multimodal options – subways, buses, light rail, taxis, ferries, trams, cable cars, and even the a travellator.
I was really impressed with the subway system. At the transfer points, the train you wanted to transfer to was always directly across the platform. Normally, that would be the same train heading in the opposite direction, but they had designed the system so you only had to walk 10 meters to transfer lines. And at the downtown Hong Kong, they have an airport check-in in the subway station, where you can leave your bags in the morning, spend the day exploring the city, and then board a train in the evening that drops you right off in the airport terminal and your bags are already loaded on the plane.
The food was excellent. They have lots of vegetarian restaurants (some Western style and several Buddhist ones). Our favourite meals were the Shanghai noodles at Kung Tak Lam, veggie hot-pot at Pure Veggie House, and burgers and salad at Life Cafe.
There were a number of sights we really enjoyed checking out.
Hong Kong Park – a relaxing oasis in the middle of the city, with an excellent (and free) aviary.
Big Buddha – A impressive sight, especially on a clear day. We had to wait a long time in line for the cable car, and then run a gauntlet of tacky souvenir shops, but we eventually made it to the Buddha. We also had a tasty vegetarian lunch at the monastery and checked out nearby Tai O fishing village, for a view into non-urbanized Hong Kong.