Before deciding to take the plunge and live in Hong Kong for a whole year, I was ashamedly ignorant of this Asian metropolis. I mistakenly believed that it would be all skyscrapers, pollution and the odd Buddhist temple. Little did I know that this concrete jungle was set in an actual jungle; complete with mountains, waterfalls, tropical beaches and the best hikes of my life! All this natural goodness, only 40 mins (or less) from the central district. If you are looking to explore Hong Kong, use this detailed travel guide to help you.
As a special administrative region, it’s a visa-free haven for tourists wanting to see a part of Chinese culture and join the madness of the inner city bustle. Remember that in Hong Kong, CASH IS KING! Always keep cash on you as many places don’t have card facilities. Try the following Cantonese phrases if you want to get on the right side of the locals.
喂 (wái) – Hello!
你好 (néih hóu) – How are you? (general greeting)
早晨 (jóusàhn) – Good morning
唔該 (m̀hgòi) – Thank you (for a service)
If you are flying into Hong Kong, you will most likely fly into Hong Kong International airport (HKIA). The airport is also colloquially known as Chek Lap Kok Airport and is accessible by many means of transportation. Opened in 1998 it has everything you need pre and post flight with plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you entertained. Head to the airport website for more information and book with Skyscanner for great flight deals at super cheap prices.
The Airport Express:
The Airport Express is a quick way to get to the inner city of Hong Kong, but it’s definitely not the cheapest option. An airport express train will get you to Kowloon Station in just 20 minutes (HK$90 / €10 / $12) and HK Station in about 24 minutes (HK$100 / €11 / $13).
Taking a bus will take a bit longer, around 40 mins, but will definitely save you some money. Head to the bus terminus at the airport to catch a bus to just about any part of Hong Kong.
If money isn’t an issue, then splash out on a taxi for anything from HK$300 - 450 (€30-50 / $40-57)
It takes no longer than an hour to reach the Chinese border from most inner city spots, so just about everywhere is accessible by some mode of public transport. In other words, all transport is city transport. You will definitely make use of the following modes of transport on your daily adventures:
The Hong Kong MTR can take you anywhere. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, go to the MTR Customer Service Centre at the airport and get yourself a super handy Octopus travel card. You can use this for all MTR trains, buses and most minibuses. This will cost you HK$150 (€17 / $19). Topping up your Octopus is as easy as walking into a 7-Eleven or a Circle-K and handing cash over the counter. There are also top-up machines in every station. Getting from Hong Kong Island to the furthest reaches of the MTR line (basically to the Chinese border) will cost you no more than HK$14.70 (€1.60 / $1.90)! Try not to travel during peak hours, as things get manic in those underground stations! Just remember that the MTR stops running around 1am so you will have to look for other alternatives if your night is escalating.
Buses are great for getting to those places where there might not be an MTR station close by. Travelling to most of the more touristy places will probably require a combination of using the MTR and bus. The prices are also super cheap, however, on Lantau Island they tend to be more expensive to get to the beaches, the iconic Big Buddha or Tai O fishing Village.
When adventuring out into the territories for a lesser known hike or to find a great beach, you might need to grab a minibus. These are very frequent and easy to find. Minibus stations are usually right next to ordinary bus stations and you can ask to jump off at any point.
The most expensive option, and not recommended for long distances. Having resorted to a few of these myself, I never had to spend more than HK$80 (€9 / $10) to get from the night life spots to my flat on the Kowloon side. Prices are also negotiable and you may get it right to request a flat rate without the meter running. Even if you’re just going around the block, most drivers will start the meter running at about HK$20 (€2 / $2.50) to make it worth their while.
Many people fail to realise that Hong Kong is surrounded by some incredible islands. To get to Lamma Island, Cheung Chau, Peng Chua, or even Lantau ~ go to the central piers where most ferries leave from. You can use your Octopus card on ferries too and most of them are under HK$10 (€1 / $1.30). The Central piers are just a pedestrian bridge away from the Central MTR station.
- If you want to see the skyline at night, then definitely take the Star Ferry (for only HK$3) between the central pier and TST. It’s probably the best way to see both the HK island skyline and the TST skyline at the same time.
