I just got back from my first trip to Asia! I get a lot of travel requests for Asia and I felt it was important to explore it myself, so I can better guide clients in their travels. Not to mention, I have always dreamed of going to Thailand!
My original plan was to go to only Thailand but since it’s a long trip, I wanted to make the most of it and see more than one country. So, I decided to add Hong Kong to the itinerary because most of the flights connect through either Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo. Therefore, it was easy to incorporate it in the itinerary.
Hong Kong, once under British rule, is now part of China. Hong Kong consists of three main territories and 260 territorial islands. Hong Kong International (HKG) is located on Lantau Island but the primary areas with hotels are on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula.
Our trip began with a 24-hour plus flight from Arkansas to Hong Kong. When we arrived at HKG, we took the Airport Express, a 24-minute MTR train, from Lantau Island to Central Station on Hong Kong Island. You can also take a taxi (which costs more and depending on traffic, may not be faster) or a local bus (it’s less money but takes a lot longer and makes a lot of stops). Once you get to Central, you can take a connecting train to your destination.
Where to Stay
We stayed on Hong Kong Island near Causeway Bay and had great harbor views of Kowloon and were a couple of blocks from the MTR. The MTR in Hong Kong is very useful and efficient and is an inexpensive way to get around Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Therefore, for convenience reasons, I recommend looking for a hotel near a MTR station.
The MTR is the subway system in Hong Kong. Getting tickets is easy but takes a little bit of figuring out at first. There are several options for getting tickets. There is an automated machine, which is great for point to point tickets. There is also a ticket counter where you can buy passes, and if you plan to ride a lot this may be cost effective. The MTR is a very fast pace experience. Here are some photos of how busy it can get in the MTR during rush hour. But don’t let this scare you as trains are coming by every minute or so and the lines take no time at all, even in rush hour these lines will diminish quickly.
Big Bus Tour
During our week-long stay in Hong Kong, we did all the “must do” tourist attractions as well as a few off-the-beaten path tours with a private guide.
Tip: I highly recommend private guided tours! Although costlier than going with a large tour group, because you go at your own pace, it’s a more cultural and personable experience and you get one-on-one attention from your guide. Another advantage is you can customize the tour exactly to your liking. Not to mention, I liked the intimacy of a small group of 3 versus being “herded around like a pack of cattle” with 30 plus people on a huge tour bus.
We spent 2 days touring around the city on the Big Bus. The Big Bus is a hop-on and hop-off, open top bus that offers 3 routes (2 on Hong Kong Island and 1 on Kowloon Peninsula) along with engaging commentary, available in various languages (see photos below). This is a fantastic way to get the “lay of the land” and decide which areas you want to explore more, since there are so many! We got off the bus at several of the stops and explored on our own.
Our first stop was Repulse Bay, which is on the Southern part of Hong Kong Island. This is a wonderful place to go if you want to get out of the city and enjoy the beach. There are several shops, restaurants and bars here as well as Tin Hau Temple, named after Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea, and the Bridge of Longevity. Here are some photos from our stop in Repulse Bay…
Our next stop was Stanley Market in Stanley Bay. Here you will find tons of shopping as well as local places to eat. There are beautiful views of the bay and you can walk out on the long pier and see a lot of sea life as the water is extremely clear. I recommend you stop by the Waffle shop, on the top floor, for some yummy treats and grab one of their free tags so you to leave your mark at Lovers’ Terrace. Lastly, there is also a temple here called Tin Hau Temple. See photos below from this stop…
Included in our Big Bus tour were tickets for the Star Ferry (which takes you across the harbor from Central Pier 7 to Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui) or vice versa), Peak Tram tickets (which I’ll talk about later) and a ride on a sampan (which can be found at Aberdeen Promenade). We did all these activities and I highly recommend them. We took the Star Ferry over to Kowloon and when arrived we noticed the area was packed with people! This is where cruise ships come in and therefore you will find a lot of places to eat as well as a huge shopping complex, called Harbour City, with lots of expensive brand-named stores. Here are some photos we took when we arrived in Kowloon.
The water in the Victoria Harbor and around Hong Kong is very clean and clear. Therefore, I recommend you take a sampan ride. It’s is a wonderful way to see Hong Kong from another vantage point as well as you get to see all the unique fishing vessels in Aberdeen Fishing Village. Below are some photos from our excursion.
Victoria Peak, a.k.a. The Peak, is a mountain and the highest point on Hong Kong Island. It’s a wonderful place to go to get amazing views of the city and its waterfront. To get to the top, you can either hike, take a bus or a taxi or the most popular option is The Peak Tram, a funicular railway. To get to The Peak Tram, take the MTR to Central and the Tram is located just a short walk away.
Tip: If you plan to take the funicular railway to The Peak, purchase tickets in advance and plan to get there earlier in the day versus later. We had tickets already purchased through Big Bus and therefore we were able to skip the line. The line to buy tickets in the afternoon can grow into a 1-2 hour wait, so buying ahead and getting there early is key. Also note, the main reason to go to the top is to see the amazing skyline of Hong Kong, so make sure it’s a cloudless day to ensure the best view.
