Easy breaks from Hong Kong

With more than seven million people packed into 1,000sqkm, the city can feel a bit crowded. But landscapes that feel a million miles away can be reached within two hours.

Thanks to its time as a British colony and its population of mostly ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong has a distinct West-meets-East flair unlike any other city in the world. But with more than seven million people packed into 1,000sqkm, Hong Kong can start to feel a bit crowded after spending any length of time there. Luckily, since the island is so small, it only takes 30 minutes to get out and discover new landscapes that feel a million miles away from the skyscrapers downtown.

By bike
Hong Kong is certainly not a bike-friendly city, and cycling through the island’s crowded streets is not recommended. However, in the northwest corner of Hong Kong’s New Territories region 20km north of downtown, the area known as Yuen Long Plain has a number of attractions easily accessible by bike.

Ride the West Rail train line to Kam Sheung Road Station, then bike around the walled city of Kam Tin with its narrow row-houses. The small village is famous for its “tree house”, a stone home that has become enveloped by a huge banyan tree over the decades.

About 7km to the east, the market city of Yuen Long has a lot of restaurants at which to refuel, before heading northwest to the Hong Kong Wetland Park. The protected 150-acre area gives wildlife watchers a chance to spot Hong Kong’s feathered residents, including the grey heron, great egret and the rare black-faced spoonbill.

Mountain Biking Asia offers a one-day bike tour that picks up from the Kam Sheung Road Station. The eight-hour trip costs 600 Hong Kong dollars per person and includes bike rental, tour guide, dim sum lunch and the Wetland Park entrance fee.

By cable car
The 5.7km-long Ngong Ping 360 cuts in half the time it would take to get from central Hong Kong to the highlands of Lantau Island by road. The cable car system, which opened in 2006, allows visitors to soar across Tung Chung Bay in glass-walled gondolas, showcasing panoramic views of the South China Sea and the 1,000m-high Lanteau Peak.

Once on land at the Ngong Ping station, visitors can climb 268 steps to reach the towering 34m-tall Tian Tan Buddha statue, one of five of giant Buddha statues in China. Nearby, the Po Lin Monastery offers a look into Buddhist tradition with its well-kept gardens, vegetarian kitchen and ornate interior temples.  

The small fishing village of Tai O sits just 6.5km east on the island’s coast, and a bus picks up regularly from Ngong Ping. The houses in Tai O sit mostly on stilts, giving it the nickname “The Venice of Hong Kong”. Some locals offer short boat trips through the scenic waterways, giving visitors a chance to spot the Chinese white dolphins that live just offshore. 

Ngong Ping 360 leaves from Tung Chung station in Hong Kong and takes 25 minutes to arrive in Ngong Ping. A round-trip ticket costs 135 Hong Kong dollars, but for those who want to thoroughly explore the Tai O and the rest of the island, a Sky-Land-Sea pass offers unlimited one-day access to bus and ferry options as well for 200 Hong Kong dollars.

By boat
More about the journey than the destination, junk trips are a local Hong Kong tradition. The summer boat trips, which can be as short as an hour or last until 2am during a night boat party, are an ideal way to get out of the sometimes sweltering city and onto the water.

Most fleets are privately chartered, so this trip work best with a large group and should be booked in advance, but some junk companies like Island Junks and Aqua Luna run regularly scheduled tours that are more suited for smaller groups.

Island Junks runs two cruises each day for 550 Hong Kong dollars per person. These seven-hour trips aboard teak wooden boats start from Aberdeen harbour and include stops at Lamma Island, where buildings taller than three-storeys are banned, and Poi Toi Island, which has a population of less than 20. The cruises also include lunch on the islands and beverages throughout the day.

By air
A quick hour and a half flight will take you to Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, Hong Kong’s island neighbour. While they share a similar Chinese heritage, Taiwan and Hong Kong have very distinct traditions and even a different language (Hong Kong’s population primarily speaks Cantonese and English, while the people of Taiwan speak mainly Mandarin). 

The landscape also looks completely different, thanks to Taiwan’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is marked by active fault lines and volcanic activity. See the island’s geographic history up close by visiting Yangmingshan National Park, located at the northern edge of Taipei, and climbing up Qixing Mountain (Seven Stars Mountain), a dormant volcano 1,120m above sea level. The peak has two main trails, one heading to the east peak and one to the west peak, but the two can also be climbed in succession on a 5.5km hike that offers incredible views from the top.

After the hike, rest your weary muscles at one of the national park’s many hot spring resorts, such as the Landis Resort Yangmingshan, where natural sulphur pools are paired with hotel amenities including fresh towels and a roof overhead.

Hong Kong Airlines offers daily flights to Taipei. Yangmingshan National Park can be reached by bus from the main Taipei Railway Station, which drops of at the Yangmingshan bus stop. From there, shuttle buses run frequently throughout the park.