The Sai Kung peninsula is a paradise of lush vegetation, long white beaches, quaint towns and breath-taking views. Section 1 and part of Section 2 of the MacLehose Trail, provide the best ways to see the amazing hexagonal volcanic columns of High Island, whilst the High Island Reservoir offers glistening turquoise waters against an impressive backdrop of rolling green hills. The Sai Wan beaches are heaven on earth; and you absolutely have to take a leap from the Sai Wan Waterfall, just a short walk from the main beaches.
You can get to Sai Wan from Sai Kung town by taking a minibus to the Sai Wan Pavilion and then hiking past the reservoir, or you can catch a speed boat (around HK$100 / €11 / $13) from the docks which will drop you off right on the sand.
Home to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island is an obvious choice for tourists. One cannot say they’ve gone to Hong Kong without a visit to the massive Buddha on Ngong Ping Plateau. Wisdom Path is situated in the exact same area and is definitely worth the side stroll. If you’re looking for more culture, then jump on a bus to the Tai O Fishing Village, known for its stilt houses and seafood.
Everything on Lantau Island is accessible by bus from the terminus next to Tung Chung MTR station. If you want a view from the top, then splurge on a ticket for the Ngong Ping 360 (standard cabin ticket about HK$150 / €17 / $19) and get from Tung Chung MTR station to the Big Buddha by cable car.
As the biggest of Hong Kong’s islands, Lantau has some extensive hiking trails and exquisite beaches. On the lower western side you can find Pui O Beach, Lower Cheung Sha, Upper Cheung Sha and Shui Hau Beach. Enjoy a cocktail while watching wild cattle roam the sands and for a HK$300 (€30 / $40) deposit plus HK$90 (€10 / $12) per hour, you can rent a stand-up-paddle board and venture out into the water. On the other side of Lantau, you can also find Discovery Bay. This beach is more conveniently located next to a leisure complex of restaurants and shops and is accessible by ferry from the Central Pier.
Two of Hong Kong’s toughest hikes are on Lantau: Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak. Both offer exceptional views of the island’s impressive topography and surrounding seas. These hikes are gruelling, especially in the summer heat, but you can reward yourself to a cold bevvy on the beach afterwards.
On the southern side of Hong Kong Island you can find two easily accessible beaches, both along the same bus route. If you take the 6, 6A or 6X bus from Central or Wan Chai, you will first come across Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay. These city beaches are a convenient 15 mins away from Central and are great places to cool off and have a drink. If you stay on the bus longer, you’ll land up in Stanley. Stanley is a gorgeous seaside town with great restaurants, the Stanley market and a great promenade for walks and ice cream.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can take a ferry from Stanley pier and visit Po Toi Island. This unique island is composed almost entirely of well-weathered granite and takes about 4 hours to walk around in a circular route. The views of the South China Sea and the impressive granite formations made this island one of my favourite day trips. Ferries only run about two to three times a day, so you have to plan your visit carefully.
Catch a ferry from the central piers to Lamma Island or Cheung Chau. Lamma Island has two main villages, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan, both with their own ferry dock. Catch a ferry to one of these villages and walk to the other along the family trail, passing by Hung Shing Yeh Beach, the Kamikaze Cave, and Tin Hau Temple. Lamma has a really chilled “hippy” vibe and is great day trip if you’re needing a break from the city madness.
Cheung Sha is also an idyllic day trip. There’s a mini great wall walk with some superb lookouts and you can even discover the fabled pirate’s hiding place in Cheung Po Tsai Cave. The cave lies between five giant eroded rocks, the biggest of which is known as the Reclining Rock.
There’s no escaping the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife. If you enjoy excessive drinking and outright debauchery, then there’s no shortage of bars and clubs to tickle your fancy. Look out for a good happy-hour deal and abandon your common sense. I suggest having a drink in a nearby area, such as Wan Chai or Soho and then make your way over to Lan Kwai Fong. If you’re looking to do things on the cheap, then buy your drinks from the 7-eleven on the corner and get wasted without having to pay extortionist prices.
