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View from the hike up Quarry Bay to Siu Ma Shan.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Hong Kong

View from the hike up Quarry Bay to Siu Ma Shan.
  • By Mary Hui
  • Photos by Lam Yik Fei
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Hong Kong is old and new, gritty and sleek. Its urban and verdant jungles meld into one. You can sit on rickety stools and slurp down a great, low-priced bowl of noodles, then enjoy first-rate fine dining with a view.

The streets are alive at all hours, and everyone is in a giant coordinated dance as the frenzy of the city hums along. But when all that gets to be too much, peace and serenity are easily accessible, because the wooded hills are never far. You can step out of an office building downtown and within minutes be on a quiet, rugged trail. Hike a little more, and soon the entire city and the sea beyond opens before you. This is what it means to be in Hong Kong.

Meet Mary Hui

Mary Hui is a Hong Kong-based writer. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The New York Times, the South China Morning Post, and CityLab.

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IN THE ACTION
Central
Central is the city’s high-powered epicenter of business. It has a number of luxury hotels with amazing views of the harbor, but affordable options are available. It’s also where the nightlife happens. There’s a ton of history and culture, too, including Tai Kwun, a former colonial-era police station that is now a cultural heritage site, and a historical trail tracing the life of a famous revolutionary. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Tai Hang
Tai Hang is a small, tucked-away enclave of quiet streets just a 10-minute walk from the craziness that is Causeway Bay, the shopping mecca. There are a bunch of hotels here, including Little Tai Hang, a boutique hotel that opened in 2017. This charming neighborhood with its small, local restaurants is hard to beat. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Australia Dairy Company
There’s usually a line out the door at this Hong Kong-style diner, and for good reason: It serves possibly the best scrambled eggs and toast in town. Don’t let the long queue deter you. The place is loud, no-frills and high-speed, so you’ll be seated before you know it. The easiest tactic is going for one of the three set menu options: breakfast, afternoon tea and all-day. For something sweet, try the egg-white-and-milk pudding, or the almond egg pudding. Both are steamed (technically, double-boiled) and can be eaten hot or cold.
BTW: Don’t be put off by the brusque service; the waiters are being efficient, not rude. It’ll be tempered if you arrive already knowing your order.
47 Parkes St., Jordan, Hong Kong
BREAKFAST
Sang Kee Congee Shop
There is nothing more soothing and nourishing than sitting down to a giant, steaming bowl of congee (rice porridge). You can have it plain or with all sorts of ingredients. My favorite add-ons are century egg and lean pork, chicken, slices of fish and fish balls made of dace, which are small freshwater fish. For the more adventurous, try pig’s heart or pig’s blood. Be sure to add soy sauce and heaping piles of fresh ginger and spring onion to your bowl of warm, wholesome goodness.
BTW: Get the fried dough sticks and dip them into your congee.
7-9 Burd St., Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
LUNCH
City Hall Maxim’s Palace
With great views of Victoria Harbor, this is one of the few remaining places in Hong Kong that still serves dim sum on the traditional pushcarts. Take your pick of the dishes on offer as they get wheeled around among the bustling tables. The decor here also screams Hong Kong: a vast banquet floor, bright lights and lots of red. And it’s loud. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. Sundays.
BTW: When you arrive, make sure to get a number from the machine.
2/F, Low Block, City Hall, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central, Hong Kong
LUNCH
Tak Cheong Noodle
Slurp down a great bowl of noodles at this quick and casual restaurant, one of three branches across Hong Kong. The atmosphere is pretty basic — plastic wares, waitstaff shouting orders, tables shared with other diners — but the food is anything but. The noodles come in a rich broth made from chicken, pork and fish bones, while the fish balls and fish cakes are freshly made in-house. The fish-skin dumplings are good, too, as are the deep-fried fish skins.
BTW: If you don’t feel like noodles, you can get a bowl of just fish balls or a plate of fish cakes.
75 Electric Rd., Tin Hau, Hong Kong
DINNER
Old Bailey
Located at Tai Kwun, the old Central Police Station that has been converted into a heritage and arts space, Old Bailey has a classy, bookish decor and serves cuisine from Jiangnan, the eastern coastal region of China. There’s an emphasis on fresh, organic ingredients, and tofu is featured prominently in a variety of dishes. There’s even a full vegan menu available.
BTW: If you have time, start with a drink on the terrace and take in the views.
2/F JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Old Bailey St., Central, Hong Kong
DINNER
Sheung Wan cooked-food center
Loud and high-energy, this large, old-school food court features lots of cuisines, including Cantonese, Chiu Chow and Thai. The food comes sizzling hot and the meals are easy on the wallet. Tung Kee has classic Cantonese options, including stir-fries and casseroles, while Luen Hing Chiu Chow serves up hearty dishes from the southeastern coastal city of China. Just remember to bring cash.
BTW: The restaurants typically close after lunch at 3 p.m. and reopen for dinner about 6 p.m.
2/F Sheung Wan Municipal Services Building, 345 Queen’s Rd., Central, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
LATE-NIGHT
Second Draft
A great lineup of locally brewed craft beers. A menu of exciting Chinese-inspired pub food. Retro, Hong Kong-style decor with green tiles lining the walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden seats that bring back memories of your days in school. Come to this neighborhood hangout and make sure to try the spiced fries, mapo burrata and the super indulgent HK French toast — a twist on the local classic with a slab of foie gras.
BTW: Openings hours are 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday to Thursday, till 2 a.m. Friday, and noon -1 a.m. on weekends.
Second Draft, G/F, 98 Tung Lo Wan Rd., Tai Hang, Hong Kong
LATE-NIGHT
Ching Ching Dessert
The perfect after-dinner hangout spot to satisfy that sweet tooth or round out a date or family outing. Dive in to cold options on a hot summer day, and reward yourself with a steaming bowl of hot, sweet soup on a wintry night. I’ve always loved the black sesame dumplings in gingery soup, and the glutinous rice balls rolled in crushed peanuts and sesame are dangerously addictive.
BTW: On the menu, prices are color-coded blue and red to mean cold and hot respectively.
77 Electric Rd., Tin Hau, Hong Kong
(Hong Kong illustrator Frank Lo for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Minibuses are awesome, if a little intimidating. The speedy 16- and 19-seaters are quirky and intimate and get you through that last mile of a journey. But you need to learn — and have the courage — to shout for your stop.
  2. Cantonese may sound rude and aggressive to the untrained ear, but it’s actually a highly versatile and expressive language that offers almost endless opportunities for puns.
  3. The Octopus card is a godsend. Get the rechargeable card to pay for almost every mode of public transportation (most taxis don’t accept it, however) and for all sorts of purchases, including at supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants.
(Hong Kong illustrator Frank Lo for The Washington Post)

