Hong Kong (香港 Heūng góng in Cantonese, meaning fragrant harbour) is a place with multiple personalities, as a result of being both Cantonese Chinese and under a more recent contemporary ex-British influence. Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China’s increasingly affluent mainland population. It is also an important hub in East Asia with global connections to many of the world’s cities. It is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and Vancouver and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia’s World City.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China is much more than a harbour city. The traveller weary of its crowded streets may be tempted to describe it as Hong Kongcrete. Yet, this territory with its cloudy mountains and rocky islands is mostly a rural landscape. Much of the countryside is classified as Country Park and, although 7 million people are never far away, it is possible to find pockets of wilderness that will reward the more intrepid tourist.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with at least one season to match your comfort zone. Boasting one of the world’s best airports, it is the ideal stopover for those who wish to travel deeper into the Orient.
Things to see
Get a stunning view of Hong Kong Island on Victoria Peak atop the giant, wok-shaped Peak Tower! Ever since the dawn of British colonisation, the Peak hosted the most exclusive neighbourhood for the territory’s richest residents, where local Chinese weren’t permitted to live until after World War II.
At the Peak, the Peak Tower serves not only as an observation platform, it also doubles as a shopping mall offering shops, fine dining and museums. The Peak Tram runs from Central to the bottom of the Peak Tower. Although views of Kowloon and Victoria Harbour can be stunning, be prepared for the view to be spoilt by air pollution. There is no point in spending extra money to visit the observation deck of the Peak Tower. There are a number of nice walks around the Peak Tower that offers similar, if not nicer, views of all sides of the island. One of it is the Lion Pavilion Lookout on Findley Road, about one minute walk from The Peak Tower. You will be able to catch a laser show at 8PM every night. On sunny days, you can find an old man outside the pavilion, offering rickshaw ride along Findley Road. A 10 minutes ride costs HK$100.
Although the Peak Tram offers a direct route to The Peak, a more picturesque and cheaper (though slower) way of reaching it is by taking bus 15 (not 15C) from the Star Ferry pier in Central. Not only is it cheaper but, as the bus snakes up the mountain, you can enjoy beautiful views of both sides of Hong Kong island and passing the territory’s priciest neighbourhoods.
The racing season runs from September to June, during which time racings take place twice weekly, with the location alternating between Shatin in the New Territories and Happy Valley near Causeway Bay MTR station. Both racing locations are easily accessible by MTR but Happy Valley is the more convenient, historic and impressive location (although live races only take place here on Wednesday nights). For only a $10 entrance fee, a night in Happy Valley can be filled with rowdy entertainment. Get a local Chinese gambler to explain the betting system to you and then drink the cheap draft beer. Be sure to pick up the Racing Post section in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday to guide you. A beer garden with racing commentary in English is available at Happy Valley near the finishing line where many expatriates congregate during the races. One good tip: bring your passport and get in at the tourist rate of just $1.
Be aware that horse racing is a religion in Hong Kong with live broadcasts over the radio. Large segments of the adult population will place bets and there will be no shortage of racing tips from punters. Just remember that when people are listening to the races, whether in a taxi or restaurant or on the streets, expect no conversation or business to transpire for the 1-2 minute duration of the race.
Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong is not all skyscrapers and it is worthwhile to go to the countryside (over 70% of Hong Kong), including the country parks and marine parks. Many are surprised to find that Hong Kong is actually home to some stunning landscapes and breathtaking scenery.
Lantau Island is twice as big as Hong Kong island and is well worth checking out if you want to get away from the bright lights and pollution of the city for a spell. Here you will find open countryside, traditional fishing villages, secluded beaches, monasteries and more. You can hike, camp, fish and mountain bike, amongst other activities.
In the waters just off Tung Chung on Lantau Island, live the Chinese White Dolphins. These dolphins are naturally pink and live in the wild, but their status is currently threatened, with it current population estimated to be between 100-200.
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort opened in September, 2005. It is on Lantau Island, about 12km east of Hong Kong International Airport. The resort also features a Disneyland park, two resort hotels and a lake recreation centre. Though significantly smaller in size than other Disneyland-style parks elsewhere, it does offer some great attractions and short queues most of the year (except the week of Chinese New Year, Halloween, Easter and Christmas season).
Ocean Park is on the southern side of Hong Kong island, and is the park that grew up with many local Hong Kong people. With roller coasters and large aquariums altogether, it is still packed on weekends with families and tourists. The cablecar is an icon. For many, the chance to see Hong Kong’s pandas would be a deciding factor. Young adults will be attracted to the wider range of rides.
Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau Island is a Buddhist themed park that features Imperial Chinese architecture, interactive shows, demonstrations, restaurants and coffee shops. The highlight of this trip is the longest cable car ride in Hong Kong that affords stunning views. The ride also takes you to the largest outdoor seated Buddha.
(most of the above comes from http://wikitravel.org/en/Hong_Kong)
The gay scene
Homosexuality is legal in Hong Kong and public opinion shows increased awareness about and tolerance for LGBT people. However, there are only limited anti-discrimination laws and no legal recognition of same-sex couples. Since 2006, there is an equal age of consent of 16, for both heterosexual and homosexual sex.
There is a thriving and active gay community. They held their first Pride March in 2008 and these now occur yearly.
Hong Kong is a vast city in a tiny area. It’s not China as you might imagine it. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it. Give it a try!