Hong Kong Island
Curated. I love when travel stimulates all six of my senses. Journeys in sight, taste, smell, sound, touch, and overall emotional feel make a complete experience. As an American expat living in Hong Kong for a year in 2010-2011, I found the city to be one of the most spectacular places on the planet. It is remarkable, especially, for its contrasts. Hyper-urban and futuristic are nestled next to hand-made cultures of the past. Lush mountains hug 140-story skyscrapers. Slow trams chug the same route as efficient metros. In fact, public transportation and taxis are genius in this city where services are cheap but goods and meals are often expensive. Always use the Airport Express train to get to your hotel from the airport, buy an Octopus card to get around, ride the Star Ferry at night, feel free to drink the water, donâ€™t tip, and make sure you eat xiao long bau, wonton noodle, and milk tea. Hong Kong is a great city and easy for those of us that donâ€™t speak Cantonese. This guide includes my favorite sensory experiences. I hope you enjoy, Curated Hong Kong. by Carissa Carter
ta st e sm e h e ll ar to uc h em ot ion
Stimulate stream • 8-9 de-pressurize • 10-11 clank • 12-13 decompose • 14-15 roar • 16-17 over-stimulate • 18-19 salivate • 20-21 tag • 22-23 pervade • 24-25 cleave • 26-27 parallel • 28-29 meander • 30-31 slurp • 32-33 gasp • 34-35 immerse • 36-37 zest • 38-39 waft • 40-41 admire • 42-43 heave • 44-45 float • 46-47 celebrate • 48-49 savor • 50-51 grasp • 52-53
Stream. The world’s best public transportation system also has an exciting color experience. Ride the MTR Island line. Don’t buy the tourist pass - buy a normal Octopus card and load it with cash. You can redeem what you don’t use at the end of your trip.
De-pressurize. The best place to escape the tourists and relax with Hong Kongers is at Sun Yat Sen park in Sai Ying Pun. Only when you are up close to Victoria Harbor do you feel the scale of the churn and smell the sea, cargo ships, and hydrofoil ferries. In addition to a large grassy area, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, there is an acupressure stone walking path that is a must-try. Check out the giant engraved map on the ground under the park entrance gate. Health and wellness in Hong Kong is a public experience. There is no taboo on telling someone theyâ€™ve gained weight or talking openly about ailments of all kinds.
Clank. Kudos if you understand how to play Mahjong, but the noise of the tiles is experience enough. Every evening. Anywhere. Youâ€™ll know it when you hear it.
Decompose. Victoria Prison in SoHo isnâ€™t always open to visitors, but if you get lucky itâ€™s worth a long wander for the immersive experience of decay. Frozen in time from the day it shut its doors, the prison feels on the cusp of dead and alive.
Roar. Wednesday is race day at the Happy Valley Race Course. The grass track surrounded by skyscrapers makes you feel like you are part of Hong Kongâ€™s British-occupied past surrounded by the future. From the colorful jockey books to placing bets and the roar and thrill of the win, partaking in Hong Kongâ€™s greatest way to gamble is tantalizing.
Over-stimulate. The sheer volume of people in all places at all times is overwhelming. It is best to dive in and appreciate the energy of the flow. Rush hour will surround you with the ubiquitous black that is business apparel, and leave you in awe of the arteries that channel the cityâ€™s 8 million inhabitants to their destinations with effortless precision.
Salivate. If you are a fan of mango, find the nearest Hui Lau Shan for the best dessert of your life. The tourists wonâ€™t be there and youâ€™ll have to squeeze on the tiny wooden stools and point to your selection. Start with simple mango and sago if you are undecided and be prepared for textural and flavorful mouth ecstasy.
Tag. Youâ€™ll find yourself looking up a lot in Hong Kong. Donâ€™t forget to look straight ahead for the best urban details.
Pervade. Each cart is handwelded and built with the same construction techniques in streetside shops. Watching people use them will develop your fascination.
