Our steamy northern neighbour is a mecca for all kinds of travellers: businessmen and women stopping over for a quick business handshake; shoppers ready to drop serious dollars on hard-to-find labels; foodies seeking sweet and sour pork with the perfect balance of each flavours. But as with any popular destination, it pays to know the tricks that will turn a good trip into a great one. Bookmark this page for your next trip.
Don’t only stay on Hong Kong Island. Though this slip of land is the epicentre of this special administrative region and home to a slew of key attractions, there’s far more to see further afield.
Instead, venture out to at least one of the more than 262 outlying islands. Where to start? Lantau, west of Hong Kong Island, is frequented by visitors eager to explore its large green swathes of protected parks and Hong Kong Disneyland, but there’s plenty of lesser-known gems worthy of exploring. For beaches and temples, try Cheung Chau, a short ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. For rock climbing, head to Tung Lung Chau; or for Zen time on scenic coastal trails, try granite-laden Po Toi.
Don’t rely on English to get by. Though it’s an official language, alongside Chinese, and most official documents are available in both tongues, you won’t get far off the tourist trail sticking to what you know.
Instead, learn a few choice Cantonese phrases – it’s the dialect spoken by almost 90 per cent of the population. Start with nei-hou (hello), doh-je (thank you), ng-goi (excuse me/please), gei-do-chin (how much?) and hou-hou-sihk (yummy, apt for when you’re halfway through a dim sum banquet).
Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking upright in your bowl between mouthfuls of fragrant steamy har-gow.
Instead, brush up on your table manners. Place the pair on the stand provided or lay them flat across the bowl. Wait for the most senior person at the table to sip from their cup of tea before you do. Lift a rice bowl towards your mouth and use chopsticks to transport a clump of grains to your lips. Leave a small amount of food on your plate to indicate your hunger has been satisfied or else risk being loaded up with even more delicacies.
Don’t pack a hair straightener – especially if you’re travelling in high summer. The humidity can soar past 90 per cent and play havoc with your sleekly styled locks.
Instead, if poker-straight, frizz-free hair in holiday snaps is important to you, consider a keratin treatment before your trip. Handle the humidity by dressing in lightweight white or black clothing and budget enough in your daily spending to jump in a taxi if you can’t take the heat. And be sure to drink plenty of water during your explorations.
Don’t forget to take a jacket.
Instead, dress in layers. Though it might be sweltering outdoors, the ubiquity of air conditioning in indoor spaces will leave you shivering if you forget a cardie [abbreviation accurate according to Macquarie Dictionary].
Don’t hop on the StarFerry during peak hours. Though its crossing affords some truly glorious views of Victoria Harbour, it’s also a key mode of transport for commuters between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Instead, aim to board a 9.55am service from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, when the ferries start to arrive every six to eight minutes on weekdays. Fewer people means greater chance to secure the perfect photograph of a junk boat juxtaposed against the skyscrapers.
Don’t only eat dim sum. Sure, there are excellent options around every corner – including the Michelin-starred chain Tim Ho Wan – but there’s far more to Chinese cuisine than these bite-sized morsels.
Instead, try something new everyday. There are scores of spots for food-lovers to try modern takes on traditional eats throughout the SAR. Wong Chuk Hang and Yuen Long are beloved for their collection of restaurants and street-food stalls, while Tai Po is best for classic recipes, such as melt-in-your-mouth roast goose and beef-brisket noodles.
Don’t get stuck in the city. First-timers flocks to the twinkling neon lights of the city proper like bugs, lured by the promise of hidden bars and great food, but Hong Kong’s green and blue spaces are not to be neglected.
Instead, set aside plenty of time to hire a bicycle and get away from the city to Nam Sang Wai for a half-day adventure through wetlands and woodlands, including a stretch of Australian River Red gums leading to a glade of Chinese Banyan trees. Or amble to the top of Violet Hill by following the tough Wilson Trail, which begins near the Wong Nai Chung Gap.
Don’t take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Yes, the 25-minute ride along Lantau Island will provide sky-high views of the mountainside and sea below but you’ll miss out on the detail you can get at ground level.
Instead, ditch the crowds by going on foot – if you can hack rigorous physical activity. Underneath the path of the cable car is a trail originally used for its construction; now, in-the-know hikers traverse the challenging, stepped path to reach the Tian Tan Buddha at the summit.
Don’t overpack. Hong Kong is known for its soaring shopping malls and labyrinthine markets where savvy travellers can score a bargain. Plus, there’s no sales tax.
Instead, leave ample room in your suitcase for shiny new purchases from malls at Causeway Bay, curios shops in Sheung Wan and market goods from Stanley. Haggle when it’s appropriate to do so and be wise to scams (the electronics stores on Nathan Road are notorious for underhanded dealings with tourists). The Hong Kong Tourism Board accredits stores with clearly displayed prices and product information and excelled customer service with a Quality Tourism Service marker.