Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. (Photo: Manson Yim via Unsplash)
Hong Kong, the former British colony and now a special administrative region of China, with high energy, spectacular skylines, skyscrapers and notoriously high-priced real-estate, is also a city of deep-rooted traditions, culture, heritage and foodie delights — a marriage between the East and West dotted with colonial buildings rubbing shoulders with modern architecture. Hong Kong (or HK) also has a great gastronomic culture, so don’t forget to eat at street food stalls and indulge in dim sums and milk tea. Here’s our pick of how to explore the city in 36 hours, whether you are there on a work/business trip or for leisure:
10 am: Pray at Man Mo temple
Start off your HK odyssey at one of the oldest temples there, built in 1847, dedicated to the God of war and the God of literature. This smoke-filled temple, tucked between skyscrapers on Hollywood Road, is a riot in gold and red. It has gargantuan incense coils suspended from the ceiling with wishes of the worshippers tucked into them. There are giant urns, heaps of offerings — fruits, flowers, even biscuits in front of the statues. Worshippers burn huge joss sticks; some shake bamboo rods to read their fortunes — the one that falls on the ground while shaking corresponds to a number that is in the Fortune book. Many parents and offspring come here to worship the God of literature before taking an exam.
2 pm: Go back in time at Tai Kwun
Hong Kong’s latest case of urban renewal is Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts which used to be an old complex of 16 colonial buildings between 1864 and 1925. After eight years of extensive renovations at a whopping cost of US$485 million, it opened in May 2018, now converted into a cultural hub. Have a drink at the Art Nouveau inspired bar Dragonfly designed by the cocktail bar maverick Ashley Sutton — sit under a dome of Tiffany glass lamps with motifs of dragonflies. Take a tour of the Victoria prison which has recreated cells with video displays to make the experience more real. Have a Cantonese meal at the upmarket Madame Fu, decorated with art works and Hermès scarves converted into lamps, with seven themed rooms.
6 pm: Retail therapy at Temple Street Night Market
This carnival of all-night shopping and eating, spread over one-kilometre area, around Tin Hau Temple, is one of Hong Kong’s liveliest places. Located in Kowloon, this is an open air a sprawl of stalls selling everything from souvenirs like magnets and calligraphy brushes to bags, jade jewellery, silk and linen clothes, watches, teapots and cups, mobile phone paraphernalia. There are also fortune tellers, and Cantonese opera that you may catch if you are lucky.
8 pm: A meal at the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant
Tim Ho Wan is a hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurant, started by Chef Mak Kwai Pui, that gained recognition after receiving a coveted Michelin star and, therefore, is known as one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. It’s always crowded so you may have to wait a bit. There’s an itemised list on every table — you just have to tick off your list and place the order. There’s a bewildering array of dishes on offer from their signature pork buns to shrimp dumplings, fish balls, pan fried taro cake. Don’t miss the sweet pumpkin cream with sago for dessert.
10 am: Explore Sham Shui Po
This working-class district of blocks of residential apartments interspersed with three main shopping streets is where you can get a glimpse of the real Hong Kong. Walk along the Apliu Street, famous for its electronics market, selling every kind of gizmo under the sun. Yu Chau Street is lined with shops selling wholesale fabrics, as well as accessories like ribbons and buttons. Then head to the retro restaurant Kung Wo Tofu Factory, which sells tofu in every form — from deep-fried to silken-tofu pudding, as well as cold soya milk in bottles.
12 pm: Experience island life at Cheung Chau
To experience a different side of Hong Kong away from the clamour, take a ferry from Central Pier No. 5 to Cheung Chau Island. This small fishing village with a crowded harbour, full of sampans, small boats and houseboats, was once inhabited by pirates and, today, you can crawl down those caves for soft adventure and then walk or cycle around the island, exploring beaches with windsurfers and street stalls selling souvenirs dried seafood and Chinese tea. Gorge on street food from fish balls and seafood noodles and rice, to sweets and snacks like bean-curd cake and fried tofu. Visit the Chinese Pak Tai temple, with stone carvings and incense coils suspended from the ceiling.
5 pm: Go to the peak
Victoria Peak, at 552m (1,811 ft), is one of Hong Kong’s most popular destinations, with panoramic views over its iconic skyline and Victoria Harbour and wooded walks. In the early 19th century, wealthy Europeans were carried up by sedan chairs until the Peak Tram was built. The Peak Tram, a 1.4km, 19th-century funicular railway which takes you to an elevation of around 500m, is an iconic Hong Kong must-do. At the top are shopping and leisure centres as well as a panoramic viewing terrace called the Sky Terrace.
8 pm: Catch the lights
Every night at 8 pm, the Victoria Harbour comes to life with “A Symphony of Lights”, a light show that features 46 skyscrapers along the skyline. The laser show illuminates the harbor in a scintillating display of synchronised music and light. The Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront has the best vantage point, or hop on to a boat from there, and catch it from the water.
10 am: End the trip with a tram journey
To experience that part of the city which still beats to its own rhythm take a tram tour. Running along the northern strip of the island, the trams are a symbol of Hong Kong’s heritage and have been connecting the city since 1904, and are a good way to get a window into local life. One of the best tours is on a vintage tram called TramoRamic that starts its journey near Causeway Bay and ends at Western Market. Some places that you will pass on this journey is Happy Valley with its racecourse, and Central, the world of glitzy skyscrapers.