Welcome to one of my favourite cities of all time! When I entered Hong Kong from China it was a hot and humid mid-August. I was having a tough time being on the road for more than one month, maybe without the proper rest considering the long distances inside the Chinese territory. Reaching and discovering this unique metropolis was like a breath of fresh air. Paradoxically, in a way.
If I think about the term “urban jungle” Hong Kong is the very first place that comes to my mind. The city is a mixture of modern skyscrapers, mountains, tropical forests and beaches. Did you know that 70% of Hong Kong’s territory is composed by green spaces? Seeing this with my own eyes just blew my mind.
Hong Kong has quite a history. In the 19th century the British introduced the trade of opium inside China, leading to the First Opium War. The conflict ended with the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, which ceded the Hong Kong island (and later other lands) to the United Kingdom in perpetuity. In 1984 the British agreed to return the colony to China and in 1997 Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China. Today Hong Kong is one of the most important port and financial centre in the world and practically a separate State from China (even if the Chinese Government wouldn’t agree).
The UK supremacy over Hong Kong is now completely ended, yet the British influence can be seen everywhere you look, from the left-hand drive to the bilingual name of the streets. While exploring the Central district (where my hostel was located) I felt cheerful because everything was kind of familiar. I enjoyed the bustling roads and the cosmopolitan vibes of the city.
Thinking about the days spent in HK, I don’t recall any site in particular. Not museums nor temples, but vivid images, different frames of this multifaceted metropolis.
Hong Kong Island
“Central” district is actually the city centre, dominated by skyscrapers, glass buildings and fancy shops. You can find here everything you expect from a big urban centre.
To have a complete view of Central’s skyline, I suggest you to reach Kowloon peninsula (on the other side of the harbour). It is amazing by day and by night:
Another special viewpoint of the city that you shouldn’t miss is the famous Victoria Peak. From this terrace you will see the entire bay; I stayed there for about 2 hours just enjoying the stunning urban landscape while the sun was setting and night fell down. The picture below is of very shitty quality, but the sparkling neon lights which make the city glow in the harbour at night are truly breathtaking:
Getting to Victoria Peak is another unforgettable experience. The Peak Tram is the quickest and most scenic way to arrive at the terrace, yet you will have to be patient since there is a crowd of people all the time queuing and waiting for their ride. This Tram challenges the laws of nature making its ripid way beyond Central’s buildings.
Skyscrapers are not the only feature of Hong Kong Island. Moving to south-west you can leave the urban bustle behind and find some beautiful sandy beaches, such as those between Stanley Peninsula and Repulse Bay (the name doesn’t do it justice at all!).
In my opinion the best thing of the south-west part of Hong Kong Island are the several hiking paths. The most famous one is Dragon’s Back Trail, which runs through a jungle and coastal scenery providing beautiful views over Shek O Peninsula, Tai Long Wan, Stanley Peninsula, Tai Tam Bay and the South China Sea. If you are into nature and hiking, you certainly don’t wanna miss this!
To be honest I don’t remember how I reached the starting point of the trail, but I’m sure it has an easy access by bus from Central. I spent the afternoon wandering through various paths, amazed by the wonderful landscapes, until I got wonderfully lost. It was almost sunset when an Anglo-saxon lady who was jogging picked me up and invited me to have a refreshing glass of water at her house. This woman’s name is another thing I can’t recall, but I remember that she was from USA, had two children and was a pilot for Cathay Pacific airlines together with her husband. They had been working for CP for many years, but they were planning to go back to the US. I hope they made it.
They used to live in a residential district in Chai Wan, at about the 40th floor. That evening, hiking to get there in the sunset light, Hong Kong really won my heart.
Believe it or not, Kowloon has got the highest density of population in the world, particularly in Mong Kok district. This area of the Hong Kong peninsula is made by densely packed buildings, countless stores and little restaurants, cars and a multitude of different people (Chinese, Indians, Philippines, Nepalese, Africans and many others). Take your time to explore this vortex of colours and languages, the busy streets and the local markets: you feel the real essence of Hong Kong.
Don’t forget to take a stroll along the most popular walk of the city: the Avenue of the Stars, a tribute to Hong Kong’s movie industry and its celebrities. This promenade on the bay, with the statues of Bruce Lee and many others, is where you can enjoy the Victoria Harbour‘s glowing landscape.
This is the largest and greenest area of Hong Kong. The northern part include many parks and nature reserves; the southern part is basically formed by concrete giants but it’s much less chaotic than Kowloon. I had the chance to visit only Wetland park, an eco-touristic park very close to Shenzhen and the Chinese border. It is a quite and green getaway from the bustling city and one of the main migratory routes of birds in Asia.
About 234 isles form Hong Kong region. Lantau is one of the few easily reachable by public transport (train and ferry boat) and an ideal place for a daily trip to explore its beaches, mountains and forests. In Lantau there is a huge complex of temples which host the giant statue of Tian Tan Buddha. From there you can take one of the many paths and hike the surrounding area, reaching some tops with gorgeous views. At some point I sat on a rock looking towards the South China Sea, imagining 18th century ships coming on the horizon.
How to get there
Hong Kong International Airport is served by several airlines. The fares of the flights between China and Hong Kong are convenient but the planes are usually full due to the huge number of Chinese passengers travelling for tourism or business. I entered Hong Kong by train coming from China and completed the customs formalities at Hung Hom border. Check the visa conditions with the Foreign Ministry of your country.
I can’t wait to return to Hong Kong and visit all the places and parts of the city I didn’t see during my first trip. This metropolis has so much to offer that I could never get tired of it. Add it to your bucketlist, it is worth it!