Kowloon (九龍, "nine dragons" in Cantonese) is the peninsula to the north of Hong Kong Island. The mountains that overlook Kowloon account for eight of Kowloon's nine dragons while, as the story goes, the ninth dragon refers to the emperor who counted them. Of the eight mountains that overlook the crowded city, the most famous is Lion Rock, which when seen from the right angle, really does deserve its name.
With over 2.1 million people living in an area of less than 47 square kilometres, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and has a matching array of places to shop, eat and sleep. Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) pronounced "Tzeem Sah Jeui", the tip of the peninsula, is Kowloon's main tourist drag and has a mix of backpacker and high-end hotels. Further north, Mong Kok (旺角) has a huge choice of shops and markets in an area of less than a square kilometre.
"Kowloon side", as it is often known, managed to escape some of the British colonial influences that characterise "Hong Kong Island" side. While prices on Kowloon side tend to be cheaper, it is also less tourist-friendly and English proficiency is not as strong as on the Hong Kong side.
Riding the Star Ferry from Central or Wan Chai ferry piers is considered a "must-do" for any traveller to Hong Kong. Not only is this the cheapest way to traverse the harbour, it's also the finest way to go sight-seeing, particularly at night, where you're surrounded by a wall of lights and skyscrapers on both sides. If you're feeling posh, you can pay fractionally more and travel as an upper-deck passenger. Alternatively, you can travel steerage and maybe get a glimpse into the noisy engine room.
The Airport Express takes you to Kowloon MTR station in just 20 minutes. Most of Hong Kong's rail lines converge on Kowloon. If you are travelling from Hong Kong island, change at Admirality on the Island Line for the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui from Hong Kong island. The MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui offers a faster service and is the most popular choice for commuters, so avoid Admiralty interchange during the rush hour (5 PM to 7 PM). Alternatively the section of Tseung Kwan O Line between Quarry Bay and Yau Tong can be used for crossing the harbour.
Taking a taxi across the harbour to Kowloon can be slow and expensive due to traffic. Some taxi drivers operate only on one side of the harbour, so you may have to find a taxi rank marked "Cross-harbour trips only." Expect to pay tunnel fees both ways unless you depart from a taxi rank dedicated to cross-harbour service.
Helicopter transfers can be arranged between Hong Kong International Airport and the roof-top landing pad at the Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Citybus Cityflyer provides several bus routes from the Airport terminal, including A21, A22. Although they take longer time than MTR Airport Express, the fare of buses is much cheaper than the Airport express and they calls on much frequent bus stops along areas include Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, as well as nearby some hotels.
Numerous local buses travel through different areas of Kowloon, as well as between New Territories or Hong Kong island. Bus routes with number-prefix 1XX (e.g 102, 104, 118), 6XX (e.g 603, 601), 9XX (e.g 904, 905) are harbour-crossing buses and they call at the bus interchanges of the tunnels and some routes via Kowloon pennisula.
If you get into Hong Kong airport after midnight then you will need to take the N21 night bus. Prepare exact change for the bus as change will not given by the driver. The fare was $23 as of April 2011. The N21 goes through Nathan Rd and you can signal the driver to stop where you wish (for example, the Chung King mansions is #34-44 so keep an eye out for the numbers), don't count on the driver knowing any English, my driver didn't speak a lick of English!
Hong Kong's Thai community is focussed on a few mundane streets in Kowloon City (九龍城寨). This area, adjacent to the old airport at Kai Tak, is off the beaten track for most tourists but it has some good Thai restaurants, indeed there are certainly plenty to choose from. Arguably, you may find a better Thai meal here than many tourist destinations in Thailand.
Kowloon City has few of the usual high-rise developments that characterise the rest of Hong Kong. Here low-rise buildings were developed to enable aircraft to scream their way across the rooftops towards Kai Tak. The MTR does not come this way, so take a taxi or bus from nearby Prince Edward MTR.
