Cruising Victoria Harbour

It would seem that one necessary evil when traveling is the inevitable encounter with a Traveler. A Traveler has a world-weary "seen there, done that" air about them and is constantly engaging in games of "one-upsmanship" (anything you've seen or done, they've seen or done something better or cooler).

A Traveler is someone who goes to great pains and lengths to enumerate the many differences between being a Traveler and a mere tourist (and of course, how they are the former, not the latter), and quite frankly in their books, if you’re going to be a tourist, you might as well just stay home. Constantly chasing “authentic” travel experiences, a Traveler will condemn an activity as anathema to them with the damning label of being “too touristy/touristic”.

Simply put, when in Hong Kong, Travelers likely wouldn’t be caught dead on a night cruise of Victoria Harbour, an activity that routinely tops lists compiling the best things you can do when visiting the city. Thankfully, Tony & I don’t give two figs about whether something is overly touristy or not, and just go ahead and do the things we want to do, regardless of whether a popular travel guide endorses them or not. Sometimes these things are duds, but then again, sometimes these attractions are rightly famous… there’s only one way to find out. To that end, if admitting that while in Hong Kong we not only took a night cruise of Victoria Harbour but did so specifically during the time when we could witness the much touted “Symphony of Lights” gets us kicked out of the cool kids travel club, so be it. I freely admit we did both of those things and had a wonderful time of it!

The $120HKD view

Wandering around Hong Kong during the day, you are really only able to appreciate a scant fraction of the city and its towering buildings that stretch impossibly high, piercing the sky. Like a pointilist painting, if you really want to appreciate the majesty of the Hong Kong sky line, you need to take a step back and head out into the harbour. Tours run throughout the day, but the city really bursts to life once the sun goes down and the buildings begin to illuminate, so we knew that would be when we took our cruise. There are many operators offering cruises of the bay, but I believe that only one of them is registered with the Hong Kong Tourist Board, and this is the one we opted to take. For $120HKD (~$15USD) per person, we got an hour-long loop tour of the bay originating on the Kowloon side of the action, and got a snack and a drink while onboard the huge vessel (our boat could easily have held 150+ people); because we sailed during the Symphony of Lights, our tour cost slightly more than it would have at other times of day, but we figured if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do it right.

Seeing the Symphony on the cheap
If budget is a huge concern for you, there are cheap passenger ferries that will take you across the harbour for about $2USD. The trip will only last as long as it will take you to get from one port to the other rather than a full 60 minutes, so you will not be able to see the full Symphony of Lights, but you will at least get to see part of it and you will get to see the skyline.

If you really want to splurge, there are more lavish “party cruises” that last longer and involve dinner and open bars (replete with alcoholic beverages). We looked into these, but decided that at approximately $35USD per person, we would have to drink a LOT of booze to really make it worth our while.

I know I’m tossing around the phrase “Symphony of Lights” like this is a well-known attraction. In essence, this fancily named phenomenon is nothing but a light show that several of the buildings surrounding the harbour participate in. The symphony aspect refers to the fact that the light show is marginally synchronized to go along with a 20-minute musical program that you can listen to on the radio…

The loudest light symphony you’ll ever see!

The whole thing is precisely as dorky as it sounds (maybe more so…), but it was also really fun! Our boat broadcast the radio program onboard as we puttered about the harbour, and we marveled at how ostentatious and over-the-top some of the lighting rigs on several of the buildings were. Even with manically flashing neon lights, the skyline was really quite breathtaking, though I fully admit that prior to standing there and seeing it with my own eyes, I just couldn’t see how it could be something worth seeing. In truth, the Hong Kong skyline is iconic for a reason: it is seriously impressive! And while the Symphony of Lights was certainly silly, it somehow never felt gaudy or tacky, but was instead oddly mesmerizing. Standing in the middle of the bay, surrouded by coal-black water that the reflections of the lights danced across, the city seemed so large and alien, while I felt so very small. Everywhere you turn in Hong Kong, there is palpable energy that is undeniable and just a little bit unruly; witnessing the Symphony of Lights, you feel like just maybe it’s possible to harness it. The end result is a pretty spectacular feast for the senses, one that I gobbled up with gusto!

