HONG KONG - Borders may be shut but life in Hong Kong has been made much more bearable with Instagrammable country parks that are on the edge of urban districts and rare landforms reminiscent of craggy English coasts.
Beyond the dense skyscrapers on Hong Kong island and Kowloon lie charming surprises, from craft shops to post-war architecture and repurposed shops.
For foodies, the city serves up a range of delectables either in old-school cafes or Michelin guide restaurants specialising in Cantonese cuisines.
And with a travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong planned to take off late this month (November), now is the time to start planning for that trip.
Beyond the usual spots favoured by visitors, here are some off-the-beaten corners that the gritty territory also has to offer.
What to see
Tai Mo Shan, Chuen Lung Village
There's no better time to explore the mountains - Hong Kong is 40 per cent mountain - than in autumn as the weather cools and the winds soothe.
Rising 957 metres above sea level, Tai Mo Shan, or literally Big Hat Mountain, in New Territories is the highest peak in Hong Kong. We take the scenic route, passing by Ng Tung Chai waterfalls along a mostly shaded "jungle" trail where we bump into a wild boar and a monkey.
The incline towards the summit may be a little steep for some but you can always take a short break and watch the cows graze along the concrete path. Near the summit lies the Hong Kong Observatory's weather radar station and when you reach the top, you can get an expansive view of the city and Shenzhen.
To descend, one way is to walk down winding Tai Mo Shan Road that offers views of Lantau Island and Tsing Ma Bridge.
As you make your way to Route Twisk past Tai Mo Shan Country Park Visitor Centre, you can take bus 51 to Chuen Lung Village that dates back to the 1400s.
Pop into family-run Duen Kee Chinese Restaurant for freshly made dim sum after your four-hour hike. Be warned: There is no service. You'll have to make your own tea and help yourself to the piping hot siu mai, lor mai gai and steamed sponge cakes. A waiter will count your plates when you're done.
Tips: Bring water, wear track shoes and pack a light windbreaker. There is no shame if you jump into an empty cab when you're done and head to Duen Kee. Cash is king in Hong Kong.
Duen Kee Chinese Restaurant
57-58 Chuen Lung Estate, Route Twisk, Tsuen Wan; +852 2490 5246
Opening hours: 6am - 2pm daily
Cape D'Aguilar Marine Reserve
For a family- and pet-friendly breezy walk, the Cape D'Aguilar marine reserve in Shek O - the south-easternmost tip - is perfect. The coastal walk reminds us of the Scottish hills and boasts caves, a historic lighthouse and the remains of a killer whale. It's about four kilometres walking from Cape D'Aguilar Road bus stop to the Marine Reserve and you can spend a good two hours in the area posing for photos, maybe longer if you plan a picnic.
Sharp island in Sai Kung
This island is a 20-minute ferry away and it features a geological park with a tombolo, a tide-dependent sand bank that connects the island to the mainland. In summer, the emerald waters are inviting at Hap Mun Bay beach. From there you can make your way to Hak Shan Teng, then Kiu Tsui Beach towards the tombolo, before heading to the Kiu Tao hilltop lookout.
Tip: The kaito ferry ride takes about 15 minutes. An adult one-way ticket costs around HK$20-40. Costs vary between weekends and weekdays.
Geopark boat tour to Ninepin Group
Some of the world's rarest landforms on the Ninepin Group of 29 islands - located east of Clear Water Bay - were created millions of years ago when Hong Kong was a volcanic zone. The sights include the spectacular hexagonal columns on North Ninepin Island, the Sunken Ship Crack, Hok Tsai Pai detached islet and Big Stove Arch on the northernmost point of Ngan Peng Tau. You can also join a local eco-tour or charter a boat from Sai Kung Pier Eco Travel.
Sai Wan swimming shed
Head down some steep stairs off Victoria Road in Kennedy Town to a green shack originally built some 50 years ago for swimmers to change. Hong Kong's supposed last swimming shed is still used by a few hardy souls before taking a dip in the sea.
The sunset views are lovely here.
What to do
30 Houses + Crafts on Peel
While in Central, you can kill two birds with one stone and check out tong lau or post-war buildings.
At 30 Houses, a crop of small shops have sprouted in recent years, including Chez Trente, a bar and gallery where artists, musicians, writers and art lovers gather. It is also home to 30 Houses Kai Fong Yu Lan Festival, host of the annual Yu Lan, or Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations.
Alternatively, follow the black and white neon sign on Peel Street to Crafts on Peel, which serves as a collaborative platform for traditional craftsmen and contemporary artists. The multi-storey building offers carefully preserved and exposed architectural features of the 1948 tong lau.
Address: 62 Staunton Street, Central
Info: Discover Hong Kong's Facebook page
Crafts on Peel
Address: 11 Peel Street, Central
Info: Crafts on Peel's website
Colour Brown X Phvlo Hatch
Fancy a chance to rub shoulders with those in the creative industry? Head to this three-storey old textile shop turned creative hub. It is located in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong's poorest districts but also a place filled with great finds.
The place is popular for its industrial aesthetics featuring a spiral a staircase that attracts a lot of Instagrammers.
Website: Colour Brown X Phvlo Hatch's Facebook page
What to eat
Sun Hing Restaurant
Known as the "3am dim sum place", this busy casual eatery is a hit with locals. It offers freshly made curry beef tripe, quail's egg siu mai, steamed radish cake with preserved meat and deep fried milk custard to die for.
You'll have to share tables with others during busy periods, which is the norm in Hong Kong. Ask for a receipt card to order what you want at the station next to the door, or hail the wait staff when you see them walking around with bamboo trays of piping hot goodies.
Address: Shop C, G/F, 8 Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town, Western District
Tips: Opens 3am to 4pm daily, cash is king
Ying Jee Club
This is a place to rediscover refined traditional Cantonese dishes that are now vanishing. Chef Siu Hin Chi is a Cantonese culinary legend known for amassing 20 Michelin stars over his 40-year career. In November, he will introduce the Nostalgic Tasting Menu to honour traditional Cantonese classics. Largely passed on orally, these traditional techniques are now in dire need of preservation and Chef Siu will reinterpret once-familiar favourites such as imperial bird's nest broth with partridge and braised pomelo peel.
Info: Ying Jee Club's website
Hop Sze Restaurant
Listed as a Bib Gourmand restaurant in the 2020 Michelin Guide Hong Kong, it serves hearty Cantonese dishes and soups. Operating more like a private kitchen, Hop Sze does not display most of its dishes on the menu but be sure to try the tea-marinated chicken or sticky rice with Chinese preserved sausage and shrimp toasts.
Address: G/F, Lai Wan Building, 39 Shau Kei Wan Road, Sai Wan Ho
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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