Panama hats, as any Ecuadorian worth their salt will tell you, don’t come from Panama. Authentic Panamas – or sombreros de paja toquilla, as they call them locally – are only woven in the Andean country, from the straw of the toquilla plant, which grows in the swamps near Ecuador’s central coast. The origin of the misnomer comes from the hat’s widespread use by the workers who built the Panama Canal from 1904 to 1914. Toquilla hats have been woven in Ecuador for at least five hundred years, but in the face of cheap Chinese competition, lower demand and the massive emigration of young Ecuadoreans, the traditionally woven Panama is now an endangered species.

It’s well worth seeking out the last few artisans who create the very best superfinos. Most tourists on the trail go to Cuenca, a weaving centre in the southern highlands. A better option is to head west to Montecristi, which is to Panama-hat lovers what Havana is to cigar aficionados. It’s no showroom: the dust-and-concrete town is an inauspicious centre for the production of some of the most expensive headgear in the world. But ask around for a local comisionista (middlemen who travel around villages and buy hats from weavers) and arrange a trip to meet the weavers in nearby villages such as Pile.

The time to arrive is just after dawn, when the light is atmospheric and the heat and humidity are perfect for weaving. The contrast between the beautiful hats – the finest of which are woven so tightly they look like off-white cotton – and the conditions in which they are produced is stark. The weavers, who spend up to four months weaving each hat, live in ragged redbrick dwellings with rusting corrugated-iron roofs, linked by degraded dirt streets patrolled by strutting chickens and shuffling pigs. Be sure to visit the straw-cutters, too, and accompany them on a hike to see the plants growing. The more you see of the hats and the weavers, the better equipped you’ll be to buy your own.

Montecristi is about 3hr by road from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city.


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The Nile is often associated with bad puns and Egypt, but the world’s longest river actually stretches over ten countries and assumes a variety of identities along its 4,130 mile course. Taking in (deep breath) Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and of course Egypt, it’s a magnificent stretch of waterway full of breathtaking sights and steeped in history.

Hover over this custom Rough Guides map to bring up photos, information and video from across its course. Go rafting in Jinja, see the treasures of Alexandria, and take a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings. And head to our Thinglink page for more.

They come in many guises and we’ve all been prey – or at least witness – to some of them at some time or another. Cheap tricks and scams surround tourists and travellers like trinket peddlers round an air conditioned coach, and much of your time in many places will be spend trying to dodge them.

Some, like the fake police ruse or the over-enthusiastic money changer, are relatively easy to spot and avoid, but others are more pervasive. My particular bugbear is the “chance to visit a factory” bolted on to many a journey to somewhere more interesting, where the “factory” is in fact a few poor artisans toiling behind a glass screen in the annex of a yawning gift shop – all the more annoying as it’s practically unavoidable.

I’ve been to more of these attractions than I care to remember. The jade factory in Beijing was a particular annoyance, a mandatory stop on the way to the Great Wall of China, where a handful of uninterested workmen could be spied on the way into a palace of unaffordable sculptures. I had no intention of coming home with a six foot Spanish galleon for my London flat, but I had to spend half an hour looking at them – and swatting away GBP-enamoured salesmen – nonetheless.

A private driver in Marrakesh, meanwhile, turned out to be a whistle-stop tour of hard sells masquerading as education. Within a hectic morning we visited carpet workshops (a deserted loom left in the corner of the room full of rugs and overbearing assistants), argan oil cooperatives (five local girls crushing nuts on the floor and a sixth whisking us around various bottles for sale) and a “craft fair” that looked suspiciously like a Moroccan version of Habitat.

Other tricks I’ve fallen for once and learnt a lesson. The “helpful porter”, encountered in a daze after 11 hours of Virgin Atlantic at LAX, who helped me navigate the disorientating motorway that is the arrivals area, then demanded a $20 tip in return is one bitter memory.

Some are obvious, especially to anyone who’s had a even a cursory read of their Rough Guide on the way over, and yet no less irritating. Take the Beijing Tea House Hustle for example. You know the girls approaching you on Wangfujing pedestrian street only want to drag you into a tea shop to spend a monthly’s salary on an elaborate series of infusions, so you speak gibberish back to them, but they’ll still be there tomorrow. I probably made it worse for myself loitering with a camera so many times.

What are your worst tourist scams? Which have you fallen for, and which have you seen coming from a mile away?

