Effortlessly straddling its Chinese present with its colonial past, Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world where diametrically opposite cultures sit in harmonious confluence, where Capitalism co-exists with Communism and where ex-pats, Chinese and other ethnic groups all feel completely at home. Hong Kong is about the famed Star Ferry offering riders a breathtaking view of the skyline, the insane boatmanship in the harbour that creates a permanent swell between Central and Kowloon, the glittering skyscrapers flung carelessly along the hill and Victoria Peak lording over it all from its vantage point.
It is the view from up here that captures the essence of Hong Kong, a glittering skyline juxtaposed against Kowloon, reminding us that the city is much more than its concrete exterior. Move in closer and you will find that the atmosphere in Hong Kong though overtly modern is also undeniably Chinese. People rush aggressively to work, pausing at small temples to light incense sticks, wizened Chinese men sit huddled over tables rapidly moving mahjong tiles, groups of people flock to parks caressing the air in graceful Tai Chi movements while outdoor food stalls display still-twitching conceivable and inconceivable seafood.
Contrary to popular belief Hong Kong is not a city; it is in fact a sprawling archipelago of 260 islands. Hong Kong Island and more specifically Central is the heart of this region, where colonial remnants punctuate the commercial stalactites that seem to spring up every day. The Peak Tram will take you to the top of Victoria Peak for spectacularly picturesque views. The southern side of the island is decidedly calmer and has gorgeous beaches edging the South China Sea, green hills and swanky residences. Across Victoria Harbour to the North lies one of the most densely populated regions of the world - Kowloon with a hotchpotch of markets, restaurants worth taking the ferry for and a spate of museums. The New Territories lie north of Kowloon till the Chinese border, though ‘new towns’ have sprouted here you can still find pristine beaches and an abundance of excellent hiking trails. And then there are the outlying islands, Lantau Island has beaches, hiking trails and is home to the airport, Disneyland as well as to an older inhabitant the largest, seated, outdoor Buddha in the world.
The handover to China took place on the 1st of July 1997 but to its credit Hong Kong did not flounder around in a post-colonial stupor. Subtle changes are visible – the red letter boxes are gone, the police uniforms look different as does the flag, but Hong Kong remains essentially unchanged. Certain parts of Hong Kong still feel like a slice of the Home Counties in the tropics, with ex-pats drinking sun-downers in colonial clubs, but Hong Kong is resolutely of the 21st century – high-octane, exuberant and very much alive.
Once a fishing village, this popular destination is home to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant and seafood boats.
Book a harbour cruise, an island tour or a shopping excursion, and see the best the city has to offer.
This popular theme park has five lands and all of the major Disney characters. Exclusive to this location is Toy Story Land, featuring characters from the popular films.
Stroll the grounds, and enjoy exotic plants, birds, fountains, sculptures and a zoo.
This bustling village has restaurants and pubs to entice travellers. The Stanley Market is a great place to find deals and pick up souvenirs.
Built in 1921, many travellers head to this traditional Chinese building to have their fortune read.
This racetrack has modern, computerized betting systems and large viewing screens. For a unique experience, enjoy a night race.
Also known as Antique Street, this is the place to find jade, Buddha sculptures, oriental rugs and hidden treasures.
Relax, enjoy a cup of hot tea and watch the birds in this peaceful escape.
This popular restaurant serves up authentic Italian cuisine and fresh seafood in the heart of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s attractions like those of other cities set on harbours, centres around views. The glittering harbour surrounded by steel and glass buildings reaching for the sky is best seen on board the famed Star Ferry. The scenery alone can provide sufficient distraction during a stay here. Even though the journey only lasts a few minutes getting out on the water gives you a real feel for Hong Kong and it is worth the loose change you spend on it. Do the ride in the evening when the staggering laser and light show the ‘Symphony of Lights’ sparks up the gleaming skyscrapers.
