Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Hong Kong Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Hong Kong?

That would be us on the Star Ferry, taking the Harbour tour on Andrew’s birthday.


We crossed the harbour quite a few times in our 3 week stay, mostly on the excellent MTR, but sometimes we could plan our activities so that we could take the ferry because it was more of an adventure, and it’s cheaper!

Summarise Hong Kong in three words.

  • Familiar – not really that surprising as we’re from the UK, but Hong Kong felt like a hot, humid home. We often heard English on the street with British accents, the traffic drives on the left and observes the traffic signals, and the LFK area with its bars, cafes and restaurants could be a mini London albeit on the side of a hill
  • Different – Central Hong Kong feels like London, but step out of the MTR in TST near Chunking Mansions on the Kowloon peninsula just 20 minutes away you could be in India – the pungent aroma of curry in the air and the dark-skinned men wearing darker trousers and off-white shirts, yet walk a block further north and you’re in China!
  • Cramped – Hong Kong is notorious for cramped living spaces. Oftentimes the door into our room would hit the bed before opening fully, and wet-room bathrooms are de rigeur, requiring good balance as a couple of them were so small we had to straddle the toilet to have a shower

You really know you’re in Hong Kong when…

…you’ve walked a block and been offered a tailor, a suit, a SIM card, a fake watch, a curry, a massage, hashish, a fake handbag, and a bed for the night.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Hong Kong?

Deodorant. It’s a bustling, hot place and you’ll often find yourself in close quarters with your fellow humans such as queues, packed MTR carriages and lifts. It’s also very common to be seated with other diners at restaurants, and no one likes the waft of BO, whether from tourists or from locals. Sadly, this list was not compiled at random..

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island, has great panoramic views over the bustling city and harbour, and at just over £42,000 per square foot, it’s also the most expensive place to buy a house in the world.

20131005-113058.jpgUs at the top of Hong Kong Island, admiring the view of the city below

We took the Peak Tram funicular railway to the top, which is good value for money as there’s a nice collection of small museum-like exhibits that explain the history of the tram cars, the old ticket class system, and the costumes worn by the passengers during its heyday. The first two rows of first class on every trip were reserved until 2 minutes before departure for the Governor of Hong Kong, should he and his guests or entourage arrive unannounced!

20131005-205743.jpgThe first electric motor installed in 1926, replacing the old steam-powered winching engine; a reconstruction of an original carriage using the tools and techniques of the period; cable guides between the tracks; setting off

The ride up the mountainside on the Peak Tram is smooth and very steep in a couple of places, the excitement level is somewhat akin to a young child’s fairground attraction – great for those of us who behave like young children on occasion :)

There’s quite a bit to see and do at the top. The tram station is on the ground floor of one of the two multi-storey shopping centres (yes, you read that correctly!), featuring shops, some quirky cafes and small lunchtime eateries, with the best views reserved for a handful of very nice restaurants.

The nearest you can get to the summit is a small park, but we decided we’d do the 3.5km Peak Circular Walk – a level walk that circumnavigates the Peak itself, affording a 360° view of the city, the western harbour, and the less developed southern side.

20131006-161140.jpgPok Fu Lam reservoir, south-west of Victoria Peak

20131006-220410.jpgHong Kong Island, the harbour and Kowloon peninsula in the background, from Victoria Peak

Both The Peak and The Galleria shopping centres have open-air viewing galleries, but while The Peak’s is easily the highest, The Galleria’s is free!

We took the number S11 bus down the twisty narrow roads back to Central Hong Kong and it was more of an adults roller-coaster ride, with the sheer drops on one side, the speed of our descent, and the seemingly near-misses with traffic coming the other way. The woman from a Nepalese couple we met at the bus stop kept her eyes shut almost all the way down!

Free things to do in Hong Kong

Hong Kong can be an expensive place to visit. It’s difficult to find budget accommodation (even dorm beds are about £16 each on Hong Kong Island) and we’ve had to try quite hard to eat cheaply (it’s definitely not as easy as mainland China), and you could easily get through quite a lot of money very quickly if you went shopping in one of the many upmarket shopping malls here… However we have found it relatively easy to keep costs down on sightseeing. Lots of these suggestions will work for any place that you’re staying, but free days out did seem to be especially easy in Hong Kong.


Walking the streets is always a good way to get a feel for a place and you can often stumble upon some interesting sights, be it a temple or a restaurant with tanks of fish outside! The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) publishes a booklet with a number of different walks which we found helpful in giving our wandering a little direction and telling us some of the history of the things we were seeing. We particularly enjoyed the Mong Kok markets walk and the Ping Shan Heritage Trail.

20130922-153935.jpgI dread to think how much one of these would cost for dinner!

