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What to do in Hong Kong when you’re not ordering bottle service (and where to go when you are)

Posted by on June 13, 2012
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I feel a little bad for stereotyping Hong Kong as all party-party, drink-drink. Of course, those things play a big, BIG role in HK life*, but as I mentioned, there’s so much more to this set of islands.**

Our friend, host and acting tour guide, Fareesa, outlined plenty of fun things to do in the city and surronds, and no day was the same.

Happy Valley Races. Held every Wednesday night throughout most of the year, this beer garden-meets-horse race is completely wild. Chinese men take their gambling very seriously, but you’d be hard-pressed to find expats with that much focus on the horses. They’re by the beer stalls, natch.

Eaman with a very happy winner.

Kowloon Markets. This is the real Hong Kong, located in Kowloon, which can be reached by MTR (the superb train system) or the Star Ferry, which costs just a few dollars (cheaper than the MTR). The daily kitsch shopping meccas include the ladies, goldfish and bird markets. With the humidity, we had enough energy for only ladies and goldfish but absoluely loved the energy and authenticity. And even for a Saturday, they were less packed than you’d think. You can get pretty much anything — from sunglasses and watches to basketball jerseys and fascinators at the ladies market, while the fish market sells all sort of sea creatures particular to Asia, both bagged and in tanks. It makes sense to dedicate a whole market to fish since the Chinese consider them good luck. Plus, they’re a much better space-saving pet than a dog.

The Peak Hike. Most tourists take the tram up to the Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong. But our friend Fareesa knew of a much more scenic, much less touristy route up. Follow the Mid-Levels escalator to the top, turn right at Conduit Road and follow until you can fork left onto Hatton. It’s a little further uphill to the start of the hike, which takes about 1.5 hours. You’ll forget all about urban life once you hit the 2,800 meter trail. It’s a paved path, but the scenery shifts between jungle and mountains. And hiker beware: If it’s as humid as our day was, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon — and bring water! We almost passed out halfway through. (Old Asian men and women were practically lapping us, so we were clearly not yet acclimated to the heat and pollution.) Take the tram down if you’re less inclined to hike back down.

View from the top.

Sweaty and hating it.

Will never understand how someone can wear a denim dress in that humidity.

Tai O. Perhaps my favorite part of our Hong Kong trip, this quiet fishing village on Lantau Island is about as far as you can get from Hong Kong Island, figuratively speaking. It’s pretty off-the-grid, and there isn’t much to see beyond stilt homes, some produce stalls and locals biking through the windy streets, but that’s its beauty. Best of all, we were pretty much the only non-Asian tourists.

Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. This 112-foot bronze Buddha was erected in 1993 after 12 years of construction, so while it may not have ancient cred, it’s still a majestic sight to see. Set in the mountans of Lantau Island, the Buddha is reached by 200 concrete steps and leads to a breathtaking view of the island. Despite the many tourists who come to see the big guy, the space remains oddly zen. And for an extra dose of zen, the Po Lin monastery — where you can see richly colored temples and incense-burning urns before dining on a vegetarian lunch — is immediately next door.

Sheung Wan. If Central Hong Kong is Manhattan, Sheung Wan is Brooklyn. Just a few minutes walk from the city center is this quaint neighborhood that resembles Williamsburg, with quieter, more spacious streets and very New York-style cafes and restaurants. If I lived in Hong Kong and wanted a city feel, this would be it. But sorry, I completely forgot to take pictures!

Shek O. But more than likely, I wouldn’t want a city feel even if
I lived in Hong Kong. I’d live in the beach village town of Shek O, home to Asians and Aussie expats alike. Located in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, you really need a car to get here, unless you’re up for a 2-hour commute. True, the beach may not be up to Hawaiian standards, but the vibe is all there. People walk around barefoot, the shops sell tubes and boogie boards and the food — particularly the Thai meal we had — is off the chain.

*If you want to get in on the party-party, drink-drink, some of the better clubs include Fly, Volar, Tazmania Ballroom and Dragon-I. For after-hours fun, try Buddha Lounge. And for a hilarious few minutes, try Al’s Diner to see what Hong Kong thinks consitutes an American bar. (Hint: Biggie Smalls, “California Love,” and jello shots. Well, they’re not that off.)

**We didn’t get to do the Dragon’s Back hike — rated best urban hike by Time Asia in 2004 — or visit Lamma Island, another fishing village where you can delicious seafood. But we’ll pass on a tip given to us: Order everything with garlic and chili.

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3 Responses to What to do in Hong Kong when you’re not ordering bottle service (and where to go when you are)

  1. Liz

    Hi! It’s Liz from the Ha Long Bay bus ride back to Hanoi – finally made it back to the US and just wanted to say how nice it was to meet both of you and that we did almsot everything on your Hong Kong list to do – super helpful! Were too lazy to make the hike up to Victoria’s Peak, but did a cable car one way, went to the ladies market, Stanley, and did a day trip also to the Big Buddah and Tai O – all amazing and we now have two goals: 1. Save up enough money to travel for 6 months – 1 yr in a few years and 2. Work in Hong Kong if the opportunity presents itself. Hope you guys are enjoying the rest of Asia! Again, so nice to talk to you and hearing how worthwhile your trip has been. You inspired Lindsey and I to save up from our starting salaries to keep our travel bug alive.

    All the best!

    • Archana

      Thank you so much, Liz! Glad my tips came in handy. But I’m even more glad you’re inspired to travel more. Do it! Best decision ever.

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