- The Kowloon Waterfront offers splendid views of the Hong Kong island shore and skyline. This is the best place to experience the classic view of Hong Kong, and nobody on their first trip here should miss out on promenading along the waterfront. The best views are to be had at night when the lights of global capitalism provide a powerful spectacle. If you are not proficient with night-time photography, you can pay a modest sum for a professional to take your photograph against one of the world's most iconic backdrops. Start at the Star Ferry terminal, and begin your walk by inspecting the historic clock tower which is all that remains of a railway station that once took colonial officials back to London via the Trans-Siberian railway.
- Cruise ships berthed at Ocean Terminal. Upon arrival at the Star Ferry terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, visitors can not help but be impressed by the spectacle, and majesty, of 40,000 tonne cruise liners parked in the heart of the city.
- A Symphony Of Lights Every night at 8 PM there is a colourful light show that is staged atop the key buildings on both sides of the harbour. On Monday evenings, spectators can listen to the show's music and English narration live at the Avenue of Stars, on radio on FM103.4 MHz or by calling 35 665 665.
- Avenue of the Stars. If you continue your stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront you will soon find yourself walking along Hong Kong's version of Hollywood's walk of fame. You have to look down to appreciate the Avenue of the Stars where so many local film stars have pawed the wet concrete. You might not recognise their names, but it goes to show how big Hong Kong's film industry is. The experience is targeted at tourists from mainland China and the piped music gives it a slightly cheesey feel, but the statue of film legend, Bruce Lee, provides a welcome photo opportunity even for those who might know very little about Cantonese cinema.
- After visiting the Kowloon waterfront you can take the Star Ferry  (it's a truly amazing experience) to Hong Kong Island, getting an excellent view of the skyline in the process.
- Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple(嗇色園黃大仙祠) is the most popular Taoist temple in Hong Kong. This is where many people ask for divine guidance by a practice known as kau cim(求籤), a practice that has all but disappeared in mainland China. Located just next to Wong Tai Sin(黃大仙) MTR Station. Entrance is free, though voluntary donations are welcome.
- Built in the 1950s, the Shek Kip Mei Estate is one of the few remaining places where you can grasp the living conditions of Hong Kong during the 50s and 60s. Despite the march of progress promulgated by the Urban Renewal Authority, there are still a few blocks of flats remaining from the 1950s, which are still occupied. Walk from Shek Kip Mei MTR Station.
Museums and exhibitions
Parks and nature
- Kowloon Walled City Park When the British returned after the war, the Walled City remained notorious for drugs, vice and many things shady and criminal. Here, triad gangs operated alongside dodgy dentists and refugees escaping the cultural revolution. In 1987, after so many years of being beyond the reach of the law, the colonial government, in consultation with the Beijing authorities, made the bold decision to raze the place to the ground. Sadly, the park that remains is very tame in comparison to its distinctive history, but it does offer a few clues and remnants from its colourful past.
- Experience the Hong Kong Story at the Hong Kong Museum of History in Tsim Sha Tsui. Forget the idea that all of Hong Kong museums are frumpy and boring. The Hong Kong Story is a real must go and do, ideal for those who want to make sense of Hong Kong's vibrant past in a way that is engaging and interactive. Allow at least two hours for your visit. Take Exit B2 at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station and walk for about 10 minutes.
- Afternoon tea in the lobby at the Peninsula Hotel is an elegant tradition that enables visitors to savour a little of the grandeur of Hong Kong's colonial past. It is one of the more affordable ways to experience the services of one of Hong Kong's most extravagant hotels. Afternoon tea is served between 2 PM and 7 PM, daily. The dress-code is smart casual.
- Take a walk in Kowloon Park where you will find not only pleasant gardens but aviaries, museums, and sporting facilities including Hong Kong's best swimming pool complex which offers both indoor and outdoor pools. A wide-range of swimming, diving and children's play-pools will appeal to kids of all ages, and their frazzled parents who are seeking a safe place for youngsters to play away from the traffic.
- Shanghai Street runs north-south parallel to Nathan Road and offers an easy to navigate urban transect. Start at the north-side of Kowloon Park and wander up to Langham Place, a modern shopping and hotel complex which is next to Mong Kok MTR station. Along the way you will experience Kowloon in its raw authenticity. This is not your regular tourist trail, but crumbling tenements and small-scale industrial and commercial outfits blur to form an urban landscape that will make you wish that you had brought your camera along.
