Many visitors stick to Hong Kong island and the Kowloon side when in Hong Kong, since there’s just so much to do in such a little space. The New Territories, the area between Kowloon and mainland China, usually does not see a lot of non-mainlander tourist action, usually due to a lack of English spoken and uncertainty about what there is to do.
The fact that it’s uncharitably referred to as “The dark side” by expats does not help matters. But just like the rest of Hong Kong, the public transportation is easy and accessible, and even better, there are plenty of outdoor activities that nicely contrast the bustle of more touristy areas and show off the history of the area.
Here are two ideas for a day out in the New Territories:
1. Tai Po
The first thing to love about Tai Po (pronounced Dai Bo): it’s cheaper than Kowloon or the island, in terms of food, clothing markets and boat or bike rentals. The area is still very local, so there are almost no Western culinary offerings. Instead, go crazy with buns, endless dim sum, numb spice noodles and deep-fried French toast in the main square.
The second thing to love is the outdoor space. All along Kwong Fuk Road, where most of the buses enter Tai Po, there are bike rental places. The going rate is about HK$60/day. Miles of bike paths extend all over the New Territories. Cycle to Tai Mei Tuk (pronounced Dai Mei Duk) to see the quarry, eat seafood and rent a rowboat, to Ma On Shan (the end of the brown MTR line) for a long workout or to our next destination…
2. Sha Tin
For a long time, I only knew for sure that Sha Tin has god-awful traffic, and that there’s a huge mall. (Sidenote: Do not go to New Town Plaza mall; it’s always packed. If you need to go to a mall, go to Elements above Kowloon Station. It has H&M, Zara, tons of luxury brands and HK shops, and it is never, ever crowded. The restaurants are really expensive though, so bring snacks or plan to eat elsewhere!)
However: Sha Tin has some cultural gems that are not often visited. The first is Tsang Tai Uk, right off the bike path, a fortified Hakka village that’s the most accessible of its kind in HK. The three rows of houses were built by a stone mason for his family and descendants. Construction started in 1848 and took twenty years to complete. At each corner still stands a three-story guard post, as HK was prone to pirate invaders at the time. Visitors are allowed to wander through the first row of houses, the enclosed walkways that connect each house and the main ancestral hall. Past that is closed to the public as all the houses are occupied.
Che Kung Temple is a five minute bike ride away from Tsang Tai Uk. It’s huge, overwhelming and soaked in color and incense. It gets especially packed around Chinese New Year. And if you really want to round out a cultural day, bike just a few minutes more to the Heritage Museum. The guarded bike parking is free, and the museum itself is filled millennia-old Chinese artifacts, a permanent exhibition of Chinese opera culture, and a thoughtful Bruce Lee exhibition that will be up through 2016. The museum is free on Wednesdays, or HK$10 otherwise.
Do you have any tips for a day out in the New Territories?