Hong Kong Skyline

Hong Kong City Guide

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(Post written by Pete Saville)

Hong Kong was administered as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom until 1997, when it was then handed peacefully back over Chinese rule.  However, today it enjoys the title of “Special Administrative Region” (SAR), which gives Hong Kong a greater amount of autonomy over its own affairs than the mainland China.

Indeed, the slogan, “One Country, Two Systems” is used to sum up the political and economic situation quite nicely, with Hong Kong remaining firmly a free market capitalist economy as opposed to mainland China’s authoritarian market-socialist economy. Being separated from mainland China for so long under British colonial rule has allowed Hong Kong to retain most of its unique culture, different to everywhere else in mainland China, and this is the main reason it draws so many millions of tourists every year.

City Sights

 

Hong Kong Travel

 

Naturally, one of the best urban sites is the harbour area, where traditional sail boats mingle with the more modern passenger ferries. Indeed, a must see attraction is taking the Star Ferry that travels across the harbour where you can see the skyscrapers light up like Christmas trees at dusk and night time, travelling between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai.

The world’s longest outdoor escalator is also a fun experience and is on the list of ‘must-see’ attractions for many visitors. It travels from Central through to Soho with residential neighbourhoods on the mid-levels. The escalator moves down in the morning for the rush hour, but after this it moves continually upwards, and one of the best parts is that it is completely free to use. The escalator may sound like a niche attraction but it’s actually a great way to see some of the oldest streets found in Hong Kong, so if you like to just explore and get lost in old back streets away from the tourist crowds it’s well worth disembarking and finding all sorts of interesting buildings and neighbourhoods that date back to the colonial period.

Tsing Ma Bridge Hong Kong

If you fancy something a bit fun, then checking out the 3D museum – known as the Trick Eye Museum Hong Kong – is well worth it for its awe-inspiring collection of 3D art exhibitions. The best thing about it is the fact you are free to interact with the exhibits, including climbing through mind boggling 3D optical illusion exhibits! It comes with the added bonus of having a free observation deck at the top, which affords beautiful panoramic views of the harbour.

Finally, if you are into horse racing or gambling, world-class race courses can be found in the New Territories and Eastern Hong Kong Island. “The Happy Valley” race course is the favourite out of the two, because it has more historical colonial charm to it and is set in an impressive location easily accessible by the metro.  Cheap draft beer is on offer in a pleasant beer garden while you enjoy the races, and you can get a local to explain the betting system for you if you are feeling lucky: The atmosphere is friendly and  a lot of fun.

Outdoor Pursuits

 

View of Hong Kong New Territory

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Hong Kong is a dense metropolis of glistening skyscrapers, with its population of 7 million people crammed densely on to one island. However, surprisingly to many, over 70% of Hong Kong is actually countryside and includes country parks and ample trekking opportunities.

On Hong Kong Island itself, you can hike up to Victoria Peak, but on other islands in the New Territories such as Yan Chau Tong Marine Park in the North East, you can enjoy hikes through traditional abandoned villages that really give a genuine sense of what Hong Kong was like centuries ago. The hiking trails here are all well marked and well connected and is rightfully one of the most popular hiking spots in all of Hong Kong for locals. For some more challenging routes, the Sai Kung Peninsula is perfect for its mountains as well as its beaches (mentioned below).

Finally, Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark covers an area 50km2 and spans an area covering the Eastern and North-eastern New Territories. It’s comprised of 8 designated Geo-Areas each with their own flavour, distributed across Sai Kung, with its volcanic rock formations, and the north east region with its sedimentary rock. Pretty much all the areas are accessible by a network of ferries of buses, taxis or you can arrange your own tailor made customised tour.

Beaches

 

Again, beaches are not usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Hong Kong. But the islands that make up Hong Kong – such as Lantau Island – is home to some magnificent secluded beaches, sleepy fishing villages and ancient monasteries.

 

Hong Kong Beaches

 

Just off Tung Chung beach on Lantau Island are opportunities for viewing Chinese White Dolphins, that are actually a fabulous pink colour but are sadly critically endangered with their remaining population standing at only 200. This is possibly the last opportunity you will ever get to see these creatures if conservation efforts fail.

Another must-see if you are a lover of beaches and stunning coastal scenery is the Sai Kung Peninsula in the New Territories. The sunsets here are quite spectacular with the mountains majestically sloping down onto the beaches and then into the ocean.

Finally, if you are feeling adventurous, you can visit the outlying island of Tap Mun – or Grass Island – a small green island where you can enjoy eating sea urchins at the small local fishing village, swimming on its secluded beaches and the very pleasant and peaceful 3 hour ferry ride from Wong Shek pier.

Festivals

 

Hong Kong Festivals

 

When it comes to festivals, you really are spoilt for choice in Hong Kong:

Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the biggest and grandest of them all, but this 3 day affair can require some planning if you wish to visit during this period. Many shops and restaurants shut, but supermarkets and restaurants geared towards tourists remain open, so you won’t starve. However, the city swells in size with people coming back to Hong Kong to celebrate with their families, and this can make the already high density city even more jam packed and stressful.

However, if you come in the 2 weeks running up to Chinese New Year, you will encounter none of these problems and still soak up the festivities running up to the actual 3 day event, with lots of dragon dancing, firework displays and traditional music festivals and celebrations occurring all over the city and its adjacent islands.

