Local name: Xiānggǎng

Hong Kong; once the city of Bruce Lee. Nowadays, movies are recorded daily in this metropole. It’s a city to enjoy fine cuisine or drink snake wine. Ideal for a city trip, or as a stopover on your way to China, Southeast Asia or Australia.

The name Hong Kong is a free translation of Heung Kôong, which means ‘fragrant harbour’ in Mandarin. Archaeologists have determined that this was the original name of what is now an area called Aberdeen. Some historians think that the name is derived from the large incense trade that took place here.

Hong Kong was a small fishing village when the English came to trade in 1699. From that time on, the history of the town was turbulent. At the start of the 19th century, trading between England and China reached its peak. England sailed the world’s seas, but the British East India Company was always short on silver, which was immensely popular and often purchased illegally, using opium.

A traditional junk boat in Hong Kong.
A traditional junk boat in Hong Kong. Mike Porter

The commissioner for trade at the time, Lin Zexu, tried to persuade Queen Victoria of England to take measures against this, but the mutual relationship kept deteriorating. This resulted in the first Opium War from 1839 until 1842, when Hong Kong was English property. After a prolonged conflict, a second Opium War followed (from 1856 until 1860).

England won both and after further negotiations, it also took hold of neighbouring Kowloon. In the years that followed, Hong Kong became a safe haven for all sorts of refugees, including economic ones. This continued after the Japanese occupation during World War II. The city flourished, as its central position was favourable to many large companies.

Hong Kong’s most recent history is also one of turmoil. It has been back under the rule of China since 1997, after the United Kingdom signed a treaty in 1984 to hand it over, only as a Special Administrative Region. The international community insisted on this, as Hong Kong had earlier been a part of the ‘free west’.

Een volledig opgemaakt en aangekleed kind tijdens het 'bun festival'.
The yearly Festival of the Bun. Hario Seto Supranggono

Among other things, China accepted that for at least 50 years, other laws would apply here to the laws of communist China. The majority of existing English laws are still in force. What is most notable is the disappearance of the red mail boxes and the images of the English royal family on the local currency. The flags have now all been exchanged for Chinese flags.

Hong Kong including its suburbs now covers an area of approximately 1,100 km². What once started as a small fishing village has grown into a mature city throughout the centuries, a metropolis, spread across 236 islands, many of which are not even inhabited, remarkably enough. The city of Hong Kong consists of the island with the same name, east of the Zhujiang river. The Kowloon peninsula is the biggest of them all, followed by Hong Kong Island. The city skirts the South China Sea.

De hoofdpersonen van een Kantonese opera in Hong Kong.
Cantonese Opera. Jo Schmaltz

Hong Kong offers a notable mixture of Asia and Europe. English colonial buildings stand next to Asian temples, while there are daily traditional street markets in front of the ‘Western’ skyscrapers. The Chinese influence has increased since 1997, the differences are noticeable for the residents, but are only minor.

In 2002 came the relationship between government and population was tested for the first time. A new legislative proposal would provide the government with more power to intervene under certain circumstances. The people took to the streets in massive demonstrations, drawing worldwide attention. The proposal was subsequently taken off the table.

The wild landscape at High Peak; ideal for a hike.
The wild landscape at High Peak; ideal for a hike. Corno van den Berg

What is notable is that more than half the city is green. Many of the surrounding islands are uninhabited. And there are over twenty city parks and protected nature reserves. It makes this Asian metropolis an ideal stopover for those travelling to Asia, or those who want a different city trip.

Hong Kong is a great city for real food lovers. Visit Aberdeen where the largest floating restaurant can be found, select fresh fish for your meal at Lei Yue Mun’s fish market, or treat yourself to a visit to the chic Soho area where you can find the nicest bars and restaurants in narrow streets.

Attractions:

Po Lin Monastery
The Po Lin Monastery is a Buddhist temple and monastery in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. It is located on a520-metre-high hill that’s part of the Ngong Ping plateau. In 1993 the monastery was extended with a huge Buddha statue, called Tian Tan Buddha, and you can visit this statue when you go to the monastery.

The Po Lin monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks from Jiangsu, and was given its current name in 1924. There are three golden Buddha statues in the main temple, representing the past, the present and the future. There is also a large number of ancient scriptures on display here. The monks of Po Lin are known for the wooden bracelets that they wear, which can be bought near the Tian Tan Buddha.