Cleave. Food isnâ€™t fresh unless it is killed and butchered while you wait. Visit a wet market, Wan Chai has a great one near Times Square, and the noise that pervades is that of mallets whacking fish and knives hacking cuts of meat.
Parallel. Take a ferry to Lamma Island for an experience in stark contrast to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. No cars are allowed on Lamma, and a jungle-like walking trail connects the two island towns. If your ferry goes to Yung Shue Wan, you should eat at Bookworm Cafe and stroll to the nearby beach. Feel the jungle that used to be all of Hong Kong before urbanization. You can walk all the way to the other town of Sok Kwu Wan if you want to make a day trip of it, or if you take a ferry to Sok Kwu Wan, pick your seafood out of the tank and theyâ€™ll cook it up for you.
Meander. The double-decker tram, also called the â€˜ding dingâ€™ for the sound of its bell, is the best option for a cross-section of Hong Kongâ€™s neighborhoods. Get on at any stop and ride along the front of Hong Kong Island through neighborhoods from the past, present, and future. Enter in the back, and sit on the top level in the front. Use your Octopus card to pay upon exiting. Fare is standard no matter if you go one stop or ten, and costs almost nothing. Ride it both in the day and night for a contrasting experience that will slow down the pace of your day and allow you to appreciate the city at ground level. Beware riding at morning rush hour or go for the challenge. Fight your way on and be prepared for a full body press.
Slurp. Hong Kong comfort food comes in big bowls. Laksa, shown in the photo, is a spicy dish from Singapore that comes with your choice of meats and seafood formed into ball shapes, or tofu and dumplings. Itâ€™s hard to go wrong. A milder option is wonton noodle. Fresh pulled noodles are plopped in broth with shrimp wontons. Add some vinegar. The most soothing of the comfort foods in bowls is congee. Usually made with seafood, congee is like a savory oatmeal. All of these dishes are cheap and readily available. If you have a local friend with you, he or she will have a favorite place.
Gasp. The Star Ferry is the best way to be blown away by Hong Kong, and the cheapest way to get to Kowloon. Ask a taxi to take you to the Star Ferry pier and make the journey both in the daytime as well as at night. Right at 8pm is the best time, as all of the buildings on both the Hong Kong and Kowloon sides will put on a light show. The lower deck near the front is the best place to sit, but youâ€™ll find you want to stand and look out. The journey is also payable by Octopus, and cheaper than a bottle of water.
Immerse. Ride the tram to the neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun, just west of Sheung Wan. Youâ€™ll know you have arrived because the smell changes. The entire area along Des Voeux Road W is a giant dried fish market. The volume, variety, and most of all the scent will blow you away.
Zest. The cheapest and freshest vegetables come from street markets. As a tourist you may not cook, but a journey through to see the diversity and colors is worth it. Do not eat uncooked or unwashed greens in Hong Kong. Youâ€™ll notice they never serve them at restaurants. Tap water is safe to drink, and washed fruit all safe to eat, but be wary of greens. Try a mangosteen or passion fruit for a treat. As an aside, note that nobody in Hong Kong eats while walking or riding public transportation. Eating is not allowed on the MTR.
Waft. Temples dot many Hong Kong neighborhoods, and are worth a pass-through visit, but you won’t last long with the overpowering smell. Don’t forget to look up at the giant hanging swirls of incense, and hope that ash doesn’t fall on your head. No photos allowed inside.
Admire. Instead of using metal scaffolding for buildings under construction, Hong Kongers use bamboo lashed together with twine.
Heave. Hiking in Hong Kong is a dream for some, but throughout most of the year the air is supersaturated and heavy. If the weather is bearable, you can enjoy the details of Asian vegetation. After spending time in the city, you will welcome the smell of the air on a trail.
