Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island which means 360 degree views of the island and a breathtaking harbour vista as you look across to Kowloon side. Hong Kong's most popular tourist attraction is a definite must-see, but I have a couple of tips that the guide books don't include.
My first top tip relates to getting up to the Peak. Your guide book will tell you take the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that's been running since 1888 which creaks 396 metres up the side of the hill at a hair-raising gradient. The ride is an experience not to be missed but the queues to catch the tram up the Peak (at the Garden Road Terminus in Central) snake right around the block morning, noon and night. The queues at the top to ride back down again however, are much smaller and anyway, in my opinion, the ride down is even more exciting and roller coaster-esque than the ride up. So, I always save the tram for the way down the hill and just jump in a cab on the way up thereby skipping the maddening queues at the bottom (Hong Kong's cabs are plentiful and cheap - the red and white taxis are for hire when the red circle on the dashboard is lit up and the white taxi sign on the car's roof is alight).
My second tip centres on what to do once you get up there. The majority of visitors flock straight to the Peak Tower, a wok-shaped viewing platform 428 metres above sea level. You undoubtedly get breath-taking views from this lookout point but it sits atop a giant shopping mall packed with tacky souvenir shops and generic chain restaurants. While I see the Peak Tower as a definite must do (it’s a great place to snap a few impressive skyline photos) I’d suggest that you don't confine your Peak experience to this Disneyfied corner but instead combine it with something that not everyone does. Ask your cab driver to drop you off outside the Peak Tower and take a gentle stroll along the Hong Kong Trail, a route which loops for about an hour around the top of the Peak through lush greenery that chirrups with cicadas. Along this trail you'll get beautiful views across the city and wind past some of Hong Kong's most luxurious houses (prices of the real estate up here exceed even those of Monaco's mansions). This is a perfect walk to take during the latter half of the afternoon so that you end up back at the Peak Tower just before sunset. Head to the viewing platform in time to watch the sun sink below the skyscrapers and stay until the city’s kaleidoscopic lights come up. By this point you should have worked up a healthy appetite.
Which brings us to my third tip - where to eat. Scoot straight past the shopping mall chain restaurants and head directly across the road from the Peak Tower to the Peak Lookout, the quaint cottage-like building that twinkles under chains of fairy lights. The restaurant sits on the site of the former resting shelter of the sedan chair carriers whose job it was to ferry the Peak's wealthy residents up and down the hill. Bag a table out on the terrace which overlooks the South side of the island and refuel with jet-fresh seafood, tandoori oven fired meats accompanied by pillows of fluffy naan or a char-grilled steak from the barbeque.
128 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong Island.
Google Maps: goo.gl/maps/yziA
The Hong Kong Trail
The Peak Lookout
121 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong Island.
(852) 2849 1000
Google Map: goo.gl/maps/TT7Y
* Natalie is our local for Hong Kong. You can read all about her here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/hong-kong-local-natalie-robinson.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/natalierobinson
She also has her own blog at: www.3badmice.com/
The Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin is a great place for the whole family to learn about Chinese culture, arts and landscape. The children's section is fully interactive and has a great room with a whole host of toys manufactured in Hong Kong from the 1890s on. The ceramics and art collection provide examples from all periods in Chinese history (2000BCE on). The history of Cantonese opera exhibit was great too.
After a trip to the museum enjoy the walk along the river back to Shatin train station and through New Town Plaza - a shopper's paradise.
There are supermarkets and cheap eats in the Plaza as well as a park and library nearby.
Che Kung Train station is closest, then a 15-20 min walk from either Tai Wai or Shatin Train station. Or get a 80M bus from Kowloon Tong train station.
Right in the heart of HK is a lush haven that provides a welcome break from the crowded city. Go to Hong Kong Park before the shops open and walk around the beautiful Botanical Garden (which has a zoo) - don't forget the amazing walk-through aviary.
Clean, lush, well organised, uncrowded, quiet and fresh. All 100% free of charge!
The Ming Kee serves the best chilli squid in the world, and the other seafood is good too. Po Toi Island is just off the southside of Hong Kong Island but time has stood still there. Most of its inhabitants are from one lineage (family) group and they specialise in seaweed and other herbal remedies, which they sell from little stalls.
Mainland tourists get brought here in swarms in huge boats from Aberdeen to eat at the Ming Kee but they have left by 1pm. Until peace is restored you can hike around the island, taking in spectacular views of the South China Sea and the islands. On a clear day you can see the islands which lie out to sea from Hong Kong, but were always part of the People's Republic.
It is not easy to get to. The ferry, is an experience in itself, an aging multi-coloured family boat, the husband collects the tickets and the wife pilots the boat. It runs from St Stephen's Pier, Stanley, by St Stephen's beach on Sundays only (it used to go at 11 and 12 and return at 3 and 4 but you would need to check). Otherwise you have to hire a kaido or junk.
Some walks to show expat living - albeit a route I took relatives a few years ago.