Once at the top, there are several restaurants, shops and a coffee shop. You can also go up to the Sky Terrace 428, for an extra charge, for spectacular views over the city. If you feel like exploring, there are also several hiking trails. We took a hike to Victoria Park, where we had splendid views of Lamma Island (I’ll talk about our visit to Lamma Island later) and enjoyed the peaceful escape from city life!
Cheung Chau Island
The next day we had a private tour guide that took us to Cheung Chau Island by ferry. Cheung Chau is a small and quaint traditional fishing village. The island is Southwest of Hong Kong Island and can be reached in 40 minutes by ferry from Central Pier 5. On our tour we got to see Cheung Po Tsai Cave, Yuk Hui Temple and experience some traditional Chinese dishes as well as a Peace Bun, which are available in 3 flavors: lotus sea paste, sesame and sweetened bean. This island is somewhat busy but peaceful at the same time. There are so many beautiful trees and the narrow streets and alleys are very quaint. Here are some photos from our day…
That evening we hired another private guide to take us to Lamma Island. Lamma Island is about a 20-minute boat ride from Central Pier and can also be reached by ferry. Lamma Island is a traditional fishing village filled with restaurants featuring live seafood ready for your dining pleasure. We had one of the most amazing seafood dinner on Lamma Island, complete with lobster, octopus, prawns, crab, fish, fried rice and vegetables. It was a YUMMY feast! We also got a private tour of Lamma Fisherfolk’s Village where we got to see how the traditional village works, we got to hold some ocean critters and even got a chance at catching a fish!
A Symphony of Lights
The night ended with a cruise in Victoria Harbor (which lies between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula), so we could view the multimedia show, A Symphony of Lights. This is a fantastic way to see the lights of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon at night. The light show is choreographed to music and last about 15 minutes. If you prefer to stay on land, you can view the show from Central Pier (Hong Kong Island) and Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon), but you may not be able to see all of it. Below are some photos from our visit to Lamma Island, the awesome meal we had and the light show…
Ngong Ping Village
Our last day was spent on Lantau Island. We had an 8:30 pm flight from Hong Kong to Phuket, Thailand and therefore decided to go to Ngong Ping Village (to see Tian Tan Buddha, a.k.a Big Buddha) on this day because of its proximity to the airport. That morning, we took the Airport Express from Central to the airport and since it was too early to check-in our bags with the airline, we used a great service called Left Baggage. It’s basically storage for your luggage with an hourly fee. After dropping off our luggage, we took the S1 bus to Tung Chung and took a short walk to Tung Chung Cable Car Terminal (now called Ngong Ping Cable Car). Ngong Ping Cable Car connects Ngong Ping plateau with the town of Tung Chung. To reach Ngong Ping Village, you must take the 30-minute cable car ride to the top. Note, we did see people hiking but we did not have the time nor desire to do so.
Tip: Buy your tickets in advance! The line for people buying tickets was crazy long compared to the line for people with advanced ticket purchases. Secondly, to avoid long waits, don’t by the cheapest ticket, the standard cabin. There are 3 ticket options for riding the cable car, a private cabin (most expensive), standard cabin (cheapest) or crystal cabin (mid-price). The line for private and crystal cabin was a handful of people as compared to dozens of people in the standard cabin line. This proved to be the same when we were going up and coming back down. We booked our tickets in advance and reserved a crystal cabin (photos are below). The crystal cabin has a floor that is clear like glass. The views from the cable car are great and it’s an amazing site to see!
Once you reach the top you will arrive at Ngong Ping Village, where you will find lots of restaurants and shops. There are tons of things to do here but since we were limited on time, we chose to see Big Buddha, take a hike to Wisdom Path and visit Po Lin Monastery. Big Buddha was very impressive, Po Lin Monastery was beautiful, and Wisdom Path was very cool to see. All were worth the trip! Here are some photos from our visit.
After taking the S1 back to the airport, we boarded our Air Asia flight to Phuket, Thailand, a popular island in the Andaman Sea. While in Phuket, we went scuba diving on a 3-day liveaboard in the Andaman Sea (Surin Islands and Richelieu Rock). It was truly magical! Since the best diving is about a 3-hour boat ride from Phuket near the Burmese border, we decided a liveaboard was a good option for us. We did 10 dives and got the privilege of seeing a whale shark on a dive at Koh Tachai Pinnacle! The coral is majestic with beautiful hews of purple, blue and green and there is an abundance of life in the Andaman Sea. Check out the coral and all the amazing sea creatures seen on our dives in the photos below. I also included photos of our dive boat and photos from our stop a Mu Ko Similan National Park on Similan Island #4. It had a gorgeous beach!
