Kong: Lived it, Loved it.
Elaine Weeks, photos Chris Edwards
Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong
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the Hong Kong slide show!
Hong Kong Tourism Board’s slogan says, Hong Kong: Live it.
Love it! In September, we spent a memorable week living and loving
this land of intriguing contrasts.
hardest part of any great trip is when it’s over. The second
hardest part is when you realize you’ve only got one day left.
on jumbo prawns and cold Chinese beer at an idyllic seaside café
on Lamma Island, Chris and I were almost feeling nostalgic as we
savoured the last few hours of what had truly been a fantastic week
in Hong Kong. Our goal of mixing business with pleasure had been
more than fulfilled. Our book, “Best of The Times Magazine,”
was being printed in China, and we had attended to technical matters;
but we also were able to enjoy an adventure that rivaled some of
our best journeys taken before the advent of careers and children.
avid off-the-beaten-path travelers (we spent a year traveling around
the world for our honeymoon), we hadn’t had the chance to
enjoy much exotic travel over the last 14 years. For this trip the
kids had opted to stay home, not wanting to miss the first days
back to school, so we were once again, on our own. It was almost
like old times.
managed to pack a lot into our stay here in this fascinating city.
It hadn’t taken us long to deduce that Hong Kongers have two
main pastimes: eating and shopping. Oh, and talking on their cell
phones (O.K. – that’s three). Everyone has a cell and
they work everywhere – subway, elevators, you name it; the
kids wear them around their necks on a chain and they double as
audio players. We soon found ourselves following their lead; we
shopped and ate to our hearts content. The only thing missing was
the cute little phone.
early evening, streets in Hong Kong teem with people hurrying to
and from stores, restaurants, outdoor markets and food stalls. Over
the course of the week, we discovered that salty giant shrimp washed
down with a cold Chinese beer at the popular Temple Market in Kowloon,
an outdoor night shopping mecca, is definitely worth a repeat performance.
And every dim sum stall we sampled was better than the last.
generally not the tour group type, we had heard that Hong Kong discovery
tours are a great way to gain one’s bearings in this city
of nearly 7 million. On our first day, we hopped a tour bus guided
by Roger, a local with a charming British accent, who was a font
of information. We soon found ourselves perched atop the world-famous
Victoria Peak, an ideal vantage point for a spectacular and much-photographed
panorama of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, across the bustling harbour.
Unfortunately, a hazy day (air pollution drifting in from China,
according to Roger) meant our view was not as awe inspiring as it
should have been, but the magnificent skyline still captivated us.
had ascended Victoria Peak aboard the Peak Tram, Hong Kong’s
famous funicular railway, which began operation in May 1888 and
has served Hong Kong for well over a century. It was a lark taking
this vintage tram up the steep slope and experiencing the bizarre
sensation of standing at a 45-degree angle.
Kong is Cantonese for “fragrant harbor,” a name inspired
either by the incense factories that once dotted Hong Kong Island
or by the profusion of scented pink bauhinias, the national flower
(whose representation has recently replaced colonial insignias).
a fishing village, Hong Kong was no more than an outport when it
came under British rule in 1841. Today, there are hundreds of skyscrapers
that span Victoria Harbour as far as the eye can see. As we gaze
through the haze at these canyons of concrete and glass, we find
it difficult to picture the Hong Kong that was. But later, when
we explore the city’s “canyons,” we discover pockets
of Hong Kong that are stuck in time.
its deep British roots, with street names such as Nathan Road, daily
high tea at the colonial Peninsula Hotel and double-decker buses,
Hong Kong clings to its Chinese roots. This makes it an ideal gateway
for western travelers hoping to experience Chinese culture, as English
is spoken everywhere.
Two International Finance dominates the Hong Kong side of
the harbour and is the 9th tallest building in the world.
China is home to almost half of the world’s 20 tallest
towers and high-rise buildings – most built with bamboo
attraction with visitors and locals alike is the mesmerizing “Symphony
of Lights.” Since May of this year, hundreds of people have
been lining Kowloon’s waterfront for a spectacle worth seeing
again and again. At eight every night, 18 buildings on the Hong
Kong side (35 more will be added soon) come alive with searchlights
and coloured lasers. The buildings’ façades are festooned
with complicated neon lighting that constantly changes colour. One
of the larger buildings even has the number three, a lucky number
for the Chinese, running up its side in lights.
twenty minutes, many of the buildings keep their neon switched on
after the show ends. A great place to watch the lights is from the
bar of the ultra-chic Inter-Continental Hotel in Kowloon, while
enjoying a cocktail and listening to live jazz. Taking a cruise
on the ridiculously cheap “Star” ferries is another
splendid way to experience the scene (for less than 40 cents!).
waterfront promenade in Kowloon has recently been transformed into
“Avenue of the Stars.” A lighted path of embedded stars
leads the way to the hand and footprints of local film actors and
directors, including Jackie Chan – of course.