Float. If you are journeying to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha with the other tourists, make a day of it and add in a trip to the village of Tai O. There is a bus depot near the gondola terminus. The 30 minute ride will wind you by spectacular beaches and land you in a tiny village with homes on stilts. Local entrepreneurs will take you on junk boat or motorboat rides through the channels and out into the open ocean to look for pink dolphins. Try eating a Tai O donut, or bring home some shrimp paste.
Celebrate. Hong Kongers spare no expense, literally, with celebration. If you are lucky enough to be in town during a holiday, Chinese New Year is a great one, you will see an entire city decorated. Small kumquat trees bring good luck. Don’t pick and eat them! Festive times of the year are often crowded. During any time of year visit Kowloon’s flower market to get a sense of floral decoration, then head over to the K11 art shopping mall to check out the latest installation. You’ll want to walk through the subway tunnels to stay cool. They are well marked and mapped.
Savor. Do not leave Hong Kong without eating xiao long bau. Originally from Taiwan and pictured bottom center, these pork soup dumplings are simply the best food you will ever eat, and the experience of lifting, dipping, biting, sucking is part of the fun. Get them at Din Tai Fung or at Crystal Jade, but the former is better. Also try the pea shoots with garlic, dan dan noodle, and spicy cucumber. Of course, donâ€™t miss out on some dim sum as well, pictured in the top two images. Barbecue pork buns are a Hong Kong specialty. Tea is everywhere and with everything. If your friend refills your glass, tap the table with two fingers as a sign of thanks. At some point, in any restaurant, have a milk tea. There is a shop in SoHo next to the great length of outdoor escalator that still strains it through a sock.
Grasp. Almost every guide book will tell you to ride the Peak Tram to the Peak in order to get the best view of Hong Kong. If you have the time, you probably should go, but the experience at the top is overpriced and kitschy. The hyper-angled ride on the tram is the best part of the journey, and makes the trip worth it. If you want the best view of the city, ride the Star Ferry to Kowloon, turn right as you exit the ferry and walk along the waterfront to the viewing platform. Take in the best views of the city from this vantage point.
Six Senses in one day. For many folks, Hong Kong is a gateway to other parts of Asia. How can you hit all six senses in just one day? Staring at Hong Kong International Airport, here is my one day sensory extravaganza. (1) Stow your luggage somewhere. Ride the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station. When you’re on the train, read this guide. Many of the sensory experiences are along the following route. (2) Exit the station and follow signs and/or ask directions to Des Voeux Rd. You will likely end up walking through the IFC mall to get there. (3) Ride the tram west until you reach Sai Ying Pun. Exit, wander the smells and walk back east on Des Voeux to Wing Lok St. until you reach Western Market. Turn south up Morrison St. and then east on Jervois, then south up any side alley until you hit Hollywood Rd. Wander east until you reach the outdoor escalators in SoHo. This route sounds meandering because it is full of discovery. In general you want to be heading east / south (aka uphill and back towards where you started), but don’t worry about your exact route.
(4) In SoHo, explore, then take the escalator route downhill. Keep following the people flow all the way through the IFC mall and follow the signs to the Ferry Piers. Walk to the Star Ferry Pier and ride across on the lower deck to Tsim Sha Tsui. The lower deck is open air. (5) Exit the ferry and wander east along the Kowloon Public Pier. (6) Take a taxi or ride the MTR to the Kowloon Station Airport Express and head back to the airport. Overall. The itinerary above is a fantastic day. You’ll be fully stimulated and find supreme food all along this route. You’ll hit all the contrasting sides of Hong Kong and leave wanting more. No fear. Whatever happens, don’t worry about getting lost. You can always hop in a taxi and ride it to an Airport Express station to get back to the airport in no time. Most taxi drivers will have enough English to understand ‘Airport Express,’ but just in case you can try out your Cantonese. Say “Gay Shun Fai Seen” to get yourself to the closest Airport Express station. Enjoy!
ÂŠ Six Senses Travel www.sixsensestravel.com
A Six Senses travel guide. This travel guide is a full-color tour of all the sensory experiences in Hong Kong.