For my first Hong Kong, I took some time to familiarise myself with Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and New Territories on Google Maps. Here are the highlights from all that planning, a list of ten things to do in Hong Kong that I really enjoyed and I think you’ll enjoy too.
Table of Contents
- Have a Brekkie Quickie Hong Kong Style
- Experience the Bustle of Central
- Dim Sum Brunch at a Traditional Tea House
- Visit a Taoist-Buddhist Temple
- Discover Wan Chai
- Hunt Down Graffiti
- See the Sign(board)s
- Enjoy a Quiet Evening at Heritage 1881
- Eat like a Local at a Dai Pai Dong
- Explore Mongkok
1. Have a Brekkie Quickie
Similar to how in Singapore we have our Kopi O (Coffee Black) or Kopi C (Coffee with Condensed Milk) with Kaya Thick Toasts, Hong Kong has its own breakfast quickies: typically a Macaroni Soup with Ham Slices, fluffy Scrambled Eggs on Toast, Instant Noodles with canned pork or beef and French Toast accompanied with a cup of piping hot milk tea.
Order efficiently, eat fast, and leave in a jiffy – that’s how the locals do breakfast. I recommend Monkey See, Monkey Do if you’re unable to read Mandarin characters, speak Cantonese, or make sense of how to order. Just point at something you find looks delicious in the restaurant and nod fervently.
The most notorious of them all is Australian Dairy Company. Make sure you have got thick skin and lightning-fast reflexes. Want to experience being berated by a local? This is the perfect taste of the city. Don’t take it personally. It’s just the way it is. But, can you say you’ve been to HK if you’ve not been told off by a frustrated and time-conscious server?
2. Experience the Bustle of Central
Central (中環) is where all the buzz happens. The bustling central business district is where you’ll find towering skyscrapers, financial institutions, and luxury brands aplenty. You can catch sight of Ding Ding (trams) along with public buses all around running like clockwork.
If shopping isn’t your cup of tea, Central is the perfect place to people-watch. Hong Kongers are immaculately dressed. You can expect professional and stylish individuals brisk walking intensely across Central at peak hour. Get out of the way or keep with the program! Move quickly or risk getting a death stare or nagged at.
Experience Hong Kong’s daily life by taking a risk and hopping on one of the public buses and upper levels of a Ding Ding tram. It doesn’t cost all that much and you can conveniently tap your Octopus card for easy payment.
3. Dim Sum Brunch at a Traditional Tea House
What is a trip to Hong Kong without an indulgent session filled with dim sum (点心)? There are a few ways you can experience having dim sum.
There’s the traditional dim sum diner where you’ll hustle with the locals and tourists alike. Elderly staff push around trolleys of freshly prepared dim sum from the kitchen. It’s a battle for the bamboo baskets of small bites and if you snooze, you lose.
And then there are the established tea houses which offer a more leisurely experience. Some tea houses, like Luk Yu Tea House, have reserved dining areas for regulars on the first and second floors. If you are a new customer, you are allocated a table on the third floor. Here you can take your time to order a selection of dim sum. The servers will bring them to your table as they are ready from the kitchen. Of course, you also pay a premium for the service and atmosphere.
4. Visit a Taoist-Buddhist Temple
Believe it or not, Hong Kong has over 600 temples. A majority of the Chinese population in Hong Kong are Taoists or Buddhists. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both.
Many temples such as the one I visited, the famous Man Mo Temple located at Hollywood Road, are home to a number of gods, but with one main god. Donations are received for incense sticks used for prayers and fortune sticks. Entry to the temples is usually free.
5. Discover Wan Chai
Wan Chai has a past as colorful as its buildings. Formerly known notoriously as a seedy red light district, some iconic buildings in the area are now maintained by the government to hold on to Hong Kong’s heritage.
A stroll from the MTR to the Blue House in Wan Chai will see you passing by bustling fish markets sold in stores facing out into the road. It’s an interesting and different side of Hong Kong if you’re thinking of taking a break from shopping and eating.
6. Hunt Down Graffiti
Hong Kong has a plenitude of graffiti and it’s one of the mediums for advertisements. This creative freedom is one of the contributing reasons for Hong Kong’s vibrancy and life.
Hunting down the graffiti or discovering different designs as you take a walk around the city is an engaging activity on its own. Some graffiti are polished caricatures and more refined than others which are quick fun doodles.
7. See the Sign(board)s!
There’s nothing that screams “HONG KONG!” more than the signboards jutting out from buildings in an almost organized mess.
I enjoyed taking photos of all the different loud signboards on every street because it gave every street so much character. Each sign tries its best to jostle away some attention in the midst of other equally attention-grabbing signboards.
Also, everything looks different in the day and night. In the day, it’s quaint and almost “old school”. At night the neon lights come on and everything changes.
8. Enjoy a Quiet Evening at Heritage 1881
If you’re not a fan of shopping, you should still pay Heritage 1881 a visit. This white-washed Victorian-esque building is a monument, luxury shopping mall, and heritage hotel all in one (much like Singapore’s Raffles Hotel).
A historical spot in the city, the Heritage 1881 was the Former Marine Police Headquarters from the 1880s up till 1996. It’s lovely to just spend a quiet evening at the rooftop gardens or stroll around the mostly al fresco courtyards which are open to the public.
Of course, if you like, while you’re there you can also admire exquisite IWC timepieces from the IWC Schaffhausen Flagship Boutique or pop into Cartier if you so please.
9. Eat like a Local at a Dai Pai Dong
Eat like the locals do at a dai pai dong (cooked food stalls). The dai pai dong is fast becoming an endangered species of Hong Kong dining scene and these traditional food stalls and restaurants are disappearing making way for more sophisticated restaurants.
These eateries are the equivalent of Singapore’s outdoor zhi char or hawker stalls and are typically found outdoors.
There are some dai pai dong who have moved on with the times. They have taken up multiple units and moved their businesses indoors, complete with air conditioning. The spaces are still cramped, but the food is great.
10. Explore Mongkok
Mongkok is crazy alive and constantly buzzing with energy. It’s home to several night markets: Ladies’ Market, Fa Yuen Street Market, Goldfish Street Market, Flower Market Street, and Bird Market and Garden. Be warned, you’ll need to get your feet ready for some major walking!
Take a break while wandering down the streets. Many buskers add to the entertainment for the night. Continue your people-watching and shopping to your heart’s content. While most of Hong Kong’s malls are pricey to shop at, the markets are a great place for those on a budget!