The Hong Kong Starter Pack: Part 1

May 1, 2019
hong kong starter pack

Having just celebrated my one-month anniversary in Hong Kong–wild, I know–I thought I’d share some things that have helped me settle into this crazy city. I have quickly learned that Hong Kong is a city that never rests. Many places are open 24/7 (shoutout to my 24/7 grocery store and laundromat) and you’ll never run out of noodles to slurp, shops to forage, or mountains to climb. People work hard here, but they play even harder. And to survive it all and call yourself a “Hong Konger”, you’re going to need to know a few things. So, whether you’re just visiting Hong Kong or you’re moving here, I present to you…The Hong Kong Starter Pack!

1. PURCHASE AN OCTOPUS CARD.

The very first thing you’re going to need to do when you land at the Hong Kong International Airport is purchase an Octopus Card from a vending machine. An Octopus Card costs $150 HKD (or, $25 CAD) and you can return it at the end of your trip to get a deposit of $50 HKD back. The remaining balance goes toward your transit fare.

One of the most convenient things about Hong Kong is its rapid transit system. My sense of navigation may be terrible, and I may be on Google Maps 90% of the time, but the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) system never fails me. With 155 stops, it can take you all the way from one side of Hong Kong to the other. How? I do not know, but one moment you’re in the New Territories in the North, and the next moment you’re on an outlying island in the South.

You can also use your Octopus card at many stores and restaurants, including 7/11 and McDonald’s. Just make sure to keep your aquatic pal loaded with money so that you can happily tap away!

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Get the Octopus app. You can check your balance here and even top up using NFC.
I spotted an Octopus at the beach.

 

2. BUY A PREPAID SIM CARD.

The journey to buy my prepaid sim card was one of the strangest things that have happened to me here so far in Hong Kong. I first purchased a prepaid sim card at the airport when I arrived. Then I bought another one at 7/11 two days later. Then another one. It wasn’t the most sustainable method, that’s for sure.

Then I heard about an unlimited sim card I could buy at ~ Chungking Mansions ~ in Tsim Sha Tsui. Chungking Mansions is a small flashy mall filled with shady suited men trying to sell you everything from property, to cell phones, to currency, to marijuana (apparently.) It is here that I bought a monthly sim card with unlimited data for $100 HKD (or $17 CAD). So far it hasn’t failed me…

Of course, when I told some local friends about my “under-the-table” transaction, they told me it was completely normal and that I don’t even have to go back to Chungking Mansions to top up next month. Apparently, I can hit up any Nepalese store.

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Don’t visit TST on the weekend during peek shopping hour. This is when all of the Mainlanders come to shop and it’s really hectic.
Can you spot Chungking Mansions? Note: this is a Monday night.

 

3. USE GOOGLE MAPS.

If you weren’t a Google fanatic before, you will be now. I don’t know where I would be without Google Maps, probably still wandering around Yau Ma Tei trying to locate my flat for the first time…

Did you know that you can save locations on Google Maps? This is a super handy feature for finding your way back to spots you love, like a low-key noodle shop with a store sign written in Cantonese.

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Carry around a battery pack connected to your phone at all times. It’s all the rage here.

 

4. GO UP VICTORIA PEAK.

Now, onto the fun stuff. You haven’t really visited Hong Kong until you’ve seen it from above! Victoria Peak is Hong Kong Island’s highest hill, and it’s similar to Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain. When you’re walking around Hong Kong’s concrete jungle of skyscrapers and traffic, it’s easy to feel pretty infinitesimal. Victoria Peak offers a different perspective of the whole city, with panoramic views of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Harbour.

I paid $99 HKD for the “Peak Tram Sky Pass,” which takes you up (and down) the mountain in a 130-year-old funicular (keyword: “fun”) tram and gives you access to Hong Kong’s highest observation platform. Knowing what I know now, I say skip the Sky Pass; the free look out point just below is good enough.

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If you can, go on a weekday to avoid lines. It’s also best to go up on a sunny day or right after the rain, so that you’re not disappointed by the smog.
hong kong starter pack
Wayyy up, I feel blessed.

5. TAKE THE STAR FERRY.

The Star Ferry used to be a major passenger connection between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula in the early 1900s. Now, it’s just a refreshing and nostalgic way of getting from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central. Try the Star Ferry on a sunny day to feel like you’re sailing off on vacation, and then watch the glittering city lights reflect off the water as you take the ferry in the evening.

