8 things to keep in mind when planning a trip to Hong Kong

Boasting a pleasant blend of city, mountains, and sea, Hong Kong could be a perfect place to get away

No Visa required

One of the perks of visiting Hong Kong is that when planning your trip, you don't need to add getting a Visa to your list. A passport is required, but Hong Kong will let Americans visit Visa-free, as long as you have money and a place to stay. The Customs officials are also generally pleasant toward American travelers, presenting none of the animosity visitors sometimes experience when heading into Mainland China.

Buckle in for the ride

A trip to Hong Kong will take you from 13 to 16 hours if you're leaving from the US and flying nonstop. Be prepared to finish your favorite book, binge the new season of Orange is the New Black, or catch up on some sleep while you're on the plane.

Such a long flight might mess with your internal clock a bit, but since China is between 12 and 15 hours different in time from the US, your internal clock was going to need a few gears changed no matter what. I recommend checking out what time you'll arrive and try to plan your sleep accordingly. Make yourself stay up the last 8 or so hours of your trip if you're arriving at night so you can hopefully sleep when you get checked into your hotel, or sleep the time away on the plane if you'll be arriving in the daytime so you can get out there and see some sights in the sunshine rather than needing a nap after getting settled in.

The sights can’t be beat

Hong Kong is very proud of its nighttime laser show, as well it should be. The spectacle at Victoria Harbour involves over 40 buildings and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show. It starts promptly at 8pm, lasts 13 minutes, and is totally free.

As for the daytime, Hong Kong is a city that feels as big and bustling as New York, but unlike the Big Apple, in certain areas you can stand in one place and pivot to see sparkling, modern skyscrapers, lush, green mountains, and the ocean lapping at the shore.


I personally recommend staying off the beaten path a small bit by finding a hotel in Kowloon rather than on Hong Kong Island. You can still be in walking distance of attractions like the Ladies' Market and easily access public transit getting you to the heart of the city, but while the island is modern and flashy, it can also feel cramped, and finding a place to bed down that isn't quite so bustling is often a welcome relief to travelers.

Getting around is pretty easy

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is pretty friendly for English-speaking people. Most people in shops will speak both Cantonese and at least a little English, and signs will also often have English on them. Hong Kong also has a pretty streamlined subway system and the famed double-decker buses we often associate with London roadways. Be warned that while the subways are pretty easy to navigate, including signs and announcements both in English and Cantonese, it's not always clear when it's your turn to get off the bus, so you have to pay close attention (or perhaps find someone to ask).

The food is amazing (and maybe not what you’d expect)

Credit: Kelsey Fox

If you think of Americanized Chinese take-out when you think of Chinese food, you will be in for a pleasant surprise when visiting Hong Kong. Dim sum is my favorite meal of the day (kind of like brunch food), but from breakfast to dinner to late-night snacks, you really can't go wrong with authentic Chinese.

Ok, well, maybe you should avoid street meat. And also don't drink any water that's not boiled. (Including maybe avoiding drinks with ice.) But overall, the food is delectable, and a much higher quality and with more complex flavors than what most of Americans envision when they think of Chinese food. (By the way, most hotels will provide you with a kettle to boil water and complimentary water bottles.)

It's common to order "family style" meals, where you can order several dishes loaded onto a Lazy Susan in the middle of your table for you to share with your friends. This is a great system because it allows you to order a few things and try them all without having to commit to one dish yourself.

Finally, even though you might be inclined to avoid chain restaurants like McDonald's and KFC, it can also be fun to see the differences in cuisine between what you're used to in America and what the Chinese get when they order a #2 combo at your favorite fast food joint. It's a common misconception that rice is automatically served with every meal in China, but at fast food places, you'll get some instead of fries at KFC, for instance. Chicken nuggets at McDonald's in Hong Kong are actually just actual chicken wings, bones and all, and they're delicious.

There’s a lot to do outside of the city too

If you're in Hong Kong, it's just a quick ferry ride to the former Portuguese territory, Macau. This city is rich with history and hosts an amazing array of beautiful churches and old buildings, as well as an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Portuguese food and culture. Not to mention it's home to somewhat of a mini-Vegas, complete with lavish casinos and a happening nightlife.

Even though Macau has its own currency, the casinos exclusively deal in Hong Kong Dollars, and most businesses in the area do too. This is convenient if you're only there on a day trip as you do not have to spend any time exchanging your currency (or lose anything to the exchange rate). Oh, and you won't need a Visa to visit here either.