Do

Victoria Peak
Above it all at Victoria Peak, take in the view as the city drops steeply beneath you. The sight never gets old, especially at night, and it never fails to inspire a profound sense of awe. Take public transport (the Peak Tram, the bus and taxis are all options) or, if you feel like a steep but paved climb, make the 1.5-mile walk up Old Peak Road from Central to arrive at the Peak Tower. Once there, you can also walk up Mount Austin Road to the beautiful — and much less crowded — Victoria Peak Garden.
BTW: If you have time and are able, be sure to walk to the Lugard Road Lookout for dazzling views.
Victoria Peak Garden, 31 Lugard Rd., The Peak, Hong Kong
Hike Quarry Bay to Siu Ma Shan
Do this 4.5-mile hike with roughly 1,460 feet of elevation for amazing views of the city, harbor, mountains and countryside. Starting on the gentle incline of Mount Parker Road, popular with older morning walkers during the week and families on weekends, the tarmac turns to trail two miles later to ascend the peaks of Mount Butler and Siu Ma Shan. From the summits, enjoy sweeping, contrasting views of the lush mountainsides and the dizzying density of the urbanscape.
BTW: Budget 2 1/2 hours for a leisurely hike. Siu Ma Shan is also great for sunsets.
Heritage of Mei Ho House
Formerly part of the city’s oldest public housing complex, this last remaining block of the historic Shek Kip Mei Estate has been converted into a youth hostel and museum showcasing the history of public housing in Hong Kong. The densely packed working-class neighborhood of Sham Shui Po, where Mei Ho House is located, has eclectic shops, street markets and inexpensive local eats, including the Michelin-recommended Hop Yik Tai, which serves cheong fun (or rice noodle rolls), and Kwan Kee Store, which sells old-school steamed puddings.
BTW: Closed Mondays, except those that are holidays. Also, just behind Mei Ho House is Garden Hill, a wonderful lookout over the neighborhood.
Block 41, 70 Berwick St., Shek Kip Mei Estate, Sham Shui Po
Xiqu Center
Cantonese opera can seem intimidating and hard to understand, but the Tea House Theatre at Xiqu Center makes the art form accessible. Located in a just-opened Cantonese opera house, with a light-filled central atrium and a curvy, aluminum-plated exterior, the Tea House Theatre offers shorter, bite-size performances and dim-sum snacks. For a more formal experience of full classical productions, head to the Grand Theatre.
BTW: While you’re there, visit the West Kowloon railway terminus station across the road for panoramic harbor views from its rooftop observation deck.
Xiqu Center, 88 Austin Rd. W, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
JC Contemporary
This contemporary art museum is in a newly constructed building located within the revitalized Tai Kwun heritage complex. The museum hosts six to eight exhibitions annually across its floors, which are connected by a spiral staircase. A recent exhibit showcasing the works of the Chinese artist Cao Fei turned parts of the museum into a prison, questioning the relationships between observation and surveillance, constraints and freedoms, art and discipline.
BTW: Sign up online ahead of time for guided, docent-led tours of the exhibitions.
JC Contemporary, Old Bailey St., Central, Hong Kong
Asia Society Hong Kong Center
Perched on the hillside against a verdant backdrop in the heart of the city’s business district, this beautifully constructed arts and culture center is at a formerly abandoned colonial-era military site built in the 1800s for storing explosives and ammunition. These days, it hosts performances, exhibitions, film screenings and lectures.
BTW: The center is closed Mondays, but otherwise typically open 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
9 Justice Dr., Admiralty, Hong Kong
Mary Hui
Mary is a Hong Kong native, having lived there her entire life except for a few years away for college and work. She loves to walk the city’s streets and run its trails. She’s so obsessed with the place that she hung a giant topographic map of Hong Kong in her house.
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Lam Yik Fei
Lam Yik Fei is a contributing photographer for The Washington Post born and raised in Hong Kong, a dynamic and sleepless city that allows him to travel the globe via direct flights. He loves bringing his cameras to the various hidden gems and documenting the daily life of the people.
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CITY GUIDES