(CNN) — Travel guidebooks are so safe. Yawn.
Here is a list of stuff to do in Hong Kong that keeps even those born and bred in the city excited about being here every single day.
1. Ditch hotels, go camping
Courtesy Mark Lehmkuhler/Flickr/Creative Commons
Even more amazing than Hong Kong’s noise and congestion is the fact that blissfully untouched nature exists just a short distance away from the most crowded parts of the city. An hour’s hike from the entrance to the Sai Kung Country Park will bring you to a string of isolated beaches where you can pitch a tent and rough it as if you were in the middle of nowhere.
2. Hip hop in the most likely place
Duck behind the tourist infested market stalls of Temple Street and check out these two wicked independent shops: vintage clothes shop Me & George frequented by the fashion mafia and Hip Hop, an independent CD shop and hangout for the local MCs such as Mastamic.
3. Dine in a housing estate
Hong Kong’s public housing estates aren’t the most obvious places for a good dinner, but if you look between the apartment blocks you’ll often find big outdoor “cooked food centres” packed with great restaurants and cheap beer. Oi Man Estate in Ho Man Tin, Nam Shan Estate in Shek Kip Mei and Sun Tsui Estate in Tai Wai are renowned for good food. Look for the huts filled with bright fluorescent lights and plastic stools. Many of these places have a long history and a community that is strongly attached to it.
4. Practice speaking Fujianese
On hot summer evenings, the Sai Wan waterfront is a popular place to catch a sea breeze, ride a bike and chat with friends. Many of the regulars are Fujianese immigrants who live in the neighborhood and hang out by the harbor to speak to other people who know their native tongue. To get there, go to the Western Wholesale Food Market and follow the signs to the public cargo working area.
5. Visit the Peak the old-fashioned way
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Before roads, and even before the 122-year-old Peak Tram, the only way to get up to Victoria Peak was by foot. The rich colonials who lived up there were lucky enough to be carried on sedan chairs, but you and I will have to retrace their steps on our own two feet. Hike up to the top on several different trails, one of which follows the Old Peak Road from Conduit Road right up to the Peak Tower.
6. Dundas Street of sweets
Stay in Hong Kong long enough and it can feel like the streets are paved by snacks. Nearly every street corner houses a dispensary of food of some sort. The one street most preferred by sweet toothed foodies must be Dundas Street in Mongkok, which is home to the most popular streetside bubble tea and cupcakes, as well as other savory street snacks. Get stuck in the teeming, hungry crowds and test your patience waiting to be served by the snack stalls.
7. Cross the harbor another way
Everybody takes the Star Ferry, but what about Victoria Harbour’s other ferries? The 15-minute boat ride from Sai Wan Ho to Kwun Tong offers one of the most spectacular and unusual views of the harbor; so does the North Point-Kowloon City run, which conveniently drops you off just a few blocks from the Cattle Depot, one of Hong Kong’s most interesting artists’ villages.
8. I.M. Pei tour
Before the starchitect’s singular contribution to our city’s skyline, IM Pei designed two buildings in Causeway Bay. Sunning Plaza and Sunning Court are thoroughly modern, and the Plaza is an all glass affair, just like the Bank of China Tower built a few years after.
10 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay
9. Go clamming
Clam digging is a favorite pastime in Mui Wo, a pleasantly scruffy town on Lantau Island. One of the most popular places to do it is where the River Silver empties into Silvermine Bay, but since the river’s water quality is perhaps a bit dubious, it’s better to head over to the more secluded village of Shui Hau, where you can rent clam digging tools at the Fung Wong Bungalow Centre. Chan Wing, the centre’s owner, will even cook your catch for you.
10. Go to Lamma the scary way
richard a. brooks/afp/getty images
Missed the last ferry or just craving a late-night thrill? Head to Aberdeen, where sampans piloted by grey-haired ah-pohs (old women) wait to ferry you to Hong Kong’s most laid-back of islands. For a negotiable fee you can take a sampan to either Sok Kwu Wan or Yung Shue Wan, crashing through waves and darting past the massive hulls of container ships.
11. Hang out in Wing Lee Street
This small lane in Sheung Wan is the talk of the town. The street’s authentic 1960s residential architectural constructions are some of the only examples remaining in the city, and the street was under threat of demolition until pressure from the community, local press, and an award-winning movie stopped the bulldozers. It’s a local attraction bound for post-Hollywood ending fame.
