Jewish philosopher Martin Buber talks about journeys as having secret destinations, but in our case, it’s no secret why we want to go to Hong Kong: we just want to go to Disneyland. And really, it’s kind of embarrassing if you’ve been to many places but haven’t visited Hong Kong yet. In here, I learned that experiences are more important than the places you visit as told by many authors, but also to turn off your phone (I did half of the time) and just enjoy the view. For our “Because Traveling is What?”” series, I present the top places to visit and top food picks in Hong Kong and Macau, plus our usual no use Geek Guide Data.
From the charming Ngong Ping Village at the foot of the Giant Buddha, to shopping in Mong Kok, to visiting the happiest place on earth that is Disneyland, here is our list of top spots in Hong Kong and Macau.
Top 10: Golden Bauhinia Square
Eisenberg rating: 1,200 out of 2,000 stars
We should have watched the Symphony of Lights from Victoria Harbor but due to the MTR being jam-packed with commuters during rush hour, we couldn’t get there in time so instead, we walked through the middle of the city, crossing under construction roads, got lost, recorded some funny videos of us being lost, snapped some photos with expensive cars in Hong Kong Convention Center, before arriving at the Golden Bauhinia Square. The iconic landmark was not there or was under construction (I was looking forward to seeing it as it is the design of this nail cutter I’m using, a gift from a friend who went there years ago) and the surroundings were kind of messy and dark. But the plus side: there were few people and plenty of good spots to sit and watch the show which was pretty awesome. For our experience going to this place, the quiet moments of waiting and resting (despite our hunger) and for the spectacular show, this place definitely deserves a spot in our top 10.
Top 9: Citygate Outlets
Eisenberg rating: 1,275 out of 2,000 stars
This will not be in the top list in Hong Kong for most people but I did enjoy our short time here. This place is beside the cable car station going to Ngong Ping Village. It is your typical mall but filled with low-priced stuff that you could buy (shirts, shoes etc.). The memory of walking outside the mall, watching people, or going inside it for a pee, and eating chocolate while you’re waiting for your friends to finish peeing, is just so vivid and I guess this is more than any travel spots can give you: a simple but happy memory.
Top 8: Ngong Ping Village
Eisenberg rating: 1,330 out of 2,000 stars
Running from the village to the cable car station while the staff is shouting about it closing in less than 10 minutes? That is a thrill you need to experience. Or maybe not. We arrived at the charming village of Ngong Ping after a thrilling cable car ride (glass floor, breathtaking view etc.), with just a few minutes to spare to appreciate the place which will transport you to what resembles as a 19th-century Asian town. The hike to the giant Buddha was closed, too bad, but the peaceful atmosphere of the place, the lack of tourists going around, and the cold air that only sunset could bring, made our visit there somewhat magical. Also, I got to peek inside a closed Starbucks store to see the price of coffee there, all while running. (It was double the price, what a shame).
Top 7: Mong Kok Night Market
Eisenberg rating:1,370 out of 2,000 stars
This is why you’ll be visiting Hong Kong, admit it. With all the things you want to buy, this very huge place is definitely heaven. A plus for us was that it’s only a walking distance from our apartment, and seeing the vendors closing shop at night while dragging your luggage from the airport is kind of cool when you think about it. I will not list all the things for sale in this market but I love that they have tons of football shirts there which is sorely lacking here back home. The sad part though was that we’re afraid to ask for the prices because the sales ladies there were aggressive and a tad bit rude.
Photo credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/1Y8GFqQx-18/maxresdefault.jpg
Top 6: The Peak Tower
Eisenberg rating:1,400 out of 2,000 stars
Waiting in line under the heat to ride the tram going to The Peak Tower might irritate you but we’re used to it that I found it enjoyable, surrounded by tourists falling in line in a chaotic fashion. But the time spent there was way too much, I have to admit. The tram ride was kind of fun, going up and seeing the view of Hong Kong but not worth the wait. The view at the peak was not that great either, however cool the photos are in my phone. I also find the mall at the top too touristy. So what’s great with this place? First, the endless line of restaurants to choose from which could be a little bit pricey, but the food was great! There is also some souvenir store when you arrived which offers stuff you could not find downtown. But overall, this place stood up because of its fun atmosphere, people were just so relaxed in here and happy, it must be the view. Reminds me of Disneyland.
