Hong Kong looks like a mad scientist threw chrome, aluminum, glass, and rock into an over-sized petri dish and zapped it with Big-Bang energy and some cosmic debris–and bang, whap, whiz, whir, KABLAMO!, chaos emerged from order. Forces of nature took their toll with gargantuan, revolutionary results. Some of the most futuristic architecture on the planet dwells here, and skyscrapers surge ever-upward as if to say, “Big? I’ll show you BIG!,” reflecting and deflecting neon spectra in all their postmodern beauty. Cavernous streets adorned with tiny shops and stalls and crowned with elevated walkways; air flooded with the buzzes and whirs of cellular devices, taxis and trams, and multi-lingual chatter; digitally rendered ads bouncing from TV screen to LED projection. All these elements evoke the set of Blade Runner or an ultra-modern, silver-screen version of Gotham City. In this post we will explore Holidays in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a city of extremes: Massive population, towering heights, palpable wealth, raging nightlife, endless possibilities. With the dazzling verdant touches of a tropical island thrown in, Hong Kong is truly one of the most unique urban scenes that even the most well-traveled have ever seen.
Did I mention wealth? In the hub of Asian finance, many denizens’ bank accounts are hardly suffering. Hong Kong has the highest per capita Rolls-Royce ownership in the world. Get the picture? Consequently, it’s also one of the most expensive cities to visit, if not the most. If you’re not fortunate enough to be traveling on corporate payroll or to have a local friend to stay with, then mon Dieu, start saving up fast! Budget accommodations are available, but if you don’t mind spending a little extra dough to avoid holing up in shoebox-sized hostel lodgings, you’ll find a nice array of moderately-priced hotels whose rates hover around the US$150-US$250 per-night range (for a double room). Of course, if you’re planning on lapping up some luxury, you’ll have no problem unloading a bulging wad o’ cash in this city of swanky accommodation addresses.
The hard truth is that in order to have Holidays in Hong Kong, you do need a substantial spending allowance–lodging first and foremost empties your wallet, with eating, drinking, and entertainment close on its heels. The good news is that public transportation and attractions hardly cost anything and add exceptional value to your Hong Kong experience. Call the city overly style- and money-conscious, call it nerve-grinding, call it anything–but the fact remains that Hong Kong is one of the most fascinating and exciting places on the planet, if not in the entire galaxy.
In the Thick of It
The best way to experience the city is to simply stroll around and take it in. There’s no better place to aimlessly wander through the fray than in Central. Home to the epicenter of the Hong Kong business world (and that’s one big epicenter–this is, after all, the city that money was built on), Central will provide plenty of eye candy to keep you stimulated. Starting off heading downhill from Hollywood Road, you’ll wind past elegant eateries and boutiques until you hit a sea of buildings clamoring for attention. From the porthole chic of Jardine House to the climbing-koala frenzy of the twin Lippo Centre buildings, from the praying-mantis heights of the Bank of China Tower to the stingray contours of the Convention Center, you’ll discover amazing modern architectural achievements. Vestiges of colonial rule (found in structures such as the Legislative Council Building) are intermittently interlaced throughout, signifying the contrasts between old and new.
Almost more mind-boggling than the jungle of skyscrapers is the massive tangle of people flooding the streets. Rush hour periods see over 200,000 commuters jam onto the 2,620-foot city escalator, which transports people downhill into Central in the morning and uphill towards Mid-Levels in the evening. Designer clothes-clad professionals whir past on every road, back alley, and elevated walkway with cell phones a-blazing. The energy just crackles.
Equally energetic, the Chinese neighborhood of Sheung Wan is located directly west of Central–but it couldn’t be more different. A maze of noodle stalls, dried-foods markets, ginseng outlets, tea houses, mahjong parlors, and a host of other local businesses and traditional eateries, Sheung Wan is a great place to get lost and immerse oneself in local culture. And not the conglomerate East-West fusion that’s so rampant in Central. Foreigners (predominantly Western, at that) comprise about five percent of Hong Kong’s population, and a vast majority of these expats and burgeoning business moguls take up digs in Central. Sheung Wan is a refreshing reminder that despite certain Western appearances, you are, indeed, in China.
Life of Leisure
If you’re a die-hard shopper, rejoice! Shopping happens literally everywhere, from the electronics shop-laden streets of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon to the massive Japanese department stores of Causeway Bay. Plenty of designer shops and mini-malls line Central’s streets. For some genuine Hong Kong funkiness, drop into Shanghai Tang (located in Central), where Eastern and Western design fuse in a swirl of silk, velvet, and a wondrous palette of bright colors.
Much like Manhattan, Hong Kong has the proverbial so much of everything, epitomized by its long litany of restaurants catering to every palate. The city boasts approximately one restaurant for every 700 people–no small feat for a population of 6.8 million! For top-notch (and often trendy) dining, head uphill (or up the rush-hour escalator) to SoHo, which in Hong Kong translates to south of Hollywood Road. You’ll find a range of nouveau Asian cuisine, from Mongolian to Nepalese, with modern culinary twists and über-stylish restaurant interiors. Don’t rule out the prime people watching that goes down in these chic eateries.
