Explore Hong Kong
Explore Hong Kong, a special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. It is a place with multiple personalities as a result of being both Cantonese Chinese and having been under British colonization. Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China’s increasingly affluent mainland population. It is an important hub in East Asia with global connections to many of the world’s cities. It is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and Vancouver and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia’s World City.
Hong Kong is one of the two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China (the other being Macau). Before the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997, Hong Kong had been a British colony for nearly 150 years. As a result, most infrastructures inherit the design and standards of Britain. During the 1950s to 1990s, the city-state developed rapidly, becoming the first of the “Four Asian Tigers” through the development of a strong manufacturing base and later a financial sector. Hong Kong is now famous for being a leading financial center in East Asia, with the presence of local and some of the most recognized banks from around the world. Hong Kong is also famous for its transition port, transporting a significant volume of exports from China to the rest of the world. With its political and legal independence, Hong Kong is known as the Oriental Pearl with a twist of British influence in the culture.
Hong Kong is much more than a harbor city. The traveler weary of its crowded streets may be tempted to describe it as Hong Kongcrete. Yet, this territory with its cloudy mountains and rocky islands is mostly a rural landscape. Much of the countryside is classified as Country Park and, although 7 million people are never far away, it is possible to find pockets of wilderness that will reward the more intrepid tourist.
Archaeological findings date the first human settlements in the area back to more than 30,000 years ago. It was first incorporated into China during the Qin Dynasty and largely remained under Chinese rule until 1841 during the Qing Dynasty, with a brief interruption at the end of the Qin Dynasty, when a Qin official established the kingdom of Nam Yuet, which later fell to the Han Dynasty.
The majority of Hong Kong’s population are Han Chinese (93.6%), mostly of Cantonese ancestry, though there are also sizeable numbers of other Chinese groups such as Chiuchao (Teochews), Shanghainese and Hakkas. A significant number of Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese live here too, and many have families that have lived in Hong Kong for several generations.
The large numbers of Filipinos, Indonesians, and Thais, most of whom are employed as domestic helpers also live in Hong Kong. On Sundays, the free day of many foreign domestic workers, they congregate in the thousands in Central and Admiralty and spend the day there together, sitting talking, eating and drinking wherever there is free space. Several whole streets in the Central area are blocked off for foreign domestic helpers on Sundays.
Hong Kong is also home to a significant number of people hailing from Australia, Europe, Japan, Korea and North America, making it a truly international metropolis.
The people of Hong Kong are somewhat reserved, but very friendly, especially to children.
Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate, but is cooled in winter by sea breezes. Summer (June to September) is long, humid and hot with temperatures often exceeding 32°C and with night time temperatures that do not drop below 25°C. Typhoons usually occur between June and September and can bring a halt to local business activities for a day or less.
Winters are generally very mild, with daytime temperatures of 18-22°C but with nights dipping into 10°C and below sometimes, especially in the countryside.
- Hong Kong Island (East Coast, South Coast). The site of the original British settlement and the main focus of most tourists. Most of Hong Kong’s highest skyscrapers and the financial centre can be found here. Overall, Hong Kong Island is more modern and wealthy and considerably less dirty than the other areas of Hong Kong. The Peak is the tallest point on the island, with the best views and highest real estate values in the world.
- The peninsula to the north of Hong Kong Island, with great views of the island. It offers a chaotic mix of malls, street markets, and residential tenements. With over 2.1 million people living in an area of less than 47 square kilometers, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Kowloon includes Tsim Sha Tsui, the location of many budget hotels and Mong Kok, a shopping district. Kowloon city is worth the visit. Full of local restaurants, this area is famous for Thaï food, the amazing Wall City Park and the Kowloon Tsai Park with an incredible swimming pool. This is one of the last areas in town where you can find low rise buildings. Walking around is a taste of local life.
- New Territories. Named by British officials when leased from the Chinese government in 1898, the New Territories contain a curious mix of small farms, villages, industrial installations, mountainous country parks and towns that have populations the size of some cities.