- Visit the former Marine Police Headquarters on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Dating back to 1884, it is an attractive colonial building that has been recently renovated to become a major tourism attraction with shops and restaurants.
- You're never too old for Tai Chi on the Avenue of the Stars. Free lessons in English M,W-F mornings from 8 AM-9 AM.
- A section of Portland Street in Mong Kok hosts Hong Kong's unofficial red-light district, with a dizzying assortment of karaoke bars, hostess bars, saunas, brothels and restaurants. This area is frequently the scene from Hong Kong triad films. Great street food and colourful characters can also be found. It's best to go in the evenings when the street is brightly lit with neon. Despite the vice that transpires there, it is perfectly safe to visit anytime -- but be careful about taking pictures as many people will not wish to be photographed. Ride to MTR Mong Kok station and, as you emerge from exit C3, walk southward.
If your budget doesn't quite stretch to the Tiffanys, Guccis and Shanghai Tangs of Hong Kong Island, head to Kowloon for more affordable shopping.
- Harbour City is an enormous shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, the largest in Hong Kong. It is next to the Star Ferry pier. There are shops of almost any description there. The goods are mostly mid price range to high price brand name goods.
- Elements 圓方, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui. Opened in 2007, Elements is Hong Kong's latest mega-mall. Aimed at wealthy shoppers, it has five themed shopping zones: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. Owned by the MTR Corporation, the shops are located above Kowloon MTR station. Probably not worth going out of your way for, but it does have some of the most extravagant public toilets in Hong Kong.
- Festival Walk is another excellent shopping mall in the suburb of Kowloon Tong. A very pleasant place to shop, similar to Pacific Place but catering more to locals.
- Langham Place, located in Mong Kok, is an entertainment complex comprising of a 15-storey shopping mall, a 59-level Grade A office tower and the 5-star Langham Place Hotel. Over 300 shops where you will find everything from fashion labels to casual wear, from accessories to electronics. On special occasions, large crowds will gather under the 'Digital Sky' to celebrate festive events such as the New Year's Eve countdown. Throughout the year, there will also be live musical performances, art exhibitions, and a host of special events to keep people entertained.
- Lok Fu Centre, next to Lok Fu MTR station, is a place for cheaper goods and food. Located in a public housing estate, goods are generally more affordable than in other places. There is also a large department store here.
- Tsim Sha Tsui's main artery Nathan Road is packed with stores, particularly cheap electronics shops. Be careful when shopping here; these slippery guys know every trick in the book and some stores are notorious for overcharging tourists. Locals seldom go to Tsim Sha Tsui for electronic products. It is more advisible to go to Mong Kok or Sham Shui Po instead.
- The Temple Street Night Market encompasses a block of streets in Kowloon barricaded at the end of each day with stalls selling almost anything until midnight. You can buy the usual touristy stuff, but there are also bargains like Chinese silk pajamas, toys, electronics and cheap leather goods. Arrive at Yau Ma Tei MTR Station Exit C, then walk up Man Ming Lane to Temple Street after nightfall. Be prepare to bargin vigorously as there are no fixed prices. Also, don’t forget to watch singers and musicians perform an aria from their favorite Peking opera (free, but donations appreciated) or get your future revealed by fortune tellers reading your palm and face or by using animals, cards or dice. Most of them can do readings in English. Professional Chinese chess players can also be found plying their trade in the public square.
- The colourful Flower Market and the adjoining Bird Garden (Prince Edward St West) are worth a visit even if shrubs and parrots aren't high on your shopping list.
- In Mong Kok, Tung Choi Street (通菜街), popularly known as the Ladies' Market (女人街), is Hong Kong's biggest outdoor shopping experience. Prices here may not be the cheapest, as the area is popular with tourists, but the variety, chaos and sheer number of sellers is mind-boggling and well worth the visit. It is also opened during daytime, unlike the nearby Temple Street Night Market. As with other markets lacking fixed prices, those perceived as being tourists will be quoted a higher price -- so bring your sharpest bargaining skills. Be careful as the market also sells some realistic non-authentic goods (fake Louis Vuitton bags are popular). The pedestrian zone is mostly for electronics and contains clothing stores from Hong Kong's most popular chains. The easiest way to get into the area is through Mong Kok MTR station, Exit B2 or B3.