Planning a trip to Thailand? Or perhaps just dreaming of those beaches and that food? Either way, allow us to offer our 20 essential things to see and do in this spectacular country:

Southeast Asia offers some wonderful treks, allowing you to spend days walking through dense rainforests, spotting spectacular wildlife, learning about the cultures of the many different tribes who live in the remoter areas, and often staying with them in their homes and sharing their meals. The following ten treks are highly recommended, and also ensure that any communities visited benefit from your presence.

Taman Negara, Malaysia

There are six observation hides in Taman Negara – one of the oldest rainforests on earth and pictured above – where you can stay the night and experience the jungle in all its noisy nocturnal glory. During the day, you can go on river cruises, explore limestone caves with ancient wall-drawings or climb up to the canopy trail for a closer look at the wildlife. Get more info at

Charity Challenge, Vietnam

Sa Pa, Vietnam

This challenging hike through the hills of northern Vietnam takes you between villages of Black H’mong, Red Dao and Tay minorities, with some nights spent in the homes of tribes and others camping. You have to raise a minimum sponsorship before you go, but because everyone is doing it for the charity of their choice, it creates a real bond among the group, with everyone supporting each other to achieve their aims. Find out more at

Intrepid Travel, Thailand

Karen women harvest rice in northern Thailand

This three-day trek, visiting the hospitable Karen people who live in the hills around Chiang Mai, forms the middle part of a week-long trip starting and ending with visits to some of the highlights of Bangkok, making it ideal for those on limited time. The walking is only three or so hours each day through thick forest, which leaves you plenty of time to explore the villages where you’ll stop off for the night. .

Khammouane Ecoguides, Laos

Escorted by a guide from the local community, this two-day journey in Phou Hin Poun explores some of the vast caves and churning rapids for which this area of forested limestone hills is famous. Bring your torch, as the biggest cave – the stalactite-filled Kong Lor – is 7km long.

Pooh Eco Treks, Thailand

A Karen guide cuts a bamboo container in which to cook food while trekking through the mountains east of Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Setting off from Chiang Mai, your guides Mr Pooh and his Karen associate Mr Tee will lead you with flaming torches deep into bat-filled caves and help you get the most of a stay with Karen villagers whom they have known for twenty years. By the end of your trek, they will also have taught you how to forage for food in the jungle. Discover more at

Hill Tribe Tours, Thailand

Run by an NGO based in Chiang Rai, the focus of these trips is more on cultural exchange than physical endurance. As you walk only a couple of hours a day, most of your time is spent experiencing the rhythms of daily life with members of the Lahu, Akha and Karen tribes – perhaps preparing meals on the bamboo floor of your host’s home, helping in the fields or volunteering in the local school. Visit for more.

Yeak Laom, Cambodia

Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake is a 700,000 year old volcanic crater lake in a peaceful jungle setting near Ban Lung, Cambodia

The dense forests covering the Ratanakiri district in northeast Cambodia are not easy to negotiate alone, so you’ll be glad to have a knowledgeable guide who can lead you to the most remote areas. One of these is the stunning Yeak Laom Lake – which fills a disused volcanic crater – and its surrounding five Tampuen villages, where you’ll learn about traditional handicrafts, customs and beliefs.

Rinjani, Lombok

Crater lake of Gunung Rinjani

As the first man ever to take trekkers to Mount Rinjani over twenty years ago, no-one knows the area and its people better than self-styled “Mr John”. As part of the “John’s Adventures” programme, he will take you on a three-day trek up the slopes of the volcano to the sacred lake that fills it crater, known as Segara Anak (“child of the sea”). After a sweaty hike, you’ll be ready for a refreshing swim.

Green Discoveries, Laos

Trekking around Luang Nam Tha, northern Laos

In between tramping through the forests around Luang Namtha in northern Laos, gathering forest vegetables for dinner, you’ll get to meet the Akha people. You’ll sleep in the villagers’ homes, and there’s time to watch or join in with their lively songs and dances, and have a go on some of the instruments they use. Visit for more.

Mount Kinabulu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Climbers at Low's Peak, on the summit of Mt Kinabalu at dawn. Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

It is just one day’s steep uphill trek and a pre-dawn climb up a rocky ascent to see the sun rise at the summit of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. To tackle it you must buy a permit for at Kinabalu Park’s headquarters. After the hike, soothe your muscles in the geothermally heated Poring Hot Springs.


For hundreds more unforgettable travel experiences, check out Great Escapes.

The best way to explore Vietnam’s beguiling capital is to get a local to give you the inside track, says Alex Whittleton.

