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Born and raised in Hong Kong I should be considered a reliable source of tourist information of this vibrant and cosmopolitan city, which is also well-known as one of the world’s leading international financial centers. This former British colony was transformed into HKSAR, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, when China resumed sovereignty in 1997. It appears to me many overseas visitors see Hong Kong as simply one of the many cities in China. Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, however, to a certain extent the city has nothing to do with its Chinese motherland. You may not need a visa to enter HK, for example, but it can require a lot more preparation to cross China border if you fancy a 1-day trip to the mainland during your stay in HK.
Despite being ruled by Britain once, locals are either illiterate in English or quite never have any chance in everyday life to practice using the language they have learnt from school. English-speaking tourists should have no difficulty seeking assistance in business districts such as Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, and in stations of MTR, the subway system as well as main arteries of the city, but mobile apps like Google Translate and Search Engine might play an important part when you get on a taxi or a bus, go beyond big attractions to explore more thoroughly the city, and dine in local restaurants. Nevertheless, as a form of official written language in HK, English is widely used in printed information and signs in MTR stations and other public facilities.
Hong Kong is a wonderful and very advanced city where people never get bored and as a tourist you are at ease getting around via the extensive transportation network, feel safe even going out alone at night, and depart with many pleasant memories. Just bear in mind how hot it is in summer. You might want to plan a visit before June or after August, if you have a choice. I love Hong Kong. It’s still the best place I would recommend, after traveling to quite many other places in the world. I’d been a tour guide for a few times when friends from afar came over. I hope some ideas and tips below would be of use.
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If it’s a trip for celebration of birthday, anniversary, etc., or you just fancy an unforgettable night dining by the Harbor with a stunning view, reserve a table at Sky Dining 101 over Sky 100 observation deck in ICC, or one for a buffet at Harbourside of Intercontinental Hotel located only 7 minutes walk away along the waterfront.
The Chinese Temples and Gardens
There are numerous Chinese temples and gardens in Kowloon, HK Island, and even outlying islands. Following are some ideas of how you could make the best use of time to see the most. From MTR Lok Fu station either walk or take a taxi to Kowloon Walled City Park which sits on the very site of the former Kowloon Walled City, a notorious nest of drug divans, criminal hide-outs, vice dens and even cheap, unlicensed dentists throughout the 20th century. The park was constructed by a work-force of skilled artisans from China being employed to ensure perfect reproduction of the classical concept of design inspired by the Jiangnan garden style of the early Qing Dynasty. A typical visit lasts less than one hour.
Then, go one station east from Lok Fu to Wong Tai Sin. Wong Tai Sin Temple, a well-known shrine and major tourist attraction in Hong Kong, claims to “make every wish come true upon request”. Home to Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism the temple’s natural setting and finely ornamented buildings make it an amazing scene, especially for fans of Chinese culture. Inside the temple there is also the Good Wish Garden which is often overlooked by main sources of tourist information. The Garden provides a magnificent place with typical Chinese architectural features for visitors. Pavilions of different shapes along side with two ponds and an artificial waterfall are linked up by a long-corridor, known as a replica of that in the Summer Palace in Beijing.
Next, go one station east again from Wong Tai Sin to Diamond Hill. Follow the signs and walk for around five minutes to reach Chi Lin Nunnery, a large temple complex of elegant wooden architecture, treasured Buddhist relics and soul-soothing lotus ponds. The Nunnery was renovated in Tang dynasty style. It also includes a series of temple halls, some of which contain gold, clay and wooden statues. Opposite the Nunnery across the road there is also the Nan Lian Garden, a public park also built in Tang dynasty style. The park is meticulously landscaped. Every hill, rock, body of water, plant and timber structure has been arranged based on specific rules and methods. You might want to enjoy a lunch at the quality vegetarian restaurant inside the Garden. Alternatively, get back to Diamond Hill station and search for your favorite meal inside Hollywood Plaza where there are many choices of delicious Asian food.
Hike and Seafood
Right over MTR Diamond Hill station there is a big bus terminus. Take Bus 92 to Sai Kung Bus Terminus. This is a 45-minute journey, so the hungry would lunch first before heading to Sai Kung, a former fishing harbor surrounded by villages and now a typhoon shelter where fishermen gather and boats can be hired for fishing and swimming trips to boost tourist trade. Just spend an afternoon touring around Sai Kung Town that is full of local snacks and shops. If you feel like burning some calories, come early to appreciate the beauty of this Peninsula on the MacLehose Trail Sections 1 and 2, known as the best way to see the amazing hexagonal volcanic columns of High Island. To do this, catch Bus 94 at Sai Kung Town towards Wong Shek pier and alight at pak Tam Chung Station. The route also passes High Island Reservoir and Long Ke Wan, two of the HK’s “10 Best Scenic Sites”. However you spend your afternoon, enjoy a very palatable seafood dinner in one of the many restaurants in Sai Kung Seafood Street. Seafood dishes there are all sublime!
Another place best for hike and seafood is Lamma Island. Get off at MTR Hong Kong station, walk to Central Ferry Pier, and then take a ferry to Lamma Island. It doesn’t matter which one of the two piers on Lamma you depart for. There is only one main hiking route from one side of the island to the other. Not only is it an easy hike suitable for all ages, it also offers nice sea and mountain views on the way at the highest points. Treat yourself to a palatable seafood dinner on either end.
