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Hong Kong – takes your breath away!

Hong Kong

For decades, Hong Kong has been the capital of the East, the meeting point between the world and the Great China.  For many years, whatever was manufactured in China was being sold outside under the “Made in Hong Kong” label. For the British Empire, it remained for a long period of time as its “final frontier”. Starting with 1997, it becomes part of the Popular Republic of China, but under a special ruling granted for 50 years. Welcome to Hong Kong !!!

The city itself is a show. Many cities are known as the place where the “West meets the East”, but personally I think that only Hong Kong is a city that really deserves this description… Unlike other Asian cities that seem to deny whatever represents local flavor, Hong Kong offers the perfect combination of modernism, British colonialism  and Asian civilization. Do you feel like experimenting? Take the famous Star Ferry and you’ll be blown away by the panoramic view of the glistening skyscrapers. Have you reached the Central District? Surrounded by steel and glass giants, you encounter typical British colonial buildings. Plan on taking the subway back? Then go to the night market – next to it you can see the food market from where you can buy exotic fruit and snakes for the soup.

Before  setting out for the city, a bit of perspective cannot hurt. Hong Kong is formed of a peninsular area (named Kowloon) and several other islands out of which Hong Kong island is the most important one. The ultramodern area with skyscrapers is on the island of Hong Kong, while in Kowloon is the commercial area and also the touristic center of the territory, called Tsim Sha Tsui.  This area is also called Golden Mile due to its incredible land prices, the highest in the world (a recent transaction broke the previous record set in Tokyo). Soon, Tsim Sha Tsui will become an area overcrowded by skyscrapers, just like the island itself. Up until now, the construction of tall buildings was not allowed due to KaiTakAirport situated in the middle of Kowloon. But the opening of a new airport not only led to closing of “the most dangerous airport in the world” on which Jumbo Jets had to operate a landing in curve, but also created the opportunity for real estate development.

But let’s go back to what we can do in Hong Kong. First of all, you must go walking…the city look is incredible, so it’s worth trying to find those spots from where a wonderful view can be admired – one being “the Avenue of Stars” – an open-air promenade on the channel bank which separates Kowloon from Hong Kong and where, exactly as in Hollywood, you find the hand imprints of Hong Kong movie stars. If you are not a fan of these movies, you’ll be able to recognize at least the name of Jackie Chan and of course, the statue of Bruce Lee. But no matter what, I think it’s a place worth paying a visit. Make sure you won’t miss the light and sound show from 8 P.M. when all the skyscrapers from the island are creating the perfect setting for a laser show.

The second legendary “view point” is on VictoriaPeak which dominates the island.  You can reach this point by taking the famous funicular in which James Bond fought the Russian spies. Do come both during daytime and nighttime as it is absolutely stunning! And besides, the funicular takes you directly into a mall that is filled with everything – even an European restaurant! My advice would be to take the funicular and then go by foot down to Hong Kong and you’ll have some fabulous sights for your camera – a mixture of green and a sea of concrete and stone.

Also interesting is taking the double-decker tram from the island. I don’t know of the existence anywhere else in the world of double-decker trams, but well, in HK it exists and it will cost you only 2 HK $ (0.20 €). If you go towards the top of the tram, before your very eyes will lay a street show that you may have never seen before! The visit is also worth paying for the simple reason that its route goes through traditional areas where elderly Chinese men are selling dried fish and also through the skyscraper neighbourhood of the Central District.

Since I was speaking of public transportation modes, let me tell you something else.  Star Ferry is another urban legend of  Hong Kong. It connects the two coasts of the metropolis, having a few lines. The most spectacular is Tsim Sha Tsui – Central route, coming from Kowloon… skyscrapers seem to come closer and closer… And it doesn’t even cost much: 2.20 HK$ (for upper deck view) and 1.70 HK$ (lower deck).

Despite the charm of the urban universe that Hong Kong is, I recommend you to leave the island from time to time…There are areas from the former colony that are green, rural and still. In 2004, I went on Lantau island to see the statue of the Great Buddha… It’s a bit complicated to reach (train + bus), but you should definitely not miss the experience! It is a very different area from the city as you practically plunge into the more traditional Chinese area…Here is a gigantic statue of Buddha, one of the largest in the world. There are many steps until you reach the top, but once you are there, you are at Buddha’s feet and at the same time, you have the entire Lantau island at your own feet.