I arrived at my hotel in Hanoi’s brash and beautiful old town in a state of bleary-eyed excitement. My flight had been long and sleepless, but I’d just had one of the most entertaining taxi rides of my life. The 45-minute trip across town from the airport felt like a kaleidoscopic dream – dazzlingly colourful, deafeningly loud, and the perfect primer for a stay in the animated capital of Vietnam.

The first thing that struck me from the taxi was the implausible number of motorbikes swarming down the road: a family of five was perched perilously on one, a filing cabinet was strapped to the back of another, and a girl carrying a (rapidly expiring) foot-long fish rode on a third. I soon realised that this was nothing out of the ordinary. A tide of motorised humanity washes down the streets of Hanoi day and night, against a backdrop of flashing neon signs, vast billboards and charming French-colonial architecture. The journey was a vivid initiation to Hanoi – I could barely hear myself think with the incessant buzz of engines, beeping of horns and clatter of street vendors. And if I was experiencing sensual overload inside the taxi, I wondered what on earth it would be like on the outside.

After dumping my bags at the hotel, I had just enough time for a quick shower before the main event of my day – a walking tour of the city with a local student. I’d booked through HanoiKids, a student-run outfit that pairs up local youngsters who want to practice their English with visitors who want the inside track. You can have a half- or full-day tour, and it’s completely free. I couldn’t imagine a better way to see the city.

At 9am prompt, I was picked up from my hotel by Na, a friendly 20-year-old from Hanoi University. I must’ve looked like a typically frazzled tourist in need of perking up, because she took me straight to a street kitchen for a breakfast of pho. Ordinarily, I’d have found beef and noodle soup too much first thing in the morning, but I was saved by a confused body clock that thought it was supper time. Sitting on the street in the early-morning sunshine, planning an itinerary with Na, I felt a keen sense of anticipation – our first stop was to be the city’s famously tumultuous ancient quarter.

Made up of 36 higgledy-piggledy lanes, each named after a particular craft, Hanoi’s ancient quarter is jam-packed with people flogging their wares: everything from bamboo baskets to paper lanterns spill out onto the pavements, which double up as workshops. My abiding memory of this extraordinary square mile, however, will be the delicious scents that filled the air. Fresh vegetables, sizzling meat, piping hot green tea, and sweet doughnuts were being hungrily dispatched at makeshift kitchens on every street corner, and I couldn’t help but feel ravenous, despite my enormous breakfast.

We meandered south, swapping the commotion of the ancient quarter for the relative calm of Hoan Kiem Lake – the focal point of the modern city, where people go to exercise, play chess or simply take a breather. Na led the way down thoroughfares and backstreets, past chic boutiques, crumbling façades and ancient temples.

I found crossing the road a heart-pounding, dizzying ordeal. Lane discipline in Hanoi is non-existent, and zebra crossings and traffic lights are resolutely ignored. To get from one side of the street to the other, you simply step out and hope for the best. I was lucky I had Na to grip onto.

After a lakeside lunch of spring rolls and a chat about Na’s teacher-training studies, we made our way to the formidable Hoa Lo Prison, dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American prisoners of war in the 1960s. It’s a captivating, haunting place that documents the miserable lives of its inmates with preserved solitary-confinement cells and horrifying displays of torture instruments. A mere 30 minutes inside was enough, and I felt relieved to see the street again.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a happy haze of chatter and sightseeing. Between motorbike-dodging and doughnut-eating, Na told me about the importance of ancestral worship for Vietnamese families. This emphasis on filial devotion comes from Confucius, whose teachings have shaped the society. It felt like the right moment to see the great philosopher’s shrine at the nearby Temple of Literature before visiting our final sight, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – another shrine, but to a much more modern hero. The final resting place for the embalmed body of Vietnam’s charismatic Communist leader has become a pilgrimage site for people from across the country.

The light was fading fast, so we jumped in a taxi back to the hotel. Looking out, the streets now felt like an old and familiar friend. This tour had been every bit as thrilling as I’d imagined. And thanks to Na, I’d explored hidden side-streets, heard stories of family and cultural life, and, perhaps most importantly, figured out how to cross the road.

The wonderful food keeps dragging Martin Zatko back to Korea. Here are some of his favourite eating spots from around the country.