- Cheung Sha Wan Road is famous for garments. There are many shops selling clothes along Cheung Sha Wan Road. It is within walking distance from Sham Shui Po MTR Station. A number of bus routes also pass along Cheung Sha Wan Road.
Electronics and Computers
- Sham Shui Po has the largest number of computer and electronics shops.The Golden Computer Centre is the largest computer mall in Hong Kong, with both hardware and software vendors competing extremely vigorously. This is a Mecca for nerdy-trainspotter-types, mostly men, who salivate over the latest widget. The nearby Apliu Street has a collection of market stalls, where you can find phones, small electronic devices as well as DIY tools. Even if you are not that interested in electronic bric-à-brac, the pedestrianised streets in the area have a buzz about them that make a visit interesting. Look out for the "High Phone" which is sold at a fraction of the cost of the Californian version. Use Sham Shui Po MTR, Exit D.
- Mong Kok is popular for consumer electronics and computers. Shops can be found along the road, but normally the shops on upper floors, which tourists may miss, often sell things cheaper. A block of famous "upper floor" electronics shops, which is popular among locals, is Fa Yuen Commercial Building (75-77 Fa Yuen Street), which is easily accessible from Mong Kok MTR Station. If you're after a new phone, the Sin Tat Shopping Centre on Argyle Street is home to many sellers with a wide selection, from iPhones to Japanese imports. When buying electronic items in Hong Kong, remember that you have limited consumer rights and a bargain may not always be such a good deal. Be aware that if the product is not tagged with a price, you could be "slaughter", with a ridiculous profit margin which the seller will pretend to try his best to give you a discount that is still way overprice by Hong Kong standards but might seem reasonably priced by your country's standards.
Kowloon is a great place to go for cheap and authentic Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and Thai food. It makes a welcome change from following the sophisticates who dine across the harbour in Soho. However, for those who seriously want to splurge, some of this SARs swankiest restaurants are to be found Kowloon-side.
Temple Street south of Mong Kok is a great place to eat Chinese street food. You have not been to Honkers unless you have eaten in this street. Temple Street, famously featured in Chinese cinema, is one of the few pedestrianised streets in Kowloon where you can sit, relax and watch the world pass by. Seafood is a popular choice, but most restaurants will provide you with an extensive English/Chinese menu that caters for most tastes. Frog is a tasty option, or try the oyster omelettes.
The Chungking Mansions (36-44 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui) houses many budget Indian and Nepalese restaurants. Touts at the front entrance will lead you to the restaurants via the small rickety lifts. Be warned that the competition between the touts can become very competitive, sometimes aggressive, so you should be prepared to make your choice as quickly as possible to avoid being dragged away to a restaurant that you did not really plan on going to. Chungking Mansions is one of the most (in)famous buildings in Kowloon. To many local people it is the very best place for cheap, honest, Indian or Nepalese food, whilst others will condemn it as a rat-infested hell-hole with a good chance of diarrhoea thrown in for free.
The immediate area northwest of Jordan Rd and Nathan Rd in Jordan contains a kaleidoscope of cultures and people from India, Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian nations. Many of them have opened restaurants with authentic cuisine of an international flavour. There are also street restaurants offering Chinese-style seafood, where you can closely view fish, shrimp or crab before being slaughtered for your order. Although the neighbourhood looks rundown, it is safe and filled with pedestrian and vehicular traffic almost around-the-clock. At night, you'll likely get solicited for patronage by restaurant employees. The best way to get into this district is by using Jordan MTR, Exit A.
The Chinese fast food chain Cafe De Coral has numerous locations in Kowloon. The one on the corner of Ichang Street and Ashley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui is believed by many to offer some of the best food (for its price) in Hong Kong.
