I’ve been to Hong Kong three times now, and every time I’ve been completely, deliciously alone.
It’s not that I planned things that way. The first two times I was doing a visa run from China and left Mike behind to teach while I went exploring and pizza hunting (a hard to find commodity on the mainland).
The more recent time was a three day layover from Sri Lanka back to Seattle. I ate some real Chinese food (a hard to find commodity in the USA), did some shopping, some wandering and even some sightseeing. It was a great reprieve from sitting on planes but it was also a reminder of how much I really like Hong Kong, and also how much I like spending time there solo.
In fact, I’ve concluded that not only is Hong Kong my favorite place for a solo getaway, it’s an excellent first time solo international destination for anyone. Here are some of the reasons it fits the bill:
I like a challenging destination for sure, but sometimes it’s really nice to be able to relax and just enjoy your surroundings. Hong Kong definitely makes that simple.
While not everyone in Hong Kong speaks English, the majority of people you will encounter as a tourist do. Those that don’t, like in smaller local restaurants, will still make an effort to help you.
Most importantly, Hong Kong has a truly excellent public transportation system. Pick up an Octopus Card at the airport and you can use the subway to get all over the city easily. No need to worry about cabs, and with free wifi available nearly everywhere, it’s hard to get lost.
Best of all Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world, so you don’t need to be constantly alert like in other places. Sure there are some sketchy neighborhoods to avoid and Chungking Mansion is dodgy as hell, but you can feel totally safe walking alone, even late at night.
It’s Got a Little Bit of Everything
Hong Kong has the population of New York City and a level of diversity on par with London. It’s thoroughly unlike any other city I’ve ever visited: a perfect mix of East and West. If you’re looking for a taste of the West (like I was on my first couple visits), you can easily find western chains and a bit of familiarity. But, temples dot the city, Cantonese is omnipresent and authentic asian food (of pretty much every type) is easy to find. It’s honestly got a bit of everything from world class Catalan food to Marks and Spencer to Disney World to Chinese medicine shops.
Hong Kong also suits all budgets pretty easily. If you’ve got a lot of money to splash around you can do that easily, but if you’re on a budget (more likely) it’s easy to get a room in a hostel, eat cheap and keep overhead low.
Nobody Bothers You
My biggest pet peeve when I travel alone is the attention I get. People always seem to want to talk to me, and while sometimes I welcome that, sometimes it makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious. I get tired of answering the same questions about why I’m alone, what I’m doing etc.
Hong Kong has tons of foreigners of all stripes living and working in the city, so you won’t stick out. When you go out to a restaurant you don’t look like solo tourist, you just look like someone eating dinner alone. Aside from the (extremely annoying) touts who crowd Nathan Road selling suits and watches, people pretty much leave you alone in this city.
Hell, I even went to a pornographic movie by myself and nobody even blinked an eye at me. There aren’t many places I would have the confidence to do that.
It’s a Great City for Wandering
There are lots of cool sights to see in Hong Kong, but favorite thing to do in a big city is to simply wander aimlessly. Hong Kong is truly excellent for that. Tiny shops, strange signs and interesting scenes of everyday life unfold around every corner. I could spend days just wandering the city and taking it all in. My camera is constantly clicking. I think it’s impossible to be bored here.
Mike will tolerate a lot of things from me: my obsessive cataloging of restaurants to try, my need to pop into every bookstore we pass and even my attraction to historic cemeteries. There is one thing though that he has very limited patience for, and that is shopping.
Hong Kong has to be the best city in the world for people who want to spend money. There are tons of neat markets (the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Market are both pretty great) where you can barter for knockoff handbags and cheap souvenirs. There are a million drug stores that sell amazing asian beauty products you can’t get in the US. Then, there are the malls. Some of the best malls in the world- enormous, beautiful places with high end shops and trendy little boutiques. On my most recent trip I came back with an entire extra duffel bag of stuff: a panda shaped apron, a table runner for our apartment, a cute dress, a Japanese umbrella and more.
There’s Usually Someone Else in Town
Hong Kong is one of those connector cities that people always end up traveling through, and (when you know as many other travelers as I do) it’s not uncommon to cross paths with someone you know. My cousin lives in Hong Kong and has showed me around a couple of times, and I’ve connected with PR people, friends of friends and other bloggers here as well.
Last time I was in town I ran into Bret and Erin from Our Tasty Travels and they took me out for an amazing spicy crab dinner and were very kind about my extreme jetlag.
Of course for any city to make my top list it has to have terrific food, and Hong Kong certainly does. My first couple trips I was mostly interested in finding pizza but this past trip I really explored and found some amazing Cantonese food. Stuff like hearty wonton soup for $2 and a million delicious baked goods.
The best meal by far was dim sum at the famous Tim Ho Wans. It’s known as being the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, and though the wait was long and the service was abrupt, the pork buns made it well worth it. I would seriously go back to Hong Kong for those buns alone.
Mike has still never been to Hong Kong and I would love to take him one day. But even if we do go, in a weird way Hong Kong will always be mine.