Begin your day with a 25-minute cable car ride from the Tung Chung Terminal of Ngong Ping 360 near MTR Tung Chung station. You could opt for a Crystal Cabin by paying 50% more than that for a Standard Cabin. Its glass bottom offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the deep blue sea and lush green mountainside right under your feet. The culturally themed 1.5-hectare Ngong Ping Village located where cable cars terminate has a wide array of shops and eateries that offer a delightful shopping and dining experience. You might also be interested in the Walking with Buddha multimedia presentation and the educational animated fable Monkey’s Tale Theatre.
The renowned Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping Piazza and Wisdom Path are all located only five-minute walk away from the Village. Climb the 268 steps for a closer look at this massive Buddha, a remarkable statue which took 12 years to complete. Catch your breath and enjoy the sweeping mountain and sea views at the top from the Buddha’s base. Descend the stairs and visit the Po Lin Monastery just opposite. Known as one of HK’s most important Buddhist sanctums and named “the Buddhist World in the South”, this monastery is rich with colorful manifestations of Buddhist iconography. Its pleasant garden full of birdsong and flowery scents worths a visit too. Have a nice lunch at their popular vegetarian restaurant before leaving for the next stop.
Get back to Ngong Ping Village and take Bus 21 to Tai O Village, home to a community of fisher folk who’ve built their houses above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for decades. These interconnected structures form a tightly-knit community that literally lives on water and are seen as a photographer’s paradise. Have a walk along Tai O Market Street where homemade shrimp sauce, shrimp paste, salted fish and dried seafood can be found. Don’t miss the Tai O Rural Committee Historic & Cultural Showroom that stars relics of local community’s intriguing past such as fishing tools and dismantled old structures. All the items in its collection were donated by local residents.
Take the bus at Tai O Terminus back to Ngong Ping Village, and conclude your Lantau Island day-trip with a beautiful sunset view as you take the cable car ride back to Tung Chung. Alternatively, take Bus 1 to Mui Wo and then the ferry to Central. Enjoy a walk past all those skyscrapers or take a bus to Soho District, an entertainment zone flooded with quality restaurants, bars, nightclubs, art galleries and antique stores. Have a yummy dinner, followed by some nice times in a bar.
Colorful Markets Day and Night
Two must-goes for visitors, in particular the shopaholic, to experience local culture are Ladies’ Market and Temple Street Night Market. The former is actually Tung Choi Street, one of the most well-known street markets in HK, where various kinds of products not just for women are sold for cheap prices. Practice your haggling skills while you walk along this one-kilometer stretch that comprises 100 stalls of bargain clothing, accessories and souvenirs. Get off at MTR Mong Kok station and pick a nice lunch among many choices of delicacies before the market stalls open. If you ladies want something more than Ladies’ Market, continue shopping at Langham Place, one of the biggest malls in HK, or at other shopping centers in Mong Kok, which I would call it a shoppers’ paradise. When the sun goes down, go one station south from Mong Kok and get off at MTR Yau Ma Tai station. Temple Street, sometimes called Men’s Street, is known for its night market, its snacks and roadside dining, and as one of the busiest flea markets at night. There are also opera singers and fortune tellers. It’s common to see the place crowded at dusk with both tourists who shop and sightsee and locals who look for a delicious but cheap HK-style street cuisine. Claypot rice, seafood, noodles and other treats consumed in gusto all represent HK’s traditional and unique food culture.
Shek O and Stanley
Shek O, literally meant “rocky bay”, a beachside village located on southeast HK Island, faces the South China Sea and is surrounded by Shek O Country Park, Big Wave Bay and Cape D’Aguilar. Shek O Beach, a sandy public beach, is a popular weekend and holiday destination with a public barbecue area and many local-styles restaurants. I liked spending some time at the Beach with friends before walking into the pretty village where we had some drinks followed by a tasty lunch. Avoid going there on Saturday or Sunday, as public changing room and toilets are crowded and can have a very nasty smell. Big Wave Bay, located around one mile north of Shek O Beach, is a desirable place for surfers. There are basic bars and restaurants, and equipment hire such as body boards and lilos at both beaches. To go to Shek O, get off at MTR Shau Kei Wan station and take Bus 9 to the final stop. Also located on southeast HK Island is a nice town called Stanley, whose places of interest include Stanley Market and Pat Kan Uk, Stanley Main Street, Murray House, Stanley Plaza, and Stanley’s Beaches. It’s considered a tourist attraction, but I would say it’s a place for a community of expatriates from western countries to live, relax, and gather with friends. Buildings, restaurants and bars are of western styles, except that there are a few small Chinese temples. To go there, take Bus 6 at Central Exchange Square Terminus.
Disneyland and Ocean Park
Most tourists have a tight schedule and sometimes it’s impossible to spend two full days on exploring both themed parks. Which one is more interesting, Disneyland or Ocean Park? Well, it depends. First, if you’ve already visited a Disneyland of a bigger scale, for example, Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland HK wouldn’t give you any extra surprise. Second, you might want to revisit a magical wonderland as such, only when you travel with kids. Ocean Park is rather all-inclusive, in contrast to its competitor. It’s an integration of marine mammal park, oceanarium, animal theme park and amusement park. You would be happy to see some of Asia's most precious native animals, including giant pandas, red pandas, Chinese giant salamanders and Chinese alligators at the Giant Panda Adventure. It’s a theme park visitors of all ages would have fun. If you fancy fantasy, get off at MTR Disneyland Resort station. Otherwise, take Bus 629 from MTR Admiralty station and alight at Ocean Park.