What You Need To Know About The Best Instagrammable Spots in Hong Kong

It’s hard to distil the landscape of Hong Kong into one word. The former fishing village had turned into a cosmopolitan city in the years leading up to its handover in Hong Kong, and as economy soared in the city, the divide between the poor and rich became even more enduring. who visit Hong Kong for the first time will notice the paradoxical aesthetic of the city. Ultra-modern buildings are often juxtapositioned next to traditional, Chinese residential buildings. However, many of these historical Chinese buildings are being taken down one by one due to redevelopment.

As Instagram becomes increasingly prevalent among millennial travellers, local sites that residents may deem as ordinary in their daily life have turned into hotspots for photographers and travellers. We’ve come up with a list of the best Instagrammable spots as well as the stories behind them.

Monster Building

2046. Photo taken by my great friend from Sweden -  Marko Vesterinen

2046. Photo taken by my great friend from Sweden - Marko Vesterinen

The photogenic residential complex is known for its colourful facade and has been featured in Hollywood blockbusters Ghost In The Shell and Transformers: Age of Extinction. While it’s commonly known as “Monster Building”, it’s made up of five buildings all crammed up cosily next to each other (their names are Yik Cheong Building, Yick Fat Building, Fook Cheong Building, Montane Mansion and Oceanic Mansion). It’s one of the many government-subsidised housing built for low-income residents in the 1960s. As the complex becomes insanely popular among travellers and photographers, residents express their dismay by putting up a banner that says no photography is allowed as the area is private property. Little has deterred people who venture out to seek the infamous Monster Building, however, as you can still see plenty of crowds snapping away for the best shot.

How to get there: Take the Island line (blue) and get off at Tai Koo Station. Get out at Exit B and head west on King's Road for two blocks.

Lai Tak Tsuen Housing Estate

From Instagram  @yforyahoo

From Instagram @yforyahoo

Built in 1975-76, Lai Tak Tsuen is the only circular-shaped housing estate in Hong Kong. It’s named after Michael Wright (Lai Tak is Wright’s name in Cantonese), a former colonial government official and Deputy of Public Works. The living condition was dire at government-subsidised housing, and residents had to share a communal bathroom. Wright saw it as the government’s duty to improve such poor living environment. As a former concentration camp captive during WWII, Wright endured sharing a bathroom with more than 30 people at once. He strongly advocated for each unit to have its kitchen and bathroom in public housing estates, and the change boosted the quality of living among the residents after.

Lai Tak Tusen Housing Estate is home to more than 2000 units, and as it’s located up on the hill in Tai Hang, its residents get to enjoy the view of Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Harbour just like the upper class who live in private condos nearby. Its rent is also the highest among all the public housing estates in Hong Kong.

How to get there: Take the Island line to Tin Hau Station and get out of Exit B. Then follow your Google Map! Just an advice: keep it low key when you get into the housing complex. You also need to get in a password so follow the locals who are getting in, keep your camera gear in your bag as you walk in.

Choi Hung Housing Estate

Photo from Instagram  @leonardelliot

Photo from Instagram @leonardelliot

You've probably seen a photo or two of this pastel rainbow coloured complex with palm trees along with its colourful basketball court before. The housing estate is called Choi Hung, which translates to “rainbow” in Cantonese. Famous political figure and royalty such as Richard Nixon (President of the United States in 1969) and Princess Margaret from Britain were also a fan during their trip to Hong Kong in the mid-1960s. It’s home to nearly 43000 people, and it’s hard to escape its presence on Instagram. On a regular weekday morning, you’ll find plenty of girls snapping away, and its popularity reaches its peak during the weekend.

On another note, the station nearby the housing estate is also called Choi Hung, and it's no surprise that the tiles of the entire station are in rainbow colour!

How to get there: Take the MTR to Choi Hung station on the Kwun Tong line (green line), then get out at Exit C3 or C4. The basketball court is located right above the parking lot.

Nam Shan Estate

Photo from Instagram  @kelvinboyy

Photo from Instagram @kelvinboyy

Situated at Shek Kip Mei in Kowloon, Nam Shan Estate is a 40-year old public housing estate that’s known for its multi-green shades residential blocks. However, the story behind this neighbourhood was tragic. On Christmas Eve in 1953, a fire broke out in Shek Kip Mei and made more than 6000 of residents in the area homeless. The incident called for immediate evacuation, which led to the government to build temporary housing estates to house the survivors. Nam Shan Estate is one of the first permanent public housing estates built under the new housing development schemes back in the 70s. It’s also a food haven for the locals and university students in the area. Our favourite Cantonese restaurant, Ban Heung Lau, is tucked away among the small shops, and you’ll find plenty of students from City University dining there!

How to get there: Get off at Shek Kip Mei Station (green line) and get out at Exit B2. Walk along the road, cross the street (McDonalds will be right behind you) and you’ll come across with some old shops and Nam Shan Shopping Centre. Get to the playground at the housing estate for the best shots through the staircase at the wet market at the shopping centre.