The Tian Tan Buddha and the setting sun.
The Tian Tan Buddha and the setting sun. Fang Fang Zhang

Tian Tan Buddha
The Tian Tan Buddha is a 34-metre-high bronze statue in Ngong Ping in Hong Kong. Some say it’s the largest sitting outdoor Buddha, though it’s disputed, because others day the Buddha statue in Leshan in China is the largest. That one is also a sitting Buddha and it’s higher (71 metres), but it’s not freestanding like Tian Tan Buddha, that one is hewn out of a rock.

The building of the Tian Tan Buddha statue started in 1990 and was finished on the 29th of December 1993, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Tian Tan is one of the five large Buddha statues in China. This Buddha is resting peacefully on a throne of lotus leaves, surrounded by six smaller statues named ‘The Offering of the Six Devas’ symbolising generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, which one needs to reach enlightenment.

The Tian Tan Buddha symbolises the harmony between man and nature, people and religion, and was named after the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) in Beijing. Visitors can climb the 268 steps up to the statue, and on a clear day it can be seen from as far as Macau. The Tian Tan is located just near the Po Lin Monastery.

The Skyrail coming up out of Hong Kong.
The Cable Car coming up out of Hong Kong. David

Ngong Ping Cable Car
The Ngong Ping Cable Car (also known as Ngong Ping 360) was opened on the 18th of September 2006. This cable car with gondolas soon became of the biggest attractions in Hong Kong. It offers a fantastic view of the city and its surrounding area by the South-China Sea. The Skyrail departs near the Tung Chung metro station, and the 25-minute trip takes you right past the Tian Tan Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery, and ends in the town of Ngong Ping. You can get off here and explore the area.

Sha Tin Che Kung Temple
This Che Kung temple, or Che Kung Miu, in Hong Kong is the most famous of all the Che Kung temples. Che Kung was a general during the Song dysnasty. These days he is revered by followers of traditional Chinese religion as the god of protection. He was known for bringing stability to the south of China. The original temple was built in Hong Kong in the 17th century, and renovated two centuries later. There now is a new temple in front of the old temple, which was added in 1993. On the second and third days of the new Chinese year thousands of people flock to this temple to honour Che Kung. The temple is located right in the middle of Che Kung Miu Road, between the Tai Wai and the Che Kung Temple metro stations.

Ho Chung Che Kung Temple
The Che Kung temple in Ho Chung is the one of the oldest Che Kung temples in Hong Kong. It was built during the Ming dynasty, probably around 1540, though this cannot be proven yet. Some archaeologists believe the temple is only 400 years old. This Che Kung temple is right on the Ho Chung river, with a Feng Sui forest behind it, an auspicious location.

Het beroemde vuurwerk in Disneyland Hongkong.
The famous fireworks in Disneyland Hong Kong. Shahzeb Ihsan

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is the largest theme park in Hong Kong. This Walt Disney park was opened on the 12th of September 2005, and is similar to the other Disney theme parks around the world. It comprises the theme park itself, several hotels, shops, restaurants and an entertainment complex. It was built in Penny’s Bay, in the north-east of Lantau Island. To avoid any cultural clashes, this park has been laid out following Feng Shui principles. But Hong Kong Disneyland had to take shark fin soup off the menus when nature conservationists complained. Hong Kong Disneyland is the second park by the Walt Disney Company that built in Asia, after the Tokyo Disney Resort was opened in 1983 in Japan.
More information: http://park.hongkongdisneyland.com

Hong Kong Heritage Museum
Here you can learn all about the history of Chinese culture, clan culture and Tibetian Buddhism in China. You’ll also learn about Hong Kong’s history. It’s a modern museum, opened in 2000. Besides its displays there are also more contemporary ways they’re bringing culture to life: for example, you can get your face painted (virtually) to look like one of the colourful characters in the Cantonese Opera. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is located on Man Lam Road in Sha Tin.

Chi Lin Nunnery
The Chi Lin Nunnery is a convent complex in Diamond hill. The impressive timber building was built in the style of the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 AC). The temple is popular with tourists because of the golden statues in the four temple halls and the tranquil lotus ponds. The nunnery is right next to the famous Nan Lian Garden.

