Hong Kong for locals

Whether you’re alone, showing off to guests, or have tots in tow, here are some of the best days out in the 852

It’s an oldie but a goodie – Hong Kong’s infamous Peak Tram turns 130 this year. Head down rather than up and you’ll beat the queues


Hong Kong Wetland Park

Escape the city for the wildlife of the far north New Territories. The Hong Kong Wetland Park has over 60-hectares of parkland demonstrating the diversity of the territory’s wetland ecosystem. Originally set up as a mitigation area to compensate for wetlands lost due to the Tin Shui Wai New Town development, it now bills itself an international park with visitor centre. Expect to see mangroves, butterflies, birds, reptiles, crabs, fish and more. If you’re coming by car, some parking is available, otherwise catch the MTR to Tin Shui Wai and change for Wetland Park Station/Tin Sau Station on the Light Rail Line. Open everyday except for Tuesday, 10am-5pm, $15 for three to 17 year olds and grandparents over 65, $30 standard, wetlandpark.gov.hk

Aberdeen Promenade and sampan tour

Stroll along Aberdeen Promenade from the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market at the western end – don’t forget to check out the catch of the day – to the east side where you can hop on a sampan for a tour of the typhoon shelter. Expect to pay around $80/person for a half-hour tour, during which you will get up close to the floating fishing village which is still semi-home to a number of the boat-dwelling Tanka people. And at the other end of the social scale, view the glossy yachts jostling for position in Aberdeen harbour – one allegedly belongs to Hong Kong action hero Jackie Chan.

Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple

Located in Kowloon, this traditional style Chinese temple is nestled between high rise shopping malls and residential buildings. It’s actually one of Hong Kong’s most popular temples and well-known amongst the international Chinese community. Sik Sik Yuen is the Taoist organisation that administers the temple, while Wong Tai Sin, or Wong Cho-ping, was a young shepherd-boy from Zhejiang province around 300AD who devoted his life to Taoism and to whom the temple is dedicated. Wong Tai Sin literally means ‘great immortal Wong’. The temple includes a Nine Dragons Wall, fortune telling hall and a Good Wish Garden with Taoist garden pond. Catch the MTR to Wong Tai Sin, siksikyuen.org.hk

 Peng Chau

Grab a ferry to laidback tiny Peng Chau lying off the north-eastern coast of Lantau. Famous for its temples and seafood, the island used to be a hive of activity with a matchstick factory and lime kilns. There is now just one kiln left – lime was produced by burning oyster shells, clam shells and coral, and was used in construction and ship maintenance until the 1950s – and the former Great China Match Factory is now no more than a few stones marking the boundary walls. Today the island is great for easy hiking (we did it with a grandad and a four-year-old) – head up to Finger Hill for panoramic views over the Tsing Ma bridge and Disneyland, then hit the Peng Chau Family Trail which is a paved walk around the island. Allow two to three hours. Bring a picnic, or try one of the handful of local-style restaurants.

Cheung Chau and the pirate caves

Busier than Peng Chau, Cheung Chau is a wonderful hour-long cruise from Central Ferry Piers (opt for the upper deck on the slow ferry). The island is just ten kilometres south of Hong Kong Island, and nicknamed ‘the dumbbell’ because of its distinctive shape. Cruise into the insta-friendly fishing harbour and hit the waterfront promenade with its cafes, restaurants, bakeries and knick-knack stalls. Turn left and head to the lavishly decorated Pak Tai temple, or hire a bike to explore this end of the island. Cheung Chau is also a great place to hike, with paved walkways and lots of viewpoints. If the weather permits, hit the beach, or pick up a sampan from the main pier to Sai Wan Pier (around $5/person) to view the infamous Cheung Po Tsai ‘pirate’ cave. Pick the right time and cruise home as the sunsets.

