A recent trip to Hong Kong reminded me quite what a brilliant and unique city it is. The combination of location, landscape, history, culture and peoples has made it unlike anywhere else on earth and a really fascinating metropolis with over 6 million people crammed into a, mainly, vertical world on the edge of China.
As well as the classic sights such as the harbour, Peak Tram, Kowloon and Aberdeen it was a couple of the different sides to Hong Kong that really caught my attention.
Lantau is Hong Kong’s largest island and parts of it have changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Tung Chung was a sleepy farming settlement until the development of the new airport at Chep Lap Kok and now it is the biggest town with its own MTR (metro) station, huge high-rise estates and the new bridge to Macau nearby. It is also the jumping off point for the 30 minute cable car ride up to the Ngong Ping Plateau and the Tian Tan Buddha. The ride itself, some of the gondolas have glass floors, has superb views over the airport and mainland as well as the unspoilt and rugged southern part of the island. Virtually untouched the forested valleys and peaks of the Lantau North Country Park offer excellent and unspoilt trails.
The bronze Buddha, arguably the biggest in the world, is well worth the climb with its magnificent views and the calm of the nearby monastery is in stark contrast to the cheesy outlet village by the cable car.
Dropping down from the Buddha the western end of the island is home to Tai O village – home to the Tanka fishing people. Many houses are still built on stilts in the water, including a few still looking like upturned boats, and away from the sea village life opens out onto the narrow streets and waterways. The waters off Tai O village, part of the extended Pearl River estuary, are home to the endangered Chinese white (Pink) dolphin and boat trips head out to see them. The heavy boat traffic and pollution creates a massive concern for their welfare. Just by the entrance to the bay stands the old Tai O Police Station. Built in 1902 and turned into a heritage hotel in 2012 this beautifully restored colonial building in a verdant setting seems a world away from the heart of Hong Kong.
As a complete contrast heading into Central at street level on a guided walking tour we discovered a totally different historic and community side to the city. We started at Possession Street, where the British Royal Marines first raised the Union Jack in 1841, it’s hard to imagine the sea once reached this point. Moving through the narrow staircases and alleys we headed west into the Hollywood Road area, famous for its antique shops and the Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong’s oldest, built in 1847. Dedicated to the gods of Literature and War it was not only a place of worship but also a court of arbitration where local oaths were accepted by the colonial authorities.
Well-known street art, murals and graffiti, decorate this area and the highlight is probably the PMQ complex.
Formerly the Police Married Quarters (and before that a school where Sun Yat Sen had studied) it now house creative studios and workshops from young artists – subsidised to be able to exhibit in this creative and popular area. Rounded off with an egg tart from the Tai Cheong Bakery (Chris Patten’s favourite) this tour of Central brings you right down to street level when most of the time in Hong Kong you find yourself staring up at the skyscrapers.
There’s so much to see in the city for visitors of all ages from the islands & beaches to galleries, museums and magnificent panoramas. Shopping is high on many visitors’ lists as is the food – from traditional Cantonese to a wide multinational range. The new Bullet Train links into China (Guangzhou) will make rail access much quicker from the mainland and the road bridge/tunnel to Macao is nearing completion. With the airport being such an excellent hub for flights, in Asia and Oceania, Hong Kong can easily be combined with holidays to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Australia and beyond.
Whether it’s your first visit or you are returning for more there is so much to see and do in Hong Kong and even a couple of days stay will give you a flavour of this fascinating city. Ask us about including Hong Kong in your next holiday.