Located at the southern tip of vast China, Hong Kong may seem to be lacking in size and attention on the world map. However, one thing it definitely does not lack is the influx of people into the city every day. The city bleeds energy – with the vibrant local rhythm and exciting ethnic diversity – that draws many curious travellers and ambitious expatriates. Proclaimed as “Asia’s World City”, Hong Kong is surely a destination that one cannot, should not, and probably would not forgo while exploring Asia.
(Fun fact: Hong Kong International Airport is Asia’s busiest airport – the third busiest airport in the world, based on 2014 statistics.)
Being commonly perceived as a fast-moving and work-oriented city, there’s actually more life to be uncovered in Hong Kong behind the facade of city lights and skyscrapers. There are activities, places and experiences unique to the daily lifestyle that one simply cannot miss, in order to truly say that you’d “seen Hong Kong”. I had the privilege to see this pulsating city upclose and personal during my six-months relocation there. With that, I understood what Hong Kong really has to offer apart from dimsum and skylines, and I came up with the top 10 experiences not to miss in Hong Kong.
Taking the tram from Kennedy Town to North Point (or vice versa)
The tram is a mode of transportation exclusively on Hong Kong Island, and runs from Kennedy Town to North Point and vice versa. It’s one of the unique icons of Hong Kong, existing on the island since 1904. You’ll know when a tram comes by from the “Ding Ding” sound it makes when approaching a tram stop. Because of this, many locals will refer to the tram as “Ding Ding”.
Although the speed of the tram is much slower than normal buses and does not have air-conditioning, it’s a really relaxing way to tour along Hong Kong Island as it drops by every main area of the island from Kennedy Town > Sheung Wan > Central > Admiralty > Wan Chai > Causeway Bay > Tin Hau > Fortress Hill > North Point. Along the way, feast your eyes on interesting landmarks, streets, and way of life. The slow-moving tram makes it ideal for photo-taking of your surroundings. And the best thing is, each trip costs only HKD $2.30 regardless of how many stops you go!
Junk boat trips
Because Hong Kong is surrounded by sea, people really do take advantage of that. A popular weekend activity for both locals and foreigners in Hong Kong is to set sail on a junk boat to an island (or just dock at sea) and party along the way. There are many junk boat companies offering packages, depending on the kind you’re looking for. It ranges from posh yachts to Chinese boats, all-inclusive food and drinks to bring-your-own options. Generally, the total cost will not be cheap. However, if there are many people onboard sharing the cost with you, it’d definitely be worth the money for the experience! Imagine, being out at sea without a care in the world, partying with beautiful people with an ice cold beer in hand. Life’s good, right?
Visiting the outlying islands
Do you know that Hong Kong has 263 outlying islands? However, many of them are largely rural and undeveloped. Some of the more prominent ones are Lantau Island (home to Disneyland, Discovery Bay, Big Buddha, Hong Kong International Airport), Lamma Island, Peng Chau Island, Cheng Chau Island, and Ma Wan.
Visiting an outlying island can be easily achieved within a day, hence it’s the perfect day trip for tourists staying in Hong Kong for more than 3 days, and a refreshing weekend adventure for the expats! On the islands, you can usually do a hiking trail, visit the beaches, eat seafood or have a bbq session. It is really an amazing way to get out of the demands and bustle of the Hong Kong city life.
P.s. This is exactly what I love about Hong Kong – I am able to live in an exciting city and still enjoy the serenity of the countryside.
A hike that ends at the beach
Best if there’s a really high peak too!
Hong Kong is a mountainous country and there’s up to 130 peaks amongst its terrains. The most touristic peak of all is the Victoria Peak located on the highest point of Hong Kong Island, which is only the 24th highest peak in the whole of Hong Kong.
I believe many would say that THE place to hike in Hong Kong is Sai Kung. It’s located in the New Territories of Hong Kong, and a really popular beach and camping destination for both locals and foreigners. Two of the best beaches of Hong Kong reside in Sai Kung – Tai Long Wan and Ham Tin Wan. On a glorious summer day, the seawater is really clear and the sand is as soft as silk.
There are other beaches in Hong Kong like the Shek O beach, Stanley beach and Repulse Bay beach located on Hong Kong Island, with hiking trails available too. If you’re not the hiking type, these 3 beaches are easily accessible by the bus/mini-bus/taxi as well!
Having a drink on a (high) rooftop
Be it a rooftop bar or the rooftop of your apartment, it’s an exhilarating experience to have a nice drink against the epic view of Hong Kong – with its modern tall buildings and striking city lights. (Pic Link)
The highest rooftop bar in Hong Kong is Ozone, located on the 118th of floor Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Kowloon, which is even higher than the Empire State Building and Taipei 101. The view is nonetheless magnificent, but advisable to avoid during winter as the fog may hinder the view.
Some other rooftop bars include Wooloomooloo in Wan Chai, Sugar in Tai Koo, Sevva Bar and Azure Bar in Central. I still remember that night when I was on Sevva Bar looking out at the view of the glamorously tall buildings in Central and thinking, “How lucky am I to make it here – this place is like the New York of Asia. I really love Hong Kong so much.”
