Arriving in Hong Kong was like a breath of fresh air, which is a little funny considering the hazy atmosphere it is sometimes known for. However, after having just spent 3+ weeks in mainland China, it was a pleasure to find ourselves in a city where the culture felt a little closer to home. Gone were the barebellied gut slapping men, the cacophony of throat wretches, the impatient press of subway traffic, and the pervasive anxiety known as the ‘language-barrier’. Here was a place we could sink our teeth into.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region on the south coast of the People’s Republic of China. It is made up of many islands and also a small portion of mainland China known as the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. The two main urban areas of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, are separated by the Pearl River delta, creating a sort of valley between the mountainous skyscrapers and high-rises that mirror either side of the river. Riding the streetcar of Hong Kong during the day or at night is like trekking an urban canyon. Walls of buildings of both old and new architecture line streets that will have your head spinning as you try to take in all the sights up and down, left to right. Indeed, Hong Kong is itself a mystifying blend of old and new, east and west, gritty and beautiful. Its parks will make you think of New York, its streetcars San Francisco, and its palm trees Venice. But after awhile, you forget about what Hong Kong looks like, and start to accept what Hong Kong is… simply amazing.
Highlights of Hong Kong
The sights of Hong Kong are not as singularly substantial as cities like Beijing (The Great Wall) or Xi’an (Terra-cotta Warriors), however the city has more to offer than just its intrinsic awesomeness. The single greatest individual sight to see is the Big Buddha of Lantau Island. This Buddha was the largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha in the world prior to 2007. Its serene and dignified posture is a magnificent sight to take in as you climb the 268 steps to reach its base. Just getting to the Buddha offers an awesome experience as you can take a 20-minute cable car ride over the stunning peaks of Lantau Island.
While the Big Buddha may be the single greatest sight to see, the most important place to start your Hong Kong adventure is at Victoria Peak, where you can enjoy the amazing architecture of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from atop the mountain. Making your way down from the peak, you will find yourself in Admiralty, Central and Soho, the financial hearts of Hong Kong Island. In these neighbourhoods you will find all sorts of great restaurants, bars, shops, markets, and plenty of eye candy (architecture).
After spending a day moseying around the island, take the 2 HKD ($0.25 CND/USD) ferry across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon. Here you can get started by checking out the Hong Kong Museum of Fine Art before strolling up the Golden Mile, an avenue of stores catering to the rich and famous. Stop in Kowloon Park for a breather and a coffee from a nearby café, before heading east to the Hong Kong History Museum. This is a must see for anyone interested in really understanding where Hong Kong came from, and why Hong Kong is the city that it is today.
No matter where you go, Hong Kong has something to offer. If you like cheap knock-off goods, go to the Night Market in Kowloon. If you want to have a fancy drink, go to Soho. Interested in relaxing on a beach? Check out Repulse Bay. You won’t run out of things to see or do in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Over the years, Hong Kong has seen tremendous amounts of change both in its role in the region, and its shape on a map. Hong Kong started as a small Chinese fishing region, became a small port for the Portuguese, and then a massive port for the import of British supplied opium. It was due to this import of opium that China and England went to war three times before resulting in Hong Kong being ceded to the British, first in perpetuity, and then for 99 years.
During the British rule in Hong Kong, it became a major trading hub linking East and West, and developed into an economic powerhouse of wealth and trade. In the middle of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a battleground between Japanese and Allied forces, resulting in a Japanese takeover in 1941. Following the war, Hong Kong rebuilt itself, seeing a major influx of Chinese nationals seeking to escape the spread of Maoism in China. As a result of this sudden population increase, Hong Kong officials began land reclamation projects. Water was covered with land in order to create more space for residential and commercial development. As the 20th century came to a close, Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese bringing an end to British rule in the region.
Today, Hong Kong enjoys certain autonomy from Chinese rule, allowing it to maintain its free market trade, customs and laws. This has created what China refers to as the “one country, two systems” way of life that has sustained normalcy in the Hong Kong citizens’ way of life. As a result, Hong Kong continues to be a financial strength in the region, as well as a destination for Chinese nationals seeking more opportunity and freedoms.
Going forward, Hong Kong is still in desperate need of space to house its growing population. It is with great shock that we learned the Star Ferry that we took from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon will eventually no longer exist. This is because the Hong Kong government has finalized plans to build right across the Harbour, meaning the stretch of water that separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon will no longer exist. It will simply be more roads and high-rises.
With that in mind, it would be well worth it to visit Hong Kong sooner rather than later. Victoria Harbour is a sight known around the world. It will be a shame when it can no longer be seen and enjoyed by the millions of tourists that flock to Hong Kong each year. Regardless, nothing will change the fact that Hong Kong is truly a one-of-a-kind city in the world.
Have you been to Hong Kong? What has your experience been like and what would you recommend travelers to check out?