To fully appreciate our dynamic tour of Victoria Harbour, check out the video Tony has created highlighting our time on the boat.

Popular in: Hong Kong

12 comments Leave a comment

  1. The city lights look amazing, and I can imagine that you had a great time on that cruise. It sounds like that is where I would like to be as well!

    Dec. 10 2012 @ 10:06 am
    1. zibilee author

      I really never believed that I would be blown away by Hong Kong’s skyline… I mean, what could be incredible about a bunch of buildings, right? But then I saw it, and when it is all lit up, it truly is spectacular!

      And really, I figure that anything that’s fun on dry land is always going to be even more fun on a boat. That certainly proved to be the case this time!

      Dec. 12 2012 @ 8:10 am
  2. In my opinion, you have to have a bit of a sense of humor about yourself and the silly tourist attractions if you’re not only going to survive travel, but also life. The “Traveler” type you speak of is definitely out there from what I’ve experienced and heard, but luckily, you’re not traveling for anyone else but yourself…so luckily it doesn’t really matter if what you pick is *the best* or most authentic experience. it’s yours and no one can take that away. Now…must remember to write that somewhere for when I get all worried about such things in the future.

    That does look pretty. Hard to take it all in while walking, I’m sure.

    Dec. 10 2012 @ 12:21 pm
    1. Carmel author

      Tony & I certainly chase “authentic”, off the beaten path travel experiences as much as the next long-term traveler, but we don’t really have any grandiose, highfalutin notions about ourselves and realize that if we take a trip according to other people’s standards, then we’re kind of missing the most important point about doing something like this in the first place. In the end, we took the harbour cruise because we wanted to, not because a guidebook told us to, and I think that’s really what counts!

      Dec. 12 2012 @ 8:12 am
  3. *unsubscribes from Steph & Tony in utter disgust at their true tourist nature* 😉

    I wrote this really long comment on your last post & lost it, but suffice it to say that post and this one have been bookmarked in case I find myself in Hong Kong one day! Also, your captions on the people photos are the end are hilarious.

    Dec. 10 2012 @ 2:37 pm
    1. Eva author

      Yay! I’m glad to hear we are inspiring you! Hong Kong is absolutely insane, but in the very best possible way. If you love big cities, you simply must visit here one day; there are always ways to escape the madness if necessary, but in general, we found our time here very invigorating.

      Dec. 12 2012 @ 8:14 am
  4. Ick! I can’t stand people like that. Right up there with “Oh…I don’t use a guidebook” … as if “guidebook” is a dirty word! How else are you supposed to find things in a foreign place.. blah blah.

    I’d totally be all over this cruise. It sounds like a nice nighttime thing to do without having to be in a loud bar/club. And it looks like you had a great time being a “tourist!”

    Dec. 10 2012 @ 10:34 pm
    1. Jill author

      I know, right? I also think it’s funny when people get all hoity toity about guidebooks but then also keep a blog, which really serves almost an identical purpose. Generally these people never see the irony in this paradox, however…

      I’ve certainly been burned by touristy things before, but sometimes you just have to embrace the cheesiness and give yourself over to it. If you can accept the ridiculousness of a “symphony of lights”, then you will certainly be in the right mindset to appreciate this cruise.

      Dec. 12 2012 @ 8:17 am
  5. Maureen and Paul Kuehn

    unbelievable,the colors,and reflections on the water!!something to never forget !!! How will you guys ever get back into SNOW?

    Jan. 12 2014 @ 1:43 pm
    1. Maureen and Paul Kuehn author

      Thanks, guys! This was definitely one of our top experiences in HK… Not sure how we will ever go back to snow; our time in the Himalaya in Nepal nearly killed us it was so cold! Tony is a bad Minnesotan and I am a terrible Canadian, that’s for sure!

      Jan. 14 2014 @ 9:44 pm

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