2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also leaves me well placed to give you tips on how to have the best experience

For this review, I’m focusing on 10 classic highlights of Hong Kong and can give some tips that will improve your experience.  But my biggest tip overall is that Hong Kong is not just skyscrapers and neon signs – more than 3/4 of HK is undeveloped, 40% is national parks and a mini tropical paradise if you just jump on a ferry or take a short taxi ride.  For some ideas that will give you an even better HK experience, see the travel entry for 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong – you maybe surprised at just how world-class an experience you can get from these little islands

2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also keen to share some tips to make sure you get the best from the place
The biggest overall tip I can give – many people when they think of Hong Kong think of the skyscrapers, the busy neon light lined streets, the sheer hustle of one of the most densely populated places on earth etc etc – and it is indeed all of these things.  But it is also 75% undeveloped and 40% national park.  In short, it is a world class city, with a tropical paradise a short ferry / taxi away.  That is why, for this review, I am focusing on some of the more unusual things to do in Hong Kong for a first time visitor
Should you want to check out the classic Hong Kong highlights – see my entry for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Tai Long Wan day trip from Central Hong Kong

I’ve called out in another travel entry (2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong) that Hong Kong will surprise you with just how much natural beauty and tropical paradise is on its doorstep, and nothing shows this better than the day trip to the eastern beach of Tai Long Wan.  In my opinion, HK’s most beautiful beach for both sand quality, water quality and surroundings.  It’s stunning as you walk over the nearby headland to see the two main beaches with Sharp Peak looming over both of them and, as you get the sampan boat back, not for the first time you’ll be just amazed that you’re in HK

 

Plan for getting there and back – Getting there and back you’ve got 2 options: road or sea.  For road – either take a taxi direct to the Sai Wan Pavilion inside Sai Kung National park, or a bus to the entrance of the National Park (Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre – 45/60mins from Central) and then taxi from there to the pavilion (15mins).  Must be a taxi as Ubers are not allowed in the park.  Once there, it’s an hour walk down to the main beach of Ham Tim.  For sea, take one of the speed boats from Sai Kung Public Pier, which you can reach in 45mins from Central.  Takes around 30mins and HK$120 / US$15 per person.  Can get a little bumpy as you get towards Tai Long Wan, but only for 10mins or so, and along the way you’ll see the UNESCO World Heritage rock formations that hug the coast.  My suggestion is to take the taxi to the Sai Wan Pavilion, walk to Ham Tim as you pass by some of the small beaches and villages, chill out on the beach, walk over to the longer Tai Long Wan beach (just around the headland from Ham Tim), and then make your way back via speed boat to Sai Kung Town for some food in one of the seafront seafood restaurants

 

If looking for a bit more adventure when up in Tai Long Wan, the nearby rockpools are fun and the climb up to Sharp Peak (3 hours round trip) is well worth it for the views.  I could write all day about Tai Long Wan, but won’t – instead, Sassy does a great summary here with all the details you need https://www.sassyhongkong.com/whats-on-hk-tai-long-wan-guide-beach-eat-drink-camping/

 

Its obviously hard not to prioritise the classic highlights of Hong Kong, such as the Star Ferry, view from the Peak etc – and I’ve written a review for top tips on these here at 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong – but if you’re looking for a tropical beach and fun adventure getting there, you won’t be disappointed in Tai Long Wan

Relaxing on the beaches of Phuket

Phuket is a beautiful spot to chill out at for a few days.  It has the full range of accommodation and eating options, some good opportunities for partying / lash, diving to the south and enough scale to head off on trips all around the peninsular

 

Yes, its touristy, but it ticks the chill out vibe after a few weeks of travelling or as a simple break from any of the nearby Asian cities

 

Only a very brief travel entry, so a few high level tips:

  • Even if there for full on partying/ lash – try not to stay in Patong.  It’s great for the nights out, but there are just so many wonderful options slightly further away in the hills and on the beaches for the same prices
  • When in Patong, even if not there for a giant night out, make sure to head to Tiger Bar.  It kind of sums up the Patong vibe with something like 50 different mini bars each with their own theme
  • There are a bunch of islands off the east coast of Phuket that you can visit as part of day tour with a variety of operators leaving from Yamu Pier.  The islands are great, but you just need to be careful who you book with because it is very easy to get rammed into a full tourist boat that won’t quite hit the paradise vibe you’re looking for
  • There are some great spots for scuba diving all around Phuket, in particular the ferry reef dive off Raja Yai in the south is superb, with heaps of large cleaner fish that come up very close

A supercharged week seeing the highlights of Israel and Jordan

I say this trip is supercharged because it doesn’t leave much time for chilling out.  But, if you’re like most of us and only have a limited amount of vacation, then this is a fantastic weekend to weekend trip that takes in the world famous sites of Jerusalem, Petra and Wadi rum; while providing time for some fun experiences like floating in the Dead Sea, scuba diving in the Red Sea, driving through sparse deserts and a party in Tel Aviv

You’ll need energy for these 7 days, but you’ll be rewarded as, in my opinion, its one of the world’s best week long trips in the world

