Before I went to Hong Kong, I heard a lot of mixed reviews. Some people said they loved it, others said there was nothing to do but shop. I spent about 2 weeks in Hong Kong, so here are my impressions of the city.
It’s a schizophrenic place
Hong Kong is the most schizophrenic city I have ever been to. It can’t decide what country it is a part of (and it doesn’t want to). ATM’s dispense 2 currencies (Hong Kong dollars and RMB), everybody, even the workers at 7-11, speak 3 languages fluently (Mandarin, Cantonese and English), and supermarkets sell taco shells next to chicken feet. Yes, Hong Kong is a part of China, but you wouldn’t know it entering the country. You have to go through Chinese immigration, fill out a departure card and get an exit stamp on your passport, then walk down a long hallway to the border and enter Hong Kong, filling out an arrivals card and getting an entrance stamp on your passport. Chinese citizens need permission to enter the country (and for some it is hard) while Americans don’t need any sort of visa (despite strict visa rules for mainland).
And the culture of the city is so different too. Bikes don’t fill the streets, everyone drives on the “wrong” side of the street and nobody spits, throws garbage or pees on the street. I saw several people protesting the government and they didn’t disappear into an unmarked van. Also, all the writing was traditional Chinese, which is so different (and to me, a little sloppy looking) then simplified characters on the mainland.
Yes, there is a lot of shopping….
Almost every subway stops exits into a giant, pristine mall filled with Chanel, Gucci, Calvin Klein and more. You can’t escape the shopping. So why fight it? I went more than a little crazy in the stores myself. No, I didn’t buy the latest fashion from paris, I went shopping Becky style. I brought back boxes and boxes of tea. It was so cheap! Twining’s is hard to come by in China, and expensive if you can find it, but in Hong Kong it is super cheap and plentiful thanks to its colonial past. So I stocked up. I also stocked up on Betty Crocker mixes, such as pizza dough and cake, and silly things I’ve lived totally without for the past 2 years, like a bottle of Newman’s Own ranch dressing and Ricola cough drops. So yeah Hong Kong does have a lot of shopping, and different kinds of shopping for different people. Plus, all these malls means you are never far away from a clean and well maintained toilet.
….but that’s not all there is to do
Like I said, I spent 2 weeks in Hong Kong and still didn’t get to see everything. The Hong Kong area isn’t that big, but it is a series of islands so everything is incredibly varied and every place has an entirely different feel. There are also a ton of different monuments, museums, temples, art galleries, markets, hikes and so on. The tourist board is actually really well organzied and has some great books on different things to do in Hong Kong. They even have several free events multiple times a week like tai chi classes, making cookies and tea tasting. Anyone who says Hong Kong is only shopping is not looking very hard.
“Chinese food” is actually Hong Kong food
Okay, I’ll admit that I ate a lot of international food while in Hong Kong. I eat chinese food almost everyday so getting to have burgers or a sandwich is a rare treat fro me. But I did go to a local Hong Kong restaurant a few times, and every time I did I was shocked at how similar to western Chinese food restaurants they were. I mean, I had heard that western Chinese food is Hong Kong based because most of mainland was closed off from the west, only people from southern China could go to places like England and America to set up their own restaurants.
And it is totally true! It’s funny because I was expecting it, and it still surprised me. Even silly things like wontons, which are not common on mainland, are normal in Hong Kong. While at the wishing tree my friend wanted to try some of the “local food’ and let me have a try. It was egg drop soup! And in one restaurant we went to it smelled exactly like the Chinese restaurant I went to as a kid. So yes, I can confirm, what we think of “Chinese food” in the west is actually Hong Kong style cooking.
Hong Kong Disneyland is NOT lame
As a Disney fan I had to go and check out HK Disneyland. I had heard it was small, and I had heard it was lame, but there was no way I was going to believe the (anti) hype. Yes, it is small, but actually it makes for a really enjoyable day. You don’t have to run around trying to get into all the rides. You can take your time, enjoy each land and move at a more leisurely pace. Because it was Spring Festival, and this year is the year of the dragon, the park had dragon statues and lamp posts everywhere and they even had a special dragon parade. Also, HK Disney has something I’d never been to before: Toy Story Land! So, if you are a Disney fan, or if you’ve never been to Disney before, I’d suggest you go. It’s about half the price as the American Disney, and a total bargain.
So if you can’t tell, I really enjoyed my time in Hong Kong. In fact, I think it is the only place that perfectly blends East and West into one crazy, mixed-up city. You could live their and eat traditional Chinese food speak only Chinese and have a really normal Chinese-only life. Or, you could eat western food all the time and only speak English. Both are just as easy and totally normal in Hong Kong which I find fascinating. So if you’ve ever thought about coming to China, but feel a little too nervous about the totally different culture, try a trip to Hong Kong.