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The Adventure Begins: Hong Kong and Macau

The factors and decisions that led to this nomad life are part of a whole other post for another day. Instead of getting into the nitty gritty details and logistics of how I started my long-term trip, lets get into something a little more interesting: Asia!

I should be fully transparent in that many of the locations I choose are solely based on cost. Often times I’ll use Skyscanner or Google Flights' Explore feature to plug in my departure city, budget parameters, et voila! New destination. Since I would be flying from San Francisco I wanted to take advantage of the proximity* to Asia, and Hong Kong was just $300 one-way.

Now, I’ll be completely honest- people have raved about HK and it’s on many lists of places to visit- but it wasn’t really at the top of mine. However, I’ve realized that going to places with few pre-conceived notions and expectations is a great way to be pleasantly surprised by all the great things a city has to offer. I’ve met so many people along the way that don’t even look at pictures of where they’re going because they want to be completely surprised. This doesn’t work for me though because I basically think of locations in terms of instagram-worthy opportunities (KIDDING…mostly), but I digress.

Hong Kong and Macau are considered SAR’s (Special Administrative Regions) of China that enjoy the highest level of autonomy, including their own currencies and immigration policies. For these reasons, they feel quite different than mainland China, although you do see some influences here and there. What I enjoyed most about these destinations is that they are the epitome of “East meets West”. You can easily have a very western-style breakfast of avo toast or get a snack at Starbucks or Pret a Manger, and you’ll also find it quite easy to get by with just English in most places. On the other hand you’ll also still see a lot of “eastern” influence through hearing Cantonese and through all the local restaurants selling dim sum on every corner.

I was incredibly hesitant to visit (despite the cheap flight cost), because both locations- especially HK- are EXPENSIVE. However, I would still recommend a long weekend including both, and there are plenty of ways to stick to a reasonable budget. There are many things to see, but for anyone wanting to make a quick stop in either, here are some highlights:

HONG KONG

HK is a very well-connected city so any neighborhood should do, but I stayed in the central Wan Chai district, which I enjoyed. I stayed at Check Inn HK, a no frills, fairly affordable spot (by HK standards) with a very helpful local staff, and less than a 10 minute walk to the MTR station. MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is a huge network of subways and trains that can easily work as the main mode of transportation while you’re there. HK also has a great bus network as well. If it’s convenient (or even if it’s not), hop on one of the double decker busses or trams for a cool view of the city. Get an Octopus card at any MTR station and top it up to use on pretty much an method of public transit in HK.

One of the highlights for me was a visit to Tian Tan (or what many refer to as the “Big Buddha”), which is located on Lantau Island, just off Hong Kong Island. The Tian Tan buddha is considered the largest sitting outdoor buddha statue and the journey there offers some wonderful views. From Wan Chai, take the MTR to Tung Chung station, and then take the cable car up. The cable car ride takes a good 20 minutes and has an epic view of Lantau island, so have your camera ready. From the cable car terminus it’s a 10 min walk to the Po Lin Monestary and the Big Buddha, and from there you can walk the 268 steps up to the buddha to get that blood flowing and get another awesome view.

Another place to visit is the 10,000 buddhas monastery. Full disclosure, I didn’t actually make it here. This is because i’m hopeless at properly researching places beforehand and ended up at the monastery that was RIGHT NEXT TO the 10,000 buddhas spot. I didn’t realize it until I later googled why there wasn’t 10k status at the 10k buddha monastery (it because I was at the wrong spot). Again, hopeless. Anyway, both spots are great and a little more off the beaten path with barely any tourists around. Get lost in the monastery and soak up the spiritual vibes before heading back to HK.

Now I know i’m giving you a lot of places to get a good view, but what can I say- HK has a lot of great view points. That being said, do not miss the view at Victoria Peak (or “The Peak”). It’s incredibly crowded, and you’ll get photobombed by plenty of tourists taking selfies (myself included- I have no shame). But on a clear day, you’ll get a truly spectacular view of HK:

To get here you can take the tram for about $6.50 USD or use your handy Octopus card and take the #1 minibus line from Victoria Harbor for just under $1.50 (bonus- no line and less crowds).

I’ll touch quickly on food, because that’s what we’re really interested in anyway, right? It goes without saying you must eat dim sum while in HK. There's a plethora of good spots all around, but I especially enjoyed Dim Dim Sum in Wan Chai. Delicious dim sum, plenty of vegetarian options, and reasonably priced. High fives all around. For another authentic and interesting experience, check out Capital Cafe- a traditional bing sutt-style cafe where you can get perfectly fluffy eggs, Texas-style toast and traditional HK-style milk tea for less than $5. Get here early. I arrived at 7am and before 8am the place was already packed with locals.

MACAU

Many people will probably tell you to skip Macau but I think it’s worth a day trip- it's an experience and pretty fascinating. Macau is currently a SAR of China, but it was previously ruled by Portugal. It’s now back with China and Portuguese is still considered an official language- except no one actually speaks it. You’ll see most signs in Portuguese, Cantonese, English, to which you’ll probably get a headache from, but no worries. You don’t really need to follow any directions and can easily get lost and wander around the small center in the Peninsula without any problem (note Macau has two other islands- Coloane and Taipa, which you can probably skip). From HK, take the ferry at Shun Tak to Macau, which is just about an hour away. At the port in Macau, you can store luggage for the day and take a quick bus to the central part of town. The info center at the port is super helpful and will provide you with a free map and info on public transportation.

The most interesting part of Macau is walking around the streets and feeling like you’re in Lisbon. It’s a trip seeing the influence everywhere while hearing everyone speak in Cantonese. Two things worth checking out before heading back to HK or moving on: whatever you do you must eat an egg tart or pastel de nata. These are just like the ones you can find in Portugal and consist of a milky egg custard with a warm flaky crust. You’ll want to eat at least 5 and if you do that’s ok, I won’t judge (probably because I took a bag of them for the road). You can find these all over the peninsula but the ones at Margaret’s cafe e Nata were especially great. Also make sure to walk by all the casinos on the peninsula and get lost in the glitz and flashing lights everywhere. Macau has a massive gambling industry that’s actually seven times the size of the one in Vegas and it pretty cool to see the area at night.

If you go:

  • HK is a city that never sleeps. I arrived to my hostel at midnight and found myself eating dims sum at a local hole in the wall at around 1am. Always use common sense, but in general I felt very safe walking alone as there were people on the street at all hours.

  • Make sure to return your Octopus card before leaving HK to get your deposit back. You can return it by going to any customer service kiosk at any MTR station

  • If you go Tian Tan, go early! I arrived to the cable car station around 30 min before opening and got in quickly. On the way out, I saw a line of about a hundred people.

  • It's VERY hot and humid in August. For reference, i’m from Florida and even I struggled a bit. Be prepared to sweat and wonder why all the locals look so fresh and put together when you look like you came from the gym.

  • Macau can serve as a great day trip from HK or even a stopover to somewhere else in Asia as there is an airport that services a few countries in the area

  • Honk Kong Dollars (HKD) are widely accepted in Macau but not the other way around. Make sure to get rid of any extra Macau Petacas before leaving,

  • Apple Pay and Samsung Pay seemed to be accepted in several places (mainly chains) which was a nice surprise and pretty convenient when running low on HKD.

*IF you consider a 10+ hour flight “close”- I do not, and clearly need to look at a map of the world a bit more often.

More into pretty pics and less into reading? Follow me instagram @wherealexwent for more pics of HK and other fun destinations along my adventure.

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