Top 5: Rednaxela Terrace
Eisenberg rating: 1,420 out of 2,000 stars
Located along the Mid-Levels escalator, this small pedestrian-only street is famous for Filipinos because it used to be the home of national hero Jose Rizal while he was in Hong Kong. While tourists will include the Mid-Levels escalator as one of the places to visit in Hong Kong, we’re much more interested in this apartment called “Rednaxela” Terrace, Alexander that was written backward because, well, Cantonese. The place is ordinary, just a signboard that announces the history of the place, but going there is what makes this place memorable, and also the trip back to downtown. It is not a tourist spot so you have to rely on your travel savvy friends to find the most convenient way to go there, a train, a bus ride and…I already forgot. Plus a lot of walking. Going back is also tricky as there were a few buses that could take us downtown, with some shouts thrown in our way because we forgot to tap our cards on the way in (we’re blaming the bus, it’s so old), and some friendly tips from Filipino workers there.
Top 4: Senado Square
Eisenberg rating: 1,600 out of 2,000 stars
Senado Square is the place leading to the Ruins of St. Paul and is laid with brick paths, coupled with tourist stores, interesting buildings only a Portuguese colony could boast, and many, many, concert-level tourists along the way. First stop, we eat at this superb Chinese restaurant (more on that later) before diving into the crowd to check out the shops, eat egg tart and drink tasteless milk tea. The shops offer a lot of stuff you could buy (don’t), but just walking around, enjoying the architecture is enough. Surrounded by these Portuguese-era buildings, it did not feel that we’re in Macau, the signages in Portuguese were fun to read for us too because it’s close to our language. But the highlight of our experience here was the free food taste, not like that of Jiufen in Taiwan where there are lots of free food taste in every store, but it’s close.
Top 3: Mong Kok Area
Eisenberg rating: 1,650 out of 2,000 stars
Our home in Hong Kong should be on this list not just because we stayed there but because I think, of all places, it represents Hong Kong the most: crowded with a mix of very old, decrepit (but well-maintained) buildings and new ones hosting high-end shops, the smell of Chinese food in the air, the noise of hagglers and vendors in the night market, the traffic, and of course, the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants offering local cuisines that could be at par with high-end restaurants in Hong Kong Island. Staying there, you will feel like you’re in the center of Hong Kong, with the train station just around the corner to take you to other places.
Top 2: MTR rides
Eisenberg rating: 1,700 out of 2,000 stars
What is Hong Kong without its trains? MTR makes it look like the tourist spots around here are near each other when in fact it’s not. While people might dismiss the trains as just your way of traveling from one place to another, our experience riding the trains was worth a dozen tourist spots: from stopping over Lai King station for a quick breakfast, to riding the train in a formal dress on the way to Lan Kwai Fong, to dragging our heavy luggage en route the ferry station to Macau. Singapore’s train system still is the best for me, more techy and modern I guess, but Hong Kong’s MTR is more convenient and tourist friendly.
Top 1: Disneyland
Eisenberg rating: 1,890 out of 2,000 stars
The happiest place on earth is our top spot on this list. From the Disney train ride, the Disney-themed train station, to walking along its parks while Christmas songs are blasting and bubbles are all around the air, to its rides and shows and shops, it was magical, no doubt about it. This theme park is for kids but stepping to its cobbled streets, you will be transported into your childhood days once again. It’s hard not to feel happy about this place, despite the very pricey food and toys for sale. The rides are not that death-defying when I take a look back at it. Meeting Woody in Toy Story Land was a childhood dream, and meeting Chewbacca was awesome. The Q there was not so bad so you will not waste precious time waiting for each ride, but the WiFi was kind of erratic, but you’ll not need it.
Lan Kwai Fong / Ruins of St. Paul / Macau Hotel District / IFC Mall / Golden Buddha / Ocean Park
Some of the travel spots that did not make it on my top 10 list but are worth visiting anyway are Ocean Park, the chaotic version of Disneyland with its awesome cable ride to the other side of the mountain plus death-defying rides. There is also Lan Kwai Fong where my favorite movie about Hong Kong was shot, with its bars and foreigners walking around drunk, if that’s your cup of tea. Also, Ruins of St. Paul in Macau which is just that, ruins, but still worth the visit. The hotels around Macau will leave you in awe, so as a tip, leave your luggage inside one of the hotels there (for free!) and hop into their bus (for free!) for a ride around the area (for free!). IFC Mall is the bourgeois mall in Hong Kong Island with virtually hard to find comfort rooms and is home to Shake Shack (more on that later). The Golden Buddha we didn’t get to visit because it close.
