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W ith its rich and complex cultural heritage, Hong Kong is a place of great contrasts and is full of surprises. If you are planning to visit, we have some recommendations for you to enjoy Hong Kong off the beaten path:unique sites, offbeat places to eat, and fun things to do.

Back in the day, Hong Kong used to be a sparsely populated area with some farming and fishing villages. And for almost 150 years before, it was a British colony. Until it become a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997. Today, Hong Kong is a major connection hub in East Asia, one of the world’s most important financial centres and the fourth most densely populated region on Earth. So it is no wonder why travelers from all over the world come to experience its diverse spirit and culture.

For addresses and locations, click on the map at the end of this post.

Hong Kong Off the Beaten Path

Unique Places in Hong Kong

1. The Nan Lian Garden

Set amidst high-rise apartment buildings, the Nan Lian Garden covers an area of 3.5 hectares. This Chinese classical garden was designed in the Tang Dinasty style. If you are looking for a place to escape the busy urban pace of Kowloon, this well-kept park is a peaceful oasis.

The park was built in 2006, so it’s relatively new. From the entrance, there is a path that circles the garden and takes you through all the main highlights: lily ponds, cascades, galleries, pavillions, terraces, bridges, etc. This is definitely a great spot to take some nice photos.

Also, you can easily combine a visit to the nearby Chi Lin Nunnery, an impressive Buddhist complex also built in the Tang dynasty style. It was originally built in the 1930’s, but it was rebuilt in 1998. And no nails were used in its constrution, it is all made of wood.

Good to Know

To get there, take the MTR (Green Line) to Diamond Hill and take exit C2. Then, you just need to walk a couple of minutes to get to the garden. Entrance to the park is free. Make sure to check the permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Opening hours: every day from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.

2. Hong Kong’s Quirky Markets

Hong Kong’s street market culture is legendary and you can find many lively markets specialised in anything from electronics and cheap clothing, to goldfish and anything in between. These are some of the quirkiest:

  • Chop Alley: located in Sheung Wan, this street (officially called Man Wa Lane) is filled small printing shops, where you can order business cards. However, what makes this place special are its chop-makers. A chop is a personalised stamp carved in jade, usually with the owner’s initials. If you are looking for an original souvenir this is the place to go!
  • Flower Market: Hong Kong’s famous flower market is not that odd, but it’s so pretty! This colorful and fragant market offers a great contrast to the buslting city life.
  • Cat Street: usually referred to as an antique market, you’ll find mostly trinkets and quirky souvenirs. If you are looking for authentic aniques, better go elsewhere. Still, this is a good place for treasure hunting.
  • Jade Market: the place to shop for anything made of jade, which signifies good luck and prosperity in Chinese culture. Many people wear jade it to ward off bad luck.

Good to Know

Don’t hesitate to haggle in the bigger markets, specially if you are buying mass-produced goods. Foreigners are usually charged more, so it’s OK to negotiate. Keep in mind that most markets are closed on Sunday.

Opening hours: The Flower Market is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm. The Cat Street market is open from 11 am to 7 pm from Monday to Saturday. The Jade Market is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.

 

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3. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

Located in Sha Tin, in the New Territories, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is built on the side of a steep hill. So you will have to climb a lot of stairs to get to it; but it’s worth the effort. As you walk up, the way is lined with unique golden Buddha statues, each featuring a different expression and character.

The complex at the top includes five temples, four pavillions, one verandah and a 9 storey pagoda. There is also a small vegetarian restaurnat and a gift shop. And the panoramic view of Sha Tin is wonderful. But beware of the food-stealing monkeys!

Good to Know

The entrance to the path that leads to the monastery is not well-marked, so make sure you know where you need to go beforehand. In summer, it can get hot and humid, so don’t forget to bring water. Also, if you’d prefer to take photos without other people, it’s best to arrive early or just before closing time. Still, this place doesn’t get too crowded, though. Admission is free.

Opening hours: from 9 am to 5 pm.

 

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4. Edward Youde Aviary

Set in Hong Kong Park, next to the Botanical Garden, the Edward Youde Aviary was built over a natural valley in Central, in the heart of Hong Kong. This peaceful oasis in the middle of the city is perfect to escape the busy urban pace for a moment.

Here, you can stroll on a raised walkway (wheelchair accessible) and watch exotic birds from many levels. The aviary is home to about 70 different bird species, some of which are endangered.

Good to Know

Entrance is free, so you can come as often as you like.

Opening hours: every day from 9 am to 5 pm.

 

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5. Man Mo Temple

Located in Central as well, the Man Mo Temple was built by wealthy Chinese merchants in the mid-19th century. This fascinating little temple pays tribute to the God of Literature (Man Cheong) and the God of War (Mo Tai).

The Temple is a fine example of the traditional Chinese vernacular architecture and features some exquisite decorations that reflect an impressive craftsmanship, such as ceramic figurines, granite and wood carvings, wood carvings, and murals. If you are in the area, it is worth it to make the detour to enjoy a welcome respite in its serene atmosphere.

Good to Know

There is no entrance fee.

Opening hours: every day from 8 am to 6 pm.

 

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6. Kam Shan Country Park

Located north of Kowloon, Kam Shan Country Park is famous for the macaque monkeys that roam the area. It is also known as Monkey Hill, since they are everywhere! There are a few trails that you can take to explore the area, as well as a family walk.

Good to Know

Some of the monkeys can be quite aggressive and boldly try to steal your food, so be careful. And remember that it’s actually forbidden to feed them and you could get a fine from doing so.

