TEFL teachers who speak skyscrapers and seaside will feel instantly at home in Hong Kong. The traditional red-sailed junk boats swirling Victoria Harbor and the buzz of Lan Kwai Fong could keep even the most restless of English teachers entertained, but if you’re going to do your Hong Kong TEFL experience right, don’t miss out on these must-see places!
Quick tips for budget travel in Hong Kong
- Get an octopus card. Yes, you read that right. It will give you free access to deep underwater caves (just kidding). It’s actually a transit card sold at subway stations and the airport that’s a wonderful money-saver for a wide range of transportation needs, like the subway, the ferry, Victoria Peak trams, city buses, double decker buses, and more.
- Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Typically speaking, all prices for market items are negotiable. Use haggling to cut costs!
- Buy bevvies at the 7/11. Lan Kwai Fong and surrounding party-areas are notorious for their big price markups on alcoholic beverages. Take a tip from the locals and buy your drinks at neighboring 7/11s—they always have a beer bottle opener on hand, and it’s common to see people enjoying their beverages on the street corners or in nearby parks.
8 must-have experiences for TEFL teachers in Hong Kong
1. Catch a dazzling light show.
The Symphony of Lights is a free laser light and sound show that runs nightly on both sides of Victoria Harbor at 8pm sharp. More than 40 skyscrapers participate, making it the world-record holder as the “World’s Largest Permanent Light & Sound Show” by the Guinness Book of Records.
We recommend catching the show aboard the Star Ferry or a junk boat from the harbor, as it will give you the best view of both sides of the show on the two separate islands, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
2. Eat veggies with a giant bronze Buddha.
An escape from the hustle and bustle of big city living will be a must-do eventually, and outlying Lantau Island is a welcome respite for TEFL teachers seeking fresh air and an invigorating experience. The island is home to the Tian Tian Buddha, a majestic bronze Buddha statue that stands over 100 feet tall and weighs 250 tons.
Forego the gondola ride in lieu of a bus to the top of the mountain to avoid major crowds. Taking the final steps up towards the world’s largest seated bronze Buddha feels AWESOME, and refueling with a veggie lunch at the monastery on-site is a delicious, affordable way to round out the day.
3. $hop $hop $hop
Some destinations are great for history, some are better for language immersion. Hong Kong is awesome for shopping.
Reports share that there are up to 124 malls across Hong Kong, and the most popular of international brands are clawing their way into these shopping centers. Zara, Forever 21, H&M, and Mango are staples, but don’t be surprised if you see Uniqlo, Lacoste, Prada, and other recognizable brands, too.
Want your shopping spree to have more of a local flair? Visit Mong Kok, a bargain shopper’s paradise. Find art along Wyndham St, browse the mini-malls in Tsim Sha Tsui, or up your electronics game in Sham Shui Po. The Jade Market of Yau Ma Tei is also a must-see, but we caution buying expensive gems and jewels without help from someone knowledgeable about the stone.
4. Dine on dimsum at an international hotel chain.
True story: When I arrived in Hong Kong, I asked my taxi driver in an effort of goodwill about his favorite place to eat dimsum in the city. His unshakeable recommendation, even despite my best efforts to get the name of a more “local” spot? THE HOLIDAY INN. Yes, that Holiday Inn. And when I ended up there the following Sunday with my travel friends in tow, we were not disappointed. At all. Just full.
5. Sip on tea and count 13,000 Buddhas.
OK, it would actually be very impressive if you could even count to 1000 of the 13,000 Buddhas populating the famous Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. The countless little golden deities are only visible if you’re willing to rough it up more than 400 steps.
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That smile. Today I was overwhelmed by soooo many buddha statues (I lost count how many I saw)! The place is called Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, so there should be somewhere about that amount of these statues! The best part is, each one is unique! Some are old, young, fat, serious, smiling and even surfing on turtles! #thousandbuddha #tenthousandbuddhas #buddhas #hongkong #traveling #asia
The best part? Each statue is unique from the other, based on their facial expressions, clothing, or posture. You can also see a nine-story pagoda, an ivory goddess statue, and dozens of monkeys, too!
You know what else we love? It’s free! We mean, um, the views. They’re also great.
5. Pinch your nose at a fish market.
Visit Tai O—this fishing village used to be a very important trading and fishing port, but younger generations have moved out, leaving it as a time capsule to yesteryear. The market remains lively and full of old folks still making their living the old fashioned way.
The variety of seafood tanks, dried seafoods and vegetables, and different goods and souvenirs will entertain your eyes (though not always your nose). Take a 20ish minute boat ride to get a new view of the village—be on the lookout for the famous stilt houses (small, traditional-style old homes that sit along the waterfront!).
6. Try to spot a pink dolphin!
If you’re feeling lucky, take a break from the TEFL classroom and hit the water to try to find a beloved pink dolphin. One of Hong Kong’s mascots, the pink dolphins of the South China seas are incredibly special—and pretty rare. It’s technically a species known as the Chinese White Dolphin, but it has pink spots on its skin that makes it look like it’s constantly blushing (how cute). The dolphins live in the Pearl River estuary and tours can easily be arranged through local operator Dolphinwatch.
7. Have a drink at the highest bar in the world.
The views from Ozone, located on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, offer one-of-a-kind views of Victoria Harbor. Take an ear-popping ride up the elevator to behold a low lit, futuristic bar. Pro-tip: Reserve your bar stool in advance to ensure the best views, and be sure to order one of the bar’s signature cocktails (like the Bamboo, a cachaça infused with green tea and mixed with ginger beer, lime, and lemongrass).
8. Take a day trip to Macau.
Take a gamble on adventure by heading to Macau for a day/weekend! Feast your eyes on the Church of St. Paul, ride a cable car, Guia, up high for city views, eat local specialties (egg tarts!) and sip on Portuguese wines (green wine is a particular fave). You’ll love the strange combination of opulence and colonial history that comprises Macau, giving you yet another unique insight into the many facets of modern Chinese culture.
Work hard, play hard while TEFL teaching in Hong Kong!
You’re going to bust your butt in the classroom and help your students excel in English—that’s a guarantee. What’s up to YOU is how well you spend your time outside of the classroom. Double your adventures as extensive learning about your new home. Round out your TEFL experience with a healthy dose of fun. Don’t skip these eight must-have experiences in Hong Kong!