 

Calligraphy Hong Kong Travel

 

In spring, the Spring Lantern Festival takes place in Causeway Bay, where millions of Chinese lanterns can be found lighting up Victoria Park, while the Ching Ming festival is also in Spring, and is dedicated to paying respects to deceased ancestors. Family members will often be seen sweeping the graves of deceased family members and cutting away any weeds that have grow around it, while fake paper money will be burned to ensure them a good afterlife.

Other classic festivals include the Tuen Ng Festival: Or Dragon Boat Festival. It is in honour of a national hero and is celebrated with dragon boat races with boats shaped as dragons. This usually takes place around mid-June depending on the Lunar Calander. The Hungry Ghost Festival – on the other hand – is much more serious and solemn affair: It marks the period where locals believe that the gates of hell open and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into this mortal realm. This is a time where you can see many locals performing sacred rites to appease the wandering ghosts, including burning incense, offering food such as rice cakes, and Chinese operas around the city.

Finally, many of the Western festivals are celebrated in Hong Kong: A throwback to its colonial heritage. Halloween, Christmas and New Year are all celebrated.

 

Sacred Sites

 

Hong Kong was fortunate enough to be under British rule at the time of Chairman Mao’s ‘cultural revolution, which saw the widespread destruction of many religious buildings in mainland China during the 1960’s and into the 1970’s.

This means that today Hong Kong has many Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples and Christian churches well preserved from ancient and modern times.

 

Lan Tau Island, Hong Kong

 

For a taste of the modern, the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island will not fail to disappoint. Built in 1993, it’s a huge bronze statue standing at 34 metres tall and weighing 250 metric tons. It is located on top of a hill commanding some breathtaking views on clear days: Indeed, it is possible to see it all the way from Macau on the clearest of days. The nearby Po Lin Monastery is a centre for Buddhist learning and teaching in Hong Kong nearby.

Built in 1927, St. John’s Cathedral is the oldest Christian building still standing in Hong Kong. St. Andrew’s Church has European Gothic-styling in a cruciform shape, while Kowloon Union Church (also built in 1927) was built as an English missionary Christian church that is now a Grade I historical listed building.

But for something really special that blends the 3 religions synonymous with Hong Kong together in its architecture and worship, a visit to Wong Tai Sin Temple is a must-see. People come here to pray for health and sick relatives, since Wong Tia Sin is a god of health in Confucian tradition; however the temple is also considered holy for Buddhists as well as Taoists. It’s really a great example of how these 3 religions and philosophies have blended together to contribute to Hong Kong’s culture and world view.

Hong Kong, much like the city-nation state of Singapore, still feels much like its own country in its own right, and with so much to offer aside from its urban-jungle, such as its outlying islands with beautiful beaches, marine parks, and mountain trekking opportunities, Hong Kong will likely enchant and surprise you into returning again and again.

Shopping and Dining

Street Shopping in Hong Kong

We cannot talk about Hong Kong without mentioning its shopping and dining options.  Hong Kong is known for being one of the most prolific shopping cities in the world, and with a number of well-known products and brands being available throughout the city at lower prices than many other cities, it’s understandably one of the best places to get some shopping done. Shopping malls are plentiful, with numerous types of stores, selling everything from clothing to handicrafts to electronics and more. It can be tempting to cash in on the relatively lower price of electronics in Hong Kong, but be sure that you are getting a proper bargain by checking into things like whether SD cards are included, what their price is if they aren’t and whether international warranties apply.

Chinese antiques can be fascinating and a great way to memorialise your trip to Hong Kong. Try to stick with a reputable antique dealer, which sometimes are found in more “local” areas of the city, such as in suburbs and local markets rather than shopping malls. The best region for antiques is along Hollywood Street and Wyndham Road. Hong Kong is also well known as being a hub for knock off brand names for cheap, so expect to find labels such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton for a fraction of the cost of what they are in the west. While they aren’t officially real, the quality is high and to the naked eye it isn’t obvious and your wallet will thank you if you have always wanted a special piece for your wardrobe without having to shell out the money for it.

 

Eating tour in Hong Kong

 

Hong Kong dining is quite similar to the dining you would find in almost any international big city. Restaurants vary in style and cuisine and everything can be found here. Budget restaurants and local places are numerous where you can find truly unique fare for reasonable prices. If you’re not particularly brave when it comes to your cuisine, there are numerous restaurants that offer western options as well. Some of the culinary specialties that are available throughout the city include the suckling pig at the Kimberley Chinese Restaurant that serves between 8-10 people. Try the snake soup at Ser Wong Fun, a restaurant that has been serving snake soups for over one hundred years and so is arguably the best snake soup in town. For a great variety of hot pot soups check out Megan’s kitchen and try some of the unique broths and dumplings they offer to cook together, you really won’t be disappointed.

So in all Hong Kong is an exciting, unique place to spend some time on a city break. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to Chinese culture. Due to it having been a British colony until 1997, it still retains some of the western influence with lots of western options, so it’s a good place to start if you haven’t been to the region before. One thing is for certain though – Hong Kong is alive and bustling with culture, history and entertainment and you can easily spend several days just exploring this unique and welcoming city.

Recommend tours of Hong Kong & beyond:

For additional tours of Hong Kong, be sure to check out our Hong Kong & Macau Tours page.

 

 

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