“Reaching the observation point, I stood alone, the updraft of the wind from the harbour below making my eyes water. The lights of the city glistened in the cold air. A lone vehicular ferry made its way towards Yau Ma Tei.”
– Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong childhood, by Martin Booth
The Peak Tram
The peak tram is a funicular railway on Hong Kong island which takes you to Victoria Peak. Running since 1888, the tram offers a link to the history of the island and you can learn more through information plaques and displays whilst you queue. Whilst Victoria peak is often a must for most tourists due to the fantastic views of the city, we preferred the peak tram to the peak itself! The views from the peak are astounding, but the views from the sky tower are the best, which is annoying as it costs extra to access the tower roof terrace. The peak is also very heavily commercialised and feels rather impersonal. The tram, though busy, is a really interesting experience. The city bursts in and out of foliage as the tram trims steeply up and down the side of the mountain, rather like a slow rollercoaster.
Dragon’s Back Hike
To those who know Hong Kong as this bustling city, on par with New York, Tokyo or London, a hike may seem like an odd activity. But if you visit Hong Kong and don’t visit the Dragon’s Back, in our opinion you’ve missed one of the best sites of the city.
The hike is easy to get to from the city centre and demonstrates what’s great about Hong Kong: the perfect blend of a mega-city with opportunities to ramble around in nature. The hike is fairly easy going and takes approx 2 -3 hours depending on your pace. The paths are clear and it’s impossible to get lost. Pretty much instantly you are greeted with great views of the island and surrounding sea, and once up on the “dragon’s back” you will be treated to panoramic views of jagged hill tops, beaches, bays and golf courses.
And the best bit of all? The hike ends at a beach! What better reward after a hike than being able to paddle in the sea and feel warm sand under your toes?
Tip: Go on a weekday in the morning to avoid big groups!
Hong Kong Museum of History
A great activity for your first day in Hong Kong. We spent three and a half hours (we do love a museum) wandering around this museum, which starts in the geological ages and moves all the way into the modern day. It’s a great introduction to Hong Kong and you can learn more about Chinese folk culture, the opium wars and see mock-up streets and tea houses. The museum then leads you through the Japanese occupation and tends with the most recent history of Hong Kong, where you can learn about the intriguing Kowloon walled city and the social and economic development of Hong Kong.
Stanley village is a small seaside town which is not over-developed and so is free from big hotels or resorts. There is an advertised market which mostly sells junk, though some of it is cute. There are a couple of little antique style shops which sold some nice stuff but looked a bit abandoned. The sea is beautiful and the beaches and golden and sandy. There was a variety of different restaurants though they were a bit pricey. We bought a good, reasonably priced, salad from The Stanley Cave.
We went during the week and it was pretty quiet and was a relaxing morning out. There were a few longer strolls you could take out of the village itself. It’s a great place to visit for half a day, to relax and get away from the hectic, visual overload of central Hong Kong.
Dr Sun Yat Sen museum
After making the mistake of riding all the way up the mid-level escalators (not exciting at all), on the way back down we decided to go to the Dr Sun Yat Sen museum. We were tired. We wanted coffee. But the museum was free and we wouldn’t be in Central again during our visit so we dragged ourselves to the museum. Fortunately it had seats and videos!
It was in a restored early 20th century house which was very grand, but the best bit is the guy himself. If you don’t know (like us) he is essentially the key figure in the revolutions that overthrew the last emperor of China. He went on to be appointed President of the Republic of China when it was founded in 1912. He’s not frequently referenced here on the mainland, one assumes because, despite the fact he was a nationalist who believed in a unified China, he was a democratic revolutionary. As a figure he was focused on modernising China and lots of his ideas have been realised in the years since his death. Whilst learning more about him, you can’t help but wander what would have happened if this forward thinking and intelligent man hadn’t been pressured into standing down as the first president.
Ah, the star ferry. Taking it somehow gave you a glimpse of an older way of living as a commuter in Hong Kong. The boat is very cheap and churns quickly across the channel offering great views of Hong Kong island and Tsim Sha Tsui: it was particularly impressive at dusk. If you’re in Hong Kong find a day to take the ferry!
Just like any major city there is a lot to say about the food. Hong Kong doesn’t really have the street vendors of the mainland anymore, but still has the small local cafes where people will come for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. It goes from this up to Michelin starred places and everything in between – including snooty cafes and restaurants which have a minimum order charge for sitting in their oh so special establishments. Whilst living in mainland China mean that the vast array of food and unique cuts of meat on offer in Hong Kong don’t amaze and astound us quite so much, Hong Kong is place for foodies, culinaries and people who just like eating.
For us the main thing was obviously being able to eat gluten free. We’ll upload a vlog that shows off some of the food we ate, but we didn’t have to suffer – which was a great break from China. You could get GF waffles, pancakes (technically galettes), tortillas (i’m sensing a theme here). Unfortunately the vast majority of Cantonese food contains wheat and soy sauce and isn’t really safe to eat. The michelin star restaurant, Din Tai Fung, apparently has an allergen menu but I have to admit I was too much of a coward (and too fearful of being glutened) to try it. If any fellow coeliacs do give it a go please let me know how it went. One dish we were able to safely eat was congee (rice porridge), which was a great start to the day.
Milk tea deserves it’s own category because of it’s fame. The best ones we had (and we didn’t have enough) were in our local congee place, and one just outside Temple Street night market, Kowloon. The night market was nothing particularly special, mostly just tat and fake designer bags, although the district was a really interesting walk replete with offers of suits and “hashish”. We took our tea from a little shop and sat and drank it in Kowloon park, next to the central mosque, which on Sunday evening is a lively place!
Hong Kong milk tea is famous on the Mainland. You can buy it from different stores and shops, and it has spawned a whole other thing called “milk tea” which is basically just a milky sweet flavoured soft drink. Mainlanders must be so disappointed when they get it in Hong Kong itself. In fact for the first few days we didn’t even see it because we were looking for Mainland China Hong Kong milk tea. The tea is an incredibly strong, bitter, cup of black tea with evaporated milk. It has both this harsh and incredibly rich and creamy flavour. The absence of milk tea in my life will be a little wound on my heart.
Tip: Enjoy with a Hong Kong custard tart (not GF!) the best I’ve ever eaten, sorry Britain.
Hong Kong park
Central district in Hong Kong is an urban sprawl in which banks, businesses, endless retail stores and lots of soulless people in suits are packed in. I wasn’t overly keen on Central. But Hong Kong park, located on the edge, is a welcome space of relaxation and greenery. There are small lakes (with added turtles) flowers, many benches and a conservatory full of interesting plant life. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you’re in Central it’s a great place to stop and eat your lunch in.
I highly recommend Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth. It was a pleasant read with delicious and intoxicating descriptions of the various sights of Hong Kong. It was also incredibly sweet, and you couldn’t help but become invested in the adventures and happiness of this seven year old boy and his spirited mother. We found that a number of times, our visits to different parts of the city happened to coincide with the book, providing a historical context and an interesting persepective on the places we visited.
“Pawnshops vied for electric space with restaurants and shops. The dai pai dongs commenced a vibrant trade, steam or charcoal smoke redolent with the odours of frying rising from them to glimmer in the neon above… The streets, busy in the day with people going about their work, now filled with shopper or those merely out for a stroll.”
And that’s it. To those preparing to visit Hong Kong – we hope you enjoy it. To those who have been or live there – are there any places you would like to recommend?
-Fi and Jonny