Tung Choi Street Overpass

Photo from Instagram  @rohinra

Photo from Instagram @rohinra

Every Sunday, there’s a massive crowd sitting on cardboard and plastic mats at this overpass that overlooks Tung Choi Street and Mong Kok Road. The walkway is THE place where Indonesian housemaids hang out with their friends on their only day off during the week (watch my video that time when me and my guest got invited to share a meal with the ladies on Youtube). Besides the festive atmosphere during the weekend, it’s also an excellent spot for street photography. The best time to go in the evening, when the neon signs are bright and shining above a flight of red minibus, with tong lau (old residential buildings) crammed alongside each other.

How to get there: Get off at Mong Kok Station (red line) and get onto the walkway through Exit B1

Must Know Travel Tips in Hong Kong

Photo taken by Adam Saint

Photo taken by Adam Saint

Out of all the tours I’ve run in the past 3 years, a lot of my guests told me that they wish they had known the tips I had given them earlier. So here are the things you should know before packing up for Hong Kong to make your trip easier, better and smoother!

1. Exchange enough cash in HKD before your trip

Surprise surprise. Hong Kong is a city that heavily relies on cash payments at small shops, diners and local restaurants. Do exchange enough cash at your local bank before flying out. Credit card payment is available at bars and restaurants located in the shopping malls.

2. Take the airport express into the city

First thing to do once you arrive in Hong Kong: buy tickets to take the Airport Express train into the city, which directly takes you to Kowloon Station and Hong Kong Station (that’s interconnected to Central Station, which is on the blue Island line). A round trip costs 115 HKD only (if your destination is at Hong Kong Station) and it only takes 25 minutes to get into the city. Easy peasy!

3. Check out the sight at the Peak from a different trail

Out of all the tour operators in Hong Kong, I’m fairly sure that I’m the only one that never takes my guests to the Peak. In my humble opinion, you can definitely check it out by yourself without the guidance of a tour guide. Here are some pro tips: Take a taxi up to The Peak if you want to avoid the queue at the tram terminal, and check out the view of the skyline of the skyscrapers along Lugard Road instead, a trail that would steer you away from the touristy crowd.

4. Get an Octopus Card for commute

It’s easy to commute in Hong Kong when you have an Octopus card in your pocket. The card allows you to take transport including MTR (subway), bus, minibus, and Airport Express. You can purchase the card at the customer service counter at any MTR station or at 7-11 convenience stores. If you purchase it at the MTR, the card costs 150 HKD, which comes with a deposit of 50 HKD and 100 HKD for credit. You can get your deposit of 50 HKD back if you return the card within 90 days of purchase, with a processing fee of 9 HKD deducted upon return at the customer service counter.

If you purchase the Octopus card at 7-11, the card costs 39 HKD but does not include credit nor value. The card is for yours to keep when you disembark from Hong Kong. That being said, you can still refund the credit on your card at any customer service counter at the MTR stations.

Pro tip: you can use Octopus card to purchase food, drinks / whatever shit you need at convenience stores, McDonalds (I know I know, why would you want McDonalds while in Hong Kong right? But hey we got a different menu here and there are thai sweet chili chicken wings y’know), and restaurants that have the Octopus card machines at the cashier.

P.S. For those who are travelling in groups, you need one Octopus card per individual.

5. Dim sum is NOT dumplings

One of the myths that I hear a lot from my guests is that dim sum = dumplings. Dim sum is actually an umbrella term for Cantonese tapas. These small dishes range from rice noodles rolls with barbecued pork / beef / shrimps, bean curd rolls with mushroom, pork and veggies, steamed egg custard buns, sesame balls with red beans, steamed pork patty with sweet Chinese preserved veggies, shrimp dumplings (har gow), and the list goes on. So don’t forget to stuff your belly with dim sum while in Hong Kong.

Also a word of advice: dim sum is usually served in the early morning to 2-3 pm depending on the restaurant. However, drunk dim sum is also available in the city if you’re feeling adventurous and need some greasy food for hangover preventive measures. You can watch my drunken dim sum experience on my YouTube channel here.


6. There’s also much more to dim sum in Hong Kong

While dim sum is a must in Hong Kong, there’s one thing that a lot of people don’t know about in our culinary culture. The mums in Hong Kong are known for making the most delicious homemade soup, with ingredients such as chicken, corn, carrots, and coconuts. They’re known for their health benefits and you can order it at restaurants. If you see soup on the menu next time, give it a go!

7. Bring a few packs of napkins

Most local restaurants in Hong Kong do not provide napkins and would charge for a pack of napkins. You can tell your waiter you’d like some tissues instead of napkins, as tissues is the universal word in Hong Kong. Or you can bring your own to avoid messy eating!


8. Take the Mid-level escalator

If you’re looking to explore Central and Sheung Wan, take the Mid-level escalator if you’re going uphill. It would save you a lot more energy as the roads there are as steep as the ones in San Francisco!