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The Star Ferry is actually cheaper than taking the MTR across the harbour, so if you have the time, the ferry is an affordable and scenic transit alternative.
hong kong starter pack
Not pictured: all of the sweat and anxiety.

6. WATCH THE SYMPHONY OF LIGHTS.

Who ever heard of a city having a free, outdoor laser show every night? Just add some electronic music and Hong Kong is officially the coolest city–just kidding. The Symphony of Lights is cool though, because it illuminates Hong Kong’s already impressive skyline. You can watch it daily at 8pm from the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui or Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.

My friend took me to get a glimpse of the show on my first Friday night in Hong Kong and watching all of the massive blinking screens on towering skyscrapers (and all of the light pollution) made me think, “yep, I’m in Hong Kong.”

All of the lights, all of the lights.

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Catch the show on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday evening for an English narration.

 

7. VISIT TIAN TAN BUDDHA AT LANTAU ISLAND.

If you’re in Hong Kong, you have to say hello to Tian Tan Buddha, also known as “Big Buddha.” Tian Tan Buddha is located in Ngong Ping next to Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. Its impressiveness lies in the fact that the all-bronze statue towers at a staggering 34 metres high! Phil once told me it can be seen from outer space. I’m not sure where he heard this piece of information but I want to believe it.

It takes 268 steps to get a closer look at Tian Tan Buddha, and you’re rewarded with lush, sweeping views of Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island, and the surrounding sea. If it wasn’t for the mobs of tourists, this spot would probably be one of my favourites.

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Head to Lantau Island on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Take me to your leader.

8. TRY LOTS OF FOOD.

I’m not going to list a particular dish here because Hong Kong has soooo much good food to try! But, these are some must-haves in my opinion:

  • Dim sum (various)
  • Baked rice; I didn’t realize this was a Hong Kong dish until my coworker ordered it for me. Cheesy seafood rice is a must.
  • Prawn dumpling soup
  • Eggette waffles (bonus if with ice cream!)
  • Sticky rice cake with red bean paste
  • Tiger Sugar Bubble Tea (milk tea with brown sugar syrup)
  • Nepalese food; this is some of my favourite vegetarian food here.

Restaurants that I don’t understand, but really want to get behind, are cha chaan tengs like Australian Dairy Company or Yee Shun Milk Company, both located in Jordan/Yau Ma Tei. Cha chaan teng means “tea restaurant,” and these types of places normally serve Hong Kong-style Western dishes like steamed milk pudding, macaroni soup, scrambled eggs, and french toast. The dishes are very simple, and I find them a bit lackluster (and veggie lacking!).

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Bring your own tissue as most places won’t offer napkins, which you may need if things get spicy or messy. Also, prepare for a lot of menus in Cantonese, especially on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong–but don’t give up!
No need to send noodz.

9. VISIT A MARKET.

I love a good market. I’m blessed to have not one, not two, not three, but four markets within my vicinity. In the morning I have a produce market with fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and dried goods. In the evening I have the infamous Temple Street Night Market with electronics, clothing, trinkets, and accessories. Down the block I have Jade Market, with natural stone accessories and charms. And on the way to the gym, I have Ladies Market in Mong Kok, which is similar to Temple Street.

So far, I find Hong Kong markets to be average in price, but I still love the spirit and variety.

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Prepare to haggle and don’t back down. If you see something you like but the price isn’t right, chances are you’ll see it again at another stall.
hong kong starter pack
The rain or shine market.

10. PARTY AT LAN KWAI FONG.

Last but not least, you should check out Lan Kwai Fong, or LFK as the locals call it, just once to say you have. Similar to Thailand’s famous Khao San Road, or Vancouver’s Granville Street, LFK is Hong Kong’s cobblestone “party” neighborhood for expats. There’s a bar, restaurant, or nightclub here for just about anyone. I’m still searching for the perfect underground house party though.

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Look for clubs that don’t have a entry charge like Oma, the Iron Fairy, and Zentral.
hong kong starter pack
That 7/11 was bumping.

You’ll never run out of things to do in Hong Kong, and that is exactly why this list is only Part 1! As I settle in more and find my place in Hong Kong, I’m sure this Starter Pack will grow–so stay tuned!

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