“So you like to travel?”
“Which provinces have you been to?”
“Have you been outside the country?”
“What’s the first country you’ve travelled to?”
For Filipinos, any conversation that goes like this would more or less end with the answer “Hong Kong”. I, myself, have had similar dialogues with most travellers I’ve come to meet and more than half the time, I get the same response. And it’s really no wonder why. Hong Kong is only about two hours by plane from Manila and is visa-free for Philippine passport holders, which make it an easy destination for those wanting to get a glimpse of Chinese culture. The country is also an obvious gateway to the neighbouring Macau and even Shenzhen in China.
Last 2015, for the first time ever, I travelled to this very country along with my college friend wherein we spent a total of seven days, including the flights. Not only was it my first time in Hong Kong, but my first international trip as well, after only going to as far as Davao for a business trip and Palawan for my first solo leisure trip earlier that year. For no more than ₱5,000, we bought our round-trip tickets from Manila and each paid approximately ₱3,000 for our 6-night accommodation in two separate inns in Kowloon and Mongkok. Here is how our trip went, for those of you who want to get some ideas on what to do if you plan to travel to Hong Kong in the future.
Also read: 4 Days in Hong Kong: A DIY Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival
We landed around 10pm on a Sunday, got our Octopus Cards from the arrival hall then travelled by bus to our hotel in Kowloon. We had no idea at the time, even with a few photos ready, that our accommodation would be in an apartment building. So naturally, it took us a bit of time to find its entrance hidden within a creepy-looking shopping centre. Fortunately, we met a Filipina living in that same building who guided us to the reception. After checking in, we left our bags in the room and headed out for our late dinner at a nearby McDonald’s.
Day 2: Hong Kong Disneyland
Waking up early in the morning, we immediately packed our things and checked out to move to our next hotel, where we would be staying for the rest of our trip. It was another challenge for us as this time, our guesthouse happened to be located on the 20th floor or so of a different apartment building with a mall occupying its first few floors.
After locating our guesthouse, there was a note from the owner posted on the reception door which we assumed was intended for guests. However, it was written completely in Chinese. We searched up and down the floor for someone who can translate the letter for us and when we did, we were informed that the “reception” room would sometimes move from one room to another. We eventually found the staff and our room, and immediately went out again for our first tour of the trip.
Whenever I hear Hong Kong, Disneyland would usually be one of the first things that would come to mind. Besides being a kid at heart (both my friend and I, actually), it was exciting for me to visit this world-renowned theme park because I don’t normally see places like this in the Philippines, especially growing up in the province. The closest one I can think of would probably be Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna, which I was able to visit for the first and so far only time in 2008.
We took advantage of the unlimited riding privileges of our day ticket and went to as many rides and attractions as we could go to in a day. Our favourites ended up being the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and the Mystic Manor, which we each went on for a second ride just minutes after our first experience with them. We also watched the Lion King performance, and took the tour train around the entire park when we got a little tired from all the walking. Take note that the price of the food inside Disneyland is a lot more expensive than in the city so be prepared to share a meal with your companion if you’re short on budget, which we did.
After a day in the sun, we were rewarded with a fireworks show at the Sleeping Beauty Castle which pretty much set the bar high for our next days in the country.
Day 3: Victoria Harbour and Lamma Island
We began the day with a visit to the Victoria Harbour for some photo opportunity with the monuments and the Hong Kong skyline as our backdrop. After that, we went to the pier and rode on a ferry to Lamma Island, one of the outlying islands in the region. Upon arrival, we immediately walked through the streets of Yung Shue Wan to look for a place to eat for lunch.
We later took a tour of the shops and ended up in one co-owned by a Filipina who sells the usual items we would normally find in a sari-sari store, like canned goods, biscuits and junk food. Then, we set off on an excursion to the island’s attractions. Our first stop was the Lamma Winds, a 71-metre tall wind turbine. Aside from the structure itself, and the stunning views of the island, there wasn’t much to do in the area so we wound up spending an hour taking a break on the grounds. I actually did fall asleep there.
Once we were rested, we followed a trail going to a famous beach in the island. Coming from a country where these kinds of destination are literally here and there, and that is a proven home to some of the best beaches in the world, I guess I expected too much. While the beach itself is an interesting-looking sight, with all the people, lifeguard stations and beach activities that resemble a scene at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, I found the water to be average. In fact, there were more rocks on the shore to just lay down on than there were areas for actual swimming. Anyway, we still stayed to enjoy the sunset from the rocks before going back to the pier to catch the ferry back to the city and watch the Symphony of Lights show in the evening.
