Hong Kong has plenty to offer, but in terms of sheer geography there’s no denying that the main drag of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories is not a big area. Sometimes you’ll want to get out of the crush and try somewhere quieter, culturally intriguing or simply different. Fortunately, proximity to mainland China and Macau, as well as various outlying islands, means day trips are easy and convenient, with excellent transport links. Here are three suggestions – you’ll come up with more yourself.
Lamma is the most obvious safety valve for those days when city stress is getting to you. Half an hour from Central by ferry, Hong Kong’s third-largest island only has about 8,000 residents and no cars – people head there to hike, enjoy peace and quiet and the beauty of nature, and sample fresh seafood from one of the two main towns – villages, really.
The hike between the two towns takes about ninety minutes on a clearly marked trail, with spectacular views as you dip down into valleys and banana groves, then climb up hills for a contrast in terrain, encountering temples and pagodas as you go. There are beaches along the path, so bring a swimsuit and stop for some tanning or a swim wherever takes your fancy. Lo So Shing Beach is considered the best.
Tiny and quiet Sok Kwu Wan is famous for open-air seafood restaurants, while the bigger Yung Shue Wan has more to see and a laidback Southeast Asian atmosphere with winding streets and plenty of crafts and the like on sale. Some expats like it so much they end up living there. Plan your day to decide which direction to do the walk in – see below.
Take the ferry from Central Ferry Piers in Central – fast ferry takes 20 minutes, ordinary ferry takes 35 minutes. Fare is HKD15-30 depending on type of ferry and the day you go. You’ll arrive at either Yung Shue Wan or Sok Kwu Wan. Note that there are more ferries from the former, so you may want to plan to end up there for the trip back to Central.
Just an hour by ferry from Hong Kong, the peninsula of Macau is easy to get to and an interesting contrast – it returned to China from Portugal two years after Hong Kong. Its northernmost ‘island’, Macau, is where you’ll probably spend your time. Most obviously, with casinos illegal in Hong Kong and the mainland, this is where you can go to scratch your gambling itch – you and the millions of Chinese people who have made Macau’s casinos more popular even than Las Vegas. There are 29 to choose from, most prominently the Grand Lisboa, Sands or the most spectacular, the Venetian. It’s worth staying until evening time to see the buildings bring out their garish light shows.
Otherwise, the Old Town in Macau is attractive and pleasant to walk around, with colonial Portuguese architecture mingling with Chinese influences in Largo de Senado and most famously the stunning façade of Sao Paulo, a Jesuit church dating from the early 1600s. You can spend an enjoyable few hours around here, stopping for the seafood and rice that are the basis of Macanese food, and of course don’t miss the chance to have Portuguese egg tarts, a native treat that has spread around the whole country. Head up towards the mainland border for the Buddhist Kun Iam Temple and the traditional biscuit vendors around it. For a modern thrill, go up the Macau Tower, where you can even skywalk over 200 metres high if you dare.
The southern islands (now connected) are Taipa and Coloane, which offer nature hikes and beaches – if this appeals, take a whole day there rather than try to combine them with Macau.
Ferries to Macau go from the Macau Ferry Terminal in Central (at least hourly, 7am-1am) and from the China Ferry Terminal in Tsimshatsui (about every half-hour, 7am to 10pm). You can almost always simply turn up and go, though you might want to book in advance for weekends or holidays to be safe. They’ll assign you a seat on arrival, and the boats are modern and smooth. The trip takes about an hour each way and costs HKD135. You won’t need a visa in advance, but don’t forget your passport. We suggest hiring a driver for the day, unless you plan to limit yourself to the Old Town area. While Macau has its own currency, the Pataca, you can use Hong Kong dollars everywhere and get them from ATMs.
Yes, Shenzhen is closer, but other than shopping (everything is cheaper), there’s not much to see. Head on a little further to Guangzhou for a better taste of the mainland. It’s a busy, often unglamorous city, but it does have a long history. Shamian Island was once a colonial enclave and is a pleasant oasis in the city centre, with quiet streets and nice restaurants. Guangzhou Museum, inside Yuexiu Park, will give you a sense of both ancient and colonial history in a 600-year-old building, and to emphasise that Bright Filial Piety Temple is China’s oldest Buddhist temple. The Tomb of the Southern Yue Kings, over two thousand years old, is a reminder that this was once an imperial capital.
It’s China’s third-largest city, so don’t try to do much in one day and consider basing yourself in one area and exploring it mostly by foot. There’s an extensive Metro system to get you around quickly though, so it’s very manageable – you’ll get a taste for one of China’s booming cities, as well as sample some great food. If you want a different kind of day trip, head straight out to White Cloud Mountain, 15 km north of the city, which boasts a range of gardens, parks and activities, including a cable car, hiking and even bungee jumping.
Trains go from Hung Hom Station in Kowloon (you can get there by MTR) and take about two hours to Guangzhou East Station. There are 12 trains daily, with the first leaving Hung Hom at 7:25am and the last leaving Guangzhou at 9:32pm, for HKD190 one way. You’ll need to get a visa for the mainland in advance; and note that while you can buy the ticket to Guangzhou up to 20 minutes beforehand, you need to buy the ticket back at least six hours in advance – in other words, do it when you arrive on the mainland. You’ll of course need to use RMB in Guangzhou. Once you’re there, take taxis or use the subway, or hire a driver in advance.