Hong Kong’s Ultra Culture

by edapeters

It’s not all beer and (a very few) skittles in Hong Kong after dark – there’s a more cultural side to the city’s entertainment too

Live Music

Like South China's syrup-like popular music that's dubbed Cantopop? You’re in the right place. Loathe it? Tough. That said, Hong Kong’s live music offerings are broad enough to cast doubt on the city’s alleged all-consuming pursuit of money.

Off the top of my head, I’ve seen The King’s Singers, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, The Barber of Seville, The Corrs, and Strauss’s Elektra on stage here. A good place to start is Urbtix (urbtix.cityline.com.hk) where you can scan what's on offer and buy tickets online.

Major live venues include the long-established Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (1 Expo Drive; 2582 8888; www.hkcec.com.hk) in Wan Chai, however this is now rivalled by AsiaWorld-Expo (3606 8828; www.asiaworld-expo.com), right next to the airport, so fans can fly in, catch the gig, and fly out again. Clapton’s due on 18 February 2011 – cheapest tickets are HK$488. Michael Bublé and The Eagles perform (separately) in March.

It’s also worth checking out the programme at the Academy of Performing Arts (1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai; 2584 8500; www.hkapa.edu), a slightly odd looking structure whose foundations, by the by, are made of rubber to stop the building wobbling as the MTR’s trains rumble beneath. APA is also a training institute and showcases a wide variety of local and international acts.

Cinema and Theatre

Hong Kong flicks tend to blockbuster, with either a Chinese or English soundtrack. One of the most welcoming cinemas is AMC Pacific Place (88 Queensway; 2265 8933; www.pacificplace.com.hk) with stadium seating, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a selection of imported cheese and fine wine. The HK$75 admission charge is slightly higher than some other cinemas.

There’s a broader selection on Hong Kong’s silver screen at the annual flick fest each Spring – see below for details.

For a more traditional evening, the Sunbeam Theatre (432 King’s Road, North Point; 2856 0161; www.ua-sunbeam.com) stages Chinese Opera. The interior has changed little since it opened in 1972 and many of the audience first came here as children.

Ship Ahoy!

Getting out on the water is very much a Hong Kong recreation, taking advantage of the iconic harbour views and adding in a decent measure of alcohol and some food to soak it all up.

Quite the best harbour cruise is aboard Aqua Luna (2116 8821; www.aqualuna.com.hk), a glammed-up sailing junk built on traditional lines that potters about the harbour, embarking passengers from Pier Nine in Central and Pier One in Tsim Sha Tsui. Evening tickets cost HK$180-220, marginally less for children.

If you can get a party together, Saffron Cruises (2857 1311; www.saffron-cruises.com) has a fleet of craft, from regular junks to speedboats, to vintage launches and even a three-masted sailing barque, The Bounty. Prices for a night out range from HK$5,000 up.

Jaspa’s Junks (2792 6001; www.casteloconcepts.com) are competitively priced at HK$600 per head, which includes food and free-flowing drink.

All the fun of the festivals

For brief periods of the year, Hong Kong takes its eye off the Hang Seng Index to enjoy a festival celebrating one or another or a lot of the arts.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival (2824 3555; www.hk.artsfestival.org) usually runs from February to March, showcasing opera, dance, music, theatre and special events.

Hard on its heels, the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival (2970 3300; www.hkiff.org.hk) takes place from March 20 to April, screening some 300 flicks from 50 different countries.

Not quite so cerebral, the annual Art Walk (www.hongkongartwalk.com) lasts for one night only (usually in March) – but what a night! Central’s art galleries throw open their doors, uncork the wine bottles, and welcome (for a smallish fee) anyone who cares to drop by. As might be implied by the title, the galleries are all within walking/staggering distance of each other, and the result is an incredibly social event with hundreds of hitherto unacknowledged patrons of the arts milling back and forth under the slightly bemused eye of the local constabulary.

While Hong Kong trails cities like New York or London in its cultural offerings, there is more on offer than you might think, and the city’s vultures are quick to swoop on tickets for star acts – the best advice is book ahead.

