A walk along the Kowloon harbourfront and dim sum with a view This is a great intro to Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour and famous dim sum, and something we always do if traveling with folks that are new to HK. Starting at East Tsim Sha Tsui Metro Station, a short walk brings you to the Avenue of the Stars – a sort of walk of fame for Hong Kong film stars which features a statue of Bruce Lee where everyone hams it up for the photos. Even if you know nothing about Hong Kong films (watch Chungking Express before you go!), the promenade offers great if hazy views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. Come back in the evening if you fancy a light show.
Wandering in a westerly direction will bring you to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. If it is a Saturday, lots of bridal parties will be out and about. At the Centre is the Serenade Chinese Restaurant, which does reasonable dim sum with large windows overlooking the harbour, and is a good introduction to dim sum – you probably won’t be the only tourist there, but we have been here a few times and enjoyed it, especially with new visitors to the city.
Nathan Road Highlights I always find some treasure on Nathan Road, and the many little streets that run off it and around it. It is also a road that always gets the better of me, stamina-wise. I am pretty unfit - but even so - this is a pretty mammoth stretch to cover on foot - and even on numerous visits we have barely scratched the surface, dipping only superficially into the areas around Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok MTR stations. You will need several visits to find some secret and not so secret treasures.
Some great finds have included fabulous Peking Duck at the dingy, crowded Peking Restaurant and other interesting food, like a curious sort of steamed milk pudding at the 'Australian Dairy Company' - unlike any other 'Australian Dairy' I have sampled previously!
Very often I find treasures at the Jade Market, just off Nathan Road - an Aladdin's cave of tat and trinkets where bargaining hard is an absolute must, as is limiting the amount of cash in your wallet when you wander in. Speaking of markets - on occasion we have made great finds at the Temple St night markets, and the Ladies Market in Mongkok, which is not just for ladies!
In a similar way - the malls along this stretch - particularly around the Tsim Sha Tsui end can suck you in and spit you out many, many hours later...
Pace yourself, and expect to spend a whole lot more time here than you intended.
Afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel Packed to the chandeliers every day, with often a very long wait, afternoon tea at the Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel is one of those quintessential Hong Kong experiences worth doing at least once. We have been here a couple of times and the tiered spread doesn't disappoint.
Food with a view We celebrated a significant birthday at the breathtaking Aqua restaurant - on the 29th floor of One Peking Road. If you can't decide between Japanese or Italian - often a dilemna I know - this is the place for you! Members of our party tried both - and both were pricey but great. But the view truly is something else.
One floor below is the highly regarded Hutong restaurant for northern Chinese food - which I am keen to try on our next visit.
Peak Tram and hazy views If you have never been to Hong Kong before - join the queue and hang on to the contents of your purse as the Peak Tram takes you on an impossibly steep trajectory to the Peak - home of Hong Kong's most expensive real estate and great views of the island. That is of course, on a clear day - haze very often obscures the great views that can be had from the Peak, but it is still worth the effort.
Mid-Levels If the Peak represents Hong Kong at its, well, peak, the Mid-Levels is the district on Hong Kong Island's slope. It is also a very expensive residential area, but along the series of escalators that is cuts through the district from Central, you will find restaurants, bars and a few shops. In the morning the escalators run downhill to ferry residents to their offices below, and for the rest of the day they run upwards. Those travelling in the opposite direction use the adjacent staircase, which is pretty good cardio if you are going up the hill.
There are some lovely gardens around the Mid-Levels, including Hong Kong Park which is home to the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware - nice for tea enthusiasts. The Mid Levels are also home to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and a little antiques precinct around Upper Lascar Row where high end antique shops abound and the small Cat St Market can be a good place to find more modestly priced curiosities.
Causeway Bay One of the most bonkers shopping districts anywhere - Causeway Bay is my retail heaven. Join the millions as they trawl through malls and boutiques running the gamut of mainstream staples to alternative. For the teens, set them loose in an 'alt mall' - warren-like firetraps full of tiny shops with bargains and fun finds.
Be prepared to be overwhelmed by choice and crowds (especially on weekends).
Cable Car and Big Buddha A great ride, spectacular views, family fun, education, exercise and a little culture - a trip to the 'Big Buddha' is a great way to spend half a day.
The day starts at Tung Chung MTR Station, adjacent to which is the Ngong Ping Cable Car Station - which in 30 minutes will take you in spectacular fashion to within walking distance of the Po Lin Monastery and its 34 metre high Tian Tan Buddha. You can wander around the lovely grounds of the Monastery, take lunch at their vegetarian restaurant or just skip ahead to the climb - 268 steps will let you get a closer look at the big bronze Buddha as well as great views of surrounding Lantau Island.
Around the Cable Car Station, is the Ngong Ping Village - a complex of small shops which reflect the cultural importance of the area. We enjoyed a cup of tea at the teahouse there, before heading back to the cable car.
Disneyland A half or full day at Disneyland is probably unavoidable if you have kids in tow, but even with a family adult group we managed to have some laughs and get sucked in by all the Disney merchandise and whatnot. After all, who can resist getting their photo taken with a chipmunk.
If you are dreading the thought of the nippers dragging you along - fear not. It is a fun and largely hassle free experience, which starts when you jump on a special Disney themed extension of the MTR from Sunny Bay station to the Disneyland Resort Station - right to the entrance of the theme park. From then on we found ticketing, the attractions and rides similarly streamlined.
Stanley Not served by the MTR, you need to jump on a bus to Stanley - on the other side of Hong Kong island to the main madness. A community long favoured by expats, Stanley is a pretty, seaside community. Its main draw is the market which caters well to those with a figure slightly fuller than the Hong Kong average.
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden - Diamond Hill Emerging from the Diamond Hill MTR Station and wandering underneath the Kwun Tong Bypass - you might wonder if you have come to the right place for quiet contemplation and peace - but worry not, a five minute walk brings you to the Chi Lin Nunnery and, across the road, the Nan Lian Garden.
The Nunnery itself is a stunning, Tang style wooden temple complex with meticulous landscaping; the Nan Lian Garden is likewise a lovely Tang style garden, complete with vegetarian restaurant and tea house. You could almost forget you are in the hubbub of Hong Kong until you look up and see skyscrapers.
Macau is a destination in its own right of course, and can be reached from Hong Kong by hydrofoil from the centrally located Macau Ferry Terminal. You are required to pass through immigration in Macau.
Upon disembarking, it is clear that things are very different in Macau. For starters, it isn't a walking and public transport kind of deal - we concluded pretty quickly we would need a driver to get us to main points of interest, which are quite spread out. If we had been more organised or touring inclined - I think we maybe would have joined a tour, but we were lucky to happen across a young, friendly tour guide/driver, who turned out to be worth the extra cash for our small group.
For all of Macau's fabulous attractions - what I really wanted was Portuguese custard tarts - available for tourists all over the city, they are the perfect snack whilst clambering over the very worthy attractions like the A-Ma Temple and Ruins of St Paul's.
Many folks come to Macau for the gaming - casinos are big business here - we went to one complex briefly, but as our time was limited we focused on the tarts and the architecture. In future I would like to delve a bit more into the Portuguese and Chinese cuisine of Macau.