If you’re travelling to Hong Kong from Singapore, then you’re bound to be looking for what sets Hong Kong apart. While both cities have incredible sights and an amazing food culture, there are still some things which remain unique to each. From scaling mountains to getting sky-high and meeting Mickey Mouse, here are just 10 things Singaporeans can only get their fill of in Hong Kong.
And for a little hometown refresher, check out 10 things to do in Singapore that you can’t do in Hong Kong.
Note: Remember to book ahead for popular restaurants and attractions – and that offerings may change to reflect COVID-19 measures.
1. Hike the Mountaintops
Singapore’s relatively flat terrain and year-round heat don’t scream ‘strap on your hiking boots’. Hong Kong, though, is home to 24 sprawling country parks and countless mountainous trails which offer up spectacular views – and the drop in temperature in the winter months makes it the perfect time to hit the great outdoors. Beginners should start with the Dragon’s Back, a gentle undulating trail that winds its way across the southern ridges of Hong Kong Island, before dropping down to Shek O beach for a well-earned Tsingtao. More experienced hikers can tackle Sunset Peak (869 metres) or Lantau Peak (934 metres) – two of Hong Kong’s highest mountains – or perhaps even commit to completing the 100-kilometre Maclehose Trail, which snakes across mountains, reservoirs and beaches along the entire width of the territory.
2. Eat a Classic Hong Kong Meal
Where Singapore has the humble kopitiam, Hong Kong has the equally humble cha chaan teng, a marriage of a different set of cultures. These bustling all-day cafes merge Western and Cantonese comfort foods to offer up idiosyncratic dishes which range from baked pork chop rice to macaroni, spam and egg noodles, or pineapple buns wrapped around a thick slab of butter. Swap crispy kaya toast for thick slabs of French toast slathered in butter and syrup, and trade that Milo dinosaur for the yin yeung, a potent combination of milk tea and coffee – inevitably accompanied with characteristically brusque service. The Australia Dairy Company in Jordan is one of the city’s most popular spots, as the queue outside proves. But take heart: their soft, rich, tender scrambled eggs are well worth the wait.
3. Ride Old-School Transport
While most Hongkongers and Singaporeans whizz about town on efficient subway systems, Hong Kong has retained its traditional modes of transport. Hop on the ‘ding ding’ – the double-decker trams have been operating along the length of Hong Kong Island for more than a century, offering a slice of history alongside a leisurely tour of the city. For a more thrill-inducing ride, board the Peak Tram – this funicular railway, built in 1888, heaves passengers almost vertically up the mountainside to Victoria Peak. The iconic Star Ferry has been puttering across Victoria Harbour since the 1880s, and the eight-minute journey is a genuine must among things to do in Hong Kong. Elsewhere on the harbour, you might spot the red sails of the Dukling – the last authentic Chinese junk to ply the waters around Hong Kong, which now offers daily sightseeing tours.
4. Soak in Sky-High Views
Singapore has an impressive skyline, but Hong Kong takes it to new heights. It has the most skyscrapers in the world, and that means it’s bursting with spectacular rooftop venues and bars with views to die for. Perched on the 118th floor of the ICC building, Ozone is the highest bar in the world, with dizzying views over Victoria Harbour. Vertigo sufferers may feel slightly more comfortable at the nearby Aqua Spirit – a gorgeous bar on the 30th floor of 1 Peking Road, with panoramic views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. For an unusual al fresco setting, head to Wooloomooloo’s rooftop cocktail terrace in Wan Chai for dreamy 270-degree views that stretch from the harbour to Happy Valley racecourse and beyond.
5. Visit a Traditional Fishing Village
Hong Kong’s forest of skyscrapers might make you think it’s just a city of glass and steel, but it still holds traditional culture in abundance. Over on Lantau Island, the picturesque stilt houses at Tai O fishing village are a world away from the towering urban jungle, and offer a glimpse into Hong Kong’s more traditional past. Hire a sampan to chug around the waterways before wandering the lanes of dried seafood stalls, then take tea at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, a former rural police station. You can also join cruises to meet one of Hong Kong’s unique residents: the indigenous pink dolphins that live in the surrounding waters.
6. See the House of Mouse
Sentosa offers plenty of fun and adventure – but Hong Kong is home to Mickey and friends. The magic of Hong Kong Disneyland offers thrilling rides, spectacular shows, colourful parades and all your favourite characters. Meanwhile, the city’s homegrown Ocean Park offers a different theme park experience, with rollercoasters clinging to rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, amazing sea life aquariums, two resident giant pandas and a breathtaking cable car ride connecting two sides of the park.
7. Go Island-Hopping
Hong Kong is made up of more than 250 individual islands, each with its own character – and most of them easily reached from the ferry piers in Central. Head out to Cheung Chau to explore old pirate caves, temples and hop on a windsurfing board or kayak. Hippie vibes and excellent seafood are the calling cards of Lamma: the multicultural enclave is dotted with cute independent stores, charming boutiques and a wealth of restaurants boasting the catch of the day. Or spend the day on tiny Peng Chau – you can walk around the coastline in an hour, before browsing the eclectic handicraft stores and revamped heritage sites (like the artsy Leather Factory), and grabbing a bite at the wonderfully old-school Hoi King Seafood Restaurant.
8. Explore Ancient Walled Villages
Out in the New Territories, you’ll find plenty of examples of old Hong Kong. The walled villages were the site of powerful Punti and Hakka clans throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912), built to defend against pirate raids and enemy attacks. A number of these ancestral homes remain today, characterised by rectangular structures, narrow lanes and protective walls – though sadly the cannons in the battlements are long gone. Kat Hing Wai in Yuen Long and Tsang Tai Uk in Sha Tin are two of the best-preserved examples, while the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail weaves a path through five different old walled villages.
9. Discover a Giant Buddha
Board one of the glass-bottomed Crystal Cabins of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to feel like you’re floating over the mountains of Lantau. Your destination? The Tian Tan Buddha, better known to all as the Big Buddha. For good reason – it’s the second largest of its kind in the world. After clambering the 268 steps to reach the peaceful giant, pop into the nearby Po Lin Monastery and take a tranquil stroll down the Wisdom Path, which is lined with Buddhist sutras inscribed into wooden columns.
10. Take a Unique Boat Tour
The 150 square kilometres of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark offer sights that can’t be found in Singapore – or anywhere else, for that matter. The park – which actually spans several islands – is packed with ancient rock formations, remnants of volcanic lava flows and some rare geographical phenomena. Particular sites of interest include the polygonal volcanic rock columns at High Island, formed around 140 million years ago; the tombolo pathway that links charming Sharp Island to the nearby Kiu Tau islet; and the curious sea stack formations at Tung Ping Chau. See a slice of the Geopark with a guided half-day boat tour from Sai Kung Pier. It’s one of the most memorable things to do in Hong Kong.