20 Ways to Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Hong Kong.
By College Tourist of 06/03/15
Live like a local, explore like a traveler in Hong Kong.
College Tourist Summer Team of Student Travel Bloggers.
EAT LIKE LOCAL. Hannah McIntyre, Spring Hill College
Eat like a local. Dai Pai Dongs are market-like groupings of food stalls located throughout the city of Hong Kong, sometimes attached to markets. These street food vendors pack in the locals during a lunch rush, a sign to visitors that the food is authentic and good. Seafood, roasted meats, dim sum, stir fries, noodles, bowl pudding, fish balls, juices and a multitude of other local delicacies can be found all in one place – what more could you want? Look for the lines of locals or let your nose do the work for you when making your decision. Choosing to grub at the local Dai Pai Dong is an easy way to ensure you are getting an authentic meal experience and you have the opportunity to try a few different things. Graham Street, Temple Street and Haiphong Street are some of the highest-ranked Dai Pai Dongs in the city. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
SHOPPING MALLS Marilyn La Jeunesse, New York University
Malls in Hong Kong are like any other. Don’t discount visiting one if you’re near, because they’re the easiest (and best) way to immerse yourself into the culture. They have everything from traditional food to ice rinks. MegaBox is one of the most popular malls in the country. According to a tourist who recently traveled to Hong Kong, malls illuminate the mixture of Chinese and Western influences in the country. Although more Westernized than China, they maintain ties to their traditional background, see in the stores and food in the shopping centers.
WEST KOWLOON WATERFRONT PROMENADE. Emily Poklar, University of Wisconsin, Maddison
Hong Kong is fast-paced and full of adventure. It’s easy to get swept up in the tourist attractions lining every street. The West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade is one of the easiest ways to get away from the hustle of the city without going far. The promenade gives a stunning view of the Victoria Harbor, without the swarms of tourists you’ll find at Tshim Sha Tsui. Walk around at dusk for a romantic view of the skyline. Or bring a picnic for a meal with a million-dollar view.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE LOCAL ECONOMY. Whitney Barnes, University of Central Florida
Whenever traveling abroad I make it a mission on my to-do list to contribute to the local economy. Whether it by visiting local eateries, buying a handmade garment, or going to a locally owned market Hong Kong provides an endless amount of opportunities. Street markets are quite the rave throughout Hong Kong. If antiques are what you are looking for browse down Cat Street there you will find rare silks, revolutionary propaganda posters, merchants, and a unique art scene. Perhaps you are in Hong Kong for a lengthy stay. Looking to eat and shop like a local? Visit Chun Yeung Street a ‘wet market’. A ‘wet market’ in Hong Kong refers to a popular supermarket. Many arrive here through usage of Hong Kong’s tram system, another opportunity to leave your mark on the local economy. For my fellow foodies travel over towards Queen’s Road Central via Hiller Street and there will lie a foodies dream. Whatever your pallet may be this dried seafood and tonic food paradise will be sure to satisfy your cravings.
MUSEUMS, Elena Metzner, University of Connecticut
When exploring a new place, immersing in the society and understanding the history can make a foreign country seem more accessible and comfortable. The easiest way to understand a new place is by taking the time to go to museums. Although not every traveler’s favorite activity, museums are usually the greatest wealth of knowledge about a particular place. While many museums boast bank-breaking prices, Hong Kong’s The Hong Kong Museum of History is free on Wednesdays! The permanent and main exhibit, The Hong Kong Story, is a successive story of Chinese culture. The story follows the development of the bustling city of Hong Kong from the Devonian period 400 million years ago to the reunification of Hong Kong with China in 1997. This interactive exhibit travels back in time through village dwellings, to re-creations of streets, shops, and town centers, from displays containing traditional dress and costumes, to original film footage of WWII and other historic milestones. Taking a few hours out of the day to explore 400 million years of Chinese history at this highly accessible museum is a must. Free-guided tours in English available daily at 11am, make this museum a college student’s dream!
ART SCENE. Sydney Alonso, University of Central Florida
Hong Kong has recently seen a revival in its art scene, and while the city may not have an official gallery district, there are tons of artist-owned galleries that can be found if one knows where to look. Para/Site Art Space is arguably one of the better-known galleries and is popular with performance and installation artists. If street style if more your speed, Above Second doubles as both gallery and studio and features younger artists with more urban tastes. If you’re looking for more traditionally Chinese art, Hanart TZ is the place to visit. All galleries tend to be packed with a younger crowd that’s comprised of mostly locals, with a few artist expats in the mix, giving the average tourist a true taste of Hong Kong’s culture and day-to-day life.