Another interesting experience is to go in an area called Temple Street where the night market takes place. But this, not necessarily in order to buy DVDs, watches and T-shirts with the inscription “original replica”, but most of all to see the wonders of Chinese gastronomy – crabs, snakes and other unexpected creatures. You can eat here peacefully, without even trying any weird stuff that might make your stomach turn. You can also find food that is less weird, very tasty and at prices you cannot find anywhere else in Hong Kong. And this way you’ll return home with a fair viewpoint about the “true” Hong Kong.

There are numerous other attractions in Hong Kong – from Disneyland to the new cable railway, from Aberdeen Harbour to horse races in Happy Valley. Still, it’s best to take a quick trip to Macao. In a fast boat, you can reach the place in an hour and see a city that is truly special, an oasis of Europe in the middle of Asia…or well, if you prefer breaking your piggy bank, go to the casino.

About accomodation, don’t set your hopes up for huge rooms – even the most expensive hotel rooms are smaller than the world average. The reason is simple – lack of space as each square meter is used to its maximum capacity (gas stations are “embedded” in the ground floor of apartment buildings!). But even so, the best hotels are around the channel, the rooms offering a truly stunning view. If you feel like tasting a bit of the “belle epoque” atmosphere, do not miss Peninsula Hotel. Just like Raffles in Singapore or The Oriental in Bangkok, Peninsula is “THE” hotel in Hong Kong. Welcoming important guests since 1928, Peninsula was nicknamed as “The Grand Dame of Far East” and continues to amaze with its style and elegance. But don’t think that its guests won’t enjoy the most recent technological innovations in hospitality.

How to get to Hong Kong
More than 70 airlines are operating on the airport of  Hong Kong and many of them are from Europe. The only low cost flying to Hong Kong are coming from Asia: Air Asia from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, or Cebu Pacific from Philippines. I am really looking forward for low-costs towards China and why not, to Europe.

When to visit Hong Kong
Dry season corresponds to what is generally known as winter in Europe or the States. It is not terribly hot – about  20-25°C during the day and 15°C at night, but it’s sunny and beautiful. And celebrating New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong is memorable due to its fireworks and laser shows, being known as one of the most spectacular in the world (competing with Sydney, New York and Rio de Janeiro)…

Where to stay in Hong Kong
Accomodation in HK is generally expensive … Maybe, not as expensive as in Europe, but definitely pricier than in the Asian region. There are hotels for any taste and budget – I’ve already mentioned to you Peninsula Hotel, but you can also find 3 or 4 stars hotels that sometimes have promotional prices (at one time I recall seeing 4 stars hotels like Nathan or Eaton in Jordan at 50 €!). For backpackers are the two legendary buildings– Chungking and Mirador Mansions right in The Golden Mile and situated in Tsim Sha Tsui area, framing Holliday Inn. These are huge buildings in which you can find cheap guesthouses (15 – 25 € per night), many of them clean but with very tiny rooms. In fact, even in luxury hotels, the surface of the rooms is not as generous as in other countries.

Hong Kong Visa
Here, I have good news. Most of the citizens of the Western world can enter Hong Kong without a visa. Note that if you go to the People’s Republic of China, you need a visa, while if you go to Macao, take the passport with you as you need to show it to the border officers – officially, you get out of HK, even if you return on the same day !

Pictures of  Hong Kong:

Hong Kong: Peak Tram

Hong Kong: Peak Tram

Hong Kong tram

Photos of Hong Kong

Hong Kong: Victoria

Hong Kong

Bruce Lee in Hong Kong

Photos from Hong Kong

Hong Kong;  Victoria Peak mall

Hong Kong: Victorias Peak.mall

Photos from Hong Kong

Pictures of Hong Kong

Hong kong tram

Pictures of Hong Kong

Photos from Hong Kong

Hong Kong photos

Hong Kong

Hong Kong photos


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