While in Phuket, we also did a day tour on a boat that took us to five outlying islands, Panak, Hong, James Bond, Panyee and Naka. At Panak Island (a.k.a. Ko Pa Nak) in Ao Phang Nga National Park, equipped with flashlights, we took a walk through a cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. It was really cool, but I recommend you bring water shoes. Then onto Hong Island, where we enjoyed a guided canoe ride through incredible sea-caves and dramatic rock formations. Don’t forget a waterproof case for your camera as you will definitely want to take photos and video. Next, we stopped at James Bond Island. This majestic place gets its name from the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. Yes, it is a beautiful place to see but it’s overwhelming popularity has turned the island into a tourist frenzy. Be ready for the crowds! Also, the beach is pretty much non-existent, due to all the vendors selling souvenirs. However, the vendors are great at bargaining and we found magnets cheaper here than anywhere else. The fourth stop was Panyee, a small fishing village (approx. pop. of 1,700 people) built on stilts in the middle of the sea in Phang Nga Bay. This was a very interesting place to visit. It’s small, tight spaces housed lots of places to eat, shops, a mosque and a school. Our last stop on the tour was Naka Island. This beautiful beach was bustling with bars, restaurants and lots of water activities. You could rent a jet ski, go parasailing or simply enjoy the view with a fruity cocktail. At the end of the day, we traveled back to the marina and were taken back to our hotel. It was a full day with lots of beautiful scenery. Taking a boat tour like this is the only way you can see all these majestic places in one day. Although it was very “touristy”, it was worth it!
Next, on to Bangkok, the final stop on our Asia trip. Bangkok is a huge metropolis with lots of people. It can be overwhelming at first, especially when you have spent the last week in the serenity of the Andaman Sea. There are vendors selling anything you can think of everywhere and there are lots of markets packed with vendors as well. After doing my research for this trip, I realized that most of the sites and attractions are outside of Bangkok, 1-3 hours away, but Bangkok seemed to be a good home base for us. Therefore, we booked a hotel right in the city.
There are two airports in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport. Keep this in mind if you plan to go to Bangkok. We flew into Don Mueang from Phuket and out of Suvarnabhumi when we flew back to the USA.
We found it easy to get around the city. There is a BTS Skytrain and a MRT Subway system. So, depending on where you are going will determine which method you use. Be prepared for lines and lots of people. It was not as efficient as the ones in Hong Kong, so bring your patience. Other options for getting around the city include a car taxi, a motorcycle taxi or the famous Tuk Tuk (pronounced took took), which I’ll discuss later.
Upon arrival, we checked out the Chatuchak Weekend Market (which is only open on the weekends). This market is bustling and full of just about everything. Be prepared to walk as the aisle seem to go on forever and it can be difficult to figure out how to get back to where you started. In case your feet get tired, there are several places to stop and get a Thai foot massage.
A Tuk Tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle that has a top with open sides and it is a very popular way to get around, especially for tourist. We too wanted to give it a try, so we opted to do a small-group food tour via Tuk Tuk at night. It was a wonderful way to experience Bangkok at night and introduce us to some of the many Thai dishes. Plus, we got the thrill of riding on a Tuk Tuk at night, all in one tour! On this food tour, we tried 7 traditional dishes such as Khao Mun Gai & Pad Thai, went to Wat Pho (where the famous reclining Buddha is), which was beautifully lit at night and so peaceful, we stopped at the Flower Market, which was bustling at nighttime and our last stop was at the rooftop bar called Eagle Nest Bar, which overlooks the Chao Phraya River and offers amazing views Wat Arun. Here are some photos from our tour.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The next day, we were picked up from our hotel by our private guide and driver and we headed to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is about 1.5 hours outside the city. On the way, we stopped at a coconut plantation, that also had an orchid farm, and got to see how coconut sugar is made. Coconut sugar is what Thai people use to sweeten their food and therefore is a very important product in Thailand. The plantation also used the coconuts to make coconut milk and coconut oil, used in making healthcare products like soaps, lip balm and hair conditioners.
After the coconut plantation, we boarded a long tail boat for Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the most popular floating market in Thailand. The exhilarating 30-minute boat ride was such a unique experience. Out of all the activities we did on our Asia trip, this was the one I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint! The market was full of craftsmanship and Thai souvenirs. Hungry? Check out the plethora of vendors serving food on land and on water, from their long tail boats. We tried the coconut pancakes, mango and four variations of sticky rice…. Yummy!
Tip: If you plan to visit the market, I recommend you do so earlier in the day and try to go on a weekend as there is more action during these times.
Our last stop on the tour was the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace, built in 1782, is a complex made up of many buildings, halls, structures and gardens. Also, within the walls of the Palace, you can view the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew. The Grand Palace was originally the official residence of the Kings of Siam, his royal court and government but today it is open to the public. The palace complex is truly an amazing site and you really get to see the true craftsmanship of the Thai people! As we walked around, I found myself saying “WOW”, constantly. The complex is gorgeous and massive, so be prepared to walk. Every piece of architecture in the complex has been intricately detailed with jewels, gold, porcelain, mother-of-pearl and colorful tiles that dazzles the eyes. Here are some photos from our visit and a couple of tips for your visit.
Closing Tips & Notables:
I hope you have enjoyed learning all about my travels to Hong Kong and Thailand. If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for more travel tips and tricks with Explore Travel Planners.
Angie Conger Hinds
I have a true passion for travel and I want to share my travel knowledge with you. I hope this blog gives you inspiration to EXPLORE the world!
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