Ringing in the New Year in a city like Hong Kong is the kind of thing you plan your trip around. But we actually wound up there quite by accident. We were rather gleefully forced into it when it came time to acquire our Chinese visas, and decided that this gateway city between the East and the West was the perfect place for us to celebrate the end of our year in Europe and the beginning of our year in Asia.
Note: Hong Kong was where we celebrated the calendar New Year. We enjoyed the Chinese New Year at Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
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When we travel, we generally prefer to take things slow. We like to plan our stay well in advance, usually with a focus on what we would like to photograph, and on comfort, convenience and affordability for family life in a foreign country. But we knew this stay would have none of that. Not only were we traveling to a crowded city – and an expensive one by Asian standards – we were going there for just a few days… over the New Year holiday… and we had a make or break mission to get the visas we needed for an entire year of travel.
But don’t get me wrong. Sure there were stresses and expenses, but five days in Hong Kong was an adventure we approached with open arms. We were excited about all the things Hong Kong is known for: Good shopping, great food, colorful streets and, of course, fireworks over breathtaking Victoria Harbour. Our first task was finding a hotel with rooms left on a busy weekend. We found two.
Finding a Hotel in Hong Kong
Because we are usually looking to stay for a month or more, our normal modus operandi is to head straight over to Airbnb and look for an apartment. But when it’s time for a short term stay, especially one booked at the last minute like this one, we often use booking.com, because 1) sometimes there are last minute discounts as hotels try to fill empty rooms, and 2) there are no delays as you wait for an Airbnb host to confirm that you are welcome.
We only booked one hotel before arriving in Hong Kong because we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get our visas. For our room, we had just a few priorities. We wanted something that would be big enough for our family, including a crib for Lisa. It also had to either be adjacent to affordable food or it had to have a kitchen so we could cook for ourselves. We had heard from Dannie’s mother that there wasn’t much vegetarian food in Hong Kong, and that had us a little nervous (it didn’t wind up being a problem – see below). We also really wanted a place that was close to Victoria Harbour so we could watch the fireworks.
We booked a “Superior One-Bedroom Suite”, which came with included a Kitchen, but when we got to the hotel, the concierge was able to talk us into an upgrade. Our new room was a different “Superior One-Bedroom Suite,” this time with a harbour view and breakfast included.
What We Liked
We had to admit that the harbour view upgrade was worth it. The bedroom had wall to wall windows that stretched nearly floor to ceiling with an almost completely unobstructed view of the harbour and the city skyline. The location of the hotel wasn’t great for eating out, but there was a mall attached to the hotel and we were able to buy groceries there. Because we had paid for the upgrade, we ate the breakfast buffet every morning, and it was nice not to have to cook and clean for at least one of our meals every day.
From the Harbour Plaza Metropolis, it was an easy walk down to the boardwalk for strolls along the waterfront. The boardwalk was our favorite route to Nathan Road (Google Maps) for shopping and Dining. Though buses didn’t stop directly in front of the the hotel, it was just a five minute walk to the bus station for a ride onto the island when we went to apply for our visas.
All of the furniture – the chairs, the tables, and especially the bed were very nice. Everything was very clean, and the room service took care of our dishes for us while we were out. The staff was very attentive, and even when they were overworked with weddings and New Years festivities. The hotel provided a very nice crib for Lisa – the real thing, not just a travel tent – but she was so messed up with jet lag that she wound up in our bed looking for parental comfort.
What We Didn’t Like
Our biggest complaint was probably that it was hard to control the temperature. Even though there was a temperature control, it felt like the room was always very cold or much too warm. While it was nice to have a kitchen, we did have to call the staff to unlock all the pots, pans and silverware, and we were lacking certain bowls and plates that would have been necessary for a lot of meals. The stove had two burners, but only one of them worked. They offered to send someone up to fix the other one, but we told them not to bother.
We give the breakfast buffet mixed reviews. I thought it was pretty good for hotel fare, but Dannie thought all the food was mediocre for the price we had paid in Asia.
Though the view was great and we didn’t have any particular complaints about the service, the price was a bit much. Of course, it was ten times higher than normal price because of the New Year, but regardless, we’ve stayed in other cities for an entire month for less money that we paid for four nights in that one hotel. It was a really nice getaway, but we probably wouldn’t do it again.
The GDH Hotel wasn’t nearly as luxurious as the Metropolis, but it was unless you really, really care about the frills, it was much better value. We only stayed there for one night, which was all we needed to finish getting our visas before moving on to China. By this time it was January 3rd, and there were a lot more places available since the holiday was over.
What We Liked
The GDH Hotel was actually really comfortable. I don’t know how hard it would have been to control the temperature because it was already perfect when we arrived. The bed was comfortable and everything was clean. The room had a bathtub, which is always nice when you are traveling with a toddler.
The best part of the hotel was the location. Granted, there was no harbour view, but it was just a few meters from shopping and food on Nathan Road and all the little alleys that branched off of it. Instead of opting for breakfast, we just bought some food the night before and ate it in the morning before our early flight.
What We Didn’t Like
We didn’t stay long enough to really test the service or the facilities very well, but if we had been there longer I could tell that we were going to have a problem with the lack of sitting space. Granted, it wasn’t a full suite, but without a couch or at least a comfortable chair to relax in, we would have been stuck choosing between the desk chair and the bed when we wanted to relax.
Though our experience at the GDH was limited, we thought that it was comfortable and convenient and offered pretty good value. We would definitely consider staying there again (though honestly, we would probably try a new place, just because we like to have new experiences when we travel).
