Christmas in Hong Kong

Christmas is a wonderful time to visit Hong Kong. There is so much to see and do and most of it is free, easy to get to via public transport and great with or without the kids!

Most of the streets, malls and major hotels have fantastic decorations as can be seen below.

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The European Carnival is held on the Central Harbour-front on Hong Kong Island. It’s packed with rides, carnival games and loads of different food. It’s located right next to the Observation Wheel which is a great way to view both the carnival and harbour or take some romantic selfies.

About an hour from Central and easily accessible by the bus, Stanley plaza is transformed at Christmas time inspired by traditional German Christmas markets. There are authentic German snacks, a life-sized candy house, mulled wine and lots of unique market stalls.

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The Landmark is a huge multi level shopping centre and at Christmas it hosts the Landmark Christmas Circus. An elaborate puppet show that comes to life every half an hour it’s very popular so best to avoid around lunch time if possible. Each level of the centre provides a different view of the ‘circus’ and many have a cafe with a good vantage point.

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Located on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong are the Hullet House Christmas Markets at 1881 Heritage. Whilst traditionally the markets are only on for three days, the decorations are around for a lot longer and definitely a highlight.

The Pulse Light Show is a 3D audiovisual light show located next to the historical Tsim Sha Tsui clock tower on the Kowloon harbourfront. It’s free and narrated in english, cantonese and mandarin at different times throughout the night.

The most spectacular celebration is the Harbour itself. Many of the buildings by the Harbour are decorated with Christmas lights and it’s definitely not to be missed. Even though views of the harbour are good at any time of the year, it’s especially impressive at Christmas.

Destination: China Hong Kong

Tai Po, Hong Kong

Tai Po is an area within the New Territories of Hong Kong, once a substantial forest it is now densely populated with a mixture of public housing complexes and many expensive high-end private properties in the sparsely populated area surrounding Tai Po.

Like most areas of Hong Kong Tai Po is easily accessible via public transport, a little over an hour and 3 or 4 train line swaps on the MTR depending on your departure point.

Despite being highly populated Tai Po is lucky to have a large amount of green area and subsequently is the second lowest polluted district in Hong Kong. The main road did appear to have a cycling lane and we observed more bicycles in this area than usual.

From the MTR it’s an easy walk to the Tai Wong Yeh Temple. The temple was originally a stone tablet which was erected by villagers in the mid-Qing Dynasty. Later fishermen raised funds to build the temple for worship. In 1960, a formal launching ceremony for dragon boats was first held at the Temple as part of the popular Dragon Boat Festival. The ceremony has remained a tradition since then.

Right alongside the Temple is Tsai Park, it has stunning views across the harbour and is an incredibly beautiful, peaceful and quiet part of Tai Po. A great spot to enjoy the simplicity of sitting on one of the many benches along the harbour to soak in the view, a contrast to the usual busy, noisy streets of Hong Kong.

Tai Po is divided by the Lam Tsuen River, it’s a lovely walk across the Bridge on Yuen Shin Road to the Yuen Shin Park. This park is huge, and is Hong Kong’s largest and arguably most beautiful public park. There are many tree-fringed lawns for picnics and kite-flying, an amphitheatre with white sail-canopies, a cycling track along Tolo Harbour from where you can watch dragon boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival, and an Insect House. There are a number of vendors where you can hire bikes of all types.

Located in the park is the Lookout Tower, a large-scale landmark established for the commemoration of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

It’s important to note that during our visit the restaurant at the base of the Lookout was closed. In fact strangely uncharacteristic for Hong Kong, there was nowhere in the park nor along the harbour to get a meal or beverage.

A perfect location to recharge and enjoy a picnic it’s worth the hour commute!

Destination: China Hong Kong

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong

Cheung Chau is an island 10 kilometres southwest of Hong Kong Island. It is nicknamed the ‘dumbbell island’ due to its shape. Getting to the island is easy enough via ferry (pier no 5 at Central) either via fast ferry which takes approximately 40 minutes or the slow ferry which takes an hour.

The view from the arriving ferry pier across the promenade shows a harbour full of activity with fishing vessels, trawlers, junks and sampans. The waterfront is lined with cafes, predominately seafood restaurants and a number of souvenir shops.

There are also a number of bikes lined up on the foreshore, this is the most common mode of transportation other than walking on the island, as motorised vehicles are not allowed – the only exception being garbage ‘trucks’.

