Hong Kong needs no introduction at all. As one of the most burgeoning and exciting cities in Asia, it is abuzz with people, vehicles and activities at every corner of its occupied land area and at every second of the day. It is a city with one of the highest cost of living in the whole of Asia, probably coming in 2nd only after Tokyo. Life there is perpetually on the fast lane.
One hasn't really been to Hong Kong until a visit to Mongkok has been ticked on your itinerary list. Lies in the heart of Kowloon, once you're in Mongkok you will not be surprised at all to learn that it is among the most densely populated area on earth! Mongkok is also notoriously known as the heartland of local gang triads. Nevertheless, it is very safe to visit and there is absolutely nothing to be worried about even if you are traveling alone. Whether day or night, the place comes to vibrant life! The whole stretch of the MTR (local subway train) points in Kowloon from Tsim Tsa Tsui - Jordan - Yau Ma Tei - Mongkok are vibrant and crowded. There isn't a sleepy moment here and at night, bright white and colorful neon lights from thousands of signages and billboards 'decorate' the streets.
To get around in Hong Kong, purchase the Octopus MTR card for HK$150 ($43 is refundable upon redeeming the card after a $7 handling fee is deducted) at any MTR station. To get to Mongkok, go to Central or Admiralty MTR station and hop on the red line to Tsuen Wan. Mongkok is the 5th stop from Central station.
Ladies' Market on Tung Choi Street.
Tourists can find items like clothes, accessories, fake branded handbags & watches and souvenirs here. Always assume that the prices of items are 10-20% more than what they should be so practice your bargaining skills here.
Market on Fa Yuen Street (next to Ladies' Market)
Of a lesser known fact, Hong Kong offers so much more than what one who only visits the city area would know. Apart from the bustling & crowded city areas with an almost 360 view of concrete skyscrapers, there are indeed lovely places that provide the much needed respite from the city madness and which brings one into a world of still calmness, serenity and gorgeous open views.
Although I've been to Hong Kong a few times before, my recent trip there last week was my first during summer. The weather was sweltering hot - no different from Singapore - but nevertheless it was a wonderful trip as I discovered the serene side of Hong Kong which I never knew before - and all on a budget trip as I hopped from one MTR subway station, ferry pier and bus stop to another.
So, let's start with the lovely Lantau Island. I visited the largest sitting bronze Tian Tan Buddha statue, Po Lin Monastery and the charming fishing village of Tai O all in a day.
To get to Lantau Island, there are 2 ways:
1. Take the MTR to Tung Chung, and from there, take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride or bus no. 23. Cable car ride takes about 20 mins while the bus ride about 50 mins along truly scenic & mountainous shoreline of Lantau. I opted for a bus ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping village (where the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are) to Tai-O to Mui Wo ferry pier and it cost only HK$37 for the trips from point to point. The bus ride was a great option as I got to enjoy the magnificent views of the numerous bays around the island.
2. From Central Pier No. 6 in Hong Kong main island (near Central's Star Ferry Pier the MTR Hong Kong station) , catch a ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau. The fast ferry takes 40 mins and the normal ferry takes 1 hr. Upon reaching Mui Wo, take New Lantau Bus No. 2 to Ngong Ping to get to Tian Tan Buddha Statue and Po Lin Monastery.
The Tian Tan Buddha Statue sits atop 482m on Muk Yue Hill - a total of 268 steps up.
View of Ngong Ping and the bay from where the Tian Tan Buddha Statue is.
The Buddha faces North, towards the capital of China and is seated on a lotus throne, symbolizes purity untainted by the material world. It is the fruit of cooperation between mainland China and Hong Kong and it represents the unity of its people.
On the foot of Muk Yue Hill just opposite the Buddha statue is the Po Lin Monastery. Established in 1906, it is known as "The Sacred Place of the Buddha in the South". It is a lovely monastery with beautiful interior and one can feel the immediate peace within when being inside or just sitting out at the garden.
View of Tian Tan Buddha Statue from Po Lin Monastery.
Next on the itinerary - from Ngong Ping, take bus no. 21 to the very charming fishing village of Tai-O. Spend a few hours here drinking in the beauty of the village and admiring the houses on wooden stilts that still exist today.
One should also squeeze in 30 mins to catch the "pink dolphin watch" boat ride for just HK$20. The dolphins are so lovable as they frolic joyfully on the ocean's surface. Don't bother trying to snap pictures as the dolphins are fast when they leap out of the ocean. Try not to miss this dolphin watch ride!
Let us now enter Tai-O...
Houses on wooden stilts on Tai O Creek. These houses are the most distinctive characteristic of Tai O. They are inhabited mostly by the Tanka people, descendents of the ancient Yueh tribe who were Hong Kong's first major settlers. I cannot imagine how these houses could withstand the typhoons in Hong Kong, but they do!
Stanley, named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of Hong Kong's concession to Britain in 1841, is one of the oldest villages on Hong Kong Island. Since the early 1970s, Stanley gradually developed as one of the more popular tourist destinations in Hong Kong. Shops sprung up in Stanley Market and Western pubs and restaurants clustered along the waterfront. Despite its popularity as a tourist area with many expats living here, the shops at Stanley Market actually offer quite affordable prices. Clothes, souvenirs, bags and linens are among the many items one can buy here. Stanley is serene, uncrowded and offers a pleasant time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To get to Stanley, take the MTR Island line to Chai Wan, take the C exit and hop on a green-roofed minibus no. 16M or 6X to Stanley bus station.