Hong Kong never loses its appeal. While there’s nothing like that first time, for the repeat traveller it becomes less about ticking the boxes and more about digging deeper and getting to the real heart of the city. Your best bet? Head straight for the backstreets.
The working-class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po – a market lover's heaven – is a good start. Wander street after street lined with stalls, including popular Apliu Street Market, ground zero for electronics at bargain prices.
Continue the browsing shoulder-to-shoulder with locals at Shanghai Street in Kowloon, brimming with homewares along what is one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares. A sight in itself, it is intriguingly set among preserved old Chinese shop-houses.
Back on Hong Kong Island, people-watch and market-hop some more at Upper Lascar Row (Cat Street), where it’s all about the antiques; historic Hollywood Road is famous for its antique shops and galleries selling contemporary Chinese art; while Ko Shing Street is perfect for meanders past swathes of traditional Chinese Medicine shops selling jars of curious-looking remedies. You could spend days browsing and soaking up the vibrant, colourful atmosphere, from Hong Kong’s Flower Market to the ‘lucky’ Goldfish Market.
Off The Beaten Track
To get a glimpse of everyday local life, swap the skyscrapers for stilts in Tai O, a charming fishing village built above the tidal flats of Lantau Island. It offers a welcome change of pace as you stroll through the village and take in the local shops, houses, bridges and locals crowded around tables playing Mahjong.
You can even learn how to play yourself. Buffalo Tours’ Backstreets of Hong Kong tour includes a visit to a local’s home, where you’ll be taught the ins and outs of the nifty game.
Continue the off-the-beaten track theme at PMQ, the former Police Married Quarter. Originally a 1951 dormitory for Chinese police officers, it has been transformed into a creative hub, housing a mix of well-known shops and local brands spanning fashion, furniture, clothing and stationery. In Kwun Tong, the industrial part of town, you’ll find fashion factory outlets.
If you feel the urge to escape the chaos of Hong Kong, try the scenic Southern District. On the fringe of the city, it’s the less-frequented side of Hong Kong Island, marked by steep mountains, hiking trails, parks and calm-water beaches.
With a buzzing resort atmosphere, Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay and Stanley Main Beach are tourist favourites. In Stanley, pop into the picturesque Stanley Market, with its warren of lanes, or duck into one of the many seaside eateries.
Beyond Hong Kong Island, other beach treats include Cheung Sha Beach on Lantau Island, the city’s longest stretch of sand and surf, and the clean and quiet sands of Lo So Shing Beach on the remote Lamma Island.
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Another worthy day trip on the city fringes is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in the New Territories region. Ascend more than 400 steps lined by life-size golden Buddhas – each one different – to navigate this wonderful Buddhist temple complex made up of five impressive temples, four pavilions and a pagoda.
A place fewer tourists venture, Cheung Chau island is part of the laidback Outlying Islands, where a visit to the Kwan Kung Pavilion is a must. Walking the coastal trail, playfully named the Mini Great Wall and feasting on fresh seafood at waterfront Pak She Praya Road, is always a hit.
Can’t fathom the idea of navigating the journey beyond the big smoke? There are peaceful patches right in the midst of the skyscrapers, where locals play chess, practise tai chi and bathe in the sunshine. Try Hong Kong Park, Victoria Park or the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanic Gardens.
Food & Drink
Once night falls, Hong Kong really springs to life and the nightlife is a major drawcard for many travellers. That’s where energetic Wan Chai, Soho and Lan Kwai Fong come in, with mentions also due for the after-dark vibes on offer in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. From British-style pubs to karaoke haunts, swanky hotel drinking holes and world-class rooftop bars, you’ll find the whole gamut.
But first – and never last in a city like Hong Kong – one must eat. Once you’ve had your fill of dim sum, there is a great range of international cuisines on offer.
From fine-dining French to celebrity chef restaurants, when you’ve been to the city before, you can indulge in the not-so-traditional dishes guilt free. Dig a little deeper and you’ll even find a few spots flaunting your regular frothy cappuccinos, just like the ones back home.
That’s the beauty of doing Hong Kong more than once. It allows you the breathing space to take a different approach, relax and explore beyond that iconic city skyline without the pressure of rushing to frantically tick off the main highlights.