The same can be said for bar hopping in Lan Kwai Fong, a happening nightlife district in the northern edge of SoHo as it drips downhill into Central. You never know just who you’re rubbing elbows with at the newest, hippest martini bar, English pub, or jazz club. For the truly hardcore partiers out there, take note: Some nightclubs in the area open on Friday evening and stay open around the clock through Sunday evening. All the same, it’s here that the city’s most recurring theme is realized: Locals work hard and play hard, and they certainly have the cash to support it.
Go Loony in Kowloon
Across the harbor, the pace doesn’t slow for a minute. Kowloon is home to Tsim Sha Tsui, the main tourist district, where many swanky hotels, museums, and tons of shopping await you–as well as fabulous views of Central’s skyline. Hop aboard the Star Ferry for a classic ride between Hong Kong and Kowloon’s bustling shores, offering unparalleled close-ups of Asia’s most beautiful and busiest harbor–the ride costs a mere HK$2.20. The ferry docks at an easy walking distance from the Kowloon promenade, where you’ll run into the wonderful Hong Kong Museum of Art, a postmodern structure with great exhibits on traditional and modern Chinese arts. Next door is the super-sleek Hong Kong Space Museum, where stargazers can set their sights on magnificent astronomy exhibits.
While you’re on the promenade, don’t miss spectacular views of Central across the water–breathtaking sights both by day and night. Stroll to the Peninsula Hotel to see the city’s most elite accommodations (and perhaps enjoy a drink in the elegant lobby bar), and then duck down Nathan Road for electronics bargain hunting. You’ll also pass a number of Indian tailors, renowned for their speedy, quality renderings of all your sartorial needs. Whether you’re in town on business or pleasure, hit the tailors for a brand-new, custom-made suit or other garments.
Eventually you’ll hit Kowloon Park, an odd plot of greenery and paved walkways containing serene meditation spots, an aviary, a flamingo pond (quite a surreal sight!), the Hong Kong Museum of History, and more delights. Past the hustle and bustle of southern Kowloon, you’ll hit the more traditional Chinese neighborhoods of Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok–the Kowloon equivalents of Sheung Wan–where you can indulge in authentic cultural treasures.
You might get overwhelmed on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon–it’s not difficult to see why. Luckily other points of interest offering more peace and quiet (relatively speaking, of course) beckon. If the beach calls your name, head to the south side of Hong Kong Island to Shek O or Repulse Bay. For a glimpse into the sleepy fishing village that once was the norm here, visit Aberdeen. But for Hong Kong Island’s true main attraction, ascend the tram to Victoria Peak (or, colloquially, the Peak), where a slice of lush serenity awaits.
Standing proudly at 1,750 feet, the Peak offers dazzling panoramic vistas of the cityscape, the mansions dotting the Mid-Levels leading up to the Peak, Victoria Harbour, Kowloon, the South China Sea, and the tons of tiny islands scattered throughout. Although there are bound to be tourists up there taking in the views, you can reclaim some solitude on one of the many looping hiking trails, accessible right near the Peak Station or the Peak Café. The trails, which vary in length, all tell stories of the island’s exotic flora, pointing out indigenous tree and flower species along the way–all the while reminding you that yes, you are on a tropical island, in case you forgot in the concrete jungle down below.
After relishing the natural environment and views of ant-like figures on the snarled streets below, cozy up with an excellent bloody Mary or gin and tonic (or sample the restaurant’s delicious fare) in the Peak Café before descending by tram. Others can browse the shops in the Peak Station visitor center and adjacent mini-mall before returning to Central, where the tram ride ends.
For an even more tranquil local experience, take a day trip to one of the Outlying Islands, several of which are accessible by ferry from Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Although Lamma Island is often lauded as the local gem, Lantau offers amazing hikes, unparalleled scenery, and the gorgeous Po Lin Monastery (above), home to a giant Buddha and the set of many martial-arts movies. It’s a place that raises a profound sense of shock when you realize that you’re only a little way across the harbor from the colossus that is Hong Kong proper.
Once you debark the ferry, you can take a bus up to Po Lin; the bus stop is directly across from the ferry building, and the ride takes about 40 minutes. The first sight you’ll undoubtedly see once you arrive at Po Lin is the enormous bronze Buddha (no exaggeration–the statue weighs 250 tons and stands over 100 feet tall). The Buddha sits in an equally large lotus flower, saluting visitors in a meditative pose from the top of a dramatically long, steep stairway. With jagged green peaks in the background and mountain mist swirling about, gazing upon the Buddha is an unequaled experience. The monastery itself is quite a sight to behold, with its colorfully and carefully rendered aesthetic. While non-Buddhist guests cannot attend services in the monastery, you’re certainly allowed to listen and watch from outside the building. The monastery offers free cups of tea, and for a nominal fee, you can enjoy a simple vegetarian meal.