Kong is geographically compact and boasts one of the world’s
most efficient, safe, affordable public transport systems.
subway system is impressive, clean, efficient and extremely high-tech,
as is the bullet train from the new airport. This airport, built
on an island reclaimed from the sea since land is so scarce, replaced
the harbour airport, once rated by travelers as one of the most
exhilarating landings in the world.
and double-decker buses are plentiful on both sides of the harbour
and while taxi drivers are admonished to take the shortest route
to a destination, we realized on our return trip to the airport
train terminal from our hotel, that our first taxi driver had taken
us for some extra sight-seeing.
Kong Island’s double-decker trams aren’t fast, but if
you’re not in a hurry, they’re a cheap and fantastically
fun way to experience ‘old’ Hong Kong. Try to get a
seat at the front window upstairs for a first-class view.
A fleet of Star ferries whisks passengers across Hong Kong
harbour forless than 40 cents Cdn – a superb way to
experience the mesmerizing “Symphony of Lights”
on the skyline.
on the Star Ferries across the narrow harbour between Kowloon and
Hong Kong Island gave us a sense of what it must have been like
when ferries crisscrossed the Detroit River. The Star Ferries even
looked like the ferry steamers operated by the Detroit-Windsor ferry
most of the time we simply walked. Hong Kong Tourism provides an
excellent guide to walks in the city and region, and the maps and
descriptions are very accurate.
must-see attraction is the Giant Buddah on Lantau Island. About
230 islands belong to the territory of Hong Kong; Lantau Island
is the biggest. It has very attractive mountain scenery (the highest
mountain is Lantau Peak with 934 meters) and an impressive rocky
coastline with pretty white beaches.
Elaine dwarfed by idols guarding the world’s largest
bronze seated Buddha on Lantau Island.
visitors, though, travel to Lantau io visit the Po Lin Monastery
and its main attraction, the 34 m. high giant outdoor Buddha statue,
weighing 250 tons. You have to climb a lot of stairs to reach the
platform but it is worth the effort; the scenery is magnificent.
The male and female monks of Po Lin provided an excellent vegetarian
lunch at a very moderate price.
is definitely one of the best reasons to visit Hong Kong. The contrast
between the old world markets and designer boutiques provides variety
and excitement to any shopping day.
popular shopping area is on the Hong Kong side of the harbour with
its stepped “ladder” streets. Cat Street bazaar is best
known for stalls and shops selling antiques, such as watches, old
coins and stone carvings. Due to proximity, we preferred the Temple
Street Night market in Kowloon.
pollution is a big concern for anyone staying in the area for more
than a few days. Even though weaned on Windsor’s foul air,
we found conditions far worse in Hong Kong. In fact, during our
stay, the pollution index hit a whopping 201! Thanks to a strong
wind, we did enjoy a respite for a couple of days, and the views
continues to be top of mind for Hong Kongers. Last year’s
outbreak sent the area’s tourism business into a tailspin;
with so many people packed into a very small area of land, serious
steps have been taken to prevent another epidemic. The tourism business
seems to have recovered from the SARS outbreak, according to reports,
and many hotels are back to almost full occupancy.
Kong’s 7 million people are jammed into a very compact area;
the non-stop stream of pedestrians and the sea of taxis, double-decker
busses and private cars (usually luxury vehicles), while initially
both exciting and disconcerting to the uninitiated visitor, starts
to wear a little thin very quickly. Especially since it feels like
the locals have a habit of walking straight into you.
on our final day in Hong Kong, we took a relaxing ferry to Lamma
Island, less than a 1/2 hour trip from bustling Hong Kong, yet seemingly
worlds away. Popular with expats and locals alike, we enjoyed some
beach time, a long hike through the hills and then a wonderful meal
of chili garlic giant prawns overlooking the harbour.
course, there were plenty of shops to browse, which offered everything
from Chinese artifacts to clothing to kitschy souvenirs. One of
the best things about visiting this laid-back island was that there
were no cars, trucks or taxis – a welcome relief from the
frenetic pace in Hong Kong.
we relaxed at Lamma’s charming seaport reminiscing about similar
cafes we’d visited throughout the world, we reflected on our
tour of this great city, which is a perfect blend of east meets
west, and highly recommended for those who want a taste of Asia
without sacrificing the comforts and familiarity of home. Before
we left, we decided that a return engagement in Hong Kong was a
that end, we purchased a pair of good luck money dragons in the
Temple market. And even if they don’t help, they look great
on the mantle and are a wonderful reminder of a fantastic journey.
the Hong Kong slide show!