There's also Hong Kong Disney Land, with its own dedicated train line replete with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows in its air-conditioned cars. This Disney Park is pretty much like any other Disney Land Park, but if you've never been able to afford such an extravagance before, going while in Hong Kong will help you save a lot of money with the exchange rate considered.

It's also easy to access the Tian Tan Buddha from Hong Kong. This statue/building is so large you can see it from the plane as you fly in. You can get to the area by a bus that climbs windy, mountain roads, or you can treat yourself to a cable car ride over the mountains. Be aware that if you'd like to actually go inside the Buddha, it is a long and arduous upstairs climb, there is a small fee, and no pictures are allowed inside.

Things to watch out for

If you're not Chinese, cabbies in both cities might try to take advantage of you. A common rule is to usually just let them. The fares they'll charge you end up being a few bucks max, maybe with half a dollar's worth of extra fees sneakily tacked on. The extra 50 cents is usually not worth stopping your whole day and trying to explain to a police officer that doesn't speak English what the problem is.

If you decide to go to the mainland after arriving in Hong Kong, you will have to go through Customs or Border Patrol just like you are entering a different country. You will need a Visa, and you will need to exchange your money from HKD to RMB. If you're driving, don't forget that while people drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, you'll have to switch to the right when entering mainland China.

You should haggle with shopkeepers. Outside of chain stores, prices are not locked down, and when they see you are not Chinese, the first price offered will always be much more than what the shopkeeper is willing to take. They're just feeling you (and your naivete) out.

Finally, Chinese toilets are not like American toilets. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, it's best to be prepared to … squat. Your hotel will likely have Western toilets (what we're used to) as will many restaurants and attractions. However, other than your hotel, do not expect any establishment to provide toilet paper or soap. Most people carry travel tissue packs and hand sanitizer with them for this reason.

The takeaway

A visit to Hong Kong is an unforgettable one. Though the flight is long and can be expensive, the money you spend at your destination is pretty minuscule compared to some other places, so the cost evens out. The culture and the cuisine is amazing, and you can easily come home with tons of souvenirs for your friends and family without breaking the bank. In the end, Hong Kong is an ideal destination for the traveler looking to step out of their comfort zone, but looking for a little familiarity (and English) along the way.

Subscribe now

Related Posts
Explore

Meet Luna and James—The Travel Vloggers Who Invited You into Their Bedroom

One French couple took the concept of sharing their lives through vlogs to another level.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included videos and links from a YouTube channel that was posing as Luna Okko and illegally uploading her content.

In their videos, Luna and James seem in many ways like typical travel vloggers.

They're young, charming, attractive, and willing to share their adventurous lifestyle with the world—maybe just a little more willing than most…

If you watch some of the content on their YouTube channel a YouTube Channel that illegally appropriates their content, you might not even notice the difference. They use the same editing style and camera techniques that are popular with a thousand other vloggers—with dreamy, royalty-free music playing over slow-motion street views, close-ups of food, and shots of Luna applying her makeup.


Their narration switches back and forth between French to English as they offer a tour of their vacation rental in Vietnam, or go exploring in Budapest and Krakow. They walk you through every part of their lives, from going out for food to waiting at the airport, to sending a package to one of their fans. They even tried the vlogger trend where they let their Instagram followers vote to decide all their activities for a full day.

Occasionally their videos will make reference to other websites where they share different kinds of content, but for the most part there is little to distinguish these vlogs from hundreds of similar videos that are uploaded every day.

Maybe the camera lingers a little longer on a shot of Luna in a revealing outfit—already a favorite tactic of travel vloggers—but honestly the biggest indication that there is something off about these safe for work clips is the fact that they are not more popular. Luna and James built their shared career through other platforms, where they share parts of their life that wouldn't be allowed on YouTube.

There's an aspect of all vlogging that is fundamentally exhibitionism for the creators and voyeurism for the audience. You're getting a peak into the privacy of other people's lives and into the fairly mundane activities that fill their days. But back in 2017, Luna and James took that exhibitionism to its logical conclusion by choosing to also share their sex life.

It was early that year that Luna and James discovered a live streaming platform where strangers would pay to watch them engage in sexual activity, but the couple evidently found that they enjoyed communicating with their fans and soon transitioned to become the first of their kind p**n vloggers (you can thank ad filters for those asterisks) with a series of videos called The Sex Diaries, which opened with some normal vlog material, building up to more explicit content.

