Hidden amongst the fog and mists of the South China Sea is Hong Kong, a city of a million faces and personalities. It’s Chinese, but it’s not China. It’s British, but no longer part of the Commonwealth. It’s Asia, but more diverse than most western cities.
This port city, which is made up primarily of Hong Kong Island and mainland Kowloon, serves as many travelers’ first foray into Asia and is perfect for those seeking a taste of the colonial old with a large spoonful of the new—on steroids. Without a doubt, Hong Kong is the ideal destination for anyone with a keen eye and an adventurous appetite.
Hong Kong is a city of hills overlooking the stunning and always changing Victoria Harbour. Although you can find good views of the skyline and harbor throughout the city, the greatest of them can be seen from Victoria Peak (pictured at top). Located atop Mount Austin on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak’s view is the postcard shot of the city. Millions flock to the top—accessible via the ancient peak tram—to take in Hong Kong’s impressive skyline at sunrise, sunset, and at night once the city’s billions of lights have been turned on. This being Hong Kong there are tons of restaurants, along with a multistory mall, available for you to enjoy once you’ve taken your photos, but don’t fill up, there’s way too much good food in Hong Kong for you to waste any meals.
Hong Kong is a mega-city in the most literal sense. It’s made up of sprawling concrete, glass, and steel, with spots of greenery thrown in like sprinkles atop a scoop of ice cream. However, what many visitors ignore is Hong Kong’s proximity to beautiful hiking trails, none of which are more popular than The Dragon’s Back. By spending an afternoon on the trail, which is easily accessible via Hong Kong’s freakishly efficient public transit, you’ll get incredible panoramic views of neighboring islands, along with one thing that’s certainly hard to come by in Hong Kong: quiet. Take a walk on The Dragon’s Back and you’ll feel less guilty about ordering that that second (or third) plate of noodles that you’re sure to get later on in the day.
Photo by Max Bonem
There are too many restaurants in Hong Kong for one to ever visit all of them—too many incredible dumplings, too many delicious roast geese, too many options. What makes it even harder is that Hong Kong’s dining scene doesn’t stand still, it’s always evolving. One such example is Little Bao, located in the SoHo section of Hong Kong Island’s Central district. The restaurant itself is set up like a pint-sized American diner, if your local diner was in Brooklyn or Portland, of course. The kitchen is completely open air and everything is made fresh right before your eyes. The fried chicken bao is delicious, served with the caramelized brussel sprouts. Everything smells like truffles due to their popular fries that are tastefully tossed with truffle oil. Serving casual western staples prepared with traditional Chinese ingredients, Little Bao represents where Hong Kong is going. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Regardless, it’s a great spot to soak up the previous night’s questionable decision making.
Located on the north side of Victoria Harbour, the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade is one of Hong Kong’s most scenic walks. It is also home to some of Hong Kong’s most active residents and visitors. Made up of miles of pedestrian-only traffic, the promenade is a popular haunt for runners, joggers, and elderly locals practicing their tai chi as the city just starts to arise from the previous night. Go for a run and take in the epic view of the harbor or use the promenade as a means for post-dinner digestion. Regardless, if you’re staying anywhere in the southern part of Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade is there for the taking.
Photo by Max Bonem
When you come to Hong Kong, there are a few things you simply have to eat. Arguably at the very top of that pantheon is dim sum, an art unto itself in the city of a billion dishes. Although there are hundreds of dim sum restaurants to choose from, Din Tai Fung (pictured above) should be considered. Yes, the small chain started in Taiwan and their most famous item, soup dumplings, isn’t part of typical Hong Kong-style dim sum, but who the f*ck cares? They’re the definition of pleasure food and should be consumed without guilt—no matter how much they cost you.
Years ago, chefs and restaurant owners in Hong Kong banned together to put non-western cities on Michelin Guide’s map. Flash forward to now and you can find heaps of Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, but if you’re looking for the best of the best, Tim Ho Wan, the Dim Sum Specialist, cannot be missed. Their menu is ever changing, but standouts include rice with chicken feet and pork ribs, teochew dumplings, and, of course, their renowned barbecue pork buns—the ones worth the trip to Hong Kong on their own. On top of that, Tim Ho Wan is also the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant chain in the world. Yes, there will be a line and there’s also a good chance you’ll be seated with strangers if you’re dining alone, but come hungry, order a ton, and you’ll leave a happier human being. Guaranteed.
Beyond the hustle and bustle of Tsim Sha Tsui and the business of Central lies a quieter place, a different Hong Kong. Although British rule turned Hong Kong into a thriving, multicultural wonderland, an older and more traditional side of the city still remains and one such location that will never change is Wong Tai Sin Temple, located in the Chuk Un district. Constructed with strong ties to the elements of feng shui and acting as a temple for followers of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, Wong Tai Sin is never quiet. You won’t stumble upon Wong Tai Sin, but if you make the trip, you can leave Hong Kong knowing you’ve seen a bit of the old along with the never-ending new.
Joy Hing is not fancy. Joy Hing is not trendy. Joy Hing has no website or social media presence or anything else that would garner unwanted attention in the Internet era (although Anthony Bourdain did visit it on his Hong Kong episode of The Layover). The restaurant caters to dock and construction workers, laborers who work long hours and need a filling meal to keep them going. Similarly, you’ll see businessmen conducting conference calls from the same tiny tables that the rest of the clientele dine at. Joy Hing is famous for roasted meats of all varieties, but go in knowing what you want as the staff doesn’t have time for too many questions and english won’t get you far at this hole in the wall in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong Island. Get some roast duck, some roast pork, and, if you’re lucky or arrive early enough, some suckling pig. It’s greasy, no frills, and so old school that you’ll be wondering how much longer Joy Hing will exist without it actually becoming hip.
Max Bonem is a writer and eater currently traveling through Southeast Asia. You can follow his travels via his blog, Instagram or Flickr.