Hong Kong is divided into four main areas; Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories and the Outlying Islands.
Hong Kong Island
At present, the majority of businesses, government establishments and high-end restaurants and hotels are found on Hong Kong Island, although this is gradually changing with the appearance of new developments across the harbor in Kowloon. Hong Kong Island itself is approximately 80 square kilometers in size with the majority of the buildings and activities being focused on the north side of the island, which houses the Central and Western districts and encompasses the commercial center of Hong Kong. Immediately to the east of Central is Wan Chai, a heavily populated area that contains a wide variety of drinking establishments and night clubs as well as residential apartments and local shops. Further east is Causeway Bay, a major shopping district with the Times Square Shopping Mall, which is an extremely dense and busy area. Next to Causeway Bay is the Happy Valley district, which houses one of Hong Kong’s two racecourses and is a very popular residential location for expatriates. To the east of Causeway Bay is North Point, a rather busy commercial area which is popular with Japanese expatriates.
Over the years areas like Pok Fu Lam and Sheung Wan, which lie to the west of Central, have also seen a rise in expatriate populations due to the construction of many new developments like Residence Bel-Air in Pok Fu Lam and a spate of serviced apartments in Sheung Wan which is the traditional Chinese medicine and dried seafood district of Hong Kong.
The area between the north and south of the island is largely undeveloped and consists of Victoria Peak and a number of county parks and natural reserves. A tram can be taken from Central to the Peak where, on a clear day, gorgeous views of the entire island can be enjoyed.
The southern side of the island is much less developed than Central, and contains predominantly low-rise buildings and residential areas. A number of Hong Kong’s best beaches can be found here, including Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay and Stanley Beach. Stanley is a particular favorite among expats who can be found on the weekends having lunch and enjoying drinks along the Stanley promenade.
Although Victoria Harbour separates Hong Kong Island from Kowloon, ongoing massive land reclamation mean that the two separate areas are becoming ever closer. Kowloon can be accessed from Hong Kong Island via the underground MTR railway, on road via underground tunnels or across the water via the famous Star Ferry.
Kowloon is an extremely busy and crowded area of Hong Kong and has a very distinct feel from Hong Kong Island. Nathan Road runs the entire length of the area leading far into the New Territories, and is a busy metropolis of neon signs and busy retailers. You will generally find that you are approached much more by touts on this side of Hong Kong, and it is practically impossible to walk even half a mile along Nathan Road without being accosted by eager salespeople attempting to sell tailored suits, foot massages, copy watches and handbags.
The main residential areas in Kowloon which are popular with expatriates are Kowloon Tong, which is home to several international schools including the American International School and the Australian International School, the area of West Kowloon around the ICC tower (International Commerce Centre) and the up and coming area of Ho Man Tin.
Kowloon houses a number of specialized markets including the jade, flower and bird markets. Popular with tourists are the Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market, both of which sell a wide array of clothing, souvenirs and household items.
The New Territories offer a stark contrast to the rest of Hong Kong and have some of the most beautiful countryside parks and beaches in the territory. The area is large, covering almost 70% of Hong Kong’s landmass, but is much less developed with new towns placed sporadically throughout. These include Tsuen Wan, Shatin and Tuen Mun. The areas of Clearwater Bay and Sai Kung are extremely popular with day-trippers and offer hiking, beaches and seaside restaurants though they house significant expat populations as well.
Hong Kong has 235 outlying islands, the majority of which are unoccupied and seldom visited. Of the islands, the most well known and visited are Lamma and Lantau. The biggest of the outlying islands is Lantau, an area almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island but with less than 5% of the population. Lantau is predominantly an uninhabitable mountainous area with the residential districts being concentrated on the south and northeast coasts. The island is home to some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, such as the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park and the Big Buddha (the largest outdoor Buddha in the world), as well as the Hong Kong International Airport. Lantau Island also hosts the residential community of Discovery Bay which is also popular with many expats as it features dwellings with much open living space.
Lamma, which has long been associated with hippies and bohemian souls, is a relatively small island inhabited by approximately 6,000 people. The island is well known among Hong Kong locals for its unspoiled beaches and excellent seafood. Lamma Island is accessible by ferry from either Central or Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island.