A new arrival to Hong Kong would be forgiven for thinking that the city is all Manhattan-style urban density. But the truth is that while the centre is crammed with activity, flawless beaches and a far more relaxed pace of life are less than an hour away. Here are two stunning beach destinations within spitting distance of central Hong Kong.

The rural retreat: Sai Kung

Sai Kung town sits on Hong Kong’s eastern coast — its most pristine and untouched side. While it has become a favourite with expatriates in search of a little more living space than central Hong Kong can offer, this little community has retained an undeniable charm — a charm bolstered by the fact that it’s the gateway to some of the city’s most beautifully untouched wilderness.

The strenuous 90-minute hike to Tai Long Wan beach is worth it for the untouched wilderness you’ll get to see

Getting to Sai Kung: Catch the MTR (subway) to Hang Hau station, then hop on the 101M minibus straight to Sai Kung town.

What to do: Spend the day exploring the waters. The best way is to rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, which are readily available from around Sai Kung’s Sha Ha beach. The area around Sai Kung is a Unesco-certified geopark, featuring curious rock formations that are ripe for discovery. Tours are available.

Come the early evening, head to the Sai Kung waterfront to check out the fishing boats returning from their day’s work, laden down with their catch. Buy what looks good and take it straight to the Michelin-starred Loaf On (49 See Cheung Street, Sai Kung), where the chefs will transform your catch into classic Cantonese cuisine. Order the succulent deep-fried mantis shrimp, served with garlic and chilli.

It feels almost out of place, but beach vibes are beach vibes wherever you are: hence Tikitiki Bowling Bar, a tropical-themed bowling alley that rocks neon lighting. If that sounds too high-energy, then grab a drink at the super-chilled-out waterfront bar Momentai — that’s Cantonese for “no worries”.

Fresh seafood can be bought straight from the local fishermen at Sai Kung waterfront

If you’re looking to range farther afield, then consider a visit to Tai Long Wan, one of Hong Kong’s most stunning bays. It consists of four beaches, each with untouched sands and pristine waters. The downside: you’re going to have to work for it. It’s a fairly strenuous 90-minute hike from the Sai Wan Pavilion, which is itself a 20-minute taxi ride from Sai Kung town centre. But once you’re there, you’ll discover an untouched spot of wilderness that feels a million miles from the city — as opposed to the 16 miles it really is. If you have time, then a couple of restaurants on Ham Tin beach allow you to rent a tent and spend the night on the sand itself, before catching a speedboat back to Sai Kung in the morning.

Go full yoga: Still feeling too close to civilisation? Check out 53 Hoi Ha: a yoga and wellness retreat right in the middle of the Sai Kung country park, inside a protected marine reserve. The retreat offers a range of activities in truly unspoiled wilderness: from yoga classes and stand-up paddleboard yoga to kayaking, meditation classes and massages. Prices begin at about Dh690 for a day-long retreat, including transfers from Central.

The luxe resort: Repulse Bay

Repulse Bay, on Hong Kong Island’s south side, has long been the retreat of choice of the city’s well-to-do. This long crescent of a beach is remarkably easy to get to, at less than half an hour from central Hong Kong. And while nowadays the beach itself is heavy with coach groups on whistlestop tours of the city’s sights, Repulse Bay is still one of Hong Kong’s most refined getaways.

Deep Water Bay is all the rage as a barbecue spot

Getting there: For Repulse Bay, getting there is half the fun. Hop on the 6, 6A, 6X, 66 or 260 bus from the Exchange Square Bus Terminus in Central, and make sure you grab a top-deck seat towards the front. The 30-minute ride to Repulse Bay is a weaving mountainside route with gorgeous vistas of sand and sea.

Repulse Bay

What to do: The swimming is lovely and the beach is fine, but the steady stream of fully clothed Chinese tourists with selfie sticks can be offputting. After a dip, head for the Pulse: a beachside strip of remarkably Instagram-friendly restaurants and bars at the eastern end of the bay. Sip a drink from the Japanese onsen-style open-air wooden bathtubs overlooking the beach at rooftop beach club Cabana , tuck into impeccable Balinese food at the gorgeously designed Tri , or order up a couple of the best pizzas you’ll have this side of Naples at Amalfitana . Meanwhile, Caribbean-inspired Limewood’s drinks pack an engagingly tropical punch.

Repulse Bay, traditional destination of Hong Kong’s smart set

Just above the beach, the Repulse Bay Hotel was once the city’s finest resort, with Hong Kong’s great and good coming from across the city to take the waters. It’s no longer a hotel, but the magnificent colonial edifice lives on, and the Verandah restaurant serves up a classic afternoon tea under lazy wooden ceiling fans for a true hit of colonial nostalgia.

Bring your own: If you’re looking for fun on a budget, then do as the locals do and head instead to Deep Water Bay beach, one bay to the west of Repulse. Here are 35 public barbecue pits for the enterprising DIY beachgoer. You’ll need to bring your own charcoal, food and implements, but there’s normally someone who’ll help set it up for a tip. It’s all worth it, too: a Hong Kong-style barbecue is a rare joy. Think corn wrapped in foil, chicken wings brushed with honey, and fishballs roasted on an open fire.

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