The Hong Kong Museums Pass (7 days HKS30, student & senior HKS25) allows multiple entries to six of Hong Kong's better museums. It's available from HKTB outlets.
Hong Kong Island
The northern and southern sides of Hong Kong Island have totally different characters. The northern side is mostly an urban jungle. Much of the south, on the other hand, remains surprisingly green and relatively undeveloped. The centre of the island is a mountainous, jungle-clad protected area that makes for a handy place to escape for a half-day's hiking.
SHEUNG WAN, CENTRAL & ADMIRALTY
Central is, as the name suggests, the main business district and it's here you'll see the most eye-popping of Hong Kong's skyscrapers. Just to the west is more traditional Sheung Wan, while Admiralty is to the east.
The gravity-defying Peak Tram : is one of Hong Kong's oldest and most memorable attractions. Rising steeply above the high-rises of Central, the funicular runs every 10 to 15 minutes from the lower terminus on manic Garden Rd up the side of 552m Victoria Peak ( 528-9) to finish at the renovated Peak Tower. It's ultratouristy, sure, but it's huge fun and on those rare Hong Kong clear days the views from the top are spectacular. If it's not clear, going up at night takes the smog out of the equation (though also your pictures).
From the upper tram terminus, wander 500m west up Mt Austin Rd, then follow the path to Victoria Peak Garden or take the more leisurely stroll around Lugard and Harlech Rds that makes a 3.5km circular walking trail around the summit. You can walk right down to Central along a track that peels off the circular trail and follows the northern edge of the mountain for a while, before zigzagging its way down the hill to Conduit Rd. With more time and more energy, you could tackle the 50km-long Hong Kong Trail, which traverses the mountainous spine of the island from the Peak to Big Wave Bay, near delightful Shek O.
The Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens : is a pleasant collection of fountains, sculptures, greenhouses, a playground, a zoo and aviaries. To the east, the Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park is home to 90 species of bird. The park also contains the rich Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in a colonial structure built in 1846. Tea-making classes are held at 4pm and 5pm on Monday and Thursday. There's also an attractive ground-floor tearoom.
Just north of Hong Kong Park is St John's Cathedral : built in 1847 and one of the very few colonial structures extant in Central; enter from Battery Path.
Northwest of the cathedral, linking Des Voeux Rd Central with Queen's Rd Central, Li Yuen St East and Li Yuen St West are narrow alleys closed to motorised traffic and crammed with shops selling cheap clothing, handbags and jewellery. For exotic produce - from frogs' legs and pigs' heads to durian and mangosteens - right beneath the downtown high-rises, head a few metres uphill to the Graham St market . The nearby Mid-Levels Escalator is the longest in the world, transporting pedestrians 800m from Queen's Rd Central via SoHo all the way up to Conduit Rd in Mid-Levels in 20 minutes.
To the west of Central is the incense-filled Man Mo Temple , built in 1847 and one of the oldest in Hong Kong. The temple celebrates the deities Kwan Yu, the righteous, red-cheeked god of war named after a Han-dynasty soldier, and Man Cheung, the civil deity named after a Chinese scholar and statesman of the 3rd century. It's a favourite of both the police and secret societies like the Triads. Early afternoon is good for photos.
Further north is the restored Western Market, built in 1906 and filled with shops selling textiles, knick-knacks and souvenirs.
Hong Kong's art scene has been booming in recent years and many of the more exciting galleries have congregated in the streets of SoHo and NoHo. Among them, Para/Site Art Space is an adventurous, artist-run space that knows no boundaries when it comes to mixing media. Plum Blossoms is one of the most well-established and consistently challenging galleries in Hong Kong.
WAN CHAI & CAUSEWAY BAY
Just east of Admiralty is Wan Chai, known for its raucous nightlife, though by day it's just an ordinary district of shops and offices. The Hong Kong Arts Centre on the 4th and 5th floors, has regular exhibitions of contemporary art and photography and is a great place to meet hip young Hong Kongers.
The Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre : is a colossal building on the harbour boasting the world's largest 'glass curtain a window seven storeys high. Ride the escalators to the 7th floor for a superb harbour view. The centre's waterfront wing, with its distinctive 'fly-away' roof, is where the handover to China took place at midnight on 30 June 1997. The Golden Bauhinia , a 6m-tall statue of the flower that became Hong Kong's symbol and flag standard, commemorates the event in all its golden gaudiness.