12. Best drive-thru
The Tai Tam reservoir is special because it’s one you can drive through. A single lane section of Tai Tam Reservoir Road cuts through the peaceful body of water. It’s a surreal drive if there ever was one.
13. Right tram, right time
The Hong Kong tram and Happy Valley race course are both world famous icons, but put the two together and you’ve got something pretty special. The Happy Valley “ding ding” circles the city race track on Wednesday night. Sit on the upper deck for a tracking view of the course and bright lights. You’re so close, you can almost see the sprays of spittle fly as the crowd scream their bet’s number — but thankfully not quite close enough.
14. Visit a homegrown theme park
Forget Disneyland, we prefer our homegrown Ocean Park. It’s home to the city’s best cable car rides and longest escalators, with roller coasters that look out to the sea, and four pandas care of the PRC central government.
15. See artists in situ
If art gallery hopping in SoHo is a bit too polished, head a little further out to find the artists themselves and the art in progress. Try C&G Art Space, run by a group of local art scenesters, or the exquisitely curated space at Osage Kwun Tong. Young artists show at Cattle Depot, a slaughterhouse-turned-artist-commune with the innovative 1aSpace and Videotage. The JCCAC in Shek Kip Mei features artists’ studios open for public visitation, but if you want to see the artist studios in Fotan, you’ll have to wait for the annual Fotanian event.
C&G Art Space – 3/F, 222 Sai Yeung Choi St. South, Prince Edward, tel +852 2390 9332; Osage Kwun Tong – 5/F, Kian Dai Industrial Building, 73-75 Hung To Road, Kwun Tong, tel +852 2793 4817; Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Road
16. Death-wish mini-bus
Much fuss is made about Hong Kong’s hyper-efficient public transportation system, but not enough is said about the independently run red top mini-buses. These machines of speedy commute can be hailed down at will and will stop almost anywhere you like. The notoriously daring drivers rarely follow speed limits, so an adrenaline rush is also guaranteed. As Hong Kongers want everything to be faster and more convenient, it’s one of the reasons we love our city.
17. Soak up street art
There are few better places to catch a glimpse of Hong Kong graffiti than at the point where Oil Street runs into Victoria Harbour. The city’s best street artists, along with a lot of its lesser talents, have turned concrete walls into giant canvases at this serene harbor-side location.
18. Escape Peak madness
The Peak is a must for any tourist, but instead of crowding into the Peak Galleria with the rest, better to take a walk. The Peak Circuit trail along Lugard Road is a quiet and easy walk that offers incredible views in a lush forest setting. Walk past the Peak Galleria and Peak Tower to find the paved footpath named after Hong Kong’s 14th governor. The path is a circuit so it takes you right back where you started, at the tram station.
19. Visit a sartorial haven
The fabric shops on Yen Chow Street in Sham Shui Po house are a reminder that textile manufacturing was once our city’s bread and butter. Shopkeepers claim that their stock still draws the attention of visiting fashion students from other countries. Beads, ribbons, and other fashion knickknacks can be found on Yu Chau Street.
20. Delve into Hong Kong’s erotic history
Hong Kong’s porn theaters harp back to the 1960s, and there’s only one left in the entire city. Kwun Chung cinema is hidden on a side street, showing 1980s skin flicks nightly. It’s mostly dubbed Japanese softcore, but at least you can get some.
21. Shop at real fashion malls
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
Hong Kong is a shopping paradise of big malls filled with international stores, but what you can’t find at the shiny commercial centers are the indie labels of our vibrant young designers. Locally designed shoes, leather bags, clothes, and jewelry by local designers fill the mini shops of these malls, as well as designs hand-sourced from South Korea and Japan, making these malls temples of subculture cool.
We like Island Beverly (1 Great George Street, Causeway Bay), Rise (5-11 Granville Circuit, Tsim Sha Tsui), and Argyle Center (688 Nathan Road, Mongkok).
22. Relax in Tai Mei Tuk
Seaside village Tai Mei Tuk is the place to wind down after a hard week of city hustle. From the patio Thai food, to the rental bikes and pedal boats, it’s a breath of fresh air.
