Fast-paced, culturally vibrant and totally addictive, Hong Kong has a chameleon spirit all its own. English is widely understood, if not widely spoken, making it an accessible destination for Australians – yet it remains an undeniably exotic experience.
From the thriving working-class suburbs that prove the old Hong Kong is alive and well, to the heady mix of luxury hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and bustling street food stalls, to a refreshing and breathtaking hike through the mountains, a week in Hong Kong can deliver a whirlwind of vastly different experiences. Ready to dig in? Navigate your way through the dizzying array of Hong Kong attractions with our editor, Tanya Joslin, who recently took a deep dive into the food-obsessed culture of this big-city gourmet destination.
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Eating is everything in Hong Kong, with the city’s flourishing cocktail scene a perfect complement. Quality street food comes cheap, so be adventurous! But, if your tastes tend more towards the refined, Hong Kong will deliver with plenty of hot restaurants and bars to sample.
An instant classic when it opened in 1963, the Mandarin Oriental is woven into the city’s history. Located on the 25th floor, its flagship restaurant, Man Wah, captures incredible Victoria Harbour views and offers an outstanding Michelin-starred Cantonese menu of traditional favourites and seasonal specials, paired with slick and attentive service. The design is spectacular: think traditional rosewood furniture, floating gold-plated lanterns, and silk art on the walls. The space itself (and those views!) help make it one of Hong Kong’s most romantic dining destinations – but it’s the food that takes Man Wah next level: a legendary dining experience.
Billed as a “Cantonese grill and dim sum” inspired by historic spice and trade routes, John Anthony is a triumph of East meets West meets sustainable design. Located in Causeway Bay, the richly evocative interiors feature reclaimed Chinese terracotta flooring, bamboo fixtures, hand-dyed fabrics and hand-woven wickers – we adored the eye-catching illustrations printed onto the tiles of the private dining rooms. And then there’s the food. It’s innovative, ethical and utterly delicious. The slow-cooked Australian wagyu beef cheek with watermelon and fragrant chilli sauce is an excellent example of how the chefs here are pushing the boundaries.
Ho Lee Fook serves up funky Chinese dishes in a busy underground restaurant just off Hollywood Road. The atmosphere is edgy, loud and fun – we should have known it would be a good night with such a cheeky name (it translates from Cantonese as ‘good fortune for your mouth’)! The menu is intriguing (think modern Cantonese comfort food with international influences) and the dishes delicious. Don’t go past the prawn toast with shaved cabbage, and the signature wagyu short ribs with a soy glaze. Ho Lee Fook is also perfectly positioned to soak up Hong Kong’s dazzling bar scene, including the popular Lan Kwai Fong area, after your meal.
Head to the Kowloon side of the harbour to experience Ming Court, the Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant housed in the Cordis hotel. Wine-lovers will swoon over the cellar alone, which boasts over 400 wines from 100 regions to complement the exquisite meals that have garnered Ming Court endless kudos over the years. The food is best described as a unique take on traditional classics – the layered silk tofu was almost too beautiful to eat, while the chilled suckling pig and barbecued pork were juicy and succulent, and the bamboo shoot shrimp dumplings were divine. The elegant decor adds an aura of heritage to the meal, with a collection of Ming Dynasty bronzes and antiques ensuring the experience is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the tastebuds.
The Hong Kong bar scene is the stuff of modern legend, and we started our bar-hopping at one of the coolest establishments around. “Quinary is to cocktails what Spain’s El Bulli restaurant is to food, playing with perception, flavour and science to create a pioneering and exciting experience,” enthuses the World’s Best Bars website. High praise, indeed – but spot on! Situated on buzzing Hollywood Road with one of the city’s most celebrated cocktail experts, Antonio Lai, at the helm, this is a serious cocktail bar where all five senses are indulged, with quirky, inventive signature cocktails and some seriously ’grammable drinks. Regularly placing in the World’s 50 Best Bars and Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards, the ‘multisensory mixology’ of Quinary is a must.
