Hong Kong, pearl of the orient, is a city of contrasts. Squeezed between the waters of Victoria Harbour and steep hills covered by an impenetrable jungle, six thousand skyscrapers make this financial centre one of the busiest cities in the world. But don't be mistaken: this incredible density is not only a cradle for a rich local culture, but also makes finding spots to get away from it all both fast and easy. Check out our local Alex’s top 10 local things to do in Hong Kong, and see that there’s more to the city than shopping malls, temples and a business district!
We street snack all day long
Hong Kong’s food culture is before and above all else a street food culture. Forget about a fixed hour lunch and dinner, at least during the week, for people here just stop at any time on the corner to order chicken wings on a stick, rice noodles with peanut sauce in a paper bag or a small bowl of Siu Mai (pork & shrimp dumplings) covered with spicy oil, sold over the counter. And when the average teenager’s out-of-school snack is a pair of squid skewers (rather than a greasy burger or an industrial chocolate bar) it’s not surprising that life expectancy in Hong Kong is one of the top 5 in the world.
We party in Lan Kwai Fong
Hong Kong's nightlife is world famous, and the place of choice for drinks all year long is unsurprisingly close to the business district, at the (in)famous Lan Kwai Fong street (locals just say "LKF"). Go there on a Friday or Saturday evening to meet expats, locals and lose yourself in the colourful crowd… but don't restrain yourself to the street level! Most surrounding buildings are also filled with bars and night clubs. Some of our local favourites include Insomnia (live rock bands), Lily & Bloom (great DJs and friendly staff), and Cé La Vi's rooftop lounge.
We play Mahjong with friends
The Mahjong game is a lot of fun. For those of you who’ve played rummy, therules as pretty much the same: you pick one domino in the stock pile, add it to your deck and discard one domino (the one you picked or another), then the next player (clockwise) proceeds. You win by collecting domino sequences and sets faster than your opponents, ideally all from the same “colour”, and a few little additional rules let you “steal” dominos discarded by other players or use joker tiles for extra points. Like most games, Mahjong reveals a lot about the personality of the people who play it. And when you play with locals, it’s also a great opportunity to refresh your list of Cantonese swear words!
We go to the races
Did you know that horse races are forbidden in mainland China? On Wednesday evenings from September to July, all gamblers in the nation have their eyes focused on Hong Kong's races in Happy Valley. But let's be very clear, the ambiance at the racecourse has nothing to do with the traditional, upmarket vibes of its Western counterparts. It's way more relaxed and people usually come directly out of the office just to enjoy the beer fest with colleagues and friends, in the impressive surroundings of illuminated buildings. The thrill is guaranteed and you'll surely find yourself contributing to the growing rumble when the horses run the last dozen yards before the finish line... OK, let's run for a refill of that pitcher now - the next race is in just fifteen minutes. Our locals’ advice: the races aren’t on every Wednesday, so check the Jockey Club website before you go.
We escape the city… from above
Some say that wherever you are in Hong Kong, even in the busiest street, you arenever more than 20 minutes away from a trail. Climb two flights of stairs and find yourself immersed in the tropical forest. Go on for 15 minutes and beware of snakes, boars and monkeys… No wonder that hiking is the national sport. And if you’re up for the challenge, know that no less than fifteen (!) ultra-trail races – from 48 to 162 km long – are organised every year during the cool season.
We love going to concerts and music festivals
The music scene in Hong Kong has radically evolved in the past ten years. Clockenflap rock festival (every year in November) pioneered the concept of open air festivals in 2008 and since then an increasing number of events have spread throughout the year, especially for electronic music fans who will enjoy Dragonland in February, Sonar in April and Shi Fu Miz in May. Meanwhile, the different Hong Kong stages (notably the conference and exhibition centre in Wanchai, Asia World Expo in Lantau and the Metroplex in Kwun Tong) have welcomed a fair number of international artists in the past few years including Franz Ferdinand, Sigur Ros, Sting and even Britney Spears, not to mention J-Pop, K-Pop and Canto-Pop celebrities!
We go to the beach
At first sight, Hong Kong’s brownish seawater can look quite suspicious, and we know more than one expat who never dared taking a swim in these waters even after years in Hong Kong. That’s ignoring the fact that Hong Kong is right at the mouth of the Pearl River, a 2,200km long stream that drains a phenomenal quantity of sand and clay into Hong Kong waters. If you accept to ignore that detail, Hong Kong’s beaches are very pleasant: they are quite empty of people, bordered with shadow casting trees, the sand is fine and clean, and the water is fresh in summer and lukewarm in winter. Get your beach towels and head to Repulse Bay, Shek O or Cheung Sha!
We party on junk boats
Renting a boat is pretty affordable in Hong Kong. A typical “junk” has a capacity of 30 people, a large table to share food among guests and a set of king size ice coolers for drinks. In the past few years the equipment of boats has drastically improved and many now come with air conditioning, banana boats and an inflatable toboggan that will delight both children and adults. Our tip of the day: please note that unopened cans do float in seawater, so stop arguing and throw me a beer!
We eat Dim Sum
Cantonese dumplings make a perfect week-end meal with friends or family. They’re cheap, healthy and come in a large choice of flavours and styles. So if you’re not that a big fan of chicken feet, pig intestine or cartilage, there is always a bowl of white rice on the side, a spongy cake and vegetable dumplings that will satisfy your delicate stomach! By the way, did you know that dumplings are traditionally only eaten at breakfast or lunch, never for diner? Dim sum restaurants are everywhere in Hong Kong. Locals know the best addresses but you will never get wrong if you go to a restaurant where there is a queue, or to a major chain such as (formerly) one Michelin star Din Tai Fung.
We fear ghosts
Seriously. Hong Kong folklore is full of ghost stories and most people aged 7 to 77 would feel uncomfortable going at night to a place where some other people suffered a violent death. There’s even an official list of flats where murders happened that you can rent at a reduced price if you are not afraid. Hong Kong horror movies are naturally inspired by these stories (recent blockbusters include Rigor mortis and Keeper of darkness), and the ghosts have their own dedicated festival every year (on the seventh lunar year, late August/early September), during which you will find people burning offerings publicly everywhere in the city.