Mingle in the nightlife of Central
Every country has its nightlife and Hong Kong definitely doesn’t fall behind. The main nightlife area in Hong Kong is in Central’s Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo area. Expect Lan Kwai Fong to be filled with people on Fridays and Saturdays, and you can find a very diverse ethnic spread. There’s a very visible expat community in the nightlife of Central. Every way you walk along LKF or SoHo, expats are everywhere. It’s a great chance for mingling and building connections with people from around the world. I particularly love it when people start dancing on the street of Lan Kwai Fong, being all crazy from booze and the vibrancy of Hong Kong’s nightlife.
Related Article: Ultimate Partying Guide in Hong Kong
For the ladies, every Thursday is Ladies’ Night in Lan Kwai Fong. Also on Thursday, there’s a weekly Pub Crawl activity going on, starting from the bar called Baby Buddha. Basically, just pay a flat fee of HKD 100 to enjoy a free shot and beer discounts at every bar that the Pub Crawl organizers lead you to, and eventually end the night with free entry into a club. If you’re not into bar-hopping and just want a chill Thursday, the CouchSurfing community in Hong Kong hosts weekly meet-ups at Le Jardin.
Other nightlife areas in Hong Kong include Wan Chai (Lockhart Road) and Tsim Sha Tsui (Knutsford Terrace).
Halloween at Lan Kwai Fong
If you are lucky enough to be around in October, Halloween is a really huge thing in Hong Kong. There are many events going on in October in line with Halloween, such as scare festivals and costume parties. Halloween Fest at Ocean Park has always been one of the raddest events of the year. Apart from that, many people in Hong Kong hosts their own costume parties in hotel rooms or serviced apartments too! During the week prior to Halloween, many people flock to Pottinger Street in Central to grab their last minute costumes and accessories.
However, it is the Halloween crowd at Lan Kwai Fong Street Party that you cannot miss. Every year, the police has to be sent down for crowd control starting as early as 8.30pm as people – locals, expatriates and tourists – flock to this central party district to flaunt their costumes, or take photos of the huge crowd that is all dressed up. Of course, please be prepared to squeeze, sweat and wait in line if you really want to be part of this ceremony. The crowd usually eases up only after 2-3am.
(Tip: Try to avoid popular clubs like Magnum because the entrance fees are outrageously high, and it’ll be packed to the brim.)
Watch horseracing at Happy Valley Racecourse
Horse racing is a major part of the Hong Kong economy, and watching it at the Happy Valley Racecourse (a world-class venue, no less!) is definitely an experience not to be missed. Even if you’re not a fan of horse racing, just watching the crowd go wild and mingling with the excitement is enough to make the night a fun-filled and thrilling one. The horseracing season at Happy Valley is from September to June and takes place on Wednesday nights.
See the “old Hong Kong” at Sham Shui Po
Known to be the poorest area in Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po is rich in DIY products, fabric materials, cheap electronic products and good food. Many of the food discoveries I made actually originated from Sham Shui Po! When night falls, this area bustles with street peddlers offering secondhand items such as old books, phones, DVDs, glasses, art, and many other random things. Needless to say, you can be sure to find some really old-school or vintage steals here, at affordable prices!
Another reason for you to make Sham Shui Po one of your stops, is the existence of “old Hong Kong” tradition that you can spot along the streets of this neighbourhood. Look closely into one of the shop units and you might have just found one of the infamous Mahjong parlours where triad members are known to frequent or own the place. It’s not advisable to go into one of those rooms for your own safety or unless you are prepared to owe some money. However, it’s cool to be this close to two distinct Hong Kong culture – Mahjong and Triad activities.
Eat a simple breakfast at local Cha Chaan Tengs
Apart from Dim Sum, nothing says Hong Kong like its western-meets-eastern style breakfast sets. Some Cha Chaan Tengs serve breakfast sets up till 11.30am, while some have all-day breakfast. These Cha Chaan Tengs not only embodies a local flavour, but offers really economical choices too. A typical breakfast set includes toast, scrambled eggs, sausage/ham/luncheon meat, macaroni with soup and coffee/tea, which usually costs at most HKD 30.
Do it like a local by practicing your Cantonese while ordering your meal. Enjoy the fragrance of that rich Hong Kong-style milk tea while you take in the sight and sounds of the restaurant – old men reading Chinese newspapers, servers shouting orders and doing their job with such swiftness, and people chatting in fluent and fast Cantonese. I think this is the simplest and best way to feel and be like a part of Hong Kong.
There you have it, 10 things that are essentially Hong Kong. Even up till this date, I still believe there are some things where Hong Kong just does it better. A place where east-meets-west, and people from all around the world converge together, it’s a place where there’s a place for everyone, regardless of origin. If you’ve ever visited or lived in Hong Kong, what are some of the things you liked to do there? Feel free to share them in the comments!
This article is written by Chloe Kwok, and first appeared on her blog – Chloelogue.