Where to eat, sleep, shop and explore in the city famed as much for its skyline as for its surrounding islands.
When I arrived in Hong Kong, I wanted to throw out my entire wardrobe. After backpacking in Southeast Asia for two months, wearing my clothes to rags, I was enamoured with the sophistication of Hong Kong. The other thing that caught my eye was the stunning scenery, picturesque with its lush, mountainous islands, and the fact that ferries are a common form of transportation. Over 40% of Hong Kong comprises natural reserves and parks, and while I felt the gritty energy of the densely packed high-rises crowded on tiny Hong Kong Island, ultimately, its natural beauty is what had me hooked.
Touristy though it may be, the Peak Tram is such a highlight of Hong Kong Island. I went in the middle of the day on a Friday and didn’t encounter much of a crowd; otherwise, brace yourself for hoards of selfie-stick-wielding tourists. The views of the city here will put you at ease, and it’s not expensive, costing only around $6 CAD for a one-way trip up the tram to Victoria Peak.
When you reach Peak Galleria mall at the top, take the Peak Circle Walk or hike your way back down to the city. If you’re looking for something more remote, the Dragon’s Back on Hong Kong Island is a popular trail with stunning coastal views.
Eat & Drink
Budget favourites include Tsui Wah, a tea-restaurant chain, or “Cha Chaan Teng.” Try the wontons, Hong Kong milk tea, or a crispy toasted bun with condensed milk. A visit to Tim Ho Wan is crucial, given it’s the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. While you’re there, be sure to get the pork pineapple bun char siu bao. Also check out Kau Kee, a famous spot known for its beef brisket noodle soup, and Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns, a reasonably priced takeaway joint renowned for its sheng jian bao, a pan-fried bun that’s moist on the top and crunchy on the bottom. Last but not least, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Din Tai Fung, a classic Taiwanese restaurant chain known for its delicate dim sum.
Splurge-worthy eats include Yardbird, a Canadian-owned restaurant with line-ups that snake out the door that’s known for its yakitori, chicken feet, Korean Fried Cauliflower (KFC) and cocktails. Head to Little Bao if you want steamed buns with less traditional fillings, like Szechuan fried chicken and fish tempura.
If you’re down for a drink, BOUND by Hillywood in Prince Edward, Kowloon, is a great neon-lit bar with a good selection of craft beer and cocktails that incorporate Asian ingredients. You won’t find any suits here, just a down-to-earth crowd.
Inevitably, because of the heat, you’ll likely end up walking through air-conditioned shopping malls, a large number of them the luxury sort, including IFC and Pacific Place. Shopping in Hong Kong isn’t cheap, unless you’re searching for souvenirs and knickknacks at the supremely busy Mong Kok Market or Temple Street Night Market. If you’re looking for gifts with lasting power, head to Old Town Central’s antique district off Hollywood Road. In between treasure-hunting, check out the art galleries and historic monuments like Man Mo Temple, and discover cute local boutiques.
If you’re seeking a boutique-hotel experience, consider the independently owned Fleming Hotel in Wanchai, the nightlife centre of Hong Kong. Designed by the agency A Work of Substance, the hotel embraces deep, comforting colour palettes, nostalgic nautical decor that pays homage to the city’s maritime history, and rich art-deco design details. Be sure to visit Osteria Marzia, the hotel’s restaurant specializing in coastal Italian cuisine by the Black Sheep Restaurant group, a HK-based hospitality group.
The best part of Hong Kong is getting out of Hong Kong, and taking a ferry to the Islands District is a real delight. Travel guides will rave about the Star Ferry between HK Island and Kowloon, but really, I was pleased with every island-hopping boat I rode. My favourite island might have been Cheung Chau, a fishing village with a population of 23,000 that’s known for its bun festival in June (it includes a race up a 60-foot tower of buns). If you’re not in town for the festival, you can still enjoy various buns sold by street vendors, plus amazing seafood and fish balls.
Stroll around for a while, then caffeinate at Valor Coffee, and visit the local artisan boutiques of the island, like Myarts and Island Workbench. For dessert, Cheung Chao has brilliant mango-filled mochi, along with watermelon popsicles, which are basically giant slabs of frozen watermelon on a skewer. Don’t forget to visit the beach — before you know it, you’ll be heading back on a ferry to the frenetic HK Island, and you might just miss the low-key island life.