1) Buddhist temple food at Balwoo Gongyang, Seoul

It’s impossible to believe that Buddhist monks really eat this well – even at Jogyesa, Seoul’s most important temple, which sits just across the road from this highly attractive restaurant. While calling it “temple food” may be a bit of a stretch, what I come here for are superbly crafted vegetarian meals, all organic, all made on-site. Dishes vary by the week, but I usually keep my fingers crossed for bellflower salad, stuffed lotus, shiitake broth, and their hugely photogenic wafer-thin layers of tangerine. This may sound light, but the dishes just keep on arriving and I always leave full.

2) Naengmyeon at Woo Rae Oak, Seoul

If you’ve ever had Japanese soba, you’re halfway to imagining Korean naengmyeon, a traditional North Korean dish made with cold buckwheat noodles. I’m a real addict, as are most of my best friends in Seoul – all summer long we’ll be trying to trump each other’s naengmyeon restaurants with new discoveries. However, we’re all pretty much agreed that Woo Rae Oak is the best, taste-wise, while the décor and service are also second to none. You can have your noodles in a spicy paste, or an ice-cool soup – I always go for the paste. Slurp.

Naengmyeon, a traditional Korean dish made with buckwheat noodles

3) Mung-bean pancakes at Gwangjang market, Seoul

I wanted one of Korea’s zany, fascinating marketplaces in this list, and came very close to choosing Busan’s wonderful Jagalchi fish market. However, Gwangjang is still tops for me, not least because it’s also up there with my number one places to drink in Seoul. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful things available in these covered arcades; ordering is usually as simple as pointing at what you’d like. If I’m in a refined mood I head for a place selling yukhoe (similar to steak tartare), but usually I race straight to the very centre of the market for some bindaeddeok (fried mung-bean pancakes). If I’m there with friends, the bottles of makgeolli (a sweet, creamy rice wine) soon start to add up.

4) Royal banquets at Goongyeon, Seoul

When you visit a restaurant whose head chef has been designated a “National Cultural Treasure”, there’s a certain weight of expectation. This chef is the only person in the land trained to the sky-high standards of the kings of Joseon, who ruled Korea until 1910 – on this evidence, the royals must have eaten very well indeed. My heart sank a little when I heard that this restaurant had moved to trendy Gangnam – yes, that Gangnam – from its original location between two ancient Joseon palaces, but the food’s as good as ever. I always go for the gut-busting banquet option – after all, if you’re going to eat like a king, you may as well go the whole hog.

5) Noodle sausages at Abai Sundae, Sokcho

Abai Maeul, a tiny island forming part of Sokcho city, is my favourite place in Korea for sundae. The term has nothing to do with ice-cream here – it’s a sort of blood sausage in which steamed intestines are stuffed with glass noodles, kimchi, soybean paste and goodness knows what else. Look, some things simply taste better than they sound – just look at what goes into “regular” sausages. The Abai Sundae experience begins with a truly bizarre ferry trip to the island – primarily used by residents of the island it’s not so much a ferry as a floating metal platform, literally winched along by two chaps holding what look like giant tuning forks. The restaurant itself is a simple affair, and if the thought of intestines turns your stomach, you can have your sundae fillings stuffed into a whole squid instead.

6) Harbour food at Chungmu Gimbap, Tongyeong

Little Tongyeong boasts one of Korea’s most picturesque harbours – bobbing squid boats with an almost Neapolitan mountain backdrop. A clutch of nearby restaurants serves the town’s signature dish, one so popular that there’s a small chain devoted to it in faraway Seoul. This is chungmu gimbap, a dish served in three small heaps – spicy radish cubes, spicy squid, and small rice rolls wrapped in layered seaweed. Though the harbour makes a great place to eat, I like to take my meal up a nearby hill to the statue of Admiral Yi, a national hero whose statue gazes out over the island-studded seas he once dominated in battle.

Eel on the grill, South Korea

7) Stamina-giving eel dishes at Eel Alley, Jinju

If one Korean male tells another Korean male that he’s going for some eel, there’s likely be a bit of nudging and winking going on. Koreans believe eel to be quite the thing for “stamina”, but aphrodisiacal qualities aside it’s a fine dish that deserves to be tried. The south-coast city of Jinju is renowned for its eel, best sampled at one of a small bank of restaurants abutting the ancient castle walls.

8) Bibimbap at Jongno Hoegwan, Jeonju

You can’t beat a good bibimbap. A rice dish topped with veggies, it is best in Jeonju, a pleasant city in the south-west, whose name is near-synonymous with the dish. Here the humble bibimbap is regarded more like an art than a culinary staple, with attention lavished upon every single ingredient, as well as those forming the armada of delectable banchan (side-dishes) served with it. Jeonju has a lot of restaurants serving Jeonju bibimbap, but I like this one because of its location right next to Gyeonggijeon, a park-like shrine area where you can take a lovely stroll after your meal.

