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Despite the fact that the SAR is densely populated, there's enough open space to pursue everything from golf to hiking to windsurfing. For the hardworking Chinese and expatriates, recreation and leisure are essential for relaxing and winding down. With that in mind, try to schedule your golfing, swimming, or hiking trips on weekdays unless you enjoy jostling elbows with the crowds.

Golf

Golf courses can be crowded, so it's best to contact clubs beforehand to check whether they're open and to make a reservation for a tee-off time. For more information on courses in Hong Kong, as well as driving ranges, contact the Hong Kong Golf Association (tel. 852/2504 8659; www.hkga.com).

The Kau Sai Chau (tel. 852/2791 3388; www.kscgolf.org.hk), was created by funds donated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and is the only public golf course in Hong Kong. Carved out of an island formerly used by the British army for shelling practice, it offers great panoramic vistas of Sai Kung Peninsula and is considered one of the world's finest public golfing facilities. There are two 18-hole and one 9-hole courses. Greens fees for 18 holes start at HK$700 on weekdays and HK$1,050 weekends and holidays (Hong Kong residents receive a discount). The 9-hole course costs HK$410 and HK$605, respectively. Note, however, that overseas visitors cannot make advance bookings for weekends and holidays unless accompanied by a Hong Kong resident. To reach it, take the MTR to Diamond Hill Station and then board bus no. 92 to Sai Kung Bus Terminus, followed by the special 15-minute "golfer's ferry" to Kau Sai Chau (ferry fee: HK$60).

The SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course (tel. 852/3760 6688; www.nine-eagles.com), located on Lantau Island near Terminal 2 of Hong Kong International Airport, is a 9-hole course open only to airport employees and airport passengers within 7 days of their arrival or departure dates, as well as members of frequent-flier clubs and those attending events at Asia World Expo. Tee times are available daily from 7am to 10pm, with greens fees starting at HK$400 on weekdays and HK$550 weekends and holidays; tee times from 7 to 10pm cost more. A shuttle service to the golf course operates from both Terminal 2 (Coach Station, Gate 18) and from Exit D of MTR Tung Chung Station.

Hong Kong has several private golf clubs that admit nonmembers on weekdays only. Most charge HK$1,800 to HK$2,000 for greens fees on 18-hole courses. The Hong Kong Golf Club (www.hkgolfclub.org) maintains three 18-hole courses in Fanling (tel. 852/2670 1211) and a 9-hole course in Deep Water Bay (tel. 852/2812 7070). To reach Fanling, take the KCR railway to Sheung Shui, followed by a 5-minute taxi ride. To reach Deep Water Bay, take bus no. 6A, 6X, or 260 from Exchange Square in Central.

The Discovery Bay Golf Club, on Lantau Island (tel. 852/2987 7273), has a beautiful 18-hole course developed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., offering great views of Hong Kong and the harbor. To reach it, take the 20-minute ferry ride from Central to Discovery Bay, followed by a ride in a special shuttle bus. Another scenic 18-hole course and a 9-hole course, operated by the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club (tel. 852/2335 3888; www.cwbgolf.org), is located in Sai Kung in the New Territories, on a picturesque headland overlooking the South China Sea. To reach it, take the KCR railway to Sheung Shui, and then take a taxi.

Hiking

Hong Kong's 23 country parks -- amounting to more than 40% of Hong Kong's space -- are laced with trails of varying levels of difficulty, including hiking trails, nature trails, and family trails. Serious hikers may want to consider the famous MacLehose Trail in the New Territories, which stretches about 100km (62 miles) through eight country parks, from the Sai Kung Peninsula in the east to Tuen Mun in the west. The strenuous Lantau Trail is a 70km (43-mile) circular trail on Lantau Island that begins and ends at Mui Wo (also called Silvermine Bay), passing several popular scenic spots and campsites along the way and including a 2 1/2-hour trek to the top of Lantau Peak. Both the MacLehose and Lantau trails are divided into smaller sections of varying difficulty, which means that you can tailor your hike to suit your own abilities and time constraints. I also like the short Heritage Trails in the New Territories which take in historic architectural gems along the way.

