What to Do in Hong Kong: 10 Favorite Things

Dim sum is like tapas JTB Photo Communications, Inc. /Alamy
By Alex Ortolani

Hong Kong might have remained a sleepy fishing village had the Chinese not ceded control to the British during the opium wars of the mid-1800s. Instead, it rapidly grew into one of Asia's most vital trading and finance centers. But even under British rule, which ended in 1997, Hong Kong maintained much of its distinctly Chinese charm -- the skyscrapers that sprouted along the shores of the South China Sea loom over Buddhist temples and goldfish markets. Today, the city offers a surprising blend of Eastern and Western culture, colonial influence, and Chinese tradition.

Photo Caption: Dim sum is like tapas
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Dim sum from trolleys at Maxim's Palace. Timothy O'Rourke
Dim sum is a bit like tapas -- lots of small plates served at once, generally for breakfast or lunch -- and it's a Hong Kong specialty. Head to Maxim's Palace, which is one of the few places where dim sum is still delivered to diners on trolleys. You can choose from hundreds of dishes, but highlights are the squid tentacles, soup dumplings (xiao long bao), and barbecued pork buns (char siu bau).

Photo Caption: Dim sum from trolleys at Maxim's Palace.
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A double-decker tram cruises along highend shopping street Nathan Road at dusk. Yannis Lefakis
The double-decker trams that have been creeping along the northern edge of the island since 1904 are the ideal way to see the streets up close. Hong Kong natives use the trams to get around, but at only $HK2 a ride, they also offer one of the best tours of the city -- from crumbling apartment blocks to dazzling skyscrapers -- you're likely to find.

Photo Caption: A double-decker tram cruises along highend shopping street Nathan Road at dusk.
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Shoppers at Stanley Market in Hong Kong. Philip Poon
It goes without saying that you'll likely visit Stanley Market as it's a shopping mecca. But to get there, I suggest taking the road less traveled: Walk across the steep "Twins," the two hills that lead to Stanley from the north. The walk is challenging, but you'll be rewarded with outrageous views and that great Hong Kong rarity, a cool breeze.

Photo Caption: Shoppers at Stanley Market in Hong Kong. Photo by Philip Poon/Flickr.com.
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Horses come out of the gate at Happy Valley Racecourse, where both locals and visitors put money on the races. Yannis Lefakis
Horse racing may be the only activity that draws people from all sectors of Hong Kong society together for a common purpose (seeing their horse win, of course). Join the crowds at Happy Valley Racecourse on a Wednesday night or Sha Tin on a Saturday and you'll feel like an honorary Hong Kong citizen.

Photo Caption: Horses come out of the gate at Happy Valley Racecourse, where both locals and visitors put money on the races.
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The tailors at Sam's are world-famous for their custom-made suits and shirts. Timothy O'Rourke
Over the years, Hong Kong and China's huge textile industry has encouraged the high-quality, inexpensive, personalized tailoring trade here. If you've never had a suit, dress, or shirt tailor-made before, Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui is the place to indulge. Try Sam's Tailor for the best of the best.

Photo Caption: The tailors at Sam's are world-famous for their custom-made suits and shirts.
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The Mid-Levels escalator. J Rosenfeld
Most visitors use the Mid-Levels escalator at night, when they're on their way to the restaurants, bars, and shops in Central and SoHo. But to get a sense of just how manic a city Hong Kong can be, take a ride on the escalator during the morning commute (6-10am), when it only runs downhill.

Photo Caption: The Mid-Levels escalator. Photo by J Rosenfeld/Flickr.com.
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Diners dig in at Fernando's, which sits right on the beach at Hac Sa. Yannis Lefakis
Macau is a separate territory, once ruled by Portugal, and it has a wild flare all its own. Thanks to regular high-speed ferry service, you can get to Macau -- a sort of Asian Las Vegas -- in no time. You can have fantastic Portuguese food, gamble, hear live music, and still be in bed in Hong Kong by midnight.

Photo Caption: Diners dig in at Fernando's, which sits right on the beach at Hac Sa.
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The Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak. Jérémie Souteyrat
Victoria Peak (known simply as the Peak) is the tallest spot on Hong Kong Island and the observation platform at the top offers a stunning 360-degree view of the island, the territories, and the South China Sea. But the best way to experience the Peak is by going for a stroll (following Harlech and Lugard roads). You'll see Hong Kong's sometimes-hidden natural beauty up close.

Photo Caption: The Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak.
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Skim boarding is a popular pastime on Hong Kong's beaches. Yannis Lefakis
Hong Kong isn't known for its beaches, but it's hard to understand why. There are some truly gorgeous beaches here. Head to Tai Long Wan -- a secluded, sandy beach in Sai Kung, also known as Big Wave Bay -- for an afternoon and you'll feel like you've stumbled upon a hidden gem.

Photo Caption: Skim boarding is a popular pastime on Hong Kong's beaches.
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Sticks of incense burn in a stone urn outside the Pak Tai Temple. Yannis Lefakis
Hong Kong's Buddhist temples are a reminder that there's life beyond work in this city. My favorite is Pak Tai Temple on Cheung Chau, where every year there's a festival to honor Pak Tai, the Taoist god of the sea. Like so many of Hong Kong's temples, it's an incense-laden oasis of serenity.

Photo Caption: Sticks of incense burn in a stone urn outside the Pak Tai Temple.
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