On April 2, 2018 I was standing in Brussels Airport with my wife and good friend Eric. He wanted to go away for a few days and do some fun stuff. He asked me and my wife to join him on the trip. We had no clue yet where we were going, but he had warned us not to expect too much. It would be a short trip in Europe, but preferably in some warmer climate than Belgium. I had packed for a 20°C and had, of course, packed my camera, lenses, batteries and gorillapod. I was a bit short on memoriecards, but that shouldn’t be too problematic for a short trip like this.
After a couple of wrong guesses he guided us to the check in for a flight to Athens. I was thrilled! Immediately I was thinking about what we could do there and what photos I would be making. The line in front of us slowly grew shorter and our excitement was growing. My wife looked up the weather and it was pretty good compared to Belgium with a comfortable 19°C.
After a while we were up front in the waiting line. When it was our turn Eric exclaimed: ‘Oh, I made a mistake! We are in the wrong line.’ I didn’t know what to think… I was surprised to say the least; excited because it had to be ‘better’ than Greece (which was already pretty cool!).
Next up we went to pose for a photo before going to the correct check-in. We were posing in front of a giant banner of Hong Kong, but still I was too stupid or too impressed by what was happening, to realize that Hong Kong was going to be our destination. Talk about a surprise trip.
Indeed, about 11 hours later we arrived early in the morning at Hong Kong international airport. As soon as I laid eyes on the sunrise above this tropical looking scenery, while still in the terminal building, I knew I was in for a treat. We had between 72 and 96 hours to see as much of the city and it’s surroundings as possible.
Below you’ll find what we did and photographed.
Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery
Our first stop on the first day was Nan Lian Garden. This is a Chinese garden with few very photogenic spots, but the golden looking Pavilion of Absolute Perfection and it’s orange colored walking bridge is a great spot to take some photos. The surroundings feel quite surreal at times. The garden is of course a quiet place, but all around are giant apartment buildings. The pictures really show the contrasts of which Hong Kong is full. Tradition and modernity combined. It was pretty much the perfect spot to go to first because of that contrast. I felt like I had arrived in a new world.
From the Nan Lian Garden you can walk straight into the Chi Lin Nunnery. Another quiet spot in the otherwise very busy and hectic city of Hong Kong. Not that I had experienced the busy side of Hong Kong yet… Just like the Nan Lian Garden there are few photogenic spots, but both the style and symmetry make for some nice photos. You still have the same apartment buildings in the background which make for the same contrast as before. I didn’t really ‘feel it’ photographically, but it’s still a nice place to visit and enjoy.
Wong Tai Sin Temple
From the Chi Lin Nunnery we went to the Wong Tai Sin Temple. I guess we were there just before noon and this temple was just crowded with people. It’s one of the most popular temples in all of Hong Kong and is dedicated to all major religions from the region: Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. It definitely showed its popularity. I could barely take a photo without having someone in frame. A bit of a bummer considering the beauty of this temple with its yellow and red lanterns. The temple opens at 7 and I can only recommend to go at that time to be there before the crowds. I also was too tired by then to get creative and shoot some good photos. Jet lag was hitting me hard!
Hong Kong Cultural Centre
After a quick nap in the hotel we went to explore more of the city. One of the stops close to our hotel was the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It is the ideal spot for people who are into portrait and/or architecture photography. The building has a gallery you can walk through and which makes for beautiful light and contrast. It’s the perfect spot for portrait photography. I’m not into the genre and I couldn’t get the photo that I had in mind, but I have seen some pretty good ones from this spot on Instagram. While I’m at it, make sure to check out Edward KB . He has an incredible feed full of photos from Hong Kong.
Star Ferry and surroundings
Basically next to the cultural centre is the Star Ferry terminal. The terminal in itself is very photogenic and is precisely how I expected the old parts of Hong Kong to be. It looks quite old and used, but it has a great vibe to it. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is, but it’s impossible not to take any good photos in or around the terminal or on the ferry itself. The ferry takes you to the other side of the harbor, to the modern commercial centre. The ferry boats make for great subject, both when you are on it or when you can shoot another one. Again, exactly like I expected Hong Kong to be. Also, if you’re lucky you might pass one of those old junks and catch it with the beautiful skyline in the background.
Hong Kong Central
As soon as you set foot on the other side of the harbor you are in a new world. A pedestrian bridge, which by itself is a great photospot, will take you into the financial centre of the city. While walking the bridge you have a vantage point over some of the busy roads, so you will be able to shoot some street scenes. Besides that you will pass some of the most iconic buildings of the skyline like the IFC buildings (International Finance Centre). Make sure to take a wide angle lens with you, cause with my 18mm it was a tight fit to get it all in frame.
Hong Kong Park
From Central you can walk to Hong Kong Park (Which is actually located in Central). This was truly mind blowing. I mean, I’ve been in Central Park in New York and I thought it was quite crazy to have a green lung like this in the middle of the city. I flew over Central Park in a helicopter and that amazed me even more. But the park in Hong Kong was crazy, not because of the scale, but because of it’s nature and the fact it was in the heart of the modern, financial district. It even has a part that is actually a large aviary with all kinds of birds in it. And all of that right next to some other iconic buildings like the Bank of China and the Lippo Centre. It’s a great place to take a rest and to shoot some of these buildings in a green setting.
Victoria Peak is a hill which offers a beautiful view over the city. There’s a tram going all the way to the top so I though it would be a nice way to go up. We walked to the ticket office only to find a huge line waiting to either buy tickets or to board the tram. We never found out because I wasn’t planning to spend my precious time standing in line. We stopped the first taxi and went to the top in no time for basically no money.
