1. Breakfast at a Cha Chaan Teng
Forget the expensive hotel buffet and go for a unique-to-Hong Kong experience: breakfast at a Cha Chaan Teng (tea restaurant). If these diner-style cafes remind you of the 1950s it’s because they first became popular in the years following World War II, when demand for Western-style food soared. Hong Kongers flocked to cha chaan tengs for a ‘slice of the West’ in the form of pork chops, scrambled eggs and white-bread sandwiches at wallet-friendly prices. While the dining scene in Hong Kong now boasts sophisticated restaurants and cuisines from most corners of the world, the Cha Chaan Teng remains popular because of its convenience (many are open 24 hours) and low prices (you’ll struggle to find a cheaper breakfast in this notoriously expensive city). Think macaroni in broth, scrambled eggs on toast, sweet, milky tea and the famous Hong Kong ‘pineapple buns’. These buns contain no pineapple but take their name from their shape, yellow colour and crispy sugary top. Eat them warm with butter and accompanied by a glass of iced milk tea and you’re in breakfast heaven. Hundreds of Cha Chaan Tengs can be found in HK. Try: Australian Dairy Company (47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan) and Tsui Wah Restaurant (15 Wellington Street Hong Kong Island).
2. Get lost in Mongkok
Try trekking of the urban variety through the Kowloon neighbourhoods of Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok. Boasting some of the world’s highest density living, a mix of traditional and modern architecture, street markets and higher-end shopping malls and a plethora of cheap eats, this is an area to keep you busy for a full day. Many of the streets in the area were named after the wares traditionally sold in them: take a wander through Goldfish, Electronic and Sneaker Streets to smell the roses along Flower Market Road and hear the caged birds sing in the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden.
3. Visit a wet market
A visit to a wet market is the ubiquitous Asian travel experience for good reason. What’s not to love about an eye and nose-full of dried sausages; translucent sheets of jerky; gleaming fresh fish; dewy vegetables of every colour of the rainbow; pigs trotters; plucked ducks; tropical fruits… as well as frivolity, bartering and life going on. Photo opportunities abound. Try: Hong Kong’s oldest street market, Graham Street market (between Queen’s Road Central and Hollywood Road, Central); Kowloon City Market (100 Nga Tsin Wai Road); Mongkok Wet Market (Nelson St, Mongkok).
4. Snack on beef and fish balls
You’ve possibly never tried them so do yourself a favour and pull up a plastic stool at a local noodle house and order the peppered beef balls. Or seek out fish balls if they’re more your thing (the white ones). Beef and fish balls are the Southern Chinese equivalent of the meatball. Unlike European meatballs, the protein is pulverised to a paste, giving the balls a smooth appearance and chewy texture. Intensely flavourful and an interesting textural experience as well as a cheap and very local lunch.
For beef balls try: Tak Fat Beefball (Haiphong Road Temporary Market, Tsimshatsui); For fish balls try: Ming Dynasty: (151A Reclamation St., Yau Ma Tei) or What Chiu Doin’? (G/F, 78-84 Hennessy Rd., Wan Chai)
5. Stock up on beauty products
Hong Kongers love to shop and beauty knows no bounds in this glamour city. For beauty bargains skip the malls and try local chain stores Sa Sa and Bonjour. Each are a haven of discount skincare and cosmetic products and so popular that the sales assistants had out shopping baskets at the front door.
6. Travel the world’s longest outdoor escalator
When you tire of hiking the steep and winding roads of Central and SoHo hitch a ride on the world’s longest outdoor, covered escalator. Stretching 800m in distance and covering an elevation of 135m from bottom to top, this elevator system helps to transport commuters from Hong Kong island’s business hub to their homes in the Mid-Levels. You can jump on or off at several points along the way to explore SoHo’s hip bar and restaurant scenes.
7. Enjoy Dim Sum at the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant
Hong Kong is the place for dim sum and if you’re watching your wallet then Tim Ho Wan is the place for you. This is the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant and while it now has several branches across Hong Kong, it’s worth hunting down the original location in Mongkok. The atmosphere is local and the food is divine, especially the famous pork buns – soft and sweet with a crunchy sugar topping. Tim Ho Wan (Tsui Yuen Mansion, 2-20 Kwong Wa St, MongKok).
8. Visit the dark side – Kowloon Walled City park
One of Hong Kong’s least talked about tourist attractions, the Kowloon Walled City Park is a must for anybody interested in the darker side of an otherwise shiny city. Prior to being torn down in 1993 the Walled City was the most densely populated area of land on the planet. At only 6.5 acres it housed 33,000 residents in an ungoverned, unregulated series of buildings upon buildings that measured 14 stories high. Once a Chinese military fort, the walled city was left out of the leasing agreement when Hong Kong was ceded to Britain. As a result, it became a lawless area controlled by neither the British nor the Chinese and home to factories, schools, businesses, illegal dentists and doctors, criminal gangs and thousands of everyday people. Prior to the handover in 1997 the walled city was pulled down, its residents compensated and relocated. Today sits a Chinese garden, a bronze model of the walled city and remnants of the original military garrison gate. Kowloon Walled City Park (Kowloon City, Hong Kong).
9. Munch on egg and coconut tarts
Cheap, sweet, tasty. Found at many a bakery store, although Tai Cheong Bakery in Central is famed for these delicacies. Try: Tai Cheong Bakery (35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central).
10. Take the ferry
What better way to see Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour than by ferry. For HK $85 you can take a one-hour round-trip harbour cruise on The Star Ferry, stopping at Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wan Chai. For a cheaper (but quicker) experience take a one-way trip across the harbour and view the Hong Kong skyline from the upper deck. Star Ferry Pier (Kowloon Point, Hong Kong).