If you've got at least three months in Hong Kong, this is your list. If you've got less, pick and choose your favorites. From my internship and missionary adventures in the training wheels of expatriate living, this checklist of unmissables is laid out in no particular order.
1. Eat bbq pork rice topped with egg at 食神 (sik sun, or literally translated as "food god") in Happy Valley. Then go watch a horse race (or take a walk in the park in the middle of it) at the Happy Valley Race Course. (If you miss this opportunity, there's another branch of the restaurant at at the Hong Kong International Airport!)
2. Grab a local (or someone who knows at least some Cantonese!) to take you night squid fishing off of Sai Kung harbor (it's a good hour travel time to and back). It's best to book ahead of time, since the harbors are almost always doubling as a marketplace and there's no English signs to be found! Ask a well-experienced native for more info.
3. Check out the ancient and modern Chinese art galleries around Soho and Lan Kwai Fong, and eat fish egg pasta at the hybrid Japanese-Italian pasta eatery Te (I couldn't find a similar place even in Tokyo so this is a must!).
4. Shop for international delicacies at Citysuper! in Causeway Bay at Times Square. Go ice skating at the beautiful indoor rink at Festival Walk (a mall built on feng shui principles) in Kowloon Tong (the salads on the basement floor supermarket may be the best you'll find in Asia). And get lost in the never-ending maze of shops in the suburban New Town Plaza in Sha Tin (one of the busiest malls in the world).
5. Book a karaoke room (try Neway at 2-8 Sugar Street, Causeway Bay, tel +852 2196 2196) with a group of friends (try to pull in some locals! most all of them, believe it or not, love to sing) and enjoy the private atmosphere with unending appetizers and desserts.
6. Eat an incredibly inexpensive soft-serve lychee or taro flavored ice cream at a local 7-11 (not all of them have them, but the larger ones should).
7. Try some just-fried chow fun noodles, pigeon eggs, fish balls, and (if you're feeling extra adventurous) stinky tofu, from street vendors around Hong Kong. You should be able to spot them near many of subway stations in Kowloon, especially Mong Kok and Kwai Fung.
8. Hot pot is a winter tradition in Hong Kong, where you and everyone else cooks raw food right on the dinner table in pots of different-flavored broth. Try it at Little Fat Lamb (小肥羊)at 16 Argyle St(+852 23968816). You may need to book in advance depending on if it's a weekend! Or if you're even more intrepid, try the outdoor pop-up hot pot spots in Sha Tin (think hodgepodge of temporary tables and cacophony of Cantonese throwing plates of freshly caught, still-writhing, gigantic critters into a boiling cauldron of spices and sauces)
9. Search for delicious places to eat on Hong Kong's version of Yelp: Openrice.com.
10. Ride The Peak Tram in the daytime and/or the nighttime, and watch the Light Show that happens every night at 8pm.
11. Check out the most beautiful rocks (yes, rocks) you've ever seen at the Nan Lian Gardens, then contemplate life while watching the hundreds of koi in the koi ponds.
12. Ride the Ngong Ping 360 for a spectacular view on the way to the Big Buddha. It is just breathtaking, and you'll find the fresh air inviting. Skip the touristy knickknack stores up top and hike around the foggy hills.
13. Spare no effort to get to Macau for a day trip (on a super-fast, floating TurboJet) [remember your passport!], and walk around the Portuguese inspired neighborhoods, as well as gape at the numerous Mainlanders who've come to gamble a portion of their net worth away, making this sin city more profitable than Las Vegas. Try the famously sweet Portuguese egg tart, which looks singed with brown spots on top.
14. Wake up early for a free Tai Chi session at the Waterfront (near The Peak Tower) of Tsim Sha Tsui (MWThF 8am-9am). Contact 852 2508 1234 for more info.
15. If you're willing to shell out some cash (over US$100; HK$1020 to be exact) for a China Visa, travel over the border for a day trip to still-Communist Shenzhen, China, and see the most productive factory town in the world (a world all on its own).
16. Try chicken feet, cow stomach, bbq pork bun, gold sand bun, black sesame bun, sticky rice, and shrimp dumplings at a local dim sum joint in your area (ask your coworkers; there's too many good ones to recommend a single one)!
17. Try the world-famous pineapple bun at a local bakery, found practically anywhere there's a shop in Hong Kong. If you're lucky, find a 老婆餅 (lo po bang) at a local bakery, which is a flaky, buttery pastry with a mochi-like middle that is both subtle and delicious in flavor.
18. Book seats at a movie theater online (there's one at the IFC mall!) to a local Hong Kong film (ask for recommendations from the staff, and don't worry they all have english subtitles) And then try to eat 小籠包 (little dragon dumplings) at Crystal Jade (in IFC) without poking a hole through its skin. But be careful it's steaming hot! Try to get there early before rush hour after work.
19. Eat an incredibly healthy and delicious fruity dessert at Hui Lang Shan, which looks like a shop selling rainbows of fruit-decked ice creams and puddings. You can't go wrong with mango everything!
20. Check out the "farmers markets" at Mong Kok and buy mangosteen, (the incredibly stinky) durian [it's actually illegal to take this onto the train], persimmon, mango, and other fruits you've never seen before at low prices. Then check out YouTube to find out how to open/eat them.
21. If you're feeling extra spendy, try the traditional dishes of Peking Duck, 5-layer roast pork, and bird's nest (in reality, bird saliva) soup at an upscale restaurant.
22. Try the natively concocted wonton egg noodle soup and roast duck flat rice noodle soup (燒鴨河粉) at one of the local noodle soup joints!
23. Celebrate the Christmas spirit when the Christmas lights go up on the Hong Kong skyscrapers, take the cross-harbor ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) to Wan Chai at night, and see the waves glimmer with color. Walk two blocks into the city to see the most expensive church building ever built by the LDS Church (Asia Area headquarters) on 118 Gloucester Road.
24. Ride the longest continuous escalator in the world in Mid-Levels, Central. Walk through the maze of the pedestrian traffic bridges, and literally stand still (and feel, perhaps for the first time, like a full-fledged participant in the global rat race) on your daily walking commute in Mong Kok around 5:30pm on a weekday.
25. Volunteer at the Crossroads International (call beforehand) in the New Territories, which donates used corporate and school furniture to third world schools. Pick up some beautiful free trade gifts (such as handmade cards and Christmas ornaments from Africa) from all over the world at their gift shop They even host refugee camps to help kids experience what it's like to be a refugee.
Anything you'd add?
- Special Thanks to Gregg and Karen Li, David Xia, Aileen Yan, Chad Holbrook, Ricky Young, Leon Chuck, Laura Sirtonski, Columbia Experience Overseas, the U.S. Consulate, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Image source: behance.net (Clarence Ku, Alex Robertson, KONTROLLHAMSTER, Alexander Lee, Mike Chan, Darya Yushkova)