Break your jouney to Oz with a stopover in the vibrant city of Hong Kong, where there's a wealth of experiences to be had, foods to be tasted and stunning landscapes to explore
I’ll never forget my first few days in Hong Kong. Jetlagged, exhausted and culture shocked, I wandered the city streets, dazzled by the neon lights, amazed by new and wonderful sights, sounds and smells. It was my first time in Asia, and I was enchanted.
Hong Kong is, quite simply, one of the world’s most exciting cities. So if you are on your way to Australia or New Zealand it would be criminal not to stop off for a few days.
The great thing about a quick stopover is that you can cram so much into a short space of time, then jump back on a plane where you can sleep it off. Here’s how to make the most of Hong Kong – whether you’re into shopping, food, culture or nature.
Hong Kong for shoppers
In two days you can get a made-to-measure suit at one of the world’s finest tailors. Walk down Nathan Road in Kowloon, sidestep the hawkers and street salesmen and head for number 92 where you’ll find Sam’s. Sam – real name Manu Melwani – has kitted out two Bonds (Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore) and several heads of state, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Expect to pay about £250.
Take the ferry across to the island for the discount camera stores on Stanley Street and upmarket antique shops on Hollywood Road. The maze of streets south of Hollywood Road – inevitably dubbed SoHo – is great for window shopping. On Queen's Road West you’ll find Chinese medicine shops selling every type of traditional herbal remedy.
After dark, head back to Kowloon for the Temple Street Night Market, a cacophony of fortune tellers, opera singers and stallholders selling fake bags and watches. It’s a great place to pick up cheap kitsch souvenirs, including that Chairman Mao alarm clock you’ve always wanted.
Hong Kong for foodies
Hong Kong’s location at the crossroads of Asia makes it a feast for foodies – you’ll find hundreds of authentic restaurants serving Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Malaysian food, as well as every variety of Chinese fare, from spicy Szechuan to the succulent seafood dishes of Chiu Chow.
Start with dim sum for breakfast or lunch. Delicately-prepared dumplings, soups, pastries and buns are wheeled on trolleys around restaurant floors - just stop a waitress, grab what you fancy and wash it down with green tea. For a real Hong Kong experience, go to Maxim's Palace, a red-and-gold room the size of an aircraft hangar on the second floor of City Hall, near the Star Ferry terminal.
To mix with a hipper crowd, head to Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon. Heaven on Earth is the place to train your tastebuds in the subtle flavours of Szechuan, Hunan and Shanghai cuisine.
Hong Kong for culture vultures
Part of Hong Kong’s allure lies in its tantalising mix of East and West. But don’t be fooled: you’re in China, not a backward-looking colonial outpost. Yes, you can still climb Victoria Peak in a 100-year-old tram (the round trip costs £2) or watch the firing of the Noon Day Gun, but to really get under the skin of Hong Kong, check out the colourful smoke-filled Taoist Temple of Man Mo on Hollywood Road, or the early morning t'ai chi devotees in Victoria Park.
The tourist board runs a programme of free events, including a tutored performance of Cantonese opera, a masterclass in feng shui and a lesson in making traditional cakes at the award-winning Wing Wah Cake Shop.
Hong Kong also has some outstanding museums. Learn about the history of tea at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, then roar back into the 21st century at the futuristic Hong Kong Museum of Art.
You’re never far from a festival in Hong Kong. Aside from the raucous Chinese New Year celebrations in February, it’s worth checking the dates of the next Dragon Boat festival, and the colourful Bun Festival when children are carried on bamboo poles in processions through the fishing village of Cheung Chau.
Hong Kong for nature-lovers
It’s not all neon and concrete – 70 per cent of Hong Kong is made up of mountain, forest and farmland. With rugged coastlines, hiking trails, white sand beaches and pristine coral, the countryside is crying out to be explored.
One of the most accessible walks is the Dragon's Back, a ridge along the southeast side of Hong Kong Island. It winds up at the charming fishing village of Shek O, where you should treat yourself to a meal at Black Sheep, a laid-back Aussie fusion restaurant. For a hardcore hike, head to the 60-mile MacLehose Trail.
A programme of nature tours run by the tourist board – most of them free – includes a visit to Tai O, a traditional floating village on Lantau island, and a morning birdwatching tour in Hong Kong Park where you can spot yellow-crested cockatoos and red-whiskered bulbuls.