Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When you’re on a return trip to any destination, those “Top 10” listicles aren’t as appealing anymore and you find yourself in need of something different, authentic, and thrilling. Once you’re back, you can do away with the pretentious introductions and head straight into the heart of the place. With this in mind, one of the best places to return to — economically, practically, and culturally — is Hong Kong.
Antonia Baytion, a 21-year-old artist from Manila, has been visiting Hong Kong annually as long as she could remember. She’s practically a resident herself. And yet, every time she returns, she never runs out of gems to unearth. “Hong Kong for me is a place where the new is a reflection of the old,” she says. “Hong Kong’s ever-evolving culture is an experience that will always entrance visitors.”
“As the region faces rapid modernization ... it also finds itself chasing memories of what it once was,” she adds. Indeed, paying closer attention to the region the second time around will show that it’s a paradigm in itself. Hong Kong’s essence lies in no single landmark or dish. Its authenticity is found in its diverse yet contradicting cultures and landscapes. It’s a meeting point for all, vintage and modern, rural and urban, local and foreign.
Rediscovering this historic city doesn’t need a meticulously planned itinerary. Its proximity to the Philippines, lenient travel requirements, and economical accommodations make it possible to return on a whim. But here’s a tip: just follow the locals. They’re the best people who know how to get the most out of the city on a reasonable daily budget. You won’t be a fish out of water too as navigating around with Hong Kong’s organized public transport system only gets easier the second time. Rediscover a different side of Hong Kong with the places below.
Off the beaten track
You’ll never run out of things to see, do, and buy in Hong Kong. If you meander through the alleyways, you may find local art galleries or vintage and streetwear boutiques. A ferry ride away could promise a tranquil getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Going off the beaten track can show you unique destinations wherein Hong Kong’s colorful past and modern present come together.
15/F, Po Chai Industrial Building, 28 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
Art galleries are a great way to dive into the culture of any city. Local contemporary artists often give the viewer a sincere view on their beloved cities.
Hidden in the Wong Chuk Hang district, Blindspot Gallery is the first major gallery to open in the area and also one of the firsts to foster local contemporary artists. Its name came from how owner Mimi Chun’s believes that contemporary photography is an overlooked artform in the city. From its opening in 2010, Blindspot Gallery has evolved from housing image-based art of Hong Kong-based photographers to becoming a space for both emerging and established artists.
The easiest way to plunge into Hong Kong’s fashion scene is to explore its numerous micro malls. These cube-sized boutiques, almost reminiscent of tiangges or stalls inside Divisoria or Greenhills, contain the trendiest Japanese and Korean garments as well as unique and edgy statement pieces.
Island Beverly Center, the micro mall that had put Causeway Bay on the fashion map, boasts of four floors of well-priced closet staples. It’s the perfect place to find dupes for pricey fashion brands. For those seeking for more adventurous options, there’s always Rise Shopping Arcade at Tsim Sha Tsui. Its nondescript façade hides its treasures within, from Asian streetwear brands and vintage statement pieces — all for a good price.
Thirty minutes away on the MTR is PMQ in Central. This sleek and modern building originally served as the Police Married Quarters in 1951. It was later remodeled in 2009 to be a space for local and foreign create-preneurs who offer unique and quirky pieces like handmade jewelry or tote bags dyed with food scraps. Make sure to visit on the weekends to catch live musical performances.
If you grow weary of Hong Kong’s urban landscapes, you can always take a 40-minute ferry ride to the small island of Peng Chau to reconnect with nature. The island had returned to its rural state after being industrialized in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Remnants of its busy past remain, such as the Former Lime Kiln and Match Factory or the Former Peng Chau Theater. Now, Mother Nature has reclaimed most of the island, which can be seen on the scenic Peng Yu Path, which eventually leads to Old Fisherman’s Rock. From there, you can tap into your inner zen as you take in the ocean view or tread back to the Seven Sisters Temple, Lung Mo Temple, or the Golden Flower Shrine. Forgetting to bring your best camera to take picturesque photos would be a major crime.
Up your Instagram game
You absolutely cannot leave Hong Kong without taking a few breathtaking photos for your Instagram feed. The city is teeming with colorful and breathtaking landscapes, both urban and rural. To make your photos stand out from the rest, visit these pockets of green in the highly urbanized city.
Nam Sang Wai
If you’re the outdoorsy type that’s always itching to stretch your legs, the rural and picturesque Nam Sang Wai should be on your to-do list for your return trip to Hong Kong. Two ferry rides away from the city, it’s ideal for outdoor activities like cycling and picnics. The River Red Gum path along the Shan Pui River is lined with Australian eucalyptus trees, giving enough shade for a cool and breezy bike ride. It’s also a plus that bike rentals are only around 45 HKD. The soft bed of grass is there just for your picnic and flatlay needs. Birdwatchers can enjoy Nam Sang Wai as well since it’s a stopping ground for migrating birds such as seagulls, northern pintails, and yellow-nib ducks.
