If you had just one day to show people Hong Kong, where would you take them?
Here’s my top secret one-day tour!
Say you’re in Hong Kong just for a limited time and you want to see as much as possible. Where do you start?
First of all, don’t trust your guidebook. Most of the time it’s not aimed at the sophisticated traveler but for the most mainstream tourist. Use it as a reference only. The guidebooks tend to push things that aren’t central to the Hong Kong experience. Two places I would immediately skip are the Big Buddha and Stanley. Both of these require too much travel time and don’t deliver enough pay-off to justify the trip.
Get your goals straight before you arrive. Although the territory is diverse, Hong Kong is primarily known for being a vibrant, cosmopolitan city – “the Manhattan of Asia.” The emphasis on this short tour is to give you a glimpse into the colorful markets, extreme shopping, and stunning urban landscapes that earn the city its reputation.
This quick, condensed tour will provide you with excellent photo opportunities, great souvenir shopping and a peek into the soul of the city.
Before you set out:
Bring your walking shoes because in order to explore this town you need to walk. You can stop for a drink every so often and refresh yourself. Learn part of what makes Hong Kong tick – convenience stores! Hong Kong has two major chains: 7-11 and Circle K and they’re everywhere. Use them and you’ll be living like a local.
Taxis in H.K. are much cheaper than in other countries and are not too dishonest. (Perhaps because Hong Kong is too small to drive too far?) Apart from main tourist destinations, it helps to have the address either told to the driver or written in Chinese. Most taxi drivers’ English is fair but don’t expect them to know the names of every street in English. Normally it helps if you tell the driver both the street name and the neighborhood. For example: Queens Road, Central.
The MTR, Hong Kong’s subway system is extremely convenient, clean, and exceptionally safe. You can purchase tickets for individual rides through the easy to use vending machines, or you can go to the ticketing desk. Read my post with details about the system.
Hong Kong is relatively small so walking is a great way to really see the city. In many parts of town you can walk from one neighborhood to the next in no time. Take a small map with you and you should have no problem navigating. Streets are clearly marked in Chinese and English and there are natural landmarks such as the harbor and mountains, as well as tall buildings to help you get your bearings. Hong Kong is very safe and you won’t feel intimidated walking anywhere at any time of day.
Bargaining and haggling:
Since this tour explores markets, you may need some bargaining strategy. Keep these points in mind: start with a smile; prices get cheaper with greater quantity; not every price will be negotiable, but most prices in markets should be negotiated. Don’t go too crazy if the price is already cheap (for example, a $12HKD bouquet of flowers you don’t need to get down to $10.) However, a suitcase priced at $300 you may be able to get down to $180.) In some circumstances it helps to act like you’re going to walk away, but only after they’ve given you a reduced price that you believe is too high.
This is a one-day itinerary, but feel free to break it up should you only have an afternoon or a night free. You can use your guidebook, or any free map found at hotels or at the Hong Kong Tourist Association offices to help you follow along. The itinerary includes the following sites:
Fa Yuen Street Market
Tung Choi Pet Street
Electronics shopping on Sai Yeung Choi Street
Tsim Sha Tsui Harborfront promenade
Markets, markets and more markets
Shopping is the number one past time of Hong Kong city dwellers. For better or for worse, you can’t stroll down the street without multiple shopping opportunities presenting themselves. You can find everything from ultra high-end to below $10 HKD stores. In addition to being places to shop, the markets included here provide an interesting slice of Hong Kong culture and are extremely photogenic. Here we go!
Start at the Flower Market in the neighborhood called Prince Edward on Kowloon side. Once you’re there, simply walk to the end and you can enter the bird market!
For details, directions and photos of the Flower and Bird markets, see my in-depth post.
Nearby is the start of a different kind of market. On the front corner of the Flower Market, cross the street at the intersection of Sai Yee Street and Prince Edward Road and walk away from the market, towards Nathan Road. Look for the beginning of the market on Nullah Road / Fa Yuen street. You should see a car-less pedestrian street packed with stalls and people shopping.
Here you enter another dense street market. If you like, walk not down the center, but on either side where you will find sample clothing stores to browse. Head one long block down towards Mongkok and take a right on Bute Street. Next, take a quick left to head down Tung Choi Street. You know you’re in the right place when the street looks like a sidewalk aquarium!
Pause to take some photos of the hundreds of varieties of fish on display. Continue down in the same direction as before. When you hit Argyle Street, cross and walk over one street to your right – this should be Sai Yeung Choi. Sai Yeung Choi Street is a major shopping strip particularly for electronics. (If you’re camera hunting, try inside the Yau Shing Building at 51 Sai Yeung Choi Street South. There you’ll find several floors of electronics shops. Note that electronics prices differ according to the type of warranty.)
At the intersection of Nelson Street and Sai Yeung Choi, take a left and walk half a block and you’ll hit the Ladies Market on Nelson Street and Tung Choi Street. The Ladies Market is filled with all sorts of necessities, tourist merchandise and knock-off products. This is a place you should definitely bargain and perhaps even use the ‘I’m walking away’ technique. After a few blocks you should be tired and perhaps sick of shopping! Take a break, grab a drink, or head to lunch.
Next stop is the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui. Take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui (pronounced ‘Chim-Sa-Choy’) or a taxi to Star Ferry pier if you want to save time.
When you have enough photos, head back along the water and enter the Star Ferry terminal. The ferries depart to two different destinations on Hong Kong Island, Central and Wanchai. Take the journey to Central. There are actually two different entrances. Climbing the stairs will put you on the upper deck of the boat. The street level entrance goes to the lower deck. I prefer the upper, but you’ll have similar views either way. (The lower-deck smells a little bit like diesel fuel.)
(Note that the seats on the ferry are benches with back-boards that swing in either direction allowing you to sit facing the direction of travel. Switch it to the correct side, (if it isn’t set when you board,) and then take your seat.)
From the ferry you have a water level view while traversing the harbor. The route is much shorter than it used to be, but still provides you with a wonderful view of the city. As you depart you will get closer and closer to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island. Getting off the boat you will arrive in Central near the (current) tallest building in the city, Two IFC aka IFC2.
Exploring The Peak
Let the other people stand in line for the Peak tram. Instead, just hop in a taxi and say “The Peak”. It’s cheaper (with a few people,) faster, and you can take the tram down if you want.
Arriving at the Peak don’t go to the regular viewing platform. There you’ll see only a fraction of the view. Read my post on How to Optimize Your Peak trip. The Peak walk can take place at night or during the day. Either time is stunning and worth the trip when there’s decent to good visibility.
After all your time in the markets and perhaps with the additional shopping you’ve done in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, or Causeway Bay, you might be running out of room in your suitcase. If you find yourself in this situation, or just want to load up on more souvenirs while in the Central neighborhood, The Lanes are worth a stop.
Comprised of two parallel alleys (East and West,) in the Lanes you will find similar tourist souvenirs as you would in the Ladies Market in Mongkok or at the Temple Street Night Market. (You can skip The Lanes if you’ve already filled your souvenir quota.) However, another draw is a set of shops selling suitcases at very reasonable prices. The stores are located closer to Des Voeux Road on Li Yuen Lane West. Expect to find lower to mid-range luggage. The price of suitcases in Hong Kong is much cheaper than in other countries. Something you would need to pay $200 USD for, you can find for $25 USD in Hong Kong.
Note: I may update this post from time to time to add more spots I think are worthy of a one-day tour. Enjoy!