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Travel Fail: How not to visit Hong Kong

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I had it all planned out so well: three full days as a teaser in Hong Kong (I knew I’d be returning in the spring and wanted to see more of the city in warmer weather). My plans included heading up to the famous Peak for the views, taking the Star ferry ride from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour, hiking up to the Big Buddha, exploring the hipster neighborhoods, have drinks with a view at one of the famous rooftop bars, see the nightly light show, eat dim sum at the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant.hong kong centralInstead, I failed miserably at Hong Kong. I was already off to a bad start when I found myself frantically searching online for a hotel only a few hours before my flight to Hong Kong would depart from Istanbul. What I found, didn’t look great. Prices were outrageously high and the rooms that were still available for my arrival date the following day were all subpar. When all the reviews are only 2 out of 5 stars or 5 out of 10 points, that’s bad news. I finally settled for a place in Kowloon that sounded somewhat questionable but not too shady and was close to the Avenue Of The Stars (Hong Kong’s version of the Walk Of Fame) and the waterfront with its famous views over Hong Kong Island. I even invested in an upgrade from a 3 mΒ² to a 5mΒ² room, but only booked it for the first two nights in case it turned out to be terrible.kowloon at nightBy the time I exited the plane I wasn’t worrying about my accommodation anymore, however. I had arrived in Hong Kong on a sunny afternoon, bright blue skies and terrific views over the city from the plane. I was buzzing with excitement.hong kong from the airI found my hotel right away, my room was bigger than expected, and the city was electrifying. I headed out to explore my neighborhood and to find some food before I settled in for work. Fail #1: finding food. I just couldn’t find anything vegetarian. The signs were literally Chinese to me, and I had no idea how to order something vegetarian. In the end, I only got me a coffee before I headed back to my room to catch up on work. I could’ve saved me the frustration about the food fail had I just looked up a place on Foursquare before I left my hotel.hong kong chinese menuBack in the hotel, I made sure NOT to beat my jet lag with the absolute rookie mistake: instead of going to bed at midnight when I should have, I stayed up because I wasn’t tired. Next thing I knew was that it was 6.30am! Fail #2. I had totally screwed myself, because now it would take me days to get into a proper rhythm.

What I didn’t fail at was reaching out to some locals for insider tips and some company on my first days in town, and so I found myself at a lesbian party the following night. I met a bunch of lovely expats from all over the world who were giving me some insight into the lesbian scene in Hong Kong (which is almost non-existent). Hong Kong girls apparently tend to stick to themselves (rather than mingling with the expat girls) and refer to themselves as sticky rice for that very reason (who knew!).hong kong mascotThe next morning, I was equipped with loads of tips for what to do and see, but I had yet to change hotels. The night before I had figured I’d just change to another guesthouse in my building, since I was staying in one of these huge apartment blocks that had a number of hotels on each floor, and I had seen several of the other ones online as well.

I didn’t consider, however, that it was Saturday and everyone and their mom was coming to Hong Kong for the weekend. Fail #3. I must have spent an hour going from floor to floor to check out every single hotel but they were all fully booked, and the 4-bed dorm I was showed in one place.. Nothankyouverymuch!!! (I am still horrified.)hong kong skyscrapers1I finally went to a coffee shop to consult the usual hotel booking websites I use to see what hostels and hotels were available for the day, and my good mood disappeared immediately. There were no rooms with a decent rating left whatsoever. I finally settled on one that sounded the least horrible, and splurged on a twin bed room, because the single rooms can be seriously claustrophobic – picture a narrow sort-of closet or Harry Potter’s Cupboard Under The Stairs at the Dursley’s house that just fits a bed, and nothing else.Hong Kong at nightWhen I saw the signs for by-the-hour hotels and all sorts of massage parlors outside the building, I already knew I would hate the place. Once I found the hotel in the maze of countless hotels inside the giant apartment block with several entrance doors, it took them an hour to check me in. By now, I had wasted nearly half a day on looking at hotel rooms, searching for a room online, moving across town, and waiting to be checked in. When I saw the room, I wanted to cry. I was pretty sure that the sheets had not been changed, the bathroom door was broken and i found a big pile of black hair in the shower which was right above the toilet.hairInstead of crying, I headed out to explore – this time better prepared with a vegetarian restaurant marked on GoogleMaps and a coffee shop I wanted to check out (what I realized is that Hong Kong has some amazing coffee shops!).

The minute the waiter put down a jug of green tea and I took my first sip, I calmed down. I only needed to get my jet lag under control and I’d have a splendid time in Hong Kong.the coffee academicsHowever, I didn’t get my jet lag under control and I didn’t make it to half of the places on my to-see-list. If you’re wondering why most of my photos are taken in the dark .. That’s because I was awake mainly during the night.

