Hong Kong is continuously evolving as it gains more of Western modernity while reaching its Eastern roots through mainland China. There are a lot of things you can do in this dynamic city, and here is some of what we have gathered from our journeys.
Chinese is not-much understood
The majority of Hong Kong people speak in Cantonese, which is completely different from Mandarin Chinese (that most of them do not understand). And although Hong Kong is a former British colony, the degree of English proficiency is limited among non-professionals in districts not often visited by tourists. However, people in tourist destinations, especially those who encounter tourists quite often as part of their profession, can speak English that is fluent enough for communication.
Signage are bilingual (and in some cases trilingual): in traditional Chinese (Cantonese), simplified Chinese (Mandarin), and English. Most shops and restaurants have English signage and menus. Just ask the wait staff for an English menu and simply point at the Chinese characters corresponding to the dish you want to order.
Money is a little confusing
The Hong Kong dollar bills are issued by different banks; that is why they come in different designs (and in some denominations even in color). Don’t worry, all of them are accepted in shops, although HK$1000 bills are not accepted in some shops because of counterfeiting concerns.
Hong Kong is one of the safest in terms of crime and personal safety. However, it does have a share of petty crimes that you can avoid through self-securing precautions such as watching your purse and wallet at all times, clutching your bag when on the bus or railways, etc. Also, do not hike alone no matter where you are, as there were reported cases of mainland Chinese robbers who prey on helpless hikers.
In Hong Kong, typhoons normally occur between May and November, and particularly prevalent during September. Storm signals range from 1 to 3 as the typhoon goes near and 8 to 10 if the storm hits land. Upon signal 8, most shops and establishments are closed, and taxis can be hard to find. If ever you find one, be ready to negotiate the fare to the driver, usually double the meter fare.
Hong Kong is still known as an excellent destination for shopping. Prices are comparably cheaper than the US, Europe, or Japan, especially that it has no sales tax on anything. The variety is a lot better than in most Asian countries. Popular shopping items include consumer electronic, custom clothing, shoes, jewelry, expensive brand name goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs and medicine.
Hong Kong Island is filled with brand-name air-conditioned shopping malls (particularly near Causeway Bay), while Kowloon is the place to go for cheap open markets. It is also in Kowloon where you can find Nathan Road and its multitude of electronic shops of gadgets, cameras, and mobile phones. It is most advisable to compare prices before buying, as some shops tend to overcharge towards tourists.
The city is also popular for its many street markets that dot the area. Ask a local or your friendly hotel staff on where you should go for cheap street markets.
If you want to do what the Hong Kong people do, then hop the border to Shenzhen in the mainland for even cheaper buys (but beware of imitations though).
See the skyline
Drop by the Avenue of Stars located in Tsim Sha Tsui for a multi-tasking sightseeing. In this site you can pose by the statue of kung fu star Bruce Lee, pose by the different stars of Hong Kong’s prominent movie personalities (that is, if you are familiar with Chinese movies), and marvel at the beautiful Hong Kong skyline (which is much more beautiful at nighttime).
Get into Victoria Peak
Climb to Victoria Peak via tram to get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island. Within the wok-shaped Peak Tower are shops, restaurants, museums, and viewing points.
Watch some horse racing
Horse racing (alternating being held in Shatin and Happy Valley) is the only legal form of gambling in Hong Kong, and it runs from September to June. We advise you to drop by Happy Valley to watch, or bet if possible, the races in a more impressive location.
Experience the local life
The most effective way to know how Hong Kong people live is to experience the local life of an ordinary Hong Kong resident. Go visit a public housing estate and a private one in a row, you witness the difference of rich and poor; go visit a fresh food market and a large supermarket called "superstore," you witness the struggle between small retailers and corporation; visit one of the small shopping malls in Mong Kok, and witness teenagers spend their pocket money on overpriced sneakers. Just wander and observe. Don’t worry; most areas in town are quite secure.
Take the road less taken
It is rather sad that most tourists only hang around the city’s several tourist districts. However, it is very worthwhile to go to some more "Hong Kongish" places like Ladies Street, Temple Street, Seafood Street, Apliu Street, and so on. You can check out www.discoverhongkong.com (the official site of the Hong Kong Tourist Board) for more interesting locations.
