Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic Creative
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The Hong Kong skyline lights up at night.

Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic Creative

See Hong Kong like a Nat Geo Explorer

From pristine islands to stunning skyline views, explore this captivating city like a local.

At first, Hong Kong doesn’t seem to make sense. It is simultaneously Western and Asian, both a concrete jungle and an actual jungle, and equally glitzy and gritty. But somehow, the city balances it all beautifully, and this unique DNA courses through the veins of every resident and every neighborhood. Life here is fast-paced because Hong Kong makes it easy to do it all. You can take a hike before work, have dirt cheap dim sum for lunch, then later indulge at a Michelin-starred restaurant—so don’t forget to pause and take it all in.

Visitors and locals alike don’t realize that we only have a few dozen pink dolphins left, that we have more coral species than the Caribbean, or that we have endemic species found nowhere else in the world. The Hong Kong Explorers Initiative aims to encourage people to explore and appreciate the city’s wild side.

Travel for good

Check out Café 8, at Central Pier No. 8, or The Nest near St. John’s Cathedral in Central. They’re run by the Nesbitt Centre, which gives job skills training and opportunities to people with learning disabilities.

Traditional crafts

Head to PMQ in Central, where the government converted old police living quarters into a hub for local designers and creatives.

Take a class

If you wake up early, you're sure to see elderly residents doing tai chi in the city’s public parks. Take a tai chi class and you might start to understand why Hong Kong has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

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A tai chi master and his students practice at the Peak in Hong Kong.

Local etiquette

If you go into someone’s home, always take off your shoes!

Must-read book

Gweilo is a memoir by Martin Booth, who grew up in colonial Hong Kong in the 1950s. It’s a fascinating look at what life was like back then through the eyes of a young foreigner.

Travel back in time

The Hong Kong Museum of History is an incredibly well executed overview of the city’s history, from the Big Bang (seriously) to Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom back to China in 1997. Expect life-size re-creations of Hong Kong icons, like sampans, double-decker trams, and long-gone traditional stores.

Get off the beaten path

Take a hike on one of Hong Kong’s less visited islands, like Tung Ping Chau or Peng Chau.

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Hikers trek across unique rock formation on Tung Ping Chau.

What's in my bag

Pack a headlamp! You never know when you might need it. As a photographer and filmmaker, I use my headlamp to light subjects in dark places or to get creative with long exposures at night. It’s also essential for nighttime hikes and adventures.

Ethical travel tip

If you want to see Hong Kong’s few remaining pink dolphins, book one of the tours that Hong Kong Dolphinwatch runs a few times a week. Though practices are improving, the smaller tour operators in Tai O on Lantau Island rarely travel far enough for guests to actually be able to see the dolphins, and when they do encounter dolphins, they often get too close or chase them.

Savor the flavors

Head to Temple Street in Jordan and sample food from any of the street-side restaurants and stalls offering a variety of Cantonese cuisine, like clay pot rice.

Explore the outdoors

A visit to Hong Kong would simply be incomplete without time spent in the city’s great outdoors. Take a hike to get incredible views of its famous skyline, and you may encounter wild monkeys, boars, or porcupines. Or head farther north to Sai Kung, where you’ll find pristine beaches and blue waters fit for kayaking and snorkeling. You may be surprised to discover that Hong Kong has more reef fish species than Hawaii!

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Head to Sai Kung for pristine beaches and blue waters fit for kayaking and snorkeling.

Cultural heritage

The Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark is often overlooked, but you should make the trek there to appreciate the geological wonders the city is built on.

Laurel Chor is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and National Geographic Explorer from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @laurelchor.