HongKong

 

4 Days Hong Kong: Five Star: Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel Deluxe: Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees / Harbor Grand Kowloon

So long regarded as a gateway to China, especially since China opened its doors to tourism in the late 1970s, Hong Kong remains a good place to begin a China tour, being served by almost every top airline in the world at discount rates. Moreover, purpose-built rail links make it possible to board a train in Kowloon directly to Guangzhou, Beijing or Shanghai. Hong Kong is a fascinating blend of the Orient and Occident, scenic wonder, economic miracle and shopping paradise.

The main centres of population in Hong Kong are Hong Kong Island itself and Kowloon. The Island and the tip of Kowloon peninsula were ceded to Britain ‘in perpetuity’ by the so-called ‘Unequal Treaties’ which concluded the two Opium Wars between Britain and China in the 19th century. Thereafter, Hong Kong flourished as the base for British opium trading. In 1898, Britain leased more of Kowloon and the New Territories from China for a period of 99 years. That lease expired in 1997, hence
the historic agreement to return Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty spelt out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration made in 1984.



Victoria Peak

 

The Peak, also known as Victoria Peak, is the mountain-top residential district of the rich and powerful. It is also a marvellous place to look out over the city, the harbour and the islands. If you are fit, and the weather is not too hot, you can walk to the top.

There are two shady, quiet paths—one starts from Magazine Gap Road, the other from Conduit Road. The most popular and comfortable way to the top is the eightminute journey by the Peak Tram, which has its terminus just off Garden Road. Once at the top, you can walk up to the summit or take the circular trail which starts just to the right of the exit of the Peak Tram terminus. The Peak Tower (which looks like a cross between a lost spaceship and an antique Chinese vessel) has a coffee shop which offers good food with stunning window views. Over the road from the terminus, the Peak Café offers an airy setting for a meal or just a cup of tea.

Usually overlooked by foreign visitors but much loved by local residents, the Botanical Gardens can be found up the hill from Central, behind the former Government House. In the morning, old people gather to swap gossip and do their calisthenic exercises. The gardens are pleasant, but the small zoo is the main attraction with its leopards, orangutans and wonderful landscaped aviaries full of rockpools, waterfalls and exotic foliage. The zoo is famous for its pioneer work in captive breeding of such endangered species as the Philippines Palawan Peacock and the Chinese Crane.

 




Islands

 

The largest ‘outlying’ island is Lantau, off the west coast of Hong Kong Island itself. Despite the development of Hong Kong’s state-of-the-art new airport on one side and Disneyland near its eastern tip, the island remains a haven of peace and quiet. The most well-known sight on Lantau is the Po Lin Monastery, with its giant seated Buddha—an impressive sight despite the commercialism surrounding it. A short walk away is the relatively new Ngong Ping theme village, and the upper terminus of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, which descends over steep hillside wilderness and across a bay to Tung Chung new town, only five minutes’ drive from Chek Lap Kok Airport and connected to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island by the MTR underground rail system. The cable car had a problematic first few years, but it is a popular draw for mainland tourists, and is a scenic way to reach the Buddha. Man-made attractions aside, the island is worth visiting for its grand landscapes of cloud-tipped mountains, pastoral valleys and cove beaches. The walking trails are well marked and take you through some lovely scenery.

In the eastern New Territories, the Sai Kung peninsula is the most beautiful and unspoilt area. This is because much of the land was designated as a Country Park in the 1970s. Visitors can explore the hills and seashore on walking trails, or pick up one of the small ferries which run between the villages. The beaches are clean and uncrowded, and the walks offer glorious views over Mirs Bay and the China coast. Further north, the town of Fan Ling is where the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club is sited.



 




Shopping and Entertainment

 

Central has all the most expensive brand-name shops. Prices may or may not be lower than New York or London, depending of course on currency fluctuations. Their best customers in recent years have been Asians, particularly Japanese and Taiwanese. Better value is offered at the factory outlet shops themselves, which sell goods made for export at knock-down prices. Lists of these factory outlets can be found in a shopping guide widely on sale in Hong Kong bookshops.

If you like shopping combined with some local colour, then try to visit some street markets by night. There are many throughout the Island and Kowloon, but the most popular with foreign visitors is Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon, near the Jordan Mass Transit or MTR (underground/subway) station. Here you can buy hand-painted T-shirts as well as taste a casserole of garlic snails. Another market is located around Sai Yeung Choi Street, near the Mongkok MTR station.

Hong Kong is famous for its late, late nightlife. In Causeway Bay, the shops don’t close until around 11pm every night. Popular in the Central district are Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) where bars and discos can go on until 4am. Most hotels have good bars and nightclubs, some with live music. Many karaoke bars are scattered in the bright lights districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai. The local hostess bars range from the cheap and cheerful to the very, very expensive. These should be visited with some caution and a prior look at prices.