I was hesitating in going in winter as I’d seen low temperatures.  Don’t.  The winter helped with reduced crowds, not needing to book far ahead and not getting exhausted by the heat.  Perfect trip for a week-long winter break

4WDing around Wadi Rum and spending a night in a desert camp

No wonder they filmed The Martian, Star Wars, Dune and Prometheus here – Wadi Rum has an otherworldly feel to it and driving around in 4x4s with the wind in your face watching the sandstone cliffs and red desert pass you by really gives a sci-fi feeling of adventure.  Expect to find yourselves regularly stopping to gawp at the latest stunning vista throughout the day

I’m sure there is a bunch of things that can take multiple days up, but we had half a day plus staying over night in one of the Martian tent, and that felt like the right amount of time.  Especially as we had time for both the sunset and the stunning first light.  A must if in this part of the world

Exploring Petra in winter

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

Floating in the Dead Sea on the Jordan side

This is just one of those experiences that we’ve all heard about, but really needs to be experienced to be believed.  Surrounded by history with the likes of Jerusalem, the King’s Highway and crusader castles nearby, you are very likely not only in this part of the world for the Dead Sea, but, if you, be sure to give it a go as its heaps of fun.  Plus, has the added attraction of being the lowest point on earth (408 metres below sea level)

You’ll most realistically access it via one of the hotels / spa treatment areas because you’ll want access to running water, ease of walking into the sea, towels, access to mud etc.  The extra cost, either through a day pass or access via the hotel, is worth it

Crossing from Israel / Jerusalem to Jordan when needing a visa on arrival

  • There are three land border crossings between Israel and Jordan – one in the north (the Sheik Hussain Bridge crossing near Best Sha’an), one nearby Jerusalem (the King Hussain Bridge crossing) and one in the south (Wadi Araba crossing between Eilat and Aqaba)
  • Entering into Israel from any of these borders is super simple, although give yourself the extra time for the high levels of security
  • However, the problem is that Jordan do not grant visas on arrival at either the land crossing near Jerusalem (King Hussain Bridge) or the one in the south (Wadi Araba).  The only one you can get a visa on arrival at is the Sheik Hussain bridge, which means you have to do a bit of a detour if you’re trying to get from Jerusalem to Amman / Jordan King’s Highway / Petra / Wadi Rum etc
  • Fortunately, for many this detour isn’t too frustrating as you may be going that direction anyway to see the Roman Ruins of Jerash
  • Obviously if you have already arranged a Jordanian visa, then you can arrive via any of the land crossings
  • To get to the Sheik Hussein Bridge crossing from Jerusalem:
    • Get the 966 or 967 local bus from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to Beit Sha’an.  They leave fairly regularly (like every 15mins or so), but have a look on google maps for all potential buses and timings – it was surprisingly accurate with timings.  Costs around 35 shekels and takes around 1.5 hours.  You can get the bus from some of the stops further north from the Central Bus Station (which we did), but you run the risk of not getting a seat – ours was full of Israeli military transiting so didn’t get a seat
    • From Beit Sha’an, there should be a taxi at the main stop (not a bus station, more just a stop).  40 shekels and around 10mins to the border with Jordan
    • If don’t fancy the bus, you can get a taxi from Jerusalem to the Sheik Hussain Bridge for around USD160.  Takes about an hour and a half
    • Give yourself around an hour to pass the border.  It should be straightforward but you need to get a bus to cross the 200m bridge and the Jordanian immigration is snail pace
    • As always in Israel, be aware of the sabbath (from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) as no buses will be running then
  • There is very little on the Jordan side.  There is a foreign exchange counter but didn’t seem to be many local buses.  We arranged with one of the guys offerings tours in Jerusalem for a driver for USD180 for the day to take us from the border to Amman, via a day checking out Jerash, picking up food, stopping for photos etc.  Locals tell us can get it for USD150.  Well worth it considering the route to Jerash from the border will be quite indirect
  • Going to and fro between Jordan and Israel is fine re passport stamps etc.  The Israelis don’t stamp your passport, instead they give you a paper card which you must keep with you on your stay in Israel, which avoids any entry issues with places like Lebanon.  Jordan do stamp your passport, but Israel have no issues with this

Jerusalem for a day on the Sabbath

One of the most famous cities in the world and the spiritual centre for three of the world’s major religions, Jerusalem is steeped in history and has sites that attract hordes of tourists and worshippers alike

We went on the sabbath, which in Israel means many things are closed, and in winter, which means it’ll be around 10-12 Celsius / 50-54 Fahrenheit in the day, so it was probably a bit quieter than normal and I think that was a positive on the overall experience

I’ve read in books like the Lonely Planet that you need four days to experience Jerusalem.  I think that may be true if you are deeply religious or have a passion for the history of the area, but for those who just broadly want to check it out, and have the right level of energy, you can have a great experience with only one day

So, if only have one day, I have 2 suggestions.  Firstly, focus on the key sites of the old city, in particular the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple on the Mount.  Secondly, don’t try to do more than that and, instead, get lost wandering through Jerusalem’s narrow streets and off the tourist trail.  You’ll notice subtle differences moving between quarters and stumble upon some of the lesser known sites.  Far more enjoyable that following a guided tour, and less tiring