Hong Kong’s rise as an international gateway means millions of people will visit the city when travelling to or from Australia to Europe, the Middle East or Asia, and why not when the thriving city is the perfect step into Asia. With bilingual English/Cantonese signs, an abundance of international food options and a decent exchange rate, Hong Kong is one of my first options when I want to travel. So here are my recommendations of five things you should consider doing if you are visiting for your first time!
Chinese Junks and Ferries
Running between Central and Kowloon is the lifeblood of the city both in the past and today. On one side, Hong Kong Island which is also known as Central – the business district of Hong Kong and the other, Kowloon, home to Tsim Sha Tsui – a predominantly hotel and shopping area, the museums near the waters edge and the tourist areas of Mong Kok and Nathan Road.
One of the cheapest activities in Hong Kong is to take one of the Star Ferries between Kowloon and Central. The 10-minute ferry ride will cost you about HK$2.40 and give you a unique view of the city skyline. Gazing out on the Kowloon side you will see the Avenue of the Stars and perhaps capture a glimpse of a celebrity adding their hand prints to the walk of fame. On the Hong Kong Island side you will see the curved roof of the Convention Centre, the International Finance Centre – which held the record for being tallest building in Hong Kong until 2010, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of one of Hong Kong’s most famous vantage points – The Peak.
For the most picturesque view I recommend taking the ferry in the evening. The city really puts on a show as the buildings light up, twinkling various shades of neon. If you visit during the holiday season you may even see a Santa Claus or two outlined on the buildings.
If you have a bit more money to spend, take the time to catch a tradition Chinese Junk and sail the harbour in style. Tours on the Junks cost around HK$100 per person.
There are a number of options to tour Victoria Harbour. Please check out this post for a comprehensive list of information.
Nestled amongst the most lavish houses in the country, Hong Kong Island is one of the most popular attractions for visitors – the Peak. Taking the red tram which run up the mountain side, the tram ride takes you on a rather memorable ride reminisce of something like a theme park roller coaster with angles of four to 47 degrees on the ascent!
Upon surviving the steep climb to the top, you are greeted with a myriad of shops and restaurants at your disposal, as well as a Madame Tussaud and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. But it’s not any of those which visitors flock for – it’s for the Peak Tower and the Sky Terrace which offers views across the city and, if the day is cloudless, into China.
Gazing over Hong Kong from the Sky Tower 428, that is 428m from sea level, Hong Kong’s looming skyscrapers feel like wooden blocks stacked together, the ferries like toy vehicles.
If you want to beat the crowds or don’t think a steep tram ride is your forte you can always take a taxi or bus to the top. For more information about prices and where to catch the bus have a look at the official The Peak Hong Kong site.
Tickets for the Peak Tram (only) cost adult/child HK$40/18 return or HK$28/11 for a single journey.
Tickets for the Peak Tram and Sky Terrace cost adult/child HK$65/31 return or HK$53/24 for a single journey.
Goldfish markets, jade markets, ladies markets, night markets – Hong Kong is home to hundreds of markets and is a great way to get a taste of the real Hong Kong and meet locals. Here is a rundown of some of the most popular:
Temple Street Night Markets
Is one of the biggest markets in Hong Kong running parallel to Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei. If you want cheap anything this is the place to visit. From clothing to bags, watches to pirated DVDs or even just delicious street food visit these markets. I found that the busiest time for the markets were from around 7 pm and everything begins closing around 10 pm.
Ladies Market (Tung Choi Street Market)
Once upon a time the Temple Street Night Markets only sold men’s clothes and so a woman’s market a short walk away was set up. Today, though both markets serves both genders but the name has stuck. The main draw to this market is the abundant nature of cheap clothes – particularly woman’s, as well as fake bags and shoes. The market begins around noon and I recommend you visit around 3 pm for the best bargains.
Although situated outside of the city a visit to the Stanley markets is well worth the trip. Although the prices aren’t as low as what you can find in the city, the quality of the products are a lot better and include big brand names such as Converse and Adidas. The market is occupied with a lot of casual clothing, toys and art, but there are also a few international brands including that of Australian retailer Country Road, for a discounted price.
Not only are there popular markets here but decently priced pubs and restaurants, often overlooking Stanley Harbour.
To make a day trip of your visit head a little further to Aberdeen Harbour and take a sampan ride, or dine at the floating Jumbo seafood restaurant!
Avenue of the Stars
Located along the foreshore of Victoria Harbour and behind the New World Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui East, the Avenue of the Stars is the Hong Kong film industries equivalent to Los Angeles Sunset Boulevard. Complete with concrete handprints, information boards and a statue of Bruce Lee, during the day it can make a beautiful walk complete with views of Victoria Harbour and Central. However, it is night time when this area is really something special.
With coloured lights lighting you way along the footpath, the Avenue of the Stars is the perfect position to watch the nightly Symphony of the Stars – a light show featuring about 20 buildings on the Hong Kong Harbour skyline which start at 8pm and last about 20-minutes. The area is particularly busy during New Years Eve celebrations, Chinese New Year celebrations and the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat race in June. Best of all these attractions are free!
Ngong Ping and the Giant Buddha
Situated on Lantau Island, near the Hong Kong International Airport, the Tian Tan Buddha sits. As the largest outdoor sitting Buddha statue in the world, many locals and visitors flock to pay their respects. At 23m (not including the lotus leaf he is seated on) it is well worth your time climbing the 260 steps for an up-close view of both Buddha, the surrounding statues and the view witnessed from that height.
Buddha’s birthday, a public holiday in Hong Kong, is celebrated in late April/early May and this is when thousands make the pilgrimage to visit him and the place really comes alive.
If religion is not quite your forte there are other interesting draw-cards to the area. The Ngong Ping 360 is a 5.7km cable car ride which stretches from Tung Chung (right outside the namesake train station) to Ngong Ping Plateau (which is a short stroll away from the Tian Tan Buddha.) The 25-minute cable car ride is pleasantly relaxing showing great views of Lantau Island, the Giant Buddha, Hong Kong International Airport and Ngong Ping Village.
There are also options to visit a Monkey Tale show, Walking with Buddha tour, the Po Lin Monastery and an outdoor tea house.
Tickets for the Ngong Ping 360 (only) cost adult/child HK$115/58 return or HK$80/41 for a single journey.
(There are options to travel in a ‘crystal cabin’ which has a glass-bottom floor and is slightly more expensive. For more ticket options, or combined options visiting Monkey’s Tale Theatre or Walking with Buddha please visit the Ngong Ping 360 site.)
If you haven’t travelled through Asia before I recommend visiting Hong Kong as a stepping stone. While you will be surrounded by signs in Cantonese, chattering in a smattering of Asian languages, and the traffic is just as bad as other parts of the region; due to it being under British rule until 1997, many of the locals speak some level of English, with proficiency being quite high in the business and tourist districts.
Please note: all prices are correct as of October 2011.