Top Food Picks
It might be a restaurant or a specific food from the famous hakaw, yang chow and egg tart to eating in pubs in Lan Kwai Fong, to even, yes, McDonald’s, here is our top food picks list.
Top 10: Shake Shack
Eisenberg rating: 810 out of 2,000 stars
The burger place all New Yorkers rave about, Shake Shack is also in Hong Kong *gasp* in this bourgeois mall called IFC Mall. Honestly, it’s not that good, just your average burger. I know, just drop your hate messages at the comments below. Really, for a burger that was hyped like that and with its criminally expensive price, it has no special taste whatsoever. The fries were, if anything, much worse, missing at least one key ingredient: salt or anything that will make it passable to a human being’s taste buds. So why is it on this list? Because of the place where it is located, at the top of IFC Mall with a kick-ass view of the city. And also, we were really hungry that time so it all tasted good.
Top 9: Townhouse
Eisenberg rating: 880 out of 2,000 stars
Located at the 23rd floor of California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong, Townhouse is another bourgeois place with a nice view of the city. It’s a pub and upon entering you’ll hear some pop music along with its dim lights and conversations all around the corner. They have different sets for soups, noodles, pizza, pasta, and rice etc. to choose from (also a tea set menu), and what we had there were good but not that amazing. The place was nice though and their drinks were superb. The prices are, as expected, more expensive, it must be due to the elaborate table setting. It’s good for some snacks and after work drinks but I don’t think it’s a good place to have your dinner.
Top 8: Crispy wanton skins
Eisenberg rating: 950 out of 2,000 stars
You can try these crispy wanton skins at Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記), a noodle and congee restaurant located at Senado Square in Macau. “Ilan ang inorder mo niyan?” (How many did you order?) I asked my friend when this ginormous plate of crispy wanton skins arrived on our table. Ten pieces all-in-all, they barely fit in one plate. But that’s just because of the wrappings. The meat part in a single piece was of small amount but tasted really, really good, like authentic Chinese food good with some egg flavor of some sort. It also comes with some sweet dipping sauce but I’m not a fan. Its price is also reasonable, good for sharing or you can eat it all alone if you want to. Coupled with their hot tea and rice, I guarantee you that it’ll be worth a try.
Top 7: Portuguese Egg Tart
Eisenberg rating: 1,250 out of 2,000 stars
Walking around Macau is much more fun when eating an egg tart, especially when you haven’t had lunch yet. Look at that food and instantly you’ll just want to eat it. Also known as Portuguese custard tart, a Portuguese egg tart is a pastry dusted with cinnamon, a melt-in-your-mouth custard, flaky with a hint of natural sweetness. It’s very cheap so you could eat this all day but sadly you could not take it home with you because it will expire fast. You could buy it almost anywhere where there is a bakery in Macau not like Taiwan where you need to go to KFC to get one. I just hope we have some here.
Photo Credit: South China Morning Post
Top 6: McDonald’s
Eisenberg rating: 1,375 out of 2,000 stars
The food they offer here is so different from other McDonald’s, it’s amazing. If I were to purchase a McDonald’s franchise myself and have the freedom to invent its menu then I’ll have something close like this: macaroni soup topped with grilled chicken or Tonkotsu with their signature round egg. Sprinkled with corn bits. It’s crazy! You really need McDonald’s everywhere to give you some respite if you don’t feel like eating local foods at one point or especially when there is no option left for you to choose from. Plus, its fun dining with the locals who are having their early morning breakfast, and the familiarity of their coffee is always welcome especially when you really need it after having just a couple of hours sleep.
Photo credit: McDonald’s Hong Kong
Top 5: Siomai
Eisenberg rating: 1,480 out of 2,000 stars
I’m not kidding, it has an expired taste, but how does this food, which tastes like some expired spaghetti, tastes so good at the same time? You can get these bastards at any place in Hong Kong of course, but we did try some in these hole-in-the-wall restaurants which are cheap, small, and enjoyable to dine in. I’m not used to eating siomai with shrimp at the top so that’s a bonus, but eat this with some wanton soup and it’s heaven, very different from the ones we have here in train stations. The menu in most restaurants is not in English though so you have to rely to the featured photos and point it and order it and hope that it is the siomai you are looking for.
