10 Things to Do in Hong Kong

(Map of Locations)

  • See the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island

The Big Buddha - or Tian Tan Buddha - is the largest seated bronze buddha in the world. It is fairly new - completed within the last twenty years - while the nearby Po Lin Monastery has existed for nearly a hundred. Dark bronze and 112 feet tall, the buddha sits facing north, high atop a stretch of 268 stairs (handicapped accessable by special vehicle) and surrounded by six other bronze statues of buddhist devas. Its right hand is raised in blessing. Beneath the statue is a relic of the Gautama Buddha, supposedly consisting of some of his cremated remains. Visitors who buy an offering are allowed to see it. Adjacent is a large bell that rings precisely 108 times every day.

There is also a vegetarian restaurant near the buddha. Tickets are available at the main gate.

Entry to the main complex is free of charge.

The Big Buddha is just under an hour from Mui Wo Ferry Pier (arriving from Central Pier 6) or MTR Tung Chung Station by bus.

  • Go Clubbing in Lang Kwai Fong

Club prices can be cheap in Hong Kong, especially for the visiting foreigner. For women, the best night for clubbing is Thursday, or Ladies Night. Many clubs will have free entry and/or free drinks for women, and the drinking age in Hong Kong is eighteen. Lan Kwai Fong boasts a fun and noisy atmosphere with several streets of clubs and bars, music blasting from the open doors into the warm muggy air and roads overflowing with tipsy men and women, both foreign and local. If you're daring, you can even find several buildings with a door to the roof and enjoy the bird's-eye view.

Beware of: Groups of over-forty Western businessmen, often found standing in the doorways of clubs looking to pick up Asian girls or grab the asses of women who walk by. Also be aware that several clubs tend to turn away non-Asians, or cater specifically to models and VIP parties. But don't be discouraged!

Lan Kwai Fong is a short walk from Central Station, but for the ride back home catch a cheap taxi ride.

  • Eat Nepalese Food in Wanchai Market

Tucked into a tiny hole-in-the-wall space nestled between shops in Wanchai Market is a nameless, blink-and-you-miss-it, family-run Nepalese restaurant. For a ridiculously cheap price one recieves a heaping tray of either rice or bread (with free refills of rice at any time) and a choice of currys. Recommended: Start with an appetizer of the island's best chatpate.

Warning: When the friendly proprietors say spicy, they mean it. Do not underestimate this.

The restaurant is a short walk from MTR Wanchai Station.

  • View the Oriental Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery

On Hong Kong's Kowloon side - less built up than its island counterpart - is the Nan Lian or 'Oriental' Garden. The Gardens run a winding circular path through beautiful bushes, miniature trees, fake hills, and ornamental rock structures, creating an oasis of fresh-aired peace outside the hectic city.  There are numerous terraces, bridges, gates, and pavilions, all built in the classic Tang style. The most famous of these is the red and gold central structure, the 'Perfection Pavilion.' Pictures always make it look larger than it is - but it is still a sight to behold. There is also a large teahouse, and a vegetarian restaurant behind a waterfall. Water runs throughout the whole garden, while music plays in the background, adding to the atmosphere (though also to the occasional sense of artificiality). As night falls, gentle golden lights are lit, and the gardens become even more magical. Staying until nighttime is worth it. While noise barriers ensure that the droning of the city is completely blocked out, during the day the less than picturesque skyscrapers still rise above the tree line.

Entry is free.

Within walking distance from the Garden is Chi Lin Nunnery. Chi Lin is a quiet and picturesque complex, rebuilt in the classic Tang style in the 1990s but originally dating back to the early-mid 1900's.  Built without the use of a single metal nail, the wooden halls are entirely comprised of interlocking wood sections. There are tranquil lotus ponds and carved lion-head fountains, as well as large halls and courtyards. Inside there are a number of beautifully built buddhist statues. The only thing that mars Chi Lin's beauty is the city skyline not far in the distance - a simple glance upward shows towering white buildings on every side.

Please be aware that this is a working nunnery, and therefore you must be mindful of the temple's rules. 

Entry is free.

The nunnery and gardens are a short walk from MTR Diamond Hill Station.

  • Bargaining in Mongkok (and Jordan)

For thrifty shoppers not fussed on high quality, the afternoon/evening Ladies Market - or Tung Choi Street - in Mongkok is the way to go. The streets of bustling, packed, noisy stalls offer the best prices in Hong Kong. You can buy anything from painted scrolls, silken robes, and carvings, to lingerie, casual wear, fake brand names, and cheap DVDs. It is not a tranquil shopping experience - people will shove past you, bump into you, or yell at you. (If you are female, many shop owners may call you 'missy.' This is standard, not an insult.)

Prices are rarely fixed or written on the items - you have to ask how much it is, and then bargain it down. The stall owners will do their best to rip you off, especially if you are an English-speaking foreigner.

Keep these things in mind: Never look impressed or eager with what you see. Always remember that many stalls sell the same items at different prices, and this means you can play them off of each other. And never take a price as final. Depending on what you buy, you should be able to haggle items down to half price or even further. If you are dissatisfied, try walking away entirely. Stall owners will often shout increasingly lower prices at your back, or even grab you to stop you from leaving.

The Ladies Market is just a few minutes from MTR Mongkok Station on foot, headed toward Argyle Street.

Also worth a try is the night market at Temple Street in Jordan - to which the same bargaining rules apply. For dark-haired travelers looking to dye their hair, pop into one of the many hair supply stores along the right side of the street - and pay special attention to their vibrant reds.

Temple Street is a short walk from MTR YauMaTei Station or MTR Jordan Station.