I cannot over exaggerate the views from this peak. If you want to see the full extent of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, then do this hike on a clear day. If you think it’s impressive by day, wait until you see it at night! You will able to see dense lights of Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, all the way to the light show of the Hong Kong Island skyline. There are multiple ways to get there, but I found that the easiest was catching Bus 1 from Prince Edward MTR Station (towards Chuk Yuen Estate) and jumping off at Ma Chai Hang Recreation Ground stop. Alternatively you could go to Wong Tai Sin MTR station and catch a taxi to the start of the hike.
The Peak is on every tourist’s travel itinerary, but there are ways to beat the crowds and see it from a different perspective. You can walk up from Sai Ying Pun along the morning trail and get some incredible views. If you want to do the more conventional Peak tram, then definitely visit Hong Kong Park right next to the ticket sales building.
Accommodation is probably where Hong Kong falls short. Hotels are crazy expensive and hostels are reflective of the housing crisis in Hong Kong, meaning you will have zero space and the conditions are not great.
Air BnB is probably your best bet. Head to the Air BNB website and start planning your trip!
Hong Kong, like all big cities, has just about everything for any price range. Local food will be fantastically cheap, whilst a good steak and a glass of vino in a Western restaurant is going to cost your month’s rent.
- Temple Street Night Market ~ A super quick walk from Jordan MTR station, Temple Street market is a sensory delight. You can have your fortune read, buy a handbag and pig out on some great local food, all in one place.
- Ladies Market ~ Although Ladies Market is better known for its kitsch, mass-produced souvenirs and knock-off fashion, it is also lined with great local restaurants.
- You can’t say you’ve gone to Hong Kong without making your way to a Dim Dim Sum restaurant and ordering all sorts of steamed goodies. Try some wontons, fish balls, shrimp dumplings and roast goose. In any local restaurant, the drink of choice is an iced milk tea, full of syrupy sweetness. Not an ideal low-calorie option!
- If you’re looking to eat vast unlimited quantities of deep fried Chinese take-away style dishes, then look no further than Mr Wong’s in Mong Kok. This buffet style dining comes with unlimited free beer! Yes, you heard right! Unlimited beer, all-inclusive for HK$80 (€9 / $10)
Vegan / Vegetarian Food:
- For now, the vegetarian/vegan movement is mainly limited to Western ex-pats and vegan options are not yet extensively available. Most local places might have veggie options, but you won’t be spoiled for choice.
- MANA! in Central is an excellent place for veggie dining, but you’ll pay the normal hipster rate of about HK$150 (€17 / $19) for a meal including sides and drinks.
- One of my absolute best hang out sessions were at the Brunch & Supper Club in Causeway Bay. They do a great half-price happy hour and the food never disappointed. There are also vegetarian options here.
- Wooloomooloo Rooftop Bar (Wan Chai): For sundowners with an incredible view! Definitely one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in HK, but it will cost you. Keep this one for a special occasion!
- Aqua (Tsim Sha Tsui): Another exceptional view, but also a bit on the pricier side.
- The Station (Wan Chai): A cheap dive bar that’s great for casual and affordable drinks
- Le Pain Quotidien: Although this place is better known for being a Bakery by day, it does an amazing happy hour!
Besides the manic crowds and the impolite etiquette in public spaces, what drove be absolutely crazy about Hong Kong was the amount of litter, pollution and rubbish. There isn’t one natural space left that doesn’t have some disgusting evidence of humans.
In order to make a difference and keep the beaches and hiking trails pristine, I suggest getting a group together for a Hong Kong Beach Clean Up.
Hong Kong Cleanup was founded by a Canadian environmentalist, Lisa Christensen in 2000, and since then, this NGO has helped remove over 70 million pieces of rubbish from the ocean. Managed by Ecovision Asia, the cleanup originally started out as a 1 day initiative, but it has been scaled by Lisa since then, engaging over 35,000 people and running all year round.
The Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge is also an educational platform, working with schools, communities and corporate organisations to provide practical solutions to living more sustainably and ultimately saving our planet. They organise and manage bespoke events for those looking for a meaningful and educational engagement activity.