One of the world’s most crazy, intense and unexpectedly beautiful countries is full of surprises. One minute you’re sipping a world-class cocktail in a hidden underground bar. The next, you’re stood on top of a mountain looking down at a tropical beach. Here are 12 things to do in Hong Kong.
1 – TAKE THE STAR FERRY
The Star Ferry is a 130+ year old Hong Kong institution, carrying 26 million people across the harbour from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon (and vice-versa) every year. It’s an easy way to get the best view of Hong Kong harbour (especially at sunset or after dark), and if you’re smart you could even catch the light show at 8pm daily. Best of all, it costs less than $0.40USD one way.
2 – WITNESS THE INSANITY OF MONG KOK
Mong Kok, once proclaimed as the most densely populated place on earth, is one of the craziest districts in Kowloon, and is quite an incredible experience not only for it’s sheer number of people (or shops), but because of the additional madness brought about by “performers” who take to the streets every night (but more so at the weekend when the whole place becomes even more insane). The “performances” range from what appear to be total randoms who rock up with a karaoke machine and proceed to blare horrendously distorted and out of tune Chinese ballads to a crowd who usually appear to be absolutely loving it, to street dance outfits and everything in between. It’s bizarre and it’s brilliant.
3 – RELAX IN THE CUTE SEASIDE TOWN OF STANLEY
A short bus or taxi ride from Central, on the southern side of Hong Kong island, Stanley is a cute little town with nice restaurants, some cool cafes, a couple of good beaches, and a great little market. It’s also surrounded by some excellent hiking trails.
4 – SHOP FOR NIK-NAKS AT TEMPLE STREET NIGHT MARKET
Temple Street Night Market is one of many markets throughout the city but for me, it’s the one with the most character, and the best food. You’ll find stalls selling everything from Indian wall-hangings to old Chinese propaganda and even sex toys. Yep, sex toys. It’s also a great place to eat – by 9pm the streets at the South end are full of people scoffing down some of the city’s best seafood. Check out the little alley in between the food street and the main market street – you’ll find tarot card readers and some of Hong Kong’s loudest street karaoke bars. Quite a sight (and indeed sound).
5 – SEE HONG KONG’S SKYLINE FROM THE PEAK
The Hong Kong skyline is pretty incredible from any angle, but one of the best views is from The Peak. Whether you queue up and take the funicular train or hike up (I strongly recommend the latter), there is a short (20 min) route around the to of the hill during which you’ll get this awesome view of the city, with Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers in the foreground and Kowloon behind.
6 – CATCH SOME LIVE JAZZ IN MID LEVELS
Hong Kong isn’t famed for it’s music scene but down a few little alleyways in Mid Levels are some very cool jazz bars that host some surprisingly good acts throughout the week. My favourite bar is Peel Fresco on Peel Street. It’s small, intimate and is one of those places where everyone knows everyone without being pretentious.
7 – CHILL ON HK’S HIPPIEST ISLAND
Lamma Island is famed for it’s laid back vibe, and many of it’s residents are artists, writers and editors, looking to escape the pace of the city without being too far away. Indeed, it’s just 30 mins on a ferry, and has some lovely cafes, some amazing seafood, and some good beaches too. If you have time, get the ferry to one side of the island (Yung Shue Wan – cool cafes) then hike over to the other side (Sok Kwu Wan, where the amazing seafood restaurants are) and take the ferry back to Central. Well worth a day trip.
8 – SEE THE SKYLINE FROM HK’S LAST REMAINING JUNK BOAT
With it’s bright red sails and almost pirate-looking facade, spend a day or two in HK and you’ll no doubt see the junk ship Aqua Luna bobbing around the harbour. It’s not cheap (around $30 USD for an adult on the evening cruise) but it’s a worthy experience in my book. Seeing Hong Kong’s twinkling lights on the Star Ferry is awesome, but from a Chinese Junk Boat, with a cocktail in hand? That’s cooler.
9 – ESCAPE THE CITY… TO A VILLAGE ON STILTS
On the South of Lantau island is a fishing village that feels a million miles away from Hong Kong. Tai O‘s inhabitants mostly live in shanty-town-esque buildings raised up from the water on stilts. The entire village smells of prawn paste (it’s made here by the barrel-load) and it’s where you’ll get to eat cheesy oysters (surprisingly good) and get ripped off by the boat men who will insist you will get to see pink dolphins. You won’t, one of the world’s busiest harbours and shipping lanes is literally just around the corner and they buggered off years ago, but still, it is a nice boat ride through the village.
10 – EXPLORE THE COUNTRYSIDE ON TWO FEET
Hong Kong is over 65% countryside. And that countryside is pretty fantastic. Mountains (albeit small ones), forests, beaches and plenty of wildlife make this one of Asia’s most accessible places to hike, and there are hundreds of kilometres of well-maintained trails with toilets, vending machines with water and public transport ferrying people to and fro. Check out my post on 5 of Hong Kong’s best hikes for starters.
11 – CYCLE THROUGH THE NEW TERRITORIES
If hiking through Hong Kong’s countryside wasn’t enough, why not explore it on two wheels? There are plenty of places you can do just that, but my favourite, and one of the easiest, is the ride from Tai Po to Tai Mei Tuk (and back, if you want). It’s flat, entirely on cycle paths, and has rental places at either end. It’s also really pretty and such a great escape from the city. Take the MTR to Tai Po Market and look for the cycle rental place on the right side when you exit the station. Then just follow the signs to Tai Mei Tuk.
12 – PARTY THE NIGHT AWAY IN LAN KWAI FONG
Hong Kong is known in the region as a party city and the centre of it all is Lan Kwai Fong (known locally as LKF). By day it’s a fairly civilised and subdued area just up the hill from Central but by night, it becomes a street party, with people filling the bars and clubs that line the streets until dawn. It’s messy, it’s kinda dark, but it has an electric energy unlike anywhere else in Asia. Not for the faint hearted!
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