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Beyond tourist attractions: sustainable travel in Hong Kong

What is a tourist’s first impression of Hong Kong? The Peak, the Victoria Harbour skyline, theme parks and endless shopping may be the familiar side of Hong Kong. How about traditional open-air wet markets, colonial-style historical buildings, Country Parks and old villages? However you decide to see Hong Kong, the above elements coexist in the city where tourism have long been a major pillar of the economy

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Beyond Conventional Tourism
When I was young, my usual traveling experience with my family was to spend hours in a tourist coach, hop on and off, taking photos in front of a “tourist attraction”, and eating so-called authentic cuisine in designated restaurants. I was hardly able to make any real sense of the countries I visited until I became aware of the notion of sustainable travel.

It is relatively easy to get around Hong Kong and see the tourist spots. But what else should you see in Hong Kong if you wish to make a real sense of Hong Kong beyond the tourist attractions? Forget about the clichéd Hong Kong city skyline images we often see at the airport arrival or in postcards – there is so much more to Hong Kong than its financial districts and commercialism. What is actually interesting, is what lies beneath the skyscrapers.

This is the path that we invite travelers to Hong Kong to take: Rediscover the unique elements we have already got and create new value out of them. The essence of sustainable tourism in Hong Kong is to offer travelers the opportunity to explore the historical heritage, traditional culture, authentic neighbourhoods and natural beauty in the city instead of new tourism infrastructure and “attractions”.

Hong Kong’s Real Gems
There are countless hidden gems in Hong Kong which could offer travelers the chance to explore deeper beyond the “tourist attractions”. Here are some examples:

Colonial History
Since Hong Kong became a far-flung outpost of the British Empire in 1841, Central had developed into a political and financial hub, and the Chinese carried out their businesses and settled in districts such as Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. The vestige of colonial Hong Kong is reflected in the well-preserved historical buildings and sites hidden between busy main roads and modern skyscrapers. A nostalgic tour around Central, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun would reveal how colonial legacy has shaped Hong Kong’s current social, economic and political status. From colonial architecture to traditional wet markets, travelers can soak in an enchanting ambience which perfectly blends Eastern and Western cultures.

Authentic Old Districts
In the midst of rapid gentrification, we can still find ancient grocery and secret hole-in-the-wall in old neighbourhoods amid soaring rents. These traditional style shops are often run by a single family. Grassroots wisdom and craftsmanship is inherited from older generations. Take a stroll in any authentic neighbourhoods, travelers can immerse in the rich diversity of street life and vibrant community where the locals dine, live, work and shop. From Sai Ying Pun which is home to the Dried Seafood Street, Sham Shui Po which shows the strongest grassroots character to Tai O which is the only surviving traditional fishing village in Hong Kong, just to name a few, these are the perfect places to experience and take a glimpse of the authentic character of the old Hong Kong.

Natural Beauty
Travelers to Hong Kong may not be aware that 40% of Hong Kong’s land is designated as Country Parks and protected areas, which are protected by the Country Parks Ordinance. Diverse species of animals and plants inhabit 24 Country Parks and 22 nature reserves in the city’s territory. For instance, a variety of habitats support more than 3,300 species of vascular plants; some 50 species of mammals; over 500 species of birds; not to mention the diverse reptiles, amphibians and insect species.

In addition, 4 long-distance hiking trails traverse verdant mountains and pristine natural habitats, which are the MacLehose Trail (100 km), the Lantau Trail (70 km), the Hong Kong Trail (50 km) and the Wilson Trail (78 km). Each trail is divided into at least 8 sections of various levels of difficulty, which takes at least 2 hours to complete each section. Many of the trails are highly recognised internationally such as the Hong Kong Trail Section Eight which traverse the Dragon’s Back. Some trail sections are situated adjacent to Hong Kong’s UNESCO Global Geopark. Both experience and amateur hikers alike will definitely find their desirable trails. In addition, families with kids could also explore the educational facilities, visitor centres and family trails in the Country Parks.

Travelers can reach these natural classrooms within an hour from the city centre. Nature lovers and adventure travelers can definitely spend days exploring Hong Kong’s countryside.

The Path Ahead
Given the highly urbanised cityscape of Hong Kong, the city still has a lot to offer to travelers of all ages in terms of sustainable tourism. It is time to explore Hong Kong by travelling off the beaten track! You will definitely see the real historical, cultural and natural heritage the city has to offer. This will be a win-win situation since travelers could learn about the authentic side of Hong Kong, and at the same time fostering the public awareness of heritage conservation.

References:
https://www.afcd.gov.hk/english/conservation/conservation.html

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