If you’d told me, even just a few months ago, that I’d soon be boarding an 11-hour flight to visit Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have believed you. Despite always having wanted to take a trip there, my deep-seated and long-standing history of travel-triggered anxiety was definitely a stumbling block. Somehow, though – read: through therapy, lots of yoga, and evenings spent lying in bed listening to podcasts – I managed to overcome my gremlins to join my mum and boyfriend to visit my sister and her boyfriend on their travels for a reunion to remember.
In some way, my life (kinda) started in Hong Kong. My mother moved there from Yorkshire when she was just 21 years old and lived there for seven years, during which time she met my dad, whose work as a musician had led him to the cosmopolitan, cultural melting pot that Hong Kong was and remains to be. They lived there together before returning to the UK when my mum was pregnant with me. This context added intrigue to the trip for us all but, personal history aside, it really is a unique place to visit. Having only been relinquished from British rule in the 90s, Hong Kong has a complex backstory which I’d encourage anyone planning a trip there to research and educate themselves on prior to arriving.
I went to Hong Kong with few expectations of what I wanted to do and see, and even fewer of what might await us in terms of vegan-friendly food. It’s not that I thought we’d struggle to find food to suit our requirements or that we might be overwhelmed by tourist sights and hotspots – I just didn’t have the mental capacity to do much planning for the trip before going. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll know that I had an absolutely amazing time in Hong Kong; with that in mind, I wanted to share a few highlights of my stay there, along with some tips and observations you might find useful, particularly as a vegetarian or vegan traveller.
I’ll be splitting everything I want to say into three posts covering getting around, eating well, and things to do, so tune back in for parts two and three very soon!
part one | getting around
Hong Kong is split into two key areas: Hong Kong island and Kowloon side, which borders with mainland China. We stayed on the island in the busy district of Wan Chai in an Airbnb which, although it lacked any semblance of cosiness and was more than a little rough around the edges, served perfectly as a base for the week.
(As a side note, I’d think twice about using Airbnb in Hong Kong again unless it was the most, or only, financially viable option. Our host’s notes instructed us to, should anyone have asked, tell his neighbours we were friends of his and to not mention Airbnb under any circumstances. I can only assume that this is either because he is not permitted to sublet his apartment, or because it is – in my opinion, rightfully – frowned upon to profit from permanently letting out your property to travellers rather than making the space available for a resident to live in.)
As quickly as you can after arriving, get yourself an Octopus card at the airport or your nearest MTR station. The card – much like an Oyster card or similar top-up travel card – costs HK$150 (roughly £15) which includes a HK$50 deposit you get back when you hand the card in at the end of your trip, along with HK$100 of ready-to-use credit. Not only can you use your Octopus card on all of Hong Kong’s modes of public transportation – buses, trams, the MTR and the star ferry – you can also use it in several stores, such as 7-Eleven, to purchase snacks and water.
Public transport is incredibly cheap in Hong Kong. My HK$150 credit lasted me almost the whole week, and probably would have done had I not spent some of it at 7-Eleven. The standard of service is incredibly high from what I experienced: there were no delays, the vehicles are all clean and air-conditioned, and – as far as my knowledge goes – most if not all MTR stations had lift access and assistance for visually impaired persons. I’d recommend downloading the MTR map on your phone – my London Underground app offered an equivalent map for Hong Kong’s tube network – along with switching your Citymapper location to Hong Kong. Downloading an offline Google map for the area is also a great call to help you navigate on the go.
While the MTR was a perfect means of getting quickly from A to B, the tram and the star ferry doubled up as amazing ways to see Hong Kong from a different perspective. We took the tram one day from Wan Chai – the open windows on the upper deck were ideal for taking in the sights and sounds from an elevated height. You can take the MTR over to Kowloon side in just a few stops, but – seasickness and any other anxieties aside – the star ferry really is an unmissable way to hop over the harbour for just 20-odd cents. Ferries run regularly from Pier 7 on the island, which is a short walk from Central MTR station.
If, for whatever reason, public transport is not your preferred mode of transit, you’ll have no trouble hailing down taxis and getting around fairly inexpensively that way (compared to black cab and even Uber prices, at least). Walking is also a great way to traverse the territories and something we ended up doing a lot of on our trip. It’s pretty heavily polluted, and thankfully has dozens of elevated walkways which take you off ground-level for some respite from the fumes. An ingenious invention we couldn’t have done without was the Central-Mid-levels Escalator, a series of escalators and travelators running in both directions up and down through the centre of Hong Kong island.
With all this to-ing and fro-ing, not to mention the near-total humidity and 30C+ heat, it’s important to stay hydrated. I did a little research on whether or not the tap water in Hong Kong is safe to drink for non-locals and decided to err on the side of caution and avoid it. This sadly meant a lot of plastic bottles of water were purchased during my trip, most of which we were thankfully able to recycle at a facility next to our Airbnb. I took my Klean Kanteen along just in case there was a way to fill it with drinking water and, actually, it came in pretty handy: rather than let the bottled water go warm in my bag, I decanted some into my canteen every day before heading out so that the water would stay fresh and cold for longer. I’d definitely recommend this as a way to stay cool in the heat and lessen the frequency with which you’re buying new water.
The last thing I want to mention with regard to getting around Hong Kong is to do with data. Travelling outside of Europe for the first time in a while, I couldn’t simply keep using mobile data on the move without incurring extra charges. You can buy data add-ons through your service provider but no amount of GB would be enough to support my Instagram Story-loving ass, so it just wasn’t an option for me. Luckily, Hong Kong is littered with Wi-Fi hotspots: everywhere from public spaces to cafes and bars have some sort of Wi-Fi you can either ask for the password to access or connect to for free for a limited amount of time. Regardless of where we were, I rarely struggled to find Wi-Fi when I needed to double check a location or upload something to Instagram. I’d definitely recommend at least trying this method out before purchasing data, as I honestly didn’t feel the need to at any point during the trip.
And that concludes my mini-guide to getting around Hong Kong cheaply and conveniently. If you’re planning a trip to this incredible place, I hope you find these tips useful! If you have any questions which weren’t covered, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.
Have you been to Hong Kong? Add your tips for getting around in the comments below!