There’s something to be said for returning to a country more than once and really getting the opportunity to explore it, to understand its inner depths that are possibly overlooked on initial visits. Whenever we pack our bags and head off to discover somewhere new, I am often guilty of prioritising the must-see tourist attractions. But, when we push the boundaries a little bit further and go off the beaten path, I’m always pleasantly surprised and walk away feeling like I’ve gotten to see a real glimpse of what life is really like in that foreign country. So, on our second trip to Hong Kong, Si’s Mum, Rose (who moved to Hong Kong 5 years ago), and I put together an itinerary to include some of the local treasures not necessarily known to tourists. Here are our top 5 things to do to discover Hong Kong like a local.
1. Discover a quaint fishing village
An estimated 127,600 tonnes of fisheries worth about $2,600 million to the local economy are produced annually in Hong Kong. In my quest to see the real Hong Kong, Rose suggested we head to Tai O. It is a vibrant fishing town with markets and restaurants. The translation of Tai O, is large inlet. And refers to the merging point of Tai O Creek and Tai O River, as they move through Tai O village.
Located on Lantau Island, it is about an hour’s drive from Causeway Bay. It’s best to jump in an Uber, otherwise, you are looking at about 3 hours to get there via public transport.
The village is home of the Tanka people, a community of fisherman, who’ve built their homes on stilts that sit above the tidal waters of Lantau Island for generations. Their homes are interconnected and form a tight-knit community. The charming village is an Instagrammer’s dream.
Whilst visiting Tai O, make a day of it and take some time to explore Lantau Island where you’ll also find Tian Tan Buddha, Ngong Ping 360 (go for the Crystal cars), and the Po Lin Monastery.
Unfortunately for us, it was raining when we visited, so we decided to check out Sai Kung instead. It is about half an hour drive from Causeway Bay or 1 hour 15 minutes by public transport.
On the Sai Kung Peninsula, you’ll discover charming fishing villages and breathtaking hiking treks. Sai Kung town has a wonderful and colourful floating seafood market, where locals haggle with the fisherman as they buy their catch of the day, fresh off the back of the boats. There’s also waterside al fresco dining and some of the most delicious and incredible selection of fresh seafood I’ve ever seen.
You can also take in the magnificent views of rock formations over the sea at Hong Kong’s UNESCO Global Geopark, by High Island Reservoir. Or head to Tai Long Wan Bay, a quieter spot that is popular with suffers.
2. Discover Chinese jewels
There are many fabulous markets in Hong Kong to explore, including Temple Street Night Market, Ladies Market and Goldfish Market. The Jade Market is a little less known but well worth checking out. The Jadestone is significant in Chinese culture and considered to be an auspicious stone that not only brings good luck but also good health.
Historically, it has been used to create many wonderful artefacts including sacrificial vessels, tools, ornaments, utensils, ancient music instruments, and lots of other valuable items.
The market is filled wall to floor with meticulously hand-carved jewellery and souvenir ornaments. Make sure you haggle with the store owners for the best deal!
3. Take a moment of tranquillity
Right in the busy city centre of Hong Kong, you will find Nan Lian Gardens. The tranquil oasis is quite surreal with the modern city skyline all around, and only the distant mummer of traffic beyond the garden walls.
The perfectly manicured classic Chinese gardens are built in the style of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907), and feature scenic hills, water features, trees, rocks and wooden structures. Sprawling over 3.5 hectares, they are a wonderful place to take a book and escape from the chaos of the busy city.
Stop by Chi Lin Nunnery, originally built in 1934. In 1990, it was renovated in the style of the Tang Dynasty. The large temple is an elegant wooden structure with Buddhist relics and tranquil lotus ponds.
4. Experience a glimpse of everyday life
Head to the Yick Cheong Building, a traditional Chinese estate, made up of three high rise tower blocks to get a taste of real life for the locals. The iconic building is commonly nicknamed the Monster Building and has been made famous by many Hollywood films including Ghost in the Shell and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
The structure is an example of urban architecture in one of the city’s most densely populated neighbourhoods and makes for some really beautiful, raw and authentic photographs of everyday life. Out of respect for local residents, signs have been hung asking visitors to refrain from taking photographs. So, if you still feel the itch to still click, be reminded that this is somebody’s home, and to be respectful. Check out Lolapan’s blog for the best angles and places to capture the estate.
5. Learn to cook like the locals
So, I strictly haven’t done this one, but we did purchase it for Si’s parents as a gift and they absolutely loved it. Home’s Cooking School & Wet Market Tour offers guests a unique experience. Ceci takes her eager students to Hong Kong’s vibrant markets to source the freshest and tastiest ingredients. Along the way, she points out local attractions, before taking the students back to her apartment to cook up a traditional Chinese feast. All of her classes are taught in English, so are accessible for most. It is a real authentic experience that will immerse you in Hong Kong’s colourful culture.
Classes are from $750 HKD and the menu includes 2-3 dishes as well as delicious pork dumplings. For more information, click here.
Hong Kong is an incredible city with its iconic skyline, exquisite cuisine full of flavour, and beautiful natural wonders from glittering bays to rolling mountains. Underneath its flashy exterior, there is more to it than just the well-known tourist sites. I hope these ideas help you to discover an alternative side to the city, allowing you to see the dynamic cultural blend of Chinese roots, with colonial influences fused together in a modern sophisticated metropolis.
Until next time, safe travels.
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