Hong Kong: Living it up in the land of Jackie Chan

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By Matt Canada

Hong Kong is like one of those massive space hubs seen in science-fiction movies, where all sorts of aliens and other life forms can be found interacting, dealing, and living together in relative harmony. The cityscape itself is a sight to behold, and although it would be entirely possible to spend months there and not experience everything Hong Kong has to offer, it would certainly be worth your while to check it out on a long weekend, or one of the shorter holiday periods. It is easiest to think of Hong Kong in three parts – the Kowloon side, which is attached to the mainland, the Hong Kong Island side, and finally Lantau Island. The contrasts between each of these areas are striking, and experiences entirely unique can be found at each of them.

You’ll start your adventure on Lantau Island, which is home to the Hong Kong International Airport, the Po Ling Buddhist Monastery, and Hong Kong Disneyland – an eclectic mix to say the least, and a fitting introduction to the contrasts that lie ahead. From the airport, you’ll most likely take the subway to either the Kowloon side or Hong Kong Island, depending on where you are staying.

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Kowloon

If you’re looking for cheap accommodation, Kowloon is the place. But keep in mind that you get what you pay for. On our trip last winter, we braved the notorious Chungking Mansion, which is an attraction unto itself. It’s a massive, decrepit building full of money changers, guest houses, touts, backpackers, and characters hailing from every place imaginable. Walking through the corridors on the first floor, I probably heard a dozen languages spoken. The Chungking Mansion, along with most of the other cheap guest houses and hostels, can be found on Nathan Road, which is the main drag of the southern Kowloon area known as Tsim Sha Tsui, running perpendicular to the harbor.

Now, if you’re one of those types of people who feels guilty politely refusing free tissue packets and brochures from those poor saps handing them out on Hondoori, I’d consider avoiding Nathan Road altogether. You will be asked, many, many times, to buy fake watches, suits, and drugs. Assuming you don’t want these things, just ignore the touts and keep walking. They never got hostile or followed me for more than a few yards before giving up and targeting another potential buyer. If you’re not bothered by that sort of thing, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the sights on Nathan Road, as it has a personality unlike any other; bamboo scaffolding straight out of Rush Hour 2, the lights and neon signs, and lots and lots of people. The rest of Tsim Cha Tsui is just as interesting and outside of Nathan Road, the touts disappear completely. When you get hungry, I advise eating at the Sweet Dynasty restaurant in Kowloon. It is located on Canton Road, which runs parallel to Nathan Road to the West. The menu is unbelievably large, and features pretty much anything you’d expect in Hong Kong. It’s an excellent chance to sample a wide range of Cantonese and Macanese cuisine all in one place.

After a busy day of exploring the backstreet markets of Kowloon, head down to the waterfront for an amazing view and light show. Looking across the bay at night from the Kowloon side to the Hong Kong side is far and away the most spectacular cityscape view I’ve ever seen, and I think most who have seen this view would agree. There’s a light show every night at 8 o’clock, and it would be a crime to miss it. If you’re a fan of Hong Kong action films like I am, it would be worth your time to check out the Avenue of Stars. You’ll find the names of Hong Kong’s biggest action stars and directors, and it runs right along the waterfront, allowing you to enjoy the lights and reflections off the water all the while.

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Hong Kong Island

A quick subway or ferry ride from Kowloon will bring you over to Hong Kong Island. Compared to the frenzied markets found across the bay, Hong Kong Island feels much more metropolitan. Enormous, modern skyscrapers, well-maintained streets, a trolley-car system, nice public parks, the world’s longest escalator, and high end shopping malls can all be found here. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to explore Hong Kong Island as much as I would have liked, but I’m glad I at least had the chance to visit Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak offers another incredible view, only this time you’ll be looking from the Hong Kong Island side over toward the Kowloon side. It was pretty cloudy when we went, but still well worth the time. Hong Kong Island is also the place to go if you’re looking for clubs, bars, or lounges.

Lantau Island

Although you probably won’t stick around Lantau upon arriving at the airport, it is definitely worth making a return visit before your time in Hong Kong is up. Unless you’re a Disney fanatic, skip Hong Kong Disneyland and head up to the Po Ling Monastery. The monastery was easily one of the coolest stops on the trip. It also provides a nice break from the non-stop craziness of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. You start by taking a 5.7 kilometer long cable car to the top of a mountain and end up in Ngong Ping Village. I must admit, I was a tad disappointed by the “theme park-ness” of the village, but that soon wore off. As you make your way through the village, you come to the Po Lin Monastery and a gigantic Buddha statue, apparently modeled after the one in Kamakura. One thing you must do on Lantau is eat the vegetarian lunch at the monastery. I honestly thought it would be lame, but I’d heard good things about it from some vegetarian friends, and they were absolutely right! It was the best meal of the trip. It was so good that even now I find myself craving more.

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After four days in Hong Kong, I felt like I had done and seen a good amount, but it’s definitely a place I plan on going back to visit someday. It seems like each stop on the subway brings about an area completely different from the last, while convenient and cheap transportation, incredible views, great food, and interesting people make Hong Kong a worthy place to visit. I believe there’s something there for everyone, and I’m certainly looking forward to going back.

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting There

For this trip, I actually flew from Taiwan to Hong Kong, as Taiwan was the first stop on our vacation. We flew to Taipei from Fukuoka, and on our return flight we had another one night stopover in Taipei before flying back into Fukuoka. Either way, the flights to and from each destination were very short, making Hong Kong a great destination for someone without a great deal of time. We booked our tickets from H.I.S. in downtown Hiroshima City.

Getting Around

Upon arriving at the Hong Kong International Airport and collecting your luggage, the next thing you should do is buy an Octopus Card. This card will give you unlimited use of the subway system, which is extremely convenient and easy to use. You can go pretty much anywhere in Hong Kong by subway. I also recommend taking the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island or vice versa at least once.

Macau

If you find you’ve got an extra day on your hands, it might be worth your time to head over to Macau from Hong Kong. It takes just over an hour by catamaran and makes for a very interesting day trip. Portuguese-Chinese fused Macanese cuisine is also something you should check out.

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.hong-kong-travel.org/Octopus.asp
A site that gives details on the Octopus Card. Where to buy them, how to use them, etc.

http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/index.html
Discover Hong Kong – A useful visitor and tourist information site.

http://www.his-j.com/index.html
H.I.S. Travel Home Page

Sources:

Fallon, Steve. “Lonely Planet: Hong Kong Encounter.” Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, May 2007.