Hong Kong has it all: a blend of traditional Chinese culture and blooming art and tech scenes, a major international business hub adjoining fishing villages and street markets, jungle mountains and gorgeous shores.
The first thing any traveler to Hong Kong needs to know is there are three different types of taxis: red, green, and blue. Red will take you to the urban territories, green the new territories, and blue around Lantau Island.
As you ride, be sure to look out at bizarre architecture and towers that seem to sprout from the jungle mountainside. If you spot a building by the riverside that looks like a square with the center cut out – this shape was necessary to allow dragons to pass from their river homes to their mountain palaces unobstructed.
Hungry? The food in Hong Kong is some of the best in the world. Whether you choose to sample effortlessly delicious and imminently affordable street food or splurge on the swankier venues, your tastebuds will be treated to a universe of incredible cuisine and innovative culinary culture. Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum chain that enjoys immense queues at all hours, is the perfect lunch spot to dip into the wide world of dim sum and to sit (quite close) to the locals on their lunch breaks. During my visit, a woman introduced herself as she squeezed in next to me at a long table as “Jessica.” She gave me the lowdown on the chef who started the business and helped me choose 4 dishes (compared to her one) which still only came out to about 13 USD. For dinner and drinks Sohofama or Yardbird not only have incredible offerings but also serve as social hubs for Hong Kong’s artsier types. The Shangri La hotel also holds within it the most incredible buffet in the world. I know, I know. Buffet? Really? But, I have two words for you: unlimited lobster. If you need more words: endless raw bar, three different types of roast duck, DIY noodle bar. I could eat my way through this city and never get bored.
While taxis are cheap in Hong Kong, the subway is incredibly easy to maneuver and gets you most anywhere you’d need to go. The city is a strange one to navigate as a pedestrian. Sidewalks often include twisting stone steps, lead one above traffic on elevated walkways or straight through the lobby of a skyscraper. They also often simply end without any outlet or crosswalk. Walking directions on Google maps are limited to the immensely helpful “in 110 feet, turn left.”
But even getting lost in this city is better than finding your way in most. The most enjoyable means of transit it definitely the Star Ferry, which takes you over to Kowloon in a process best described as “gas-fueled drifting.” Walk past the boardwalk amusement park visible through the haze and buy your plastic token for only a few cents in American money. The beautiful old boats are named with a star theme – Morning Star, North Star, etc. and feature delightful wooden benches with reversible backrests.
Once in Kowloon, blow off the designer stores by the ferry terminal and make your way to the busy outdoor markets where you can buy cheap fake versions (depending on your bartering skills) with much more personality. On the next street, lovingly known as Goldfish Market, creatures of every hue in the legality spectrum are available for purchase: buckets of tiny turtles and crabs, rabbits, shimmering arowana, and more shadowy sea monsters lurking below. Softball-sized goldfish tickled me enough to mandate a break of the photography ban. A bit of a bus ride and you can visit the Walled City Park, the beautifully revitalized site of a slum city once neglected by colonial rule. Fun fact: each of the rubbish bins sports a message of hope or peace written in Chinese calligraphy.
Another feature of Hong Kong that will never cease to astound me is that a regular public bus can deliver you to beautiful beaches and magnificent hiking trails. Granted, the bus ride to Dragon’s back and Shek O Beach involves getting so close to passing vehicles on winding mountain roads, one has to stop the let the other pass. But if you can handle a minor heart attack, you’ll be rewarded with spellbinding views and picturesque shoreline. The town of Shek O is also worth exploring if you’re into cute beach houses with sleepy dogs laying in the sun outside.
To visit this incredible place is to experience with every sense a truly unique location. As tensions rise between Hong Kong and mainland China over assimilation back to Chinese rule – cultural issues such as language and censorship – only time will tell what lies in store for a modern metropolis, with everything to offer, straining to define itself on its own terms.