23. Step back in time in Yuen Long
The Yuen Long neighborhood feels like Hong Kong rewound 30 years, before apartment buildings were so high that you couldn’t see the sky. The light rail is their electric street car and restaurant Dai Wing Wah is the famous local joint with its signature dish, fried rice with lard.
24. Check out University art
A visual illusion of a strategically placed pond is dubbed where “man and the sky unite.” The Pavilion of Harmony at the Chinese University’s New Asia campus, the cleverly designed sheet of water joins the view of sky, mountains, and ocean with its image when viewed at the correct angle.
25. The edge of soy sauce Western
Wah Fai Restaurant takes soy sauce Western a step further with its famous Hong Kong apple pie. Made from scratch, the pie is less wholesome American and more anything goes chaa chan tang: the crust is flakey, the filling less sweet and dotted with raisins. Call ahead if you want an entire pie, because even though they’re a 24 hour joint, they do sell out.
17 Heung Sze Wui Square, tel +852 2656 6420
26. Visit Kwun Tong before it’s gone
When Kwun Tong’s town centre is razed and redeveloped over the next decade, one of the last bits of post-war, working-class Hong Kong will disappear. Check out the old men playing chess in Yue Man Square, browse the stalls at the nearby hawker centre or gaze upon the now-empty hulk of the Silver Theatre, the last pro-Communist cinema in Hong Kong, which closed last year.
27. Visit the Philippines … in Central
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28. Experience SoHo calm
Riding the mid-level escalators is amusing for visitors and helps locals scale the hilly parts of Central. But there are some hidden diversions along the ride. Jamai Mosque is a beautiful spiritual sanctuary open to all, and after Caine Road there’s a small park to the left accessible only by escalator where you can rest your feet from, you know, all that immobility. There’s no way down, so after visiting you have to take another one up and walk down Mosque Street.
29. Go on a vertical bar crawl
If you’re tired of drinking at Lang Kwai Fong, try the local vertical bar complex call Circle Tower in Causeway Bay. This favorite hangout for locals houses over 20 bars, one to each floor, so bar hopping doesn’t involve walking, but rather an elevator ride.
28 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay
30. Have a drink at Phonograph
A watering hole favored by local hipsters is Phonograph. With regular music gigs and an alternative playlist, it’s a bar where whiskey and good conversation runs all night.
31. Go bird watching
32. Venture to the “most restricted area”
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The next time you escape town for a weekend of debauchery in Shenzhen, take the scenic route by heading through Sha Tau Kok, an old market town located in the Frontier Closed Area. The Hong Kong-Shenzhen border runs right down the town’s main thoroughfare, Chung Ying Street, whose name literally means “China England Street.”
Take bus number 78K from Sheung Shui station. You will need a passport with a valid China visa or a Closed Area permit.
33. Try some old school grooming
Anthony Bourdain put North Point’s ink noodles on the map, but you can also get a hell of a haircut here. In the 1950s, Shanghai style was in high swing and Java Road in North Point is where many immigrants congregated. There are still some remnants of its “Little Shanghai” era — particularly a barber shop where the men and furniture have probably been there since it opened. Men can get the full service of Shanghai gentlemen grooming that includes ear waxing, nostril hair trimming, beard styling, and of course, a classy haircut.
34. Bring your own seafood
Are you a better seafood shopper than a cook?
Then, visiting a bring-your-own-seafood eatery is your ideal and affordable alternative to touristy seafood markets in Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun.
Lou Sei Hot Pot Kitchen (in Tsuen Wan Heung Che Cooked Food Center) and Fai Che (on Ping Chau island) are two of the many smaller restaurants that welcome diners to bring their own seafood.
The restaurants usually charge a fixed cooking fee for each of the ingredients they bring.
35. Experience the local dance scene
36. Get some luck
KCR Che Kung Temple Station, Exit B
37. Head to Kowloon City
Kowloon City is where the locals head for Thai grocery shopping, but the area is better remembered as its life as a Walled City where triads ruled and vice was rampant. The Walled City was demolished in 1993, but you can still see the South Gate preserved in Kowloon Walled City Park.
38. Find the Oriental-chic look
courtesy Shanghai Tang
39. Best parking spot in LKF
Lan Kwai Fong gets old fast, with the heaving crowds and nightly vomit spread. Gentrification has also made the drinks the priciest in town. But you can still find a quiet spot to drink for cheap. Bring your own beers and park yourself at the amphitheatre at the end of Wo On Lane for relief from the crowd and actually have a conversation with some of the beautiful regulars at yuppie-hipster hangouts Baby Buddha and Yumla.