9. Book a local tour at the beginning of your trip

Photo by Julia Bergès

Photo by Julia Bergès

A little shameless plug here, but a lot of my guests told me they wish they booked a tour with me at the start of their trip, as it would help them get their bearings around a lot easier in Hong Kong and give them the confidence to venture out to local places on their own. If you’re interested in booking a tour with me, drop me a line at info@hkfoodcrawlers.com or direct message me on Instagram @hkfoodcrawlers.

- Ashley

The Rituals of Dim Sum

IMG_7516.JPG

Where does one begin when one talks about dim sum? Dim sum is more than just delicious bites. It's the kind of dish that you’ll crave when you’re living abroad. It’s also a way of life for the locals, a ritual that brings families together during the weekend and holidays, and a daily habit for the grandpas and grannies in Hong Kong.

The word, dim sum, literally means touch upon the heart in Cantonese. As the dishes are often served in small bites and meant to share between the group, I often refer them as Cantonese tapas to my guests. Some of my fondest childhood memories was ordering from the dim sum aunties who pushed their steamy carts around in the restaurant. The majority of Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong have replaced the symbol of dim sum with an a-la-carte menu, which is definitely a lot less exciting. Who wants to order with a piece of paper and pen when you can take your pick at the bamboo baskets in the trolley?

Whether you’re a dim sum amateur or about to lose your dim sum virginity, these tips will guide you through the basics and how to enjoy dim sum the best way.

1. Order a different type of Chinese tea other than jasmine

The server will ask you what kind of tea you’d like to have as soon as you get seated. While jasmine is a popular choice among Westerners, I’d suggest trying other varieties. If you’re a coffee drinker, go for iron buddha/Tik Kwun Yum (Cantonese) / Tie Guan Yin (Mandarin), a roasted oolong with a sweet finish. Feeling a little adventurous? The locals, especially the grannies and grandpas, love pu’reh. Pu’reh is a Chinese black tea that’s known for its rich, earthy taste and helps reduce blood cholesterol. Also order a pot of hot water beside the tea. Locals often use it to dilute the drink a little when the tea has been steeped in the teapot for too long.

2. Wash your utensils like a local

Your server will start off your meal by dropping off a bunch of chopsticks, bowls, as well as a medium-sized bowl. Most tourists can’t wrap their heads around what the bigger bowl for, and it’s used to rinse everything in it with either hot water or tea! The older generation believes that washing utensils in hot water can help kill germs. While that’s not very valid, doing so gives them a peace of mind and locals still do clean everything before they eat as part of the ritual.

3. Don’t go crazy with the soy sauce

Many of my American guests love adding soy sauce to everything they eat, but I urge you to give the food a go first without adding more seasonings. Most kitchens already have their dim sum well-seasoned, so there’s no need for extra (except one occasion. see next tip).

4. Ask for chilli oil

Instead of pairing food with Sriracha, the Cantonese loves dipping their har gow (shrimp dumplings) in spicy, fiery chilli oil. Ask the server to bring you some and give your food an extra kick. However, the spiciness of the chilli oil varies depending on the restaurant. My advice is to give it a try first, take a lick with your chopsticks to test the spiciness before dipping your food in it. If you forget to do it and end up setting your tongue on fire, there's nothing much I can do to help!

Photo taken by Uncle Siu

Photo taken by Uncle Siu

5. Double dip is a no-no

It’s just simply impolite to double dip, especially in our culture. If you find it inconvenient, ask the server to bring you an extra serving of sauces and light your tongue on fire until your belly and heart are content.

6. Don't forget to give a thank you "code" when someone pours you tea  

In our culture, the younger ones at the table often serve tea to their seniors out of manners and respect. Locals also like to knock on the table with their knuckles twice whenever someone pours tea for them and there’s a story behind that! They say that a Chinese Emperor went in disguise to see how his people were living back in the days and when he was dining with his servants, he poured a cup of tea for one of them. In order not to blow the Emperor’s cover, the servant used his knuckles to represent the customary bow (as they had to be on their knees when they bow to the emperor) to show his gratefulness.

7. Open the lid of teapot if you want a refill  

There’s no need to ask the waiter to come over for a refill. Simply leave your teapot open, and the waiter will spot it and bring a kettle over for a second brew.

8. There's no rush when it comes to dim sum

While most Hong Kongers are always on the go and everyone walks in a quick pace, dim sum is one of the few occasions that it's perfectly fine to relax, lay back a little and enjoy a meal. Sometimes people can take up to 2 hours having dim sum, just because they love taking their time. 

9. Eating alone is totally chill

Chinese uncles, grandpas and grannies love going out for dim sum early in the morning by themselves and you’ll often find them reading newspapers or chatting with other regulars at the same table. Besides, it's common to share the table with strangers and dim sum restaurant is probably the best place for you to practise the art of dining alone in Hong Kong. Some restaurants also open as early as around 6am. If you find yourself hungry and jet-lagged, why not join the uncles and grannies for some treats?

If you're looking to experience Hong Kong in the most authentic way and get whisked away to hidden gems that only locals know about, book one of our tours with Ashley!