On a recent trip from San Francisco to India, I booked a ticket with a 15 hour layover in Hong Kong. I am generally a very intense traveler. I want to see everything! My planning for a short layover was definitely going to be super ambitious.
I landed in Hong Kong at 6am. By the time I dropped off the checkin luggage and left the airport it was almost 6:45am. My plan was to watch sunrise from Victoria Peak but it was late to get there. So I decided to skip the sunrise and take a taxi to Lantau Island.
The sun was still rising and the drive to the island was beautiful. We drove through mountains and beaches. Everything on Lantau island including the 360degree tram opens only at 10am. I was alone on the island and had the Big Buddha or Tian Tan Buddha for myself! I strolled and took a lot of beautiful pictures of Buddha in early morning sunlight.
Buddha says ” If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows then like a never-departing shadow!”
Po Lin monastery from outside. No tourists, total peace!!
Inside the monastery.
Po Lin monastery was still opening and I only got to enter the main complex. I had found myself alone on an otherwise extremely busy tourist place! Early morning on an island with Buddha and the monastery was serene, peaceful and a purely spiritual experience. A beautiful start to the overcrowded Hong Kong city tour.
I bid farewell to the island at around 9am and went in search of some fabled Hong Kong food! Tim Ho Wan is apparently the cheapest Michelin star restaurant. I knew about this restaurant from Anthony Bourdain’s show Layover. I took the bus+MTR from Lantau island to Sham Shui Po area on Kowloon island.
Sham Shui Po is real Hong Kong! Small, busy streets, huge apartment complexes with clothes and electricity wires hanging outside, roadside outlets selling food, street markets, scooters, traffic and everything that represents real Asia. No glitzy skyscrapers and designer stores here. I was happy that I had ventured out of the tourist zone to see real Hong Kong.
The staff at Tim Ho Wan does not speak much English and hence they try to seat the outsiders with Hong Kong locals. I was seated with a family of 3 who helped me order food and communicate with the staff. Unfortunately, their English was limited too and my attempts to talk about Hong Kong were not successful.
Food at Tim Ho Wan comes in small portions but man, was that delicious!! I had shrimp dumplings, BBQ pork bun and chicken egg rolls with a lot of “soya sauce”. I do not have a point of reference, but everything I had was utterly yummy!
A subway in downtown Hong Kong displaying murals about Hong Kong movie scene over the years.
After food, I headed to Tsim Sha Tsui to get a glimpse of the glitzy Hong Kong. Skyscrapers here, on both sides of the bay. Malls, designer stores, swanky bars and restaurants. Frankly, I am not very fond of this side of Hong Kong. It is a crazy city. With no place to sit and stare. People everywhere.. hustling and bustling! Not for the laid back outdoors men and women who just want sprawl out and daydream. Even in the swanky restaurants, the restroom stalls were very small. The whole place seems overcrowded and cramped.
I gave up on finding a place to sit and relax and headed to Victoria Peak. Star ferry ferries crowds from Kowloon island to Hong Kong island. It was mid-afternoon but the place was hazy making the pictures look like sunset pictures. Nothing special about the ferry ride.
My only reason for visiting Victoria Peak was to shoot sunset and the skyline at night. However, I bought ticket to Madame Tussauds wax museum to skip the 3 hour long queue to Peak Tram. There was no place to sit on the tram and I went up standing! The tram experience is overhyped, not as impressive as advertised. And the wax museum is really not my kind of thing. I got myself a champagne and waited for sunset.
Yes, I was waiting for the above picture. Victoria peak has the best views of the city!! The sun sets on the other side of the peak and reflections from the sunlight can be seen on those tall buildings.
And ideally, I should have left immediately after the sunset. My connecting flight from Hong Kong was at 9pm but I really wanted to get some night shots before leaving. Almost missed my flight, but the above picture was worth all the hustle! I finally took a taxi to Central train station and got into the airport express from there.