 

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7. Chungking Mansions

Built in 1961, this building complex is a maze of shops, restaurants and cheap guest houses. The Chungking Mansions can be rough and overwhelming, so it is not the best place to visit for the faint-hearted or if you are traveling with children. Still, this buzzing melting pot offers quite a cultural experience for the more adventurous travelers.

Good to Know

There are many really cheap budget guesthouses in the Chungking Mansions. If you are considering staying here, look around because some are better than others. Also beware of pick-pockets.

Offbeat Hong Kong: Places to Eat

1. Cooked Food Centres

In the 1960s, the Hong Kong government decided to move street food vendors (the traditional dai pai dong) to indoor locations in order to improve sanitary conditions and ease street traffic. And that’s how Cooked Food Centres (CFC) started to rise.

Usually located on the top floor of most of the municipal buildings that house wet markets, CFC showcase the typical flavours of Cantonese cuisine at cheap prices. The food served is prepared using fresh ingredients straight from the wet markets and these places are usually packed with locals. So cooked food centres offer a quintessential Hong Kong eating experience that you definitely should not miss.

Good to Know

Be aware that quality among CFC can vary greatly, so it is worth to do some research to find out about the best places. Some of the top cooked food centres in Hong Kong include the ones on Bowrington Road,  Tung Po, and Tai Po. The last two were featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. For a great list with more recommendations go here.

 

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Fun Things to Do in Hong Kong

1. Sail on a Junk Boat

Junk boats are traditional Chinese sailing boats that have been around for many centuries. Their fiery red sails set against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s modern skyline are something beautiful to see. However, there aren’t that many traditional junks sailing around Hong Kong anymore. In fact, if you see the iconic red sails in the bay, it is very likely you are seeing one of two vessels: the Duk Ling or the Aqualuna.

Sailing on a traditional Chinese junk is one of the most unique things to do in Hong Kong. But you’ll need to plan ahead, because the sailing opportunities are limited. Also, these days, the term junk is used to describe any Hong Kong boat charter. So if you want the most authentic experience, make sure you are booking a ride on either of the vessels mentioned above.

Good to Know

The Duk Ling (which translates to Holy Duck) is the oldest traditional junk in Hong Kong. It sails daily around Victoria Harbour. The cruise takes about 45 minutes and you can board either at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier 1 or Central Pier 9. Prices start at HK $320 (about $41 USD) for adults. And you can book a regular day cruise or an evening cruise during A Symphony of Lights, a spectacular laser light show with music that takes place in the harbour every night.

On the other hand, the Aqualuna offers a hop-on hop-off loop tour of the harbour with four stops. The service is available from 12 pm to 5 pm and a day pass that includes unlimited rides is HK $120 (about $21 USD). In the evenings, you can choose from different tours, including one to see the laser show and a Dim Sum dining option. Tickets start at HK $126 (about $27 USD).

 

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2. Go Hiking

For such a densely populated place, it is surprising to find so many great hiking possibilities for all levels. For example, The Dragon’s Back is an scenic mellow hike that is easily accessible. But keep in mind that it’s also one of the most popular hikes in Hong Kong, so it can get quite crowded at times.

If you want something more challenging, head to Lantau Island and summit Hong Kong’s second tallest peak; which stands at 934 m.a.s.l. For the ultimate hiking experience though, have a go at the MacLehose trail. National Geographic featured this 100 km trail as one of the world’s best. And if you don’t have time to hike the whole way, you can choose to do some of its eight sections.

Good to Know

For more information about some of the different trails you can hike, go here.

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Urban escape⛰🐉

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3. Check Out the Street Art

Hong Kong’s street art scene just keeps getting better and better, thanks in part to HKwalls — a non-profit arts organisation that promotes the local street art scene. Each year in March, they hold a street art festival that invites local and international street artists to come paint the walls in a different neighbourhood.

In 2019, for their 6th edition, the festival is focusing on the Wan Chai area. In previous editions, the festival has covered walls in Sham Shui Po, Wong Chuk Hang, Central and Western District.

Good to Know

For maps showing the location of some of the HKwalls murals, click here for the 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015 editions.

 

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4. Experience Life in Darkness

Dialogue in the Dark is an innovative exhibition that gives visitors the chance to experience different situations of daily life in total darkness. The idea is to offer some insight into what is like to be visually-impaired and to show that, even without vision, the world can be a very enjoyable place.

Good to Know

Besides the standard tour, you can also try other related activities, such as experiences for couples, dinner in the dark, birthday parties as well as family tours.

Places to Escape the City

1. Hong Kong Geopark

You don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy a visit to the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, which is world famous for its volcanic hexagonal rock columns. Scientists have estimated that some of these rock formations developed some 400 millions of years ago.

The park consists of several sites spread over two main parts: Sai Kung with its volcanic rock formations and the sedimentary rock region in northeast New Territories. From the Geopark you can hike several well-marked trails of varying difficulty to explore the area, including Part 1 of the MacLehose Trail.

However, some of the most impressive volcanic rock columns can only be viewed by boat, so it is best to join a tour, which lasts about three hours and takes you to see the main highlights.

Good to Know

It’s not really easy to get there independently, which is part of the charm. So sometimes is best to book a tour. Don’t forget to bring water and snacks!

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, on weekends from 9 am to 5 pm.

 

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Map of Hong Kong

Click on the map, to see the addresses and contact details for these unusual things to do in Hong Kong.

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Things to Do in Hong Kong

Have you been to Hong Kong? Which other unusual things to do would you recommend? Share your tips in the comments section :)

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