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Travelling green in Hong Kong with Sonalie Figueiras

Travelling Green in Hong Kong with Sonalie Figueiras

Hong Kong may not be the first place that comes to mind for an eco-traveller, but the city is, in fact, a very eco-friendly place to visit. Hongkongers are proactive on working towards a reduced carbon footprint — and nobody demonstrates this better than Sonalie Figueiras, founder of Asia’s leading impact media platform Green Queen. From choosing hotels with sustainable practices, to shopping local for snacks and souvenirs, we were super excited to sit down with Sonalie and talk about how best to maintain a sustainable mindset, minimise environmental impact and protect this phenomenal destination’s well-loved outdoors.

 

When I’m travelling, I really like to think about the impact of my trip

eco-friendly place

Photo credit: Leung Wai Por

“Hong Kong is a really exciting place to be, in terms of the eco movement. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen some huge movements from consumers and businesses in terms of offering reusables and low-waste options,” says Sonalie on the rapid changes. “When I’m travelling, I really like to think about the impact of my trip,” she goes on to explain. In Hong Kong, where Sonalie was born and raised, visitors and locals alike can strive for an eco-conscious profile by following some of her tips while they discover the diverse local heritage and culture the city has to offer.

night skyline

Photo credit: Calvin Sit

A good starting point is booking direct flights where possible — which is very achievable with Hong Kong International Airport being one of the most well-connected in the world. Upon arrival, make use of the clean, accessible — and cheap — public transportation to get around, whether by bus, MTR (train), tram or the nostalgic Star Ferry. Take the latter after dark and it’s impossible not to agree with Sonalie when she shares that "Visually, I’d have to say my favourite thing about Hong Kong is the beautiful night skyline.”

vegetarian cuisine

Where to stay

As you search for accommodation, you’ll find that hotels in Hong Kong are implementing more eco-policies and practices as a result of increasing awareness and demand. Two necessary steps towards a better future are eradicating plastic bottles, including amenities, and integrating vegan and vegetarian cuisine in menus. “I think it’s difficult to say to a hotel to be perfect, but I think if you can find a hotel that really has that philosophy — and it should be really clear when you visit their website — then you’re on the right path” accentuates Sonalie. In Hong Kong, Cordis Hotel has taken sustainable initiatives including filtered drinking water stations, fair-trade amenities, and compostable drinking straws in its sustainable restaurant, while Novotel works under PLANET 21 to achieve sustainability goals. And recently earning gold status from EarthCheck, Eaton Hotel not only showcases community creatives and artists, but also uses locally-sourced bamboo flooring and wall panelling.

vegetarian cuisine

Where to eat

There’s been an explosion of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and vegan-options on menus.

If you’re anything like the typical Hongkonger, you’ll already be thinking about food! “I love the incredibly varied and delicious dining scene, especially yum cha,” says Sonalie on conscious dining. “There’s been an explosion of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and vegan options on menus,” indicates Sonalie, explaining that a plant-based diet can help offset your carbon footprint. Plant-based yum cha is highly recommended to experience a taste of quintessential Hong Kong whilst maintaining that sustainable mindset. LockCha Tea House is a cultural delight, serving fragrant Chinese teas and vegetarian dim-sum in an elegant setting, reminiscent of a Canton-style teahouse from back-in-the-day. In Central, Pure Veggie House is a popular stop for traditional Buddhist cuisine in an intimate setting. And in the heart of Central’s party district, Lan Kwai Fong, sits dragon-i, which may be famed for its high-end DJ appearances and events, but in the day it transforms into a diner’s haven, with a menu that includes delightful all-you-can-eat vegan dim sum.

vegetarian cuisine

After a traditional fix, tourists can continue the vegetarian feast with flavours from around the world.  The fully plant-based menu at Fivelements Habitat ’s Sakti Elixir Bar draws inspiration from its Balinese roots, with a gastronomical concept focusing on enhancing vitality and healing, whilst supporting local farmers and communities. MANA! is another pioneer in the F&B sustainability scene, with a vegan menu in a creative environment that encourages green living with their ‘fast slow food’ concept.  Meanwhile the chefs at Woodlands vegetarian restaurant, which debuted in 1981, curate some of the most flavourful, distinct tastes of Southern Indian cuisine — don’t forget to order the photogenic (and humongous) dosa. For a retro-chic 50’s environment head to VeggieSF , which takes on pan-American comfort food with a vegetarian twist. In a city where cuisine is deeply embedded in the culture, you’ll never be short of options.

Where to shop

It’s not just about your product, it’s about the entire journey.

A gentle stroll around the shops to pick up some eco-friendly gifts is an ideal way to walk off that food. “We’ve actually got quite a few exciting pioneers of upcycling materials to make new collections,” says Sonalie on the fashion community. Some local eco-brands include Unspun Denim and TOVE & LIBRE. Sonalie adds that “The list would be really long if I named all the fashion and beauty brands that I really love but a few that have been really doing great things lately are Pure EarthZeroYet100 and Coconut Matter.” She goes on to explain that they “really take it seriously in terms of their packaging, the ingredients they use and just their overall approach because it’s not just about your product, it’s about the entire journey.”

If you had to pick only one neighbourhood to explore and shop, Sai Ying Pun — where Sonalie lives a low-waste lifestyle — is a must. Check out antique shops and traditional crafts, like the handmade bamboo steamer, that sit alongside modern zero-waste grocery stores. You might even pick up a few souvenirs (think Hong Kong snacks and loose-leaf teas) along the way — an encouraging and unique alternative to plastic keychains.

What to do

you just feel like you’re in another universe like a magical forest, I love it.

Ready to see the literal green side of the city? Visitors can embark on the great outdoors a mere 20 minutes from Central — something many first-time visitors are shocked to discover. It’s a truly unique aspect of the city, “you just feel like you’re in another universe like a magical forest, I love it” exclaims Sonalie. There’s an abundance of nature (40% of Hong Kong land is country park), most of it reachable by public transportation. “I love Hong Kong's hiking trails, they’re the best in the world,” Sonalie claims proudly. She recommends one of the lesser-known trails like Tai Po or Tai Mei Tuk around the Plover Cove Reservoir, to experience the incredible biodiversity and wildlife. Another nourishing thing to do is to get involved with some of the local conservation charities such as Oceans Recovery Alliance, WWF or Plastic Free Seas.  Travellers can volunteer at these organisations, particularly in the group beach clean-ups, workshops and soup kitchens, which can be booked in advance on their websites.

When you’re here, you feel like you can do anything, and anything is possible.

Sonalie

Looking to the future, Sonalie is excited about what’s in store for the city and its visitors. “What I love most about Hong Kong is the dynamism and the energy of the people. When you’re here, you feel like you can do anything, and anything is possible” she says, accentuating the can-do attitude of the people and how welcoming locals are towards tourists. Together, we can help to protect the rich biodiversity in Hong Kong to keep the natural habitats alive and contribute to the demand for more sustainable options.

Tips
Tips

Check out Hong Kong’s natural playground with our unique itineraries at HolidayHK.com. Discover uninhabited islands, go wild or simply take a breather.

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