Key sights in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a popular place to visit, and regularly features as a stop over destination. There is plenty to do but if you are short on time or just want to hit the key sights in Hong Kong, here’s my recommendations and tips.

1. Victoria harbour

There is a Symphony of Lights, daily light show at 8pm each day, so head there with plenty of time. The best viewing point is on the side near the Avenue of Stars. Note that the views from the stands allow for more peace and tranquility away from the crowds but you can barely hear the music that accompanies the lights.

victoria harbour with boat view

Victoria Harbour at night

Tip: don’t waste time at the Avenue of Stars for any other reason than the symphony of lights. During the day it’s full of tourists and kitschy souvenirs, with little else.

2. The Peak

Get there via tram (but plan an early start to miss the crowds) is definitely a must see at any time of day. The views really are quite something and walkers will enjoy the circular trails around the peak. Head there at sunset or after dark for impressive views of the city at night.

Hong Kong peak view

The Peak view

Top tip: Don’t pay for the viewing platform, views from the Galleria shopping centre are just as good.

3. Cable Car and Tian Tan Big Buddha

These are fairly impressive in length/size. The views from the cable card are a little bit different, being away from the city. Plane spotters might find this a treat as the cable car passes very close to the airport runway. The buddha is huge.

steps to the Big Buddha view

Tian Tan Big Buddha

Note: This isn’t in my opinion a must see, but it is popular. If you have climbed up steps to temples and ridden cable cars elsewhere in the world you may not be that impressed.

Tip: Bypass the village and it’s shops which you have to pass through on arrival. These are over priced and touristy.

4. Star Ferry

Take a ferry between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai, for some of the best views of the city. The journey only lasts about 8 minutes, but it’s a nice escape from the metro. Travel at night during the Symphony of Lights show, and you will catch the famous cityscape illuminations.

Top tip: avoid travelling on a ferry in rush hour when thousands descend on these boats (8-9.30am and 6-7pm).

5. Temples

Man Mo temple, near Central is where all the tourists go to see a fully functional temple. Frequented by the locals and well worth a visit although it can get smokey from all the incense.

Tip: There are many temples around there city, always open to visitors, so explore them at your leisure.

6. Street photography

The streets of Hong Kong provide a great setting for some interesting photographs. From street art to high rise towers and local markets to local shops. Wander and take it all in. The Hollywood Road area has a lot of street art and everywhere you can walk is interesting to see.

Graham Road street art with people posing

Everyone wants to have their picture taken in Graham Road

Tip: pick and area and just take your time to explore it… there’s always a metro stop nearby if you want to head back or get tired.

7. Markets

There is a market for everything in Hong Kong. Check out my Quick list: markets in Hong Kong post for more on these.

Souvenir stamping in Taiwan

Prior to my trip to Taiwan I researched extensively for some local or unique experiences. No different to planning any other trip really. However this time, I also unearthed a bit of info, that for me personally was really quite exciting….. stamping in Taiwan is a ‘thing’.

souvenir stamps from Taiwan

A selection of souvenir stamps from my Taiwan travels

Let me put this into perspective, particularly if you’re not a ‘crafter’ like myself, as otherwise I just sound a bit odd.

As a card maker/scrapbooker I’m always on the lookout for anything crafty or creative. In fact I think I’m a little unique in the travel blogging hemisphere in this sense?!

Rubber stamps have long been featured on my handmade cards, scrapbook pages and wherever I can use them. So being able to collect unique souvenir rubber stamps whilst on my travels was of course going to be a highlight.

Taiwan stamps

I’ve struggled to pin down exactly when the stamping in Taiwan originated. The Taiwan Railway released 100 stamps at selected stations in 2011, as part of the Discover Taiwan Railway project. Then a Railroad Stamp Rally took place in 2015, which gave collectors the opportunity to get special souvenir presents. These were then awarded to the first 2,000 customers.

There have also been official collectors notebooks for these railway stamps, but during my visit I couldn’t find any still available, disappointingly.

Many of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stamps have been developed in recent years, with each station now having its own design which incorporates local scenes from that area. For example see the website Taipei MRT stamps for details.