Bibimbap, a traditonal Korean dish

9)  Feasts of flowers and leaves at Gomanaru, Gongju

This is the most enduring of my favourites – I’ve been visiting Gomanaru regularly since my first visit to Korea, way back in 2002. The restaurant has been increasing in popularity with each passing year, thanks to a winning location by Gongju’s wonderful Baekje-dynasty castle, and to the gigantic ssambap banquets on offer. Your table – almost every inch of it – will be covered with traditional goodies like grilled fish, seared duck meat, soybean broth, tofu slices, soy-marinated black beans, spicy crab and fern bracken – usually around twenty separate side-dishes, plus a whole tree’s worth of leaves to eat them with. Prices are very low for the size and quality of the meal, and for a little more you can have your dishes covered with edible flowers.

10) Fist-sized sea snails at Haewa Dal Geurigo Seom, Udo

Jeju Island is a highly popular holiday destination for Koreans, but those in the know will also use their visit to head to staggeringly beautiful Udo, a small island off Jeju’s north-eastern corner. Just off Udo there’s Biyangdo, a tiny speck of land whose two remaining residents run a charming guesthouse. It’s pretty remote, but mercifully there’s one solitary eatery a short walk back across the Udo bridge: “The Sun, the Moon and the Island”, a deceptively simple-looking seafood restaurant. I happened to be visiting with a friend from Japan (are there any better judges of seafood?), and her eyes were almost out on stalks when she saw the size of the local sea snails – I’m used to wrenching these from their shells and gulping them down in one bite, but the Udo catch were so large that they had to be chopped up with scissors. And all this washed down with Jeju’s famous tangerine-flavoured rice wine and a view out over the Pacific.

Think of Morocco and you’ll invariably picture the souks of Marrakesh, the whitewashed walls of oceanside Essaouira, the High Atlas trails of the dramatic Toubkal Massif. Trouble is, so does everybody else. This well-trodden triangle is Morocco’s most popular tourist route – for good reason – but in a country that welcomes nearly ten million visitors a year, venturing just slightly off the beaten track can make all the difference to your trip. Here are five of our favourite low-key alternatives and unheralded highlights to get you started.


Morocco’s forgotten imperial city is more intimate and manageable than Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat, but in many ways just as rewarding. The souks of carpet traders, basketmakers, silversmiths and sweet sellers are on a smaller scale, which means there’s less hassle and the bargaining is more fun. But the Medina is only half the story. Just south of the old town lies the other half: the Ville Impériale, an immense walled complex of ceremonial gateways, subterranean vaults and vast granaries that once housed over fifty palaces. The lavish ensemble was the work of one man, Sultan Moulay Ismail, whose tranquil mausoleum (pictured above) is one of only three active shrines in the country that are open to non-Muslims.


Until the late 1990s, the only way into the glorious Aït Bouguemez was on the back of a mule. Tarmac is still something of a novelty here, and while a highly spectacular road now wends its way down to the lower end of the valley, the villages that dot its barren slopes still feel wonderfully remote. The hordes may flock to Toubkal, but trekkers in the know head northeast out of Marrakesh instead – the Aït Bouguemez’s peaceful trails include a variety of mountainous day-hikes, or you can tackle the multi-day ascent of Jebel M’Goun, one of Morocco’s highest peaks.

The villages of the Ait Bouguemez valley in Morocco are wonderfully remote


Taroudant was fleetingly Morocco’s capital before the Saadians upped sticks for Marrakesh five centuries ago, but while the Red City has become Morocco’s number-one tourist attraction, its predecessor has slipped slowly off the radar. Performers gather in the evening at the main square, Place Assarag, just like they do in Marrakesh’s more famous Jemaa el Fna, and there are a couple of interesting souks selling spices and jewellery from the Anti-Atlas. But Taroudant’s defining feature is its majestic ramparts, which encircle the town in its entirety – rent a bike and head out in the late afternoon, when the walls glow like toasted flapjacks.

Taroudant's majestic ramparts


Few tourists make it to Sefrou, an ancient market town near Fez that actually predates its more illustrious neighbour. Even fewer make it to Bhalil, five minutes’ further down the road and believed to be even older still. Suffice to say, you’ll have this intriguing little village pretty much to yourself. Bhalil is built on top of a network of caves, many of them still in use as troglodyte dwellings, and chances are you’ll be invited in for mint tea, pancakes and a large helping of genuine Berber hospitality.


