Hong Kong’s charm has drawn me back on multiple occasions. Each time I’ve been fortunate enough to experience varying avatars of this Special Administrative Region. There’s something for every kind of holidaymaker here, from azure beaches to tranquil mountains, and of course, its atypical big city vibe that appeals to the modern, frequent corporate traveller.
Hong Kong’s relentless spirit is alluring to say the least: picture buildings that compete with each other to kiss the sky, and a fast pace that can intimidate even the most exposed tourist. A British colony until 1997, there’s a subtle colonial feel in some parts of the city. Street names like Prince Edward Road and Wellington Street are vestiges of its imperial days. Its contemporary, urban feel is global in outlook, yet traditional in unassuming ways. It is undoubtedly, this versatility that makes Hong Kong one of the most captivating places in the world.
Convenience is strewed into every aspect of this region. Since January, Indian travellers visiting Hong Kong must complete an e-registration before arriving here. Besides this clause, expect a hassle-free immigration procedure. If your hotel is far out into the city, the Airport Express will seamlessly connect you to Kowloon, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui within an hour. In case you’re keeping your travel budget in check (and don’t mind losing the extra calories walking across the city), then Hong Kong’s efficient MTR system is an ideal choice for transport within its area. The world-class metro system connects the two islands of Hong Kong and Kowloon in minutes, and at a minimum charge. Travellers spending more than a couple of days here might find the Octopus Card a convenient investment of HK$50/₹433; swipe it at metro stations, 7-Eleven outlets and even the select few department stores to spend your time here like a real local.
Those who prefer taking taxis could find trouble identifying the ones that operate in Hong Kong or Kowloon or both — something I didn’t manage to decode myself. But your hotel concierge will easily figure this out for you. While taxi drivers are usually amiable, there might be a slight language barrier which can be resolved with basic gestures and enunciation. Additional luggage in the boot is charged for — an official fee that the taxi drivers levy.
Travellers who wish to get better rates for their foreign currency have no reason to fret here. Changing currency is quite simple at the widespread foreign exchange booths that don’t mind some harmless haggling if you’re changing big figures. The best rates can be found in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui on Nathan Road — in a building called Chungking Mansion. The area in and around Nathan Road is also where you can find top international and local boutiques, including stand-alone stores in large-scale shopping establishments.
Should the best of global luxury be of interest to you, the ever bustling Harbour City mall might just have everything you’re looking for under one roof. And a large one it is; the shopping centre also offers the convenience of accommodation with three hotels under the Marco Polo Hotels bouquet. At the time of my visit to Hong Kong around Christmas, the mall had set up glimmering adornments and endearing baubles — converting its exterior into an attraction itself. Overlooking the lovely harbour of Hong Kong, Harbour City’s location is an added advantage to its boastful list of brands.
If shopping is an important criterion in your itinerary, Hong Kong Island has an array of options for varied interests of shoppers. I particularly enjoyed visiting Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in Central for its unconventional set-up and quirky boutiques. Previously Queen’s College and then housing for police families, PMQ’s historical significance makes it an even more interesting site. It was reinvented in 2009 as this edgy space that provides a platform to the creative design industry. Once a school to some of Hong Kong’s reputed dignitaries, it is now a design and creative hub housing around 100 independent artists that retail their creations. Genres of products retailed here range from fashion, home decor, accessories — even food, furniture and jewellery. PMQ also holds exhibition space and event facilities for companies looking to host avant-garde meetings.
It is safe to say my tryst with retail continued with every visit. Having stayed at various districts of Hong Kong, I spent my last weekend here at Harbour Road in Wan Chai, from where the posh and sophisticated area of Admiralty can be accessed by foot within 15 minutes. For shoppers staying in Hong Kong Island, Causeway Bay can easily be reached on the Island Line of the MTR and is quite the haven for cosmopolitan vogue. Situated here is Pacific Place mall — a glamorous shopping centre that connects directly from Admiralty MTR Station, and houses a vast range of international brands, restaurants and bars within its massive complex. Island Shangri-La and JW Marriott Hong Kong can be entered from within the mall itself — not a bad way to spend a fashionable evening on the Island.
What I love about Hong Kong is that while daunting skyscrapers crowd your vision in its vibrant business districts, it is easy to escape into natural beauty within no time. With a number of beaches and mountains spread across its outlying islands and New Territories, there is no dearth of countryside landscapes in this urban jungle. Situated at the top of Lantau Island in Ngong Ping is one of Hong Kong’s foremost attractions — Tian Tan Buddha. It’s a massive bronze statue that can be viewed from far, even when you’re en route to the hilltop via cable car. The adventurous kind has the option of trekking to the top of the hill; a strenuous walk for about three hours, but worth it on account of flora on the way. Upon arriving at the summit, a lively ambience pumped with music, dance, restaurants, cafes and bars welcomes you to the pathway that leads to the Big Buddha. In comparison to being up-close to the statue, I preferred the view of this mammoth Buddha from the window of my cable car.
With some time on hand, it’s a good idea to spend a day or two at one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. Head to Lama Island by boarding on a ferry from Central Pier 4 to Sok Wu Wan (it takes only 30 minutes), to enjoy a day amidst hipster shops, seafood restaurants, scenic trails and experience slow living at this laid-back isle. To get away deeper into nature, head to Sai Kung Peninsula, better known as the “leisure garden of Hong Kong” by riding on one of the many buses from Diamond Hill MTR Station. Enjoy a tryst with the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea by means of fishing, snorkelling or sailing, or set up a camp site and host a barbecue on a starry night — you will be spoilt for untainted choices here.
There is no lack of tall buildings in Hong Kong that promise enchanting vistas of its cityscape. Take the old school tram to Victoria Peak from Peak Tram Lower Terminus that can be reached by foot from Central. The antiquated ride leads to the peak that offers panoramic views of the region. Apart from stunning landscapes, Victoria Peak also houses an array of restaurants, cafes and shops that ensure a day well spent at this picturesque mountaintop.
Another exciting locale is Stanley, which is almost considered an independent town in the Hong Kong peninsula. With sprawling beaches, flea markets, a lovely harbour view, dotted with restaurants and shops, Stanley is an ideal Sunday destination for families and even frequent independent travellers. Buses from Hong Kong MTR Station take a scenic route through mountains and lush flora to this quaint little settlement. I spent a leisurely weekend here strolling through curio stores and buying souvenirs for the family back home.
With many faces, but an unabated spirit that binds it together, Hong Kong’s multicoloured temperament impresses the versatile traveller. Having experienced its varied facets, I must admit to have easily fallen in love with its pulsating vibe that has me planning yet another trip to this very Special Administrative Region.
- Silver-roofed red taxis operate in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
- White-roofed green taxis operate in New Territories.
- White-roofed blue taxis operate in Lantau Island.