Hong Kong has one of the highest concentrations of wealth in the world and the moneyed elite is catered to on every corner with huge Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores. But dig a little deeper into this island and you will be rewarded with back alley markets, beautiful parks and some of the best food you have ever eaten. The neon signs and nightlife rival even Las Vegas with an anything goes attitude. From dawn to dusk this city was built to impress. The rich may run Hong Kong, but it has something for everyone.
1) BECOME A GOLD DIGGER
Don’t waste anytime, jump right into the overwhelming crowds and neon signs of Hong Kong where the jewelry shops and designer stores quickly prove to new visitors what Hong Kong is known for- money. Enjoy the window shopping along the busy sidewalks of Nathan Road and try to keep your jaw from dropping at the huge diamonds on display. Nathan Road is centrally located and can be reached by several MTR stops, but to enjoy the heart of it get off at Yau Ma Tei stop.
2) GARDEN BREAK
To recover from the assault on your senses that is Nathan Road hop on the bus and head to Diamond Hill to enjoy the solitude and great city views from the Nan Lian Gardens, which is Hong Kong’s biggest work of Chinese landscape gardening. While you are there take in the beautifully ornate wood construction of the Tang style buildings and lotus ponds of the Chi Lin Nunnery. The gardens and nunnery are free to the public and open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Take the subway to Diamond Hill and then follow the signs to find this slice of tranquility in the midst of the city.
3) TEMPLE NIGHT MARKET
Hong Kong’s popular night market is an attraction. The southern section is packed with goods from clothes to fake designer bags and sunglasses, while the northern section offers up dozens of open-air food stalls (dai pai dongs) to tantalize your taste buds. This is a great place for cheap eats, open from 6 to 11 p.m. a short walk from the Jordan MTR stop, just follow the pink signs in English.
4) LASER LIGHT SHOW
After dinner make your way to the Avenue of Stars, which pays homage to the local actors and stars of show business. You will find stars for Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee as well as stunning views over the harbor across to Hong Kong Island. The Symphony of Lights spectacle each night at 8 o’clock sharp is worth 15 minutes of your time as 14 buildings on Hong Kong light up in synchronization to music. A great way to bring your Friday night to a close.
9) RIDE THE DRAGON’S BACK
Start your morning off with a heart pumping climb along the ridge of southeastern Hong Kong known as the Dragon’s Back. The trail overlooks the South China Sea and offers tremendous views of Stanley. You may even forget that you are in Hong Kong as you make your way to Shek O peak. From Central, hop on a double-decker bus (No. 6, 6X or 66) towards Stanley (about 8 Hong Kong dollars one way) and get off at Cape Collinson Road.
After your climb hop back on the 6 bus and enjoy the ride to the South Side, a residential area with wonderful beaches, Riviera-style boardwalks and panoramic vistas of the South China Sea. Stroll through Stanley Market where you’ll find an easy-to-navigate, albeit cramped shopping area. Don’t miss the non-shopping sights in Stanley: the Murray Building, rebuilt here in 2000, and the Tin Hau temple, built in 1767 and dedicated to the deity who protects seafarers.
11) TRAM IT ACROSS TOWN
After hiking and swimming enjoy being transported around town via tram rather than your own two legs. Hop on the tram at Central and take it all the way to Kennedy Town and back (only 2.30 Hong Kong dollars each way), try to get a seat upstairs in the front, which will afford you the best views of Hong Kong’s vertical urban jungle. You can even bring a beer along for the ride, because no one is going to stop you.
12) TWO DOLLAR TOUR
Back at Central hop on the Star Ferry and take the 2 Hong Kong dollar ride from Kowloon to Hong Kong. It’s a short ride, but a great way to take in harbor views on the cheap.
13) FIND YOUR YIN AND YANG
Back on the Hong Kong side make your way to the famous private kitchen of Margaret Xu Yuan for a delicious eight course taste treat. Come hungry because the portions are fit for royalty. Enjoy the small dining area of the refurbished 1930’s shophouse, which only fits about 20 people. Many of the dinner’s ingredients come from Chef Yuan’s own organic garden and are served fresh.
14) LIVE IT UP
Order a beer at any one of Lan Kwai Fong’s dozens of lively bars. You will have lots of company in Central Hong Kong’s best-known bar area, as tourists, expats and locals meet, talk and drink (not cheap- from 40 Hong Kong dollars and up). Since most of the establishments open onto the sidewalk (the streets are closed to most traffic), you can easily find music and a crowd to your liking.
15) DIM SUM
A must do in Hong Kong is dim sum and the place to enjoy it is Tim Ho Wan, you know you’re in the right place by the long queue outside. The 20 seat restaurant seems to be the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. Make sure you order the crispy char sui bao, I’m not going to even tell you what it is because it will ruin the surprise, but you won’t regret the time you spent in line. Located at the Mong Kok MTR stop (Tim Ho Wan, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon)
16) GO SHOPPING
Do what Hong-Kongers do best: shop. Take advantage of the network of elevated walkways in the central business district and you can hit just about every luxury brand on earth from Armani to Ermenigildo Zegna without fighting the crowds on the street. But realistically, you can get these brands in any major city of the world, or at home. More fun is to poke around the unique markets of Hong Kong’s alley ways. Go to the Mong Kok MTR stop and wander around the flower market, goldfish market and the Yuen Po bird market, which are all within walking distance. These markets are definitely different than the variety you will find at home and much cheaper than the designers.
17) HONG KONG PARK
Built at a cost of $398 million and opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park covers 8 hectares in Central. It is the perfect stop before heading up to Victoria Peak and a must-see example of the gorgeous green spaces that dot Hong Kong island. It’s also a great place to take in the vertical architecture.
18) THE PEAK
Since the 1880s, the Peak Tram has carried tourists from Central to Victoria Peak, 1,300 feet high in the middle of Hong Kong Island. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy a part of history. Board at the station behind St. John’s Building (33 Garden Road), and watch the buildings go by at seemingly implausible angles during the steep ascent (28 Hong Kong dollars one way). After the short tram ride you are rewarded with the best view in the city.
IF YOU GO:
Buy an Octupus Card this is a small card that works for all the subways and buses in Hong Kong. You won’t have to constantly figure out the fare for each trip you want to take or have exact change on buses. You can also use your octopus card at 7 Elevens. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get your 50 Hong Kong dollar deposit back, but you can go up to 35 dollars in the hole.
Stay on Nathan Road and you will be in the center of the action, close to the the Temple night market for cheap food and close to subway stops, which makes transport fast and easy. You can even walk to the Sympony of Lights, which is not to be missed. The cheapest places to stay are in the Chungking Mansions (36-44 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong).
Plan your visit over a Wednesday night, which is the only night of the week that the Hong Kong Jockey Club hosts races at Happy Valley. The highest grossing race track in the world is tucked in amongst the skyscrapers, which provide a stunning backdrop to the Wednesday night races.