EXPLORE THE NEIGHBORING ISLANDS. Tori Danforth, University of South Florida
Hong Kong is a massive, bustling city complete with endless surprises and an incredible skyline. However, escape to one of the outlying islands of Hong Kong to see a different side to this amazing city. A personal favorite is Lantau Island, which is a convenient subway or ferry ride away. Once there, right outside the Tung Chung subway station, hop on the Ngong Ping 360 for an incredible cable car journey with panoramic views through the mountains to your first stop on Lantau Island, the Tian Tan Buddha, or “Big Buddha” as it’s also known. At 112 ft. tall and located near Po Lin Monastery, the Big Buddha is truly a sight to see. Take your time exploring the beautiful monastery grounds as well as walk to the top of the Buddha to behold another amazing view. As a major Buddhist center, the atmosphere here is indescribable. Once you’ve taken it all in, continue on to Tai-O village. Just a short bus or taxi ride away from Big Buddha, Tai-O is a small fishing village composed of traditional stilt houses. You can catch a boat ride to see these houses up close, catch a glimpse of rare pink dolphins that are known to swim here, or mingle with locals at the village market. Either way there is something for everyone here and one of the only places you can still see the traditional stilt houses. To end the day, hike up to the relatively unknown Man Cheung Po infinity pool. Although quite a long hike, you will not be disappointed when you come across the beautiful waterfall and infinity pool that has formed. While you are technically not allowed to go swimming in the pool anymore, many people still do. However, even if you do not go swimming there is no better place to end the day and watch the sun go down.
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL. Karla Dimatulac, Rutgers University
Looking to travel in Hong Kong? Better brush up on your Fujianese? Immigrants from Fujian frequent the neighborhoods in Hong Kong and what better way to immerse yourself into the culture than by talking to those who live in it. Hong Kong is also home to their endless malls; don’t forget to get convert your currency and shop for the best deals there! Try out Hong Kong’s very own reality escape game, Freeing HK, where you are trapped in a room to break a series of codes and puzzles. This is perfect for all those gamer tourists out there looking for a challenge and a new experience. For the art geeks like myself, head over to the C&G Art Space to check out local artistic talent. In the evening, visit Phonograph, a local bar and pub that showcases alternative bands. Finish the night off finally at J-Sound 25, stop by and relax at the local karaoke bar in town.
KOWLOON PARK Zoe Radner, Vanderbilt University
When you grow weary of the endless swarms of people and bustling Hong Kong streets, enjoy a breath of fresh air and a moment of tranquility in Kowloon Park, the city’s most popular nature spot. The park spans a lush 33 acres, and boasts a collection of incredible attractions, including a classic Chinese garden equipped with a exotic lotus pond, a maze garden, rows of aromatic roses and an enchanting aviary with 140 species of bird. Stroll along the well-worn paths, pausing to scan market stalls and local craft vendors. Be awed by traditional kung fu and lion dancing demonstrations, or buy tickets to a concert or event held in the beautiful piazza. The buzz of Hong Kong is both inspiring and overwhelming, and Kowloon Park offers the perfect opportunity to stop and smell the roses.
USE THE METRO SYSTEM Molly O’Connor, Southern Methodist University
“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.” –Erol Ozan
Not only does using the public transportation system in a new city assist one in arriving to a destination more efficiently, but it also connects one to the culture. Being thrown amidst a rush of locals on Hong Kong’s 218-kilometer metro is a sure fire way to solidify the feeling of belonging. Serving 1.6 billion passengers a year, this metro system is considered the world’s “most envied metro system.” With an almost perfect on-time record, the Super Operations Control Center states that they try to make sure every problem within this expansive system is solved in just two minutes or less. Reasonably priced and open 24 hours a day, Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway system is the most popular way to travel in Hong Kong. Upon mastering this system, tourists will begin to feel more comfortable travelling throughout the city, thus providing them with more opportunities to immerse his or her self further.
DRINK THE TEA. Jamie Coulson, Flagler College
Traveling to different countries can be quite intimidating if you’re a picky eater, but if you’re a “foodie” that loves to try new dishes and drinks then Hong Kong is the place to be. Europe may be known for it’s tea, but Hong Kong can serve quite a cup of the leafy liquid. There are many small eateries and local shops that serve the culture of Hong Kong on a silver platter, but one thing it’s hardly known for? It’s tea. In 2737 BC, Emperor Shennong discovered tea for the Chinese culture. As shiploads passed by on it’s way to Europe, the Chinese also emerged themselves in this popular drink. Memorably known for it’s flower or green tea, the Chinese believe tea has many different health benefits and it aids the digestion of their meals. Hong Kong actually provides a large variety of teas that come from different Chinese providences and cities. Tea has been a large part of the culture for years and is a great way to immerse yourself if you want the full experience. Tea is not only sold in super markets, tea houses, and small tea shops around Hong Kong, you can also have it with nearly every meal. Drink up!
