To help manage costs during your Hong Kong trip, here are 10 fun free things that you should be sure to check out when visiting…
10 free things to do during your Hong Kong trip
In my previous post I gave you the low-down on 10 things that you should definitely do during your Hong Kong trip. However, the costs of visiting Hong Kong can begin to add up pretty quickly – accommodation can be quite pricey, as can trips to all of the swanky bars. For those travelling from Europe or the US, there are the costs of long haul flights to contend with. Here’s a list of 10 fun free things to do in Hong Kong, so you can spend more of your hard earned money on the finer things in life…
1. 10,000 Buddhas Monastery
This quirky monastery and temple complex is nestled in the Po Fook Hills, offering splendid views over Sha Tin. The monastery gets its name from the 10,000 Buddha statues located there (in reality, there are more than 12,600 statues, but who’s counting?). It’s much quieter than the other well-known temples in Hong Kong (think Big Buddha, Man Mo and Chi Lin). The Monastery is located in the New Territories, north of Kowloon (it will take about 30 mins on the MTR from Mong Kok station), so its fairly out of the way from the usual touristy areas.
To get to the top, visitors must overcome a small baptism of fire: there are 400 steep steps to climb. These steps are flanked by hundreds of uniquely carved golden-coloured Buddha statues, which help to distract from the steep incline. I managed to visit the Monastery at midday on the hottest day of my trip. By the time I reached the top, I was sweat from the neck down.
Once you are done climbing (and sweating), at the top there are is a large temple hall, a nine-storey pagoda, several shrines and pavilions. There are also some impressive views looking back over Sha Tin and the hills beyond.
Getting there: take the MRT to Sha Tin station. Take exit B and head generally north for approx. 15 mins.
2. Ride the Mid-Levels Escalators
“Escalators? I should travel all the way to Hong Kong to stand on some escalators?” Damn straight you should. The escalators which run through the Mid-Levels are the longest covered outdoor escalators in the world.
Key facts: 800m long, an elevation of 135m, used by more than 80,000 people every day. Pretty impressive, huh? The escalator and walkway system whisk Hong Kong residents and tourists through the Central/Business District up to the residential areas in the hills.
When I first heard about the Mid-Levels escalators, I envisaged them being 1 super long continuous conveyor belt. This was wrong – its actually a group of 20 different ones.
At most hop on and hop off points there are a fair few bars (they essentially run through the Central/Soho/LKF areas, so loads of super cool bars and eateries are nearby), so you could ride them from bar to bar, saving your legs as you get more and more drunk. For the super geeky ones amongst you, you could find the walkway above Lyndhurst Terrace/Gage Street and recreate the scene from The Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox meet. You might get some odd looks though…
Perpetual motion on the mid-levels escalators
3. Visit the Man Mo Temple
This one storey temple, surrounded by skyscrapers on Hong Kong island, is a throw back to when Hong Kong was a fishing village, rather than the financial centre it is today. The temple, built in 1847, is a tribute to two Chinese Gods; the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo).
The temple is pretty beaten down on the outside (definitely in need of some TLC) and it would be quite easy to walk straight past it. Inside, however, is a different story. Coils of incense are suspended from the ceiling. The air is thick with the smoke of burning incense and candles, which natural light filters through. The scene is very atmospheric. The interior was one of my favourite photo spots in Hong Kong and made for some wonderfully intimate shots of locals lighting candles or making attaching the red tags which hold their written wishes to the coils of incense or lanterns.
4. Enjoy the Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong boasts one of the most iconic skylines in the world (and my personal favourite). No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without taking some time just to admire it. Every night there is a light show (it’s super tacky – so don;t go thinking it will blow your mind – it won’t), but its a great excuse to stand and admire the neon colours reflecting on the waters of Victoria Harbour.
