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 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 since it helped them get their bearings around a lot easier in Hong Kong and gave them the confidence to venture out in local neighbourhoods and restaurants 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!

What To Do During Your 24-Hour Layover in Hong Kong

You’ve just arrived in one of the busiest cities in the world and you cannot help but feel exhilarated. You’re tired from a little jet lag but so what? You’re in Hong Kong and there’s only 24 hours before you hop back onto the plane. This 24-hour itinerary will guide you through your brief stay to make sure you take in as much as this metropolis has to offer.

Morning

Take A Stroll At The Morning Trail

Photo by Ashley Yue

Photo by Ashley Yue

Escape the crowd and spend a tranquil morning at the Peak. The Morning Trail offers a much more serene experience compared to the touristy viewing spot at The Victoria Peak and be ready to have your breath taken away while watching the spectacular skyline. You can take a taxi to Hatton Road and walk up the hill from there until it turns into the trail.

Join A Local Tour

Photo by Ashley Yue

Photo by Ashley Yue

Since you’re on a limited schedule, taking a walking tour is a great idea for you to experience the city more in-depth. You’ll see the city through the eyes of a local and learn more about the history and stories behind Hong Kong within the span of a few hours. If you’re a food enthusiast like us, we offer private and group food tours at Hong Kong Food Crawlers that combines history and local food together. All the spots we take our guests to are places that we’ve been going since childhood and we only take the path less travelled!

Enjoy A Ferry Ride

Photo from Hong Kong Tourism Board

Photo from Hong Kong Tourism Board

A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without a ferry ride across the Harbour. Hop on the Star ferry and go to Kowloon from Hong Kong Island for HK$2, which is probably one of the cheapest rides you can take in the world. There’s nothing quite like watching the Hong Kong skyline with an abundance of skyscrapers while being in the sea. Let the breeze gently brush your face and enjoy the view!

Afternoon Tea At A Local Cafe

Photo by Ashley Yue

Photo by Ashley Yue

Grab a small bite at a cha chaan teng (a local’s term for Cantonese diner), which is known for comfort food such as egg tarts, pineapple buns and a cup of hot Hong Kong milk tea. You can’t go wrong with the traditional pastries at Kam Fung Cafe in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island and Kam Wah Cafe in Mong Kok, Kowloon. If you find yourself at Kam Fung, make sure you order their killer chicken pie there.

Explore The Markets

Photo from  @lau_writes

Photo from @lau_writes

While the Ladies Market is known for being the best spot to bargain at and its wide range of souvenirs, accessories and clothes, the Goldfish Market nearby is also a popular destination for photographers. Stroll through Tung Choi Street and get mesmerized by the colorful display of fish and turtles there. The Flower Market on Flower Market Road and Bird Market on Yuen Po Street are also close by, in case you want to find more subjects to snap away.

Dim Sum Feast

Photo by Eva Wang from  Eat With Eva

Photo by Eva Wang from Eat With Eva

Once you’re on the Kowloon side, go to Tim Ho Wan or One Dim Sum for an affordable Michelin-star meal. Dim sum is a ritual among locals and the small bites are shared among the group, along with Chinese tea on the side. While the wait at Tim Ho Wan and One Dim Sum can be a little intimidating, the food is definitely worth the wait. You’ll get to experience what it’s like to dine like a true local (hint: do not expect good service), where restaurants are known for their efficiency and food is brought to you in a lightning speed.

Evening

Savour Street Food

Photo by Ashley Yue

Photo by Ashley Yue

The city is known for its abundance of street food and you can find little stalls selling savoury treats all around the city. Head to Dundas Street in Mong Kok and you’ll find a hub of street food vendors selling goods such as the infamous fish balls, deep fried Three Treasures (an assortment of eggplants, green peppers, red sausages and tofu stuffed with fish paste), bubble tea and stinky tofu. You can get pretty full from hopping between stalls so if you’re planning to grab dinner somewhere else later in the evening, make sure you get only one or two nibbles.

Cocktails Hour With A View

Photo by  @tinaleung

Photo by @tinaleung

Skip the highest bar in the world (unless you want to pay for overpriced cocktails and squeeze in for a seat with a bunch of tourists) and head to Cafe Grey Deluxe at The Upper House Hotel for a few cocktails in early evening. Situated on the 49th floor, Cafe Grey Deluxe never fails to dazzle its guests with a breathtaking view of the Victoria Harbour. The ceiling to floor window inside the washroom also always makes us in awe when we look down on skyscrapers in town and how close we are to these beautiful buildings.

Get Noms At A Dai Pai Dong

Photo by Carlo Acenas

Photo by Carlo Acenas

Dai Pai Dong is one of the staples in Hong Kong culinary culture and it’s an experience on its own to dine in a casual and communal setting. Head to Tung Po Kitchen and feast on classic Cantonese dishes and fresh seafood. We can never get enough of their stir fry razor clams with black beans and deep fried drunken prawns. If you’re on the Kowloon side, our favourite is Oi Man Sang, a Dai Pai Dong that’s been running since the 1950s. You can also watch the chefs working up their woks in flames in their kitchen on the street.