40. Go to Yau Ma Tei
Wander around the streets for a taste of what regular Honkies do. Abbas recommends “visiting a friend’s record shop (Goodstuff Records, 1st FL Ins Place) wander around the kitchenware shops on Shanghai Street, the textile shops on Bowring Street, then grab a cup of tea at Mido Cafe and then grab a movie at the Broadway Cinema round the corner (would probably drop by the next door Kubrick too).”
41. See the Hong Kong windsurfing Mecca
Hang out at the bar with Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai Shan’s uncle at his watersports school Cheung Chau Windsurfing. Hong Kongers associate two things with this outlying island: the Bun Festival and Olympic gold medalist Lee Lai Shan. The family windsurfing joint that San San trained in is still standing, as is her uncle Lee Lai Gun who trained her. Catch him and the regulars at the friendly patio bar at the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre.
No. 1 Hak Pai Road, Cheung Chau, +852 2981 2772.
42. Dine at a temple
Apart from the gorgeous Chinese garden, the Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill boasts a modern vegetarian restaurant of non-greasy zen food.
60 Fung Tak Road, Nan Lian Garden, +852 3658 9388
43. Listen to a Chinese orchestra
Put a Hong Kong twist to going to hear the symphony and instead go see the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. The string sections are erhus, the winds are bandis and suonas, and concert dress is black tie qipaos.
44. Visit the utopic community center
Shop 2,3 Tak Cheong Lane is an escape from capitalism and a community center for the city’s artistic/intellectual bunch.
Somehow, the shoebox-sized Tak Cheong Lane is able to cram in a cafe, a movie appreciation club, a music and event venue, a tattoo salon as well as a market place where visitors barter their old clothes and goods.
It’s also home to So Boring, a pay-as-you-wish vegetarian restaurant.
45. Hike to WWII
For a hike that leads somewhere, take to Mount Davis on the West end of the island. You can take a taxi up to the beginning of a path, and from then on hike up until you reach the WWII British barracks that the British used as an artillery depot due to its vantage point. And climbing on top gives you an amazing view of Pok Fu Lam, just watch out for kids with BB guns who frequent it for war games.
46. See the waterfront promenades
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All the tourists go to Tsim Sha Tsui, but there are less crowded waterfront promenades across the city. The West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade has an even better view of the skyline than TST, while the Kwun Tong promenade is short but spectacularly designed. For a far-flung but even more peaceful alternative, try the just-opened Ma On Shan promenade, which has beautiful views of Tolo Harbor.
47. Jazz in a hair salon
Tucked away in a small alley in Central, Visage One’s only signage is the scrawl on the door frame.
A hair salon by day and a speakeasy jazz and blues bar by night, it’s a vibe of being invited to an intimate private concert at a jazz musician’s smoky living room.
It’s so small and intimate, there is no separation between performer and audience.
48. Visit a themed Starbucks
While these popular coffee houses tend to look the same no matter where you are in the world, Hong Kong has with three unique Starbucks concept stores. Our favorite, located on Duddell Street, has a “bing sutt” corner designed to look like a 1950’s Hong Kong coffee shop.
49. Go to an abandoned island
Bored of the standard day trips in and around the city? Why not try visiting one of Hong Kong’s many uninhabited or abandoned islands? One of the most talked about is Yim Tin Tsai, located off the coast of Sai Kung, which is known as “Ghost Island”. Around 1,000 Hakka people lived here back in the 19th century, but they all moved on during Hong Kong’s economic boom in the 1980s. All that’s left now are deserted buildings, day trippers, weekend hikers, and a rather eerie atmosphere.
50. Explore the airport
Courtesy Christine Salinas/Flickr,CreativeCommons
If you’re flying from Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), you might want to consider arriving a few hours before your departure flight and trying out some of the activities inside. Although it’s been knocked down to number six on Skytrax World Airport Awards list, HKIA is still an impressive sight to behold. Why not catch a film at the IMAX cinema, which has a 4-D projection screen, or visit a historical exhibit of aircraft models at the Aviation Discovery Centre?
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2010. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.