Countryside Adventures

Led by enthusiastic local guide Wouter van Marle, these tours are aimed at English-speakers who want to see the ‘other side’ of Hong Kong. The adventures tend to take place in the wilds of the New Territories, but an easy meeting point at an MTR station or similar is always provided. Suitable for all ages, this month the agenda includes an historical tour of Tai Po, a Sai Kung islands cruise, a Bats & Fireflies night hike and a ghost villages tour, adventuretours.hk.

Lunch at Yau Ley Seafood Restaurant

Head up to relaxed Sai Kung Town and jump on a sampan to Yau Ley Seafood Restaurant. Enormously popular with locals and junk parties during the summer, the restaurant is calmer at this time of year and is great for an easy family lunch in the sunshine. The restaurant is open-air with views over a little beach to one side and and the landing jetty and floating fishing village on the other. The sand on the beachside is perfect for small people to have a play and work up an appetite, while the cove offers protected swimming opportunities. Older kids will want to get stuck into a spot of ‘jetty-jumping’ on the north side. Lunch covers the usual seafood favourites, with a well-stocked ice cream freezer for the children. The restaurant offers a speedboat service to and from Sai Kung Town New Pier for an extra charge, 11am-4pm, call or WhatsApp 2791 1822.

Tai Hang culture tours

Boutique hotel Little Tai Hang is partnering with local tour guide company HoHoGo to craft hour-long walking tours around quirky Tai Hang area. According to organisers, Tai Hang is a unique crossroads of cultures, from colonial times to the shiny new bars and restaurants of today. The walking tours focus on the food, architecture, culture and heritage of this close-knit neigbourhood and are free for local residents, hohogo.com.hk.

Luk Yu Teahouse

An interesting venue if you’re looking to treat guests to traditional Chinese tea and dim sum. Running since the 1930s, this elegant three-story teahouse is one of the longest operating in Hong Kong and used to be patronised by opera singers, writers and painters. Expect Cantonese classics such as dim sum, prawn toast, fried beef with noodles and egg tarts. Waiters are white-jacketed to fit with the evocative pre-war decor of ceiling fans, oriental screens and stained glass. If you’re not a regular, expect to be seated on the second level. 7am-10pm, 24-26 Stanley Street, Central, 2523 5464.

Heritage Museum

Grab some culture at this spacious, well thought-out museum beside the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin. It boasts Hong Kong history, art and culture via a variety of exhibits. Highlights include the New Territories Heritage Hall with mock-ups of traditional local Hakka villages, a Cantonese Heritage Opera Hall, a Bruce Lee exhibit with over 600 pieces of memorabilia, and a children’s area with an interactive play-zone. Jump on the MTR to Che Kung Temple Station, 10am-6pm, closed on Tuesdays, 1 Man Lam Road, heritagemuseum.gov.hk.

10,000 Buddhas Monastery

Best attempted at this cooler time of year, the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery is actually five temples, four pavilions, one pagoda – and 430 steep hillside steps to reach them. Make sure Granny is forewarned and forearmed! Alongside the climb are dozens of golden and painted life-size buddha statues, all of which are different, so take your time and catch your breath while you have a look. And watch out for the local monkey population, too. At the top are views across the New Territories and the bright red pagoda that appears on $100 bills printed between 1985 and 2002. Take the MTR to Sha Tin, the steps are at the end of Sheung Wo Che Street on the left-hand side.

Chi Lin Nunnery

This large Buddhist complex in Diamond Hill, Kowloon, was founded in the 1930s as a retreat for Buddhist nuns. It was rebuilt in the 1990s following traditional Tang Dynasty architecture – it is constructed entirely from cypress wood, using no nails, and is in fact the world’s largest handmade wooden building. Once you’ve viewed the nunnery, let the kids have a scamper over 3.5 hectares of landscaped gardens across the road at Nan Lian Gardens. The gardens also house a tasty vegetarian restaurant and teahouse. Take the MTR to Diamond Hill, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Sheung Yuen Leng, 2354 1888, chilin.org.

