Hong Kong; it’s the city that casts up images of antique wooden junks barging their way through the hordes of other equally ancient boats along the dividing oceans that separate the chaotic madness amongst the narrow streets of enthusiastic business. The mysterious land that has provided so much in the form of pop culture from the silver screen of the 70s. The nation has burst into the worlds imagination thanks to some of their most famous sons, none other than Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Portrayed as a city of crime with legendary credits such as James Bond, Batman and the late Mr Nice on their list.
As a former British colony Hong Kong is now free from the shackles of colonial oppression and is now showing independence along with stubbornness to return under the rule of a possibly even worse oppressor. However some might say that Hong Kong has still fallen victim to the old curse of Westernisation.
Ideally we would all like to arrive at the harbour to witness countless amounts of vintage wooden ships and passenger carrying junks gathered against the humble-rising skyline. That’s what we all hope, as much as I did. Disappointingly and non-too unexpected, its not the case. Hong Kong much like the rest of the world has embraced development. It has turned into a fully modern metropolis thanks to the powerful influence of international money. The only junks you’ll spot are ones splurgedn by groups of tourists, a neon-lit blast from the past just enough to disappoint you on what could have been.
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Hong Kong in general is divided into two main islands, the first of which will be Kowloon. This is where you’ll find some incredibly vast malls, night markets, and most of the bargain hostels. Speaking to a British ex-pat while sat watching the harbour, the older man pondered on the view from 20 years ago. The view of Victoria Harbour was much the same with the skyscrapers and constant hillside. However the view back across the water would see nothing less than a few houses scattered across the coast.
Kowloon lives in the shadows of Hong Kong island, which has seen the island compete for development, trying to keep up with the appearances across the water. This has given rise to an equal number of shopping malls, skyscrapers and general infrastructure which make this one of the main spots in Hong Kong.
The island hold a variety of little treats. From the more spiritual temples nestled between the development, to the gigantic super-malls that dominate entire blocks. When the sun goes down the island also holds some of the best markets on offer. Namely the Ladies market.
The harbour to the south will undoubtedly be the highlight of the island, which has the spectacular view across the water. Other than that you’ll find a few attractions congregating against the harbour, such as the Avenue of Stars (restored on my visit) and several museums. Here is also one of the best opportunities to get on the legendary form of transport which has held its place for over 60 years, the Star ferry.
Unquestionably in my opinion, Hong Kong would have to be considered as one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, and this would be why. Victoria Harbour provides the most spectacular view Hong Kong has to offer. A perfect representation of the city and the nation.
Obviously the best views are those from the opposite end of the harbour on Kowloon. Several spots along its south coast provide a magnificent view, such as the avenue of the stars and a specially built promenade. However there is no better view than that from the public pier. Here you’ll be provided with the entire panoramic shore-side view of Hong Kong island. This is somewhere you’ll be comfortable to sit for hours in astonishment at the incredible variation and uniqueness of every inch of the view.
An incredible range and sizes of different skyscrapers tucked up tight against the harbour by the dominant green hillside behind. It looks much like a well-stocked bar in an old cottage tavern. Never-ending rows of exquisite displays of variety and colour, carefully designed to stand out from the crowd and advertise themselves. All these spectacular creations are placed before humble and comforting surroundings of a common fixture which time hasn’t changed.
However the real show begins when the sun rolls down behind the hills. The monumental structures now have to cope with the challenge of darkness if they hope to advertise their company. This results in a spectacular light show as each building illuminates itself, some of which determined to be the most eye-catching and dominant. This unique form of flexing becomes marvelling to watch.
Crossing the harbour by ferry is also a must for any visitor to Hong Kong. Of course the crossing can be done by the ever so modern metro, but where’s the fun in that? After all these ferries have been a constant fixture in modern Hong Kong for years. Its possibly the best opportunity for you to get that nostalgic Hong Kong experience. As the junks slowly became obsolete, the ferries became the staple, and has been for over 60 years.
Hong Kong Island
As the name would suggest, this is the centre of Hong Kong as the nation is concerned. The island holds the infamous view of the harbour and allows you the opportunity to explore within. It becomes quite daunting walking through the canyons of incredibly narrow streets and neck craning high skyline. Wedged between these concrete monsters it becomes difficult to find things to see, but its still possible to find a few treats scattered within. Its still possible to find the streets with a more authentic Hong Kong vibe. Tiny streets, stores stacked on top of each other, markets and signs upon signs upon signs.
