Mole Diaries: Hong Kong
Skyscrapers, incensed temples and mouth-watering oriental cuisine. These are the first things that come to my mind (of course food would be in there). As we all know, Asia is one of the most popular if not the most popular destination to visit when travelling. I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong, so I thought it would be useful to give you guys the lowdown on what life is like out there, such as cultural differences to consider, what to do, what not to do… that kind of thing!
You don’t need one if you are holidaying in Hong Kong. But you would need to apply for a visa if you’re a Brit travelling to mainland China. Make sure you check travel advice for Hong Kong and China to ensure you have all the travel documents you need for your trip.
So what is there to see in Hong Kong? You could take a vertical tram to the top of Victoria Peak, which overlooks the whole of Hong Kong. Here you get to see Hong Kong’s panoramic skyline of skyscrapers contrasted with mountains. Best moment, ever. Kowloon, the central district, is the social hub of Hong Kong, and this is where everything goes on. You could take a boat through Kowloon Bay and appreciate the skyscrapers colourfully lit up at night. You could shop till you drop in the bustling street markets of Mong Kok. Or if you’re into nature, you could hike the peaks of Hong Kong’ till your heart’s content.
I took a ferry to mainland China, Macau. I didn’t need a visa for Macau as it is the only place in China exempt from tourists needing a visa, but it is always good to double check. Macau is said to be the Asian version of Las Vegas. There are skyscrapers and casinos everywhere! Buildings look like they are made of gold and glitter. Make sure you bring your passport with you, otherwise you a) can’t get onto the ferry to get there and b) because you could end up in a situation like me and get stopped and interrogated by casino officials about my age (as if I look under 18!) The casinos inside are surreal; giant-sized colourful crystals, mile-high ceilings, buffets, fruit machines, gleaming lights, and hundreds of roulette tables in action. I stress, you are not allowed to take photos inside, otherwise you will be forced to delete them on the spot (again, happened to me…)
To really get to know the people and the country, try to learn some Cantonese! Not everyone speaks English there, especially on the outskirts of central, in the villages and among older generations. If you learn please or thank you, it will go a long way! They love it if you try and let’s face it, the English and Chinese languages are like chalk and cheese, so brownie points to you if you do learn some key phrases. Unlike home, coaches in Hong Kong are not like the National Express or Megabus vehicles we have here. They are more like minibuses; the kind you would go on for a school trip. Bus-drivers don’t tend to speak English, especially when you’re catching them from a village. This is a mildly stressful experience, going around mountain bends at great heights to get to the villages, but well worth it! Hong Kong also have trams referred to as Ding Dings, which you need to get yourself on!
If you are a foodie, then Hong Kong is the place for you! Rice, noodles, fresh fish caught at the local harbour, duck to-die-for, exotic vegetarian dishes… I’ll say no more! There are so many fresh tropical fruits such as Jackfruit, Sharonfruit, and Durian. Durian has a very distinct taste, a bit like marmite; you either love it or hate it! I also drank a lot of Chinese tea, as the norm is to avoid all cold drinks at the dinner table. The traditional daily routine is to go out for breakfast, Yum Cha, and select infinite dishes to share. Chopsticks…give them a try! Though you can still ask for a knife and fork if you fail to master them (like me).
7. Culture and tradition
Hong Kong has stunning temples everywhere. These special areas, particularly in the villages, pay respect to the ancestors of each village, and there are memorials, graves and incense sticks everywhere. This really gave me a spiritual “feel” to my experience. The faint aroma of incense links in with the meaning behind Hong Kong, which is ‘fragrant harbour’. It may seem like common sense, but it is so important to be respectful in these spiritual areas. Don’t be loud, lairy, or drunk! I’d definitely recommend visiting a few temples, because you can really sense the spirituality and it is a core part of Hong Kong’s tradition.
Now, the climate in Hong Kong is very different to the UK! When I went, it was exceptionally humid, which did my frizzy hair no favours to say the least. Most importantly, I didn’t pack the appropriate clothing and was sweating buckets all of the time! In the end I bought some clothes from the local markets to wear, but this could certainly be avoided if you check the season and the recent weather they have had before you head out there. It was so humid and the visibility was so limited, that often I could not see the peak of the mountains, so everything kind of felt like a hazy dream. It did happen though (I promise).
That word uni students are all too familiar with. This is not really a big thing in Hong Kong, in stark contrast to the UK! People don’t really get paralytic on the streets. So if you’re going for a big night out, go to the central Hong Kong district, Lan Kwai Fong, where all the bright lights and bars are. As you will find out, Asian culture is very different to western culture!
As part of the FCO’s ‘Know Before You Go Campaign’, they assess the importance of researching the local customs and traditions of your destination prior to flying out there. This shows respect and also saves yourself from any sticky social situations! Here's some info if you want to know more about Hong Kong, or some more general travel advice. To ensure your information is right up to date, follow @FCOTravel on Twitter and Facebook.
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