Hong Kong – an Oriental Jewel
Hong Kong is a city enjoying a legal status as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, situated on the Chinese southern coastline. It was a British Crown Colony between 1841 and 1983, and a British Dependent Territory from 1983 to 1997, when it was handed back to China. It retains today a great deal of its British cultural heritage.
The city consists of two parts; the peninsular of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. They are separated by a strip of water known as Victoria Harbour.
Tourist access to the city is primarily by air; Hong Kong International Airport, known as Chek Lap Kok, is situated on Lantau Island. Access into the city from the airport is available either by train (the Airport Express link of the Mass Transit System), by one of twenty-five bus routes, or by taxi. The transit time to the city is around twenty to thirty minutes.
The former airport of Kai Tak, situated on the south coast of Kowloon, ceased to operate aircraft in 1998. It has recently been converted into a modern cruise ship terminal.
Not to be missed…
The southern area of Kowloon is called, in Anglicised format, Tsim Sha Tsui. The main street, running roughly north-south, is called Norton Road, and it and the connecting roads are the best place in Hong Kong in which to absorb the ambience, the character of the city. It is a busy and quite long street, a main bus route, and is awash with a wide variety of shops, restaurants serving food of virtually every nationality and tailors offering same-day made-to-measure suits. A large number of shops sell cameras, lap-tops and similar items; the items are genuine and the quality is good, but similar items tend to more expensive in the southern end of the area.
Norton road runs all the way to Victoria harbour. Along the waterfront runs a walkway, one story high and approaching 200 metres long, which is lined all along with seating and which gives a superb view across the water to the northern shore of the island.
The Space Museum and Planetarium
Also at the southern end of Norton Road, looking over the harbour, is the Space Museum and Planetarium. The museum is not large by comparison with those in, for instance, London or New York, but is well set out, with a good range of interactive displays. There is an on-site café and the usual gift shop. The planetarium presents regular scheduled performances throughout the day. Admission is by ticket only, and there is no admission during the actual performance. Tickets to whole complex cost ten dollars (Hong Kong). Photography inside is not allowed.
(The museum and planetarium are currently closed for renovation, re-opening in March 2016.)
Hong Kong Island by Night
Perhaps the most important function of the walkway is to give a good view of Hong Kong Island by Night. Every night at 8pm there is light show involving virtually all of the buildings on the northern aspect of the island. It involves changing, multi-coloured displays and lasers, and is absolutely not to be missed. The display lasts about fifteen minutes; there is, of course, no charge.
A ride on the Star Ferries
Constantly criss-crossing the harbour, the Star Ferries offer easily the most enjoyable way of crossing from Kowloon to the island; there is also an undersea tunnel which contains a bus route. The ferry terminal is about 100 metres to the west of Norton Road. There are two clearly labelled entrances; one indicates “Central”, which is unsurprisingly the centre of Island activity, and the other indicates “Wan Chai”, which is a residential area. Going to Central is strongly recommended. Inside the entrance the passage divides; there is an option of going to the upper or the lower deck of the ferry. The price is only marginally different, and from the upper deck the view is very much better. The cost for a single trip is 2.5 Hong Kong dollars, or 3.4 dollars at weekends or on public holidays. Payment is at a turnstile near the boarding area. The trip takes about ten minutes and is full of photo opportunities.
A tour on a double decker trams
Hong Kong is one of the very few places which still operate double-decker trams; the route runs along the northern edge of the Island, between terminals called “Kennedy Town” and “Shau Kei Wan”. A single journey, of any length, cost $2.30 (H.K.); coins are deposited in a box on exit. The tram ride gives a good view of much of the island at minimal cost. At the Shau Kei Wan terminus there are two small Chinese temples, and several fast food outlets. Not all trams travel the whole route, so it is important to check the final destination, which is displayed on the tram front.
Man Mo Temple
A short walk up the hill from the ferry terminal, is the Man Mo Temple in Hollywood Road. It is jointly dedicated to Man, the God of literature, and Mo, the God of war, and is the only temple of its kind in Hong Kong. Apart from taxis, which are ever-present, there is no convenient motorised access to the temple. It is discretely positioned and not visible until quite close, but the rich interior with its lavish decorations and smoking incense spirals amply reward the effort involved in getting there.
The Peak is the highest point in Hong Kong, and gives the best view of the city. It is accessed by the peak Tram, which is a funicular railway which is not easy to find. The Bank of China building, however, is easy to spot. A walk up the hill past this building will take the visitor, after about 400 metres, to the discreetly labelled peak tram. A return ticket costs $40 (H.K.) – there are concessions for the elderly and for juniors. The tram does not go to the top of the hill; it goes to a complex of shops, restaurants and entertainments, including an excellent Madame Tussauds. From this complex it is possible to obtain an unsurpassed view over the whole city.
It is only possible to reach the top of the hill on foot or by taxi, and taxis are not common here. It is a steep and strenuous walk; on arrival at the top the visitor is presented with a view down to the south coast of the Island, and nothing else. There is a small café which is not always open.
The largest, and arguably the most popular attraction in Hong Kong is Ocean Park. The site, which is 91.5 hectares in area, contains an oceanarium, an animal theme park, a marine mammal exhibit and an amusement park. There is also a large children’s amusement area. The animal park houses giant pandas, red pandas, Chinese salamanders, Chinese alligators and a variety of smaller animals. The oceanarium includes the world’s largest aquarium viewing dome, at 5.5 metres in diameter. The amusement park offers rides on four rollercoasters, a turbo drop, a gently rotating viewing tower which rises to allow a panoramic view of the whole area, and a wide variety of other rides. The Park is spread over two sites, on either side of a hill, which are connected by a cable car and also by a funicular railway in a tunnel through the hill.
A dedicated bus service supplies the site; the route runs from an area near the ferry terminal called The Admiralty. Tickets both for the bus and for site admission are bought at the bus terminal, at a cost (at time of writing) of $345 (H.K.) (the exchange rate – also at time of writing – is 11 H.K. dollars to the Pound)