Hong Kong, China (population 7.4 million)
I visited the then British colony in 1996, a trip that was also to see me taking a slow boat to China and a fast one to then Portuguese Macau.
I travelled with my brother Ed and we had a fantastic time. Here are some of the highlights.
One of the world’s iconic harbours with a super-cheap ferries transporting passengers across a narrow strait of the South China Sea between the high rise of Hong Kong Island and yet more high rise of Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula.
Taking a ferry across both ways is a touristic must, not only for the spectacular views but also to sample the hustle and bustle of local commuting. For the touristic-hearted of you, it is possible to take a sailing junk across or motor around the harbour on a party boat. I sampled neither but plenty do.
Another ‘must do’ is to take one of the rickety double decker street cars that have been in operation on the HKI side for over a century. The tram routes used to skirt the water’s edge but are now far removed from the harbour front thanks to reclamation projects.
You can also take the ferry a little further to Lantau Island, home of a huge outdoor Buddha and a wonderful monastery.
The Buddha statue is 34 metres tall, weighs over 250 tons and was constructed in 1993 from 202 bronze pieces. You have to climb 268 steps to reach the statue though the site also features a small winding road for an easier ascent.
The Buddha’s right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction, while the left rests open on his lap in a gesture of generosity. He faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.
The Po Lin Monastery was completed in 1906 and is a fine example of a Buddhist monastery complex.
Taking the tram up HK’s highest hill is a must for stunning views of the Island and Chinese mainland. I did it by day and by night to get contrasting perspectives.
Kowloon & Mong Kok Bird Market
Kowloon is the slightly more manic side to Hong Kong. When we went it was home to cheaper accommodation than HKI with some pretty horrid looking hostels amongst them. Check out the so called Chungking House De Luxe Hotel!
It was the side from which we boarded our old clunker of a ship to Guangzhou and arrived back in much slicker fashion on the Canton-Kowloon Railway.
In the days before the spanking new airport on Lamma Island it was also the place where the aircraft seemed to float just a few feet above the buildings, reachable it appeared with a standard broomstick from a top floor window.
It was the area for marvellous street food, colourful markets and a fast pace.
The pick of the markets is at Mong Kok. It is here that you can pick up your lucky canary in its cage, purchase a talking parrot or cockatoo and stock up on food for your menagerie.
We watched in a mixture of awe and disgust as stall holders scooped large handfuls of writhing locusts into plastic bags, fodder for feathered friends.
Sha Tin Race Course
Less famous than Happy Valley, Sha Tin situated in the New Territories is the home of HK’s other flat racing venue.
Join thousands of excitable Chinese to bet a few yuan on your selections. The atmosphere as the horses enter the home strait is akin to a football match as the frenzied gamblers bay for their fancy to cross the finishing line ahead of all others.
The evening will be memorable even if, like me, you don’t win a bean.
Sha Tin is also home to the remarkable Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas, so allow time to visit there too.
These are just a few highlights. HK is up there with any of the world’s great cities and you will never be at a loss for something to do.