What to do in Hong Kong
Chinese (Lunar) New Year. Although this may seem like an ideal time to go to Hong Kong, many shops and restaurants are closed during the first 3 days of the Chinese New Year, so visitors will not see Hong Kong at its best. However, unlike Christmas in Europe where you can hardly find shops open, department stores, supermarkets, and Western fast-food restaurants generally remain open, so you can still get food and daily products easily during the Lunar New Year period. The week or two leading up to the Chinese New Year as well as the period from the 3rd to the 15th day are good times to soak up the festive mood and listen to Chinese New Year songs being played in the shops. There are some celebratory events such as lion dances, fireworks, and parades.
Spring Lantern Festival. If you go to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, you will be able to experience this traditional Chinese festival. A number of beautiful lanterns can be found in the park at this time.
Ching Ming Festival. This festival in spring is also known as grave sweeping day. To show respect to the deceased, family members go to the grave of their ancestors to sweep away leaves and remove weeds around the grave area. Paper offerings are also burned, such as fake money.
Birthday of Tin Hau. Hong Kong’s maritime heritage ensures that Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea and patron saint of fishermen, has a strong and loyal following here. On her birthday, locals flock to the more than 70 temples dedicated to her in Hong Kong to pray for safety, security, fine weather and full fishing nets during the coming year. So enduring is the reverence for Tin Hau in Hong Kong that this festival is even celebrated by many young people who are more likely to catch a fish in a Seafood Restaurant than on a trawler.
The Birthday of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), the founder of Buddhism, also called the Buddha Bathing Festival, is one of the most spiritual and unique festivals celebrated in Hong Kong. According to legend, nine dragons sprayed water to bathe the baby Buddha at birth. To commemorate this, at Buddhist temples across the city, devotees gather to pay their respects to this revered deity by bathing statues of him in bowls of water. The ritual is believed to aid in the purification of one’s soul. One of the grandest ceremonies is held at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home of the Big Buddha.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival. This is takes place on the tiny island of Cheung Chau. In the past the festival has involved competitions with people climbing bun towers to snatch buns. After the unfortunate collapse of a bun tower in 1978, due to an overload of people, the competition was abandoned. It was resumed again in 2005 with better safety measures.
Tuen Ng Festival, popularly known as Dragon Boat Festival. This is a festival in memory of a national hero from the spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Dragon boat races are typically held during this festival with boats that have shapes of a dragon. People celebrate also by eating glutinous rice dumplings, usually with pork fillings, and drinking realgar wine. The Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar month which is going to be 18 June 2018.
Hungry Ghost Festival. This festival runs throughout the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell open during this period and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into our world. Though not a public holiday, this is the time where one can see many people perform various rites to appease the wandering ghosts, such as offering food and burning joss paper. One can also see traditional performances such as Chinese opera which are held to appease these ghosts.
Mid Autumn Festival / Moon Festival. This festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Moon cakes which contain lotus seed paste and duck egg yolks are a popular delicacy. Many foreigners will find the traditional mooncake hard to appreciate, so you might like to try the ice-cream version as well. The festival is also known as the lantern festival and various parts of Hong Kong will be festooned with decorative lanterns which set the night scene ablaze with color.
Chung Yeung Festival also known as Autumn Remembrance, which is similar to Ching Ming in spring, where families visit the graves of their ancestors to perform cleansing rites and pay their respects. As the weather cools down during this part of the year, hiking is a good activity to do during this holiday.
Halloween has grown rapidly in popularity and many people dress up to party till late. Trick or treat is not common but most restaurants and shopping centers are decorated and have special programs. For young adults and teenagers, Ocean Park and Disneyland is the place to be for Halloween fun. It is not a public holiday.
Christmas is celebrated Hong Kong style. The city is adorned using traditional Western Christmas decorations. Many shopping centers, such as Pacific Place, offer ample opportunities for children to meet Santa. Most shops and restaurants remain open throughout Christmas. You should expect large crowds out shopping for the Christmas sales.
