Stuck at Hong Kong international Airport and have half a day or more to kill?
Lucky you! Unlike many other cities, Hong Kong is extremely accessible on a limited timespan. If you have 6 or more hours to spare, then there really is little excuse to waste it loitering round at the airport (it is a pretty awesome airport to be fair, I mean it does have an IMAX cinema!)
The Airport Express train takes 24 minutes to reach central Hong Kong and links conveniently with the MTR network, which will take you in all directions around the Island and the Kowloon peninsula. Trains run frequently starting at 6am till the last airport bound train around 12:30am. Just keep in mind that the MTR (subway) trains stop around midnight.
One thing to note is that if you intend on heading straight to Kowloon, it is still easier to take the Airport Express train to Hong Kong station and then switch to the red line MTR train to go back over the harbour to Kowloon. This is because Kowloon station where the Airport Express makes a stop is located quite far away from all the action, with no convenient MTR link available.
Click here for a downloadable PDF map of the MTR network
Where to go on Hong Kong Island?
With limited time to spare, here are my picks for famous spots to visit, shopping meccas, top photo opportunities and where to go for an authentic Hong Kong experience.
Central is a perfect spot to start your introduction to Hong Kong. The MTR will spit you out at Des Voeux Road Central, the most westernised part of the city.
Surrounded by skyscrapers and shopping malls, Central is popular for it's upscale fashion boutiques and is a busy part of the financial district.
From here a walk along Hollywood Road will give you a feel for the older colonial parts of the city. There are many antiques dealers along this road, as well as a multitude of street markets. Perfect spots for some street photography.
Keep walking along Hollywood Road to reach the Man Mo Temple, a free to visit temple filled with hundreds of burning incense coils and various worship idols.
A quick hop on the MTR will get you to Wan Chai, however a much more enjoyable way is to take the famous tram. From Des Voeux Road Central, just hop on any tram heading east and head upto the upper deck for a great view of the hustle and bustle below. Snaking through the CBD and the busy financial district of Admiralty, it will take about 10 minutes to reach Wan Chai.
The windows are open so it's a great vantage point for getting interesting street shots below or capturing the giant skyscrapers above.
*Trams in Hong Kong are a fixed HK$2.30 fare. No need to pay when getting on a tram, you simply drop your coins into a box when getting off.
For a stop off in Wan Chai the one must see spot are the street wet markets. Located on Bowrington Road, the wet markets of Wan Chai are about as fresh as fresh can be when it comes to seafood and as bloody as you might expect the insides of an abattoir to be.
It's an exciting experience for the senses, packed with throngs of locals and tourists alike, the markets are alive with noise, bright lights and strange smells.
If you're up for it, the second floor of the indoor market hosts the Cooked Food Centre, where extremely cheap local food is available all day and night.
Wan Chai is also host to a few great multi-story computer markets which are worth checking out if you are looking for cheap electronics such a hard drives or computer memory.
- Wan Chai Computer City. 130 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai (Google Maps)
Located right next to Wan Chai MTR station, this mall and 298 Computer Centre (see below) are great places for snapping up gadgets or spare computer bits and pieces.
- 298 Computer Zone. 298 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai (Google Maps)
This place is pretty big and spread over multiple levels. I'll admit I've gotten lost in here before trying to find my way out. Whilst it's the same stuff as in Wan Chai Computer City, 298 has quite a few little camera stores hidden away where some great bargains can be found on second hand cameras and lenses.
- Oriental 188 Shopping Arcade. 188 Wan Chai Road (Google Maps)
If you're into video games, then Oriental 188 Arcade is one of the biggest indoor malls for buying console and pc games outside of Japan. The latest Playstation and Xbox games can be found here for between 40 to 50 US dollars. There is also a huge second hand market including classic console games. Although don't expect to find any pirated copies. After a big crack down, everything for sale in here is all legit.
Causeway Bay is yet another giant shopping area, home to the massive SOGO and Times Square shopping malls and a seemingly endless supply of restaurants.
For most first time visitors to Hong Kong, it's a great place to experience the vibrant atmosphere of Hong Kong, but keep in mind that it's also the most crowded.
CNN Travel wrote a great article on a shopping guide to the area, and seeing as I'm no expert when it comes to fashion or food; I'll just leave it at that.
Advisable only if you have the time to spare, a trip up-to the peak is usually the highlight for any trip to Hong Kong.
Arguably one of the best viewpoints in the city, the peak offers up a fantastic view over Hong Kong Island and neighbouring Kowloon (when the weather permits that is).
The peak tram starts at Garden Road in Central (see Google Maps) and takes you all the way to the top of Victoria Peak. It's the most convenient and quickest way to the top, however I wouldn't recommend attempting a visit unless time is really on your side as the wait times for the tram to and from the peak can be up to an hours wait.
Alternatively the No:15C bus runs through Central and Admiralty and can take you to and from the peak in about 45 minutes. It's actually a more enjoyable ride than the tram as it winds through some pretty hairy looking roads on the journey to the top.
Where to go in Kowloon?
A quick hop across the harbour on either the MTR or the more scenic Star Ferry will bring you to Tsim Sha Tsui, at the bottom of Nathan Road, one of the prime spots in Hong Kong for any visitor.
From here you will be able to experience amazing views across Victoria Harbour, and maybe catch a view of the Aqualuna junk boat coming and going across the waters.
