Hong Kong island and Kowloon have a lot to offer, but the hustle and bustle of the metropole can be a bit overwhelming. To escape the hectic city life, do as the locals do and go to one of the outlying islands. Here’s a guide of the islands I’ve visited most recently.
I’ve been coming to Hong Kong since I was first sent there for a conference in 2006. I immediately fell in love with the city. The tall buildings, the fast-moving crowds, the mix of tradition and modern life, and of course the food. Hong Kong boasts a gazillion restaurants! My view was also positively influenced by a friend who showed me around when I first got there, and I’m very happy to still have friends living in Hong Kong to catch up with every now and then.
Hong Kong Island’s Central is the commercial center, with many businesses and malls. Lan Kwai Fong is Central’s entertainment area. Kowloon has several markets (electronics, clothing, birds, flowers, souvenirs) and also many restaurants. I’d say most tourists and expats would go to Central and the locals tend to prefer the somewhat more chaotic Kowloon. Whichever you prefer, there’s enough to do in both areas.
Should you have time to venture out further, consider going to one of the outlying islands. Still mostly centering around seafood trade, these islands are best for eating freshly caught fish. Though not so far from the central area of Hong Kong, it feels like your worlds away in these quaint car-free villages.
Catch a ferry (fast or regular) from Central’s Pier 5 to Cheung Chau. Bonus: grab a beer at the beer kiosk near Pier 4 and take it with you on the ferry! The ferry ride is already worth the trip, if you ask me. You will see the breathtaking Hong Kong skyline disappear behind you as you sail along.
Upon reaching Cheung Chau the ferry maneuvers past the little fishing boats in the harbor and you’re in a different world.
During the day, you can walk around the island and enjoy the beaches. At night, you can enjoy one of the many seafood restaurants. Tip: try the fish balls on a stick as an appetizer or a snack.
Take the MTR (metro) to Tung Chung station and depending on where you want to go, continue by bus or take the Ngong Ping cable car. The cable car brings you directly to the Ngong Ping plateau where you can visit the Big Buddha, the Po Lin Monastery and the Ngong Ping village. You can also take bus 23 from Tung Chung station to the Ngong Ping bus terminus.
If you want to go to Tai O fishing village, take bus 11 from Tung Chung station.
Ngong Ping – Big Buddha, Ngong Ping village and Po Lin Monastery
The Big Buddha on Lantau Island is a (literally) big crowd pleaser. While it’s not old (it was completed in 1993), its significance for Buddhism in Hong Kong is great. Officially named Tian Tan Buddha, the statue of Gautama Buddha is 34 meters (112 feet) high and is surrounded by six smaller statues. The big enlightened one is perched on top of a hill which you can climb via stairs. You’ll need a certain level of fitness to climb these stairs, though the Big Buddha is also accessible for people requiring assistance.
The Po Lin Monastery is nearby and hosts a nice vegetarian restaurant.
In the village, you can whirl prayer wheels, stick your head through cardboard cut outs for fun photos, and shop and eat.
Tai O fishing village
Tai O fishing village is mostly known for its stilt houses and dried fish items being sold. There’s dried fish all over the place!
Tai O is lovely for simply strolling around, but it has a few special attractions as well: a cat cafe and egg puffs! If you don’t like cats, don’t go to the cat cafe! There’s about a dozen cats roaming around and the cat theme is implemented throughout the premises: from the little terrace in front to the toilet in the back. You can get cat-themed snacks too. It’s all very cute. Get there by walking over the bridge coming from the bus station, via the market and turn right onto Kat Hing Street.
You will pass a restaurant selling egg puffs: you will be able to tell by the queue. Don’t be put off by the line of people waiting: go for it while you can! When we got there at the end of the afternoon, the batter was almost finished and we got the last egg puff of the day.
From the market, you can also walk left along the coast to the Tai O Heritage Hotel. There’s a lookout point.
If you have some time on your hands in Hong Kong, I highly recommend going to one of the outlying islands. It feels like a vacation within a vacation!