Hong Kong in 1 Week

Photo by Beth Reiber

And then you'll wish you had more time in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong offers enough diversions to occupy a lifetime–just ask anyone who lives here but you can see the best in 1 week. You’ll of course want to see the iconic sights outlined in my Two Days itinerary, but there’s much more you can add in Hong Kong if you have a week. In the vicinity of Man Mo Temple, for example, are two interesting museums that provide a different perspective on the territory’s history, one focusing on the life and times of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the other on local medicine practiced over the last 175 years. But you should also venture beyond the usual tourist circuit in Kowloon and Lantau. Be sure, too, to look over Hong Kong off the beaten path in the New Territories for more ideas.

Riding the Trams in Hong Kong

Taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour is something every visitor should do, but I also love riding the double-decker trams that chug across Hong Kong Island’s northern end, with the most coveted seats in the front row of the upper deck. The fare is the same no matter how long you stay on, so if you have time you can board and ride it to the end, passing traditional neighborhoods along the way.

From Central heading east, I recommend disembarking in Causeway Bay, a large shopping destination with malls, department stores and countless stores. Here, too, is one of Hong Kong’s quirkiest attractions, the Noon Day Gun, which has been fired daily for more than 162 years (you’ll want to get there well ahead of noon because it’s over rather quickly). For lunch head to the nearby branch of a local favorite, Tsui Wah, which is the Hong Kong version of a diner with a history stretching back more than 50 years. Also nearby is Cafe Matchbox, similar to Tsui Wah but with a retro ’50s look. I also like Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese import famous for its steamed dumplings. Afterwards, it’s a short walk to Victoria Park. While it doesn’t have the family attractions of, say, Kowloon Park, it does attract locals with its expanse of green, jogging and fitness trails, a pond for model boats, basketball courts and other diversions.

Back on the tram, ride it to its eastern-most terminus, Shau Kei Wan. From here it’s about a 20-minute walk northwards on Shau Kei Wan Main Street E. and then a right onto Tung Hei Road to the Museum of Coastal Defence. Even if you have no interest in naval forts or history, like me you might nevertheless find a couple of hours here worthwhile for its other take on the region’s history, including the colony’s struggle against the Japanese during World War II. A bonus are the expansive views of the harbor, which the fort was built to protect. For the journey back, you’ll get there quicker via MTR from Shau Kei Wan Station.

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Kicking around Central

Central doesn’t have any must-see tourist sights, but it’s definitely worth your time. After all, this is where the story of Hong Kong began, when a small port and village were established by the British here in the 1840s. Today it’s Hong Kong’s financial and business district, home to posh hotels, high-end shopping malls, glitzy bars and restaurants in all price categories. Many employees of all those businesses eat lunch or catch their breath in Chater Garden, which once served as cricket fields. But Central also boasts a number of museums. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is the most convenient, located at Pier 8 of the Central Ferry Piers and just steps away from the Star Ferry. Not only does it cover the region’s seafaring history throughout the centuries, but it also provides an air-conditioned space from which to observe harbor traffic. Over in Hong Kong Park, a great destination for the entire family, is the Flagstaff Museum of Tea Ware, which expertly describes the Chinese love affair with tea and has the added bonus of being housed in Hong Kong’s oldest domestic colonial building.

If you’re visiting Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, it’s a climb up Ladder Street to get to the Museum of Medical Sciences, fascinating for seeing how medical treatments have evolved since Hong Kong was founded. Before reaching the museum, however, be sure to take a detour by turning left off Ladder Street to Wing Lee Street, which has a row of mid-20th century tenements slated for demolishing until a movie made them famous.  Nearby, on the corner of Caine and Castle roads, is also the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum, dedicated to the famous revolutionary. If you’re an architecture nut, note that both these museums are located in historic buildings.

As for dining in and around Central, there are so many choices I don’t know where to start. Both Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo provide Hong Kong’s most concentrated areas of bars and restaurants, and part of the fun is wandering around before settling on a place to park. Otherwise, for lunch, two great atmospheric Cantonese restaurants are City Hall Maxim’s Palace and Lin Heung Tea House, both of which still offer dim sum the old-fashioned way, on wheeled trolleys. For a special occasion, I’m partial to  Watermark, located at the Central Ferry Piers with outstanding views of the harbor and specializing in steaks and seafood, and Duddell’s, a classy and hip Cantonese restaurant. Yung Kee is renowned for its roast goose. And if you’re simply looking for a great place for a cocktail, I love the outdoor terrace at Sevva, up on the 25th floor and offering great panoramic views day and night.

