Emerging into downtown Hong Kong can be staggering, the noisy visuals of hanging signs, neon billboards, roving advertisements on double-decker buses and the constant push of people a wall of chaos you’re not used to. But throw yourself into the thicket and you’ll find a mesmerizing culture woven in its food, its scenery, its blended mix of local voices and international influences.
Areas to Explore: Attractions & Things to Do
MONG KOK, the core of street market culture, is a local hotspot full of jostling tourists and vendors calling out “cheap, cheap, very cheap”. Conventional souvenirs and antique knick-knacks are sold in the smaller roads behind department stores and alongside delicious, value street food.
Dundas Street – Curling steam and heady aroma characterize this shoulder-to-shoulder chain of stalls offering the best of traditional Hong Kong street food. From curry fish balls, siu mai, stinky tofu to bubble tea and egg waffle combos, it’s an unmissable foodie experience.
Fa Yuen Street – Exchange your kicks for the newest of Adidas, New Balance and Nike at the street known for sporting goods and wear.
Argyle Center – Think fast-fashion and you’ll get Argyle Center’s crammed shopping. A unique experience of one-sized clothing and trendy items at budget price, you should keep in mind that lower prices invite lower quality.
Mong Kok Computer Center – Missing that obscure electronic component? Looking for a new phone case? This building has all the technology you’ll need, from charging cables to computer accessories.
CENTRAL, a business hub of sky-high office blocks atop high-end shopping malls, transforms into the center of Hong Kong’s nightlife past sunset. And it’s not just sleek bars and hidden speakeasies that invite the crowds; Central also boasts a veritable feast of foreign cuisines and best eats in town.
Lan Kwai Fong – Party central hardly encapsulates the plethora of restaurants-turned-bars come night time, pubs and clubs that go crazy on Fridays and the weekend. Whether you want to sweat with the dancing masses or go classy with drinks, Lan Kwai Fong is the place to be.
Soho – Easily accessible thanks to the world’s longest escalator system, Soho encroaches Hollywood Road and surrounding streets to house hip cafés and notable restaurants. You’ll find more exotic fare and fusion foods here.
PMQ – A quirky repurposed space featuring local handicrafts, concept brands and residential artists, its shops allow for personalized souvenirs that cheaper market fare lack.
Landmark & IFC – Connected by a bridge system are the malls (and office buildings) of Landmark and cloud-breaking International Finance Center (IFC). Toting luxury brands and international fashion, IFC may also be the first recognizable stop for those who take the Airport Express into town.
Hong Kong Park & Botanical Gardens – Located between Central and Admiralty is this spacious park and garden combination, showcasing not only a diverse landscape of fauna, but also a dome-shaped aviary and adjacent zoo.
TSIM SHA TSUI, one Kowloon’s most coveted tourist areas and for good reason – fruitful shopping and gorgeous harbor view. With Hong Kong’s iconic ferry ride bridging Central and Tsim Sha Tsui in a matter of minutes, you can easily spend half of your day cruising between the shops and museums, then hopping over to Central for dinner and drinks.
Avenue of Stars – Renown Avenue of Stars has undergone renovation to provide a wider harbor-front promenade. Featuring the handprints of famous local entertainers including Jackie Chan, this walkway strip is also the perfect spot for a cross-harbor photo of Hong Kong’s skyline.
Harbor City Terminal – This shopping mall and its connected counterparts boast global brands, high-end luxury fashion, cosmetics and every for the fashion conscious. Stretching more than just a few blocks, its massive size is almost as impressive as the proud branding along its exterior.
Hong Kong Museum – A short walk away are two of Hong Kong’s largest museums, the Hong Kong Museum (of History) and the Science Museum. While the former depicts the city’s formative years in life-sized models and displays, the latter is particularly popular among children due to its interactive nature.
I-Square/K-11/The One/Miramar – A series of malls spread out over Tsim Sha Tsui that offer shopping and dining options. I-Square’s rooftop bar offers a panoramic view from way up high.
Kowloon Park – One of Hong Kong’s biggest parks, it is an island of tranquility in a busy city.
SAI YING PUN and KWUN TONG are notable mentions for their vibrant street art. Where Sai Ying Pun leans toward the same western influences that decorate Central and Kennedy Town, Kwun Tong carries a much more local feel. Undertaking the repurposing of industrial blocks to cultivate a hub for smaller business and collectives, Kwun Tong has transformed into a trendy area full of restaurants and cozy cafés, as well as varied party rooms.