DRINK THE ‘MILK TEA’ TOO!! Angela Serednicki, Ryerson University
If you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or have some extra cash saved for a cool experience, don’t miss out on high tea. Afternoon tea is a favourite past-time of Hong Kong women, so grab your girlfriends, chat over cups of tea and splurge on some beautiful pastries that taste even better than they look. For those on a budget, don’t fret! Hong Kong-style milk tea, a cup of black tea made with evaporated or condensed milk, is affordable, addictive (seriously, you’ll be drinking it throughout your entire stay) and can be found all over the city.
Insiders tip: my friend Sharon, a HK native, swears that the best silky smooth Hong Kong-styled milk tea can be found at Tsui Wah Restaurant in Central. Be sure to check it out!”
VISIT THE PEAK AT NIGHT. Katie Connolly, Loyola University
Victoria Peak, also known as The Peak, at nighttime is magical. This is one of the great treasures in Hong Kong and should be on everyone’s bucket list. The city of Hong Kong is filled with outstanding sky scrapers and bright lights. You are able to see over all the beautiful buildings at the vantage point of Victoria Peak. The journey to get there consists of a ferry, a bus and an escalator. When you step out onto the viewing point, after all of the travel and anticipation, there is a feeling of peace and excitement. The view takes you into a moment of reflection. You are reminded of why you’re in Hong King and how lucky you are to see something so magnificent. The world seems to be at your feet. Gazing over the water and stars at the bustling city stops time. The moment takes your breath away and if you would like the moment to last there are many restaurants at The Peak where one can enjoy delicious food and drinks. A night full of memories that will never be forgotten is the real gift you can take away from Victoria Peak.
TAKE A HIKE. Amanda Tempesta, Hofstra University
If you like to stay active while abroad, keep reading. Hong Kong is a high density concrete jungle, where over seven million people live in just 426sq miles. That being said, it seems almost impossible to break away from the hustle and bustle within the community. Don’t let the size fool you, there is still a way to escape from civilization and enjoy the active lifestyle like a local. Hong Kong is home to some of the most beautiful hiking trails with streams that often connect different trails and catchment systems. This turns exploring into an amazing photo opportunity, especially in amber rainstorms. The climbs and the views are both physically and mentally rewarding. So if you’re craving a diversion from those urban excursions consider adventuring through:
The Hong Kong Trail (Victoria Peak),
Wan Chai Gap Park,
Ma On Shan,
Pinewood Battery Heritage Trail
TAKE IN THE FASHION SCENE. Mia Kavensky, University of Illinois.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Hong Kong? Probably not fashion. Hong Kong’s history of trade has made this Asian city an international shopping hub. One can find themselves haggling with street vendors to get the lowest price on a pashmina scarf to waltzing around stores such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Tiffany’s and KENZO. The fashion doesn’t just stop in the stores. Two weeks a year Hong Kong hosts the worlds second largest and Asia’s largest fashion event: fashion week. With free pre-registration over the Internet, anyone can receive a ticket to get a glimpse of Asia’s hottest styles. If you miss fashion week, don’t fear, just walking down the streets of Hong Kong is one big fashion show. Locals are known for their maximalist, colorful style. Street style is such a big past time for many residents that Vogue features the crème de la crème. Hong Kong should be on every tourists shopping list.
TAKE A COOKING CLASS. Sarah Bensassi, Emmanuel College
Go above and beyond your local late night Chinese takeout joint and take a cooking class while in Hong Kong! What is one of the best ways to experience a new culture? I would argue food. One of my favorite ways to taste and learn about a new country is by learning about the local dishes and how to cook them! Learn how to create delicious and traditional Dim Sum or Wontons. By learning about the ingredients and the techniques used in Chinese cooking, you have the chance to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the country and for the culture. Nomadic Matt highlights two of the best locations for taking cooking classes while in Hong Kong, the first is Martha Sherpa Cooking school in Mong Kok. It is world renown for their Dim Sum. Another option is through Chinese Cuisine Training Institute, through this institute you will learn about the art of Chinese cooking first hand by highly respected and seasoned chefs. In the end, whatever option you chose be sure to grab your apron and get ready to cook up an unforgettable experience while in Hong Kong!
SYMPHONY OF LIGHTS. Timpani Woodson, Northern Arizona University
Looking for a little bit of culture after dark? Well, then head to Victoria Harbor for “A Symphony of Lights.” Over 40 buildings along both sides of the harbor participate in the show. The multimedia spectacular was created to represent the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong and does so by focusing on five main themes: awakening, energy, heritage, partnership, and the finale, celebration. Each section uses a unique combination of lights, lasers and music to represent a different aspect of Hong Kong. For example, awakening begins with lasers that give life to nucleus of light-energy that then begins illuminating the buildings participating in the show. This light display is meant to signify the genesis and growth of Hong Kong.
The first four themes of the show are meant to embody different parts of the city’s rich heritage. The last section of the show, celebration, symbolizes the city’s hope for a brighter future. “A Symphony of Lights” takes place nightly at 8pm, and is offered in three different languages: English-Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Mandarin: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Cantonese on Sundays.