MRT stamps in Taiwan

Each MRT station has it’s own unique design

Addiction

I felt a little bit like a Pokemon Go addict… thinking I’ve gotta catch/get ’em all. I even carried my own ink pad around, which definitely came in handy.

It turned out that every single sight or landmark had its own stamps, not just the MRT stations; even shops and information counters had some. Often they had more than one! Although sometimes I had to ask for them as they were hidden away in a drawer.

So, of course, everywhere we went in Taiwan during our visit, we had to allow extra time to find stamps. It was easy at the MRT and train stations as they had little tables near the exit and sometimes you could just reach over the barrier and get the stamp without swiping through. We did stop at a few extra stations when time permitted, just for the stamp!

Find them wherever you go in Taiwan

In 2 weeks I collected over 350 individual stamps from across Taiwan. I could have filled my smash book with mostly these, but instead I picked up a little notepad and grabbed every stamp I could.

Even Phill got into the hunt for stamps. By the end of the trip we had one of the best collection of souvenirs from all of my travels. At least in my opinion ;).

What now

We stayed in 5 cities in Taiwan. More about some of those in my last post ‘10 reasons to visit Taiwan‘. So, I’m keen to consider a return visit to see more places. Of course there will be more stamps!

We also picked up a few geocaches too – something perhaps more appealing to others. Have you tried it? More about that in my post Geocaching on my travels.

I’ve since read that there are several other places in the world with stamps like in Taiwan… I’m making a list. Another reason to travel there :)!

10 reasons to visit Taiwan

From simple wan ton soup to an extensive array of snacks on sticks, Taipei offers foods from all around the country. So, you don’t even need to venture out of the capital to enjoy most of Taiwan’s specialities.

However, most visitors only stay in Taipei when they visit Taiwan. Despite this, I recommend planning a trip to some of the other cities around the island.

There it’s plenty to experience travelling from city to city, including some of the original Taiwanese food stuffs (see 7 specialities made in Taiwan). Although, of course it’s not just about the food. With a high speed and normal train network it’s easy to get around via public transport and it’s reasonably priced.

The West coast offers some interesting places to experience local culture with numerous sights and warm weather most of the year round. Or why not head South to enjoy sandy beaches. Then for stunning scenery and hiking stop by the East coast.

Here are my personal highlights from 2 weeks spent in Taiwan in December last year.

1 Night markets

There are literally hundreds of night markets, enough to eat at a different one every night, which we certainly completed the challenge for. These open air bazaars mostly offer xiao-chi, “small eats.” Simply put, snacks on sticks, fresh off the grill and occasionally a little scary! My favourites were the onion pancakes and bao sandwiches.

dalong night market

Night market stalls are everywhere in Taiwan

We went on a food tour on our first night in Taipei which ensured we were well versed in what NOT to eat during the rest of our trip. I would recommend this but it’s only for the adventurous.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the night markets when you visit Taiwan.

2 Taipei

There is so much to do and experience in the capital, so I can understand why most visitors never make it any further than here.

With temples, memorials, museums, hot springs and themed restaurants I’m actually struggling to limit my recommendations, so will save those for another post. For now, just be assured that there are plenty of reasons to visit the capital including the National Palace Museum and Taipei 101.

3 Tainan

The Taiwanese ancient capital of Tainan is a complete contrast to Taipei. I would highly recommend including this on your itinerary, to experience original and authentic traditions.

Head to the Anping District and visit the Fort, Tree House and other local heritage sights.

You can barely see the house… the tree house has taken over

Tainan is also the supposed origin of bubble tea, unless you believe the alternative – see Taichung. Dan Zai noodles also originated here, see my post 7 specialities made in Taiwan for more on these and other Taiwanese specialities.

4 Kaosiung, Fo Guang Shan buddha complex

An easy day trip from Kaosiung, Fo Guang Shan is a working monastery and educational museum. The extensive complex was definitely a highlight of my visit to Taiwan. A very spiritual place and despite the number of visitors it doesn’t feel touristy.

fo guang shan pagoda view

Fo Guang Shan complex

How to get there: MRT to Zouying Station, Buses 8501 or 8010/11.

There are a few things to visit in the city if time permits: I recommend the Dragon and Tiger pagodas at the Lotus Lake during the late afternoon.