20130922-152824.jpgPing Shan Heritage Trail (clockwise from top left): Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda, interior courtyard of Kun Ting Study Hall, restoration work in Hung Shing Temple, plaster mouldings in Ching Shu Hin

Parks and Gardens

Hong Kong has some beautiful parks. We especially liked Kowloon Park which is just off Nathan Road, very close by if you’re staying in hectic Chungking Mansions and need some peace and space! They’re very clean, not too busy and usually have lots of different areas – water features, aviaries, and exercise equipment as well as plenty of shady benches under the trees. Most of them even have free wifi thanks to a scheme run by the Hong Kong government – just look for the freegovwifi-e network and input govwifi for both the username and password. We spent several relaxed afternoons blogging in the park!

20130922-143249.jpgSculpture in Kowloon Park, Andrew blogging in Yuen Long Town Park, pretty flowers

Also worthy of a mention is the Nan Lian Garden which is attached to the Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill. Its sculpted banks of trees and central pond with golden pagoda was well worth the trip.


Observation deck

We discovered on one of our self-guided walks that the Bank of China Tower in Central (1 Garden Road) has a free observation deck on the 43rd floor. You’ll need to take your passport and register at the reception desk in the lobby to get a lift pass but there was no one else there when we visited and the view was stunning.



Seven of Hong Kong’s museums are free on Wednesdays. To be fair they only cost HK$10 each (about £0.80) on a non-free day so they’re hardly going to break the bank, but every little helps…

We had three Wednesdays and so naturally we visited three of the museums…

  • the excellent Hong Kong Museum of History tells the Story of Hong Kong from its natural history to the different ethnic groups who lived there and the story of the British colonisation


  • the Hong Kong Heritage Museum had fascinating exhibitions ranging from Bruce Lee, to fashion design, to traditional woodblock printing and more…


  • Hong Kong’s Museum of Art has an excellent location on the shorefront in Tsim Sha Tsui. We particularly enjoyed the exhibitions of traditional Chinese painting and the fascinating guided tour of the Xubaizhai collection


Tai Chi

If you spend any time in China or Hong Kong and happen to be up and about fairly early then it’s likely that you’ll see locals doing Tai Chi in parks and open spaces. In Hong Kong you get to have a go as well! Three times a week on the harbour front near to the Hong Kong Museum of Art there is a free Tai Chi class taught by husband and wife team William and Pandora (and run by the HKTB). We really enjoyed it although we often found ourselves thinking we were doing quite well just before noticing that our feet were in entirely the wrong position!


A Symphony of Lights

To be honest, we didn’t find this free light show (which runs every night at 8pm) to be as spectacular as its blurb suggested:

“A Symphony of Lights” has been awarded the world’s “Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by Guinness World Records. This nightly spectacle combines interactive lights of 45 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with musical effects to showcase the vibrancy and glamorous night vista of Victoria Harbour.

Nevertheless, it is definitely worth heading to the waterfront to see the Hong Kong skyline at night.

20130919-143608.jpgLaser show. English narration happens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


I always love visiting local markets, and there are some interesting ones in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong. We also enjoyed exploring the local food markets where we got splashed by a fish trying to escape, admired the unusual vegetables and marvelled at the chicken feet, cooked ducks with heads intact and miscellaneous other things that we Europeans would not normally consider to be edible…

20130929-085452.jpgRoast meat shop (notice that the birds still have their heads), a neat display of vegetables, a selection of meat and fish ‘balls’


Not the first activity that comes to mind when you think of urban Hong Kong, but a surprising 70% of its land area is green hills, mountains and tropical forest. The trails are well marked and the scenery lovely, just remember to take plenty of water and watch out for the giant spiders…

20131003-144910.jpgMountains and path on the way from Po Lin monastery to Tung Chung, trail marker signs, Giant Golden Orb Weaver Spider

Temples and churches

Lots of Hong Kong’s religious sites can be visited for free.

20130922-170615.jpgIncense coils in the Man Mo temple in Sheung Wan, St John’s Cathedral in Central, Us with the Big buddha statue at Po Lin monastery on Lantau island, altar in Yeung Hau Temple on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail

Local festivals

During our first week in Hong Kong we happened to see a poster advertising the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival. There were three locations around the country and the closest to where we were staying was Tuen Mun in the western New Territories. We weren’t sure what to expect but we enjoyed the display of colourful lanterns in the park and cultural shows – Cantonese opera, youth stage, and circus artists. To find out what’s on at other times check out the Leisure and Cultural Services Department website.

20130930-183302.jpgLantern displays in Tuen Mun Park

Getting around

Although all of these activities are free, Hong Kong is a big place and at some point you’ll need to use public transportation to get you from point A to B. Fortunately Hong Kong’s underground rail network, MTR, is cheap, easy to use and extensive. And if you’re staying for longer than a couple of days then we’d recommend picking up an Octopus card which gives you discounts on MTR tickets and saves you queuing for tickets before every journey or needing to find the correct change on the bus.

Tung Choi to Tai O walk, Lantau Island

In the past, the coastal Tung O Ancient Trail was an important passage for villagers needing to commute between Tung Chung and Tai O on the northwest coast of Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Nowadays it’s a popular 16km hiking trail from the largest town on the island, Tung Chung, around the coastline to the picturesque fishing village of Tai O. Although it’s quite long, the going is pretty easy with concrete paved paths for most of the way and not much in the way of hills. Hong Kong’s airport lies to the north of Lantau island largely on reclaimed land and is visible for much of the walk.