Bank of China Tower
This skyscraper is one of the tallest in the city, rising up 315 metres. It’s the headquarters of the Bank of China, and was the tallest building of Asia from 1989 until 1992. It was also the first building outside the US to be higher than 1000 feet (around 300 metres). It was designed by renowned Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei. It was quite a challenge as this style of building was not at all familiar in Asia. The irregular structure didn’t help things either, and the reflecting glass was also uncommon. Remarkable is that the building was criticised as not following Feng Shui, because some angles of the building resemble a meat cleaver, so Pei adapted the building slightly.

The pagoda in Nan Lian Garden in Hong Kong.
The pagoda in Nan Lian Garden in Hong Kong. Toby Oxborrow

Nan Lian Garden
Just like the Chi Lin Nunnery next door, the Nan Lian Gardens are inspired by the Tang dynasty. But these gardens are actually quite young, as they were planted in the eighties. The park is around 35.000m2 and set up to display a mixture of architecture and nature. It’s a great place to wander around, and you can combine your visit with the Chi Lin Nunnery next to it.

Victoria Peak
Victoria Peak (also known as simply The Peak) might have the best view over Hong Kong. This 552-metre-high hill has been a popular tourist attraction for centuries thanks to its forest, but mostly because of its formidable views. Actually, it is the largest attraction of the city, so now there are even shopping centres on top of the hill. If you’d like to see the view you can take the steep walk through the woods, but taking the Peak Tram is actually an experience of its own. This tram has been climbing and descending this hill since 1888, and goes to the Sky Terrace. It’s a great spot to see the city, the harbour and the surrounding islands. Victoria Peak is on Hong Kong Island.
More information: www.thepeak.com.hk

Tai O
When you visit the village of Tai O, you’ll immediately notice the stark contrast with Hong Kong. In this traditional fishing village, you’ll see lots of small traditional aluminium houses on stilts, perched above the water. They are known as pang uks, and they are home to the Danja peoples. You’ll see boats moored here and there. Notably, the locals like to keep their traditional lifestyle alive. A large fire in 2000 destroyed many homes, but lots of those have been restored or rebuilt. Tai O is on Lantau Island.

Lamma Island with its traditional stilt houses.
Lamma Island with its traditional stilt houses. Trey Ratcliff

Lamma Island
This is a great haven to escape the busy city. You can get a taste of what life would have been like a century ago. There are no skyscrapers, and in some places, not even any cars! The many fishing villages, such as Sok Kwu Wan and Yung Shue Wan, offer a mix of traditional crafts, markets and fish restaurants. But the island is also great for walks along the bay. The Hong Kong locals also like to visit this island on the weekends. The best way to get to Lamma Island is by ferry.

Mai Po Wetlands
This area is a protected wetland in the south-east of Hong Kong. It’s an important resting ground for birds, who land here during their winter migration. They take a break and look for food in the marshes. One of the more interesting birds you can see here is the rare black-faced spoonbill. It’s also a great area for walking. The area has been classified as Ramsar wetlands in 1995, and it’s managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong and the government.

Het Wetland Park bij Hongkong.
The Wetland Park near Hong Kong. David Wong

Wetland Park
Nature as a theme park. It may sound strange, but that’s what the Wetland Park actually is. It’s a mixture of nature reserve, exhibition area and education centre. You can look out for wild animals, including many water birds, but also learn all about local conservation efforts. You can also take a guided tour along the many eco displays, or the simulated habitats for the different animals that live in the area.

Must-do! tips:

Enjoy the Symphony of Lights
Every night at exactly 8 o’clock, the city center becomes a true spectacle of light and sound. Almost fifty skyscrapers transform into one of the biggest light shows in the world. The latest technology, such as lasers and light cannons, are mixed with traditional fireworks. Witnessing this show from a boat is exceptional, for instance on the traditional Harbor Cruise. Or go to a rooftop bar and have a drink. This is a real feast for the eyes.

Find your luck at the goldfish market
According to the Chinese, a goldfish brings good fortune. At the daily Mong Kok goldfish market on Tung Choi Street in Kowloon, you can purchase goldfish in small bags to help your good fortune along. There are all sorts of varieties (bulging eyes, long tails, round bodies, etc.) on display from 10 o’clock in the morning until the evening. Their color, in most cases, is common orange. Keep in mind that this is not the most animal friendly market.

