Kowloon means ‘Nine Dragons’ in Cantonese and used to be best known for its ‘Walled City’ that was filled with drug addicts, prostitutes, and Chinese gangsters. The city was demolished in the 1990s but at the time it was thought to be the most densely populated place on earth, and little has changed in modern day Kowloon which is extremely busy and very crowded. That said, it would be impossible to visit Hong Kong and not see what it feels like to be at the center of a city of 7 million people, and the shopping and the famous Hong Kong landmarks found here make it more than worth it.
Space in Hong Kong is very limited but one of the most liberating experiences here is to go for trip on the water on the iconic Star Ferry which links Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. The trip takes about 10 minutes by time you get on and off and if you choose to cross from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, particularly at night, then you will get the chance to see one of the most recognizable skylines in the world. What makes this even more of an experience is that the ferries are the complete opposite of the modern skyscrapers in the background and have been in operation since the 19th century. If you only do one thing in Hong Kong then make sure that you don’t miss this.
The Museum of History
If you feel confused about what makes Hong Kong work then you can go back to the beginning at the Museum of History and visit the permanent ‘Hong Kong Story’ exhibition which starts 400 million years ago and then pulls you into the present. The exhibition takes you back to the start and then moves on to a walking tour of different galleries and interactive features that make learning all your history more fun than usual. There are also sound and light shows that will bring the Hong Kong of years ago to life, and the museum is free on Wednesdays so if you are in search of activities to do on a budget then this is a good choice. You can also then move on from here to Temple Street and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, both of which are also free.
Temple Street Market
Temple Street Market can be an extremely touristy experience but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad one. The items sold here are geared more towards visitors than locals (think ‘I Love HK’ t-shirts’) but the whole area is full of typical Hong Kong sights. You can expect it to be very crowded and full of neon lights that Hong Kongers love so much. Next to that, there are tons of other shopping opportunities in the streets next to the market itself selling everything you could want, from flowers, to live animals, and electronics. Also look out for local Hong Kong street snacks like fish balls sold on sticks and dough balls that look like a kind of waffle.
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
As you get off the Star Ferry in Kowloon and turn right you will find the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade which is a star studded line up of all of Hong Kong’s most famous faces. This is literally true as you can find the stars and handprints of many Chinese celebrities here, and the most famous item on the promenade is the statue of the famous martial artist Bruce Lee. Many fans come here just to see the statue, and you will also get amazing views of Hong Kong Island and harbor in the background. If you happen to be here are night then you can also take in the sound and light show called the Symphony of Lights that illuminates up many of Hong Kong’s most famous buildings with an accompanying narration and is free of charge. Just make sure to head to the waterfront area in front of the Hong Kong Cultural Center in time for 8pm when the show starts and watch over forty buildings light up.
Kowloon is not for everyone and it’s definitely not the place to come if you don’t like crowds, but it is a typical Hong Kong experience and will show you how locals live together in such a small space. The markets here and the Star Ferry also represent a more traditional side of old Hong Kong rather than the skyscrapers and financial hub of Hong Kong Island, so if you can stand the squeeze then get out and explore this urban jungle.