Hong Kong has always been a mysterious, exotic place for me, the setting of two of James Clavell’s novels, Tai-Pan and Noble House. I read these books as an adolescent in Communist Bulgaria, a time when traveling outside the country was a foolish dream. So it was a big deal for me to finally see the steep hills, the harbor, the few remaining red-sail Chinese junk boats that I’d read about so long ago.
Hong Kong takes its name from the Cantonese Heung Gang or Fragrant Harbor. I didn’t notice the fragrance but the harbor is shrinking—as more landfills are added in order to build still more skyscrapers—and is now half as wide as it had been in 1840.
Here are my 5 favorite experiences in Hong Kong.
You can’t visit Hong Kong and not go to the peak. There is no better way to experience the city than to see it in its entirety below you—the skyscrapers, the harbor, the boats, and the hills across the bay. Taking the tram to the top is part of the fun. You really appreciate how steep the hill is.
My advice is to go early in the day. I was at the station at around 10 a.m. and there were only about 20 people. When I returned an hour-and-a-half later, there were 200.
One of the most thrilling experiences in Honk Kong is crossing Victoria Harbor on the Star Ferry. The boats have been running since 1899 and the current fleet is from 1950. The crossing takes only 7 minutes. It’s glorious at night, particularly during the light show.
The Light show
I loved the light show. Check my post about it here. Take the Star Ferry or book a table with a view in one of the restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Rainy days can really interfere with your sightseeing. Especially when you’re counting on big vistas. I held off on going to Victoria Peak until the weather cleared and instead hit the markets.
I love walking through markets when traveling abroad. It’s where you feel the pulse of a city. I bargained for trinkets at the Jade Market, watched others bargain for exotic birds at the Bird Market, explored the Flower Market and the regular fruits and veggies market.
Hong Kong Park is small but provides an escape in the midst of the skyscrapers. It’s nestled on a steep hill and you can find almost anything there—from a waterfall and a lake to a bird sanctuary. It was great to have many of the species I’d seen at the bird market flying around me freely, even if they weren’t free to fly away. There is also a tower at the top of the park that you can climb up to take in the views of the city. It’s a little over 100 steps, and I was convinced I was the only person foolish enough to bother climbing it in the heat of the day. But I found two other people up there, who seemed to be on a lunch break, standing alone contemplating the view of the city.
Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island was founded in 1906 and is the largest Zen Buddhist Temple in Hong Kong. Tian Tan Big Buddha sits at the top of a hill and can be seen from afar. It’s 34 meters high and weighs 250 tons. Climb the 268 steps for a closer look of the statue and for great views out into the sea and islands.
Again, come here in the morning when the crowds are thin and the light better for photos. I arrived too late and had no luck with my pictures. It didn’t help that it was cloudy, threatening to rain at any moment. But now I have a reason to come back!