  • Underground Rock Shows

At first glance, the hard rock music scene in Hong Kong seems fairly non-existant. However, an organization called Underground Hong Kong - tagline 'original rock for original people' - is dedicated to promoting and sustaining Hong Kong's alternative/punk/folk/synth scenes. They're the best way to keep up on Hong Kong rock music news, and often do their own reviews or host their own events. You can sign up for a newsletter that lists every local live show taking place within the month, keep up with events, or simply show up at one of the common venues on their music nights.

Prices vary but are usually reasonable.

  • Dim Sum in Kennedy Town

Hong Kong is a heaven for dum sum lovers, ranging from fancy expensive restaurants to tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries. For those strapped for cash, there is no need to worry - one of the best dim sum places on the island is both very cheap and very local. San Hing is small, located in Kennedy Town (Sai Wan), and has a standard opening time of three o'clock in the morning. It is a favorite of local fishermen, awake early and chowing down before the morning catch; university students, up late while studying; and late-night party-goers, looking to sober up before heading home. Their most famous dish is their mind-bogglingly delicious lau sa bao, or yellow custard buns. However, all of their food is worth trying.  Don't go there expecting anyone to speak English, but the food is worth the struggle, and the prices are fabulous.

Sun Hing is located on the ground floor at 8 Smithfield Road in Kennedy Town (Sai Wan). Kennedy Town can be reached most easily by tram. There are also several busses, including the 104 from Central and the 5B or 5X from Causeway Bay. Kennedy Town is also a 15-minute walk from the HKU bus stops via the 4, 4X, and 3B from Central, the 40 from Wanchai, 40M from Admiralty, or the 23 from Causeway Bay.

  • Visit the Fishing Villages of the Outlying Islands

Tai O is an old fishing town on the northwestern coast of Lantau, famous for its seafood and interconnected stilt houses. The fishing lifestyle is currently dying out and the community has weathered its fair share of natural disasters. However, it's still a wonderful place to visit for the day. You can see the temples, peruse the market street, take a cheap dolphin-watching tour, or eat some sweet soup. For the artistically inclined, it's a perfect spot to sit and paint as the sun goes down.

Tai O can be reached by bus from the Big Buddha in roughly twenty minutes, and Mui Wo Ferry Pier (arriving from Central Pier 6) or MTR Tung Chung Station in just under an hour.

Cheung Chau is a dumbbell-shaped fishing island that boasts good food, several temples, a pirate cave, and a 3000-year-old rock carving. Get out of the immediate village and explore; the fantastic views of the beaches and rocky shoreline are best seen from the northern lookout pavilion.

However, Cheung Chau is most famous for its Bun Festival, held annually sometime in May. Originally spawning from a local ritual to ward off pirates, it now coincides with celebrations of the Buddha's birthday, and has become a display of traditional Chinese culture. Expect to see floats, dragon dances, and extravagantly-dressed children performing balancing acts above the crowd. There is also the bun-snatching event, where people compete to race up high 'bun towers.' Enjoy the festivities while feasting on cool salted pineapple or other fruits and vegetables - the entire island goes vegetarian for the day, and the local McDonalds even serves a vegetarian burger.

Beware of: Extreme heat, threat of dehydration, and the most densely-packed sweaty crowd this side of a rock concert.

Cheung Chau Island is reachable by ferry from Central Pier 5. Be advised that on the day of the Bun Festival, lines will be hideously long - get there early!

Lamma Island has been the site of human settlements for thousands of years. With exactly zero cars on the island, it boasts a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. There are walking trails, craft stores, and an abundance of seafood. Lamma is also the location of famous Chinese actor Chow Yun-Fat's childhood hometown. Hiking paths range from the easy 4 kilometer Family Trail to the exhausting ascent up Mt. Stenhouse to view its strangely-shaped rocks.  There is also a quiet bay beach as well, though like all beaches in Hong Kong, it may be a disappointment to travelers who are frequent beach-goers. 

Lamma Island is connected to the main island by ferries from Central and Aberdeen, which arrive in the small towns of Yung Shue Wan or Sok Kwu Wan.

  • Get a Tattoo

Sound expensive? Yes, of course, but not compared to some of the more famous yet less talented artists you can find abroad.

The best place to go is Central's Tattoo Temple, which boasts excellent artists and exemplary custom work. Joey Pang is the famous name in the area - and she has a waiting list of between one and two years. She has pioneered the brushstroke tattoo style, and the official website lists her as 'the world’s only professional Chinese calligraphy tattoo artist.' If you can't afford that fee (or wait time), Wang and Jaimie both are excellent artists with reasonable rates, as is the shop's newer addition, Olivia. It's the perfect haven for picky, artsy types who want the perfect tattoo but don't have more than a few hundred to spend on it. (They will even let you pick as small an amount as you need for a downpayment.)

Tattoo Temple is located at 1 Wyndham Street in Central. Walk toward Lan Kwai Fong from MTR Central Station.

Also worth a look is Torrential Ink in Causeway Bay, whose main artist Jodic Chan is wonderfully talented in the brushstroke style.

  • Victoria Peak

The Peak is more expensive than most shoestring travelers would like, but it offers the best view of Hong Kong and Kowloon Bay. A famous scenic spot, the view from the top of the mountain - the highest in Hong Kong - shows the entirety of the tightly-packed city and water below. It is also home to an immense number of tourist traps (such as Madame Tussauds) and expensive restaurants in the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, as well as ludicrously opulent real estate, but feel free to ignore this. Stay to watch the sunset over the water and islands below. When the sky goes dark and the city turns on its lights, the effect is enchanting.

For the optimal (and at times seemingly near-vertical) experience ascending to the top, take the Peak Tram from Garden Road, Central. For a slightly cheaper ride, take the scenic route on Bus 15 from MTR Admiralty Station.