Hong Kong is a sensory overload – chaotic and energising, it’s a buzzing metropolis where East meets West. If you’ve been to Hong Kong before, you’ll know the immediate intensity of this city – the sticky summers and foggy, fresh winters; the bright colours, sounds and people colliding from every which-way, in a beautiful kind of symphony.
Although I had been to Hong Kong twice prior, it has always been in transit to – or from – Shenzhen, when meeting with our manufacturing partners. It’s a city I have longed to properly explore, but not yet had the right opportunity to. This year, in late January, the stars aligned. Travelling with my beautiful Mum, we planned for 3 nights in Hong Kong to stay and play.
For a city so fast-paced – where it is often said, “it’s already tomorrow in Hong Kong” – what really surprised me about our time exploring a city is the sense of peace that coexists among the soaring skyscrapers. Resting just beneath the surface level commotion – the clashing colours and unrelenting hubbub – is a gentle foundation of peaceful calm, underpinning it all.
You only need to explore a little deeper to find it.
Checking in – at Island Shangri-La
There’s a beautiful quote about how special it can be returning to a place that remains unchanged, because you can see the ways that you have changed yourself. The Island Shangri-La is always this place for me – a halfway home between navigating often challenging projects in China – a haven high in the clouds where I can rest, before returning to the demands of waiting back on the ground floor.
It’s the little touches here that set this hotel far, far apart. Being welcomed by name, by all of the staff. The daily changing elevator carpets, so you always know the day of the week (brilliant, for travellers navigating jetlag and spanning timezones). The welcome tea, and chocolates on pillows before sleep, and the comfort of these rituals I have come to know.
On this visit though, in fact, the hotel had changed in one really good way! Having recently launched a new app, now even the booking and check-in process feels effortless – it can all be done from your own phone. With just a quick stop via the reception desk on arrival to pick up your room key – you’re set, leaving more time to enjoy Hong Kong!
Man Mo Temple
Climbing our way up the iconic Pottinger Street in Central, through a tangle of stone staircases, street vendors and haberdashery stores, costume stores and cocktail bars, the chaos is tangible. There are piles of anything stacked impossibly high, trinkets and novelties hanging from rafters and people racing everywhere; Mum and I often making eye contact with each other with an unspoken confirmation, “Yes! I’m still here.”
We wandered into Man Mo Temple and the noise and commotion abruptly fell away. Built in the 1800’s, the air is thick and smokey with incense, the light is dim and the voices of visitors hush to a whisper. Built in the mid-1800’s, Man Mo Temple pays tribute to the God of Literature and the God of War.
Man Mo Temple: 124-126 Hollywood Road, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
(Nearest MTR station: Admiral)
Coffee stop – at Roastery Lab
Nestled unassumingly at the end of a bustling street in Soho you’ll find Roastery Lab. A little piece of Melbourne, every tiny detail of the hole-in-the-wall space, branding and service has been considered. There’s speckled terrazzo walls and floors, timber features and hints of copper – a modern space fit with a roasting room, cosy vibe and, most importantly, perfect coffee.
Roastery Lab: Basement, 41 Staunton Street, SoHo, Hong Kong (enter via Peel Street)
(Nearest MTR station: Central)
Sai Wan Swimming Shed
The Sai Wan Swimming Shed, protruding from the westernmost tip of Hong Kong Island, is the last remaining in Hong Kong still open to the public.
Hearing that the shed is now quite a popular spot for Instagram feeds and photographers, we rose before the sun and arrived just on 7am to find incense burning along the steep path down to the sea, and not a soul in sight.
Down on the jetty, some locals were enjoying a (freezing) morning dip. “Happy days!” one of them said, smiling vividly to me with a toothy grin, as he wandered past and dived into the waves, peace and joy palpable.
Sai Wan Swimming Shed: No.404 Victoria Road, Hong Kong
(Nearest MTR station: Kennedy Town + 15-minute walk)
Standing before Montane Mansion and looking up, you can really feel the density of this city weigh on you, with so many people going about their lives; colour cube upon colour cube, stacked vertically to the sky. Dubbed the “Monster Building” by locals, the Montane Mansion is an architectural complex composed of five connecting buildings forming an E-shape, and from below, resembles a walled city.
Despite the scale of what was before me, the courtyard was eerily quiet. Montane Mansion offers a strange kind of peace, realising how very small we are in this big world.