New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong is something to check out if you are seeking a carnival experience. Hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets to celebrate the New Year is truly an unforgettable time. There are all-night services on the MTR, night-buses, and of course, many taxis. Fireworks go off on the harbor front, which a lot of people attend to watch on both sides of the harbor: Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side) and Central (Hong Kong Island). The young adults and older adults decide to party with the rest of Hong Kong at the hot-spots such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui. Many people dress up and attend private parties and others flock to the streets to enjoy the atmosphere. Police patrol around popular areas to make sure the city is a safe party-zone. Hong Kong people are not great drinkers and most of them stay dry for the night. Drinking alcohol on the street is uncommon. So visitors who drink should moderate their behavior or risk being screened out by the police as the only drunks in the crowd.
Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. This annual event brings many visitors from around the world to celebrate the most entertaining installment in the IRB Sevens Series. It is a giant three day sell-out event that takes place between the last days of March and beginning of April.
Hong Kong Summer Spectacular. Dragon Boat Race, music festivals, summer sales, as well as book exhibitions, Anime Fair, all in the hottest summer parties and coolest carnival!
Hong Kong Summer Pop Music Festival Every summer, the Hong Kong Summer Pop Music Festival gathers top musicians who bring spectacular performance!
Hong Kong Arts Festival, a month-long festival of international performances, is held in February and March.
Man Literary Festival, a two-week English language festival with international writers as guests, is held in March.
Hong Kong International Film Festival, a three-week event, is held in late March to early April.
You are never far from the sea in Hong Kong and going to a good beach is only a bus-ride away. However, if you want a really good beach, then it is worth making the effort to travel, possibly on foot, and seek out the beaches of the New Territories. With more than 200 outlying islands, as well as an extensive coastline that is jam-packed with impressive bays and beaches, you will surely come across some good looking beaches to while the whole day away. Hong Kong’s urban beaches are usually well maintained and have services such as showers and changing rooms. Where beaches are managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Dept. shark nets and life guards are present. Dogs and smoking are not permitted on these beaches.
The best beaches to use include:
- Repulse Bay is a large urban beach on the south side of Hong Kong Island. It has recently had money spent on its facilities and will appeal to those who have young children.
- Middle Bay is popular with gay people and is a 20 minute walk from the crowds at Repulse Bay. Middle Bay has lifeguards, showers, changing rooms, shark nets and a decent cafe serving drinks and snacks.
- Shek O is a beach popular with many young Hong Kong people. It is away from the bustle of the city but is well served by restaurants and has a good bus service from the north side of the island. The Thai restaurant close to the beach is worth a try.
- Big Wave Bay This beach is smaller than others on Hong Kong Island but still has good services which include a number of small cafes close to the beach. Big Wave Bay, as the name suggests, has the sort of waves that appeal to surfers. From Big Wave Bay it is possible to take the coastal footpath to Chai Wan where you can find the MTR and buses. The walk to Chai Wan is about one hour, or more if you are not used to the steep climb up the mountain.
- Hung Shing Ye Wan beach on Lamma Island is a leisurely 20 minute walk from Yung Shue Wan Ferry
- Hung Shing Yeh beach is highly regarded as the most popular beach and is located on Lamma Island. This beach is Grade 1 and shows off powdery, fine sand as well as clear water. This beach is well-appointed by means of changing facilities, a barbecue area, and a refreshment kiosk. To arrive at this beach, take the ferryboat from Central Pier to Yung Shue Wan. Expect to walk around 20 minutes from the ferry terminal to the beach (buses and taxis are not an option on Lamma), don’t worry; it’s a great, easy walk.
Other than swimming pools in hotel, Hong Kong offers a series of public swimming pools which are maintained to a very high standard. Swimming pools are children friendly with shallow pools and fountains. All swimming pool complexes offer swimming lanes, hot showers, lockers, and most have swimming clubs for serious swimmers.
The Kowloon Park swimming pool complex is centrally located and offers visitors a wide range of services. Indoors is a main pool that is Olympic sized, a slightly smaller training pool, a diving pool and a leisure pool for younger swimmers. During the summer months the indoor pools are air-conditioned, whilst in winter the water is heated. Outdoors, during the summer season, they have four leisure pools to meet the needs of all ages. In summer, the pool is popular with teenagers but all age-groups make good use of the pools. A limited number of sun loungers are available.
