As soon as someone utters the word Hong Kong, images of a neon lit, sky scrapper dominated, crowded-city conjures your mind.
It’s true, that’s a very popular representation of the Asian metropolis where every year over 40 million visitors arrive. Many are business, travelers, Hong Kong being the commercial capital of the continent, but this cosmopolitan metropolis is no less important to the leisure minded who are keen for an exotic vacation at a high energy destination touted in the tourism circuit as a chaotic sanctuary of fashion and contemporary lifestyle.
Dotted at the south-eastern tip of China, Hong Kong covers Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories plus another 260 odd outlying islands. Between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula lies the famous Victoria Harbor, celebrated as one of the planets most fascinating waterway. This region was once part of the Chinese empire, but became a British colony in 1842 as a direct result of the 19th century Opium War. The union between East and West then began and Hong Kong grew up as one of the top cities in the world, earning names such as “New York of the East” and “Melting Pot of East and West”. In 1997 powers were handed back to China and the region now lives as one of its Special Administrative Region.
The political shuffle hasn’t much changed the traditional image of Hong Kong, other than Red Flags flying on poles instead of the Union Jack. The British roots are explicitly noticeable everywhere. The Queen Victoria’s eminent statue still grace at the Victoria Park, the former British Governor’s House has become home of the current head of state and names of roads and sites like Robinson Road and Admiralty have remained unchanged to keep the colonial legacy alive.
“The changeover only reminds a westernized regime its oriental background”, tells a local businessman. His remark made some sense to me when noticed things like, suited- booted people praying inside temple premises, mahjong being played at social clubs, ducks bursting their neck in restaurant windows, laundry hanging from modern apartment balconies and old fashioned wooden-oriental boats faring the water back dropping an avant-garde metropolis surrounded with routine features that you expect in the West.
Hong Kong is often referred as the epitome of luxury. It became obvious to me as I walked into the opulent lobby of Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel. The experience was no different when later moved at the Island Shangri- La Hotel. Both of these properties are star marks on the Hong Kong accommodation scene along with few others like the Peninsula, Mandarin and Langham where many of the guests arrive in Rolls Royce or Bentleys for an exclusive stay in the city to do business or for a stylish holiday.
For leisure travelers this exciting destination is full of endless opportunities with retail therapy and culinary exploration ranking at the top.
As the destination grew up as a trading hub, buying and selling is in its bloodstream and this element has eventually turned it into a haven for outside shoppers for an incredible variety of goods. Several glittering and impressive shopping malls like the Landmark, Pacific Place, Time Square, Harbour City and Sogo joined by an ensemble of local street bazaars dominate the shopping arena, both heavily crowded with visitors and locals as well, filling in bags with merchandise ranging from voguish apparel, trendy leather goods, high end fashion and beauty products, jewellery and watches and latest electronic goods to cheap and counterfeit but still dazzling products from China. Some of the themed open air markets such as the Flower Market, Jade Market, Gold Fish Market and the Birds Market are wonderful spots to feel the din and bustle of a lively trading environment.
The city boasts of over 11000 eating joints, flagging that no one perhaps eats at home. Right from early hours of the morning till late at night street stalls, cafes and restaurants and tea drinking houses are packed with people eating congee, rice noodles, dim sums, seafood ,hot-pot meat or drinking Chinese tea with delicious egg tarts. You will find these culinary hubs throughout the city, but some of the best are located in the Tsim Sha Sui, Soho, Central, Causeway Bay and Stanley districts of the city. As expected the city also offers several stylish and classy restaurants serving best of local and international cuisine, the Michelin 3-star rated Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel , Michelin two star rated Shang Pace at Kowloon Shangri- La Hotel and the Lobster Bar and Grill at Island Shangri- La Hotel are popular among luxury inspired diners.
Though retail therapy and food sampling are ranked high in order, don’t totally ignore savoring some the city’s other appeals that can be equally fascinating; hiking up to the top of Victoria Peak for a spectacular island view, rediscovering Hong Kong through the windows of a double-deck tramcar and cruising the grand Victoria Harbor are the few considered as “must do”.
And if time permits have a wander along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade in Kowloon for a dazzling view of the Hong Kong skyline with tranquil waters of the busy Victoria Harbor bridging the two. There you will walk along the Avenue of Stars, modeled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but with stars from the local film industry. A key attraction of the promenade during evening time is watching the Symphony of Lights, a nightly multimedia show which involves illuminating more than 40 buildings both sides of the harbor.
Getting There: One option is to fly Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) from major Indian cities direct to Hong Kong
Accommodation: There are no shortage of hotels to choose from but the two Shangri-La Hotels (www.shangri-la.com) offer extraordinary luxury and utmost convenience at reasonable prices.
Getting Around: Metered taxis are cheap and easily available, however using the efficient underground rail system (MRT) is the best option for fast and comfortable journey between destinations. The stations are well sign posted for visitor convenience.
More Info: www.discoverhongkong.com