Notable watering holes:
- Knutsford Terrace, near the Miramar hotel is perhaps best described as the 'Lang Kwai Fong' of Kowloon, and has a large number of bars and restaurants of variable quality that cater for mid-range budgets. A little smaller and less phrenetic than Lan Kwai Fong, but well worth the effort to poke your nose along this narrow street on a Saturday evening.
- Ashley Road, between Nathan Road and the Ocean Terminal shopping mall, features many Western restaurants and bars.
- Mody Road/Centenial Garden. Close to many good hotels, this area of Tsim Sha Tsui offers a more relaxed environment for a drink. Here you will find bars and restaurants spilling out onto the pavement. Leave East Tsim Sha Tsui station at Exit P1, and head past the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel.
- Tung Choi Street, between Prince Edward Road and Boundary Street, is one of Kowloon's up-and-coming bar strips. Few tourists or expats venture here, but there are nearly two dozen bars. Some specialize in karaoke while others have open fronts and extensive drink menus. Prince Edward MTR, exit A.
Be wary of entering the girlie bars scattered around the southern tip of Tsim Sha Tsui. Their entrances are usually decorated with photos of women in various stages of undress. Strip bars are not popular with locals for good reason. There are reports of these places being owned by rough people, even triads, and may place unexpected exorbitant charges on your tab (such as a fee to talk to a girl). They may even escort you to an ATM if you don't have enough cash. The days of Suzie Wong has long passed. Entering these places is highly not-recommended.
A large number of guesthouses are located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Jordan offering cheap, small but generally comfortable and safe accommodation licensed by the Hong Kong government. These are barebone places to stay so there will be no restaurants, souvenir shops or newspaper delivery. Most owners will only speak basic English. Chung King Mansions and Mirador Mansions, both on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui are famously home to a number of budget hotels and hostels. Having attracted western backpackers for decades, these guesthouses have become increasingly popular with budget travellers from mainland China. Staying at budget hotels is entirely at your own risk and you are advised to seek recommendations from other travellers. Please remember to post your own recommendations here.
Expect budget hotel rooms to be undecorated and small with only a bed (or beds), night stand, telephone and television. Noise from fellow travellers may be a problem, so invest in good earplugs. Most will have "in-suite" bathrooms while others have communal bathrooms. Upon check-in, you should ask the owner how to turn on the water boiler unless you want to shower with cold water. Some guesthouses will include free wireless Internet. Virtually all rooms will come with air-conditioning.
Bookings are not needed and some Wikivoyagers have reported that bookings have not always been honoured. The best way to secure a room is simply by arriving at around 1:00pm, when many of last night's guests have just checked out. Ask to see the room before paying, and you should pay for only one night. If you're happy with the first night, the owner will almost always happily extend your stay. You should also ask if there's 24 hour unassisted entrance (which is recommended) or if you have to ring a bell at night. Credit cards aren't accepted, it's cash only. Remember to ask for a receipt with check-in and check-out dates clearly printed.
Prices generally range from $150-$250 per night for a single room with en-suite bathrooms. If you are comfortable with a community bathroom, expect to pay about $120. If you know how long you are staying, negotiate in advance to get a lower rate: they want your business over several days, so they will be willing to drop their prices to even $90 a night for a four or five night stay. However some less honest managers tend to increase their prices dramatically around public holidays, in which case it will take either a reservation or a very hard bargaining to get back to the prices mentioned above (or you can simply try and pick a good one, but it can take several hours).
There are more accommodation options on the Chung King Mansion, including dormitory rooms. The building which was once an office building is over populated by the countless cheap hostels within it and is now home for lots of foreigners from poor countries all around the world. The massive amount of people creates a queue of up to 15 min to the elevators at rush hours.
Among those that have a long history are the Travellers Hostel, Block A, 16 Fl in Chungking and the Garden Hostel, 2Fl, Mirador Mansions. There are places in the Mansions however that travellers seeking fair lodging should definitely avoid. Among them are the Fortunate Guest House and Peninsula Guest House, both owned by the same shady individual who will not hesitate to put you in another, cheaper guesthouse while making you pay disproportionate fees and keeping the difference. The said individual has apparently earned himself quite a reputation among the chinese guesthouse owners, and is usually seen on the ground floor trying to attract customers.