Not to be outdone, Hong Kong’s nightlife zones kick up their heels from time to time too, with specially organised carnivals. Lan Kwai Fong (www.lankwaifong.com) and SoHo (www.ilovesoho.hk) usually pick November, while Star Street (www.starstreet.com.hk) launched its first fest in October 2010 – a roaring success which organisers plan to repeat in 2011.
There again, there are some who’d say the party lasts 365/6 days a year anyway.

More expert advice on Hong Kong

For suggestions on where to stay in Hong Kong, see my Hong Kong Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Hong Kong.

Read my overview on Hong Kong nightlife.


A two-year round-the-world trip in the early 90s ended in Laos mere months after I'd set off from London for that time-honoured reason: zero cash. Took a boat over the Mekong (no bridges in those days), jumped the train to Bangkok, flew the credit card to Hong Kong, and got a job within a week. And like Mrs Lot, from that moment, I've never looked back. Somehow my rucksack has grown exponentially into a house and garden and similar impedimenta - but it's a rare month that I'm not travelling somewhere, preferably with my Kinshasa-born, Chinese-speaking, Flemish wife.

Over the years I’ve contributed to numerous guidebooks on Hong Kong, edited three editions of Asia’s Best Hotels & Resorts, and am currently working on a new guide to private villas in the region. I’m also Senior Editor at Large for AsiaSpa magazine, and have written for other publications such as Gourmet Traveller, Business Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Los Angeles Times, The Australian and The Scotsman.

This SimonSeeks guide was actually inaugurated by Teresa Machan, who writes:

A travel journalist with over 15 years’ experience, I lived in Hong Kong in exciting times – before, during and after the Handover. Before a stint at regional travel magazine Holiday Asia, I worked on the Hong Kong Standard and edited Concierge, the Hong Kong Hotels’ Association magazine. Cutting my teeth on some of the world’s finest hotel stock I chewed the fat with top chefs, interviewed the city’s finest Swiss-finished managers, and sampled some of the best Chinese food on the planet. Since returning to the UK I have written extensively about Hong Kong for magazines and newspaper travel sections, and I also edited a Smart Guide, published by Insight. One of the most fun stories I’ve done was for the Telegraph’s Ultratravel magazine. Hanging out in some of the city’s most glamorous spots, I had dinner with designer Barney Cheng, lunch at the hallowed China Club with philanthropist and society high-flyer Warren Mok, and benefited from some top tipster advice in the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s member’s box.
But I’m just as happy hanging out in flip-flops and slurping noodles with the locals in my former home, Lamma Island.

These are some of our favourites around Hong Kong

Best for people watching

From the upper deck of a tram as it trundles around Sheung Wan, Central Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Happy Valley.

The most breathtaking city view

From The Peak or with a cocktail at Aqua (29th and 30th floor, One Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui).

Lunch at the China Club
Tuck into hairy crab dumplings and watch the world turn on a high-decibel axis of lazy Susans. Members only but hey, this is the world’s greatest networking city!

Best cheap thrill
The pungent cross-harbour whiff of industry; the sailor-suited deckhands; the creak of the gangplank, the view… it’s quintessential Hong Kong. (ie Star Ferry)

Favourite walk
The day you are due to leave Hong Kong, drop your bags at the in-town check-in, catch a ferry to Lantau, then walk over the hills to Tung Chung (it takes a couple of hours) and cab it to Chek Lap Kok (you can grab a shower in Departures). Sensational scenery - woodland, waterfalls, small farms, open countryside - and what a way to combat DVT!

Best new attraction

1881 Heritage – A former downtown police station converted with a fair degree of sensitivity into a hotel, restaurants, and a swathe of designer label shops.

Don’t leave without...
Taking the MTR to a station that’s not mentioned in any guidebook, and plunging outside to explore.

Favourite dining spot
China Beach Club in Mui Wo – superb Mediterranean food and marvellous maritime location. Dogs welcome. Huge portions. Warsteiner on tap, likewise banter with the resident chorus of cook, owner and passing folk.

The best spot for some peace and quiet
Sir Edward Youde Memorial Pavilion, towards the northern end of the Wilson Trail above Luk Keng in the north-eastern New Territories. An incredible amalgam – 100% rural New Territories to the fore, with Mainland container terminal and TV mast on the horizon. Quiet as the grave, and only about ten minutes’ walk from the road-head.