- Lantau Island. A large island west of Hong Kong Island. You will not find many idyllic villages, but once you get over the stray dogs and the ramshackle buildings you will find beautiful mountains and beaches. The airport, Disneyland, and the Ngong Ping cable car are located here.
- Outlying Islands. Well-known weekend destinations for the locals, the Outlying Islands are most of the islands surrounding Hong Kong Island. Highlights include Lamma, well known for its seafood and Cheung Chau, a small island that used to be a pirates’ den, but now attracts seafood aficionados, windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers.
NOTE: Overstaying is a serious offence – you can be fined up to $50,000 and/or imprisoned for up to three years. If you enter Hong Kong as a visitor, you must not take up any employment (paid or unpaid), study or establish/join a business. If you do intend the work, study or establish/join a business, you must obtain the appropriate visa.
NOTE: If you fail to declare any banned or dutiable items, you can be fined up to $1,000,000 and/or face a prison sentence of up to two years. If you are caught trafficking drugs, you can be fined up to $5,000,000 and face up to life imprisonment.
Hong Kong International Airport, is located just north of Lantau Island and west of Hong Kong Island. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the airport opened in July 1998 and has since been named “World’s Best Airport” by Skytrax 8 times.
Hong Kong’s written official languages are Chinese and English and the spoken official languages are Cantonese and English.
What to see
Hong Kong doesn’t have street benches to sit down. Whilst “sitting down areas” are around, these are generally hard to find. A notable exception is the recent Central and Western District Promenade on Hong Kong between the Central Star ferry terminal and the convention centre. It is therefore recommended to bring a foldable camping chair to travel around Hong Kong.
Additionally, restaurants (especially cheap and quick ones) will prefer quick table turnover. All this adds up to spending a considerable amount of time on your feet. Your best -if not very authentic- chance for some relaxation will be the various coffee franchises. They also offer Wi-Fi, so you can use the time to review your itinerary.
Get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island on Victoria Peak atop the giant, wok-shaped Peak Tower! Ever since the dawn of British colonization, the Peak hosted the most exclusive neighborhood for the territory’s richest residents. Local Chinese weren’t permitted to live here until after World War II. The Peak Tower has an observation platform and a shopping mall with shops, fine dining, and museums. There is a fee to go to the top. If you don’t have a ticket yet, you might try the booth at the foot of the final escalator instead of the one immediately downstairs, as it is often less crowded.
There are many traditional heritage locations throughout Hong Kong.
In New Territories, you will find:
- Ping Shan Heritage Trail passing by some of the most important ancient sights
- The walled Hakka village of Tsang Tai Uk
- Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar
- Che Kung Temple
- Man Mo Temple
- Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas
- Murray House
In Kowloon you will find:
- Kowloon Walled City Park at the location of the former Kowloon walled city
- Chi Lin Nunnery
- Wong Tai Sin Temple
On Lantau you will find:
- Stilt houses in Tai O
- Po Lin Monastery
- Tian Tan Buddha Statue.
- Tian Tan Buddha
St John’s Cathedral is the oldest surviving Western ecclesiastical building in the city. St Andrew’s Church is Victorian-gothic and it is cruciform in shape. Kowloon Union Church was founded in 1927, is an English missionary in Hong Kong interdenominational Christian church, was listed as a Grade I historical building in Hong Kong.
There are a variety of museums in Hong Kong with different themes; arguably the best museum is the Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon, which gives an excellent overview of Hong Kong’s fascinating past. Not the typical pots-behind-glass format of museums you find elsewhere in China. Innovative galleries such as a mock-up of a colonial era street make history come to life. Allow about two to four hours to view everything in detail. Admission is free.
