There’s a restless energy that pulses through Hong Kong’s sprawling archipelago. Glistening skyscrapers dominate the horizon and sidewalks teem with shoppers. En route to New Zealand, Jacqueline Lahoud spent two days in the city that never sleeps.
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise and it’s almost impossible to leave without having swiped a lot of plastic, so set aside some time for trawling the major shopping districts in-between sightseeing. Remember, the standard rules apply: have your bargaining wits about you, check products before you leave the premises and find the right deal, there are loads on offer.
In the urban area of Kowloon, streets are more or less laid out in grids with Nathan Road as the main artery. This central drag is a popular tourist destination, with electronic shops, fashion boutiques and restaurants lining the road.
Across from Victoria Harbour, the International Financial Centre Mall (IFC) is home to shops, luxury brand-name stores, an array of dining options and Hong Kong’s first Apple store. While you are here, take the lift to the viewing level of the towering Two IFC and enjoy great views of the harbour, Kowloon and the greater city. www.ifc.com.hk.
Head to the teeming retail mecca of Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, where you’ll find some of the cheapest, trendiest clothes as well as loads of techno gadgets.
Stanley Market is also a fabulous option for open-air shopping coupled with lunch or drinks at one of the many funky establishments along the promenade. Then take an easy stroll while watching the boats in Stanley Bay. Look out for Murray House, a 160-year-old Victorian building that was dismantled in 1982 from its original site in Central and rebuilt in Stanley. It houses restaurants on the first floor, some of which have grand views across the bay. www.hk-stanley-market.com.
If you prefer a flea-market experience and local (sometimes unidentifiable) street food, go to the bustling Temple Street Night Market at Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon. It’s probably the busiest night market in Hong Kong, full of hawkers selling souvenirs (satin jackets, chopstick sets, bags and shirts), fortune tellers, buskers and food stalls.
Don’t miss the popular tourist attraction of Victoria Peak, located on the western side of Hong Kong Island. It’s one of the highest mountains in the city, and is well known for its spectacular views of Victoria Harbour from the Sky Terrace. Take an early-evening ride on the Peak Tram (one of the world’s oldest funicular railways) to enjoy the 360-degree view in the soft light of dusk (HK$20, about R20). There are myriad shops and restaurants in the Peak Tower, an unusual avant-garde mall on the peak. After dinner, take a walk outside and enjoy the sparkling city skyline. www.thepeak.com.hk.
At 34 metres high and 250 tonnes, Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, is one of the tallest seated bronze Buddhas in the world. Your trip to see Hong Kong’s famously fat resident in Po Lin Monastery also allows you to get to see parts of this amazing city beyond the famous skyscrapers.
The queues get long, so start your day early by taking the MTR to Tung Chung Station, then the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car up to the culturally themed Ngong Ping where you can grab a few bites of dim sum before the 200-stair climb to the Big Buddha. (For $188, about R188, take the Crystal Car, which has an open bottom so you can see the water and trees below you.) www.discoverhongkong.com.
From the monastery, take a stroll to the Wisdom Path, an outdoor replica of the centuries-old Heart Sutra, a prayer that’s revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists. The scripture is displayed on wooden pillars placed in the form of a figure ‘∞’ to represent immeasurable splendour and infinity.
Then hop on the local bus to the Star Ferry pier – just ask the bus-ticketing agent as it’s a well-known tourist stop. The bus ride takes you up and down the lush mountainside, giving ample time for you to take in the scenery. Jump off at the pier and take the ferry (HK$2,50 on weekdays and HK$3 on weekends) from the pier to Hong Kong Island. You’ll enjoy more great views of Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the nearby beaches. www.starferry.com.hk.
For most South African travellers Hong Kong is a stopover en route to another destination. Direct flights from Johannesburg are available with Cathay Pacific, Emirates and South African Airways and cost in the region of R10 000 return.
Public transport is well priced and efficient. Take your pick of high-speed trains, buses, taxis, trams or ferries. Buy an Octopus card so you don’t spend your time fumbling for the correct change. Although most people in Hong Kong speak English, it’s a good idea to take a few of the minicards (credit-card size brochures) on display in hotels, bars and airports, promoting the places you want to visit. It will help when you’re trying to tell your taxi driver where to take you.
I used the online reservation service of www.agoda.com, which secures the lowest available hotel prices around the world. Its footprint in the Asia-Pacific region is significant.
Get this story and more in the winter edition of Getaway International, on sale now at selected retailers across South Africa. The magazine features the east of London, with the focus of this year’s Olympic Games having shifted all attention to that part of town. The issue also touches on other parts of the world, offering some of the best of Turkey; Nepalese adventuring and the bright lights of Hong Kong from the Far East; a spot of touring in southwestern Australia; small-town Morocco, Mauritian volunteering and a Serengeti safari from Africa; a magnificent photography expedition in the Pacific, and, on the back of Steven Spielberg’s Tintin movie, a tour of Brussels in the footsteps of our favourite cartoon character.
(Photos by Joseph C Lawrence)
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Tags: Big Buddha, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, International Financial Centre Mall, Kowloon, Stanley Market, Star Ferry, Temple Street Night Market, Tian Tan Buddha, Victoria Peak, what to do in Hong Kong