A favourite well-known local desert is the mochi – a traditional desert originating from Japan. Essentially it’s a rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice, filled with fresh fruit. The picture below is a mango mochi.

Yuk Hui Temple or commonly known as Pak Tai Temple, is said to have been built about 200 years ago to honour Pak Tai, the Taoist god of the sea. It is also home to the famous Cheung Chau Bun Festival which takes place in May.

Cheung Chau is a popular spot for hikers and the walk around the island up to the North Lookout Pavilion is spectacular. The views across the ocean show other islands and a busy ferry route. There are no drinking stations, nor small shops along the way, so it’s important to make sure you are well prepared with supplies.

Tung Wan Beach is the most popular spot for a swim, it’s netted and a lifeguard can be seen on duty.

It’s best to enjoy Cheung Chau in the morning because by lunch time the streets are packed! One especially busy area is not far from the ferry pier – a town square on the Cheung Chau Family Walk. There you will find a long line of people, under the shade of a massive tree, waiting to be served at the Gan Yongtai fishball shop. These fishballs are eaten from a stick, while leaning forward and taking care to not drip sauce on your shoes – truly a recommended Hong Kong experience. People watching here is almost an art form and you will find many different characters.

Not far from the square is the Lock of Love on Tung Wan Rd. It is a wooden house with an iron fence which allows lovers to hang locks with wishes written on them.

Cheung Chau is a lovely island well worth the day trip, just keep an eye on the weather forecast as ferries can be cancelled from time to time in inclement weather.

Destination: China Hong Kong

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens, Kowloon Hong Kong

The Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens are easily accessible from both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island by MTR. Both are only an 8-10 minute walk from the Diamond Hill Station.

Chi Lin Nunnery is a large buddhist temple constructed using traditional architecture entirely with cypress wood, without the use of any nails, and is currently the world’s largest hand-made wooden building.

The surrounding sculptured gardens, ponds and large bonsai are incredible, it’s a beautiful location with the skyscrapers of this busy city creating a surreal backdrop.

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Nan Lian Gardens is located opposite Chi Lin Nunnery and is a scenic garden covering an area of 35,000 square metres. To say the gardens are spectacular is an understatement as they are so well maintained and incredibly beautiful.

 

Whilst there is a restaurant on premises, there is a lovely tree-lined area with tables and chairs where you can enjoy a packed lunch if you wish.

Free admission into the spectacular Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens, they really are a must see whilst in Hong Kong.

Destination: China Hong Kong
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Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong

Aberdeen is located on the South West side of Hong Kong Island. Famous for its boat village and floating seafood restaurants located in the Harbour, it is perfect to spend a few hours walking around.

The Tanka people, who used to live on boats in the Aberdeen Harbour, are generally associated with the fishing industry. In fact, there are still several dozens of them living on boats in the harbour.

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The foreshore is a hub of activity with many statues and monuments dedicated to the lifestyle of the local people. The walk is only a short one, but a great way to glimpse their past lives under the shadow of the skyscrapers of modern life.

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The city itself is only small, but bustling. There are many shops and malls under the high-rise apartment building. Below is the entrance to Aberdeen Square in Aberdeen Centre.

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Although probably not a day trip in itself, Aberdeen is a great place to look around just on sunset to take in a different side of Hong Kong.

Destination: China Hong Kong

Repulse Bay, Hong Kong

Repulse Bay is located in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island. It is a popular beach and arguably the most beautiful on Hong Kong Island. There is a shark netted area to swim and there are often life guards on duty. It’s a great spot to relax, unwind and get away from the busy city.

There are a number of bus routes on Hong Kong Island that travel to Repulse Bay via Island Road. We’d suggest taking the Deep Water Bay Beach stop to access the Seaview Promenade, the small temple below is a convenient landmark! Cross the road and begin to enjoy the delightful walk along the bay which continues on to Repulse Bay.

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Deepwater Bay Beach is quieter than Repulse Bay, it doesn’t have the facilities, shopping and restaurants nearby, but it is a gorgeous spot nevertheless.

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The Seaview Promenade is a beautiful way to not just take in the sea views, there are so many different plants and flowers to enjoy along the way. The promenade is well maintained, perfect for going for a walk with the family (dogs are allowed), or riding the bike with the kids. It’s not a challenging walk and is mostly flat the entire way however, there are no drinking stations along they way, so make sure you’re prepared if it’s a typical hot and humid Hong Kong day.

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The bay is a popular spot for locals to go fishing (we watched these guys for ages), take the boat out or practise dragon boat racing skills.