5 Taichung

There quite a bit to experience in the city itself which is doable en foot. A walking tour with a company such as TC Time Walk covers most of this and the local guides are bound to be able to share other info from their city.

Don’t miss:

  • Miyahara for pineapplie cakes and ice cream.
  • Sun cake museum – it’s free, although the exhibits might need a little explanation as they are not in English but the chance to taste the cakes makes up for this. Don’t buy the cakes here though it’s worth checking out Ziyou Road. See my post 7 specialities made in Taiwan for more/details.
  • Fenjia night market (this one is in/on the streets near the university)

Taichung is also a good place to base yourself, for access to the Gaomei Wetlands, but don’t head there when it’s rainy, as we did.

6 Sun Moon Lake

This man-made lake in Nantou county is the largest body of water in Taiwan. Teeming with Chinese tourists during the day, it is a popular choice for day trips. I felt it was a nice place to go, but it can be busy and feels quite Westernised.

I think an overnight visit would allow you to see things after the tourists have left, so worth considering.

To get there it’s best to stay in Taichung and take a day trip from there if not staying overnight.

How to get there from Taichung: Buses from 7:50 am until 7:50 pm. I recommend getting a pass which includes options when you get there such as the ropeway and round-the-lake bus.

Sun Moon Lake NT$720

7 Taroko Gorge

Situated on the East of the island. Most easily accessible from Hua Lien, this national park is fairly large and the hiking trails are quite spread out. There is plenty to do on a day trip besides hiking either with a car (hire or get a driver) or using the public transport (note the buses are not frequent, so plan your day carefully if reliant on these).

Many people visit Taroko Gorge for the hiking trails which I recommend you plan ahead for, particularly if you want to climb a trail that requires a permit as these need to be obtained in advance.

8 Hua Lien

A good stopover city with one of the best night markets. There is little to do in the city other than shop and eat, the latter tending to result from the shopping options as well.

If you plan to visit Taroko Gorge this is the best place to stay if you prefer to be city based.

9 People

Whether it’s kitschy temples, themed restaurants or night markets, the one thing that stood out to me during my visit to Taiwan, was the people. Especially young Steven who we met whilst in the UK, staying with our neighbour.

with friends at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Everyone is friendly and helpful. You only have to find someone who speaks a little English and they will share something with you; food recommendations, local cultures and anything you want to ask about.

10 Souvenir stamps

Everywhere you visit in Taiwan had souvenir rubber stamps which you can collect. More about these in my next post as this of course was a major highlight for me given I’m always searching for something creative on my travels.

Have you been to Taiwan, got any recommendations?

Paint Matryoshka Russian dolls in St Petersburg

Matryoshka dolls are a typical souvenir from Russia and with so many different colour combinations and themes it’s difficult to pick out that unique set to take home.

These beautiful dolls are sold everywhere in Russia, so it’s important to consider the mass produced ones versus the hand painted creations. Some of the themes include favourite Disney characters and even footballers, very apt with the World Cup in Russia this year. The traditional classic colours tend to be yellow and red.

Local art and crafts and any chance to get creative on my travels always get me a little bit excited, so of course I went in search of somewhere to paint Matryoshka dolls when I was in St Petersburg last month.

Matryoshka Masterclass is run by Elena who offers classes daily where you can learn how to paint Matryoshka Russian dolls. Paint and decorate your own unique Matryoshka doll or set of 3 dolls. Of course I wanted to create a matching set so anticipated it would take a little longer than the advertised 2 hours.

Whilst Phill went off to visit more of the Hermitage museum; I’d already spent a day there. I sneaked off to do something creative, which was a lovely way to end my time in this beautiful city.

Matryoshka doll painting

Fortunately the dolls come ready painted with faces, as I’m sure this would have been the hardest bit with such tiny details. So to start, I only had to pick a set with either brown out blue eyes and select the 2 basic colours.

blank mtryoshka dolls

Base

Starting with the outline, is definitely a good way to get the hang of the texture of the paint. The guidelines make it fairly easy to brush on the chosen colours either side of the pencil lines indicating the edge of the dress/shawl.

paint matryoshka russian dolls

The painting does get slightly harder as you move from the larger doll to the medium one and then the baby. Repeating the colours on each. After the base is complete it’s time to work on the the front of the headdress which starts to get fiddly, particularly if you choose to adapt the design to one of the non standard options. I just added a point to the headdress and kept it simple, but making it symmetrical was challenging enough.

