Adoration 4 Adventure’s local guide for visitors to Hong Kong by A4A guest writer, Ben Zabulis.
Local guide posts provide recommendations for destinations from locals who are currently living or have lived in that particular place. Including information on the top places to eat, drink, stay and how to get around with an emphasis on saving money.
Overview of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a territory of 1100 square km (420 square miles) and an estimated population of 7.2 million located on the south China coast. The area mixes densely populated city with countryside and numerous outlying islands.
Amidst much fanfare, the territory reverted from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Consequently a rich blend of Anglo-Sino heritage augmented by modern urban landscape, vivacious nightlife, spectacular scenery, waterways and beaches underline Hong Kong’s status as one of the world’s most visited cities.
The climate is tropical, yielding hot, humid summers, pleasant springs and autumns, but with cooler winters. English is widely spoken and the currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$).
Planning a trip to Asia? Read the local guide for visitors to Singapore.
Top 5 places to visit
The city has a fine collection of museums, typically Art, Science, History, Heritage, Tea, Maritime, Coastal Defence, 3D and many others. A great activity should you need to shelter from the rain or heat, most have well-appointed cafes and souvenir shops too. Admission is currently free on Wednesdays.
4. Wetland Park
Located in the northern New Territories and easily accessible by public transport, is this educational facility and world-class ecotourism attraction. Spread over 61 hectares, it showcases the diversity of the local ecosystem and conservation methods.
As well as a superb visitor centre, the park includes numerous designated walks amidst a habitat catering mainly for waterbirds. The facility has received numerous architectural, landscaping and green awards. Admission HK$30 (concessions available).
You’d have to be quite unlucky to land in Hong Kong and not find at least one festival in progress! Some festivals include Chinese New Year, the summer dragon boat extravaganza, the autumnal lantern and Tai Hang Fire Dragon display. Allow yourself to be immersed by the colour, hubbub and heritage of these timeless events. No admission fees, though public transport may be required.
2. Outlying island trip
From the ferry piers of Central, take a ride to one of the outlying islands and indulge an entirely different pace of life! Favourites include:
- Lamma Island: (no cars!) an artisan hangout with countryside walks and atmospheric seafood restaurants by the waterside;
- Cheung Chau: (also no cars!) with pleasant beaches, walks, temples and quaint shopping streets;
- Lantau: (some traffic) Hong Kong’s largest island offers golden beaches and hikes, the 34m high Tian Tan Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery (access by cable car, bus or hike. Free admission) and the ageless fishing village of Tai O built on stilts above the mud-flats (access by bus or hike. Free admission).
All such trips will offer spectacular scenery and harbour views amidst the region’s frantic maritime traffic.
1. Victoria Harbour
Probably Hong Kong’s greatest asset, it’s what attracted 19th century British traders in the first place. The harbour offers the unusual quality in that it can be enjoyed from various locations and at varying times.
At waterside level there’s promenades allowing splendid views across the harbour or venture aboard the Star Ferry and get an even closer view as you journey between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Special junk trips can also be taken. Another favoured method is to ride the world-famous Peak Tram up to the Peak (396m) for a fabulous bird’s-eye panorama, which is magical after dark!
There’s also the nightly Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest permanent light and sound show utilising the skyline of Hong Kong Island as a backdrop – a spectacular way to end the day!
Eating and drinking
There’s an eclectic range of both restaurants and fare available in Hong Kong, whether it be cheap, pricey, Asian, Western, fast or Michelin starred. As eating is a national pastime here, convenience rules and there are eateries all around! Problems may arise without an English menu so a point-and-shoot approach may sometimes be needed. This can be great fun, particularly at street stalls (dai pai dong) or traditional cha chaan teng restaurants.
Generally, Western-style and Asian a-la-carte establishments are more expensive (go for set meals), though a visit to Kowloon’s Spring Deer for Peking duck or Beggar’s chicken is always a winner. Hong Kong dim sum is a must and Central’s renowned Luk Yu Tea House, an olde-worlde joint, is worthwhile though similar places exist throughout.
For quick meals on the go, spurn the ubiquitous McDonalds or KFC (HK$15-40) and eat more locally at Maxim’s, Café de Coral or Fairwood (HK$25-40 with frequent locations). All three have a great mix of affordable rice and noodle dishes as well as English menus.
Hong Kong has efficient and cheap transport so travelling needn’t be a headache or cost the earth. The metro (MTR) lines link main areas and an extensive bus network covers every route imaginable. In some instances your transport has duality as a tourist attraction and all at a low-cost: trams (HK$2.30), Star Ferry (HK$2.50) and Peak Tram (HK$40 return). Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive (HK$22 flag fall).
Visitors should purchase an Octopus stored-value card from any transport customer service centre (HK$50 deposit + HK$100 stored value). Usable on all transport systems, taxis, some attractions and many stores it is fast and easy! Top-up at any MTR station or convenience store (7-Eleven, Circle K). When departing, return the card to a similar customer service centre for a complete refund. For over-65s, buy the ‘Elder’ Octopus card to enjoy maximum HK$2 fares on public transport (Tram HK$ 1.10, Star Ferry free).
A huge array exists in price and quality from multi-star luxury to backpacker budget. The Peninsula’s colonial opulence may come at a price, but arriving in a Rolls Royce Phantom does make for quite a stylish entrance. The usual classy hotel brands are also present: Holiday Inn, Hilton, Hyatt, etc. The local Regal hotels also provide a good stay. Room rates fluctuate throughout the year. The general rule of thumb is that winter is generally high-season and the summer is low-season.
If you’re happy to forgo four-star elegance, there’s bargains to be had with a growing number of comfortable budget guest houses and hostels. For those who like more basic accommodation, the Youth Hostels Association is also represented, though membership is required. Those staying at award-winning Mei Ho House will conveniently find themselves within a social-housing museum. The 1950s block was spared demolition and subsequently renovated.
A student camping adventure across Europe kick-started Ben’s interest in travel, an activity gleefully applied later in life to a career in structural engineering. Work subsequently took him to Nigeria, India, Japan, Guam, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong, where he now lives as an Englishman abroad, with partner Hilary.
Follow Ben at Chartered Territory – An Engineer Abroad.
All photos in this article (except for the vertical image) are the property of A4A guest writer Ben Zabulis.
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