Hong Kong has always been high on my list of places to visit. Tatsuya and I went this Chinese New Year (CNY) – year of the rooster 2017.
We flew from Bangkok to Hong Kong. I flew with Emirates and it didn’t cost me any extra to stop at Hong Kong for a few days on the return flight home to Manchester from Bangkok. Emirates have a multi stop feature on their website which is good for deals.
We flew to the main airport on Chek Lap Kok Island. We took the Airport Express to Hong Kong station which is linked to the Central Station.
It’s a good idea to pick up an Octopus card here – a contactless card you can top up and use on public transport, including ferries to different islands.
When topping the card up at 7 Eleven they only took cash and I couldn’t top up with my debit or credit card.
We took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui as we stayed on the Kowloon side at the infamous Chungking Mansion. I wrote a separate blog post on that here: http://www.frans-photos.com/hong-kong-staying-chungking-mansions/
What to do over Chinese New Year
Firstly, on Chinese New Year’s Eve everything is closed! This is when people go home to spend time with their family. Even the bars are shut.
Secondly, the first TWO days of Chinese New Year are holidays and often the third day too. Food markets, restaurants and museums are still closed.
1) The Peak
The must do thing in Hong Kong is to go up the Peak and take in the spectacular views.
The Peak Tram has been running for over 150 years and is the most popular way to get to the top. Once up there you can go on the Sky Terrace, the highest 360° viewing platform in Hong Kong. You can use your Octopus card for this journey.
We did this on Chinese New Year’s Eve. A lot of people have this day off work which meant really long lines for the Peak tram. We waited over 45mins.
When the tram doors opened, people pushed and fought to get on.
It was busy on the Sky Terrace which made taking photos difficult. Luckily we waited for the perfect moment and got some good ones without other tourists in.
We underestimated how expensive it would be to get the tram up and go on the Sky Terrace. There was nowhere at the Peak to top up our Octopus cards. Fortunately, we had enough money for a bus back. There was no line for the bus. I preferred the bus journey down more than taking the crowded and expensive tram up. It was also really fast and winding which was fun.
2) Visit an Island
Next we visited an island. Hong Kong includes several islands:
- Hong Kong Island
- Lantau Island
- Lamma Island
- Cheung Chau Island
Lantau and Lamma Islands have beautiful beaches but as CNY is in January the weather isn’t hot enough for the beach.
We went to Cheung Chau on CNY’s Eve. We hopped on the ferry from Central Pier 5 on Hong Kong Island. This was the regular ferry that took 1 hour. For an extra $1 you can get the fast ferry which takes half the time. We took the fast one back.
Kowloon (left) and Hong Kong Island (right). Speeding along on a ferry on a beautiful day in Hong Kong ✨ #hongkong #kowloon #tst #island #hongkongisland #ferry #beautiful #beautifulday #ighk #ilovehk #ig_hongkong #aisa #cool #victoriaharbour #instagood #travel #travels #blog #instahk #hkinsta #ig_asia #hkig
Cheung Chau is a cute little fishing island famous for its fish balls. Luckily the fish restaurants were still open and we had some great seafood.
3) Star Ferry
This is worth riding on, especially at night.
Until the ’70s this was how people got between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. It offers amazing views of the Hong Kong skyline.
4) Big Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island are a must see. We went on the second day of CNY.
We took the MTR to Tung Chung Station. The cable car, Ngong Ping 360 was suspended (for the first 6 months of 2017) so we took the bus from the station. As it was CNY it was packed but fortunately extra buses were put on and the line for the bus moved quickly. In total it took 1.5hrs from TST.
Below the Tian Tan Buddha is Ngong Ping Village where we got lunch.
We then headed up to the Big Buddha. There were lots of steps and it was crowded but the Buddha is amazing to see as it’s so big.
Around the Buddha are “The Offering of the Six Devas” these statues praise and make offerings to the Tian Tan Buddha.
There are also views of the Lantau Island and the surrounding area.
Next we headed down and visited the Po Lin Monastery. People were lighting incense and there was thick smoke in the air. The incense is used to make well wishes. The Po Lin Monastery included the Grand Hall of the Ten Thousand Buddhas, the gold and colours are overwhelming and beautiful. Unfortunately photos weren’t allowed.