Top 4: Hong Kong Day
Eisenberg rating: 1,520 out of 2,000 stars
Situated beside Madame Tussauds at The Peak Tower, Hong Kong Day offers classic dishes of west-east fusion but still of Hong Kong cuisine taste such as french toast, noodles, stir-fried rice etc. Compared to other restaurants in the Peak, it is not that pricey, but their place does not offer any view of the city. It is so popular you need to wait to get a table inside, and I mean you and all of your friends should wait outside because they do not accept a single person waiting for a table while his friends were out roaming around. That’s me. The serving of the food I had was like for two persons and it was good, all tomato sauce and cheese in pork and all that stuff but it gets boring after a while. Though their french toast was the best I had ever tasted.
Top 3: Yang Chow Fried Rice
Eisenberg rating: 1,600 out of 2,000 stars
Plain rice is boring but when it’s fried, it’s transformed. Add some vegetables, meat and other stuff and now we’re talking. This Yang Chow Fried Rice is from Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記) in Macau, the one with the crispy wanton skin we reviewed earlier. This fried rice is mixed with egg, fresh crunchy veggies, shrimp (my god, the shrimp!) and chorizo for a Portuguese twist. This is the best Yang Chow I have tasted and when we returned home we tried some versions of it in some Chinese restaurants but Wong Chi Kei’s Yang Chow is different level fried rice like it’s game over for the other fried rice out there. Paired with wanton or siomai or that crispy wanton skin with their hot tea and you’re in for a special food ride.
Top 2: Hakaw
Eisenberg rating: 1,700 out of 2,000 stars
As spot.ph poetically said, “But not all hakaw are created equal.” This hakaw served in one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Mong Kok is simply heaven. A bit pricey compared to others but definitely worth it. There is something about being inside a small Chinese restaurant with its worn-out table and utensils, surrounded by locals, that made this particular hakaw special. Also, was it just us or their service in these hole-in-the-wall restaurants was really super fast? Like in the blink of an eye fast. Anyway, try dipping it in wanton soup.
Top 1: Wanton + Milk Tea
Eisenberg rating: 1,710 out of 2,000 stars
A serving of giant wantons with whole shrimps coupled with milk tea is the safest stuff to eat if you’re not used to Asian foods. The wanton servings in these hole-in-the-wall restaurants are huge and are cheaper than in high-end restaurants in the city, and for me, its taste is much more legit. Plus you don’t need to wait too long to be served either. The texture of the noodles and the soup are not that special. The soup was decent but sort of lacking flavor. But the thin-skinned wantons more than made up for it. The milk tea here is quite different but I enjoyed it nonetheless, it’s like an ordinary tea mixed with milk, to make a well, milk tea, but its great.
Geek Guide Data
For immigration stuff to transportation, to searching for WiFi and power plugs for gadgets, as well as, haggling with aggressively rude sales ladies and of course, the weather.
Immigration – Hong Kong immigration officials are among the strictest in the world but if you have complete documents (or just a passport) you’ll be fine. The Q is long though, as expected. Macau’s immigration is just the same, they’re more lax if you’re coming from Hong Kong, though don’t bring your 2400 mAh power bank because they only allow like up to 2400 mAh.
Transport – Hong Kong’s airport, dubbed as one of the best in the world, was a letdown. I did not found anything amazing about it unless you count the much-talk-about train inside the airport which will transport you to the immigration. Macau’s airport should be ashamed of itself. As discussed, their train system in Hong Kong is just superb.
WiFi and power plugs- Hong Kong has WiFi connection anywhere but is really unreliable, so if you don’t want to be lost, just buy a local sim card. You’ll need it in trying to find the nearest grocery store to buy ready-to-cook noodles and other cheap stuff to bring home. The standard electrical voltage in Hong Kong is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. You will need a transformer for any appliance or electrical equipment. The majority of electrical outlets in Hong Kong take a three-pronged UK-style plug.
Shopping and English- Deciding what to eat in Hong Kong is hard especially when the menu is all in Cantonese. Just check out the pictures featured in the menu. The signages all around have English translation so no problem there. The rude sales ladies have a small grasp of English for conversation purposes and for threatening shoppers to buy their stuff. It’s easy to find places where you could buy stuff here from bourgeois level shopping in Hong Kong Island to the cheap ones in Kowloon, but you already know about that.
Weather- Being in the south of China, Hong Kong has a humid subtropical climate. Summer is hot and humid, with occasional showers and thunderstorms and warm air. Winters are mild and usually sunny. No chance of snowfall here except maybe on the Peak?