Kowloon Walled City Park

Kowloon Walled City Park started life as a military stronghold. Its strategic position on the waterfront (these days it’s land-locked and surrounded by high rise) meant in the 1840s it was turned into a garrison with massive stone walls and watchtowers. By the 1940s it housed over 40,000 inhabitants and had become a centre for vice and crime, triad activity and prostitution. In the 1990s it was demolished, the inhabitants resettled, and the area transformed into tranquil gardens. There are water features, photographic displays tracing the area’s history, a chess garden and paved walkways, as well as a playpark at the entrance on Junction Road. Adjacent to the gardens is a bike park with cycles for hire. Take the MTR to Lok Fu Station, 6.30am-11pm daily, Tung Tau Tsuen Road, Kowloon.

Food tour

Local tour guides Hello Hong Kong run public food walks around Sheung Wan, Central and Wan Chai every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning, taking in the history of food in Hong Kong, from Cantonese classics to western influenced dishes that started popping up in the 1950s. The tour starts with a traditional dim sum breakfast in a teahouse with an 85-year heritage, followed by a bowl of Wonton noodles in a shop that dates from the 1960s. There’s then a Hong Kong-style milk tea break, followed by a tram ride to finish the tour with a dan tat, or custard tart. The tour lasts approximately four hours and covers 2.5km, $750/adult, free for under sixes, hellohongkong.com.hk.

Yoga and hike

A great way for visitors to view the stunning New Territories is on an organised hike with local yogi Barbara Dudman. Meeting at Sai Kung Country Park gates (there is ample parking right by the gates on a weekday), Dudman accesses stage two of the stunning MacLehose trail with a speedboat ride from Wong Shek Pier to Chek Keng. She then leads a moderately challenging hike (with some uphill) of about an hour until you descend into the beachside village of Ham Tin. She then conducts an hour of gentle yoga on the sand which is followed by a vegetarian lunch at the local dai pai dong. The hike back to Chek Keng is around one hour. Yoga B hikes are $350, including yoga, lunch and a boat ride, barbaradudman@mac.com.

Kayak and hike

An action-packed day on the water with an educational twist, Kayak + Hike is suitable for kids from around eight and anyone with a degree of fitness. Begin the day with a speedboat ride from Sai Kung to High Island; there is then a light kayak to Millionaires Beach in the next bay, with an opportunity to have a dip. Kayaks are doubles or triples and Etherington patiently goes through paddling technique while you’re still on the sand. Next up is a longer kayak across the Inner Port Shelter to Bluff Island. After morning tea and a snorkel, the group is escorted on a short hike to the top of Bluff with stunning views out over the ocean and back to Sai Kung. Then comes the toughest paddle of the day, around Bluff and through a sea arch. It’s then back into the speedboat and off to High Island for a social al fresco lunch. The tour is punctuated with loads of information about the geo-park and the geology of the area, kayak-and-hike.com.

Ride the cable car from Tung Chung to Po Lin Monastery and enjoy sensational views over rugged South Lantau and Hong Kong’s busy Chek Lap Kok airport

Lantau cable car and Po Lin Monastery

As construction work continues apace on Lantau, this trip becomes ever more fascinating. Be wowed by the juxtaposition of massive-scale engineering projects and nature as you travel south from the airport over rolling emerald mountains towards the Big Buddha and the village of Ngong Ping. The Buddha and surrounding temples are just about saved from Disneyfication (souvenir shops abound) by their authenticity – expect lots of incense burning, prayers and feral buffalo wandering around. Book a return ticket, or there are public buses and taxis available for the 30-minute trip back to Tung Chung. Take the MTR to Tung Chung, parking available at Citygate, np360.com.hk.

Peak tram

Another iconic Hong Kong postcard shot is that of the distinctive red funicular trams zipping up and down Victoria Peak. Hack of the day is to take a taxi or bus to the top and catch the tram back down – this way you avoid the monster queues on Garden Road. If your group is looking to stretch their legs, the flat, paved and shady Lugard Road circular walk is just under 4kms and offers views across Pok Fu Lam reservoir, Aberdeen and Lamma, the Tsing Ma bridge, and finally the city in all its high rise splendour. The Peak is undergoing major renovation at the moment and many of the ground floor cafes and shops are currently closed. We took our visiting great uncle for lunch on the terrace of The Peak Lookout Cafe, which has great views and an extensive menu to suit all tastes, 10.30am-11.30pm, 121 Peak Road, 2849 1000, peaklookout.com.hk.