Others have attempted to emulate their formula, but none have been as successful at attracting an audience or capturing that polished slice-of-life aesthetic. Even some of their most popular imitators—like aspiring rapper Andy Savage and his girlfriend Suki—are deeply cringe-inducing.

At the peak of their popularity on one adult video site, Luna and James had hundreds of thousands of subscribers, more than 100 million views, and were selling merch branded with their shared pseudonym/motto—Okko, which they define as "the personal journey of letting go of social constructs in order to achieve understanding through real life experiences and adventures." Luna and James were even profiled for the Taiwanese version of Marie Claire.

It's hard to say how much of their popularity could be attributed to their vlogging approach and how much was based on the simple draw of watching two attractive people do the usual horny things, but there is something undeniably powerful about the intimate window they offered into their lives.

They didn't sexualize everything in their lives. They were romantic and playful with each other, and they built the kind of parasocial relationship with their audience that makes it feel like you're friends with these people…then those friends invite you into their bedroom.

Whether that excites you or disturbs you, it's a dramatically different model for both vlogging and for explicit content, which both tend to treat sex as compartmentalized from the rest of life. Videos posted online tend to be either all about sex or not (explicitly) about sex at all. But then, a similar separation is found in every known human culture.

While most other species of social animals engage in the reproductive act in plain view of their peers, humans retreat to private spaces. With the exception of ritualistic "bedding ceremonies," human societies tend to maintain a clear barrier between public life and sex life. The fact that Luna and James chose to erase that boundary is genuinely shocking. It suggests a kind of radical openness and honesty that some people claim to practice, but few actually do.

But as it turns out, that sense of radical openness was an illusion. While Luna and James were sharing their real life, as with every vlogging couple, they were only sharing the parts that looked nice. They represented their lives as a polished, romanticized version of reality. And as with many vlogging couples, the revelation of trouble in paradise came as surprise to their fans.

Luna left James in Bali in December of 2019, heading back to Europe. Initially Luna referred to this as "taking a kind of break" and started posting solo travel/sexual vlogs under the title Luna's Journey, while James rebranded the couple's YouTube channel as Le James, and began posting a safe for work vlog there.

They may have been drifting apart for a long time and only feigning their prior passion for each other for the sake of their shared business interest. The couple officially split in January.

Was a desire to move in different creative directions at the root of their split? They had seemed to have such a strong relationship. In part, that may have stemmed from the filtered nature of vlogging, but even after their breakup James claimed that he "was really so sure that [Luna] was the one."

Is there something corrosive about exposing even the most intimate aspects of your relationship to such a wide audience? Or was this a case of the normal sort of passion and dissolution that so many couples go through in their 20s?

Luna has continued to use some of the accounts that she and James used to share; and in recent episodes of Luna's Journey, she has been appearing with her new boyfriend, Evan—going hiking with friends, renting a camper van, and having sex in each place they visit. The videos are as popular as ever, and Luna and Evan now have their own shared Instagram account.

James, meanwhile, has been using his new YouTube channel to document his attempt to rebuild his life after losing his relationship, his job, and his home in one fell swoop. He has relocated to Portugal and built himself a tiny home in the woods. He goes surfing, works on various projects, and muses about life. He does still post his own adult content on a number of platforms, but his YouTube vlog seems to be an entirely separate venture.

Building my own CABIN in the woods! (Tiny House) www.youtube.com

Clearly, for James at least, there was a sincere desire to share his life outside of any interest in sexual exhibitionism. But to what extent was the sexual component of Luna and James's videos together an inevitable extension of elements that are prevalent throughout vlogging?

Does the audience's obsessive interest in the romanticized lives of vlogging couples already verge on fetishizing? Is there a substantial difference between the fantasies represented in their selective version of reality and the fantasies found on every adult site on the Internet?

Luna and James are not the first vloggers to split, only to then continue broadcasting their separate lives to an eager audience as they move on and form new relationships. If it's become ordinary to watch people we don't know working through that kind of personal drama, is it so strange for them to also give us access to their sex life?

Alternatively, is this part of a model for how adult content can begin to normalize sex and sexuality?

If it's safe to assume that a lot of the hang-ups and dysfunctions that disrupt our sex lives are tied to shame, can adult content that treats sex more as a normal part of life—rather than a surreal world where pizza delivery and the existence of step-siblings is somehow overtly sexual—help us as a society to move past that shame and develop healthier relationships with our own sexuality?