Spending a night under Saharan stars is one of the real draws of the Moroccan south. Most people head to Merzouga, where the mighty Erg Chebbi dunes roll out to the border with Algeria. It’s a special place, deservedly popular, but the resulting clamour for camel trips – in high season, at least – can leave you wondering if there’s ever a crescent that’s free of footprints, or a panorama that doesn’t feature bobbing tourists clad in blue. Instead, follow the Drâa Valley south to M’Hamid, a desert outpost beyond Zagora, and venture deep into the Erg Chigaga, 60km southwest of town. Camped in the lee of a dune, with just your camels for company, you’ll begin to appreciate what pure isolation really feels like.

The sand dunes of Erg Chigaga, Morocco

Keith Drew is a co-author of The Rough Guide to Morocco.

Rough Guides has muted its orange and blue tones for the release of The Rough Guide to Vintage London, a comprehensive guide to vintage shopping, culture and lifestyle in London.

Whether you’re looking for a retro bicycle, Mod cafe, a fifties frock, or just somewhere a bit different to go for Friday night drinks then The Rough Guide to Vintage London is a good place to start. Wayne Hemingway MBE is the contributing editor and wrote the foreword:

“While for many of us vintage is part of our everyday lives, you can, if you so desire, go a little bit further and live a one hundred percent vintage lifestyle. The Rough Guide to Vintage London shows you how to do it.”

The Rough Guide to Vintage London will be in the shops and online from 1 May 2013.

The Rough Guide to Vintage London

Don’t be put off by the high-rise hotels and glitzy boutiques; Hong Kong can still be explored on the cheap. From wandering through sub-tropical forests to seeking out cultural shows in the dense urban jungle, you’ll find that some of the best things to do in Hong Kong are free.

Visit the zoo

Hong Kong’s Zoological and Botanical Gardens, on the slopes of Victoria Peak, are home to hundreds of animals – including flamingos, orang-utans and Chinese alligators – plus more than 1,000 different plant species. Admission is free.

Browse the Temple Street Night Market

Swaying light bulbs illuminate the market stalls that set up along Temple Street each evening. It costs nothing to browse through the ceramics, electronics and antique trinkets strewn across the tables, and buskers usually provide a bit of free entertainment.

Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong

Hit the museums on a Wednesday

Schedule your culture fix for a Wednesday, when many of Hong Kong’s galleries and museums throw open their doors for free. Chinese paintings and ceramics are among the highlights at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, while the Hong Kong Space Museum focuses on all things astronomy.

Learn local customs

Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Cultural Kaleidoscope Programme gives visitors the chance to practise kung fu, learn about local architecture, or take a tea appreciation class. Sessions are free of charge, and most take place on weekends.

Visit the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas

Many of Hong Kong’s glittering Buddhist temples are free to look around. Especially rewarding is the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, high on a hillside above Sha Tin. Here, rows of smiling statues lead up towards the main monastery complex, which is crowned by a nine-storey pavilion.

The Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Hong Kong

Take in a show at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Free variety shows and music recitals are frequently slotted into the busy schedule at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, a swooping, wave-shaped building close to Victoria Harbour. Tickets are handed out at the venue on a first-come, first-served basis.

Ride the world’s longest escalator system

Comprised of 20 moving staircases, plus a handful of travelators, the escalator system bisecting Hong Kong’s Central and Western District goes on for around 800 metres. Riding it saves a long, zigzagging walk through hilly streets, and gives you the chance to stop off for a drink or two in the buzzing bars of Soho.

Escalator in Soho, Hong Kong

Take a hike through the forest

Birds and butterflies flutter through the sub-tropical forests of Tai Po Kau in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Deforested heavily during the Second World War, the area has finally had a chance to recover some of its former glory, and trekking along its colour-coded trails makes for a welcome escape from the city.

Get a free view of the city

With four prism-shaped shafts jutting skywards, the Bank of China Tower is one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable buildings. From the free-to-enter observation deck on its 43rd floor, you can drink in panoramic views of Victoria Harbour.

 Witness the Symphony of Lights

 At 8pm each evening, lasers and flashbulbs light up the twinkling skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s Central District. For the best view of the free Symphony of Lights show, cross over to Tsim Sha Tsui in southern Kowloon, where you can listen to an English version of the accompanying soundtrack.

Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong


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