Lai Che Wo Walled Hakka Village

Lai Che Wo in Plover Cove Country Park is one of Hong Kong’s best preserved Hakka villages. The village is over 300 years old and was completely abandoned in the 1960s. These days it is semi-inhabited and activities such as rice growing have once again begun in the nearby paddies. Visitors are free to wander the laneways and view the 200-odd houses in the village; it’s also home to temples, ancestral halls and a square fringed with banyan trees, and boasts an intact feng shui woodland – a seven hectare crescent-shaped wood embraces the village from behind. If you’re hiking in – a shaded but tough woodland walk of around two hours from Brides Pool – bespoke tours can be arranged on arrival with at least two weeks notice, and if you’re travelling in by boat on the Sunday ferry service, there are regular weekend tours including a fun ‘sticky rice’ demonstration. The one ferry per week runs at 9am on Sundays from Ma Liu Shui Pier 3 (nearest MTR is University) and returns from Lai Chi Wo at 3.30pm, $50/single, $80/return, trip takes 1.5 hours. Contact Culture Development Society of Lai Chi Wo lcwculture@outlook.com; ferry information 2555 9269.

Temple Street Night Markets

Bag a bargain, haggle to your heart’s content, ‘fess up to a fortune teller, it’s all happening on Temple Street come nightfall. From handbags to wallets, clothing, trinkets, souvenirs, toys and everything in between, this is a hardcore, fast-paced version of chi chi Stanley Market. And when you’re done, take the weight off your feet (and the pressure off your purse) with a beer and some noodles from a roadside food stall – we’re not talking high glamour here, expect plastic seating and toilet roll napkins. But the service is efficient and the food tasty and inexpensive. Temple Street, TST, nearest MTR station is Jordan.

Stanley Markets

If you’ve got guests in town, you’re not going to escape a trip to Stanley Markets, so embrace it with a stylish arrival on Aqua Luna followed by a nice lunch. There are restaurants aplenty on the waterfront, a great place for watching the world go by as you catch up on all the news from back ‘home’. On weekends the promenade is pedestrian-only and scooter heaven for the kids. Aqua Luna sails from Central Ferry Pier 9 at midday, picking up at TST and arriving at 1.30pm at Stanley Blake Pier. The return journey leaves Stanley at 3.30pm, $280/adult one-way, $190/child, aqualuna.com.hk.

Walking tours with App&Map

Local company idiscover has launched a number of city walks for iphones. Hong Kong App&Map, an ensemble of community curated neighbourhood walks, aims to promote understanding of more traditional parts of town. Each walk passes around 20-30 sites that bring local cultural heritage to life, depicting urban legends and local stories. There are six Hong Kong-based walks to enjoy, including Aberdeen, Sheung Wan, Sham Shui Po, Sai Kung and Kowloon City. This is a great opportunity to marry tech-savvy grandchildren with the more traditional ‘grandparent-friendly’ pursuits of walking and looking at things. Download iDiscover City Walks free from the App Store and Google Play, i-discoverasia.com.

Container Port Tour

As one of the world’s most important shipping hubs, Hong Kong’s container ports are a must-see on many visitors’ bucket lists, not to mention small people with a transport obsession. And a tour from the water is a great way to go. A series of Container Port Tours hosted by Hong Kong Yachting kicks-off each autumn, running most weekends until December. The valiant Jungle Jane takes guests right up inside the container port terminal to see the action at close hand. The day concludes with a trip to a nearby beach for a BBQ lunch and swim and a wander through Ma Wan deserted village. The guides have been involved with the shipping industry for over a decade and really know their stuff, $900/adult, $750/child, hongkongyachting.com.