Hong Kong has amazing white sand beaches — even better than Thailand,” assures my guide Sidney as we hike the MacLehose trail in Sai Kung – “Hong Kong’s back garden” – and I soon see he’s not exaggerating. As I puff up the rough trail to the 468m top of lush green Sharp Peak, a trio of white sandy strips reveal themselves, including gorgeous Tai Wan and Ham Tin.
Catching my breath atop sun soaked Sharp Peak, I drink in the 360-degree views, a world away from the urban hubbub of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the still calm broken only by a solitary chirping cricket and a stirring breeze. Then, while hiking back, a glorious sunset casts an orangey cloak over the silhouetted hills before yielding to a blanket of stars.
Hong Kong is awash with wild green spaces, trails and beaches, and between the myriad ferries, taxis, trams, buses and MTR, they’re easily accessible. Simply grab a prepaid Octopus travel card and explore. Even Sai Kung town — from where boats leave for beaches and islands offering excellent snorkelling, kayaking and surfing — is but a 30-minute minibus ride from MTR stations such as Choi Hung. Lantau Island, where Hong Kong Disneyland Resort starts a six-year expansion project next year, brings more green pleasures such as hiking Sunset Peak.
Others I discover through my glass-floored Crystal Cabin on the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car from Tung Chung MTR to Npong Ping Village. Here, family-friendly attractions include 5D movies and shaolin monk martial arts demos, although I focus on the nearby giant Buddha and Po Lin monastery, where
I enjoy a tasty vegetarian meal. The old fishing village of Tai O, home of the Tanka people, great seafood and some elusive pink dolphins, proves to be my Lantau highlight.
“It’s hard to believe you’re in Hong Kong,” declares Sidney as we walk past the ramshackle stilted fishermen dwellings as black kites soar above and fish jump in the water, and I can only agree. Change is coming. More galleries and coffee shops are opening, the new bridge that will link Hong Kong with Macao is visible nearby, and you must pay to be locked up in the old police station, now the charming Tai O Heritage Hotel, yet the village retains a welcome air of authenticity.
Cheung Chau is another relaxing escape, but I opt for a weekend on car-free Lamma, 30 minutes by ferry from Central Pier. Go for the seafood restaurants, laid-back vibe and walks – from off-road routes to the paved Family Trail.
On Hong Kong Island, I spend a fun night at Happy Valley Racecourse picking losers from the trackside Beer Garden and Adrenalin bar overlooking the finish. I also enjoy the tourist board’s Old Town Central walking tour. The route, featured on its app (guide.discoverhongkong.com/au), weaves together everything from Hollywood Road’s antique shops and the more souvenir-friendly Upper Lascar Row to PoHo’s hipster hangouts and PMQ, the former married policemen quarters now home to creative stores, designer outlets and chef Jason Atherton’s Aberdeen Street Social.
Hong Kong Island has some noteworthy green spaces of its own, not least Victoria Peak, easily accessible by hiking or on the historic tram, while beaches include Repulse Bay and Shek O, a logical addition to hiking Dragon’s Back.
Given Hong Kong’s pricey hotel stock, I appreciated the good value 4.5-star Dorsett Wanchai. It’s also worth checking out the refreshed Fleming hotel – also in Wanchai – and The Murray in Central. Opening in January, the latter promises stunning guestrooms and interiors and five dining options, including Aviary, a stylish rooftop bar restaurant. Plus, Ocean Park opens its new Water World, an all-weather water park, next year.
Over in vibrant Kowloon, the stylish Rosewood Hong Kong opens next year, the refurbished Avenue of Stars and Museum of Art reopen in late 2018 and 2019 respectively, and work is well under way on the ambitious West Kowloon Cultural District. For now, though, my highlights include taking the Star Ferry, night-time browsing at Temple Street Market and Ladies Market, and wandering the neon-lit streets fuelled on tasty cheap eats. I also love Harbour City’s newly opened extension, featuring 11 restaurants and excellent waterfront views.
Forty miles and a 70-minute ferry away, a side trip to Macao makes sense for repeats and those with time to spare. With the new Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macao bridge opening late this year, it seems almost rude not to.
Covering just 11 square miles, Macao has embraced a Vegas-meets-Dubai approach typified by showy casino resorts from the likes of Wynn; Galaxy, undergoing another revamp; and MGM, whose second property opens by year-end on Cotai strip. Also opening by yearend is The 13, dubbed the “world's most luxurious hotel”, while Grand Lisboa Palace, due to open in early 2019, will feature blingtastic hotels from fashion houses Karl Lagerfeld and Versace.
Walking tours of areas such as Macau Historic Centre plus Coloane and Taipa villages reveal echoes of Macao’s Portuguese colonial past, but for me the draw is the food. Sampling excellent Chinese and Portuguese restaurants and Macanese fusion dishes proves worth the ferry fare alone. Others won’t want to leave without trying the world’s highest bungee jump at Macao Tower
Connecting Hong Kong with Zhuhai in 30 minutes, the new bridge also offers potential for China combinations. Until then, you could add Shenzhen in Guangdong province, which shares a border with Hong Kong, for more easy twin-centre wins.
Book it: Premier Holidays has a five-night twin-centre from £985pp in May 2018, including two nights B&B at Macau’s Grand Emperor Hotel; three at Hong Kong’s Harbour Plaza Metropolis, room only; Cathay Pacific flights from Gatwick; and Macao ferry tickets.
DORSETT WANCHAI HONG KONG
By Karl Cushing
THE FACTS: This 4.5-star offering from Dorsett on Hong Kong Island sports a crisp modern look, having just been refurbed from the former Cosmopolitan.
THUMBS UP: My good sized, good value, cosy room had a pleasing layout, comfy bed and decent fixtures. Nice touches included free perks from the “3 Wishes” menu such as mini-bar use or laundry services and using “26 Hours a Day” to prearrange a flexible check in and free late check-out – at 7pm.
THUMBS DOWN: Location isn’t perfect, being a 10-minute walk from Causeway Bay and Wan Chai MTR, but complimentary shuttles serve key locations.
SELL IT: A room-only night in a standard room costs £106, including service charge.