Additionally, every evening at 8pm about 40 buildings from both sides of the harbour put on a giant light and laser show which is synchronised to a music performance. The 'Symphony of Lights' show is unmissable and best viewed from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade.
Following the MTR red line as it stretches up Nathan Road will bring you to Mongkok, one of the busiest shopping districts in the world.
No doubt the liveliest area in Hong Kong, Mongkok can easily take up an entire day navigating through all the market stalls, multi-story electronics and camera shops as well as all the back alley eateries.
I recommend checking out the following whilst in Mongkok:
Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street. (Google Maps) Don't let the name fool you, this is the largest open market in the city stretching for about a kilometre. Selling everything from knockoff mens/womens clothing to perfumes/fake dvds/phone accessories etc it's definitely worth checking out. Expect to haggle and check out the alleyways behind the market stalls also as there are sometimes better shops hidden away.
Goldfish Markets on Tung Choi Street. (Google Maps) Continuing north up Tung Choi St till you reach an overpass, if you cross over you will reach the Goldfish markets strip. If you plan on taking photographs you will need to be very sneaky as the shop owners don't allow photos of their animals or inside their shops. This is a pretty exotic spot worth checking out and full of all manner of animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, turtles, birds and of course...fish.
Sai Yeung Choi Street. (Google Maps) Running adjacent to the Ladies market is the main shopping street in Mongkok which is packed full of electronics retailers and major clothing outlets. I swear this is the busiest street in the world, but it's just a fantastic place to go to for people watching and street photography. There is never a quiet moment on Sai Yeung Choi St.
Last on the day trip plan, or first if you're REALLY into cameras, should be a trip to one of the older areas of the city; Sham Shui Po.
Known for it's electronics and textiles street markets, this is THE place to come to find cheap camera accessories like flashes, studio reflectors, lens hoods, filters etc.
Apliu Street (Google Maps) This is where you will find the electronics markets and stores selling old cameras, gadgets and accessories. Search for "Fulidat 富利達電子" at 156 Apliu St to find the best store in Hong Kong for camera accessories.
Golden Computer Arcade (Google Maps) On the opposite side of Nathan Road to Apliu Street is the famous Golden Computer Arcade. Inside this huge double story complex you will find a range of low cost computers and peripherals. This is also a good place for buying the latest games.
Above all, I can highly recommend just taking the time to explore around the neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po and allow yourself to get a little lost. It's a fascinating older part of the city much devoid of tourists, and a top spot for photography of all the old buildings and seemingly endless hanging neon signs. Check out Ki Lung Street which is nearby, it's a really narrow street with hundreds of hanging signs amidst the old buildings.
Top photo spot picks
Here's my list for some of the best photo spots in the city, and how to get there.
As I mentioned previously, this should be number one for any visit to Hong Kong, no matter how brief.
How to Get here:
Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station exit E. This will bring you up on Nathan Road behind the famous Peninsular Hotel. From there head south towards the harbour and look for the underpass to get you across the main road.
There is also the Star Ferry option if you are coming from Central or Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. This will drop you off directly next to the TST promenade.
This spot is quite popular with tourists and local photographers alike as it offers a fairly unique viewpoint over the long streets below and is a prime spot for getting shots of all the congregating red minibuses that seem to populate around Mongkok.
How to get here:
Mongkok MTR Station Exit B3. This exit brings you out at street level right next to the elevated walkway, from there; well just simply walk up and stroll around!
The shots below were taken looking both north and south bound on Fa Yuen St.
For an awesome free viewpoint over the busy Temple Street markets, head on over to Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon to find this little known photography spot from the top floor of a multi-story car park.
How to get here:
Yau Ma Tei MTR Station Exit C. This will bring you out on Nathan Road. Heading southbound keep going till you reach Kansu St on your right. Turn down Kansu St and very soon you should see the big white car park. Take the first right and you should easily find the pedestrian access into the car park and then the elevators to goto the top floor.
Note: The top floors of the car park are rarely full of vehicles and there is nothing to worry about in terms of being bothered by security or anything like that. Obviously, just use common sense when walking about as it is an active car park and HK boy racers....well, you'll see!
The Mid-Levels escalator is the longest outdoor escalator in the world, and was designed to help in traversing the steep, hilly terrain of the western part of Hong Kong Island.
Luckily for photographers, it also serves as a pretty decent elevated vantage point for shooting the busy, narrow streets below that pass beneath the walkway system.
How to get here:
Central MTR Station Exit G. This exit brings you out at Peddler St. From here go left towards Queen's Road Central. Turn right on Queen's Road and keep walking for about 5 minutes to reach the Mid-Levels escalator. There are signs everywhere so it shouldn't be difficult to spot.
Gage Street as seen from the Mid-Levels Escalator
For a taste of Hong Kong's living environments at their most extreme, take a visit to Quarry Bay, where one of the most popular spots for urban landscape photographers awaits.
The Yick Cheong and Yick Fat buildings are huge vertical monoliths, a perfect showcase of Hong Kong's dense living environments and are fastly becoming a favourite spot for those in the know to visit and document.
Whilst it's a little out of the way of the main tourist hotspots, it's only 10 minutes on the MTR from Central to nearby Quarry Bay station.
How to get here:
Quarry Bay MTR Station Exit A. From the exit on King's Road, head south for about 5 minutes till you reach Mount Packer Road on the right hand side (look for the elevated walkway above) Take a left at the sign that says 'Municipal Services Building' till you reach the 'Cooked Food Centre'. To your left will be a walkway up to the courtyard of the Yick Cheong Building.