Discover the city’s heritage
Hong Kong has many traditional heritage locations. These sites have historical and cultural significance to the territory, some of which have been converted into public parks. You can go to Ping Shan Heritage Trail in Tin Shui Wai (New Territories), Kowloon Walled City Park, or at Po Lin Monastery in Lantau. You can also check out Hong Kong Heritage Museum or an ancient village called Tsang Tai Uk located nearby.
Get closer to nature
Hong Kong is not all bright lights and skyscrapers. There are plenty of country parks and marine parks located here. Get away from the urban stress through Lantau’s countryside, where you can fish, hike, meditate, mountain bike, and even find some secluded beaches. You can also visit Hong Kong Wetland Park located at the New Territories.
Hong Kong’s countryside is filled with mudflats, ponds, and mangroves, all surrounded by diverse flora and fauna. We recommend that you travel to Lai Chi Wo Village and see Hong Kong at its most primitive, highlighted by a forest of Coastal Heritieria (an uncommon specie in Hong Kong) that is a kind of mangrove that spreads a network of interweaving buttress roots.
Enjoy its theme parks
Hong Kong has two very famous theme parks: Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland. Ocean Park is on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, and it has roller coasters and large aquariums. It is still packed on weekend with families and tourists since it opened around 30 years ago. Its cable car is one of Hong Kong’s icons and an essential link between the two parts of the park. Take a terrific view of the South China Sea while riding the cable car.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland-located in Lantau Island-opened last 2005 and it has been a top priority among tourists and locals alike. It may be smaller compared to its American counterparts, but HK Disneyland is known for its great rides, awesome live entertainment, sumptuous food, and the breath-taking fireworks display.
If your budget seems to be on a stretch, you can take the family to Snoopy’s World, Asia’s first outdoor Peanuts-themed playground. It has six thematic amusement zones, highlighted by a three-minute canoe ride that takes you to different scenic points with Snoopy and Charlie Brown. It is located
on the third floor of New Town Plaza, which you can reach by taking a KCR East Rail to Sha Tin in New Territories.
Travel by public transport
Traveling on a bus or a tram is ideal for sightseeing in Hong Kong. Not only it is a cheap ride, but you can also see contrasting lifestyles in different districts in a short amount of time. Among recommended routes is KMB Route #70, which travels from Jordan in Kowloon then trails along Peninsular Kowloon and heads through the New Territories, where you can see traditional Chinese villages and markets, and finally ending at Sheng Shui, which is near the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border.
Another interesting ride would NWFB Route 15, which is an alternative way to get to Victoria Peak (a must for every Hong Kong traveler) without the hefty Tram fee. To get to its bus stop, take the MTR and get off at Hong Kong Station. Follow the exit B1 to Exchange Square and you will see the bus station. Another way to get there is by getting off at MTR’s Admiralty Station, then following the C1 exit towards Queensway Plaza. The bus stop is located at the motorway beside Admiralty Garden.
Aside from buses you can also take a tram journey on Hong Kong Island. The tram is a relic of the British administration and a perfect way to have a leisurely tour around the island’s major street and have a glimpse of the local life. We recommend riding the tram from as far as Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east side to get a strong contrast of Hong Kong’s "East meets West" personality.
Marvel at the fireworks
See the fireworks over the Harbor from Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Fireworks are often organized in major festivals like the Lunar New Year, but on ordinary days you may want to watch the Symphony of Lights, which is the world’s "Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" as recognized by the Guinness World Records.
This nightly spectacle combines interactive lights of 33 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with musical effects to showcase the vibrancy and glamorous night vistas of Victoria Harbor. This is best viewed from either the Avenue of Stars at Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront, promenade at the Golden Bauhinia Square, or at sightseeing ferries on Victoria Harbor.
Special sweet souvenir
Before leaving Hong Kong, you may find a shop at the International Airport that sells dragon beard candy with icy-crisp taste and texture. This hand-made dessert was an imperial dessert thousands of years ago, and may be a good choice for you to take some of it home.