While these vlogs are not devoid of the problems that pervade the adult film industry—e.g. unrealistic standards of beauty, preferences for certain interracial pairings, and prioritizing visually stimulating activity over the pleasure of the participants—maybe they could be part of moving things in a more sex-positive direction. Maybe...

It's a complicated situation without a lot of clear answers. But if there is one certainty that we can all take from this, it's a piece of advice that may only apply to James at the moment but that we should all keep in mind going forward: Never watch your ex's sex vlogs.

When our summer vacations went out the window, my friends and I were devastated.

We had big things planned—a group of us had spent months looking forward to backpacking around Europe! Thankfully, our flights were refunded, but our hearts were still broken. Paris, London, and Amsterdam will have to wait.

When thinking about alternatives, we realized there are so many amazing places to visit in the U.S. My friend Sophie suggested a camping road trip. I mean, backpacking was never going to be glamorous to begin with, but some of us didn't like the sound of sleeping outdoors for such a long period of time.

That's when my friend Amy mentioned Getaway. They offer outposts with beautiful, secluded cabins tucked away between the trees. We read their Journal posts, plus I emailed their team for reassurance it was safe, and they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

They reassured us that they've upped their cleaning procedures to make the cabins as safe as possible and that the cabins are at least 50-150 ft away from each other. We also wouldn't have to go to a check-in desk, so we could go straight to our cabin without interacting with anyone else during our stay. Plus, it's super affordable, too.

Getaway offered a compromise: we would still do camping, but with comfort. We organized everything we needed and set out on our road trip in Sophie's Jeep.

Our first stop was at McKinney Falls State Park. The creek was stunning. The park had two waterfalls which filled the swimming holes, and we didn't hesitate for a second to jump into the refreshing water. After our morning there, our next stop was the Old Baldy Trail for a hike. This trail was steep and took some effort, but boy, was it worth it for the beautiful views from the top.

The next stop was Blue Hole Regional Park. We hiked the whole trail, which is 1.6 miles, and then swam in the swimming area. The trail was mostly flat, and it was a pleasant, leisurely hike with gorgeous scenes. We really packed the day full of activities.

By the time we were ready to head to Getaway, we were exhausted. When we arrived, I was happy to see that the Getaway cabins are nicely spread out—you can still glimpse the other cabins in the distance through the trees, but they feel far enough away to maintain privacy.

Our cabin had everything we needed: AC and heat, a private bathroom with a toilet and a hot shower, a kitchenette with a two-burner stove, mini-fridge, a fire pit, and all the kitchen essentials. We also found a deck of cards and some books. It was nice to see a cozy bed after such a long day.



The first night we settled in and took advantage of the shower. Then we stashed our phones in the cellphone "lockbox" for the night. The cabins have a giant window with views of nature, which meant we could appreciate it without having to rough it. We toasted three rounds of s'mores as we chilled in the Adirondack chairs around the flickering fire.

When it started to get cool, we headed back into the cozy cabin, made some tea, and went to bed.

The next morning, we felt super refreshed after a good sleep, so we decided we'd go on a hike along the Cypress Creek Nature Trail. It was so scenic, with amazing views of the stunning vistas. After that, we were drained and happy to be going back to our comfortable cabin! That night, we whipped up chicken pesto pasta on the stove and had s'mores over the campfire for dessert. After another long day, we were asleep only a few minutes after climbing into the soft bed.

For our last day at our Getaway cabin, we made scrambled eggs for breakfast before driving to Cooper Creek for a stroll and great views of nature. That evening, we grilled veggies and chicken skewers and ate them at the picnic table while drinking wine. When it got chilly, we went into the cabin and laughed the evening away.

If you're looking for somewhere safe and peaceful to go with your friends or a partner, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!



Travel

What I Learned as an American Living in London During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even subtle cultural differences change how a country handles crisis.

On March 3rd, 2020, I left New York City to go spend three months in London with my longtime partner.

You likely recognize that date as shockingly close to when all hell broke loose around the world thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was leaving NYC, there were already stirrings of unease surrounding a mysterious new virus that was making its way from China to the States, but very few people thought it would be anything but a passing inconvenience.

As it turned out, I likely already had the virus when I departed New York. I began running a fever the day I arrived in London. Still, I figured I had probably just caught a cold on the plane (this was before we knew what we know now, that the coronavirus was already extremely prevalent in NYC by March 3rd), and there was no way of knowing for sure, because tests were only available to people in the hospital with COVID symptoms. Soon, my partner also came down with symptoms.

