It’s 6.30 am in Hong Kong. That’s 10.30pm back home. Time to get up! I roll my aching body out of the incredibly comfortable hotel bed and try to clear the fog in my head enough to remember why I’m getting up so early, when all my body wants to do is go back to bed. It’s Saturday after all, which means I have to go for outdoor yoga in the park.
I came to Hong Kong for work but filled the rest of my days with anything else I wanted to do. Explore, see, eat, walk, swim and breathe in this incredible city. Luckily I had some amazing advice from my local friends on what to do (and what to avoid) and every step deeper into the humid mountains and busy streets of Hong Kong made me fall in love with it a little bit more. If you’re like me and come to Hong Kong for work but stay on for the fun, here’s 10 things to do on a free weekend in Hong Kong.
01. Take the Tram and Go on the Ferry
Hong Kong’s public transport system is amazing and very, very reasonably priced. The local Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is fast, clean and air-conditioned. The buses take you everywhere the MTR doesn’t, and they are even more air-conditioned. Arctic levels of AC, actually. But what you really want to do is go old school. Take an old tram (Shau Kei Wan to Kennedy Town or the other way around will take you the whole length of Hong Kong Island), get on at an early stop and sit upstairs with the windows open. No AC, yet a fresh breeze! It’s shockingly fast and rattly at times (plus so tight to squeeze past oncoming trams) but you’ll get to see the city from a unique viewpoint. It takes longer than the MTR does so I used it as a treat after especially sweaty days or when I had some time to spare.
The same goes for the Star Ferry. Going back and forth between Central/Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui every few minutes at an incredible HK$2.50 (that’s about £0.30) per ride it’s another touristy thing to do that’s totally worth it. When Candice, Tim and I used it for our portrait session we even stayed on for three rides “to get that light just right” and no one batted an eye lid. At 10p per ride you really can’t complain.
First thing when you arrive in Hong Kong: Buy an Octopus card. Recharge it frequently. Travel happily.
02. Take a Taxi
I’m a huge Uber fan. The fact that I can use the same app no matter the country I’m in and not have to worry about having cash on me or which number to call makes it easy to use. But in Hong Kong I didn’t use it once. Because of the Hong Kong taxis. Again, they are very, very reasonably priced. Most of them drive like maniacs so you will make that appointment even if you’re cutting it a bit short. Not every driver speaks English so have your address written down in Cantonese or get the doorman of your hotel/restaurant to help you out. With the windows cracked open and sliding merrily around the pleather seats in the back, I enjoyed more taxi rides in this city than anywhere else I’ve been.
03. The Peak
Undoubtedly the view from The Peak will be best without any clouds. But feeling woozy from jetlag and sticky from the humid heat in the city, getting out of that taxi and stepping into the cool fog in between all the green I could breathe again. Don’t bother with the viewing platform on the top, just head right at the exit of the tram and follow the trail around and down. At times you will feel as if you’re in the middle of a rainforest, then suddenly the skyline peaks through the canopy. Birdsong fills the air. The further down you go, the warmer it will get and just from personal experience, yes there are indeed mosquitoes lurking in the underbrush. If you follow the trail down far enough you’ll end up at Pok Fu Lam Reservoir from where you can take a bus (arctic!) back to Central.
04. Hike the Hong Kong Trail
Whilst we’re on the topic of hiking, Hong Kongers have got to be the most active people I’ve seen. If you’re not out for a five hour hike early Saturday morning, you’re not going to fit in. To be fair hiking is pretty sweet in the hills surrounding the city. And it doesn’t get easier than the Hong Kong trail. In total it’s 50km but it’s divided up into separate sections of varying distances. The Peak down to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir makes up the first section. The last section ends at the beach, so bring your bathing suit for some much needed refreshment! Victoria and Mark took me on the Mount Butler section which has great scenic views and enough steps and steep hills to make it a good workout. It’s also the perfect opportunity to top up your sunburn!
05. The Beach, Baby!
Yes. Yes, you did read that right. Hong Kong has beaches, amazing ones! Just a short taxi ride away and suddenly you’re in tropical-land, fresh coconuts included. I can highly recommend breakfast down there as well. And sunset drinks, too. So really, just spend the day at the beach. You earned it after that hike. Yet again perfectly accessible by taxi cab, there are numerous locations to choose from depending on what you want. If you’re staying on Hong Kong island there is Shek O, Big Wave Bay, South Bay and Repulse Bay roughly a 30 minute drive away.
06. Shop at the Markets
Wet markets, antique markets, night markets. There are great shops in Hong Kong but the markets is where it’s at. I understand that posters of Chairman Mao are not everyone’s cup of tea but why wouldn’t you want to walk past all kinds of fish – the living kind in Mong Kok and the dead kind in Central. Even if you’re not buying anything this is definitely an experience and a whole lot to look at.
07. Take the Central to Mid-Level Escalators
Hong Kong is home to the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. Anything that starts with “the world’s longest” and then ends in “outdoor covered escalator system” needs no more bigging up. Go now. Ride it up. Walk it down. Stop for food and drinks and shops on the way. And marvel at the brilliance of it all when you’re dry whilst walking outside during yet another rainstorm.
08. Dim Sum (And This Is Not Negotiable)
I do not have any pictures of all the dim sum I ate except for this crummy iphone pic. It was just too delicious. There are Michelin starred dim sum restaurants to be visited and there may be more authentic hole-in-the-wall places, but my jam was found at Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum. I mean, try saying it out loud and then not wanting to go (and drag everyone there) as often as you can. The Wan Chai location was right around the corner from my hotel and to my delight they also did take-away. It’s number 38 out of 5000 restaurants in HK on Tripadvisor. I still dream of these piggy custard buns.
09. Visit a Temple
Whilst temples are a very common occurrence in the less populated areas, there are a few to be found in the busy streets of Wan Chai (Pak Tai Temple) or Sheung Wan (Man Mo Temple) too. These are generally less busy than the big tourist spots so there is plenty of space to take it all in.
10. Tian Tan Big Buddha
Yes, it’s a very touristy thing to do. But it’s also totally worth it. Just as taking the Ngong Ping cable car up is totally worth it – as long as you have no fear of heights. Some of the gondolas are glass bottom ones and they do go quite high. As a reward you have views over the airport and Big Buddha appears through the fog the closer you get. To get to Lantau Island I actually took the MTR; speed and price won out this time. Once you reach the top there there is a “village” (shops, of course) and Po Ling Monastry which is a lot more visually pleasing.
I could go on and on with more things to do from the aforementioned yoga in the park to drinks in Japanese or rooftop bars. But for a weekend this is probably quite enough already and time to get back to work. With the knowledge that you’ve seen and explored at least some parts – you can always come back for the rest.