For the first time visitor, Hong Kong can seem overwhelming at first. Yet, the tightly-packed sidewalks teeming with people, the streets and alleyways darting this way and that, the seemingly endless stream of neon signage and the snail’s pace traffic on the roadways, are all part of the charm of one of Asia’s most dynamic and adventure-filled cities.
When the British first arrived in 1841, Hong Kong was little more than a backwater made up of about 20 villages and hamlets at the outer edge of the massive Chinese empire. For the British trading fleet looking to expand their own empire, the deep, well-protected harbor made it perfect to settle in and set up shop.
At that time, the local Cantonese called the area hÃ¨ung-gÃ¡wng or fragrant harbor, so named after the large number of sandalwood incense factories located around the island filled sea port.
Needless to say, things have changed considerably since then. Now, as one of Asia’s major business hubs, and even home to a Disneyland, Hong Kong considers itself the heart of South Asia and deservedly so.
The area is broken up into five distinct districts. Farthest north are the New Territories, where you can find an interesting mix of farming towns, industrial areas and some of the most densely-populated city centers in all of the world. Heading south from there is Hong Kong Island, the heart of the financial center, as well as home to the iconic skyline of mega skyscrapers and the area’s famed shopping districts.
Then there is Kowloon, a peninsula that juts south from Hong Kong island and is the most populous district in the region with its mix of residential neighborhoods and bustling street markets. Lantau, which is the largest of Hong Kong’s islands is famed for its natural beauty, including the area’s highest peaks and best beaches.
And finally, there are the Outlying Islands that range from densely populated residential areas to barren rock outcroppings emerging up from out of the sea.
Hong Kong has four distinct seasons and depending on the time of year, the temperatures can range from from 9°C to 24°C during winter, and from 26°C to 33°C during summer. Those looking to escape southeast Asia’s otherwise humid tropical climate will enjoy visiting in the cooler months from January until March.
No matter which area you choose to visit, or if you choose to visit them all, Hong Kong is a must stop on your travel itinerary to Asia and serves as a great hub for heading to Southeast Asia’s wealth of great travel destinations.
Two to Do
The Peak is one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong offering spectacular views of the surrounding city skyline, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon with its mix of towering skyscrapers and peaceful green hillsides.
Getting to the top of The Peak on the tram is actually one of the most exciting highlights of the day. The Peak tram, which has been in operation since the 1880′s climbs 368 meters on a steep incline and is not for the faint of heart â or stomach.
Also check out The Peak Tram museum while you’re there. Opened in 2007, there is a great historical gallery divided into 15 theme sections that take you back through the long history of Hong Kong as a major port in Southeast Asian history. For more info check out www.thepeak.com.hk
Location: MTR Central Station Exit J3 tel. 2849-0668 Hours: 10am-11pm Mon-Fri, 8am-11pm Sat, Sun & public holidays
One of the staples for Hong Kong tourists is the shopping. The street markets, such as the Temple Street Night Market, the Ladies Market, Jardine’s Crescent and Li Yuen Street Market are as fun for people-watching as they are for picking up great deals on just about anything you can imagine.
At the Temple Street Night Market, don’t be surprised if you come across an impromptu performance of Chinese opera. There are also clusters of fortune tellers at the Yau Ma Tei end of the street if you are curious about your future prospects.
Each of the markets in Hong Kong has its own particular charm where hidden treasures await to be uncovered. Perhaps most important, don’t be afraid to haggle with the vendors. Expect to pay much less than the first offer. If you pay full price, you yourself might become part of local lore.
Try the Half Day Walking Tour. It starts at Prince Edward MTR station Exit B1. Departs Daily at 2pm. Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes
Hush Bar & Lounge
G/F, 2 Glenealy, Central, Hong Kong
G/F, 60 Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong
tel. 2810 8199
Basement, 38-44 D’Aguilar St, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong
tel. 2810 1272
Atmosphere: Dance Chic
Basement, On Lok Mansion, 39-43 Hollywood Rd, Central, Hong Kong
tel. 2543 8856
Atmosphere: Famously Hip
Tazmania Ballroom – Pool Hall Lounge Club
1/F LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Citizens of Hong Kong have the distinction of dining out more than any other people in the world. There is a wide selection of local cuisine and just about every kind of international fare is available as well.
A trip to Hong Kong without trying Dim Sum would simply be a crime. Dim Sum, which literally translates to touching your heart, comes in a dizzying array that would take several restaurant visits just to try them all. Our favorites include, fried squid with spicy salt, stuffed green pepper with minced shrimp and hot almond steam soup, just to name a few.
Rude Food: Luk Yu Teahouse
If you are in the Central District, stop in to Luk Yu Teahouse. First opened in 1933, the restaurant’s colonial facade and art deco interior have made it a popular backdrop in both movies and literature. Be prepared though, the service is notoriously bad and the wait staff can come off as a bit intimidating to first time customers, but that has become part of the legend.
The fact that Luk Yu rhymes with the popular term of disparagement in English comes as no surprise as you may want to whip the phrase out from time to time. But just slam another beer and go with the flow. The food is worth it all.
A dim sum meal will run you about $15USD a person and the experience is priceless.
Luk Yu Teahouse, G/F-3/F, 24 Stanley Street, +852 2523 5464. Open daily, 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.; dim sum is available until 4 p.m.