Whilst not strictly free, if you would truly like to enjoy the skyline, I would highly recommend arriving at the lounge of the Intercontinental Hotel late one afternoon. The bar has a very relaxing ambience and floor to ceiling windows, which frame the skyline perfectly. A cold glass of beer is the perfect accompaniment as the day fades to night and the lights begin to come alive one by one. It is just perfect.
The Hong Kong skyline, bathed in early morning light
5. Find your very own Hong Kong postcard
In Hong Kong there is something eye-catching around every corner. Being an avid photographer in my spare time, one of the key reasons I wanted to go back to Hong Kong was to take photographs (some 3,000 in all by the end of my trip). It is such an interesting subject to photograph. It also looks so different from day to night; offering you the chance to discover it all again once the sun departs and the neon lights come to life.
I had a list of places/things that I wanted to photograph before the trip, but came across so many more unexpected ones as well. Below is a shot of one of my favourite spots:
Mong Kok Buses
6. Chi Lin Nunnery
The Chi Lin Nunnery dates back to 1934 and is another throw back to Hong Kong’s older traditions. A spot of culture amid the urban sprawl. The complex was completely rebuilt in 1998 only using wood – there are no nails, all the pieces interlock, like a jigsaw puzzle. The all wooden rebuild is to signify the harmonious nature between humans and nature (ironically the Nunnery is surrounded by high rises) and the architecture is reminiscent of the Tang Dynasty.
The complex consists of a beautifully presented series of courtyards, temples and shrines. The main courtyard, housing four ponds and a selection of immaculately shaped bonsai trees is, is very relaxing. A visit in the early morning is best, before the crowds descend.
Getting there: take the MTR to Diamond Hill station, alighting at exit C2. The Nunnery is just a short walk away.
Tranquility in chaos
7. Nan Lian Garden
The gardens are located opposite Chi Lin Nunnery, across Fung Tak Road and connected by a raised walkway. As with the Nunnery, the Garden is beautifully presented. Wooden pagodas, temples and bridges are dotted amongst the meticulously arranged and maintained gardens and lotus ponds. The gardens are a brilliant display of how to Feng Shui.
8. Find a good spot to enjoy sunset
I’m obsessed with a good sunset and always have my eye out for a splash of colour forming across the early evening sky. In that respect, Hong Kong was a frustrating beast. It would appear that February doesn’t make for the best sunsets (there were a lot of cloudy evenings).
There are, however, a lot of potential places to enjoy a sunset from during your own Hong Kong trip: Instagram Pier, The Peak, Sai Wan swimming shed, and Harbour City (to name but a few).
Thankfully, on my penultimate night conditions were pretty decent. I shot this just as the sun descended towards the horizon and the sky took on a rich golden hue.
9. Explore the Temple Street night market
In my previous post, I talked about the Mong Kok markets (Ladies, Goldfish, Bird and Flower). Temple Street is a pedestrianised road in west Kowloon, close to Jordan MTR station. Every evening, Temple Street plays host to a night market. An artery of light running between the rustic Kowloon high rise apartment blocks. I always enjoy a slow wander around a market, looking at the various little trinkets and people watching. If you get hungry, there are plenty of food stalls near by where Temple Street runs across both Ning Po Street and Nanking Street. Located to the north, past the car park and the neon lights of the Alhambra Building, are a number of fortune tellers and what I can only describe as a very, very weird little outdoor karaoke place.
10. Hong Kong Park
Hong Kong Park is a little oasis of nature set amongst the high rise steel and glass of Hong Kong Islands’ business district. It makes for a good place to take photographs of the surrounding buildings and for a stop off en-route to the Peak Tram. There is also an aviary which houses 80 species of birds. In addition, you could pop into Flagstaff House, now the Museum of Tea and Ware. The building’s architecture is a reminder of Hong Kong’s colonial heritage and it was converted into the a museum in 1984. It hosts exhibitions, tea gatherings and demonstrations and lectures to promote China’s enduring tea drinking culture. As a tea-obsessed Brit, I obviously appreciated it. On that note, time for a cuppa…