SAI KUNG on the other hand, takes us away from city delights to deliver on Hong Kong’s underappreciated greens. Did you know that Hong Kong is actually three-quarters nature? Sai Kung’s Country Park proves that this city is much more than just a concrete jungle; it is hiking trails, private beaches, coastal views spanning as far as you can see, and sandy islands waiting for some weekend fun.
Following Hong Kong’s truly diverse nature, below are more must-sees and must-do’s:
Street Markets – Temple Street Night Market is a formidable name on travel guides, as are Stanley Market and Ladies Market. Wan Chai Market also hosts the characteristic mash of trinkets, antiques, cheap jewelry and electronics that lure in a rowdy daily crowd.
Neighboring Islands – Thanks to Central Pier’s handy ferry network, the small inhabited islands offshore Hong Kong Island are a short trip away. Touting residential areas, schools, hiking paths and a mix of restaurants and handicraft stores, they offer an alternative vibe to Hong Kong living.
Amusement Parks – Disneyland is for dreamers, but local Ocean Park steals the limelight as crowd favorite. Connecting the impressive display of aquarium and panda home to the thrill-seeking rides of the expansive entertainment space is a stunning cable car ride right along the coast.
Fishing Villages – Dig deep into Hong Kong’s seafaring roots at any one of the humble villages of Tai O or Po Toi O for some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in Asia.
Parks & Gardens – You’d be surprised by the pocketed quiet of Hong Kong’s numerous parks. While most of the grass is paved over, Sha Tin Park, Nan Lian Garden and Kowloon Walled City Park are only few of the many foliage-littered spaces. Inundated with bicycle trails and historical monuments, they offer chances for tranquil reflection.
The Big Buddha – Situated above Ngong Ping station is the wise gaze of the gigantic Buddha. Nestled on the mountain top alongside temples amid the green, not only is it a place of worship but also one of quiet respite.
Things to Eat
Hong Kong is food heaven – there is one restaurant per every few hundred of the population. It might not make sense to eat cuisines outside of the borders of their countries, but if some place is going to do international cuisine right, Hong Kong would be it.
Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean food are popular among locals, whereas western styled burgers and steak houses are preferred options for special occasions. What you really have to sample however, is the rich spread of Chinese cuisine from all regions.
Dim Sum is Hong Kong’s signature; small bites of mostly steamed items served in bamboo baskets. Of the classic dim sum dishes, cha siu bao (tender barbecued pork bun), har gao (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork and shrimp dumpling) and crispy spring rolls are well-loved by visitors.
If possible, give Hong Kong styled hotpot a whirl. Generally served with clear broth flavored by radishes, corn and chicken stock, you can choose your pick of leafy greens and thinly sliced beef or pork to dip and cook. Of course, no hot pot is complete without a choice of fish balls, squid balls, beef balls and the ilk. Vegetarian is also an option as tofu (steamed or deep fried curd sheets) and mushrooms are popular to-eats. If you’re pulling out the stops, be sure to order a heaping of deep fried fish skin to round off your meal.
For cheaper fare, eat at a humble cha can teng, whose usual menu consists of simple but filling rice dishes, instant noodle combinations and thin yellow noodles served in ox bone broth, with a side of dumplings or tenderized beef tendons. Street food delicacies like curry fish balls, egg waffles and stinky tofu are alternatives to sit-down meals.
Best Time to Visit
Humidity in Hong Kong only ever seems to dip during the colder months of January to March. Relatively dry and with lowest temperatures averaging 7? in random spurts, Hong Kong is best explored in winter months if you don’t like heat. The following months of April to June will see a spike in rain and temperature; July and August welcome peak humidity and temperatures averaging 30?. September and October are also good months to visit, as temperatures lower slightly and the end of summer vacation means emptier streets. However, recent years have seen many typhoons hit during October and November, high winds and rain storms better avoided.
Do’s and Don’ts
To keep your travels smooth, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Do keep some petty cash on you for transport such as trams and taxis.
- Do purchase an Octopus card to easily tap-and-go on the subway, buses and convenience stores.
- Don’t stick your chopsticks in your rice; it’s considered a taboo imitation of funeral rites.
- Don’t just stay in the city! There’s a lot of nature to explore.
- Don’t worry about language barrier as many places have both Chinese and English signage.
- Do bring around a water bottle and umbrella as the humidity can be draining, and rainy season is unpredictable.
- Don’t loiter in the middle of the walkway as Hong Kong people are impatient and blocking the road won’t do you any favors.
- Don’t tip unless you want to; it’s not a custom.
- Don’t just stay on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon has plenty of fascinating areas to be in and local culture is better felt there.
- Do be careful when choosing a hostel or guest house to stay in. While hotels are all generally safe and secure, hostels in seedy buildings are a no-no.