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Why Hong Kong is My Favorite City for Solo Travel

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:

It’s Easy

The Tian Tan Buddha on Lanta Island

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

Occupy Protesters and iPhone ads

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

Cable car ride to see the Big Buddha

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

Panda buns!

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.

Shopping

Temple Night Market

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

Chili garlic crab- this was the small size if you can believe it

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.

Terrific Food

Best thing I ate in 2014. Well, top 10 at least.

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.

The Skyline of Hong Kong Island is truly something

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.

Do You Have a Favorite Solo City?

25 Responses to Why Hong Kong is My Favorite City for Solo Travel

  1. Dan Foster March 9, 2015 at 8:40 AM #

    100% agreed! Singapore is pretty easy to navigate and I settled in pretty well there, too. However it’s a much pricier destination and doesn’t quite have the same diversity as HK.

  2. Rebekah March 9, 2015 at 9:50 AM #

    Oh hong kong, its one the places I never made it too in China. I’ve heard such great things about it. I really liked being in Shanghai alone. Its a pretty unfussy city and I really feel like 95% of China is pretty safe for travelers. I do not enjoy getting too much attention for being alone- it makes me feel like hiding sometimes

  3. Rachel March 9, 2015 at 11:23 AM #

    Girl! You live in Seattle! Real Chinese food is right over the border in Richmond.

    • Steph March 9, 2015 at 11:33 AM #

      I haven’t been to Richmond yet, will have to check it out. Seattle is great for real korean, real japanese and real vietnamese but real chinese has been sorely lacking!

  4. renucas March 9, 2015 at 12:53 PM #

    LOVE this post! Hong Kong does sound like a great solo destination – comfy transport system, wifi everywhere, great shopping and food, lots of wandering….what else do you need? 🙂 My favorite solo city is Mumbai.

  5. Amy March 9, 2015 at 7:23 PM #

    I loved Hong Kong too! Although actually I still got a fair amount of attention there, which I find totally strange. On two occasions strangers on the metro took photos of me. I was very yellow blonde at the time though, so maybe it was that rather than simply being foreign.

  6. theworldonmynecklace March 9, 2015 at 7:29 PM #

    I haven’t been yet but planning to spend a week there early next year. My Step brother lives there so hoping to stay at his place and explore solo

  7. jenniferdstevens March 9, 2015 at 9:59 PM #

    I LOVED my time in Hong Kong as well, and agree it’s a very easy place to travel solo. Plus, that garlic chili crab?? YES.

  8. Diana Maria March 9, 2015 at 10:43 PM #

    I’ve never been to Honk Kong but I’ve always wanted to visit, it’s definitely on my list of must see places!

  9. Sarah March 10, 2015 at 5:41 AM #

    Great post Steph! I am going on Monday and I am so excited to aim without purpose like you said!! So much to see! Do you still know people there?I would love to meet with fellow bloggers?!

    • Steph March 10, 2015 at 8:34 PM #

      Hmm not off the top of my head. You might try twitter!

      • jasmineeugenio November 13, 2016 at 2:31 PM #

        I am currently in Tsim sha tsui looking for a place to eat, where did you go for the crab with garlic?

        • Steph November 15, 2016 at 12:37 PM #

          Hi Jasmine,
          This is probably too late to be useful but the chili garlic crab was actually at some hole in the wall on Hong Kong Island, not in Tsim sha tsui.

  10. Tausha March 10, 2015 at 8:22 AM #

    Completely agree! Hong Kong is amazing for solo travel! Great post!

  11. SLioy March 11, 2015 at 7:00 AM #

    I feel much the same, actually! While living for almost two years in Shenzhen I always felt like HK was my ‘escape’ from China and into some sort of middle ground between there and home. It was always great for a solo wander or a party weekend with or really any sort of visit. I’ve actually not been back there in three years or something at this point, and I’ve found myself missing it recently. Perhaps I’ll find my way back there this year to explore it all over again.

  12. Katrina the Two Week Traveler March 11, 2015 at 12:08 PM #

    Yes! It’s mine too! I was there for several days last October and had the best time. I love how easy it is to get around and how friendly the people are….and the dim sum! Tim Ho Wan! There’s nothing not to love about HK.

  13. Vanessa March 11, 2015 at 4:43 PM #

    That Tim Ho Wan buns looks good even by just looking at it. And that chili crab! I wonder how big is the large order. I think a food trip to Hongkong would be a perfect idea. Would definitely try it onetime. Thanks for sharing this.

  14. John Wenskovitch March 26, 2015 at 6:22 PM #

    I agree with this completely. Hong Kong was my first solo destination, and it really was easy. Even with moderate anxiety issues.

  15. antignos April 27, 2015 at 1:22 AM #

    It’s always Hong Kong. Best city in the world hands down.

  16. Dhinesh September 27, 2015 at 8:44 AM #

    Thanks for your post.. am planning solo trip to HK on Chinese new year eve- Feb 2016

  17. [email protected] November 18, 2015 at 6:31 PM #

    My favorite solo city for traveling and discovering would definitely be Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. Ive been there for 1 month alone and in 2 days I already had lots of contacts and new friends! I did some volunteer work there as well! I’m actually thinking about traveling to Hong Kong on my own and this article made me very excited! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. jen July 28, 2016 at 2:09 PM #

    This is so exciting! I will be having my first solo trip ever and it’ll be in Hong Kong. Right on my birthday this October. And i can’t wait. butterflies on my tummy 🙂

  19. Elisha October 1, 2016 at 1:27 PM #

    I’m flying out to Hong Kong by myself next Feb to meet a friend and this post has really reassured me! I’ve never been and love exploring but was apprehensive about how safe it would be to aimlessly wander around. Thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Tyler November 9, 2016 at 12:24 PM #

    Great post Stephanie! For a first timer to Hong Kong who is looking to “aimlessly wander”, which part of the city would you suggest staying in? I’m interested in the parks, museums, you mentioned cemeteries. I’d also like to spend time at a large market.

    Thoughts?

    • Steph November 15, 2016 at 12:36 PM #

      I think Kowloon is probably the best place to base yourself, probably in the Tsim Sha Sui area. It’s less expensive and more happening than Hong Kong Island and close to the major markets. There is great public transportation in the city so it’s very easy to get around.

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