The pools in Kowloon Park open at 06:30 and close at 22:00. There are session breaks when the centre closes for lunch 12:00-13:00 and then it closes for another hour 17:00-18:00. Most public pools in Hong Kong have similar opening and closing times with session breaks.
Family changing rooms are available in addition to the regular changing rooms. Males and females have separate changing areas but changing rooms do not offer much privacy between users of the same sex. Swimmers are expected to provide their own towels and toiletries.
You can rent out a Junk Boat for a sailing trip with your family and friends. A typical junk boat can accommodate more than 30 people and can be rented for the day to take you on a tour of your choice. Sai Kung is a popular spot for the trip to start and you can sail to nearby beaches for a more secluded time. A cheaper alternative is to hire a much smaller water taxi to take you to where you want to go.
Ham Tin beach is a great destination for campers in the Sai Kung East Country Park
Hiking is the best kept secret in Hong Kong; it is a great way to appreciate Hong Kong’s beautiful landscapes that include mountains, beaches and breathtaking cityscapes. The starting points for many hiking trails are accessible by bus or taxi. Hiking is highly recommended for active travellers who want to escape the modern urban world.
Hiking in Hong Kong can be strenuous because of the steep trails, and during the summer months, mosquitos and the hot, humid, weather combine to make even the easiest trek a workout. It is highly recommended that you wear suitable clothes, and bring plenty of water and mosquito repellent. It is fairly unlikely that you will have a close encounter with venomous snakes, although they are present in most rural areas. Most local people choose the winter months to undertake the more demanding hiking trails. If you are not especially fit you might plan your route so that you take a bus or taxi to the highest point of the trail and then walk downhill.
There are five major trails in the Hong Kong SAR:
- Lantau Trail on Lantau.
- Hong Kong Trail on Hong Kong Island.
- Maclehose Trail through the New Territories. Oxfam organizes an annual charity hike of this 100Km trail every November. Winning teams finish in around 11-12 hours but average people take 30-36 hours to finish the whole trail, which starts from the eastern end of the New Territories (Sai Kung) to the western end (Tuen Mun).
- Wilson Trail starting on Hong Kong Island and finishing in the New Territories.
- Family Trail on Lamma Island. Its highest point is around 100 meters above sea level, and the route is well signposted.
Hong Kong has some exceptional rural landscapes but visitor impact is an issue. Please respect the countryside by taking your litter home with you. Avoid using litter bins in remote areas as these are not emptied on a regular basis and your litter may be strewn around by hungry animals.
Campsites in Hong Kong are plentiful and free of charge. Most are located within the country parks and range from basic sites serviced with only with a drop-toilet, to those that provide campers with modern toilet blocks with cold showers. Some sites have running water and sinks for washing dishes. A few campsites have places to buy drinking water and food, whilst many are serenely remote. Weekends and public holidays are predictably busy, especially in the more accessible places close to roads. Many Hong Kong people like to camp in large groups, talk loudly and stay awake until very late, so if you are noise sensitive try to find a remote campsite or learn to keep your temper.
Horse racing may get all the media attention. Betting on world-wide football matches is also available at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. People can’t bet on other sports as it’s prohibited.
Marksix is a popular lottery ticket among the locals and you can pick 6 from 49 numbers in a bet, the lottery result will be announced on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends without horse racing, it can be bought in all Hong Kong Jockey Club offices.
Mahjong also forms an integral part of Hong Kong gambling culture. Mahjong also has had a strong influence on Hong Kong pop culture, with a history of songs and films based on a mahjong theme. The game played in Hong Kong is the Cantonese version, which differs in rules and scoring from the Japanese version or the versions played in other parts of China. Mahjong parlors are ubiquitous in Hong Kong, though they do not advertise their services openly and many require a fair amount of effort to find. They also have many unwritten rules that visitors may find hard to understand.