Start at bottom of the mid-levels escalator, all the way up to Robinson Road (look for the small road spelt backwards). Along Robinson Rd, taking in Mosque Junction, and onto the Botanical Gardens, very peaceful early morning for tai chi exponents. Down Glenealy, possibly stopping for a refreshing drink and then down Ice House St, passing the Foreign Correspondents Club (possibly the world's best bar), and then arrive in Central.
Don't forget the views from the Matilda Hospital on the Peak (look out over Blacks Link and other very exclusive addresses) and for those with transport try and find the old service reservoir off Lugard Road on the Peak. It offers the best views anywhere on Hong Kong Island.
For those interested in Hong Kong flora and history, I recommend a visit to Sheung Yiu Folk Museum, in Sai Kung Country Park. This centres around a restored Hakka dwelling built by the Wong clan in the 19th-century, recreated with great care and attention to detail.
The walk to the house takes you along a path through ancient woodlands, in which can be found many of the indigenous plants and herbs used by the Hakka community for a huge variety of purposes,
medicinal, culinary and practical. Entry to the house is free, and you can wander around the rooms and defences at your leisure.
Farming implements and many of the accoutrements of Hakka life have been built solely for this site. Close to the house is an original lime kiln and jetty for bringing in coral: relics of the cement industry that provided an important source of income to the Wong clan.
There are few of these types of heritage site in Hong Kong, and Sheung Yiu receives few visitors - which is part of the attraction.
Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail, Sai Kung, Hong Kong.
To get to Sheung Yiu Folk Museum, take the number 94 bus from Sai Kung town, or the 96R / 289R (which only run on public holidays). Get off at the bus terminus by the Country Park Management Centre, and walk into the park past the traffic barrier. Walk down Pak Tam road until you see a footbridge crossing the river to your right: Cross the bridge and take the path to the right.
Sheung Yiu is closed on Tuesdays, Christmas day, Boxing day, New
Year's day and the first three days of Chinese New Year
The seated Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau is a well-know “must see”. The normal route is by boat or hovercraft to Mui Wo (aka Silvermine Bay) on Lantau, and then by a (somewhat white-knuckle) bus ride up to the mountain monastery. A different approach, for those who fancy a walk, is to take the ferry from Central to the tiny neighbouring island of Peng Chau. From there, hop on a kaido (a very small ferry boat) for the short crossing to the Trappist Monastery on Lantau. From here it is an easy and well-marked two-hour walk, peaceful and highly scenic, to Mui Wo.
Once the home of expat boho types, Lamma Island has gone upmarket since the handover and the advent of fast ferries, and is now home to expat architects, designers and journalists: it even sports a sushi restaurant now. Still, it preserves its rural Chinese flavour, with chicken coops, banana plants and paddy fields dotted about the paths forking off the main thoroughfare, which is full of chain smoking old fishermen playing mah jong.
Dubbed the "Idylic Island Shangri-La" because the ugly power station destroyed what once resembled a Greek fishing village. There are no cars allowed, so watch out for the hilarious toy fire engines and ambulances straight out of Postman Pat. Arts and crafts and expat drinkers fill up Main Street (it's basically just a path) at weekends). There’s plenty of great seafood restaurants and western-style bars in Yung Shue Wan. The island also boasts great beaches and a breathtaking, albeit light walk, five miles over the hills to its sister fishing village - also linked to Central.
Great seafood restaurants at both villages. Ask for the Pigeon, one of Chris Patten's favourite haunts, high on a hill overlooking a sandy bay, a 10-15 minute walk from Main Street. Serves gorgeous fried and roasted pigeon.
About 25-50 minutess by ferry from Central's outlying islands ferry pier. Fast hoverferries now operate until 2.30am
Ensure you get on the Yung Shue Wan ferry; the other Lamma island village is five miles away, with fewer return sailings and no hotels shoudl you get stranded.
I am amazed that nobody has mentioned the outdoor activities in HK. 40% of Hong Kong's territory has been set aside for parkland, and although the highest point is only 900m above sea level, the terrain is amazing. There are several hundred trails available to the public, covering every part of the territory.
We lived on Lamma Island, and walked the length and breadth of the island. The hiking on Lantau Island is also very good (you can also mountain bike on all the hiking trails). The hike from the back of Lantau from near the airport, up over Lantau peak and then down to the big Buddha at Po Lin is amazing. Such an incredible contrast, seeing the new airport below you in the beginning, then down to a statue that attracts Buddhists from all over Asia.
There is also great hiking/mountain biking in the New Territories, the MacLehose Trail in particular (100km from Sai Kung in the east to Tsuen Mun in the west). This is the same trail where they have the endurance race every year (in the middle of summer), which was traditionally won by the Gurkhas, but they have been overtaken by professional race teams, (who complete it in about 20 hours - it is normally a hard four days’ walk.
Speaking of summer - it gets very hot and humid, so start early and bring plenty of water and sunblock. Winter (October through to April) is perfect for hiking and biking in HK as the weather is cooler and it rains less.
And the best thing about hiking in HK - finishing at an amazing sea food restaurant like the ones mentioned at Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island.
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