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Vacation Hong Kong

Tourist Guide

Hot for Hong Kong
Built on the Pursuit of Dreams

Traditional Chinese junks are a common sight in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour
A traditional Chinese junk in Victoria Harbour


Hong Kong is a 24-hour city, no doubt, but it provides the most peace in the morning, when it's worth witnessing — or partaking in — one of the most nuanced activities around: tai chi. On the Kowloon waterfront just after sunrise, groups of Chinese practice this energy-smoothing form of meditation/exercise. Even for regular visitors, it's a sight that's hard to tire of, and the views from the waterfront across Victoria Harbour onto the Hong Kong skyline have a soft and almost Impressionistic quality that only comes out in the pink, gray and tangerine hues of light that flirt together in the early hours.

As Kowloon starts to bustle, it's time to move on. The twelve-square-kilometer peninsula is filled with Formica-clad noodle shops, glassy malls, rickety wooden housing and posh hotels broken up by the odd verdant public space and temples streaming incense. The Star Ferry Terminal — a landmark as much for its positioning as the fact that it offers what may be the most famous boat ride in the East — is a good starting point. If you look to the right, you can easily see the odd geometrical shapes of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and a gaggle of museums, including the Hong Kong Space Museum and the Hong Kong Museum of Art. While all are worth a quick peek, we suggest saving your energy and making a special trip to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which covers everything from landscape formation to Cantonese opera and features probing exhibits on modern food culture and the like.

Tai Chi on the Kowloon Waterfront
Tai Chi on the Kowloon Waterfront
Across from the museums you can't miss The Peninsula. Besides a place to sleep and eat, it is a good Kowloon landmark and a logical starting point for your walk down Nathan Road. The street is a bit dirty, helter-skelter with cars, and along the roadsides it is hard to tell where the steam from dim sum shops ends and the smog begins. Cheap electronic shops are done up in gaudy neon, and billboards hang out over the road from nearly every store. This is the area's central artery. You could take the entire day to shop its outlets and explore its side alleys. While tempting, make sure to take time for the oasis of green that is Kowloon Park, where British soldiers once barracked, and the Jamia Masjid India Mosque, where Chinese Muslims congregate and minarets rise above the surrounding urban chaos. Do as the locals do and stop for lunch in one of the many tiny shops that line the streets — beef noodles are a particular specialty.

Depending on your preference, you can shop or market-and-temple-hop the afternoon away. The Jade Market can be found up Nathan Road on Kansu Street in the Yau Ma Tei area. It is moderate in size, covered and full of stalls selling ornaments, earrings, knick-knacks and even raw jade. Word of warning: don't purchase too much unless you're an expert. Hotels often keep lists of which stalls you should purchase from.

Near the market is the Tin Hau Temple where Hong Kong's beloved local goddess, Tin Hau (Goddess of the Sea) shares space with two other deities, Shing Wong (God of the City) and To Tei (God of the Earth). Another must-see is Reclamation Street where Chinese commerce is on display in all its yelping and cluttered glory: herbalists, snake product stalls, kite shops, funeral parlors and a food market.

After all that activity, it's time to move on to what may be the best part your trip: high tea at The Peninsula. Reserve ahead if possible or endure a queue of up to an hour amidst a high-ceilinged lobby that pulses with Cantonese speaking power players, Asian jet-setters and a splash of Western tourists, not to mention a decadent amount of Pu-Erh tea, scones and finger sandwiches on silver trays, all accompanied by live classical music.
The Jade Market in Hong Kong
Jade Market

People watching at the Peninsula is practically a national pastime here, but watch the clock so you arrive in time to hop aboard the Aqua Luna for one of its daily 45-minute sailings between 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm from Public Pier 1 at Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. One of the last traditional Chinese sail boats known as junks to be handcrafted according to the original designs by an 80-year-old local craftsman, this 92-foot high red-sail wooden boat with full bar is among the best spots from which to take in the Hong Kong sunset. Watch the sun sink beneath the horizon in all its fiery glory aboard the 6:30 pm sail, or hop on an hour later to catch the Symphony of Lights. The Guinness record-breaking sound and lights extravaganza turns Hong Kong's urban jungle into a futuristic beauty pageant starring its waterfront skyscrapers, emceed in Mandarin Chinese. Discerning locals watch from the Star Ferry or Tsim Sha Tsui harbor side promenade, agreeing that the disco lights make even imposing structures like Sir Norman Foster's Bank of China building look rather groovy.

Alight back on land, but only to shoot up to the 118th floor of Kowloon's International Commerce Centre. 1,607 feet up, atop The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, the world's highest hotel, OZONE is not for the vertiginous, but others quaff the signature Dragontini made with vodka, yuzu and raspberries while admiring Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbour views. Accompany your drinks with Japanese-inspired bites like mini Wagyu burgers and chocolate tartlettes that will make anyone feel closer to heaven.

Keep the party going with drinks at either Aqua in the One Peking Road building, which is shaped like an enormous industrial steel-and-glass sail, or Felix in The Peninsula Hong Kong. They both get very glamorous after dark and offer a peek into the city's legendary high life.

Continue to Day 3


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Hong Kong

* All images courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

(Updated: 11/22/12 NW)

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