Kowloon also includes a number of other interesting museums including Dialogue in the Dark, which is an exhibition in complete darkness where you should use your non-visual senses with the help of a visually impaired guide, the International Hobby and Toy Museum, which exhibits models, toys, science fiction collectibles, movie memorabilia and pop-culture artifacts from around the world, Hong Kong Museum of Art, which is a fascinating, strange and elusive place exhibiting Chinese ceramics, terracotta, rhinoceros horn and Chinese paintings as well as contemporary art produced by Hong Kong artists, Hong Kong Science Museum, primarily aimed at children, and Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre.
Central also has its share of museums including Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, which shows how the healthcare system evolved from traditional Chinese medicine to modern Western medicine, and Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre.
New Territories has the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which will appeal to those who have a serious interest in Chinese culture, and the Hong Kong Railway Museum.
Wong Tai Sin Temple, known to Thai people as “Temple of Wong-Tar-Shian”. Originally, this temple was only a small court District in Wan-Chai. Afterwards, with collected donations, the temple moved to the present location. Because the Wong-Tai-Sin is god of health, those who pray at this temple mostly pray about health. The ritual and architecture styles come from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Open: 07:00 AM – 17:30 PM Location: 2 Chuk Yuen Village, Wong Tai Sin MTR
As the only one Korean 3D Museum in Hong Kong, Trick Eye Museum Hong Kong presents a magnificent collection of 3D art pieces. It features paintings on plain surfaces that magically appear to be three dimensional through the use of optical illusion. You are most welcome to touch, climb and interact with the amazing exhibits. After capturing the hearts of millions of visitors around the globe, it has now descended upon Hong Kong at The Peak Galleria Mall. You can also enjoy the free observation deck view of the beautiful Harbor View.
Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong is not all skyscrapers and it is worthwhile to go to the countryside (over 70% of Hong Kong), including the country parks and marine parks. Many are surprised to find that Hong Kong is actually home to some stunning landscapes and breathtaking scenery.
- Lantau Island is twice as big as Hong Kong island and is well worth checking out if you want to get away from the bright lights and pollution of the city for a spell. Here you will find open countryside, traditional fishing villages, secluded beaches, monasteries and more. You can hike, camp, fish and mountain bike, amongst other activities.
- In the waters just off Tung Chung on Lantau Island, live the Chinese White Dolphins. These dolphins are naturally pink and live in the wild, but their status is currently threatened, with its current population estimated to be between 100-200.
- The Sai Kung Peninsula in New Territories is also a worthwhile place to visit. Its mountainous terrain and spectacular coastal scenery make this a special place. There are both challenging and more relaxed routes.
- North East New Territories is also famous for its natural environment. Yan Chau Tong Marine Park is in the North East New Territories. A few traditional abandoned villages are connected with hiking trails in the territory. North East New Territories is one of the famous hiking hot spots for the locals.
- Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark covers an area of 50 km2 across parts of the Eastern and Northeastern New Territories. The Geopark is made up of eight Geo-Areas distributed across the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region and Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock Region. Most areas are accessible by ferries, buses, taxis and local tours.
- Short hiking trails (2 hours) can be found on Hong Kong Island and the New Territories. You can even hike up to the Victoria Peak.
- An easy hike with some nice views and welcome shade starts at the Peak and goes west along Lugard Road (paved).
- There are some outlying islands also worth to visit, e.g.: Lamma Island, Cheung Chau, Ping Chau, Tap Mun, Tung Lung Island.
- Hong Kong Wetland Park in New Territories is a relaxing park set amidst an ecological mitigation area. One can stroll along a network of board walks or explore the large visitor’s centre museum.
- Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is on Lantau Island, about 12km east of Hong Kong International Airport. The resort also features a Disneyland park, two resort hotels and a lake recreation centre. Though significantly smaller in size than other Disneyland-style parks elsewhere, the park has undergone an expansion to offer more attractions (including the recent-opened Toy Story Land and Grizzly Gulch). It offers some great attractions and short queues most of the year (except the week of Chinese New Year, Easter, Halloween and Christmas season). It is also considerably cheaper than Tokyo Disneyland, Euro Disneyland or those in the USA – in fact, it’s much cheaper than most theme parks for entry and food.