And then there’s Dragonfly (feature image), one incredibly beautiful flight of fancy, with spectacular interiors inspired by the 19th-century American artist Louis Tiffany, best known for his work with stained glass. Dragonfly’s decor is opulent and unconventional: the ceiling is filled with rich turquoise Tiffany stained-glass lamps, and more than 500 cast-iron dragonflies adorn the bar area. Imagine being inside a treasure box, taking in one fantastical detail after another, then add an imaginative menu of cocktails and bar snacks to tempt you to linger even longer. We discovered this in the new Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts (more on that later).
If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, or it’s a few years between visits, you’ll want to include the usual highlights, including The Peak, where you’ll soak up incredible views over the city and harbour, the popular Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, and the serenely majestic 34-metre Big Buddha (Tian Tan) on Lantau Island. However, we added a few extras to our itinerary and they proved to be some of our most memorable experiences.
Step back in time on a walking tour of Sham Shui Po, which has long been a working-class district. Today this humble area is one of the city’s hidden gems, and a must-see is the Mei Ho House Museum for a glimpse into the Hong Kong of yesteryear and the site of its first public housing estate. This area has a dramatic back story of Chinese refugees fleeing Communist rule, their sprawling shantytown which was consumed by the city’s most devastating fire, and a government response that created a revolution in multi-level, low-cost housing in the city.
We were lucky to have local expert Olivia Tang Yiu-sum from Walk In Hong Kong to guide us through the museum and on to a neighbourhood food tour, starting with a bowl of tofu (naturally!) at legendary Kung Wo Tofu, which opened in 1853, and where they still prepare the tofu fresh each morning. Dumplings, rice rolls and even snake soup were on the menu as we wove our way through Sham Shui Po’s bustling streets. You could easily spend half a day here exploring the local haunts and soaking up the sounds, smells and atmosphere of a Hong Kong invisible to many visitors.
Hong Kong’s magical Victoria Harbour is legendary, and most romantic after dark. We marvelled at the neon-lit skyline and the city’s dazzling Symphony of Lights laser light show with a cocktail in hand on an Aqua Luna evening cruise. Inspired by ancient Chinese sailing vessels called ‘junks’ and handcrafted in timber, the Aqua Lunar ships offer a fitting introduction to this fabulous destination. Look for the iconic red sails, a nod to Hong Kong’s rich maritime past. During the day, cross the harbour on a Star Ferry – one of the cheapest and fastest ways to explore.
To take a fresh look at HK, head to Sai Kung, dubbed the ‘back garden of Hong Kong’, and where the more serene natural beauty of this bustling city awaits.
Famous for its seafood restaurants, fishing villages, nature trails and access to beaches and islands few would imagine existing here, Sai Kung is around 30 minutes from the city via taxi (don’t worry, taxis are cheap). We ate and drank a lot on this trip, so a day spent hiking and taking in leafy vistas before indulging (again!) in freshly caught seafood at one of the local restaurants lining the promenade in town was a lovely contrast. If you’re serious about hiking, Hong Kong Tourism’s website is an excellent place to find the perfect trail to explore.
Locals and visitors alike can enjoy the new artistic heartland at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage & Arts, Hong Kong’s most significant revitalisation project to date. What was once the city’s Central Police Station – complete with prison blocks – is now a gift to the Hong Kong community and its many visitors.
In such a densely populated city, where it seems a new skyscraper goes up every other day, it’s extraordinary to think this cultural gem lies in central Hong Kong. Enjoying an entire city block, 16 heritage buildings and two brand-new buildings house a rich rotation of exhibitions, artistic performances and education programs. Enjoy a free tour then eat and drink your way through the centre’s imaginative restaurants and bars. Dragonfly was our favourite (it’s just so pretty!) but Behind Bars scores points for its creative setting, found within a series of old prison cells and now happily lit in bright neon colours. You can’t miss the waiters, kitted out in orange prison overalls.
When it comes time for the snooze portion of your ‘eat, sleep, repeat’ Hong Kong experience, there are two main areas to choose from – Hong Kong Island or the Kowloon Peninsula to the north, just across Victoria Harbour. Of course, spend enough time in either and you’ll discover myriad distinct districts within (and a wide range of superb accommodation) but rather than choose a side we divided our time between both – and highly recommend this tactic!