We hopped out of the taxi and while the light was fading we went to the top of the shopping mall that offers a view on the city. I was in bad luck. The sun was setting but clouds were unfortunately blocking what would otherwise be a beautiful sunset. Because the light was shitty I sat back a little and waited for it to get dark. Meanwhile the crowd was slowly growing to immense proportions. At one point I was standing behind four rows of people trying to catch a glimpse of the city.
Don’t bother bringing a big tripod because it’s so crowded that people will bump into it or you won’t even find a spot at all. I used a gorillapod and when I finally made it to the first row I simply bent it around the rail. I still held it with my hands because I was afraid it would drop because of the heavy winds.
Hong Kong Diner Cruise
Hong Kong Diner Cruise is the ideal opportunity to see the Hong Kong skyline by night. The Diner Cruise is basically a boat that offers an all you can eat buffet while cruising the Victoria Harbour. You can go on to the deck and see the skyline and lasershow. It’s not too crowded so it’s an ideal chance to shoot the skyline from a vantage point. Also, besides the photos, it’s a real cool experience. I had no idea what to expect when we were waiting in the terminal. Paint peeling of the wall, few western tourists and a storage full of chairs, similar to those we would sit on later. Once on the boat the food looked dodgy, but was really tasteful. We had a band playing all kinds of famous songs but the accent of the singer was so bad we had to guess which song they were playing. We were sat on a table with the only other western tourists. Other tables were occupied by drunk Chinese and about a third remained empty. When I think back on this trip, the diner cruise remains one of the best memories because of the absurdity of it all.
Hong Kong by night
If you’re not for the big cityscapes and you don’t like the Victoria Peak or Diner Cruise, I would recommend to just stroll the streets of Hong Kong by night. There are so many neon lights and thing happening that every street has something to offer. Don’t be too scared to wander into smaller streets. Hong Kong looked dodgy as fuck to me because I never went to Asia before but I experienced it as a really safe place with friendly people. I can’t recommend any specific spots because every corner has something to offer.
Yick Fat Building
Well, you can’t go to Hong Kong without having seen the famous Yick Fat Building. I had seen it a trillion times on Instagram and wanted to see it for myself. I didn’t expect to take any good photos because thousands of photographers had shot it before. But it’s a really cool location. I went in the morning and had no trouble finding it. It’s away from the centre so it felt a little more like the real Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live because it has one of the biggest population density in the world. Most families are confined to tiny, but expensive apartments. The Yick Fat Building shows just that.
You can take the subway from the centre and if you take the closest stop you only have to walk a couple of blocks to get there.
The building looks really cool and even though there’s a sign asking to respect the residents, they were all really friendly. Besides the cliché photos it’s also a good idea to actually walk around a little because it looked like a cool spot for some street photography, with many shops in and around the building. There are also some other colorful buildings in the neighborhood that might be cool to shoot.
When I was there, there was coming and going of photographers snapping some pictures for the grams, but at no point was it busy or did it hinder me.
If you had it with all the urban photos you can go and chill at the Big Buddha. Big Buddha is a big statue of Buddha (duh!). It’s located on Lantau Island and it takes a long subway ride to get there. Then you take a cable car (with glass floor!) to the village of Ngong Ping. The cable car ride is pretty cool because you go over a nice bit of nature and you get a birds eye view on Hong Kong international airport and the bridge to Macau.
Once you arrive at Big Buddha it kinda feels like an amusement park, but the statue itself is really impressive. Don’t expect to shoot the statue without people walking in front because I experienced to be a very busy place. If you walk up to the statue you will have a birds eye view over the Po Lin Monastery. If you frame it right it looks like it’s located in the middle of nowhere. Of course it’s also worth a visit.
From the Monastery you can walk to the Wisdom Path. It’s a short walk to 38 wooden plates with verses from prayers. It looks ancient but it isn’t. Still a good spot to take some pictures.
From Ngong Ping you can take a bus to Tai O, an unbelievably busy and touristic fishing village. You can also take one of the ‘taxi’s’ to the town. We took one of those on the way back. Not really expensive, but let’s say it was an experience.
Tai O is a great spot for photography. It’s a totally different setting than Hong Kong. Narrow streets with shops, people cleaning the freshly caught fishes, making food, huge crowds, … All the while boats are passing under the bridges bringing tourists around the town.
Some of the boats go out to the sea to see pink dolphins. Not really a photospot, but definitely worth the experience.
Be prepared to keep your camera ready at all times when in town. There’s something going on everywhere, anytime. I used my 18mm and just fired away. I genuinely could have spent a couple of days there, just letting it all sink in.
Just don’t forget that this is not an amusement park. People actually live there so don’t be to invasive of their privacy. I still find it difficult when to shoot and when not to. I probably missed a couple of great photos because I was holding back a little too much…
Lamma Island Ferry
Last on my list is the Lamma Island Ferry. The ferry goes to Lamma Island, south of Hong Kong. The ferry brings you once more past the skyline of Hong Kong and is a nice ride.
My wife genuinly thought it was called Lama Island and that it would host Lama’s, but the reality is far less exciting. There are some small villages and some good fish restaurants, but that’s basically it. It’s very green, but there aren’t any impressive landscapes to shoot either.
I wouldn’t particularly recommend this as a photo spot and certainly not when you only have a couple of days to explore this amazing city and its surroundings.
Thoughts, comments, questions? Let me know in the comment section below!
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