Hong Kong is a great place to visit, and there’s lots to do.
But if you’re coming to Asia for a visit from a long way away, it’s likely you’re going to want to stay for at least a couple of weeks to make the flight worthwhile. So is there enough to do in Hong Kong to keep you busy all that time? Well, maybe, but it’s not what I would advise. A fairly comprehensive look around Hong Kong might take you (depending on how hard you want to push yourself) from five to seven days. If you’re in Asia for longer, you will likely want to consider making one or more of several possible sidetrips from Hong Kong. Here are some options.
Macau The standard side trip from Hong Kong is a jaunt by ferry boat to Macau, which lies west across the Pearl River delta from Hong Kong. Macau is Hong Kong’s older, smaller cousin; its historical roots run back to the 16th century incursions by Portuguese explorers, traders and missionaries. Macau has lots to offer – especially in terms of its food – although its nature is changing rapidly and drastically, as its former low-key charm is increasingly replaced by a Las Vegas-style gaming culture. But we batgung are not Macau experts, so we’ll send you over to this site for Macau expats, plus here’s the official Macau tourism site.
Mainland possibilities The most obvious choices are simply to sample the attractions in the two local mainland ‘border cities’: Shenzhen and Zhuhai. The former lies directly north of Hong Kong, the latter is similarly adjacent to Macau. You can just walk right into both via border stations. Ah, maybe I should qualify that a bit – you will not in fact just walk right in; you’ll need a China visa in your passport, and you’ll need to clear immigration and customs, just as if you were going into an entirely separate country.
Neither place is beautiful, historic or even particularly pleasant. But they have three big attractions. First, if you’re interesting in setting foot in ‘the real China’ – which Hong Kong is most expressly not – then they are real enough. They look and feel (and even smell) different from Hong Kong and Macau. Second, they’re both good for shopping for cheap stuff. Most people end up buying CDs/DVDs of questionable provenance, designer clothing and handbag knockoffs, and the like. Both Shenzhen and Zhuhai have vast shopping malls more or less contiguous with their main border stations, so you can just cross over, do your shopping/eating, and come right back out. Shenzhen also features a new underground train system that’s not bad at all if you’d like to get further into the city. Third, if you’re interested in golfing, it’s much cheaper and easier to do so at numerous courses across the border than to try to get tee times in Hong Kong.
Another interesting mainland sidetrip possibility within easy reach of Hong Kong is Panyu, lying just outside Guangzhou. You can get there via ferry, bus or train from Hong Kong. The town of Panyu is nothing special, but it’s home to the vast Chimelong complex, which comprises:
The whole place wasn’t very crowded, and prices are extremely reasonable. If you’ve got kids, a sidetrip to Chimelong is an excellent option. Most travel agents in Hong Kong should be able to get you set with hotel bookings, transport tickets, and visas.
A little farther afield The places I’ve mentioned so far can all be reached by surface transport, but there’s no reason to rule out air travel from your sidetrip options. Even if your ‘big ticket’ from Europe, North America, Oz, etc. can’t be extended to include another Asian stop, it’s very easy to find flight/hotel package deals here in Hong Kong that will take you to a whole bunch of excellent sidetrip destinations. Thailand is perhaps the most obvious choice; there are direct flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and to the beach resorts in Phuket and Koh Samui. The Philippines also has some nice choices, with direct flights to Cebu, for example. Slight farther away, and more expensive, would be a trip to Malaysia/Singapore, Vietnam, or Indonesia/Bali.
I’m not going to go any deeper into recommendations for any of these places, as there are other websites out there that will do a much better job for you. I’ll just add a couple of notes to whet your appetite.
First, all of the places I’ve mentioned, especially Thailand and the Philippines, are cheaper than Hong Kong. If your finances extend only to a rather dull hotel here, for example, you will find the same money will get you five-star elegance in Bangkok or Phuket. For many people, it will actually be cheaper to get out of Hong Kong than to stay here, even if you need to throw in another flight. Second, you’ll get a chance to experience a different culture/cuisine/landscape, which should make your trip that much more exciting. And third, it’s really easy to do. Travel in the tourist areas of most southeast Asian countries is well-oiled and smooth, so it’s usually not stressful.
If you are looking for a package deal leaving from Hong Kong, you might do worse than to start at zuji.com, a travel site that focuses on Asia deals.
I’m going to stop here, by noting that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities for trips out of Hong Kong. Reader recommendations and tips are most welcome!