Part of a vibrant new, mixed-use development at North Point, Hotel VIC on Hong Kong Island offers a stylish and – for Hong Kong – relatively affordable five-star option. With 671 contemporary rooms across two towers, this is one of the few hotels in Hong Kong where every room boasts harbour views. Convenience is prioritised here, with online check-in/check-out, a bespoke app connecting you to hotel services, and a 24-hour gym (look out for the virtual reality fitness flying machine, promising to help you burn 30% more calories!). But the real stars of the show are the Hong Kong harbour and skyline, with expansive views on offer throughout the hotel, including from the gym and rooftop pool.
North Point is Hong Kong’s ‘newly fashionable’ shopping and dining district, six stops after Central on the speedy MTR. Minutes’ walk from the North Point MTR station, and just steps from the ferry terminal, guests have easy access to all of Hong Kong. The hotel even offers a shuttle bus to Hong Kong Island’s main shopping and business districts. A personal highlight was hitting the streets each morning for my daily walk. Stepping out into the neighbourhood as shops were taking delivery of fresh produce and residents were rushing to work, I felt a sense of local life in this dynamic metropolis. Not far from the hotel are the famous Chun Yeung Street markets.
As one of the city’s earliest wet markets, they offer a fantastic glimpse into old-school Hong Kong. The streets are lined with stores selling everything from live seafood to fruit and vegetables and various cuts of meat, and the streets are busy with locals stocking up for the day’s meals (weekends can be incredibly hectic so go during the week if you can). Mong Kok translates to ‘busy corner’ in the local Cantonese language, which is completely appropriate for this vibrant, neon-lit area. Perhaps Hong Kong’s liveliest (and certainly most crowded) areas, Mong Kok is a major shopping district on the Kowloon side. From the huge 15-storey shopping complex Langham Place to some of Hong Kong’s most beloved traditional markets – including the Ladies, Flower, Jade and Bird markets – and plenty of street food stalls, Mong Kok is Asia on steroids and, at times, a sensory overload.
Cue your sanctuary in Mong Kok: the five-star Cordis hotel. The location is unbeatable – connected to Langham Place and surrounded by the markets mentioned above, everything is at your fingertips. A pair of sculptor Jiang Shuo’s enormous bronze Red Guards are on hand to welcome you, just two of the 1,500 pieces of mostly Chinese contemporary art throughout the building. Rooms are elegant and modern with mesmerising views of the city or South China Sea. We splurged on a Club room for access to the fabulous Club floor, where breakfast, snacks and afternoon tea are served and a dedicated Club team is ready to assist with all your Hong Kong questions.
The hotel’s tai chi lesson, offered daily at the pool on the 42nd floor, was unexpectedly memorable. This was a different way to experience the local culture, beyond food and markets, with the meaning behind the moves explained by the ever-patient resident tai chi master, Master Cheung. We also enjoyed sampling the popular local street foods on one of the hotel’s complimentary daily walking tours. Although the Cordis is home to some stellar dining spots, including the Michelin-starred Ming Palace, the neighbourhood eats deserve to be devoured, too.
We flew non-stop from Brisbane to Hong Kong with Hong Kong’s national airline, Cathay Pacific. Out of Australia, Cathay Pacific has more than 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Cairns. All Australian flights offer three classes of travel – business class, premium economy class and economy class – providing excellent, award-winning levels of service to both the business and leisure traveller. cathaypacific.com
WHERE TO STAY
On Hong Kong Island we stayed at Hotel VIC. On the Kowloon side, we stayed at Cordis Hong Kong.
The CCB (Asia) Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival brings together world-class food, drinks and entertainment with the stunning Victoria Harbour skyline as its backdrop. Visit the Hong Kong Tourism website for updated 2019 dates closer to your trip.
Walk in Hong Kong tours offer an incredible array of walking tours in addition to Sham Shui Po, from LGBT in the City to a Market Hopping Food Tour.
Download the My Hong Kong Guide by Hong Kong Tourism Board before going. This all-in-one app allows you to create customised guides from 1,800 activities and attractions, get trip ideas from other travellers, share your experiences on social media, and more.
The writer travelled as a guest of Hong Kong Tourism Board.