East of Wan Chai is Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong Island's top shopping areas. It is dominated by 17-hectare Victoria Park , which is best visited on weekday mornings when it becomes a slow-motion forest of taichi practitioners. East of the park is Hong Kong's most famous Tin Hau Temple; 101 Tin Hau Temple Rd, Causeway Bay), a place of worship for at least three centuries. Tin Hau is one of the most popular deities in coastal South China. Known as the Queen of Heaven, her duties include protecting seafarers and there are almost 60 temples dedicated to her in Hong Kong alone. If you visit Macau, you'll notice she is a doppelganger for the goddess A Ma...they're one and the same.
The south coast of Hong Kong Island is dotted with decent beaches and other recreational facilities. If you're anxious to reach the beach, hop on bus 6 (or the express 260) to Stanley from the Central bus terminus in Exchange Sq. You can rent windsurfing boards and kayaks at St Stephen's Beach, about 400m south of Stanley Village. Busy Stanley Market (Stanley Village Rd; E 10am-6pm) is a covered market filled with cheap clothing and bric-a-brac. It's been a tourist attraction (some might say 'trap') for years and is best visited during the week. Prepare to bargain.
The same buses also go to picturesque Repulse Bay; if heading here from Stanley hop on bus 73, which takes you the bay is the unusual Kwun Yam shrine , where the surrounding area is filled with an amazing assembly of deities and figures - from goldfish and a monkey god to the more familiar statues of Tin Hau. Crossing Longevity Bridge ) just in front of the shrine is supposed to add three days to your life. There's no word, however, on whether running back and forth all day will add years.
Northwest of Repulse Bay (and accessible on bus 73) is Deep Water Bay , a quiet inlet with a sandy beach flanked by shade trees, and Aberdeen . The big attraction at the latter is the busy harbour. Sampans will take you on a half-hour tour for HK$40 per person (less if there's a group of you). But you can see almost as much on the free 10-minute trip to the harbour's celebrated floating restaurants . From Aberdeen, bus 70 will take you back to Central.
If you're feeling vigorous, the entrance to Aberdeen Country Park ) and Pok Fu Lam Country Park is about a 15-minute walk north (and uphill) along Aberdeen Reservoir Rd. From there you can take the long walk up to Victoria Peak and catch the Peak Tram to Central.
To the southeast of Aberdeen, the impressive Ocean Park : is a huge amusement and edu-cational theme park complete with roller coasters and other rides, giant pandas (four at the last count), an atoll reef and a large aquarium. It's quite impressive. Due to competition from the Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park is getting a facelift, an operation that's expected to continue until 2010. Bus 90 from the Central bus terminus drops you off close to Ocean Park; get off at the Aberdeen Tunnel and it's a five-minute walk from there.
Kowloon (locals are more likely to pronounce it Gaolong), the peninsula pointing southward towards Hong Kong Island, and whose name means 'nine dragons', is a stark blend of locals and tourists, of opulent hotels and crumbling tenements, and of class and sleaze. Many travellers will stay and shop somewhere along its neon-lit, traffic-choked main drag, Nathan Rd, Rd, the nightclubs and eateries of Knutsford Tee and the Temple St night market.
The reclaimed area west of the Star Ferry Pier known as the West Kowloon Cultural District is slowly evolving into a residential and shopping district. The main attraction at the time of writing was the Elements shopping and dining complex, above Kowloon MTR station. Future development may include museums, galleries, entertainment venues and a marina.
TSIM SHA TSUI
Tsim Sha Tsui sits at the southern tip of Kowloon and is the most touristy part of the whole city. It's also the logical place from which to start exploring Kowloon. Just east of the Star Ferry terminal is the Hong Kong Cultural Centre precinct. The Hong Kong Cultural Centre , with its curved roof and controversial windowless facade facing one of the most spectacular views in the world, is the first'building you'll see. There are regular performances and exhibitions here; call to find out what's on. Behind the Cultural Centre is the Hong Kong Museum of Art . Its six floors of Chinese antiquities, historical paintings and contemporary art are a must if you're even slightly interested in Chinese fine and applied arts. There is some extraordinarily good artwork and fine handicrafts on show.
Neighbouring Hong Kong Space Museum & Theatre has several underwhelming exhibition halls and a somewhat better Space Theatre (lanetarium) that also shows IMAX films. Children under three aren't welcome to the theatre. To the southeast along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, the Avenue of the Stars pays homage to the Hong Kong film industry and its stars, with handprints and sculptures. It's not compelling but it is a great viewpoint for watching the Symphony of Light (8pm), the world's largest permanent light show, projected from atop the buildings of Hong Kong Island.
