Hong Kong is complex. On the surface it seems that every building is a sculpture of glass and steel and every pedestrian is hurrying to a meeting. But look past the shiny new surfaces to the ancient culture that gives the city an exotic flavor and its citizens a unique outlook.
Shopping, eating, drinking—Central lives up to its name when it comes to all of these. But it’s also Hong Kong’s historical heart, packed with architectural reminders of the early colonial days. They’re in stark contrast to the soaring masterpieces of modern architecture that the city is famous for. Somehow the mishmash works. With the harbor on one side and Victoria Peak on the other, Central’s views—once you get high enough to see them—are unrivaled. It’s the liveliest district, packed with people, sights, and life
Just across the harbor from Central, there’s street upon street of hardcore consumerism in every imaginable guise. But there’s much more to the Kowloon Peninsula than rock-bottom prices and goods of dubious provenance. Island residents rarely venture here—their loss, because Kowloon’s dense, gritty urban fabric is the backdrop for Hong Kong’s best museums and most interesting spiritual sights.
A decade of manic development has seen Lantau become much more than just “the place where the Buddha is.” There’s a mini-theme park at Ngong Ping to keep the Buddha company. Not to be outdone, Disney has opened a park and resort on the northeast coast. And, of course, there’s the airport, built on a massive north coast reclamation. At 55 square mi, Lantau is almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island, so there’s room for all this development and the laid-back attractions—beaches, fishing villages, and hiking trails—that make the island a great getaway.
Rustic villages, incense-filled temples, green hiking trails, pristine beaches—the New Territories have a lot to offer. Until a generation ago, the region was mostly farmland with the occasional walled village. Today, thanks to a government housing program that created “new towns” like Sha Tin and Tuen Mun with up to 500,000 residents, parts of the region are more like the rest of Hong Kong. Within its expansive 518 square km (200 square mi), however, you’ll still feel far removed from urban congestion and rigor. It’s here where you can visit the area’s lushest parks and sneak glimpses into traditional rural life in the restored walled villages and ancestral clan halls.
For all the unrelenting urbanity of Hong Kong Island’s north coast, its south side consists largely of green hills and a few residential areas around picturesque bays. With beautiful sea views, real estate is at a premium; some of the Hong Kong’s wealthiest residents live in beautiful houses and luxurious apartments here. Southside is a breath of fresh air—literally and figuratively. The people are more relaxed, the pace is slower, and there are lots of sea breezes.
Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Points East
A few blocks back from the convention center and various office blocks in Wan Chai are crowded alleys where you might stumble across a wet market, a tiny furniture-maker’s shop, or an age-old temple. Farther east, Causeway Bay pulses with Hong Kong’s best shopping streets and hundreds of restaurants. At night, the whole area comes alive with bars, restaurants, and discos, as well as establishments offering some of Wan Chai’s more traditional services (think red lights and photos of semi-naked women outside). The island’s far eastern districts—Shau Kei Wan, North Point, Quarry Bay, and Chai Wan—are all undeniable parts of the “real” Hong Kong, which means they’re full of offices, apartment blocks, and factories.
Western has been called Hong Kong Island’s Chinatown, and though it’s a strange-sounding epithet, there’s a point to it. The area is light years from the dazzle and bustle of Central, despite being just down the road. And although developers are making short work of the traditional architecture, Western’s colonial buildings, rattling trams, old-world medicine shops, and lively markets still recall bygone times.
Hong Kong Sights
To stand on the tip of Kowloon Peninsula and look out across the harbor to the full expanse of the Hong Kong Island skyline is to see the triumph of ambition over fate. Whereas it took Paris and London 10 to 20 generations to build the spectacular cities seen today, and New York 6, in Hong Kong almost everything you see was built in the time since today’s young investment bankers were born.
