If New York is the Big Apple, surely London must be the Big Plum a la Little Jack Horner, Tokyo the Saucy Strawberry for the Japanese sure can be kinky but fortunately they keep it to themselves, and so it follows that Hong Kong would have to be the Big Fruit Platter of ripe and juicy dragon-fruit, star fruit, mangoes and other exotic treats. For the tourist, traveller and expat worker, Hong Kong has so much to offer with its wide variety of delectable choices.
For many, Hong Kong conjures up images of cheap clothing apparel, cramped market stalls selling food, clothes, jewellery, trinkets and all manner of things – cameras, electrical equipment, high-end duty free clothing from the top Japanese and European fashion houses, and watches of every shape, size and description, with prices ranging from a peppercorn to sky-high generational investments in Swiss chronometers that only need their first service 100 years from the time of purchase. And the range of wallets, shoes, belts, bags, hats, walking sticks, ties, crystal and sterling silver tableware is enough to make even the Great Gatsby shake in his shoes. Let’s not go into the cornucopia of international and traditional Chinese cuisines that exist here where restaurants are legendary for their seasonal offerings.
But this is only what the visitor spending a day or two in Hong Kong sees. The land mass itself and its vast geographical features are a treat for sore eyes. While it has a total land area of 1104 km2 and shares its northern border with the Guangdong Province of mainland China, a huge proportion of Hong Kong is inaccessible mountains, valleys, plains, forested coves, cliff faces, an amazing assortment of pristine beaches and mud flats that attract birdlife that feed in this special area during their seasonal migrations. Almost half of Hong Kong is reserved as country parks and nature reserves while less than 25% is developed land leaving another 25% as open land and rural farming areas where no development can take place.
Hong Kong’s striking geography and natural abundance of flora and fauna exist side by side with the population of 7.5 million who live in one of the most populated places on the planet. Mong Kok on the Kowloon side, and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, pretty much run an equal first as being the most densely populated places on earth.
Kowloon and the New Territories make up the bulk of Hong Kong’s landmass. Hong Kong Island, and the financial heart of Central, is only five minutes away on a ride on the famous Star Ferry. The Star Ferry, a classic reminder of Hong Kong’s British colonial days, is a typical old steamer-style open-sided double decker ferry. It’s obligatory for visitors to Hong Kong to take a night time crossing on the Star Ferry to witness the brilliant neon skyline on both sides of Victoria Harbour, one of the world’s few natural deep water harbours that is open to the sea at both the east and west, allowing a constant flow of shipping from workhorse marine vessels, yachts, pleasure crafts, fishing boats and ferries right up to giant cruise ships coming in to dock their passengers in the heart of a shopping and entertainment paradise. A ferry ride across the harbour offers expansive views of Hong Kong’s skyline and mountainous surrounds.
Victoria Peak, the highest point on the island, is where the multi-millionaires live in their colonial mansions and spacious, ultra-modern designer homes, along with their livery of Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porches. The Peak offers commanding views of Hong Kong and its outlying islands.
The lookout also houses Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, restaurants and various other attractions including the famous Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is a curious contraption indeed, as it was designed simply to get people from sea level to the various stations on the way up until it reaches The Peak, and performing this task in a straight line up a rock face with an acute incline. In fact it is two trams, one at each end of a thick electrically driven steel cable: when one tram is at the top, the other is at the bottom station, and while the rail track is single, half way up the mountain it splits into two tracks to enable the trams to pass each another, then it immediately returns to being a single track.
Another of Hong Kong’s secrets is its 200 islands, most of which are not inhabited, but are easily accessible for picnics and hiking. Lantau Island, where the new airport is located, is the largest and contains several built-up areas including Tung Chung, Discovery Bay, Mui Wo and other smaller villages, plus Disneyland. The airport is on flat land reclaimed from the sea at its north-western tip, but Lantau Island itself is ruggedly mountainous and heavily forested. Buffalo freely walk the roads and roam through the towns and villages. Discovery Bay is an up-market development with top restaurants, bars and other forms of entertainment. It’s where many pilots and airline industry people live due its close proximity to the airport – and the family-friendly lifestyle. Mui Wo is a more traditional village with an abundance of market style seafood restaurants and stunning beaches. Further south are other village areas plus some great beachside restaurants and eateries.
Lamma Island, the second largest outlying island after Lantau, is home to the village of Yung Shu Wan, which has great bars, restaurants and all kinds of crafty shops. The natural environment is again mountainous and forested with great walking and mountain biking trails. A popular walk follows the coast to Sok Kwu Wan, a smaller fishing village with great seafood restaurants. Lamma is only a 30-minute ferry ride to Central, but it’s a world away from the high-rise glass and chrome of the city. And travelling to work by ferry sure beats getting stuck in traffic jams! Other islands include Cheng Chau, Peng Chau and Park Island and all are accessible by ferry from the central piers. The local population tend to flock to these outlying islands on weekends and public holidays.
As a former British colony, Hong Kong has developed into a vibrant cosmopolitan city with traders and businesses from all over the world. A rich and diverse culture has flourished in music, art, theatre, crafts and international sporting events. Hong Kong boasts a range of great galleries and music auditoriums, along with a wide range of musical entertainment in hotels, restaurants, bars, festivals and at outdoor events. Traditional Chinese culture is well preserved in the various festivals like Chinese New Year, the Autumn Moon Festival and many others throughout the year. Due to the mixture of Western holidays like Christmas and Easter, Hong Kong has more public holidays than Australia!