While I had lived in Hong Kong for quite a few years during my childhood, Jessica had never been there. Therefore, the primary purpose of our quick three-day trip was to show Jessica around some old stomping grounds and to give her a brief introduction to this world-class city that we might someday hope to return to.
No first-timer's visit to Hong Kong is complete without a trip up to The Peak, the tallest point on Hong Kong Island with its panoramic views, as well as strolling along Victoria Harbour and taking in A Symphony of Lights, the nightly light and sound show, the largest of its kind, put on by buildings on either side of the harbour at 8pm every night.
Those were precisely the two tourist spots we hit up, with the rest of our time in Hong Kong spent shopping, meeting up with friends, visiting my old neighborhoods, and checking out the city's eclectic nightlife scene.
Rather confusingly, The Peak is also officially named Victoria Peak. The name "Victoria" is one of the most commonly used place name around the world; throw in Hong Kong's British colonial history, and the citywide reliance on "Victoria" as a naming convention should come as a surprise to nobody.
You can get to The Peak either via a long, arduous hike, or by riding the famous Peak Tram, a 120-year-old funicular railway that, at its steepest point, climbs the mountainside at a 27° angle. Riding the Peak Tram is a real doozy of an experience, so for a first-timer like Jessica it was always going to be the plan.
The Peak Tram station is located a few minutes' walk from either Central or Admiralty MTR Station. Since our hotel was located in Admiralty, we made the quick 15-minute walk over, though if you're coming from elsewhere Central is probably the closest station to get off.
Tram tickets were HK$90 for a return trip ($14), though you always have the option of hiking up and taking the tram down, or vice versa. These tickets also include access to the "Sky Terrace 428", an open-air space at 428 meters of altitude where you get to enjoy picturesque views of the city skyline.
The Peak Tram runs every 10 to 15 minutes, and if you aren't in a rush, it can often be worth waiting for the next train and snagging the seats at the very front of the tram for the forward views.
The views on the way up are pretty cool, and it can feel like you've just gotten on an old rickety roller coaster, making your way up the rails prior to the impending drop.
The entire tram ride takes about seven minutes, and before long you're dropped off in the terminal station located within the Peak Tower, the main shopping complex up on the summit.
First stop is of course the Sky Terrace 428, where the views of the Hong Kong skyline are unparalleled.
The International Finance Centre, the second-tallest building in Hong Kong, dominates the Hong Kong Island cityscape in the foreground, complemented by the Bank of China Tower to the side, with its distinctive triangular-and-diamond panel design.
Over across Victoria Harbour is the tallest building in the city, the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon. The ICC also houses the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong on its 102nd to 108th floors. Maybe next time I'm in town I'll do a review there 😉
The Sky Terrace 428 is a 360° viewing platform, meaning that you can catch some great views of the Pok Fu Lam area on the distant western shore of Hong Kong Island as well.
You'll also see some private homes up here. The area around The Peak is some of the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong, with most of these luxury villas up here going for eight figures in today's market.
Besides the open-air terrace, there's plenty of shops and restaurants in the Peak Tower and the nearby Peak Galleria to keep you occupied. The Peak Tower is also home to Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, the renowned wax museum containing more than 100 wax figures.
The Peak can seem like little more than a tourist trap at first glance, and most of the grounds around the Peak Tram station are indeed very commercialized. But take a walk along some of the hiking trails that lead up there, and you'll soon find yourself in more peaceful quarters.
There's quite a few lookouts and vantage points that dot the mountainside, including the Lion's Pavilion (about 5 minutes walk) and the Lugard Road lookout (about 20 minutes walk).
Some of Hong Kong's best hiking can be found along the Peak Circle Walk, a route that snakes around Victoria Peak and takes about an hour and a half to complete. You'll also run into many species of birds and butterflies that call this area home.
Depending on your schedule, you can take the afternoon off to rest your legs or do some window shopping. Just be sure to head over to Victoria Harbour come nightfall.
On this particular day, we walked from the JW Marriott over to the Central Ferry Pier, where we took the city's signature Star Ferry service across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui, the bustling district located on the very southern tip of Kowloon.
Now, by far the fastest way to cross the harbour is to hail a taxi or catch the MTR train; however, the Star Ferry is a noted historic attraction of the city, having been in operation since the pre-colonial times in 1888. They're extremely cheap as well: a one-way trip between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui costs between HK$2.0–3.4 ($0.35–0.55), while a one-way trip between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai, further east on Hong Kong Island, costs between HK$2.5–3.4 ($0.40–0.55).
Most importantly, the Star Ferry is a lot of fun to ride, and provides some awesome views of both sides of the harbour.
Over in Tsim Sha Tsui, the Star Ferry drops you off adjacent to the Avenue of Stars, a promenade along the waterfront lined with plaques etched with the names of Hong Kong celebrities. There's a 2.5m-tall Bruce Lee statue here as well.
At night, the Avenue of Stars commands incredible views of Hong Kong Island, and indeed by the time we arrived around 7:30pm, the promenade was packed with people waiting for A Symphony of Lights to begin.
The world's largest permanent light and sound show is a must-see for visitors to Hong Kong, and is displayed every night at 8pm at Victoria Harbour, weather permitting. The participating buildings on either side of the harbour put on a synchronized "performance" of lights, music, and laser. And of course, they bring the fireworks out on special occasions like New Year's Eve or Chinese New Year.
The show began promptly at 8pm, and lasted for about 13 minutes in total. Watch a clip below!
After A Symphony of Lights drew to a close, we walked around Tsim Sha Tsui for a while before taking the Star Ferry back across the harbour over to Wan Chai.
From there, we walked the distance of one stop down on the MTR Island Line to Causeway Bay, where we ended our evening in true Hong Kong style – hitting up the shops once again.
Hong Kong is a leading world city, and its top two attractions provide you the perfect platforms to admire the success and stature of this global metropolis. Take the Peak Tram up to the highest point on Hong Kong Island in the early afternoon, and perhaps if you hike your way down you'll make it to Victoria Harbour by dusk. From there, it's a quick Star Ferry ride over to the Avenue of Stars for the nightly light show.
I'll put up a post relatively soon on general travel tips and insights for Hong Kong, since there's plenty more to do!