Hong Kong – “Fragrance Harbour” earned its name from the sweet waters of the Pearl River and the scent emanating from the incense factories of north Kawloon
Hong Kong is one of two special administrative regions (SARs) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In case you are wondering, the ‘other’ China is Republic of China, also known as Taiwan. This subtropical region is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and home to over 7 million people. Chinese roots with influences from its time as a British colony can be felt here and by no surprise it is the centre of “East meets West”. Hong Kong will enjoy its civil liberties and independent judiciary system until 2047, before it is fully integrated into the PRC. Hong Kong main areas include Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and over 200 islands, of which the largest is Lantau Island. We had an opportunity to visit just a few.
We took a day trip from New Territories to check out the peninsula north of Hong Kong Island. We decided to explore it starting with Tsim Sha Tsui just north of the famous Victoria Harbour. After exploring the Kowloon pier area with its fantastic view of Hong Kong Island and checking out such eye candy as Salisbury Garden, Clock Tower and Avenue of the Stars we decided to venture into the heart of Kowloon. We took a recommended discovery walk via Kowloon Park, Shanghai Street, Temple Street to meet one of the most humbling Buddhist temples, followed by Jade Market (in Chinese characters Jade means (beauty and purity) where hundreds of artisans create art with the predominantly green mineral stone that signifies long life and good health in Chinese culture. We finished the day with Niko’s favourite; the Goldfish market which is a series of stores selling every exotic fish imaginable. Apparently, the Chinese are big fans of this relaxing hobby. Some sources say China was first to enjoy fish for ornamental purposes. This tradition dates back to ancient Song Dynasty 1000 AD.
Kowloon is very loud and crowded with overwhelming views of densely concentrated architecture. The skyline is predominantly taken over by high-rise apartment buildings which are not very aesthetically pleasing. We did however like the inexpensive food and free wi-fi offered by the city. If you are a fan of Chinese cuisine, this is the place to be. There are over 6000 Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong!
We ventured to the island with the inexpensive MTR (Hong Kong has one of the most developed public transportation systems we have ever experienced) to see the Giant Buddha, the world’s tallest outdoor bronze Buddha. The ride up was the key attraction as we took the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car ride to the top of the mountain.
There, we climbed many steps to gaze at the serene Buddha. From there you can see the Po Lin Monastery, home to many Buddhist monks. The temple was just mesmerizing.
We truly loved the serenity, traditional dome-shaped structures (stupas) and zen-like atmosphere of the colourful surroundings mixed with the smell of the burning incense. In Beijing we learned that burning incense not only signifies ‘yin’ energies of the dead, but was also used as a timekeeping device. No wonder people can experience liberation and awakening in such surroundings.
Hong Kong Island
After Kowloon and Lantau Island, we decided to spend a day at the heart of it all, Hong Kong Island. This island was the original colony of the Brits. The colonial influence is felt much more here than in the other parts of Hong Kong. It is the most Western part of Hong Kong with many expatriates and tourists who seemed somehow hidden in the other part of the region. We found it very eclectic, with modern influences of world’s best boutiques, brands, global financial and business superpowers mingled between obscure apartment buildings. It is quite clear that space is worth more than gold here. We looked at some real estate listings and noticed we could get a 500 sq ft apartment for a measly million $ CAD dollars. No wonder, the architecture is so overwhelmingly vertical.
The only way to fully comprehend the size of the city’s skyline is to take one of the world’s oldest cable cars built 1888 to the top of Victoria Peak. The view up here was quite spectacular of the skyscraper canyons, green mountains and the harbour. It was definitely worth the visit before our flight to Beijing.
There are other kid-friendly attractions we didn’t have a chance to explore include Ocean Park, Hong Kong Disneyland and Madame Tussaud. Perhaps next time. It is of no surprise to us that Hong Kong with its many attractions and versatile culture is the number one tourist destination in Asia. It’s definitely worth the visit.
Toronto TTC, take notice:
It is possible to have a well-developed, affordable transit system in one of the largest cities in the world. It costs $10US to get from Hong Kong downtown to the airport in 25 minutes with a high-speed train called Airport Express. Also, we found the MTR very kid friendly with elevators, making travel with a stroller much easier.
What’s your take on Hong Kong? Have you been, are you planning a visit? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks!