Being honest, Hong Kong was not high on my list of places to visit. I thought that it would be nothing more than a British colonial outpost that offered little in the way of an Asian cultural experience, rather, a shopping mecca. A city shaped by over 150 years of British rule with little authenticity – sanitised Asia. But how wrong I have been.
Hong Kong is a blend of east and west, where modern construction blends with cultural elements and a concrete jungle that clashes with real jungle on its outskirts. Hong Kong entices the visitor and resident alike with many islands, verdant hills and natural surrounds, offering a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Hong Kong is a condensed island city, where you can be dodging traffic one hour and strolling beside calming water the next, hearing birds proclaim their presence and floral scents permeating the air in place of horns and car exhaust.
Hong Kong is a compelling city with its striking sky-line providing a mesmerising spectacle at night. It is a city of jutting skyscrapers, of metal and glass. A place where you can be immersed in ancient customs and traditions or be entertained in an Irish pub. It’s a city that brings the best from the east and west into a vibrant city, where fine dining sits beside traditional flavours, where space between futuristic buildings is populated by bustling local communities, maintaining their lifestyle and tradition in an authentic way.
Hong Kong is a city which can easily seduce the traveller into what you are used to, replicating the lifestyle from home. A city like Hong Kong can be comfortable and endearing or it can take you into the unknown, pushing you out of your comfort zone. Beyond the ‘postcard’ lay plenty of cultural experiences revealing an unexpected side to this chaotic and colourful city, with its baffling customs, confusing food and crowded streets. This city requires courage if you are wanting to experience unparalleled pleasure and rewards. Venture to Hong Kong’s lesser known areas and this city will make you braver and more curious.
The highlight to Hong Kong is The Peak, which you can reach by the railway or if up to it, walk one of the many urban trails, lined with palm trees and bamboo. These are spectacular walks where the Hong Kong panorama will appear from below. You cannot but admire the skyline and harbour – just hope for a clear day. A walk to The Peak via Conduit and Hatton Roads, taking the Hatton Road fitness trail is a wonderful way to start the day. For a more energetic start to your day, take the Old Peak Road, a calf and thigh burner. To get astonishing panoramic views of the city below and the Kowloon Peninsula on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour, a stroll along the precipitous Lugard Road, which winds around Victoria Peak from the tram terminus. You will be rewarded with unobstructed views of the harbour.
Below The Peak is Central, the beating heart of Hong Kong. And Hollywood Road offers a good slice of life in this district, the busy main thoroughfare through Central. From this road, be prepared to dart in every direction, exploring the laneways and streets to discover a new aspect of Hong Kong. This is where the traditional (Man Mo Temple) meets antique shops and second hand stores.
But Central is more than just Hollywood Road. It does possess a soul that I think is missing in many CBDs around the world. It has a rich colonial history, evident from the colonial era buildings. This part of Hong Kong does deserve a good deal of time to explore and time spent wandering the streets towards Sheung Wan is a rewarding experience. Here you will see a mix of historic sites, restaurants and temples harmoniously blend with markets and residential buildings. And while you are in this part of town, get aboard the ‘ding ding tram’ for an experience that is available only in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a city where necessity generates development. And the central mid-level escalator is no exception. A particularly strange activity to recommend is to stand on an escalator to explore a city. But when you realise that the escalator runs for nearly a kilometre through Hong Kong’s mid-levels from Central to the peak, through Hong Kong’s hilly streets, you will soon understand that this is actually a wonderful adventure. It’s a great way to see Hong Kong away from the business district and experience the colonial part of the city, in stark contrast to districts in Kowloon. Once you have reached the top, take a stroll back down and stop at one of the many cool bars or restaurants littering the route, making it a great stop for lunch, drinks and then dinner.
The Mid-Levels Escalator is arguably the longest outdoor escalator system in the world. Being an all-weather system, it transports thousands of people to work and sightsee on a daily basis. It is a great way to get from the base at Queen Street to the upper reaches of Hong Kong to Conduit Road.
Along the escalator and walkway route, a culture of cafes, restaurants and bars has been created, enticing the traveller to hop off and watch the world go by. The Mid-Levels Escalator provides an insight into how Hong Kong operates and opens your eyes to the small alleyways which exist servicing residents away from the shimmering glass and towers of central.
A fine example of old meets new is the gentrification of the former Central Police Station, Victoria Prison and Magistrates court, which now house a dedicated museum, restaurants and bars. Of note here are Madam Fu’s, providing imaginative dim sum, and Aaharn, the sister restaurant to Nahm in Bangkok. We can recommend both these venues, you will not be disappointed.