We want to spend a few days in HK and then fly to a Vietnam beach for another few days. Would love any suggestions on what to do in Hong Kong and where to go in Vietnam to have an authentic experience, great food, accessible beach town. Thank you!
If you're planning on visiting Hong Kong in late July, expect to experience some serious humidity. It can be pretty brutal sometimes. Just a word of warning :)
I'd have to second visiting the islands. In my personal opinion that's where the real treasures of Hong Kong are. Lamma Island and Tai O are both great places to visit, especially in the summer time as there's lots of places to chill out, cold drink in hand. But they're a little bit touristy for my taste. Especially at that time of year.
I'd recommend checking out Mui Wo as it has some amazing food in the Food Court area, a stones throw away from the ferry terminal. It's seriously some of the best food I've had in HK. The place is a bit more on the rustic side compared to others, but it's where the "locals" go out to eat whilst avoiding tourists. Although I am bias as I've lived there.
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I think traveling independently is always going to give you access to pretty authentic experiences. You are going to some fantastic places that make it easy to do your own thing, so that's a good start!
Hong Kong is just so authentically itself that I struggle to say there's anything inauthentic. Man Mo Temple for example, gets a lot of tourists, but there are also lots of locals there using it for its real intended purpose as a religious shrine. Central is packed with crazy expensive stores and shiny shopping malls, but those things are part of the fabric of Hong Kong, so I don't think they're any less authentic. The one area I guess I'd say you could skip is Soho District—the number of "global" restaurants (Irish, Spanish, Italian, etc.) there made it uninteresting to me. I personally liked the peninsula a lot and had fun walking through the nighttime food markets in and around Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei. If you want a different experience completely, you could head out to Lamma Island or Tai O fishing village. There are also some walled villages up in the New Territories.
In Vietnam, I concur with Justin—Sa Pa District is wonderful. We rented a little motorbike and just cruised out to some of the surrounding villages. If you do so, drive cautiously as these are mountain roads with some blind curves and you can come up against some big trucks. Use that horn to let people know you're there. The Bac Ha market in that same general area is pretty great, but be aware that you will see dogs (live) for sale as food. Hanoi is another city that I think can't help but be authentic just as it is. Get into the street food as much as you can—we never once set foot inside a restaurant and we ate some of the best food of our lives. Go for long meandering walks and just soak up the vibe of the city—it's hard not to feel it.
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If you want real authenticity, skip the beaches and do a homestay. You'll get a guide who will hike with you from village to village, and you'll stay with Vietnamese families. I did one in Sa Pa near the border with China. Three days hiking among the different tribes ... and trying not to let the hosts fill me up with too much rice wine!