In the end, I couldn’t be too upset, because I still had a great time and I enjoyed just taking in the city rather than rushing from tourist sight to tourist sight. I was so excited to be back in Asia and Hong Kong had me in awe the entire time – something that doesn’t happen too often anymore to the jaded traveler I often tend to be after years of traveling.hong kong tramI know that I’ll see all the sights eventually when I return in April and I will make sure to be better prepared. And on the bright side: other than my first day, when the sun was out, it was a bit grey and cloudy during my stay – so it’s probably better anyway that I didn’t have to rush up to the Buddha and the Peak which are all about the views.hong kong harbour view at nightUltimately, my time in Hong Kont taught me a few things:

  • It doesn’t hurt to plan a few things and map out your visit in advance (and not just when you’re already on the plane and realize that your South East Asia Lonely Planet doesn’t include Hong Kong!!)
  • Don’t wait until the day before your arrival to book your accommodation.
hong kong skyscrapers
  • Getting in touch with locals and meeting them is always a good idea. You get a much better perspective on a place if you know someone who actually lives there. Don’t be shy – meet up with locals, and if you don’t know anyone whatsoever, sites like WithLocals are a good idea, and so are MeetUp.com or Couchsurfing meetups. And if you’re just looking to meet other travelers, activities like a pub crawl are always fun.
  • Beat the jet lag. Here are some tips.
  • If you only have a few days in a place with a lot to see, make still time to just meander, go with the flow, take in the vibe of the city, and not just rush from attraction to attraction.
hong kong street foodHave you been to Hong Kong? I’d love to hear your recommendations for things I should check out on my next visit in a couple of months!
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Tags : hong kong

32 Comments

  1. Yup, I remember those Hong Kong rooms which are only slightly bigger than the bed you’re sleeping on! Apart from the jet lag, it doesn’t sound like it was all bad, Dani! Sticky rice – that’s funny!

    1. How did I not know that you’ve been to Hong Kong?! πŸ˜€ I am kicking myself in the butt for not taking a photo of the ‘coffin’ hotel room I was showed. Unbelievable!
      And yeah, I thought ‘sticky rice’ was pretty funny, too πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

  2. I would love to go to Hong Kong, it is on my list. But thanks so much for this post as now i know what not to do, and i will probably book my accommodation in advance.
    So Thanks
    x tink x
    ps. that hair photo made me feel a bit gross. eurgh. But Stunning photo of Hong Kong from the air x

    1. Yes, that hair photo still grosses me out! I had to take it for my Tripadvisor review, lol. I hope next time I get to experience a fabulous Hong Kong hotel.

  3. Stay in Central πŸ™‚ They have everything there! nice to walk the back streets for some graffiti, coffee, bars πŸ™‚

    enjoy my favourite asian city!

  4. Oh no, sounds like it was a string of bad luck but glad you enjoyed your time there regardless. I am planning to head to Hong Kong for about a week in Feb next year but will hopefully be staying with my step brother and his wife who have a nice apartment in the city

    1. Katie- yes, I did enjoy Hong Kong, and I’m looking forward to visiting Hong Kong again when I’m less exhausted. Staying in a nice apartment sounds like the best way to do it, btw! I had thought about renting an AirBnB apartment but because I didn’t really know the neighborhoods, I decided against it.

  5. Aaah, Julia and I had a kind of similar experience, especially with the hotels/hostels. Somehow, the place we stayed at (Yesinn) managed to exceed our very low expectations. We were there twice as long as you, so we managed to have a slightly better success rate at seeing sights (and our list was nearly identical to yours). Did you make it to Tim Ho Wan? If not, it’s totally worth the hype.

    1. Scott – I’ll have about 8 days next time I go, so I hope I finally manage to see some of the sights I wanted to check out. I went to Tim Ho Wan but the lines were crazy… I might try again when I return πŸ™‚

    1. Stephanie – I also feel much better when I book accommodation in advance, at least for a couple of nights until I get a feel for the place. A city like Hong Kong is also just too big to walk around looking for a hostel/ hotel. Which reminds me, I have to start looking up places for my next visit πŸ˜€

  6. Hi,

    Amazing pictures. This is one place I would like to visit but it always seemed too expensive.

    Do you have some moro photos of those huge residential skyscrapers with AC units sticking out?