Day 4: Lantau Island
The day started with quite a let-down as we were looking forward to riding the cable car up to the Ngong Ping Piazza in Lantau Island. It turned out it wasn’t operational at that time so we had to settle for the bus ride, which took about an hour. The disappointment faded, however, when the bus ride showed us some spectacular views of hills and the ocean. We knew then that there were going to be more exciting things to look forward to once we reach our destination.
Seeing Ngong Ping Village was a treat. We arrived just after the first group of tourists left for the temples and before the next batch arrived. Hence, the people from our bus plus only a handful of other tourists basically had the entire village to ourselves.
We first went restaurant-hopping to check out some options for lunch and enjoyed the next hour going around the village. Then, we walked to the Po Lin Monastery, which was extra exciting for me to witness up close since I’ve been learning about Chinese culture for my work the past months. The heat however, took its toll on us early in the afternoon so we took a break under a tree within the grounds, before doing the climb to the Big Buddha. This became my favourite part of the trip so far as everything about it, including the experience of being there on top, just seemed all too immaculate.
To fill in the rest of our afternoon, we took another bus going to the fishing town of Tai O, where we booked a tour to watch “pink” dolphins, which was rather a flop. After the boat ride, we hopped off the boat to follow some of our fellow passengers and a guide who we thought we were supposed to go with. We spent about 20-30 minutes with them not knowing they were actually on a private group to see the Tai O Heritage Hotel. No one bothered to tell us so we kept going with them and got a free tour of the place. It was only when they were about to have their dinner inside a restaurant where one of the tourists finally approached us to say we no longer needed to follow them. Talk about embarrassment! But who cares, we just got a FREE tour of the hotel!
Day 5: Free solo day and Victoria Peak
Being the next destinations in our itinerary would be best spent from late in the afternoon to evening, we decided to take the morning until mid-afternoon as a time to explore the city on our own. While my friend headed off to another outlying island, I went to explore more of the city and even got a haircut at a local hair salon, before riding a train all the way to Tin Shui Wai near the Shenzhen border. It was quite an adventure not knowing exactly what lies ahead on that train ride, as I happened to get on it from literally having no clue on what to do that day. Upon arriving at the third to the last station, I got a map from the station which pointed out around 10 attractions in the area.
Walking around, I figured I must be the only tourist in that place, or at least at the time, since there were no signs of travellers, even the big tour groups. Everyone just kept to their business indoors. Quite honestly, the whole place seemed like a ghost town to me. Although some of the taller buildings appealed to me, the rest of the attractions turned out to be mediocre. Still determined to stay there for a longer time, I just sat down on a bench observing the locals go about in their routines.
From there, I moved back closer to the city to see a garden called the Lai Chi Kok Park. Around 4pm, I met my friend and we made our way to Victoria Peak via the tram. We were taken aback by the cold breeze up on the hill but we tried to endure it to take in the glittering city views. The crowd was crazy during the hour we were there and we could barely take a photo without someone else’s head in the frame. Still, we loved the experience.
Day 6: Nan Lian Garden, Chi Lin Nunnery and Times Square
This was officially our last day of touring the city as our flight back to Manila would be in the next morning at 7am. So, we tried to stay as close to the city as possible and enjoyed a nice, peaceful brunch at a shop in Nan Lian Garden. We also spent time appreciating the rich Chinese culture as depicted in the temples, bridges and even the plant life inside the premises. Later, we dropped by the Chi Lin Nunnery just nearby.
After that, I convinced my friend to go to Times Square with me just so we could see what the “posh” side of Hong Kong looks like since where we were staying at is surrounded mostly by public night markets. I thought it would be nice for a bit of change in sceneries even though we didn’t really buy anything. And for our last dinner on the trip, we went to the top of a mall in our neighbourhood where we had a “fancy” dinner to celebrate a successful first travel abroad.
Day 7: Departure
By 4am, we were already up and our bags were packed, ready to board the early morning bus to the airport. We said goodbye to our Octopus Cards, which had been with us through the entire trip and flew back to Manila that same morning.
Was Hong Kong your first international trip from the Philippines, too? Send us your story and photos for our readers to see!