Finding Vegetarian Food in Hong Kong
Once we decided we were definitely going to Hong Kong, Dannie got a little bit worried that we might have trouble finding vegetarian food. “Didn’t you say Hong Kong had a big vegetarian festival?” I asked. “That’s Taiwan.” She said. “Oh.”
So we did some cooking in our hotel room, but we also wanted to get at least a little bit of the local flavor. Though the city does have a decidedly carnivorous slant, there are definitely options available for meat free diners. We ate in three different all vegetarian restaurants while we were there. Here they are ranked in order of ascending quality (which conveniently happens to be chronological order as well).
Some Place at the Mall
Ok, we probably should have written down the name. As I mentioned earlier, there was a shopping mall attached to the Harbor Plaza metropolis, called the Fortune Metropolis. In the food court, there was a vegetarian restaurant that was actually pretty decent. Because it was very convenient and fairly inexpensive (the three of us had dinner for the equivalent of $6 USD. There were a number of options for faux meat and tofu dishes, as well as noodles, rice and vegetables. Nearby there was also a dumpling place that had one or two vegetarian options. This place wasn’t worth going out of your way for, but if you happen to be staying in the hotel, it probably beats making a trip all the way across town.
東方素 Oriental Vegetarian
This place was crowded and noisy, but it turns out there’s a reason so many people had showed up. The food was really good. The layout of the dining room is almost like a cafeteria (we wound up sharing a table with a young woman who was eating by herself), but you still order from a menu and your food is delivered by a server. The menu is huge, with an almost overwhelming number of options. We ordered almost randomly. The menus are entirely in Chinese so I was no help at all. Luckily, Dannie can half read and half guess enough that we were able to order “lunch for two” that included several things we thought we’d like.
We also ordered another dish, trying to guess what the person at the next table was eating. Though we found ourselves with far more food in front of us than we could eat, we enjoyed every bite. We ate a lot of dishes here that Chinese takeout in the U.S. is clearly trying to imitate (while falling far short). Our lunch cost about $30 USD.
Note: This place doesn’t show up on Google Maps searches for vegetarian restaurants, but you can copy and paste in the Chinese characters above and it should do the trick.
Isoya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant
While we were out trying to get our Chinese visa again, we found ourselves on the island around lunch time again. If you happen to be near the Chinese Embassy while hungry, we think you’d be hard pressed to find better food and atmosphere than we had here. The door was a little hard to spot, and once you get inside you have to take an elevator to the restaurant. The dining room itself is small and quiet, and the menu is very simple. Though the selection is limited, the food is delicious and beautifully plated. We spent about $40 USD on our lunch. Dannie did notice they had seasonal menu but she couldn’t read well enough to order it.
Paramita Vegetarian House
We ate at Paramita on our last night in Hong Kong. Dannie had been hoping to try it since we arrived in town, having read good reviews, but it wasn’t convenient until we were staying at The GDH Hotel. We walked up Nathan Street to look for it, and no sooner had we spotted the sign (they need a bigger sign), than a woman – maybe the hostess or the owner – saw us looking and waved us inside. Like many of the restaurants in Hong Kong, this one also involved an elevator ride above street level.
Maybe it was the relief we felt having wrapped up our Visa mission, or maybe it was the way the hostess was doting on Lisa – or maybe it was just the really good food – but we thought this was one of the best meals we’d had since we started traveling. Even the fried rice we ordered for Lisa was an incredibly delicate, complex and flavorful dish. It was the priciest meal we ate in Hong Kong – all told, I think we spent about $60 USD – but it was also our favorite.
Seeing the Sights in Hong Kong
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenad
Ok, so we were pretty busy with our visa and our jet lag, so our sightseeing was mostly walking up and down the Tsim She Tsui Promenade (Google Maps), a scenic riverwalk that follows the coast of Kowloon with great views of the island skyline. It’s a relatively safe place for kids to run around, free of traffic and fenced off from the water. Lisa loved watching the dragon boats sailing up and down the harbor, and after spending the entire month of December in Vienna, we were just relieved to be able to go outside without bundling up.
Nathan Street (Google Maps) cuts north through the center of Kowloon, and it is probably the best place in Kowloon to go shopping. Right on the street you can find lots of brands that are familiar to westerners along with a lot of Asian brands that probably aren’t. If you venture off the street, you can easily get lost in alleyways filled with food stalls, the smells of which waft out to lure you in.
Shopping on Nathan Street is where I discovered my new favorite thing: knock off children’s toys. Anyone who has ever listened to their toddler beg for a single cartoon character toy that costs $40USD will drool over the prospect of an entire set of “Happy Pig” or “Dogs Patrol” toys for only five or six bucks. Amazing!
- Hong Kong was very stroller friendly. There is a whole system of elevated walkways, and there are elevators to access it at most major intersections.
- The floor numbers in Hong Kong are a little screwy. They seem to like to skip a lot of numbers.
- With an unlocked phone, it’s easy to buy a phone card in Hong Kong. You can get them at 7-11.
- Pretty much everyone in Hong Kong seems to speak English. It’s a pretty different experience from much of China.
- We were there in January, and the weather was very pleasant. It was warm and sunny during the day, though by dark we usually needed a light jacket.
Hong Kong was a pretty cool place, and I think we’ll be adding to this post in the future since during our year in China we’ll have to get our visas stamped every two months. Every time we visit we plan on exploring a new area, so if anyone would like to tell us about their favorite site in the comments below, we’d be delighted to try it next time.
Update: After some exploring, we decided to spend an entire year in Dali, China. You can read everything we’ve written (so far) about Dali, or you can check out our destinations page for all of the places we’ve been since this was written.