20130929-151717.jpgAndrew on the path

20130929-153133.jpgLantau Island coastline on a hazy day

At the small village of Sha Lo Wan which is approximately a third of the way along the trail, Andrew got talking to a local man while looking at some unusual fruit on a small drinks stand. As we continued along the path our new friend, Bong-ho, asked what we knew about the area and directed us towards some ancient camphor trees on the hillside above the village. Turns out he is a retired professor who has come back to the village of his birth to renovate the smallholding which had belonged to his parents. After detouring to look at the huge trees we joined him and his friends for a cup of tea and a welcome sit down before continuing on our way.

20130929-151616.jpgBong-ho showing us the plants in his polytunnel

20130929-152743.jpgUs with the giant camphor trees at Sha Lo Wan. The nearby information board says that the trees have a history of over 1000 years.

Refreshed from the tea we walked on past small roadside shrines and what looked like abandoned villages. Many of these small villages are not connected by road and not many people choose to live there any more. After a tasty noodle soup lunch in Sham Wat Wan which is reachable by road, we walked around the final headland to reach Tai O.

20130929-151637.jpgEnjoying the view whilst waiting for our noodles to arrive

There’s plenty of wildlife to see along the way. Despite the path being reasonably busy with hikers and cyclists we saw crabs and mudskippers on the shore at the beginning and end of the path, lots of butterflies, birds and even a small snake.

20130929-151546.jpgWildlife on the trail (clockwise from top left): Mudskipper, crab with its hole, Giant golden orb weaver spider (this one was about the size of a hand…), Common tiger butterfly

Tai O is one of the oldest fishing settlements in Hong Kong and is well known for its stilt houses. It’s an interesting place to wander in for a couple of hours. We explored some of the narrow streets between the houses where fish are hanging up to dry and old people are sleeping or gossiping on their steps, and went into a couple of the small traditional temples one of which is, quite naturally for a fishing village, dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Tin Hau. There’s a market area with lots of dried seafood stalls which smell pretty pungent and various street food stalls including barbecued dried squid which looked interesting and freshly made donuts which I highly recommend!

20130930-181429.jpgStilt houses in Tai O


20130930-181455.jpgThe village holds a dragon boat festival every year and we were excited to find the boats’ storage location

20130929-155457.jpgDried seafood for sale in Tai O

Markets of Mong Kok, Hong Kong

I always find markets an interesting place to visit and the Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei areas in Hong Kong have more than their fair share of unusual markets. We found a walking tour which took us through the highlights.

First up was the Yuen Po bird garden, a seating area where locals (mostly men) bring their caged songbirds for an outing. A market has sprung up around the garden offering birds, cages, accessories and bird food, including live crickets!

20130924-164615.jpgLocals admiring their birds

20130924-165030.jpgSelecting a cage, songbird on display, live bird food for sale

The two streets to the west of the bird garden are full of flower shops which spill out onto the pavement.

20130924-165908.jpgThe Flower Market stocks everything from bonsai trees to busy lizzies

20130924-165852.jpgAn orchid specialist in the Flower Market

Next we headed down Tung Choi Street to see the fascinating Goldfish Market. Actually it’s not just goldfish that are for sale but pretty much everything you might need to stock an aquarium from tanks and lights to pebbles and plants. The fish are in every colour of the rainbow and mostly displayed in plastic bags, just like the ones you might win at a fair!

20130924-171359.jpgA typical shop in the Goldfish Market

20130924-171347.jpgBags of fish hung up for sale

20130924-171414.jpgNot just fish, but plants and crabs too

It wasn’t on the tour itinerary, but after spotting an indoor food market on Fa Yuen street we couldn’t resist popping in for a look. Chinese people place great importance on the freshness of their food and this was evident not just at the fish counters which were full of live produce, but in the displays of fruit and vegetables in top notch condition.


Despite its name the Ladies’ Market doesn’t just sells items for women (nor is it a place where you go to buy ladies for anyone choosing to ignore the apostrophe). The stalls here stock a huge variety of clothes, accessories, souvenirs and beauty products.

20130924-172828.jpgLots of choice and bright colours at the Ladies’ Market, and a lady grooming her wigs!

Hong Kong is a major international trading centre for jade products and some of the items in the shops on Canton Road (or Jade Street as it is also known) are absolutely stunning, however, our walking guide warned that the stalls in the Jade Markets are…

a fun place to browse and to buy an inexpensive memento of your visit, but think twice about buying anything costly unless you are a jade expert.

We didn’t spend as much time as we wanted to exploring here because as soon as we paused to look at anything the stallholders started trying to put necklaces and bracelets on me and offering us ‘a very good price’ so we beat a hasty retreat.

20130924-204303.jpgA quick photo before she started her sales pitch

20130924-204321.jpgI was quite tempted by some of the bangles