There is an endless list of reasons to visit the wonderful city of Hong Kong, but did you know there are an amazing amount of quirky, cheap or free things to do in the city? If you’re on a budget and looking to discover the real Hong Kong, read on!
The Iconic Skyline
Okay, so this one’s not exactly a secret, but did you know you can get the view for free and see some nature in the process? Sounds awesome, right? All you need to do is find the Hong Kong trail, which can be easily accessed from the Western and Central districts of Hong Kong Island. In between the second and third trail markers is a lookout where you can get that postcard view without the crowds. Better than this –
If you want to take the view up a level and see almost the whole city, from the island to the New Territories, get yourself up to Lion Rock from The Tai Wai MTR station. Not only is it as close to the geographical centre of Hong Kong as you can get, it is also an icon for all Hong Kongers, who are said to have the Lion Rock Spirit.
You’ve probably heard of the Peak Tram in Hong Kong. It’s actually closed for renovations at the moment, but there’s a much better way to get a unique tram experience for a fraction of the cost! The earliest form of transport in Hong Kong were the double-decker trams that still run today. In fact, Hong Kong uses double-decker trams exclusively and therefore has the biggest fleet of them in the world.
If you want to see Hong Kong at a slower pace than normal, jump on one of these trams anywhere on the island. They run west to east at regular intervals and the best part is that they only cost HK$2.60!
As a city, Hong Kong loves statues! From tiny and quirky statues near temples, tombs and memorials to huge gods and goddess looking over entire districts. Can you find them all? You could start with the world’s tallest outdoor bronze statue of Kwun Yam, Goddess of Mercy. At 76m she towers over Tsz Shan Monastery in Tai Po and is twice the height of another famous statue in Hong Kong; the Tian Tin Buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island.
As the 2 main deities worshipped in the area, Kwun Yam and Buddha feature prominently in monasteries. The 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin has areas dedicated to both. You can sometimes find shrines to Kwan Yam and Buddha near villages, or even up in the hills on hiking trails. Often locals even make their own sculptures and place them in the forest for your viewing pleasure.
You could spend several days seeking out these statues and sculptures!
If you want to see Hong Kong at it’s craziest, then any of the city’s various markets won’t disappoint. I’m not talking about the street markets, I’m talking about what the locals call ‘Wet Markets’. Generally, these are the go-to places for fresh food. Like still breathing kind of fresh. You’ll see fish swimming around in tanks, right next to their friends that weren’t so lucky. Various cuts of meat hanging from rails in front of a butchers stall, or sometimes the occasional live chicken.
Aside from your everyday fresh foods, some of these markets include local sweet shops and bakeries, where you’ll find the cheapest and tastiest traditional treats. You might have to go past the fish and meat sellers to find them though.
The bigger wet markets will also have hardware and clothing stores along with key makers, tailors and traditional goods store. You’re almost guaranteed to find anything you need at these markets.
Cha Chaan Tengs
Cha Chaan Teng roughly translates to Tea Restaurant. People go to these places to ‘Yum Cha’, which literally means drink tea, but colloquially means to eat and drink tea. Cha Chaan Tengs offer set meals of local style food paired with local drinks like Lemon Tea and Milk Tea.
Cha Chaan Tengs are super common in Hong Kong, but most only have menus in Chinese. If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a go. If you want to get the Cha Chaan Teng feel, but prefer menus you can read, then Tsui Wah is probably the best option for you.
A lunch or afternoon tea set meal with a drink, soup and main course normally costs somewhere between HK$40-60.
Need a way to burn off all the calories you gained at the Cha Chaan Teng? The New Territories of Hong Kong are a biking paradise! There are hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike trails that are signposted extremely well, so there’s no need to tussle with cars for road space or worry about getting lost. That means it’s a safe activity for the whole family.
Some of the trails follow rivers or meander along harbour promenades. There are bike hire places along the way that will let you hire a bike for around HK$80/day and even let you return the bike to another store along the trail. You can also hire a pedi-cab style machine if you have someone in your group who doesn’t feel like pedalling.
Hong Kong is a super-connected city. WiFi is available almost everywhere and it’s generally free. All shopping centres have anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours free access. MTR stations have 5 free 15 minute sessions per day. Airport buses and some city buses have it. Libraries and government buildings have unlimited WiFi, although it’s somewhat slower than in other places.
If you venture to Hong Kong in the summer, you might be more than happy to hang out in the air conditioning with WiFi for a few hours. It beats melting in the unbearable humidity! Some public parks, such as Sha Tin Park and Hong Kong Park even have WiFi. So when it’s a bit cooler, you can enjoy nature and WiFi at the same time!
No one would blame you for thinking that there isn’t much nature in the world’s most densely populated city, but that just not the case. The centrally located Hong Kong Park covers a huge area and even contains an aviary with many exotic birds. The Hong Kong Wetland Park showcases a unique ecosystem within Hong Kong’s New Territories and the UNESCO Hong Kong Geopark in the east gives you a glimpse into the region’s geological history.
Aside from that, there are many different natural wonders within Hong Kong’s Country Parks. Waterfalls, bamboo forests, reservoirs and streams, just to mention a few.
Hillside Cemeteries and Tombs
As you would be aware, space is a commodity in Hong Kong, so when it comes to burying the dearly departed, people head to the hills. Designated cemeteries can often be seen on the sides of very steep hills. It’s also quite common to find tombs in the middle of forests. If you happen to pass one at the right time of the month, you may even see some of the more traditional folk leaving food and incense near the tombs to stop any ghosts from haunting the living.
Islands and Camping
Did you know that Hong Kong is made up of over 200 islands? Some of these islands are uninhabited, untouched paradises. While not all of them are accessible, there are quite a few that are. Some, like Po Toi Island, only have ferry services on the weekends, due to the small populations residing there. Others, like Lamma Island and Cheung Chau have hourly services.
The government allows camping on some of these islands, as long as you register with them and stay within the designated areas. Not only that, but there are many camping sites within the government maintained Country Parks. A list of them can be found here
You didn’t know Hong Kong had beaches? Well, it does and some of them are pretty damn good! Of course, there are ones that are quite popular and easily accessible, but they can get a little too crowded. If you’re looking for something a little bit more relaxed, there are some beaches in the east that are only accessible by hiking for an hour or so.
Sai Wan, Ham Tin and Tai Long in Sai Kung are 3 such beaches. What’s even more charming about these beaches, is that they have small locally run stores there that always have a fresh supply of cool drinks.
This is, in my opinion, the most enticing reason to visit the city; it has the most amazing hiking in the world! That’s not an exaggeration. Over 40% of the land in Hong Kong is hills and forests. The government has wisely instituted a nature reserve system of Country Parks to keep these areas free from developments. There are 24 Country Parks across the territory, with hundreds of hiking trails.
Trails range from super-easy walks that are kid and dog friendly, to technical rock climbing and everything in between. The 4 major trails, the MacLehose, Wilson, Lantau and Hong Kong Trails cover over 300km of ground between them. They stretch from Hong Kong Island in the south, to the remote New Territories in the north, Sai Kung in the east and Tuen Mun/Lantau in the west. The Hong Kong Government has even compiled a one-stop site for all of Hong Kong’s trails here and the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup runs severals hikes for all levels, every day of the year.