Features

Next, choosing one plait or two is a difficult decision. I opted for just the one, as wasn’t sure how balanced my freehand brush strokes would be at plaiting pig tails.

As time pushed on I was tasked with dotting on blobs of paint to create delicate flowers. Then more dots to decorate further and some help from Elena with the featured flowers. More dots followed and then a bit of blow drying, both the paint and then the varnish.

The hardest part is choosing the colours, not only for the dress and shawl but for the flowers and dots. Elena keeps the instructions simple so it’s fairly easy to just keep painting stage by stage, remembering you have to do each bit 3 times, if you are completing a set.

The class was small, just 5 of us, a mum and young son, plus a dad and his teenage daughter. All were Russian speakers, although I suspect at least one spoke some reasonable English, but the concentration on the painting didn’t allow much time for breaking the language barrier.

A wonderful experience and great souvenir. The more I get creative on my travels the more I want to travel for these sorts of experiences.

Quick list: markets in Hong Kong

There are many markets in Hong Kong. Most of these occupy whole street areas for periods of the day. The most popular ones can be found around Mongkok but there are a few others I recommend considering for a visit.

Temple market

Opening: from 2-midnight. Best after 8pm.
Get there: Yau Ma Tei station Exit C or Jordan Station Exit A.

During the daytime it’s a great place to browse for souvenirs, such as chopstick and tea sets but there is less going on.

tea set at HK market

In the evening much more is happening. This market is very popular with visitors to Hong Kong, so head here for a bite to eat at night and enjoy the atmosphere.

Cat street

Opening: 11am, closing around 7pm.
Get there: Lascar Row, Sheung Wan.

This market feels like a step back in time, with vintage memorabilia spilling out onto the pavements. An interesting place providing a glimpse of what feels a bit like a Chinese boot fair.

From kitschy to mass produced souvenirs, rummage deep and you may find a hidden treasure.

Stanley market

Opening: 10am to 6.30pm.
Get there: buses 6, 6A, 6X, 66, 73, 260, 973 or minibus no 40.

It’s touristy. The sellers won’t bargain on prices but they also don’t generally hassle you. We were there when it was quiet, which I can recommend; visit out of season.

Stanley market stall

I lost count of the stalls selling personalised carved blocks which can be used as stamps. Although a great souvenir or gift, they do feel a little gimmicky.

Kowloon city market

Opening: 6am to 2pm

With fresh fruits in abundance this is best visited in the morning. It’s a great place to check out seasonal fruits such as the notorious spikey durian, which can often be smelt before you see them.

Stock up on supplies or just absorb the atmosphere of local life.

Ladies market

Opening: 12noon to 11pm.
Get there: Mongkok MTR, Bank Centre exit.

A famous open market selling clothing, handbags (fakes), electronics and souvenirs.

Hong Kong Ladies Market chong sams

Despite the name, this market is not just for ladies it seems. It is also a great place for food. Prepare yourself for the skewers, dumplings or stinky tofu.

Goldfish market

Opens: from mid morning.
Get there: Mongkok MTR, exit B3.

As a visitor this market is simply a good opportunity for some photos. Around the festival season it can be really busy. Spot other creatures such as lizards and snakes as well as goldfish of course.

Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansions

From the outside these are predominantly blocks of flats but on the ground floor you will find many shops. The stores sell cheap and useless items mostly, but it’s indoors (good for when the weather is hot) and quite an experience. If you’re brave enough, try a curry house or stop at the Nepalese-run whiskey store.

Chop alley, Man Wah Lane, Shueng Wan

A chop is a personalised stamp carved in jade or stone bearing the owner’s signature. They were used in ancient times by Chinese scholars. The vendors will be happy to carve English names so these make a great personalised souvenir or gift and these feel more authentic than those at Stanley market.

There are many more markets in Hong Kong, these are just a few of my recommendations.

Have you been to Hong Kong? What did you think of the markets?