Our armchair travels have taken us to China. This populous country located in East Asia has a diverse landscape with grassland, desert, mountains, lakes, rivers and over 14,000 km of coastline.
Our first stop is Hong Kong an autonomous territory and former British colony found in southeastern China. It is a densely populated urban center, a major port and global financial hub. Its skyline is studded with skyscrapers. There are many architectural landmarks in the business district or Central.
Lai Chi Wo is a 400-year-old village located in Plover Cove County Park. It’s Hong Kong’s best preserved Hakka walled village and it has a Feng Shui woodland. This means that the baking of a wood brings good luck and fosters a good life. There are 200 houses, three ancestral halls, two temples and a square surrounded by banyans, opening out onto revived rice paddies. This is also one of the city’s most biologically diverse freshwater wetlands. Besides the rice paddies, cow and pig sheds have been restored and once shuttered village houses are now education and research facilities.
On the way to the village along a stream you’ll see the looking-glass mangrove with butress roots which form a lace-like pattern. There is also the white-flower Derris, a climbing vine with supple branches like elongated arms. This plant is poisonous but it can be used as a fish stunner or insecticide.
Every Sunday and on public holidays the village offers 90-minute guided tours. There is also a Hakka sticky-rice dumpling making workshop.
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple has colorful pillars, roofs, lattice work along with lots of flowers and incense. This is a destination for people from many walks of life in Hong Kong. Here a fortune teller will tell you your fortune using chim – bamboo fortune sticks. This complex was built in 1973 and dedicated to the god of that name, who began his life as a shepherd in Zhejiang province. At the age of 15 he was taught how to make an herbal potion that could cure all illnesses. So he is worshiped by the sick and those who want to stay healthy and is a favorite god among business people.
Behind the main temple you’ll find the Good Wish Gardens with colorful pavilions like the hexagonal Unicorn Hall with carved doors and windows. There are zigzag bridges, waterfalls and carp ponds.
Take the time to wander through the Victoria Central Business District. Here you can see some colonial buildings and high-rising skyscrapers among them the famous
Bank of China skyscraper and one of the largest and oldest Chinese temples on Hong Kong Island the Man Mo Temple. It is also close by to the zoological and botanical gardens.
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens – this Victorian-era garden is a delight for visitors with fountains, sculptures and greenhouses as well as some wonderful aviaries. This is home to some 160 species of birds. The zoo has a large collection of monkeys, sloths, lemurs and orangutans. It is one of the world’s leading centers for the captive breeding of endangered species.
One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and a declared monument is the Man Mo Temple dedicated to the gods of literature (“Man”), holding a writing brush and of war (“Mo”), wielding a sword. It was built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants. There are large earth-colored spirals suspended from the roof which are incense coils burned as offerings by worshipers.
The highest point on Hong Kong Island is Victoria Peak rising 552 m into the air. It is one of the most visited places by tourists because it offers fabulous views of the city and there are woods to explore while you go walking. Here you can also follow the 50 km Hong Kong Trail.
The best way to reach the peak is to take the 125-year old gravity defying Peak Tram. The tram rises almost vertically up above all of the high-rises. It is Asia’s oldest funicular. At the lower terminus you can see an interesting gallery that features a replica of the earliest carriage. The Peak Galleria which adjoins the anvil-shaped Peak Tower offers a viewing deck.
Tai O is the historical home to the Tanka boat people and their life is all about the sea. Here houses are built on stilts above the ocean and elderly residents dry seafood on traditional straw mats and make the village’s celebrated shrimp paste. Tai O is built partly on Lantau and partly on a tiny island about 15m from shore. With the large number of sampans in the small harbor Tai O was given the nickname “The Venice of Hong Kong”. You can get a rope-tow ferry on some weekends and holidays. Visitors enjoy wandering the back alleys, taking photos, strolling the long causeway and buying seafood at the markets.
Temple St. has the liveliest night market in Hong Kong. Here you’ll find merchants selling clothing, watches, CDs, footwear, cookware and many other items. There are also fortune-tellers, herbalists and on occasion some Cantonese opera performances. Take a taste of the street food on Woo Sung St. where you can get anything from a bowl of noodles to a full meal. You can rind a few seafood and hotpot restaurants in the area. The best time to shop here is from 7 PM to 10 PM.
Chi Lin Nunnery is a lovely and large Buddhist complex dating from the 1930s. It was rebuilt of wood not using a single nail in the Tang dynasty style in 1998. This is a serene place with lotus ponds, bonsai tea plants and bougainvillea. Nuns make offerings of rice and fruit to Buddha and arhats (Buddhist disciples freed from the cycle of birth and death, Building this without a single nail was meant to demonstrate the harmony between people and nature.