Float in a sampan through Aberdeen Harbour
This small style of boat is known from numerous movies. Besides this, Aberdeen Harbour is one of the most photographed harbors in the world. Fragile sampans maneuver their way through the heavy traffic of the bigger ships. Most sampans are only 4 meters in length and are powered by hand. Life is lived on the water around Kong Kong. There are plenty of water taxis available and you can enjoy lunch or dinner in one of the many boat restaurants.

Go behind the scenes of the Cantonese opera
A Cantonese opera is an exceptional mixture of music, song, dance, acrobatics, martial arts and acting. You can go behind the scenes to see how it all comes together. For instance you can watch the extraordinary art of facial paintings and matching clothes. Obviously, you should also experience the opera itself.

Gamble on horse races 
The Chinese love to gamble, ss you’ll see at the horse races at the famous Shatin Racecourse. It started in 1841 and has become increasingly. Go on a Saturday or Sunday and do a little gambling yourself. Check the odds on the big screens, take a wild guess for the winner and walk outside. Get a drink, wait for the race and then… cheer your horse and jockey to victory.

Have some Michelin starred dim sum
Hong Kong is famous for its dim sum. Some restaurants have even been awarded with Michelin stars. The small steamed snacks from the Cantonese kitchen are often eaten for breakfast or lunch and are traditionally served with tea. You should take your time for these delicacies, which you can order in various types and tastes in special restaurants. Also notice the artistic designs of the dishes.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is an exceptional celebration. It’s an exuberant cultural expression. There is the night parade, the famous Dragon Dance and spectacular fireworks are the absolute highlight. Because they use the Chinese calendar here, the Chinese New Year is mostly celebrated in late January or early February. So if you can, be there…

Have your wedding on a traditional junk boat
This is really original. Getting married on a junk, the traditional wooden sailing boat. This boat is well known from the movies, but in reality it is just about extinct. Up until 150 years ago, junks were used a lot. Today, only a few are left. As a tourist you can go on a round trip, for instance through Kowloon. If you do get married here, the modern Hong Kong skyline will be your witness.

Have lunch with a huge Buddha
The Po Lin monastery is where you find one of the largest bronze Buddhas in the world. Follow 268 steps to the top of the hill and you reach the statue, standing 34 meters tall and made in China. It took about ten years to complete the statue. In 1993 it was moved to this spot with a great deal of ceremonial fanfare. You can have a vegetarian meal with the monks, while enjoying a view of the statue and the panorama of the hills.

Walk across green islands such as Lantau
The green surroundings of Hong Kong provide many opportunities to go out for a nice breath of fresh air. Put on your hiking boots, and you’re good to go. There are many trails with good signposts, two of them are very popular. The first is the hike across ‘The Dragon’s Back’, a hill south of Hong Kong. The yellow signs with dragons along the trail of the two-and-a-half hour walk are easy to follow. Second, you have the Lantau Trail: 70 kilometers in length and broken up in sections so you can choose to only walk parts of the path. The trail runs through typical Hong Kong landscapes, from beaches to mountains and villages to forests.

Meet the wonderful pink dolphins
You wouldn’t expect this in a big city, but the waters to the west of Hong Kong are home to many Chinese white dolphins. In fact, the Chinese white dolphin is actually pink. There are various boats that sail from Lantu Island in search of these animals. Sometimes, the dolphins will approach the boats out of curiosity and every now and then you may witness an acrobatic jump out of the water.

Take the Victoria Peak Tram for the best view
The name of the Peak Tram says it all. It refers to the top of a hill called Victoria Peak. This is the most famous and most frequently visited place in Hong Kong. It provides a breathtaking view of the grand row of skyscrapers, the harbour, Kowloon and the hills behind the city. The special cog-wheel tram will take you up, after which the Hong Kong decor will unfold itself. At 552 meters up, you can also have dinner. There is also an hour-long hike along the Peak Trail. You can walk down if you have the time.

Wander through the night market on Temple Street
Row after row of clothing, knick knacks, bags, leather ware, souvenirs and much, much more. But also fortune tellers, musicians and Cantonese opera singers find work here. The Temple Street night market enjoys world fame. It is only a night market, but it’s open deep into the night. Temple Street is in Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon.

