What do you do when you have a twelve hour layover in a country you’ve never been to? Extend it to 24 hours of course! Flying to Thailand on a three week, four country tour, I was looking for the cheapest airfare I could find. A layover in Hong Kong cut my most expensive ticket in half, and I’ve always wanted to see one of the greatest business centers in the world, so it was a no brainer.
I landed at midnight, and would fly out at the same time the next day. With only 24 hours, I planned on hitting the nightlife for a few hours and then crashing until dawn to see a few of the peak tourist traps. My inability to sleep on airplanes had other plans though, and when I finally reached my hostel at 3 am after a cheap ride on a double decker bus I had a wonderful four hours of sleep and hit the city.
The hostel I stayed at was a bit different than advertised though… when I found the entrance after navigating through yelling drunks and empty streets there was a sign on the door stating that the hostel was completely illegal. Great. Apparently it had been operating this way since 2007 though, so I figured it would be fine. I entered the building carefully. A security guard greeted me silently by holding up three fingers, I took this to mean I either had three seconds to leave or head to the third floor. Naturally I took the elevator.
The atmosphere on the third floor was far more inviting and my fears dissipated significantly. The clerk/owner at the desk was really helpful, spoke good English (I tried learning a bit of Chinese before I left, but didn’t recall much more than Nihow when it came time to use it) and gave me a giant bottle of water. Another worker lead me to my room, which apparently was not on this floor. Or this building. She showed me the complex security code to get into a building on the next block and took me to a large apartment with plenty of full beds and exposed wiring in the hallways. The water came in handy in the morning though, don’t drink from the taps in Hong Kong.
In any case, after surviving the night, I went to see the city. I asked around and the one sight everyone recommended was seeing ‘the peak.’ Victoria peak wasn’t a far walk at all so I took two hours getting there. I took a peek at the old Olympic stadium, which is in decent shape, much more than could be said for the buildings around it. An abandoned hospital and various decrepit athletic fields surrounded an otherwise bustling area. I eventually found the cable car up to the top and was rewarded with a nice hike around the peak and some great (if very smoggy) views. All of Hong Kong is filled with smog/fog. There is plenty of shopping and eating to be done at the peak if that’s your thing. Every big name western brand is there. Big names not being my thing I headed back down the peak to see the markets and street food that was Hong Kong in my mind.
My first stop was the fish street, where you can buy just about anything that lives near or in water in a plastic bag and eat most of them as well. I opted for some good ‘ol meat on a stick. The milk tea in Hong Kong came highly recommended from a friend, and did not disappoint. I must have had two liters of the stuff, it was all I drank there. Don’t miss it. It’s a much sweeter style than in Japan as well.
Getting around on the train system is really easy by the way, if a bit expensive. The only frustration I had was the lack of ticket machines/vendors and the absurd walks down to some of the tracks. In some stations you walk so far to get to the train, you might as well have stuck to the surface.
One day is definitely not long enough to see the city, but I had a great taste of Hong Kong while I was there. You can definitely get in and out of the airport quickly as well. The train is only ~30 minutes to Kowloon and ~45 to Hong Kong central. The airport itself is one of the best I’ve seen as well. It deserves it’s own post, to follow.