“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you,” says Nury Vittachi in his book, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams. It’s easy to see how the bustling city on the south-east coast of China, known as ‘Asia’s World City’, captures visitors’ hearts, with its impressive architecture, spectacular natural landscape and intriguing living culture.
What Hong Kong is today is remarkable, considering it was just a collection of fishing villages when claimed by Britain in 1842, with China regaining sovereignty in 1997. However, under the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy, retaining its capitalist system, independent judiciary and rule of law, free trade and freedom of speech.
Hong Kong is situated at the mouth of the Pearl River in the South China Sea and covers an area of 1104km2, a territory which includes Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. At the core is Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and beyond that, the New Territories that run up to the boundary with Mainland China. The harbour has been the key to Hong Kong’s development as a trading port for China, progressing through an industrial era to become a leading financial services centre in Asia.
Culture and Heritage
Culture and Heritage are what set Hong Kong apart from the rest of Asia and the rest of the world. With over 150 years of colonial history and a largely Chinese population, Hong Kong is a unique fusion of western and eastern culture, where the old and the new live side by side. Its incense-filled temples, colonial buildings and glass-and-steel skyscrapers, along with its ancient traditions, lively festivals and stunning countryside, have made Hong Kong a living cultural experience and prime tourist destination, with 34 million visitors to the city in 2011 alone.
The city’s subtropical, mild climate certainly helps, even if it is famous for its unpredictability and extremes, especially in spring (March to May). Even winter (mid-December to February) remains relatively mild and snow is unheard of – although the heat, humidity and sometimes torrential rain and typhoons experienced in the summer months (June to August) are perhaps best avoided. Tourists are advised to visit during autumn (September to mid-December), when they can enjoy warm temperatures, bright skies, low humidity and the most predictable weather.
Experience the Best of Hong Kong
Whenever you choose to visit Hong Kong, there is a wide range of attractions and activities to spark your interest, and its efficient, safe and affordable public transport system makes it easy to get around. Despite its dense urban environment, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s total area is countryside and the diverse contrasts and close proximity of stunning cityscapes and soaring mountains, heritage sites and extensive green countryside, means that whether you are a city slicker or prefer to spend time getting back to nature, there’s something for you.
A visit to The Peak is not to be missed during your visit to Hong Kong. Travel up 373 metres via The Peak Tram funicular railway, to be met by a panoramic view over the city, harbour and mountains. Take a trip on the iconic Star Ferry to enjoy views around Victoria Harbour, and don’t miss the nightly ‘A Symphony of Lights’ show, featuring the harbour-front buildings. Then, hop on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to Lantau Island, home to the Giant Buddha, which sits on the Ngong Ping plateau. This 250-tonne statue is the world’s tallest outdoor, seated bronze Buddha and a must-visit attraction, along with the nearby Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping Piazza, Tai O village on stilts and Hong Kong Disneyland – all found on Lantau Island.
Hong Kong’s other outlying islands all offer rich history and culture, along with natural beauty and charming village life, and are well worth a visit. However, you don’t need to venture off Hong Kong Island to experience tropical sunshine, beautiful beaches, upmarket shopping and eclectic dining opportunities. Repulse Bay and Stanley Market tick all the boxes, while Aberdeen is one of Hong Kong’s original fishing settlements and gives real insight into the city’s heritage and community, whilst being home to the Jumbo Kingdom, which is famous for its seafood. The city is also known as the events capital of Asia and offers many fascinating events, ranging from colourful local festivals and consumer fairs, to arts and sports events.
For those more interested in the natural side of Hong Kong, it offers a wide range of green experiences, most of which can be reached within an hour of the urban areas. The Hong Kong Global Geopark of China, covering eight scenic areas in the east and north-east New Territories, is millions of years old and a marvel of nature. The Hong Kong Wetland Park is a world-class ecotourism facility aimed at promoting green tourism, education on environmental protection and wetland conservation, while Hong Kong Ocean Park remains one of the city’s favourite attractions, featuring rides, exhibits and conservation facilities. Closer to the city, the tranquil Nan Lian Garden brings nature to urban living – located amid the high-rise apartment blocks, it is a public park built in the ancient style of the Tang dynasty.
In keeping with history and culture, Hong Kong’s diverse range of museums provides fascinating insights into the territory’s history and development. There are also more than 600 Chinese temples spread throughout the territory, serving followers of Buddhism and Taoism, and making a temple tour well worth it, as is an exploration of the Buddhist Chi Lin Nunnery with its monastery complex, also in Tang dynasty style.
To further experience the way of life in Hong Kong, catch a ride on the traditional tram, locally known as ‘Ding Ding’, which has been an essential part of Hong Kong Island’s daily life for over 100 years. For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, a selection of urban walks allows you to experience the living culture of the city too.
Shopping in Hong Kong
Aside from its natural beauty and impressive cityscapes, Hong Kong is also famous for its shops and markets – when it comes to a serious shopping experience, the city has everything in abundance. Its duty-free status ensures that most consumer products are competitively priced, while shops are open every day until late in the evening.
Hong Kong boasts an excess of shopping malls, ranging from luxurious ‘palaces’ containing world-famous labels, to more moderate fashion centres with funky boutiques. For the more eclectic tastes, the street markets each offer their own charm and hidden treasures and illustrate Hong Kong’s living culture. Savvy shoppers with a long shopping list and little time will enjoy the convenience of theme shopping streets dedicated to specific product categories, while there is also plenty on offer for those looking for authentic Asian arts, crafts and antiques.
A particular shopping highlight is Hollywood Road, offering a range of designer boutiques and exotic auction houses. Further along, near the Man Mo temple, is Cat Street, which you’ll find heaving with stalls selling a variety of traditional Hong Kong goods, such as Mao badges, old photos and Ming dynasty furniture – perfect for hagglers.
Wherever you choose to shop in the city, Hong Kong is the perfect place to pick up a bargain or splash out on an extravagance.
You might want to hold back some of your budget to experience Hong Kong’s cuisine, which is famous for its exotic fusion of eastern and western flavours and local culinary delights. The city boasts more than 11,000 restaurants, many of them clustered in defined food districts – from local snacks to gourmet dishes, Hong Kong has it all.
The Sai Kung Seafood District is a particular must for seafood lovers – once a gathering spot for local fisherman and villagers, it is now a trendy rural retreat famous for its collection of restaurants.
Well Worth a Visit
Wandering through the streets of Hong Kong, you are met with remarkable history, culture, people and soul. A trip to the city and its surrounds gives you the opportunity to see heritage sites and traditional lifestyles, as well as world-class architecture and technology.
As Prince Charles said during the handover ceremony of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, “Hong Kong has created one of the most successful societies on earth.”
Considering the fact that it is easy to get to, served by more than 80 airlines, numerous cruise lines and ferries and trains from Mainland China, and that nationals of most countries don’t need a visa to visit the city, don’t take royalty’s word for it – experience Hong Kong for yourself.
Speak the Language
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect spoken by over 88% of the people in Hong Kong. However, English is widely used in the government and by the legal, professional and business sectors, as well as tourist areas. Most taxi drivers and salespeople are able to communicate in English and most signage is bilingual. Since reunification with China in 1997, Mandarin, more commonly known as Putonghua – the official dialect of China – has gained in prominence and most Hong Kong locals can at least comprehend it to a certain degree. In fact, the prevalence rate of Putonghua in Hong Kong exceeded English for the first time in 2011, to become the city’s second most popular language, according to the 2011 Population Census released in February this year.
Motto: Asia’s World City
Location: South-east coast of China
Population: 7.12 million
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar
Time Zone: GMT+8
Kerryn Le Cordeur