Why Hong Kong is far more than just a stopover destination

Hong Kong is pumping again after a few rough years. The transition back to Chinese rule has not been without its speed bumps, and then came drastic Covid lockdowns. But the former British colony has come out the other side, and while the new normal doesn’t please everyone, this world city seems to be back in the game.

With a population of nearly eight million, shoehorned into 2755 square kilometres encompassing the Kowloon Peninsular and 263 emerald islands (of which Hong Kong Island is the second largest), it has something for everyone. There’s faded colonial splendour, skyscrapers towering above colourful street markets and a glittering neon cityscape that never shuts down. 

To some, Hong Kong is just a stopover, but stay awhile and fall in love with this Manhattan on the South China Sea and its endless contradictions.

Getting there and getting around

With a flight time under 10 hours from most of Australia, Hong Kong is virtually short-haul. Even better, the time zone is only fractionally different, which means jet lag isn’t a problem.

Public transport is great. Get an Octopus Card and you are set, from the highly efficient MTR rail service, to the buses, trams and ferries. Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive with only the occasional kamikaze driver. Or you can Uber.

Meanwhile, a new High-Speed Rail runs from West Kowloon connecting with the mainland’s 25,000 kilometre national network if you want to venture further.

History, heritage and culture

West Kowloon Cultural District is the new jewel in the crown. Start with a Teahouse Theatre opera experience (with tea and dim sum) at the Xiqu Centre. Then head to M+ – dubbed Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture. Its waterfront location is stunning and its collection of contemporary Chinese art is unique. The hourly activation of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s ‘Old People’s Home’ – 13 sculptures of elderly people who look uncannily like world leaders dozing in wheelchairs – is a hoot.

There are many museums – all worth a visit – but put the Hong Kong Museum of History in your top 10, along with the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

The territory is dotted with temples, such as the Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay, dating back to 1266. One of the liveliest, on the other hand, is The Wong Tai Sin Temple covering Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, which has its own mall and MTR station. 

Wong Tai Sin Temple Hong Kong

The colourful Wong Tai Sin Temple. Photo: Discover Hong Kong

Eating and drinking

“Nei sik jor faan mei ah?” It’s a common Cantonese greeting that means – have you eaten yet? Because it’s all about the food. Hemingway described Paris as “a moveable feast”, but honestly, that sounds far more like Hong Kong. Eating is an all day and all night affair and most smaller cafes and restaurants welcome walk-ins.

Some of the best restaurants may be hard to find, so prior research is warranted. Still, a wander along any street will yield something. If there’s a queue, it’s worth joining.  

Our recommendation? Madame Fu, a homage to a Shanghai socialite who opened a grand salon in Shanghai in the 1930s after living in Paris. Cantonese fare, western desserts and afternoon tea is also a thing in this swanky grand salon that is all the rage.

Madame Fu Hong Kong

The much-instagrammed Pink Room at Madame Fu. Photo: Supplied

In terms of eats with a view that won‘t send you broke, Acqua (Japanese/Italian) and Hutong (Chinese) fit the bill – both on upper floors of the H Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. The views are always better from Kowloon but on the Hong Kong side, Skye Roofbar & Dining is recommended.

In terms of street food, Mong Kok in Kowloon is heaven. Watch Mark Wiens’ YouTube video on the best Hong Kong street food, as a primer. 

The hottest new dining experience is located in Hong Kong’s former Central Police Station Compound on Hollywood Road. The Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts is getting rave reviews from foodies with a range of choices including Aaharn, Aussie chef David Thompson’s first Hong Kong restaurant featuring his signature Thai cuisine.


It may not be the bargain basement experience it once was, but there’s dazzling variety and the shops are open until 10pm. 

The newest, swishest mall is the K11 Musea offering a high-end luxe experience on the Victoria Dockside harbour front. Art rules here and be sure to pop into the MoMA Design Store.

K11 Musea

K11 Musea is a hybrid of retail, art, dining and nature. Photo: Simon Lee

Ocean Terminal and Harbour City (Hong Kong’s biggest shopping centre) will keep you busy, enter just near the Star Ferry and lose yourself in a cool world of retail and dining.

Causeway Bay is a retail paradise with the Japanese Department store SOGO. Hysan Place on Hennesy Road has Eslite Bookstore, Hong Kong’s largest across three levels. 

Then, of course, there are markets. The Jade Market at Jordan in Kowloon is opposite a lovely Taoist temple. You will have to run the gauntlet of feisty stall-holders. The Ladies Market in Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok is open until 11.30pm for affordable fashion goods and accessories. The largest night bazaar in Hong Kong is the Temple Street Market in Yau Ma Tei, open from 2pm until midnight, with an extensive range of goods and a lively atmosphere. 


Fun fact – around 75 per cent of Hong Kong’s landmass is protected countryside. The Dragon’s Back is Asia’s best urban trek, a two-hour walk at just over 6km. From Shek O Peak the view out across the South China Sea is stupendous.

Dragons Back Hong Kong

The idyllic view from the Dragon’s Back walk. Photo: Getty

The 3.5km Lion Rock walk gives you an unrivalled view of urban Hong Kong from the summit. The Hong Kong Trail across the top of the island is around 18kms, a five-hour stroll.

Then there are far more arduous treks including the epic MacLehose Trail winding for 100km through the New Territories.


There’s an overwhelming array of hotels to choose from in Hong Kong. High end – The Peninsula Hong Kong, opened in 1928, is the pinnacle with amazing views from the upper floors – and who doesn’t mind a hotel transfer by Rolls Royce.

For absolute harbourfront try the new Regent Hong Kong, formerly the InterContinental, which opened late 2023 after a major makeover.

The Cordis Hong Kong is a modern upscale hotel in the mid-range set in Kowloon’s most populous locale with a vibrant street life outside.

The Hari in Wan Chai is a more boutique offering from the famous Harilela Group, a Hong Kong dynasty.  And if you want something brand spanking new then try The Mondrian which opened in late 2023 in a prime location, just a stroll from the waterfront of Kowloon.

Tourist traps, but worthwhile

Holidays aren’t just about unearthing the latest, undiscovered gems. They’re also about enjoying the tried-and-true icons, like Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau island. Likewise, Ocean Park Hong Kong is worth a visit just for the pandas. 

Ride up to Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram, an historic funicular railway, then stroll on the Governor’s Walk for stunning views.

Or join the crowds on the Kowloon waterfront’s Avenue of Stars at 8pm each night for Symphony of Light, the world’s largest permanent light and sound show. 

Phil Brown is the author of The Kowloon Kid (Transit Lounge 2019)

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.