The complex is entered through the Sam Mun, a series of “three gates” that represent the Buddhist precepts of compassion, wisdom and “skillful means”. The first courtyard contains the lovely Lotus Pond Garden which gives way to the Hall of Celestial Kings, with a large statue of the seated Buddha surrounded by the deities of the four cardinal points. Behind it is the main hall with a statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha.
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without a ride on the Star Ferry with a fleet of electric-diesel vessels with names like Morning Star, Celestial Star and Twinkling Star. Take a trip on a clear night to see all the lights. At any time of the day it is impressive to see all of the skyscrapers and the green hills all around. This is a 10-minute journey but they also offer a 60-minute Harbor Tour.
The Star Ferry was founded by Dorabjee Nowrojee, a Parsee from Bombay, India. Parsees believe in Zoroastrianism and the five-pointed star on the Star Ferry logo is an ancient Zoroastrian symbol.
Take a walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade which is one of the best ways to view all of the skyscrapers and other buildings. It is especially wonderful to stroll along at night during the nightly Symphony of Lights, an impressive sound-and light show including 44 buildings on the Hong Kong Island skyline.
One of the finest city skylines in the world has to be that of Hong Kong Island, and the promenade here is one of the best ways to get an uninterrupted view. It’s a lovely place to stroll around during the day, but it really comes into its own in the evening, during the nightly Symphony of Lights , a spectacular sound-and-light show involving 44 buildings on the Hong Kong Island skyline.
The first part of the promenade is the Avenue of Stars, paying homage to the Hong Kong film industry and its stars with hand prints, sculptures and information boards.
Officially the promenade starts at the New World Centre shopping center and runs parallel to Salisbury Rd. It is especially crowded during the Chinese New Year because of the fireworks displays and in June during the Dragon Boat Festival.
At present all or most of the promenade has been closed for renovation through late 2018.
HSBC Building is an impressive building that was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster in 1985. Upon completion it was the world’s most expensive building.
The harbor side entrance is guarded by two bronze lions called Stephen on the left and Stitt on the right. They were named after HSBC managers from the 1920s. Visitors can rub their paws for luck. The ground floor is public space then the elevators take you to the main banking hall. It is well-worth it to go to the third floor to see the cathedral-like atrium and the natural light filtering through the windows. The Chinese refer to this 52-story glass and aluminum building as the “Robot Building”.
The Hong Kong Museum of History offers visitors a look into the territory’s archaeology, ethnography and natural and local history. The Hong Kong Story tells visitors about the past taking them through eight galleries beginning with the natural environment and prehistoric Hong Kong and ending with the territory’s return to China in 1997. There are replicas of village dwellings, traditional Chinese costumes and beds. Free guided tours are available in English.
St. John’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral where services have been held since its opening in 1849. There are lovely stained glass windows that show scenes of vernacular Hong Kong life. From the ceiling hang tattered regimental flags which were buried during WWII to hide them from the Japanese.
The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is a spacious, high-quality museum. Among its highlights is a children’s area with interactive play zones. The New Territories Heritage Hall has mock-ups of traditional minority villages, the Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall lets visitors watch old operas with English subtitles and there is an elegant gallery displaying Chinese art. On display until July 2018 is a Bruce Lee exhibit with some 600 items of memorabilia.
Hong Kong Park is one of the most unusual parks in the world. It puts emphasis on creations like its fountain plaza, conservatory, waterfall, indoor games hall, playground, taichi garden, viewing tower, museum and arts center.
For shopping and entertainment head for Tsim Sha Tsui. This district is a melting pot of culture and commerce. The main road is Nathan Road along which you’ll find many restaurants, boutiques and other shops.
Of interest in the area is the former Kowloon-Canton Railways Clock Tower, a Hong Kong landmark.
The Tsim Sha Tsui Cultural Complex is home to the Hong Kong Space Museum and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
For thrills and excitement visit Ocean Park where you can walk through Old Hong Kong, ride roller coasters and see rare and exotic wildlife. It is also home to the largest aquarium dome in the world. There are thousands of fish from 400 species, a Reef Tunnel and a chance for a hands-on experience with sea stars and sea cucumbers.
You can participate in a Giant Panda Adventure and see giant pandas, red pandas and the endangered Chinese Giant Salamander.
Among the fun rides is the Mine Train, Raging River and Space Wheel.
Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 and is divided into seven areas – Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Toy Story Land, Mystic Point and Grizzly Gultch. This is a small version of Disney and except for some spectacular roller coasters most of the rides are appropriated even for small children. A Feng Shui master was consulted when building the park and the number eight is prominent here. The official spokesman for the park is Canto-pop singer Jacky Cheung. Don’t worry about finding something good to eat. You can get snacks or full meals. Eastern food – dried squid, fish balls on a stick and dim sum or Western food – burgers, cotton candy and muffins. Like at any Disney themed park costumed characters can be found everywhere.