As we recovered (we were both lucky to have relatively mild cases that lasted only a couple of days), we watched London slowly close down around us. First, theaters and public venues began to close, then office workers were told to stay home. Throughout it all, there was a reigning sense of calm and acceptance among the British people, even as the rest of the world began to panic.

BBC.com

The complaints I heard from British friends and acquaintances were never about the lockdown measures, but rather about the conservative government's hesitance to take more drastic steps and the lack of clarity surrounding what they expected the population to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, I was struck by the difference in tone that I saw on my social media from American friends discussing the pandemic and the calm acceptance of the British people around me. Every post by an American discussing the pandemic used the word "I" over and over again and had a generally panicky tone. Meanwhile, the British were speaking with "we" and jokingly mourning their inability to grab a pint and watch football.

Sure, this composure was not true of every single citizen in the UK, just as panic was not every American's reaction, but there was a distinct difference in the responses I personally saw. In general, people who lived in London seemed quick to ask how they could help each other and their country, while many Americans seemed ready to batten down the hatches and take on an "every man for himself" attitude.

I was struck by this sign I saw outside a local corner shop in London:

Image of sign asking if anyone needs anything during COVID-19

Everywhere in London I saw examples of collectivism. While images were coming out of America of totally bare supermarket shelves thanks to people hoarding food and supplies to ensure their own comfort and safety, in London I watched two older women argue over who should take the last packet of chicken thighs. Both women insisted the other should have it.

Now that I'm back in the US, I haven't seen a thing like that in my local grocery stores, and while I know mutual aid networks are flourishing and neighbors are assisting each other in cities around the US, I've still been struck by our general lack of visible camaraderie.

It's no secret that the British government handled the COVID-19 crisis relatively poorly, but I was still struck by a sense of hard-fought unity I felt I shared with every average Londoner.

The British aren't an overly expressive people, but they're extraordinarily cordial. We Americans usually think of this kind of British decorum as a stuffy relic of the past that's only relevant in the event of an afternoon tea at Harrods, and perhaps that's partly true, but COVID-19 showed me just how deep this cordiality goes.

British decorum is not a form of politeness that's just about saying "Please" and "Thank you" or moving out of someone's way on the sidewalk; it's the kind of regard for your fellow man that makes it second nature to wait patiently in line if that makes a supermarket safer. It's an innate sense of obligation to each other that makes wearing a mask on public transportation an obvious and inarguably appropriate step to take during a deadly pandemic.

Sure, Brexit proves that nationalism is just as alive and well in England as it is in America, and in many ways Boris Johnson is a slightly less terrifying version of Donald Trump. But my time in Britain showed me that nothing can rid the British people of their ability to weather a storm as a united people, while I can't say the same of America.

On March 20th, Boris made the historic decision to close the pubs in the UK. For context, even during WWII, when London was being regularly bombed by the Germans, the pubs mostly remained open. This was the only time during my stay in London that I saw a collective outpouring of emotion.

I walked to my local pub out of curiosity that night (I had been two weeks without symptoms and told I was fine to leave the house), knowing that it would be closed indefinitely first thing the next morning. What I found was a sensibly socially distanced crowd of people laughing and singing and drinking together to mark the unthinkable day when the pubs would shut. Everyone was fast friends with their neighbor, and even the drunkest among us kept their distance and used hand sanitizer often. But there was a feeling of unity in the pub that night that I have never experienced in America. A sense that, as a people, Londoners would get through this by looking after one another in ways their government had nothing to do with.

Londoners survive; that's what they do. But the part of "keeping calm and carrying on" that doesn't fit as neatly on a poster is the additional impetus to help one's neighbors in big and small ways.

As we're forced to reckon with the failings of the American government during this time of political, social, and economic turmoil, I wonder if we should not also be looking at the pervasive sense of individualism that's so innate to our culture. I'm not even sure I fully recognized it until it became starkly obvious to me in contrast to a different culture.

Yes, the American government failed us in the way it handled the COVID-19 outbreak, but shouldn't we also interrogate our personal inability to care for each other without strict mandate from the government? Shouldn't we consider that true change can't come to America until we start taking personal responsibility for each other? Yes, we need to deconstruct the systems of oppression inherent in the American government that allow for widespread injustice. But we also need to ask ourselves everyday if we're asking the government to do the work that we aren't doing ourselves.

In the wise words of people who have been doing mutual aid work for generations: We keep us safe. It's time we take a page from Londoners' book and consider that politeness isn't just nice; it can also be an act of radical resistance.