Hong Kong is a city that offers an eclectic mix of sights and sounds that make for a perfect getaway.
For someone like me a window seat in a flight is a must as I always love to look out of the window to see how a city looks like from the top. And my visit to Hong Kong was no different and to my amazement I was rewarded with views of an azure hued ocean interspersed with boats and ships and framed beautifully by green mountains. As I was gawking at the beautiful postcard imagery I realized quickly that was going to be the perfect precursor to my trip to this developed island nation.
When I was at the airport, a book on Central Hong Kong caught my attention at the tourism kiosk and I instantly knew that this is where I had to start my exploration of the city. Central is the business district of the city and is home to skyscrapers and glitzy malls. However my interest was in old town Central that can be accessed via foot through its steep windy roads that have several gems waiting to be discovered. My first stop was at city’s oldest temple Man Mo Temple built between 1847 and 1862 by wealthy Chinese merchants. The temple has been set up for the worship of Mo Tai the God of Martial Arts and Man Cheong the God of Literature. The temple is quaint and what is unmissable is the circular incense sticks that hang from the ceilings. The temple is designed using traditional Chinese vernacular architecture. It is exquisitely decorated with ceramic figurines, granite and wood carvings, plaster mouldings and murals all examples of fine, traditional craftsmanship. When you are here stop at Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station Compound that is home to some of the oldest buildings in Central like the Barrack Block which was built between 1862 and 1864. After an extensive revitalization project, the site reopened with 16 heritage buildings still standing. While the exteriors have been restored to much of their original splendor, the interiors are adapted into galleries, exhibition spaces, shops, bars and restaurants. Also check out Pottinger Street named after Sir Henry Pottinger, the first Governor of Hong Kong, is one of the oldest streets in Central and has irregular stone slabs and a series of granite steps designed for pedestrians and merchants to walk. The area is dotted with street art, murals and graffiti that make the entire area a riot of colour and there are boards that mention the artists who have created the paintings too.
Sights & Sounds
The trams of Hong Kong are legendary and a must see is the 125 year old Peak Tram. The Peak Tram Historical Gallery here has more than 200 memorabilia exhibited in 15 theme sections and gives you a peek into Hong Kong in the 19th and 21st century. The 373 meter long Peak Tram takes you to the Victoria Peak with a stunning bird’s eye view of the island. This old funicular railway with antique tracks, colonial arches and lush forests will take you to the Sky Terrace the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong at 428 metres above sea level. The Madame Tussauds wax museum is also located in the same building. Another recommended activity here is a visit to the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter an old traditional fishing village where you can take a ride on a sampan, a local boat. There are only a few fisherman currently who do this and the Aberdeen Harbour was the place where the British first arrived in Hong Kong. If you are hard pressed for time, take a rode on the Rickshaw Open Top Bus, that stops at some major hotspots of the city like Hollywood Road, Peel Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Wyndham, Ladder Street, Queen Street near Ginseng & Bird’s Nest Street, Duddell Street gas lamps and The Monument In Commemoration Of The Return Of Hong Kong To China and a running commentary will explain all the spots here.
If you love shopping, Hong Kong has a whole lot of options from high street fashion to malls to local shops. Causeway Bay is the heart of all the retail glitz and glamour with addresses like Japanese department store Sogo, Times Square, Hysan Place, World Trade Centre, Windsor House and Lee Gardens. If you are looking for authentic souvenirs, Stanley market in the quaint village of Stanley on the south coast is the place to be. This is where you can buy good jewellery, home furnishings, souvenirs, ornaments and Oriental knick-knacks, chop sticks and paintings. If you are looking for souvenirs and small knick knacks, head to the Ladies Market that has a long row of small makeshift shops on both sides of the road where you can shop for clothes, bags, jewellery and accessories. There is a lot of scope for bargaining here so make sure you have those skills ready. Also stop at Kee Wah Bakery that was founded in 1938 and has some amazing moon cakes and egg tarts.
Hong Kong is a fun destination for the family and has a number of amusement parks and entertainment zones that are a must see. One among them is the Ocean Park where you can experience a whole lot of adventure activities. The Park has two major areas namely the Waterfront and the Summit and has eight attraction zones like the Whiskers Harbour, Marine World, Polar Adventure, Adventure Land, Amazing Asian Animals, Aqua City, Thrill Mountain and the Rainforest. While there are several rides that you can enjoy like the Mine Train, Raging River, Hair Raiser, Bumper Blaster, Bungee Trampoline and The Flash there is an extensive animal interaction program at the Park. You can see animals like penguins, Pacific walruses, spotted seals, Arctic Fox Den, Northern sea lions, Steller sea lions and snowy owls. The Park also has several restaurants that are a must see for the taste of the local food of the region. Hong Kong is a potpourri of experiences that will ensure that you return with memories of a lifetime.
- Travelling within Hong Kong is very easy as there are a number of options from taxis to public transport. However it is best to commute via the sub urban metro which has an extensive network that connects all parts of the city. Download the MTR App on your phone when you are here.
- Carry HKD or Hong Kong Dollars (approximately 1 HKD is just under Rs. 10) when you are here as some of the local markets prefer cash payments.
- Hong Kong has several hotels and you can also stay at the very plush Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott Hotel at Ocean Park which is great if you are travelling with family.
This story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Smartlife magazine here: