First Impressions of Hong Kong

Why I’m going to China
December 15, 2011
Quirky Hong Kong
December 27, 2011

First Impressions of Hong Kong

During my first two days in Hong Kong I was not at all impressed. Much of this opinion was based on the Bohemian Traveler bias that mega-malls and international shopping brands are uninteresting.

But I didn’t get discouraged and I didn’t give up on Hong Kong. As I stayed longer and explored the city with Runaway Juno and my brother, who was visiting for the week, the city started to grow on me.

Hong Kong is very much like Singapore (although somehow I was able to tolerate Singapore’s malls) and Kuala Lumpur in the sense that it takes a little work to find the interesting parts. All three are quite modern and well-organized cities, but there are bits and pieces of old-world charm in each of them.

I’ve already laid out the small list of what I didn’t like about the city.

Here’s what’s interesting about Hong Kong:

The Markets

Everyone talks about Hong Kong being a shopper’s paradise and what most mean is the accessibility of international brands, amount of malls, etc. What I go for are the local food markets outside of the center. It might take a little effort to reach, but it will be worth it. Numerous types of vegetables, parts of animals you didn’t know existed, and friendly fish mongers hacking away at the freshest of fish. It’s a great way to see into the everyday lives of Hong Kongers. Take a look at my travel partner’s outstanding photos from Shau Kei Wan Market.

The fish Monger at Shau Kei Wan market in Hong Kong

The Food

It is universally agreed that food is one of the highlights of Hong Kong. You can spend a small fortune on a meal or get cheap eats for the equivalent or $2.50 US. There is such a wide variety too, from chic Euro wine bars to British Pubs serving fish and chips and full English breakfasts. Best to stick with what Hong Kongers do best: seafood and Cantonese cuisine. And if you tire of Cantonese, you can mix it up with some Beijing style or Sichuan fare. Look out in particular for the cooked food centers, which contain food stalls crowded under florescent lighting. Don’t worry, what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for with high-quality dishes for reasonable prices.

Dim Sum and tea

Terrain and Outlying Islands

Hong Kong isn’t just the string of multistory office buildings and skinny apartment buildings that make up its epic skyline. It’s more than the bright lights of Kowloon. 70% of Hong Kong is green hills, mountains, and forests. There are small towns, villages and beaches spread out over the territory’s 234 islands. Most places are accessible by the user-friendly public transportation: bus, train, and ferry boat. I highly recommend going for a hike or to Cheung Chau or Lamma Island for an afternoon stroll.

Cheung Chau Harbour

The Skyline

This is the most obvious attraction and probably for what Hong Kong is most famous. There are several vantage points to get the best view, but everyone’s favorite seems to be from the Star Ferry. On my first day in the city, the air was so hazy, which was another reason I had a negative first impression. But on the subsequent days, the air quality improved slightly and I was able to get enough shots to write a post. Read my best ways to view the Hong Kong Skyline.

view from the walk halfway up the peak

Accessibility of Hiking

Hiking is definitely not the first thing we associate with Hong Kong, but actually, it’s quite good. A nice easy hike with extraordinary views virtually the whole way is called Dragon’s Back. Hong Kong’s Tourism board dubs this the “best urban hiking experience in Asia”, and it’s hard to disagree. An 8.5 km, 5-hour trek brings hikers over the Dragon’s Back ridge with views of blue-green waters on each side of the peninsula. End the hike at Big Wave Beach, a semi-secluded beach village where you’ll find plenty of surfers riding the waves. There are more great hikes at Shing Mun Reservoir, Tai Long Wan, and the MacLehose Trail.

Juno and Michael on Dragon's Back Hong Kong

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Michael Bugno says:

    Dear Brother,

    Your first impression might not have been great, but mine was love at first site! From the moment I stepped off the plane – I just thrived on the energy of the city. Public transportation was amazing and the people couldn’t have been nicer. Shopping (of any kind) for me is paradise, I guess I get that from mother.

    For me the city only got better, not only did I love the thrill of a big city, but I really enjoyed that in less than .5 hours we could be on another island hiking a piece of paradise in Asia. To boot, I had great travel companions. The food was just to die for – perhaps I’d be singing a different tune if I at the chicken’s feet. I just felt bad for the birds – I wouldn’t want anyone eating my toenails! I think all the above just inspired me for me blogging…

    Do you think Vietnam is really for me?

    Bon Voyage,
    Your Favorite Brother

  2. Daniel says:

    Ive also recorded my first impressions of Hong Kong. Can be seen here:


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