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As mentioned the promenade takes you all the way to Repulse Bay. The Bay is super clean and has plenty of trees providing some lovely shade not so far from the water’s edge. There is a great children’s playground, lots of restaurant options and plenty of shops to explore.

At the very southern end of Repulse Bay Beach prominently on display overlooking the sea, are two statues of Kwun Yam (Goddess of Mercy) and Tin Hau (Goddess of Sea) which stand 10 metres high. There are also many other colourful deities representing many folk gods.

Beautiful and very accessible by affordable public transport, loads to keep all members of the family occupied and very happy, Repulse Bay is definitely a great spot to put on your itinerary whilst in Hong Kong.

Destination: China Hong Kong

The Peak, Hong Kong – During the Day

As mentioned in our previous post being able to pick the right day to visit the Peak is a luxury we’ve had whilst based in Hong Kong for a bit. The Fog and smog coming across from mainland China can often mean the view from The Peak is disappointing. This handy link to a webcam that streams live footage from The Peak makes it easy to identify whether it’s the right time to visit. The Peak Webcam.

We decided to explore The Peak area a little more extensively by taking a taxi to the top of Victoria Peak Gardens via Mount Austin Road. It is possible to walk up to the Gardens, however if you’re short of time, short of fitness or just want to enjoy a leisurely walk down to The Peak Galleria then the taxi option is a good one.

It’s a beautiful spot, the gardens are well maintained and the view from here is lovely.

The Mount Austin Playground is lovely and a great spot for a picnic or to take a rest before making the rest of the way down to The Peak Galleria.

Across the road from the The Peak Galleria is a great cafe called The Peak Lookout. It gets very busy so you’d be lucky to get a table without reservation unless visiting early. We can recommend the Tiramisu!

There are lots of other food options across the road in the main Galleria/Tower buildings, it’s a nice place to spend a few hours when visiting the Peak.

Whilst there is a free viewing platform the Sky Terrace is, we believe, the best vantage point. It costs $50HK per person and the 360 degree views make it value for money.

A fun way back down from the Peak to Central is via the Peak Tram. You can use your MTR Octopus card to pay for your trip and it’s quite the experience going down – backwards!

This is a popular tourist activity, both going up to the Peak and back down, and our advice is to be early, especially if you plan to use it to go to the Peak from Central. As the photos below indicate, the line up around lunch time on a Saturday were incredible – we were pleased not to be stuck waiting!

Update: Another great reason to visit the peak – Gordon Ramsay has now moved his restaurant, Bread Street Kitchen, from the Lan Kwai Fong hotel to The Peak Galleria!

Destination: China Hong Kong

The Peak, Hong Kong – At Night

For months now we’ve been waiting and hoping with fingers crossed for a perfect fog and smog free night, to get some great pictures from The Peak at sunset and night.

This incredibly handy link to a webcam that streams live footage from The Peak has made it super easy to do so The Peak Webcam.

A quick check of the webcam confirmed our suspicions that after a stunning day it was indeed the perfect evening to dash up to The Peak. We were incredibly lucky as the number 15 bus that travels along Queens Road East in Wan Chai all the way to the Peak Galleria is only a 5 minute walk from our apartment.

The sequence of four photos below were taken from Bec’s iPhone. The view is from the Peak Sky Terrace, entry is $50HK each and whilst there is a free public viewing platform, we believe the Terrace is the best option to see the view.

The next group of photos Keith took from our Cannon Camera as the sun was setting, looking across Hong Kong Island toward Kowloon.

And finally after sunset, the lights and skyline of Hong Kong come alive.  

It’s worth the jostling crowd on a perfect night to experience such an incredible transformation of this beautiful city.

Destination: China Hong Kong

Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Lantau Island is twice the size of Hong Kong Island and the largest among some 256 islands within the Hong Kong Territory.

The quickest and most direct way to travel to Lantau Island if using pubic transport is by Ferry. The ordinary ferry takes about an hour however the fast ferry takes only 40 minutes. Both depart from Central Pier # 5 quite regularly and are noted as the Mui Wo Service. Take care though to note the weather forecast as during monsoon season ferry services can be cancelled.

After researching what we wanted to see on the Island it became clear that the taxi service there is quite limited and so getting around to see everything on our own would be an issue. We decided the best option would be to join a guided tour for the day. As you can see from the picture below when we arrived on the Island there were no taxi’s waiting at the ferry terminal.

