With ornate carvings, clouds of incense and the busy rattle of fortune-telling sticks, Hong Kong’s 500 or more temples give an intriguing insight into fascinating Taoist and Buddhist cultures. Start at the lovely Man Mo Temple at 126 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong Island – it’s currently being repainted but you can still join others paying their respects here: make a small donation and light three incense sticks for luck. Move on to Kowloon and the large Wong Tai Sin Temple above Wong Ta Sin subway. The great god Wong is said to cure illness and also to bring luck over races, so his temple is hugely popular – particularly at weekends when crowds bring colourful offerings. Then make for Buddhist Chi Lin Nunnery, nearby at Chi Line Drive near Diamond Hill subway. It’s a sublimely peaceful complex with lotus ponds and a treasury of religious relics. Temples and monasteries are usually open 9am-5pm, no admission charge.
THE GREAT INDOORS
Hong Kong’s major museums combine culture and history with elements of great fun – and if you come on a Wednesday, admission is free. On the Kowloon waterfront, the Museum of Art contains fabulous scrolls – willow-filled landscapes from the 1400s, herons in the early 20th century – and calligraphy. You can make embossed seals or try your hand at copying the calligraphy masters in specially equipped sections (10am-6pm daily except Thursday, adults HK$10/65p). Up at 100 Chatham Road South, the Museum of History charts the story of Hong Kong, including folk culture and the return to Chinese sovereignty. Striking displays include a restored junk and a recreated street market (10am-6pm daily except Tuesday, adults HK$10/65p). On Hong Kong Island, the absorbing Museum of Coastal Defence is housed in a 19th-century fort and has lively multimedia displays and great tales of derringdo (10am-5pm daily except Thursday, adults HK$10/65p).
The waves are rarely big enough for serious surfing, but Big Wave Bay is a glorious spot for landlubbers. Set between rugged cliffs and rocks, the scenery is the finest on the island. Further south, around breezy Shek O, there are beautiful beaches which are virtually deserted except at weekends. It’s a different story on the sands of the well-heeled south coast. Between Aberdeen and Stanley, both Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay are tree-lined and well-maintained, but there’s little elbow room at weekends. Stanley itself has a good stretch of sand at Main Beach, but those in search of seclusion should consider a ferry and bus ride to the south coast of Lantau Island, and in particular Hong Kong’s longest beach of all, Cheung Sha. This 2km stretch of sheltered, clean sand is difficult to reach, and not overburdened with facilities, but it’s a perfect place to unwind on a long hot summer’s day.
The best short hike on Hong Kong Island follows a gentle spine of high ground that runs towards a headland on the southeast coast. The walking is easy, and the 360-degree views of the South China Sea, the outlying islands, the coastal resort of Stanley and a corner of Kowloon are stupendous. Strong thermals on the heights attract paragliders, especially at weekends. The walk begins at Cape Collinson (easily accessible from downtown via bus route No 9) and ends at the delightful fishing village of Shek O, which has a narrow, winding main street, several restaurants and a fine beach. It takes the best part of two hours to get there, which is about the time it takes to complete the 4.5km hike, but it’s worth it. A longer version of the walk (8km) starts out from Big Wave Bay, the nearest thing in Hong Kong to a surfing beach.
In the shadow of a high-rise housing complex in the north-west corner of the New Territories, Hong Kong’s Wetland Park (00 852 2708 8885; www.wetlandpark.com) is a successful blend of serious eco-tourism and hands-on family entertainment. A wetland reserve has been created out of an unpromising swamp, and a mass of waterfowl and other wildlife can now be observed at close quarters from hides and interconnecting walkways. Alongside stands Wetland Interactive World, with themed exhibition galleries, a theatre and an indoor “swamp adventure” playground for children. The most unlikely resident is an Australian crocodile named Pui Pui (“the precious one”), who was found in a nearby river in 2003. Open 10am-5pm every day except Tuesday when it is closed. Admission HK$30 (£2) for adults, HK$15 (£1) for under-18s.
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