A more spiritual and equally authentic highlight found nestled between the madness is Man Mo temple, one of the oldest surviving temples in Hong Kong. This Taoist temple is dedicated to the strange mix of gods; of literature (Man) and war (Mo).
Before it even breaks into view you’ll be enticed with the powerful odour of earthy incense, its smoke creating an everlasting mist within and bellowing out the door welcoming the passing faithful and travellers alike. Inside you’ll find two delicately carved chairs that were used to carry the gods during festival times. Above your heads around the entire temple hang beautifully arranged coils of incense slowly burning as a dedication to the worshippers. Occasionally you’ll spot the rainfall of their remains down on the visitors below.
Along the narrow streets you’ll find one of the many modern touches to Hong Kong; a considerable amount of street art. Many of which, along with other memorabilia such as statues, will be dedicated to one of the city’s most famous sons. A man who brought Hong Kong and the Orient straight into many of the public’s attention, a man of legendary status; Mr Bruce Lee.
Another good find for movie buffs and nerds is the unmissable site of the tallest building on the island which might be familiar to some. Its the International Finance Centre, otherwise more spectacularly known as the building Batman would jump off in the Dark Knight. Cool.
This would be one of the best highlights of my time in Hong Kong. Its easy to forget that the nation is divided into multiple islands of varying size and levels of development. The most well known of which; Hong Kong Island clearly boasts the latest and greatest leaps in development, and seems to receive most of the attention. Other than Kowloon and Lantau Island (with the airport), thankfully the surrounding islands are left practically untouched. Apart from the odd millionaire’s humble holiday home scattered far and wide between the island, there’s no sign of real development.
Lamma Island island is one of the largest and has received surprisingly little development. The island stems out of a traditional fishing village. Apart from two small villages on either end of the island and the line of local restaurants along the shore-front where the ferry arrives, the island is untouched.
All the restaurants are directly set-up next to each other. Each of which offer the same wide variety of marine life that the locals manage to catch from every known crustacean and clam to some extraordinary looking fish. Be expected to see some monstrous sized creatures. The displays will bring up some unusual and unexpected offering while remaining fascinating.
The island has a humble concrete path which carves its way around the coast and between the various beaches, viewpoints and a few small villages found across the island. The island also included an incredibly small temple consisting of 3 figures and a table for dedications. It also strangely included a preserved species of fish, that according to the plaque, only 3 had ever been discovered. The others were held in an university, and apparently one of the restaurants on the island.
What attracted me to the island however was its significance during World War II. Much like the rest of China during the war, invasion by the Japanese saw them leave evidence of their former occupation. Remaining proof are found in the form of caves carved into the landscape built to house men, ammunition and gear at this strategical point in the South China sea.
One particular cave was known as the Kamikaze Cave, found right on the edge of the beach. Other than the usual men and ammunition they would house, it was also designed to hold speedboats. As is the strategic point of the island, the sea would be frequented by enemy ships. During the end of the war, the cave would have been used to drive Japanese ships directly into the enemy, literal kamikaze boats. Unfortunately during my visit it had been raining quite a bit, resulting in a flooded cave and disappointment.
An unexpected bonus along the coastal path was running into a pond full of painted turtles. Spotting only 2 or 3 at first, I optimistically attempted to call the turtles over. To my astonishment they seemed to work themselves over in typical slow reptilian fashion. Soon I had a crowd of turtles gathered at the ponds edge fighting to get closest and crane their head upwards towards my reaching had. As much as I’d like to believe I am a turtle whisperer, common sense dictates that the turtles must be fed by the locals from the houses directly next to the pond. Still.
Its crazy that a short ferry ride you step from glistening skyscrapers directly into a near untouched rain forest paradise.
Unfortunately, one down point I would give Hong Kong, a common problem among big cities is the lack or difficulty to be a backpacker with going to see things. The size isn’t too difficult to contend with a pretty decent transport system; however, the canyon maze of repetitive sky-high buildings will make it difficult to navigate or find anything pin-pointed on the map.
To be fair, the streets are well equipped with helpful signs for tourists pointing out the highlights. However, the things worth seeing are few and very far between. Within the city, sites worth seeing are limited to museums and temples which have been squeezed in between the development. To escape the claustrophobia and delve into nature, it takes time and effort to get there, burning precious time.
As well, there is a LOT of prostitution in Hong Kong, a lot. From street walkers to your full on brothels, one of Hong Kong’s most famous travel pass-times appears to be alive and well a century later. You might be unlucky enough (or lucky, depending the way you look at it) to have your accommodation right next to your hostel, like I did. You can easily recognise them by the pink neon lights.