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Hong Kong

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Hong Kong travel guide, including famous attractions such as Victoria harbour, key facts, recommended experiences and travel tips for Hong Kong

No longer just the ‘barren rock’ occupied by the British two centuries ago, the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong – which includes the eponymous island, the Kowloon Peninsula and extensive New Territories as well as outlying islands – is an Asian powerhouse, punching well above its weight and size.

Hong Kong attracts a deluge of domestic and international travellers, ideally placed as a launchpad for exploring southern China and South-East Asia, and a riveting destination in its own right.

Don't be misled by the gleaming glass towers, Hong Kong is a unique synthesis of ancient traditions. Push past the lingering evidence of British and Portuguese colonies, past the modern-day icons of Hello Kitty and fast food chains and you'll discover the conservative culture that underpins Hong Kong. In the shadows of skyscrapers, traditional fishing settlements and Taoist temples thick with sandalwood thrive, while scrummy noodle shops and vibrant street markets enjoy the daily grind.

Hong Kong has something for every traveller: the view of the city's night-time neon-rainbows, delicious array of noodle soups, bite-sized dim sum and Chinese black tea are worth the flight alone. To others, nothing beats hiking, brid watching and climbing in the region's beautiful and mountainous countryside.

Hong Kong Island has the Peak Tram, lifting you to lofty vistas of the city's lambent skyline; the Star Ferry, criss-crossing the harbour for a bargain historic ride; and the bars and restaurants of Central, Lan Kwai Fong and Soho.

Kowloon is home to Hong Kong’s best shopping, with up-to-the-minute shops and quirky markets, while the New Territories harbour wildlife, traditional villages and trekking.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Go for a traditional tonic Head down to Dried Seafood Street (Des Voeux Road West) to see what traditional tonics might be prescribed for your ailments. The locals will swear by concoctions of plants, roots, herbs and animal parts to cure various maladies. For something with more substance, try Treasure Inn Seafood Restaurant to see what fried snow frog and bamboo funghi will do for your health.
  2. Explore Hong Kong’s wildest corners There are few cities in the world that are so close to  mountains, sandy beaches and woodlands. Some 40% of Hong Kong is made up of 22 country parks, so opportunities to explore the region's outstanding beauty is generally very easy. The Lantau trail winds all the way around Lantau Island, offering magnificent views from mountain summits, hidden waterfalls and secluded beaches.
  3. Browse the markets of Mong Kok and Yuen Po Street Bird Garden: Mong Kok is home to a plethora of exotic fish, while Yuen Po is brimming with all manner of beautiful songbirds, housed in intricately carved, wooden aviaries. Amble through courtyards and past moon gates, taking in these unusual markets' vibrancy.
  4. Visit WWII tunnels and bunkers When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong during World War II, the last line of defence for the British was a network of bunkers and tunnels cut into the hillsides. Although well preserved, most are sealed off, inaccessible or hidden by overgrown shrubbery. Some remnants of the Gin Drinkers Line can be found strewn near Shing Mun Redoub and Lion Rock. Alternatively, head to St Andrew's Church in Tsim Sha Tsui, where two bricked up entrances are clearly visible under the Observatory Hill.
  5. Feast on dim sum These bite-sized, steamed morsels are typically served in a bamboo basket and are trollied around restaurants for your snacking pleasure. For a true yum cha feast, pick out a selection of steamed buns, ensuring you get a gao, as these are something of a fine art, and the sweet egg tart dim sum. Be warned: some restaurants serve the latter with a bird's nest.
  6. Practice the art of Tai Chi Take a walk around any of Hong Kong's parks before the working day begins and watch the locals express their inner chi with some shadow boxing. Fancy trying your hand at it? HKTB Cultural Kaleidoscope and two well-known masters can coach you for an hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8am for free.
  7. Hit the 'bone yard' Escape the city and head to the remote and pristine Tai Long Wan, also known as Big Wave Bay. Surf the swells with the sandy beaches and rugged headlands as your backdrop. Be sure to visit the Hakka fisherfolk in Tai Long village, largely abandoned  when residents migrated to the city in the 1950s.

Wanderlust tips

Buy an Octopus card for convenience; it's an electronic fare card that is accpeted by fast food chains, stroes and nearly all forms of public transport.

