Walking tour allows self-paced discovery of Hong Kong

Double decker tram in Hong Kong

Double decker tram in Hong Kong

What to do when you find yourself with a layover in Hong Kong? The Hong Kong Tourism website provides several different itineraries and downloadable maps that cover most of the neighborhoods along the waterfront. I printed the detailed Central & Western District and Wan Chai maps before a trip to Asia and found them easy to use and allowed me to plan a self-guided tour. We frequently used the historic double-decker trams that run along the waterfront including downtown and the Western District, a bargain at HK$2/person, and with the two walking tours and a ferry ride I create our individualized tour.

Hong Kong, a thriving metropolis of 7 million people where East collides with West, was reclaimed by China in 1997 but is still a melting pot of international commerce, with gleaming high rises and blinking neon signs touting some of the biggest names in business.

Western District

From our base at the sleek and modern Courtyard by Marriott in the Western District we immediately noticed the not-unpleasant mild odor of dried seafood that wafted through the neighborhood. Almost every shop was crammed to the rafters with innumerable varieties of dried fish.

Proceeding along Wing Lok Street to Des Voeux Road and down Ko Shing Street we passed through neighborhoods specializing in shops carrying specific wares, from ginseng and bird’s nests used to ensure longevity and energy, an exotic assortment of dried fish, and finally, a dizzying variety of dried herbs used in the flourishing medicinal trade.

We headed toward the Taoist Man Mo Temple, a fascinating glimpse into the traditional past in this small temple overshadowed by the urban structures surrounding it. The gods of literature, Man, and war, Mo, are honored here, the calligraphy brush and the sword respected side by side. We were enveloped by thick clouds of incense that drifted down from huge cones of incense suspended from ceiling, looking at first like ornamentation until our eyes adjusted to the gloom.

Mid-Levels Escalator

An unusual and well-known feature of Hong Kong is the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest covered escalator in the world at 800 meters long. It connects downtown to the Mid-Levels area where many high-rise residences are located. The escalators run downhill from 6 am – 10 am, then uphill for the rest of the day until midnight. We took the 20 minute ride up the escalators, and observed many shops and cafés located across a narrow sidewalk from the escalators. We deviated here from the walking tour in favor of riding all the way to the top where we encountered a helpful map posted near the exit of the escalator. Signs directed us toward the zoo and Peak Tram.

Peak Tram

The Peak Tram is located across the street from the zoo and provides transportation up an exceedingly steep hill, ranging from a gradient of 4 to 27 degrees, for HK$49. The reward at the top of the 1.4 km funicular railway was a beautiful, panoramic view of the harbor, the city, Kowloon and, from the other side views to the south that surprised us with wide swaths of green belt, beaches and expansive views of the South China Sea.

Wan Chai

Descending via the Peak Tram, we made our way toward Des Voeux Road to catch the tram to Wan Chai to pick up the Wan Chai District walking tour. This bustling, crowded neighborhood is described as an endless series of reclamation projects, starting with the creation of the neighborhood, which used to stand in Hong Kong Harbor water.

We had some difficulty locating the tiny Hung Shing Temple, but were glad we persevered as it, like the Man Mo Temple, is enchantingly out of place wedged in between apartments on the busy street, built around a large boulder.

Star Ferry

Star Ferry

Star Ferry

We proceeded toward the harbor and passed through the Southern Playground, which was a bit sterile with no trees or grass but with several soccer fields and grandstands to sit on. Becoming a bit weary we again became distracted from the walking tour and started following signs to the Star Ferry, finding a large ferry terminal on the other side of the huge Convention Center. Ready to get off our feet we took a ferry (a bargain at HK$2.20) to Tsim Sha Tsui across the harbor on the Kowloon side, for no reason other than to take a boat ride.


We disembarked from the Star Ferry on a mission to find the landmark Peninsula Hotel, still one of the world’s grandest hotels, as it has been since opening in 1928. Located in a majestic colonial building overlooking Victoria Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon it is world renowned for its luxury, maintaining a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce limos and their own helipad.

Wrapping up our first day we took the ferry (HK$1.70) back to the Central District and hopped on a tram to get home. We were ready for a nap, but felt a sense of accomplishment since we managed to stay up all day and see a large chunk of Hong Kong as our friends slumbered through the night back home.

Download walking tour maps from the Hong Kong Tourism Board website.


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