Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the other being Macau. Nestled between the South China Sea and mainland China, Hong Kong is tiny with a total area of around 450 square miles, composed of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and over 200 offshore islands, of which the largest is Lantau Island. When you first visit Hong Kong, it will blow you away. If you have seen New York and think that it is the tallest skyline, think again. Hong Kong has more 35m, 100m and 150m buildings than any city in the world. More people work above the 14th floor than in any city in the world. There are over 7 million people in Hong Kong, and over 90% of them travel by public transport, one of the world’s highest. The infrastructure is there to support this, whether travelling on underwater tunnels, over water suspension bridges, mountain-side escalators, hill climbing trams, valleys spanning cable cars, rush hour buses and quick stop taxis. The roads themselves are extremely well maintained.
Once you get over your dizziness, and start to explore, Hong Kong immediately pulls you in with its British “High-tea” charm and Chinese “Enter the Dragon” culture. A perfect blend of East and West, old colonial buildings, biscuits and tea and bespoke suits share the space equally with lantern-lit temples, dumplings and noodles and Chinese doulis. Begin by taking the peak tram, the fastest route from Central district to Victoria Peak covering a distance of about 1.4 kilometres and a height difference of just under 400 metres. At the top take in the view of Hong Kong and rid yourself of all remaining acrophobia. Another excellent way to view the city is by taking the 7 minute journey on the Star Ferry from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, crossing Victoria Harbor. Founded in 1888 by Parsee merchant Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, it is always on the must do lists for tourists. Once on the Kowloon side, turn around and witness the light show extravaganza, put on at 8 every night from the Hong Kong side.
Hong Kong might be known for its financial prowess and its skyscrapers, but amidst the fast paced, work, eat, shop, life, there is still time to follow one’s faith.
Start with a visit to the extremely peaceful Chi Lin Nunnery, a large Buddhist temple complex located in Diamond Hill, Kowloon. The temple halls have statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the goddess of mercy Guanyin and other bodhisattvas. The main building is the world’s largest building to be constructed without nails. The Nan Lian Garden is a Chinese Classical Garden adjoining the nunnery and is designed in the Tang Dynasty-style with hills, water features, trees, rocks and wooden structures. The golden pavilion in the middle is a must see. Not too far from the nunnery is the Sik Sik Yeun Wong Tai Sin Temple. Wong Tai Sin is a Chinese deity popular in Hong Kong with the power of healing. Myth says that every wish can be realised for those who visit the temple and make a plea to the gods. You can also have your fortune told through Kau Cim, the practice of using fortune sticks. Take one and visit one of the many fortune tellers in the temple. A day trip to Lantau island is another highly recommended must do. Change two trains to get to Tung Chung in Lantau and then take the 5.7 km Ngong Ping 360 glass-bottomed cable car ride over Lantau’s lush valleys to Ngong Ping, home to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha.
The monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu and was initially known simply as “The Big Hut”. The main temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives – as well as many Buddhist scriptures. Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, is a large bronze statue of a Buddha, completed in 1993, and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. While the area has been developed as a major tourist attraction, peel away the over-priced hawkers, and the American fast food joints and you are left standing in serenity.
If skyscrapers and temples are not your cup of tea, and you’d much rather be shopping for chopsticks and eating with one than using fortune sticks, then hit one of the many street markets in Hong Kong.
Most are in the Kowloon peninsula, the Ladies Market, the Night Market, the Gold Fish Market, the Bird Market and the extremely large Flower market.
The Electronics market and Sports goods market are more stores than markets but you can find all the latest equipment. Hong Kong is also home to over 50 Michelin rated restaurants and the easiest and most economical way to get a taste is at Din Tai Fung. Started in Taiwan, but the Hong Kong branches now have a Michelin Star.
Hong Kong is Asia’s World City. The moniker might have been self proclaimed, but once you visit, you can’t find reasons to debate it.
Journey Dates: January 7th – January 22nd 2012
Travelers: Shwetha Shrivatsa, Anika Raja, Radha Shrivatsa, CR Shrivatsa, Jyothi Karthik Raja