Take a stroll through the alleys of Sheung Wan west of Central for tantalising glimpses of Hong Kong’s past.

Board the top deck of an old tram at Causeway Bay and head west through Wan Chai, Central and onto Sheung Wan to watch the city unfurl.

I wish I'd known...

Susie Maggie Thorne on the things you need to know before you visit HK:

"The tram is so cheap! Save your pennies and plump for a ride on the tram, which costs HK$2.30 (less than 20p) for an adult whether you go ten stops or one. Their routes even stretch our to the beached areas of Hong Kong via Kennedy Town, for some serenity. Mostly running until midnight and simply going either westbound or eastbound, you can't really go wrong."

"For a slice of peace and quiet, immerse yourself in some literature in Hong Kong's library. There's a beautiful seating area overlooking the city where you can read 'til your heart's content. Out of the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, an area of peace is hard to find."

Further Reading

Travel in Hong Kong: vital statistics

  • Population of Hong Kong: 7 million
  • Languages in Hong Kong: Cantonese and English are the official languages; Mandarin is increasingly widely spoken
  • Time in Hong Kong: GMT+8
  • International dialling code for Hong Kong: +852
  • Voltage in Hong Kong: 220V 50Hz AC
  • Visas for Hong Kong: Hong Kong visas
  • Money in Hong Kong: Hong Kong dollar (HK$). ATMs are everywhere; credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Round up taxi fares; some restaurants include service charge in the bill – otherwise, consider 10% tip. Hotel and airport porters expect a few dollars.
  • Hong kong travel advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Hong Kong tourist board: Discover Hong Kong

    When to go to Hong Kong

    Summer (late May- mid-September) brings sweltering heat, high humidity and thunderstorms, with temperatures reaching 31°C+. It is also typhoon season. Spring (March-April) and autumn (October-November) are the most comfortable times to visit. Winter (January-February) is often cool and overcast, although temperatures rarely drop below 10°C.

    Pretty much every month is festival month in Hong Kong. Most important is the Chinese New Year in late January/early February, with parades, a riot of fireworks and special dishes served in homes and restaurants.

    International Airports

    Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is on Chek Lap Kok, an outcrop of Lantau Island, and west of Hong Kong Island.

    Getting around in Hong Kong

    Ferries are important transport modes between Hong Kong’s harbours and numerous islands. The iconic Star Ferry links Kowloon with Hong Kong Island. Other services link Central with Cheung Chau, Lantau and Lamma Islands, and west to Macau. Ferries from Wong Shek and Ma Liu Shui serve islands in the New Territories.

    Hong Kong’s efficient Mass Transit Railway, Kowloon-Canton Railway and Light Rail cover much of northern Hong Kong and Lantau Island, Kowloon and up towards the Chinese border.

    Trams trundle along Hong Kong Island’s north shore, while the Peak Tram – really a funicular railway – ascends the eponymous viewpoint.

    Buses and cheap taxis are easy ways of exploring – red taxis serve most of Hong Kong (except for Tung Chung Road and the south side of Lantau Island); green taxis operate in the rural areas of the New Territories; and blue taxis only run in Lantau.

    Hong Kong accommodation

    Hong Kong has the full range of accommodation options from budget hostels to top-end hotels – some of the world’s finest, in fact, including the Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental.

    The country parks have basic campsites.

    Hong Kong food & drink

    Hong Kong is a foodie paradise; eating is the national pastime. From simple snacks and noodles eaten at street-side stalls or dai pai dong to yum cha feasts of dim sum and lip-smacking gourmet cuisine, Hong Kong is the place to expand your palate.

    Though Cantonese cuisine is dominant, other Chinese, Japanese and Asian dishes are easily found. Seafood is, unsurprisingly, excellent – try soft-shell crab in chilli for a taste sensation. Chinese Tsing Tao beer is common; wine is imported. Naturally, green or black Chinese tea is ubiquitous.

    Health & safety in Hong Kong

    There are few places safer than Hong Kong, though it’s best to keep an eye on possessions, as you would in any other city. Water quality is variable, due to old pipes – drink filtered or bottled water.

    Venomous snakes in the New Territories tend to avoid humans, but take care in long grass. Heat can be intense – carry plenty of water if walking on remote tracks.

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