Hop onto the vertiginous Peak Tram for a near vertical ride up to Victoria Peak. Once a hill station for the colonists, it retains its exclusivity with astronomical real estate prices. The view from the Peak Tower defines Hong Kong, the audacious buildings set against the blue waters of the harbour with Kowloon spread out behind. The Tower itself holds attractions like Madame Tussauds and the Sky Terrace viewing deck. Walk up to the actual summit on a clear day and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Macau, the outlying islands and the swarm of junks and sampans of Aberdeen Harbour.
If you are here with kids then your holiday to Hong Kong will necessarily include a trip to Disneyland on Lantau Island. The smallest of the Disney lot, and also luckily for visitors the least crowded. Lantau Island’s other attractions include the rare Chinese white dolphins, pretty beaches and the Ngong Ping 360 Skyrail to the Po Lin Monastery taking in views of the green mountains and of the vast Tian Tan Buddha. Another hit with the kids is the Ocean Park and Middle Kingdom theme park whose main attraction is an enormous aquarium.
The waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui not only affords superb views across the harbour but is also home to the superb Hong Kong Museum of Art with its unmatched collection of Chinese antiquities and other works of art. Other do-not-miss attractions include the entertaining and informative Hong Kong Museum of History, the lovely Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas and the exquisite Kowloon Walled City Park.
The aggressive modernity of this city of skyscrapers is mellowed by its picturesque surroundings. Hop onto a ferry and enjoy a day trip to one of the outlying islands, the most popular being Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau. Surprisingly enough the country side makes up 70 percent of Hong Kong and it is worth the time and effort to discover its nature and marine parks – hike up a trail, relax on a beach or commune with nature and go camping.
If you wish to have a flutter and don’t wish to make the trip to Vegas-like Macau, then your best bet is the Happy Valley Racecourse. There are few sporting occasions in Hong Kong as exciting as a horse race.
Outside the congestion of the city, Sai Kung Country Park has isolated beaches where visitors can pitch a tent and spend the night under the stars.
Head to ShuiHau, where you can rent digging tools at the Fung Wong Bungalow Centre. The owner will cook your clams for you.
If thrill-seeking is your favourite pastime, head to Ocean Park for roller coasters and cable car rides.
Hail a red-top minibus, whose drivers are famous for their daring maneuvers and disregard for speed limits.
A favourite of locals, Circle Tower in Causeway Bay has 20 bars on 20 floors.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate, and travellers can enjoy the city any time of the year. However, summers tend to be humid, and August can see temperatures as high as 31Â°C. Winters tend to be dry, and January and February see lows around 14Â°C. Around Christmas, the weather is cooler, and visitors can take advantage of discounts during the winter months. Each spring, the Tuen Ng Festival is celebrated with dragon boat races, food and activities. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Hong Kong residents release colourful lanterns into the night sky.
Hong Kong is tourist friendly, most signage come in Chinese and English, a majority of people speak English and all of Hong Kong’s attractions can be visited using public transport. Just remember to pack your hiking boots and beachwear. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has an office in London as well as at Hong Kong Airport, Kowloon and Central. Their website www.discoverhongkong.com also offers invaluable information. Visa requirements for Hong Kong are different to those for China; British citizens staying for up to 180 days do not require a visa.
Most international travelers would be arriving at the swanky Hong Kong International Airport. If you are coming in via China, a train into Hung Hom Station in Kowloon is your best bet. Cruise ships dock at Ocean Terminal, while a jetfoil service can get you to Hong Kong Island from Macau and Shenzhen.
Hong Kong is well connected by a highly developed transport infrastructure. Pick up a stored value Octopus Card that can be used on all forms of transport and even offers discounted fares on some. The most scenic way to enjoy Hong Kong is to cross the harbour by the famed Star Ferry, it is cheap, frequent and an attraction by itself.
