With so much to do and to see, Hong Kong is a great destination for a short stop or an extended stay. The cuisine is the best in Asia, the scenery on the peninsula and the surrounding islands is stunning, the people are consistently pleasant and willing to provide assistance, and while the shopping may not be such a cut-rate bargain any longer, it is still unsurpassed for quality and choice.
Exotic but easy to navigate and understand, stimulating but non-threatening, Hong Kong stands alone as a city that offers such an abundance of appealing possibilities with few potential aggravations.
You can see a lot in a couple of days. Start by boarding the Star Ferry, which traverses one of the world’s busiest waterways across Victoria Harbor between Central to Tsimshatsui. The harbor is ringed by a dramatic skyline. The Star Ferry, which has been operating here since 1874, provides a great perspective on Hong Kong, and at less than 50 U.S. cents, it’s quite the bargain.
The ferry drops you within minutes of the highly efficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Central station, where you board a train to Tung Chung on Lantau Island. From there take a 25-minute cable car ride on the Ngong Ping Skyrail, relishing unforgettable views of the South China Sea and Hong Kong International Airport.
At Ngong Ping Village, visit the Walking with Buddha Museum. This also gives you access to the Big Buddha. Sitting on his lotus throne, this brass statue is an imposing 112 feet tall and weighs more than 250 tons. Climb the 268 steps to reach the platform where the Giant Buddha is seated.
Besides admiring the statue, there is much to see and do at the nearby monastery. Enjoy a vegetarian lunch prepared by monks or take a brief stroll to the nearby tea plantation. Not too far away is the Wisdom Path, an outdoor replica of the centuries-old Heart Sutra, one of the world’s best-known prayers revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists. The sutra is displayed on wooden pillars placed in an infinity formation to symbolize the idea of endless splendor.
After you’ve gotten in touch with your inner Buddha, you will want to drop in on the Ngong Ping Tea House for a refreshing brew and insight into some Chinese tea traditions unique to Hong Kong.
After tea, it’s time to retrace your steps to Central. Drop in on the famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel, another of the great monuments of Far Eastern hospitality. From here, you will find easy access to take the funicular to Victoria Peak, famous for its views of Central, Victoria Harbor, South China Sea, Kowloon and undulating hills beyond.
The newly revitalized Peak Tower, one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions, not only has some of the best views from its rooftop platform with striking 360-degree vistas over Hong Kong, but also a wide range of spectacular shopping, dining options and entertainment attractions for the kids.
Enjoy breathtaking views of Victoria Harbor and Kowloon’s mountains, soaring skyscrapers and pastoral hillsides while dining at Pearl on the Peak, which boasts a 270-degree view of the city and promises to deliver superb dining experiences.
Return to Central Station and board the MTR to Admiralty to browse around Pacific Place, one of the many up-market shopping malls Hong Kong is known for. Part of the complex is the Island Shangri-La Hotel, where you’ll want to have lunch at Café Too. Asian or Western stations prepare Italian pasta side by side with Chinese noodles and Indian tandoori. A Hong Kong tradition done particularly well here is the wonton noodles dish—a modest HK$120 (US$15).
After a short walk back to Central, spend a half-hour exploring The Lanes, three narrow alleys connecting Des Voeux Road and Queen’s Road. Stalls sell watches, clothes, and shoes. While the merchandise is already at bargain prices, this is the place to haggle and save a few extra dollars if you feel inclined. A floor of stalls sells silks and other cloth.
Hong Kong is not as cheap as it used to be, but the Stanley Market, with 200 or so shops and stalls lining narrow lanes, is still fascinating and offers good value for souvenirs and gifts.
Pick up a couple of trinkets and then stroll down to the old classic Colonial Murray Building, which was moved from its former Central location to make room for the offices of acclaimed architect I.M. Pei’s futuristic angular Bank of China Tower. Every piece of the Murray Building was numbered, stored, and eventually reassembled here in 1998.
Today, its most notable tenant is your next stop, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. Hong Kong is first and foremost a port city, and that’s ’s the focus of the exhibits here, ranging from the distant past to the present day. Container ships carry finished goods from busy mainland Chinese factories to markets overseas — much as sailing ships used to transport tea, silks, and porcelain along the same routes. Peruse the museum and enjoy the interactive games, including a simulator that allows you to guide a ship into port.
Move on to Aberdeen and the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. The garishly painted multistory structure with a pagoda roof is a veteran of countless movies. The building’s recent makeover led to the opening of Top Deck at the Jumbo, offering high-quality international cuisine and great views of a crowded harbor where live-aboard junks share space with luxury yachts. Don’t miss chef Alan Yu’s warm chocolate pudding with coconut ice cream.
Flag a cab to Sai Kung, a New Territories town known for its waterfront promenade and seafood restaurants where you can watch the sun set over the harbor. At one of the dozens of restaurants, select your fish, still swimming, fresh from the tank, and it will be steamed with soy sauce and ginger. Also sample the steamed prawns, along with a seasonal green vegetable, fried rice, and a couple of bottles of icy Chinese Tsingtao, which goes well with the food.
You also will want to explore the Western District, one of Hong Kong’s most fascinating neighborhoods. A window into Chinese traditional lifestyle, the Western District features shops offering fresh produce, cloth, dried seafood, live snakes, healing herbs and medicines.
For spectacular views of the city as well as live music, head to Aqua. If you’re there on a Wednesday evening, you’ll likely hear Hong Kong’s leading jazz songstress, Elaine Liu. Not only will you be treated to good music, but as the sun disappears, you’ll watch the city ignite in neon — a perfect ending in this city of contrasts.