    Neno

  7. I’m glad you have plans to go back to visit HK! Sounds like your first time was a little rough, but I’m glad you discovered the good coffee πŸ™‚ My husband and I went for the first time about a year ago – my favorite thing we did was a private walking tour with Big Foot tours. It was amazing and I can’t recommend them enough. It’s a bit pricey but you will see sides to the city that you’d never see otherwise, and it’s so cool to understand the “why” behind everything you’re seeing. Tim Ho Wan is amazing so definitely don’t miss that!
    Jessica
    http://www.thebellevoyage.com

    1. Yes, and I can’t wait to have more of this amazing coffee when I return πŸ˜‰ I’ll keep the walking tour in mind for my next visit, that’s actually a great thing to do and you get so many insights. And now I feel like I have to get in line at Tim Ho Wan. Sigh πŸ˜‰

  8. Hi! Don’t be disappointed. Your next trip will be better. Hong Kong is a small place but there are a lot to see. Here’s some recommendation:
    1. You can walk up to the hill to visit the Peak from Lugard Road where you can see a close view to the skyscrapes.
    http://www.discoverhongkong.com/uk/see-do/great-outdoors/hikes/peak-circle-walk.jsp

    2. You can go to some old districts to see local culture and history. Live like a local! There is tour in To Kwa Wan.
    http://www.tkwhos.sjs.org.hk/#!cultouring/c17gu

    Tai O and Tao Fong Shan (a mixture of christian church and chinese temple) are worth to see too. By the way, I’m from Hong Kong. Feel Free to contact me if you need more information:)

    1. Thanks so much, Sissy! These are great recommendation! Added them to my list of things to do when I get back there. So excited for my next visit!

  9. I’m so glad you have the chance to make it back there in April! It’s such a fun, vibrant city. Definitely recommend staying in / checking out the Central area, wandering around to see all the street art and cafes. The Mixing Bowl was my favorite cafe for doing work (the coffee & pastry were to die for, and they have baking classes if that’s your thing), and Bi Bo is an excellent spot for (a pricey) dinner (if you can get a reservation) or just a ridiculously tasty fancy cocktail. They have a massive collection of street art inside, so it’s worth getting in there as a paying customer to see it (even if you just make friends with the bartender and get a quick glimpse of the dining room). Also check out PMQ – a converted police dorm that now has tons of little shops, galleries, and cafes, as well as nightly events (there was a beer festival when I visited). Enjoy!!

    1. Central was my favorite area last time I was there, so I hope I can base myself there during my next visit πŸ™‚ I’ll check out the Mixing Bowl for sure! BiBo sounds like my kind of place, and so does PMQ! Thanks so much for all these great recommendations, Jennifer! πŸ™‚

  10. Oh no bless you, didn’t sound too fun.Thanks for the advice though, I was totally planning to go with no plan, but now I think i will atlas sort out CouchSurfing and some cool places to eat! Glad to see they have good coffee though!

    1. Sarah – even though things didn’t go according to plan, I still had a great time in Hong Kong. Thinking about it, I have to say that it is my favorite Asian metropole, in spite of my travel fails πŸ˜‰ !

  11. ERHMAGAWD THE HAIR NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Sounds like the accomm situ was hideous and horrible. Did you have a look at AirBnB? I have heard it is really expensive – one of those places where I would never go unless I had everything planned out early – where early = relatively cheap for okay quality! I hope you have a good time when you go back in April!

    1. Gross, right? πŸ˜‰ I had looked at AirBnB but because I didn’t know which neighborhood would be convenient, I decided against it. Now that I know the city a bit better I’d give it a shot though πŸ™‚

  12. I am with you on the hotel part. I went to Hong Kong last year. I first started pricing hotels about six months in advance, just to get an idea of cost. Then as it got closer and I was ready to actually book, the prices had doubled.

    It also rained every day, including my last day, until I checked out of my hotel on the last day and finally the sun came out. Sigh. I’ll be back this year as a long layover and I have my fingers crossed I can get to see a blue sky at The Peak.

    1. This is a great reminder that I still need to find a hotel! Looking into it right now… Good luck for your next visit – I hope I’ll have another article on Hong Kong out by then! πŸ™‚

  13. “Instead of crying, I headed out to explore…” That sentence right there makes you an official traveler (vs. tourist). Was your second room in the Sincere House in Mongkok? That’s where my wife and I have stayed 7or 8 times in the Dragon Hostel – one of the many tiny room places in Sincere. The two hour hotels aren’t such bad neighbors. So many people live in illegally subdivided apts, often with several generations, that it’s really a problem to find a private place. Anyway, happy trails!

  14. Thanks for your sharing! Hhaha very interesting experience…Ya getting on touch with locals is always the essence of a journey. That’s why we organize the first hk free walking tour in hk tsim sha tsui. We are hk locals and desperate travellers. We found this free walking tour with passion is so popular in the world but not in hk! No way! So we have this 2-3 hrs Free walking tours explaining the history and anecdote including clock tower, hk skyline, fengshui war, hk movie industry and Hollywood scene , Nathan road , chungking mansion, night clubs, religion culture etc ! We are very happy if you like our idea and appreciate our volunteers’ passion.
    Join us next time when you come! It’s great if you can share this great idea with your friends and readers ! To know more, please visit: http://hkfreewalk.com

    Or tripadvisor, fb, twitter : hk free walk
    Have a nice trip

  15. Nice write up & amazing photos. I Bookmarked it & I’ll remember what not to do in Hong Kong. Thanks

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