Get lost in Tai O; the Venice of Hong Kong
Tai O is a small fishing village on the west of Lantau Island. It is referred to as the Venice of Hong Kong. But the houses on poles and the Asian atmosphere are something quite different. This is a great place for a relaxed stroll.

Many traditional homes burned down during a fire in the year 2000. Still, you can see how daily life of the local fishermen goes by. The old-fashioned way of fishing is gradually disappearing, though. With the tourists arriving in big numbers, many fishermen have become friends with their former competitors. They take the tourists to see the playful dolphins in the surrounding waters.

See its rich past in the Heritage Museum
Learn about the rich and turbulent history of Hong Kong and how it influenced the arts in the entire region. The Heritage Museum was opened in 2000, so the emphasis is on the Chinese backgrounds. The Heritage Museum is in Sha Tin by the Shing Mun river.

Celebrate the festival of the bun
According to stories, the Bun Festival on the island of Cheung Chau is hundreds of years old. Every year in May, the inhabitants must fast for three days. At midnight on the third day, young men climb a bread mountain to get bread for the other inhabitants. This is done in combination with a huge feast, with lots of dancing and music and people will also pray to the gods. The traditional style of climbing had to be adapted, after a huge accident in 1978, when half the bread mountain collapsed. Nonetheless, the festival has not lost any of its popularity.
More information: www.cheungchau.org

See the city from a helicopter
If you want to see how the city has draped itself across the various islands, you should go on a helicopter ride. The sea, the skyline, the deserted islands and the swarms of people make this an extraordinary event. Your view will be a lot better than from an airplane, which is how most tourists arrive. And a helicopter is ideal for taking photos and videos.

Go to one of the beaches
In Hong Kong, the beach is never far away. It is a popular place during summer. Most beaches have shark nets to enable safe swimming. Repulse Bay has the best reputation and is easy to reach. On a beautiful day it can be really busy here.

If you are looking for some peace and quiet, or if you want to go on a nice walk, you should opt for Hung Shing Yeh Beach. This beach of fine sand is on Lamma Island and it can only be reached after a 20-minute walk.

Turtle Cove Beach lies west of the Tai Tam Reservoir. It is surprisingly small, about 70 meters, but most of the time it is quiet here. Perfect for a barbecue or a picnic.
More information: www.hkoutdoors.com/hong-kong/hong-kong-beaches.html

Go shopping, Asian style on Causeway Bay
Property rental in Causeway Bay is the second most expensive in the world, topped only by Fifth Avenue in New York. However, this may well be the busiest street in the world. Buildings in this enormous shopping area are plastered with brightly colored adverts. This is a shopping paradise; a multicolored mixture of expensive stores like Gucci and Prada and typically Asian photo and electronics shops. Besides this, there are huge shopping malls. If you prefer to go bargain hunting, there is more than enough to come by here. It will be a challenge to get away from this place without purchasing anything.

Dive the waters around Hong Kong
It may not be among the better diving locations, but Hong Kong still offers some interesting sites. Because of the current, the water is not always clear and the temperature is a bit cold. Due to continuous fishing, especially the bigger fish are scarce here as well. Most of the diving locations are on the east side. The best time is August, when there are a lot of squid that come here to breed.
More information: www.asiadivesite.com/hong-kong-dive-sites

Experience Disneyland the Asian way
Hong Kong has its own Disneyland. There are some things that will stand out if you go there. For example; Winnie the Pooh is more popular than Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. You can spend at least a day in this large resort.

The (Chinese) breakfast with Disney characters is quite remarkable. It is also fun to watch the locals enjoying themselves here. Attention: holidays and weekends are extremely busy.

More information: www.hongkongdisneyland.com

Best time:

  • March, April, October and November are warm (about 25°C) and pleasant, with low humidity.
  • January, February and part of March are the wettest and coldest times (about 16°C).
  • It may feel muggy here from June to October when the wind carries hot and humid air from the sea.
  • This place is very busy in July and August.
  • Please note that typhoons (end of May until October) can bring everyday life to a halt.

How do I get here?

There are direct flights to Hong Kong from all over the world.

More information: ww.discoverhongkong.com