Hong Kong’s excellent Mass Transit Railway is the fastest mode of transport; important routes include the airport line, the link to Disneyland and connections to the New Territories. Quaint and thoroughly enjoyable double-decker trams or ‘ding-ding’, run in a limited area on Hong Kong Island with the Peak Tram going up to Victoria Peak.
Climb to the top deck of a double-decker bus and enjoy a cheap and comfortable tour of the island. These buses are invaluable if you plan on exploring the Southern side of Hong Kong Island. The smaller minibus routes can be confusing, make sure you’re headed in the right direction before you board.
Taxis are a reliable way to traverse Hong Kong. Get your destination written in Chinese as most drivers are not conversant in English. Taxis that ply in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island are red, New Territory ones are green and blue ones are restricted to Lantau.
Certain parts of Hong Kong are best experienced by walking around; weary feet can head for the unique and rather unusual Central-Mid-Levels escalator that transports you halfway up to the peak and is free.
Summer lasts from June to mid-September and is hot and humid; this is also the time for typhoons. Winters are mild and peak travel months are March, April, October and November.
Celebrations here extend from exotic sounding festivals like the Hungry Ghost Festival to self-explanatory ones like The Dragon Boat Festival, from the artsy Hong Kong Arts Festival to the high-profile rugby Hong Kong Sevens and from Halloween, Christmas and New Year to the Chinese New Year.
Hong Kong offers an eclectic smattering of nighttime activities. You are more likely to find the locals at a Karaoke Bar, playing mahjong or at the movies rather than drinking at a bar. The liveliest spot on the island at night is Lan Kwoi Fong in Central; the Kowloon equivalent is Knutsford Terrace while Wan Chai’s notoriety is now more myth than reality. Sunset cruises with dinner thrown in, the spectacular Symphony of Lights that lights up both sides of the harbour and the atmospheric night markets are other ways of brightening up your nights.
Hong Kong is synonymous with shopping. Spiffy malls stand in the midst of raucous street markets, the latest designer wear is as much in demand as last season’s knock-off designer handbag, pearls and jade, ancient Chinese antiques and the latest Japanese and Korean electronics all vie for the attention of shoppers. And it is not just the tourists who are shopping-mad; the locals here were born to shop. Remember to bargain hard in the markets, compare prices with several vendors before purchasing your goods, if you are shopping for electronics make sure you’ve done enough research on the models and pricing and lastly shop at stores with the QTS sticker, they have been accredited by the Hong Kong Tourist Board.
Shopping is omnipresent in Hong Kong, from malls conveniently located in MTR stations to stand alone specialty megamalls. If you are looking to shop in the rarefied environment of a mall head to the glitzy IFC on Central’s waterfront, Pacific Place, Festival Walk, Landmark, Elements or Times Square. If its bargains you require try the Citygate Outlet Mall or the Horizon Plaza. If it is atmosphere you are after head to Causeway Bay. The granddaddy of shopping areas is Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui – malls, street markets and every conceivable thing under the sun is sold here. Antiques and Chinese artifacts are best shopped for around Hollywood Road and Cat Street, computers and related items have their own dedicated malls like the Star Computer City and the creatively named Computer Mall.
Lending colour, variety and oodles of atmosphere, markets are an integral part of shopping in Hong Kong. Night street markets resembling Hollywood’s Chinatown sets stretch endlessly, populated by mysterious herbalists and spooky fortune-tellers. Rowdy food stalls assault the senses with unfamiliar tastes and smells while dodgy looking gents flog counterfeit watches outside tiny hidden temples, mounds of clothes of all ilk sit besides tailors who will produce bespoke suits in a jiffy all to the sounds of buskers warbling Chinese opera. The mellifluous Bird Garden, every conceivable shade of green at the Kansu Street Jade Market, the cramped Stanley Market, the riot of colours at the Flower Market and the joys of grabbing that unbelievable bargain at the Temple Street Night Market or the Ladies Market – retail heaven.
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