- Ocean Park is on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, and is the park that grew up with many local Hong Kong people. With roller coasters and large aquariums altogether, it is still packed on weekends with families and tourists. The cable car is an icon, though for those who are scared, there is now a funicular railway underneath the mountain that emulates a submarine dive. For many, the chance to see Hong Kong’s pandas would be a deciding factor. Young adults will be attracted to the wider range (and more adrenalin-pumping nature) of rides.
- Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau Island is a Buddhist themed park that features Imperial Chinese architecture, interactive shows, demonstrations, restaurants and coffee shops. The highlight of this trip is the longest cable car ride in Hong Kong that affords stunning views. The ride also takes you to the largest outdoor seated Buddha.
Avenue of Stars and A Symphony of Lights
Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of Stars celebrates icons of Hong Kong cinema from the past century. The seaside promenade offers fantastic views, day and night, of Victoria Harbor and its iconic skyline. The Avenue can be reached from the East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station or the Star Ferry bus terminus.
The Avenue of the Stars is also a great place to see A Symphony of Lights, a spectacular light and laser show synchronized to music and staged every night at 20:00. This is the world’s “Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” as recognized by Guinness World Records. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the light show is in English. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday it is in Mandarin. On Sunday it is in Cantonese. While at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, spectators can tune their radios to FM103.4MHz for English narration, FM106.8MHz for Cantonese or FM107.9 for Mandarin. The light show is supplemented by fireworks that are worth seeing. Photographers should arrive 30-60 minutes early to get an unobstructed view.
Central and Western District Promenade
The newly reclaimed area between Central Ferry Pier and Convention Centre on Hong Kong island is being developed as a recreational area offering open space (unusual in central Hong Kong), the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, outdoor seating, waterfront cafes, seasonal events and a great view of the Kowloon skyline and Central skyscrapers (if you like your wide angles), especially at night.
Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. However, petty crimes can happen and travelers are reminded to use common sense and exercise caution during the stay in Hong Kong.
One common cause of sickness is the extreme temperature change between 35°C humid summer weather outdoors and 18°C air-conditioned buildings and shopping malls. Some people experience cold symptoms after moving between the two extremes. You are recommended to carry a sweater even in the summer-time.
Heat stroke is also common when hiking. Carry enough water and take scheduled rests before you feel unwell.
Tap water in Hong Kong has been proven to be drinkable, although most of the local people still prefer to boil and chill their drinking water when it is taken from the tap.
Unlike in Mainland China, the Internet access is not filtered in Hong Kong. All web sites are accessible in Hong Kong.
Free Wi-Fi is available at most hotels, shopping malls, coffee shops, the airport, certain buses, bus stops/termini, MTR stations, government buildings, and public libraries.
Explore Hong Kong and also visit
- Macau, the former Portuguese colony and present largest gambling haven in the world, is just an hour away by TurboJet The ferry building is near the Sheung Wan MTR station on Hong Kong Island. Less frequent ferries are also available in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and the Hong Kong International Airport.
- Zhuhai in mainland China, across the border from Macau, is 70 minutes away by ferry.
- Taiwan is just a little longer than an hour away by plane. Tickets to Taipei are cheap, and from there it’s easy to explore the rest of the island.
- Shenzhen, mainland China’s boomtown just across the border can be reached by MTR train services in about 40 minutes. Note that if you aren’t a Hong Kong resident, Japanese nor Singaporean citizen, you will need to pre-arrange a visa to enter Shenzhen. The train is convenient if you are keen on shopping as it terminates in the Lo Wu commercial centre. Another alternative, especially if you are starting from the island is the ferry to Shekou which takes around 50 minutes.
- Guangzhou, the capital of mainland China’s Guangdong Province, can be reached by train within 2 hours. If you are on a budget, many cross border buses are available throughout Hong Kong. The trip will take more than 3 hours, including going through customs at the border and changing buses.
Official tourism websites of Hong Kong
For more information please visit the official government website: