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Hong Kong guide

Travel guide: Keeping healthy in Hong Kong

Women walking in Hong Kong

Relocating can be challenging as well as exciting – not least when your destination is a densely populated, ultra-modern metropolis. But alongside the city’s sparkling skyscrapers there are plenty of green spaces in which you can take time out from the hectic pace of life to exercise and rest.

With seven million residents and the world’s freest economy, Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city that melds Chinese and Western influences. Ranked among the world’s 10 most densely populated cities, with 68,400 people per square mile1, Hong Kong Island has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world2. While there are drawbacks to living in this populous environment, a healthy, active lifestyle is possible.

First, you’ll find plenty of choice in terms of food, sports facilities and leisure activities. Second, only 25% of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is inhabited3. There are country parks, marine parks and conservation areas occupying 40% of the land4. Think wooded hills, dramatic peaks and sandy beaches, with plenty of paths and trails to explore.

Originally from the UK, Andrew Sharkey moved to Hong Kong in 2003 and works in the finance industry. He lives with his wife and three young children in the Mid-Levels area of Hong Kong Island, midway between downtown Central and Victoria Peak, the island’s highest point. “Hong Kong Island is the most international part of the region,” Andrew says. “It’s also compact – from where we live you can be almost anywhere within 25 minutes.”

Finding healthy food

According to the UBS Prices & Earnings 2015 report, Hong Kong has the world’s longest working hours5. “It’s usual to work until 7 or 8pm, and supermarkets are very expensive, so there’s a big temptation to eat out rather than cook at home,” Andrew says. “There’s definitely a takeaway and eating out culture.”

On the positive side, wholesome options are increasingly available if you find yourself short of time for cooking. A 2016 report by the Global Agricultural Information Network found that demand for healthy foods is rapidly increasing in the region6. “There’s a fast turnover of restaurants, so the variety is tremendous,” Andrew says. “When I arrived, only a handful offered healthy choices, but now there are many dotted all around Hong Kong.”

Mana! in the Central district promises ‘fast slow food’ that’s nourishing, plant-based and hand-prepared. Andrew recommends Home, a café similarly focused on fast but healthy foods. Also in Central are Wasabi Warriors, the Genie Juicery and Nood, with its pre-packaged snacks and salad bar. Organic 21 is run by a local NGO that sources ingredients from its organic farm in Yuen Long.

“When it comes to eating in, we regularly order from specialists who offer home delivery,” Andrew says. His family uses Homegrown Foods for seasonal fruit and vegetable boxes, and other organic suppliers. “Eating healthily in Hong Kong isn’t cheap,” he adds, “but living here also means 15% tax, so it’s a case of pros and cons.”

“When I arrived, only a handful offered healthy choices, but now there are many dotted all around Hong Kong.”

Woman meditating in Hong Kong

Managing stress

Hong Kong can feel crowded, especially to a new arrival. Andrew says: “Everywhere you look there are high-rises, 40-storey condos – that was a big shock for me.” On the other hand, it’s easy to escape the city and reach unspoilt countryside, and time spent in green spaces can lower stress and improve mood, even among city dwellers7.

“Most of Hong Kong is forest, particularly the part that’s attached to the mainland,” Andrew says. “We can reach the hiking trails beyond Kowloon within 30 minutes. And on the southern side of the island, there are beautiful, clean beaches.”

Many residential areas also offer respite from the city centre, and parks are in good supply. Happy Valley is close to the centre but greener and quieter while Jardine's Lookout is set high up among wooded hills. “The Mid-Levels is fairly densely populated, but in two minutes I can be on a path with green all around me, and in 15 I can be up on the Peak,” Andrew says. For more space, cleaner air and rural living, the New Territories are also an option, though if you’re new and keen to meet other expats you might prefer to settle on Hong Kong Island initially.

According to a study by Lingnan University, work pressures and long working hours are among the biggest causes of unhappiness among Hong Kong residents. You might not be able to significantly reduce your working hours or alter your job, but city escapes, time in nature and regular exercise are all ways to invest in your emotional wellbeing. Yoga and meditation classes are abundant too.

“Hong Kong can be demanding,” Andrew says. “I have a job that’s 12 hours a day, but I carve out time for cycling because that’s how I channel stresses and frustrations, and achieve a balance with work. It’s a matter of embracing the new culture, doing some research and working out a timetable that suits you.”

Keeping fit

This isn’t a place that will leave you short of ways to exercise. There are hiking trails across the SAR, including seven on Hong Kong Island. The 100km Maclehose Trail in the New Territories is popular for scenic cycling and hiking. Cycling on Hong Kong Island is also an option, and a good one if you’re keen to raise your fitness with some steep rides.

The excellent 250m track at the Hong Kong Velodrome Park is open to members of the public who successfully apply for a licence. The Park also boasts a climbing wall, skate park, jogging track and more. “There are lots of places like this that you might not hear about right away, so look at conversations on AsiaXPAT and don’t be afraid to ask people for ideas,” Andrew suggests.

There are many gyms and sports centres, as well as membership-based clubs. The latter combine high-quality sports and leisure facilities, but five to 10-year waiting lists aren’t unusual. You may be able to fast-track your membership with a scholarship if you excel at a particular sport – Andrew gained membership by committing to four years as a tennis player for a club.

Hong Kong’s humidity can be challenging. “Between mid-May and mid-October, it’s very hot and the humidity is stifling,” Andrew says. “It can take a number of years to get used to. It’s accepted that everyone gets hot and sweaty, though, so it doesn’t mean you have to shy away from being active.” Low-air quality is also an issue. Avoid exercising outdoors when traffic is heavy, and take particular care if you have a respiratory illness or suffer from allergies.

Water sports are within easy reach. Windsurfers, kayakers and even surfers can head to Cheung Chau island (the fast ferry from the city takes 35 minutes). Stanley, on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, is popular for hiring windsurfs or kayaks. The Sai Kung Peninsula in the New Territories is an “outdoor-pursuits paradise” according to Lonely Planet. You’ll find kayaks for hire on its white-sand beaches.

Email lists, Facebook groups and websites like AsiaXPAT are a good way to find out about activities and events, from hiking groups to circus skills for kids. “The level of amateur sports is very high,” Andrew says. “My kids swim, cycle and play cricket, and the coaches are phenomenal".

“You need to scratch the surface a bit to find things. Hong Kong comes across as busy, fast-paced and finance-oriented, but there’s much more to discover and explore. The opportunities to try new things are huge once you start looking for them.”

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Sources:

1. International Business Times (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/un-world-population-day-2015-these-are-10-most-densely-populated-cities-planet-1510315 ), last accessed in March 2017

2. The Skyscraper Center (https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/city/hong-kong), last accessed in March 2017

3. National Post (http://news.nationalpost.com/life/travel/hiking-in-hong-kong-the-vibrant-citys-jungle-is-real-not-a-metaphor-for-concrete-and-steel ), last accessed in March 2017

4. GovHK (http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/facts.htm), last accessed in March 2017

5. UBS (https://www.ubs.com/microsites/prices-earnings/edition-2015.html), last accessed in March 2017

6. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Retail%20Foods_Hong%20Kong_Hong%20Kong_12-9-2015.pdf), last accessed in March 2017

7. The New York TImes (https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/how-nature-changes-the-brain/), last accessed in March 2017

8. Lingnam University Hong Kong (https://www.ln.edu.hk/news/20141204/Happiness_Index_2014), last accessed in March 2017

Census and Statistics Department (http://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/so20.jsp), last accessed in March 2017

Travel China Guide (https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/hongkong/island/victoria.htm), last accessed in March 2017

Emporis (https://www.emporis.com/statistics/most-skyscraper-cities-worldwide and http://www.sassyhongkong.com/city-guide/organic-21/), last accessed in March 2017

ButterBoom.com (http://butterboom.com/shopguide/top10s/top-10-diet-friendly-eateries-hong-kong/), last accessed in March 2017

The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/26/cities-have-worst-air-pollution-levels-world/), last accessed in March 2017

Expat Arrivals (http://www.expatarrivals.com/hong-kong/areas-and-suburbs-in-hong-kong), last accessed in March 2017

CNN (http://travel.cnn.com/hong-kong/play/best-surf-hong-kong-248053/), last accessed in March 2017

Lonely Planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/hong-kong/new-territories/sai-kung-peninsula/introduction), last accessed in March 2017

South China Morning Post (http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/travel/article/1969092/kayaking-hong-kong-where-go-and-everything-you-need), last accessed in March 2017

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