Farther Afield in Kowloon

Kowloon, which includes Tsim Sha Tsui and stretches up the peninsula and outward to the New Territories, is Hong Kong’s most populous area, with more than 2 million inhabitants. In addition to major tourist destinations like the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade, Kowloon has other gems that are well-known with Hongkongers but are rarely visited by time-stressed tourists.The exception is Sky 100, an observatory in Hong Kong’s tallest building that provides a totally different–though-pricey–view than The Peak.

For an easy half-day outing, take the Kwun Tong MTR Line from Yau Ma Tei or Mong Kok to reach these next four recommendations. First up is Lok Fu Station, from which it’s a 15-minute walk to Kowloon Walled City Park. Although a rather peaceful place nowadays, it began life as a Chinese fort built in 1847 to defend Kowloon following the British takeover of Hong Kong Island. It later devolved into a notorious no-man’s land of squatters, drug addicts, prostitutes, gangs and refugees. Even British police rarely ventured inside its narrow alleyways. In 1994 it was demolished, replaced with this park that pays tribute to its fascinating past.

One station farther along is Wong Tai Sin, without a doubt Hong Kong’s most popular Taoist temple. It attracts Buddhists and Confucianists in addition to Taoist worshipers, who all come seeking good fortune and personal advice from fortune tellers. Your last stop is Diamond Hill Station, where a 15-minute walk brings you to the Chi Lin Nunnery, reconstructed in the 1990s utilizing traditional techniques without the use of nails. But my favorite destination on the Kwun Tong Line is across the street from the nunnery, Nan Lian Garden. It was laid out in the same design as the only Tang landscape garden still in existence and is packed with visual treats ranging from artificial lakes and waterfalls to ornamental rocks. Here, too, is my favorite place for a meal, at the garden’s vegetarian restaurant.

Another place worth checking out, very much off the beaten track, is the Housing Authority Exhibition Centre, which tells Hong Kong’s amazing story of housing its millions of residents in public and subsidized housing.

A Day’s Outing to Lantau

You need the better part of a day to visit the island of Lantau, especially if you get there my favorite way, via a 50-minute ferry from the Central Ferry Piers all the way to Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay) on Lantau, followed by bus no. 2 on a 45-minute hair-raising journey to Ngong Ping. The ferry and bus ride offer great views along the way and was for many years the only way to reach Lantau. Your first stop should then be the hard-to-miss Big Buddha, which dates only from 1993 but which has become one of Hong Kong’s top attractions. Then it’s on to neighboring Po Lin Monastery, worth a look for its ornately decorated main hall and statue. But you’re most interested in a vegetarian meal at the monastery’s restaurant, which has attracted locals long before the Buddha made its debut. If time permits, take a bus 20 minutes onward to the old fishing village of Tai O, which in my opinion lost some of its charm after a drawbridge replaced the small boat that used a rope slung over the creek to hand-pull passengers to the other side. Its houses on stilts, however, still attract tourists, and you can support the local economy by taking a boat trip upriver for a closer look at the houses and into open water in search of the elusive pink dolphins, which are sadly dwindling in number due to pollution and development and are now rarely seen.

When you’re ready to leave, head to Ngong Ping Village, a recreated Chinese town with shops, restaurants and a couple of attractions. This is where you’ll find the Ngong Ping Cable Car, which offers a dramatic 25-minute ride all the way to Tung Chung (for added drama, you can pay extra for a glass-bottom cable car). In Tung Chung, stop at Citygate for shopping at Hong Kong’s only outlet mall and perhaps dinner before taking the MTR back to Kowloon or Central.

Nightlife Alternatives

In addition to the nightlife districts of Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo, there are many other alternatives come evening. Wan Chai, for example, has a heady mix of bars, restaurants, strip shows and dance clubs, but my favorite hangout is The Wanch, which has been offering free live music and a welcoming atmosphere for 30 years. At the other end of the spectrum is Chinese opera, which is shown at various venues around Hong Kong. I’m partial to the Yau Ma Tei Theatre, a former 1930s cinema now offering this unique form of entertainment.

If you’ve already seen the nightly Symphony of Lights and visited Temple Street Market and Ladies Market , how about a day at the races? Horse racing has been crazily popular ever since the first track was laid out in 1846. Check out the Happy Valley track on horse-racing Wednesday evenings for its totally happening scene, complete with beer and food tents and even live music

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