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are divided both physically and psychologically by Victoria Harbour. On Hong Kong Island, the central city stretches only a few kilometers south into the island before mountains rise up, but the city goes several more kilometers north into Kowloon. In the main districts and neighborhoods, luxury boutiques are a stone’s throw away from old hawker stalls, and a modern, high-tech horse-racing track isn’t far from a temple housing over 10,000 buddhas.
West of Hong Kong Island lie several islands, including Lantau—home to Disney and the Tian Tan Buddha—which is connected via a suspension bridge to west Kowloon. Kowloon’s southern tip is the mall-, market-, and museum-filled Tsim Sha Tsui district. Northeast are several New Kowloon districts, beyond which lie in the eastern New Territories—mostly made up of mountainous country parks and fishing villages.
Hong Kong Restaurant Reviews
Stand your ground when faced with a barrage of 16-stroke Chinese characters. Don’t flee from the gruesome goose hanging in the window or wince at the steaming cauldron of innards, the swinging knots of gnarled intestine, or the rows of webbed duck feet that announce the corner restaurant’s offerings. If you do, you’ll find that your meal will taste better than anything at the western-theme restaurant or pan-Chinese chain down the street.
Besides losing your culinary inhibitions, what’s the best way to have a memorable meal in Hong Kong? First, choose a restaurant that’s full rather than empty. Then check out what’s on everyone else’s plate. Don’t be shy about pointing to an interesting dish at your neighbor’s table. This is often the best way to order, as many local specialties don’t appear on the English version of the menu.
Whether Cantonese, traditional Italian or French, or celebrity-chef chic, most of the pricier restaurants lie within five-star hotels. While you shouldn’t let these places monopolize your culinary exposure to Hong Kong, some are really world class. And of course, Hong Kong is the world’s epicenter of dim sum, and while you’re here you must have a least one dim sum breakfast or lunch in a teahouse. Those steaming bamboo baskets you see conceal delicious dumplings, buns, and pastries—all as comforting as they are exotic.
Locals eat lunch between noon and 1:30 PM; dinner is around 8. Dim sum begins as early as 10 AM. Reservations aren’t usually necessary except during Chinese holidays or at of-the-moment or high-end hotel restaurants. There are certain classic Hong Kong preparations (e.g., beggar’s chicken, whose preparation in a clay pot takes hours) that require reserving not just a table, but the dish itself. Do so at least 24 hours out.
You’ll also need reservations for a meal at one of the so-called private kitchens—unlicensed culinary speakeasies, which are often the city’s hottest tickets. Book several days ahead, and if possible, join forces with other people. Some private kitchens only take reservations for parties of four, six, or eight.
Hong Kong Hotel Reviews
Hong Kong has a truly postmodern skyline, and you might say that it has the hotels to match. Space is at a premium, so rooms are often cramped and expensive. But they’re also tricked out with cutting-edge conveniences and luxurious amenities.
Digs with rainfall-style showers, 42-inch plasma TVs, and iPod docks are more the rule than the exception. And it’s hard to find a hotel without wireless Internet or a spa these days. Then there’s that Hong Kong trademark—unparalleled harbor and skyline views.
Reserve well in advance, and plan to pay dearly. Hong Kong is now overrun as much by the new breed of vacationing upper-middle-class Mainlanders as by the international business set. Room shortages mean that the age of the under-US$100 hotel room is vanishing; top spots run US$500-$600.
Hong Kong Nightlife
A riot of neon, heralding frenetic after-hours action, announces Hong Kong’s nightlife districts. Hectic workdays make way for an even busier nighttime scene. Clubs and bars fill to capacity, evening markets pack in shoppers looking for bargains, restaurants welcome diners, cinemas pop corn as fast as they can, and theaters and concert halls prepare for full houses.
Partying in Hong Kong is a way of life; it starts at the beginning of the week with a drink or two after work, progressing to serious bar hopping, and clubbing if it’s the weekend. Work hard, play harder is the motto here, and people follow it seriously. It’s perfectly normal to pop into two or three bars before heading to a nightclub…or two. You simply cannot go home without a Hong Kong nightlife story to tell!