Sai Wan Swimming Shed
Public Cargo Pier has been dubbed as Instagram Pier for its popularity among tourists and locals for its amazing view of Victoria Harbor. But Sai Wan Swimming Shed can give you an uninterrupted view that’s difficult to rival. A little bit west of Instagram Pier, it’s the only swimming shed left in Hong Kong. But rarely do locals dive into these rocky shores anymore. Instead, you’ll see photographers with their equipment set up for beautiful shots of waves crashing against the cliffs. The sunset view is breathtaking — but so is the lighting for your photos.
New dining adventures await
Cantonese food makes up almost the entirety of most Filipinos’ knowledge on Chinese food, and they can be pleased to know that Hong Kong cuisine isn’t too far out of their comfort zone. Therefore, going to the city for the second time around calls for a challenge to spice up some things. Exciting and new dining experiences can be just a train ride east of Central, away from jam-packed tea houses and markets.
Sun Kwai Heung
G/F, N. 17, Kam Tam Yun House, 345 Chai Wan Road, Hong Kong
Roasted pork shoulder or char siu can get tricky. The margin between absolute tenderness and jerky-like chewiness is narrow. Sun Kwai Heung is one of the places that get it right. Half of the storefront is taken over by its display of rows of hanging roasted meat, which makes any passerby salivate. The char siu, sold by the gram, is usually taken out but you can squeeze yourself into the small seating area to enjoy their renowned barbeque over rice as well. Their menu might not be in English but their staff is accommodating enough to help foreigners.
17 Moon St., Wan Chai, Hong Kong
A small and humble tea bar along Moon St. in Wan Chai could be one of your most memorable dining experiences in Hong Kong. BASAO Tea’s vision is to give “great experiences with all things related to authentic teas.” Indeed, the brand and its seasoned tea masters have found endless ways to infuse their single origin teas into the dining experience in its first tea bar. Their signature teas are brewed into a chilled bottle, baked into a soft and pillowy cake roll, or blended into their CHAJITO specialties. Not to mention, their sleek interiors provide the perfect background for your next Instagram post.
A city that never sleeps
Hong Kong is a city that will keep you awake all day long. Over 90 restaurants and bars in Lan Kwai Fong are brimming with life ‘til dawn. It could be slightly overwhelming to pick a place to end the night. But remember our tip: follow the locals. There are still some open secrets in Lan Kwai Fong and even a bit further over at Wan Chai that are waiting to be discovered.
Peel Fresco Music Lounge
49 Peel St., Central, Hong Kong
Crowds at jazz bars are one of the best people to surround yourself with. Everyone is fully committed to listening to the music and to have a good time. Peel Fresco Music Lounge is an established jazz bar in Hong Kong, with live jazz six nights a week, featuring both local and international acts. Its floor-to-ceiling portraits of jazz icons charms any visitor along with its service and staff. It’s an intimate little place that could fit around 40 people — so, make sure to get there early to grab a seat.
Tai Lung Fung
The Archive, 5-9 Hing Wan St., Wan Chai
As a go-to watering hole in Wan Chai, locals rave about Tai Lung Fung’s ambiance and delicious cocktails. The storefront demands attention with its bright red neon sign, beat-up leather armchairs, and a wall with “Keep Wan Chai Weird” painted on it. Inside, vintage signs and traditional Chinese decor evoke Hong Kong’s East-meets-West charm without pretension. The customers are often artsy types — visitors from the Wan Chai Visual Archive above — who keep the noise level to a minimum. It’s a cozy and relaxed place for a nightcap after a day of touring.
Just like home
Returning to Hong Kong means exploring more non-conventional accommodations such as hostels and lodges. There is less of a need to splurge on expensive hotels as you’ll be shifting your priority to hitting the streets and blending in with the locals. Hostels and lodges are a great way to cut back on the costs while maximizing the class.
100 Shek Pai Wan Rd, Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Overlooking Aberdeen Harbor, Mojo Nomad introduces an innovative hotel experience to connect global travelers. It’s the ideal place for those yearning to go off the beaten track. With its co-living setup, visitors are encouraged to mingle and share stories with their fellow travelers. Whether your stay is for work or for pleasure, Mojo Nomad offers a home-feel ambiance with its modern yet cozy interiors, all for a good price. Most importantly, it provides strong Wi-Fi so you can quickly plan your impromptu journeys into the city.
Travelodge Hollywood Road
263 Hollywood Rd., Central, Hong Kong
One of the biggest benefits of staying at Travelodge Hollywood Road is its convenient location. It’s within walking distance of a metro station, Kowloon Park, and Victoria Harbour, so finding a place to shop and dine is no problem. This seemingly small hotel provides spacious rooms that could house up to three people. A guest kitchen, complete with a mini fridge and a microwave, as well as a shared lounge with a T.V. and board games make the place feel just like home.
Want to explore Hong Kong and discover more of its hidden beauty? Visit Travel Tour Expo - Booth No. 356-360, 373-377 at SMX Convention Centre from Feb. 8 to 10, 2019. #discoverHongKong