The lower end of Nathan Rd is known as the Golden Mile, a reference to both the price is Kowloon Park , an oasis of greenery in the midst of Tsim Sha Tsui's bustle. This is a great place to come to see Hong Kongers enjoying themselves, particularly on Sunday when the place is packed with Filipina, Indonesian and Sri Lankan domestic workers enjoying their day off singing, dancing and flirting. Sunday is also the day for Kung Fu Corner, a display of traditional Chinese martial arts near the otherwise uninspiring Sculpture Walk. There's also an aviary , and the Kowloon Park Swimming Complex . The Hong Kong Museum of History , in the reclaimed area known as Tsim Sha Tsui East, takes visitors on a fascinating and entertaining wander through Hong Kong's past, from prehistoric times to the 1997 handover.
YAU MA TEI & MONG KOK
Just north of Tsim Sha Tsui, in the district known as Yau Ma Tei, the Jade Market is where some 450 stalls sell all varieties and grades of jade. Unless you really know your nephrite from your jadeite, it's wise not to buy expensive pieces here. From here it's a short walk to the incense-filled Tin Hau Temple (Map p534; and to the Temple Street night market , the liveliest place in town to bargain for cheap clothes, fake name-brand goods and known DVDs.
Bird Garden (off Map p534; §> 2382 1785; Flower Market Rd, Mong Kok; S 7am-8pm), a place where birds are 'aired', preened, bought, sold and fed bugs with chopsticks by their fussy owners (usually men). Nearby is the fragrant flower market (off Map p534), which keeps the same hours but is busiest after 10am, especially on Sunday..
The southernmost 31 sq km of the New Territories is officially called New Kowloon, since Boundary St just above Mong Kok technically marks the division between Kowloon and the New Territories. Full of high-rise apartments, the area is less frantic than its neighbours to the south.
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is a large and active Taoist temple complex built in 1973 and dedicated to the god worshipped by the sick, those trying to avoid illness and others seeking more material fortune. Just below and to the left of the temple is an arcade of fortune tellers , some of whom speak English. It's right next to the Wong Tai Sin MTR station.
Northeast of Wong Tai Sin in the Diamond Hill district is the much more serene Chi Lin Nunnery , a large Buddhist complex with lotus ponds, immaculate bonsai and silent nuns delivering offerings of fruit and rice to Buddha and his disciples. To reach it, take the MTR to Diamond Hill.
Further east, at the edge of the now-abandoned Kai Tak International Airport, is Kowloon Walled City Park ; Tung Tau Tsuen, Tung Tsing, Carpenter & Junction of a Chinese garrison in the 19th century. Excluded from the 1898 lease of the New Territories, it became a lawless slum that technically remained part of China throughout British rule. The enclave became known for its gangsters, prostitution, gambling and illegal dentists. The British eventually relocated the 30,000 or so residents, razed the slums and built a park filled with pavilions, ponds and renovated buildings including the Yamen building, which has a scale model of the village in the mid-19th century. To reach the park, take bus 1 from the Star Ferry bus terminal in Kowloon and alight at Tung Tau Tsuen Rd.
You would never believe it standing on Nathan Rd at rush hour, but 80% of Hong Kong is unspoilt green hills, mountains and tropical forest. That's a lot of area in which to escape the urban jungle, and most of it is in the New Territories (San Gai in Cantonese). The New Territories are so called because they were leased to Britain in 1898, almost half a century after Hong Kong Island and four decades after Kowloon were ceded to the crown. The area has seen plenty of urbanisation of its own, with high-rise 'New Towns' like Sha Tin going up to create housing. But there remain numerous traditional villages, fabulous mountain walks and sandy beaches with nary a high-rise to be seen, all within an hour or so of Central by public transport.
TAI MO SHAN
Hong Kong's tallest mountain at 957m, Tai Mo Shan rises out of the central New Territories. The climb to the summit isn't too gruelling and the way up is part of the lOOkrn-long Madehose Trail that runs from Tuen Mun in the west to the Sai Rung Peninsula in the east. If you want to hike anywhere along this trail, the 1:25,000 MacLehose Trail map, available from the Map Publications Centre, is essential. To get there, take bus 51 from Tsuen Wan MTR station.
HONG KONG WETLAND PARK
The wonderful, new, 60-hectare Hong Kong Wetland Park ( 526-7; @ 3152 2666; www.wetland park.com; Wetland Park Rd, Tin Shui Wai; adult/child HKS30/15; S 10am-5pm) offers space and serenity and a fascinating insight into wetland eco-systems. Take the West Rail line to Tin Shui Wai and board light rail line 705 or 706.