Easier to reach is the 50km (31-mile) Hong Kong Trail, which spans Hong Kong Island's five country parks, from Victoria Peak to Big Wave Bay. Another favorite trail on Hong Kong Island is the scenic Dragon's Back, a 3-hour hike along the spine of a ridge on D'Aguilar Peninsula, located in the southeastern end of the island. Shorter, easily accessible hikes on Hong Kong Island include the circular, hour-long hike on Victoria Peak, as well as a 2 1/2-hour hike from Victoria Peak to Aberdeen that follows part of the Hong Kong Trail. The Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre on Victoria Peak has maps outlining these last two hikes.

Hikers are advised not to hike alone and to check weather reports before departing; from May to October, irregular thunderstorms, typhoons, and heavy showers can cause flooding and landslides. The best hiking season is considered November through February. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has some trail maps and a hiking and wildlife guidebook called Exploring Hong Kong's Countryside: A Visitor's Companion, which provides suggested day hikes throughout the territory. HKTB also lists recommended hikes on its website, www.discoverhongkong.com, and in a nifty booklet called Discover Hong Kong Nature, with hikes and maps throughout the New Territories and the Outlying Islands.

Jogging

The best places to jog on Hong Kong Island without dodging traffic are Victoria Park's jogging track in Causeway Bay, Harlech Road on Victoria Peak, and Bowen Road, which stretches 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) from Stubbs Road to Magazine Gap Road in the Mid-Levels and offers great views over the harbor. In addition, an inside track at the Happy Valley racecourse is open for runners when the horses aren't using the field. On the other side of the harbor is Kowloon Park, as well as the waterfront promenade along Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui East.

Remember that it can be quite hot and humid during the summer months, so try to jog in the early morning or in the evening.

Swimming

In addition to the many outdoor and indoor swimming pools at Hong Kong's hotels that are available to their hotel guests, the city has numerous public swimming pools, including those at Kowloon Park, with both indoor and outdoor pools, and Victoria Park, only with outdoor pools. Outdoor pools are open April through October. Prices are HK$19 for adults and HK$9 for children and seniors (you can also use your Octopus transportation card to pay admission). Avoid hot weekends, when the pools can become quite crowded.

The SAR has about 40 free public beaches; most of them have lifeguards on duty April through October, changing rooms, and snack stands or restaurants. Even on Hong Kong Island itself you can find a number of beaches, including Big Wave Bay and Shek O on the east coast, and Stanley, Deep Water Bay, South Beach (popular with the gay crowd), and Repulse Bay on the southern coast. Repulse Bay, by far the most popular beach, becomes unbelievably crowded on summer weekends.

The outlying islands have prettier beaches, including Hung Shing Ye and Lo So Shing on Lamma, Tung Wan on Cheung Chau, and Cheung Sha on Lantau. It is, however, advisable to check on water pollution before plunging in, especially on the islands. Check the website of the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (www.epd.gov.hk) for updates on water quality. Furthermore, I wouldn't recommend the waters around Sai Kung Peninsula. There seem to be fatal shark attacks here every couple of years, due to fish migration, though most of the public beaches have shark nets and guards patrolling the water.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese regimen designed to balance body and soul and thereby release energy from within. Originally a martial art developed about 1,000 years ago, tai chi today is a form of exercise that restores harmony in the body through 200 individual movements designed to use every muscle in the body. By strengthening both the mind and the body through seemingly fluid, slow movements that mask the strength and control required to perform the balletlike exercise, tai chi fosters a sense of well-being and nurtures self-discipline. It also helps develop balance, improves muscle tone and breathing, and aids in digestion.

In Hong Kong, both young and old practitioners gather every morning in downtown parks and open public spaces to perform tai chi. Good places to observe the art include Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui, as well as Victoria Park, Hong Kong Park, and the Zoological and Botanical Gardens on Hong Kong Island. Visitors can join complimentary 1-hour lessons in English, offered by the Hong Kong Tourism Board's "Meet the People Cultural Kaleidoscope" program. They're held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8am in front of the Hong Kong Museum of Art in the Sculpture Court near the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade (MTR: Tsim Sha Tsui, Exit E). No registration is necessary. Simply show up; you'll be led through the exercises by a tai chi master. Participants are advised to wear casual clothing and comfortable sports shoes with rubber soles. For information, contact the Hong Kong Tourism Board (tel. 852/2508 1234) or check its website at www.discoverhongkong.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.