Lonely Planet's top 10 ways to see Hong Kong
Trawl the Temple Street Night Market for sublime street food and unique souvenirs. (Greg Elms/LPI)
Hong Kong is a place that provokes questions, some without answers. Those five-star hotels and soaring skyscrapers are first world, but those crumbling tenements look third world, don’t they? How do seven million people fit on this tiny speck of land? And how do they decide where to eat in a city of 10,000 restaurants? How can a simmering tureen of tripe stock look so evil, yet smell so good?
Pondering, you reach the water and stare across to Hong Kong Island. Nothing has quite prepared you for the spectacle up close: freighters and motor junks forever plying their harbour trade and, beyond them, a Futurama cityscape rising from near vertical jungle slopes. It is an intoxicating place - spectacular, exotic and accessible. If you are visiting for business, you will find pleasure sneaks up on you. If you are visiting for pleasure, there are no shortage of locals who make it their business to please. Here are the top ten ways to delve into Hong Kong's absorbing culture.
Reach sensory overload in the wet market's colour, aroma and gore
Prepare to have your senses (and maybe sensibilities) assailed if you tour a wet market, places that feed Hong Kong's appetite for fresh food. Stalls of exotic fresh produce are piled high next to ones selling other local delicacies and staples, such as preserved eggs (the ready-to-eat greenish-black ones packed in a mixture of ash, lime and salt and buried for 100 days) or fresh white bean curd scooped still steaming from wooden pails.
Rock & roll along Hong Kong Island's northern coast on a tram
It doesn't matter how many times you visit Hong Kong Island, a ride on one of their infamous double-decker tram still offers a thrill. Yes it is slow, not air-conditioned and fully exposed to the noise and bustle, but that is part of the appeal. You will make stately progress through a sliver of Hong Kong Island, your journey along the tram tracks offering a mesmeric and slowly scrolling urban panorama.
Shuffle through Sheung Wan's old-Shanghai-style historic alleys
The streets of Sheung Wan form Hong Kong Island's old Chinese heart and it is a vibrant, colourful area that is best explored on foot. Towering above the bins of dried bivalves and small fry, the piles of dried shark fins are a stark sign of their popularity in Hong Kong as a high-status delicacy. Several shops in the area also seem to base their business entirely on the sale of ginseng roots or swallow's nests, gathered at great risk high up in Malay sea caves.
A night at the races in Happy Valley
They advise you not to get your hair cut on a Wednesday in Hong Kong, as the scissor-wielding barber will be more intent on the horse racing on TV than your scalp. It is easy to believe if you visit Happy Valley on race night. Beneath the twinkling lights of the surrounding high-rises, you will see Hong Kong's citizens momentarily abandon their exterior poise as they yell their horse home (or curse the donkey they backed). The racing season runs from September to early July.
Take a sip of luxury at Hong Kong's legendary Peninsula hotel
For service as smooth as it comes, a regal atmosphere and a string quartet discreetly sawing away upstairs, afternoon tea at the Peninsula offers an affordable taste of luxurious Hong Kong. Undeniably one of the world's great hotels, the Peninsula is both a landmark and a Hong Kong icon.
Pray for good fortune in temple of New Kowloon
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is an explosion of colour with red pillars, bright-yellow roofs and green-and-blue latticework. What is particularly striking is its popularity with locals. Behind the main temple and to the right are the Good Wish Gardens, replete with colourful pavilions, zigzag bridges and artificial ponds. Within the complex there is also a kooky arcade filled with dozens of booths operated by fortune-tellers.
Take a trip back through time at the Museum of History
Hong Kong's remnants of the past - be they listed buildings and monuments or old-fashioned observances - are precious indeed. "The Hong Kong Story" at the Museum of History takes visitors on a fascinating walk through the territory's past via eight galleries.