KAM TIN & MAI PO MARSH
Yuen Long, which is on both the West Rail and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines, is the springboard for Hong Kong's most important grouping of walled villages as well as a world-class nature reserve.
The area around Kam Tin is home to two 16th-century walled villages. Their fortifications serve as reminders of the marauding pirates, bandits and imperial soldiers that Hong Kong's early residents faced. Just off the main road and easily accessible, tiny Kat Hing Wai is the more popular of the two. Drop a coin donation in the box at the village's entrance and wander the narrow little lanes. The old Hakka women in traditional clothing will let you take their photograph for the right price (about HK$10). Shui Tau , a 17th-century village about a 15-minute walk north of Kam Tin Rd, is famous for its prow-shaped roofs decorated along the ridges with dragons and fish. To reach Kam Tin, take bus 64K, 77K or 54 from Yuen Long.
The 270-hectare Mai Po Marsh Nature Reserve , a protected wetland at Deep Bay in the northwestern New Territories, is home to up to 300 species of migratory and resident birds. You can visit on your own (bus 76K from Yuen Long plus a lengthy walk), but most people take the guided visit organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong ; call ahead or register online for a booking. Its three-hour tours (HKS70) leave the marsh's visitor centre six times between 9am and 3pm on Saturday and Sunday.
The New Town of Sha Tin is popular not just for its racecourse but also for its Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery ), about 500m northwest of Sha Tin KCR station, which actually has some 12,800 miniature statues lining the walls of its main temple. To reach it, take exit B at Sha Tin KCR station and walk down the ramp, turning left onto Pai Tau St. After a short distance turn
right onto Sheung Wo Che St, walk to the end and follow the signs up the 400 steps.
While in Sha Tin do not miss the Hong Kong Heritage Museum : in Tai Wai, not far from the Tai Wai KCR station. Its rich permanent collections (Chinese opera, fine art, ceramics) and extremely innovative temporary exhibits in a dozen different galleries are probably the best in Hong Kong.
The Sai Kung Peninsula is the garden spot of the New Territories and is great for outdoor activities, especially hiking, sailing and eating seafood. The New Territories' best beaches are around here, and hiring a sampan to deliver you to such a deserted place is both exciting and romantic. To get here from Sha Tin, take bus 299. To explore the eastern side of the Sai Kung Peninsula, take bus 94 from Sai Kung to Wong Shek.
In addition to Hong Kong Island, there are 234 islands dotting the waters around Hong Kong, but only four have substantial residential communities and easy access by ferry.
Twice the size of Hong Kong Island, Lantau has only about 50,000 residents and you could easily spend a couple of days exploring its hilly walking trails and enjoying its uncrowded beaches.
From Mui Wo , the main settlement and arrival point for ferries, most visitors board bus 2 to Ngong Ping , a plateau 500m above sea level in the western part of the island. Here you'll find Po Lin , an enormous monastery and temple complex that contains the Tian Tan Buddha statue , the world's largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue, which can be climbed via 260 steps. The extensive Ngong Ping 360 is a cable-car system climbing the mountain from Tung Chung and the monastery. It offers terrific views and is a great way to reach the Big Buddha. The themed attractions at the top are less compelling than the actual monastery complex itself, however.
En route to Ngong Ping you'll pass 3km-long Cheung Sha Bay, boasting Hong Kong's longest beach. Another place to visit is Tai 0 , a picturesque village at the western end of Lantau that's famous for its pungent shrimp paste, rope-tow ferry across a narrow channel of water and temple dedicated to Kwan Yu (aka Kwan Tai).
Lantau's most high-profile attraction (and we have to say a very disappointing one for all but the very youngest children) is Hong Kong Disneyland . To get there, take the Tung Chung MTR line from Central to Sunny Bay and change for the Disneyland train.
With no cars, leafy, laid-back Lamma seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of big-city Hong Kong but is only 20 minutes away by ferry. The island boasts decent beaches, excellent walks and a plethora of restaurants in Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan , the main settlements to the north and south, respectively. A fun day involves taking the ferry to Yung Shue Wan, walking the easy 90-minute trail to Sok Kwu Wan and settling in for lunch at one of the seafood restaurants beside the water. Afterwards, take the ferry from here back to Central.
CHEUNG CHAU & PENG CHAU
Dumbbell-shaped Cheung Chau , with a harbour filled with sam-pans and fishing boats, a windsurfing centre, several fine temples and some lively bars and restaurants, makes a fun day out. Not far away is Peng Chau , the smallest and most traditionally Chinese of the easily accessible islands.
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