Hong Kong or as its name translates, “Fragrant Harbour”. Officially a part of The People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong maintains its own legal system, the public security force, monetary system and customs and immigration policy. In 1997 it’s sovereignty was transferred from Britain to China, however a strong British and Western presence is still a huge part of this dynamic city.
We’ve already established where your first choice of hotel would be in my last blog article, The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, but what else apart from luxurious accommodations is there to do in the world’s fourth most densely populated territory?
A must for any first time visitor to Hong Kong is a journey up Victoria Peak or The Peak as it is known locally, the highest mountain on Hong Kong island standing at 552 m. With incredible views spreading over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the most iconic and in my opinion the only way to reach the peak, is by taking the Peak Tram.
Once you reach the summit, you arrive at The Peak Tower, an impressive architectural icon, featuring restaurants, shops and strangely enough, Madame Tussaud’s. For around £8 (HK$83) you can purchase the Peak Tram Sky Pass which not only includes return travel on the tram, but also entry to The Sky Terrace 428, the highest 360° viewing platform in Hong Kong. Once at the terrace you are given a personal interactive touch screen audio tour, displaying and explaining the different neighbourhoods below.
After you’ve visited the famous peak and seen Hong Kong from above, a great way to find your feet in this vast city is by taking one of the many bus tours. Some people might frown upon this ‘tourist trap’ but I happen to think they give you a quick and simple way of exploring a city and with hop-on/off features, it enables you to see the areas in more detail that you really want to explore.
Big Bus Hong Kong offer various tours to suit everyone’s needs and for around £36 you can get a 24 hour unlimited access ticket which includes three sightseeing tours: Hong Kong Island Tour, Kowloon Tour and Stanley Tour.
After a long morning of sightseeing on Hong Kong Island, why not catch the Star Ferry over to Kowloon? For the grand total of around 20p (HK$2.50) you can catch one of these famous ferries which have been a staple in Hong Kong for over one hundred years. You can board the ferries at either Wan Chai or Central Star Ferry Piers over to Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon, with spectacular views back over to Victoria Harbour.
Once arriving on Kowloon at the Tsim Sha Tsui Pier, you’ll find the waterfront area featuring the famous landmark, the Clock Tower. It is the only remnant of the original site of the former Kowloon Station on the Kowloon-Canton Railway.
After all that sightseeing, why not reward yourself with a traditional British style Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula Hotel. Built in 1928 the legendary “Grande Dame of the Far East” is the oldest hotel in Hong Kong and blends Western and Eastern hospitality with timeless elegance.
Situated in The Lobby, a grand opulent space with soaring columns and gilded plaster work, The Peninsula Classic Afternoon Tea features a selection of finger sandwiches, pastries, freshly baked raisin scones, Devonshire clotted cream and organic strawberry preserve.
You can also select from a wide choice of teas and for two people costs around £56 or push the boat out and add a glass of Brut Champagne for an extra £16 each.
Now you’re suitably stuffed, why not take a little walk around the Canton Road shopping district, featuring many designer labels such as Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and Tiffany.
Here you’ll also find 1881 Heritage, a large collection of luxury shops, fine dining restaurants and cool bars housed in the former Marine Police Headquarters built-in the 1880’s.
Just a short walk behind 1881 Heritage is the 33 acre Kowloon Park, complete with floral gardens, a bird lake and aviary, modern art walk, swimming pool and sports centre. This large park is a quiet oasis in the centre of the hustle and bustle of Kowloon and a perfect place to escape for an hours relaxation, you might even find yourself amongst the many locals practising Tai chi.
As the sun sets and the day turns to night, Hong Kong really comes alive. Every night at 8pm, the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ performs along Victoria Harbour involving more than 40 buildings called ‘A Symphony of Lights’.
As featured in my blog ‘Hong Kong Heights’ OZONE Bar at The Ritz Carlton is a perfect place to get a magnificent view of the light show whilst enjoying beautiful cocktails at the world’s highest bar.
Nightlife in Hong Kong is crazy and continues well into the early hours of the morning. Why not take a visit to the popular Lan Kwai Fong district on Hong Kong Island, home to over 100 bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. Many locals, ex-pats and tourists alike frequent this huge pedestrianised area, many dancing (possibly myself included) until the day light hours.
If it’s live music you’re after, then why not take the short taxi ride from Lan Kwai Fong to Wan Chai, a neighbourhood that used to be home to all sorts of naughtiness. Here you’ll find many bars featuring live bands, such as Dusk Till Dawn and Joe Bananas.
So if you’re lucky enough to have some more time in Hong Kong, there’s so much more to see. After popping some paracetamol after your late night antics, roughly an hour’s subway journey takes you to The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.
This giant bronze Buddha sits 34 m high and faces North to overlook the Chinese people. To reach the Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery, the coolest way is to take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car.
A return standard cable car journey costs around £17 and takes you on a 25 minute journey starting from Tung Chung Bay, then turning 60 degrees towards North Lantau. The views are stunning and on a clear day you can see the vast Hong Kong Airport, the South China Sea and North Lantau Country Park.
The cable car arrives at the Ngong Ping Village, disappointingly a very commercialized collection of chain stores and shops selling the typical naff tourist nick-nacks. Though once through here you find yourself at the entrance to the Monastery and the Big Buddha.
The Buddha is the biggest outdoor statue in the world and sits atop of Mount Muk Yue. It took 12 years to build and symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.
For a closer look you can climb the 268 steps to the top, where you’ll find breath-taking views across the mountains and the sea in the distance.
Next to the Big Buddha is the Po Lin Monastery which was founded in 1906 by three monks who were visiting from the Chinese mainland. The serenity of the Monastery and the stunning architecture, gives a real sense of Chinese culture and history compared with the modern chaos found in the city 40 miles away.
In complete contrast to the Po Lin Monastery and The Big Buddha, I recommend a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. Easily connected by the Hong Kong metro system, Disneyland even has it’s own train to take you to the park.
A one day ticket costs around £50 and the park features some attractions unique to Hong Kong Disneyland. Along with Disney classics such as ‘It’s A Small World’ and ‘The Jungle River Cruise’ cool new attractions such as ‘Mystic Manor’ and the Toy Story inspired ‘RC Racer’ keep regular Disney fans (like myself) entertained.
Although not as huge as it’s sibling parks, there’s enough to keep you entertained and when night falls, the park comes alive with ‘Disney In The Stars’ fireworks and ‘Disney Paint the Night’ parade.
For those wanting to have a little flutter whilst visiting Hong Kong, Wednesday nights see horse racing at the Happy Valley Racecourse. Found in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong Island, entry to the races is £1 (HK$10) and is a fun and cheap night out with most races starting around 7pm until 11pm. With a group of friends, cheap drinks and even cheaper bets, whether you win or lose, with a backdrop of Hong Kong surrounding the racecourse, it makes for a stunning night.
So there you have it, my little travel diary on Hong Kong. Of course there’s so much more to this amazing place…but I’ll leave you to find those out for yourself!