Our first stop on the tour was Cheung Sha Beach. Whilst the longest beach on the island (around 3km) it’s not the most spectacular but definitely one of the easiest to access by road. It’s patrolled during the peak season and has a large shark netted area. It was quite pretty, however, we’re quite spoilt when it comes to beaches in Australia.

We then continued on to the fishing village of Tai O. This little village has an interesting history, from being a popular hiding place for pirates and smugglers to a hotspot for illegal immigrants. Historically it has been known as a fishing village and a producer of salt, today it is more about tourism. As we walked through the village it was hard not to be overwhelmed, I’ll let the pictures below explain.

The village is located mostly on the banks of the river, so the houses are on stilts, not sure how safe I’d feel living in one during monsoon season! We boarded a small boat and enjoyed seeing such a unique community going about its normal day.

Before leaving Tai O we visited Kwan Tai Temple, made a ‘wish’ and donated to the temple before heading off to the highlight of our trip, the Giant Buddha.

Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, is a large bronze statue of Buddha, located near Po Lin Monastery. It symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. Another advantage of taking our tour was that the bus deposited us at the ‘rear’ of the statue meaning we avoided having to climb the 268 steps otherwise required to get to the top. The view overlooking the Monastery and surrounding mountains was spectacular.

Once we’d had a look around we then explored the Buddhist Po Lin Monastery. It’s a fairly large place and the architecture was really impressive. We had one of the best vegetarian meals we’ve ever had for lunch, it was incredibly fresh and I’m assuming because they’d been told to expect us as a tour group the service was really efficient and friendly.

The view of the Giant Buddha from the Monastery was amazing, highlighting all those steps we were so happy to avoid!

Definitely a wonderful day trip not to be missed in Hong Kong.

Note: Unfortunately during our time in Hong Kong the Ngong Ping Cable Car was closed undergoing maintenance. Our research indicates that most of the guided tours such as the one we went on usually incorporate the Cable Car as part of the experience.

Destination: China Hong Kong

Hong Kong Park

Whilst based in the Wan Chai area I decided to take a walk to the nearby Hong Kong Park. It’s a lovely park in between Wan Chai and Central and has a lot of things to see. Even the walk there is pretty, below are a couple of snaps I took along the way.

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Right in the middle of the park is a man made lake that is split up into sections. There is a large waterfall feeding the lake. Although some rather large koi carp call it home, there are also many, many turtles!

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Above the lake – which you can get to by walking behind the waterfall pictured above – there is a conservatory that houses lots of different species of flowers. Entry is free and it has a number of areas to explore. The main area is for showing off orchids.

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There is also an area for “dry plants” – cactus mainly – and a humid zone which has it’s own waterfall as well. This area is mostly succulents and bromeliads and my favourite, the bat flower. The flowers look just like little bats hanging from the plant!

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From the conservatory, a short walk takes you to the Tai Chi Garden. I highly recommend it. A tranquil place of relaxation, it is small but very pretty.

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One of the best features is the “Vantage Point” – a high tower with a steep spiral staircase that takes you to the top. However, I do need to issue a fair warning. The 30 metre high tower has 105 very steep stairs that are quite challenging, especially in the heat or if you are really unfit (don’t ask me how I found that out). As you climb the stairs and at the top, the view is well worth it.

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Once you’ve stopped sweating after coming back down those stairs, right next door to the garden is the walk through aviary. I wouldn’t put this on my must see list, but while you’re there, it is worth a look.

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And this guy, who worked out a great way to get a drink!

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Since Hong Kong Island is naturally very steep in many places, I found that I’d wound my way up to the top of the park. I had a look at an exhibition at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre put on by a couple of local artists.

I then made my way back via Kennedy Road, I thought it would be nice to see a different view and was not disappointed. The way that urban Hong Kong constantly blends with nature is something I really love about this place.

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The road that takes me to where I’m staying is called Wan Chai Gap Road and it’s very small, but ridiculously steep. It’s also part of the Wan Chai Green Trail that is a really steep 1.5 km walk and is surround by nature.

Although part of that nature likes to be included in the trail!

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After my long walk back, I realised that I had been so busy, I’d barely even looked out of the window of my hotel room. When I did, there were some interesting and unique items to note.

The first, this weird building that almost looks like a Gehry. It kind of looks like a normal sky scraper that has been twisted once it was plonked on the side of the hill!

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The second, a neighbour in a nearby building has some strange pets….

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Destination: China Hong Kong