Montane Mansion: 1028 King’s Rd, Quarry Bay (nearest MTR station: Quarry Bay. Take exit A + walk)
Sky100 Observation Deck
While the chaotic streets of Hong Kong are an all-consuming labyrinth, take yourself above the skyscrapers, and you’ll see the city in a whole new perspective. We made our way to the 100th floor of the tallest building in Hong Kong, the Sky100 Observation Deck. At 393 metres above sea level, I’m unsure I’ve ever seen the world from this high up, without it being from a window seat. Tall, skinny buildings soar high, smattered as far as the eyes can see. Victoria Harbour shimmers like gold leaf, with green hills that frame the cityscape and roll beyond the horizon. While the foggy humidity in Hong Kong prevented us from pink sunrises and golden sunsets on this visit, the desaturated cityscape was a different kind of beautiful.
Sky100: International Commerce Centre (ICC), 1 Austin Rd W, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
(Nearest MTR station: Kowloon)
Nan Lian Garden
The Nan Lian Garden is meticulously landscaped over an area of 3.5 hectares. Here, every hill, rock, body of water, plant and timber structure has been placed according to specific rules and methods.
Like only a garden can do, the noises of nature take precedence over the hum of the city. Juxtaposed with skyscrapers framing the garden; it’s a gentle reminder that you are still very deep inside the the heart of a city.
Nan Lian Garden: 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill, Kowloon
(Nearest MTR station: Diamond Hill)
Photo credit: Wandersnap
Photo credit: Wandersnap
Mongkok Flower Market
Wandering along Prince Edward road, you’ll know when you reach the beginnings of the flower market, as the pavement quickly falls away from view, replaced by a sea of bright colour. Local and exotic flowers are grouped together in tight bunches as far as the eye can see. A delight for the eyes and treat for the heart.
Visiting just before Chinese New Year, the market was a spectacle – abuzz with locals meticulously selecting flowers and greenery to attract good luck and fortune as a new lunar cycle began. Anything but peaceful but forever flower market obsessed, we could not miss the premier flower market of Hong Kong.
Mongkok Flower Market: Flower Market Road, Prince Edward, Kowloon
(Nearest MTR station: Prince Edward. Take exit B1. Walk east along Prince Edward Road West until you reach the market)
The Tung Po Bird Garden
Songbird keeping is an age-old Chinese hobby, where birds are fed and cared for, in exchange for sweet songs. It’s a slow and gentle hobby that fills this garden with the interlacing tunes of many birds. We loved our quick walk around this traditional Chinese garden, admiring the exotic birds, beautifully crafted bamboo cages and other bird-care paraphernalia.
Tung Po Bird Garden: Yuen Po Street, Prince Edward, Kowloon
(Nearest MTR station: Prince Edward. Walk along Prince Edward Road West towards the Mongkok Stadium, for about 15 minutes).
Choi Hung Estate
Choi Hung Estate is the oldest public housing estate in Hong Kong. Designed by Palmer&Turner, Hong Kong’s oldest architecture firm, the estate consists of 11 blocks built between 1962 and 1964, initially home to 43,000 people, and today housing over 18,000 people. “Choi Hung” – meaning rainbow in Cantonese – was rumoured to be painted in a cascading rainbow of pastel colours to lift the spirits of the residents. These days, the basketball court above the carpark block is now constantly in demand as a photography backdrop – a veritable Instagrammer’s paradise.
In truth? I didn’t feel entirely comfortable taking photos in this place. When we arrived, we must have been among another 200 fashion Instagrammers mindlessly in pursuit of capturing the perfect shot at the pastel mecca. Go here, but be respectful of the locals who call this estate home.
Choi Hung Estate: 2 Tse Wai Ave, Ngau Chi Wan, Hong Kong
(Nearest MTR station: Choi Hung. Take exits C3 or C4, which will give you access to the estate).
Photo credit: Wandersnap
Photo credit: Wandersnap
This place needs no introduction – everyone will tell you: If there is only one thing you can do in Hong Kong, go to The Peak. After three days of unrelenting fog, we had high hopes our final day in Hong Kong would see the clouds part and some sunshine peek through – alas, we weren’t so lucky! Waking in darkness to shower and be ready, we eagerly awaited daybreak, only to find the city again blanketed in heavy fog. I returned our Peak visit back to the top of my to-do list, next time in Hong Kong, and booked us a spot at the Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar and Grill, for Sunday brunch instead.
The Peak: Mid-Levels, Hong Kong