While waiting for the bus to the MRT station we looked back and saw the mist had rolled in. I’d recommend going early in the day to avoid this.
5) The flower markets
The Lunar New Year flower markets sell colourful flowers and plants. On CNY’s Eve these flower markets are open throughout the night and close in the morning on the first day of CNY. The largest flower market is at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
We didn’t go into the markets as they were packed and there’s so much pushing in Hong Kong.
Other markets, including Mongkok a huge shopping market area, were shut for CNY.
6) Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront
This is home to Victoria Harbour the best place to see the Hong Kong skyline. In the evening there’s a light show with over 40 buildings lit up and lasers shining. If you’re standing on TST waterfront you can hear the music playing along with the light show.
Further along to the west is the “Avenue of the Stars” with handprints and statues honouring Hong Kong film stars. There’s also a statue of Bruce Lee.
TST waterfront is also beautiful at sunset.
7) CNY Parade
We watched the CNY parade from outside Chungking Mansions as it went along Nathan Road. The parade was meant to start at 8pm so we got in place at 7:30pm. Marching bands didn’t start to appear until 8:45pm and these were just children.
The main floats didn’t come by until 9:30pm.
People kept pushing in front of me at the parade but I didn’t say anything as fights were escalating everywhere. Plus, I wasn’t that fussed about seeing the floats again (the same floats kept coming round). I just wanted to see a big dragon.
Lego had several floats, including a Lego rooster made of 220,000 red, white, yellow and green toy bricks.
I saw a fight break out over free pieces of mini Lego between a Chinese man in his 40s and a woman and child. The woman’s husband stepped in (he had a baby strapped to the front of him) and the two men started punching and shoving each other. Worried about the baby, I shouted out in shock but was ignored.
Some of the main floats were great. Unfortunately the vibe didn’t feel like a party and was a bit lacklustre so after the last float passed we headed off to find beer.
- Go to the parade late as the main floats aren’t on until 9:30pm.
- Watch out for fights breaking out and people pushing in front of you.
- There was only one dragon.
On the second day of CNY there was a firework display over Victoria Harbour.
Again, it was really crowded with people pushing but this time there was a larger police presence. The firework display wasn’t very impressive. I’m used to the New Year’s Eve fireworks show on the River Thames in London and you can’t compare Hong Kong’s small CNY fireworks to this. My expectations were too high.
9) Hang out on Hong Kong Island
There’s lots to do on the island including:
- The Yick Cheong Building
- Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong style cafe)
- Ride on the Tramways – Ding Ding
The Yick Cheong Building in Quarry Bay
This colourful high-rise is popular on Instagram. It looks like lots of miniature blocks piled up on each other.
Eat at a Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong style café)
Many markets were closed over CNY but some cafés were open. Hong Kong has a lot of expensive hotel restaurants catering to rich tourists and business men, I avoided these for Cha Chaan Tengs.
Pan fried Pork in black peppercorn sauce and egg for 50 HKD. Coffee in a metal mug and Hong Kong style French Toast on the side – yummy.
Ride on the Tramways – Ding Ding
There are 4 tramways in Hong Kong. We sat at the top at the back and were able to get some good photos and views of the city.
I wouldn’t recommend going at Chinese New Year as too many things are closed. On the first 2 days of CNY the city is deserted and the parade and fireworks aren’t enough to warrant missing out on the food markets and museums.
They closed all the cheap street food markets and open food vendors added a CNY service charge which made this expensive city even more expensive.
The CNY celebrations, the parade and fireworks, were over shadowed by the pushing and fighting.
The Big Buddha was very crowded but extra public transport was put on and the atmosphere was great. Many people were worshipping at the Po Lin Monastery. However, if you don’t like big crowds then you might not enjoy it.
Hong Kong is the perfect city if you have lots of money and want to stay in a fancy hotel and drink cocktails at rooftop bars, these aren’t affected by CNY. However, if you want to do lots of sightseeing and enjoy the city like a local, CNY is the wrong time to go.
If you’re going to a major city in Asia – I would choose Tokyo over Hong Kong. Hong Kong felt like a “not as good” Tokyo. I’m glad I’ve been and I plan to return – when I have a good job, lots of money and not over CNY.