One should pity the locals who never raise their eyes from the streets
– Hong Kong can be one of the most enthralling and surprisingly
beautiful urban spectacles on earth. A short walk from the bustle
of Central reveals a harbour view that the architectural
boom of the 1980s and 1990s has turned into a combination of Manhattan
and San Francisco, with added shipping bustle. In the evening, it
only gets better. The view of Hong Kong’s
glittering lights from the Peak by night is unforgettable –
almost as amazing are the towers of Central viewed from the lovers’
walk of Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
or the popular glass-walled ladies’ toilet of Felix in the
Peninsula Hotel. In contrast, the south side of Hong Kong island,
at Stanley or Repulse Bay, is
an entrancing islandscape right from a classical Chinese ink painting.
And any back street market provides loads of folksy, ethnic charm.
Old colonial Hong Kong may have lacked grand monuments but the now
famous Bank of China and the Hongkong
and Shanghai Bank give the place a 21st-century
buzz worthy of one of the Pacific Rim’s most important economic
hubs. These buildings share the spotlight with the rainbow-coloured
light show of The Center skyscraper, the waterside steel
wings of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and a many
lesser marvels, with others still being built– such as
2 International Finance Center and Union Square
Phase 7, which will rank, however briefly, as the world’s
tallest buildings. Die-hard colonialists can be happy with Government
House, the Former French Mission Building,
the Former Gate Lodge on the peak, the Former
Kowloon–Canton Railway Clock Tower, the Former
Kowloon British School and a many other ‘Olds’
There are much older relics of the region’s
past still remaining after the relentless forward drive, particularly
out in the New Territories. These include the Causeway Bay
Tin Hau Temple, Sam Tung Uk Village
Law Uk Hakka House, Liu Man Shek, Lei
Cheng Uk Han Tomb, Kun Lung Wai Gate Tower,
Tong Ancestral Hall, Yeung Hau
Temple and so on.
Hong Kong is putting much of its hopes as a future tourist
centre on the Hong Kong Disneyland, planned
for Lantau Island. However, it will be still years years for completion.
In the meantime, visitors can forget the government’s ambitions
and take advantage of the plethora of sights already on offer.
Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Information Centre
Ground Floor, The Center, 99 Queen’s Road Central, Central
Tel: 2807 6543 or 2508 1234 (tourist information). Fax: 2806 0303.
Web site: www.hktourismboard.com
Opening hours: Daily 08:00–18:00.
The HKTB Museum Pass offers unlimited admission
to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong
Kong Space Museum, the Hong Kong Science Museum
the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong
Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, the Hong Kong Museum
of History and others, as well as several discounts in
the museum shops. Good for week, the pass costs HK$30 and can be
purchased from HKTB offices and participating museums.
Until now never part of traditional Hong Kong tourist itineraries,
Statue Square is now not to be missed, due to its dazzling ensemble
of modern architecture. Richard Rogers’ headquarters building
for the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation makes up the south
side of the square and just east of it is I M Pei’s Bank of
China Tower. Less distinguished but just as prominent buildings
are dotted around them, towering over the colonial remnant of St
John’s Cathedral. In more antiquated contrast, the Legislative
Council Building, previously the Supreme Court, on the east side
of the square, is home to Hong Kong’s partly elected assembly.
The square is best avoided at weekends, unless, however the visitor
wants to see a display of flocks of Filipino and Indonesian housemaids,
taking time out to gossip and picnic there.
The unusual profile of Norman Foster’s masterpiece may not
look huge on paper – it is on most Hong Kong Dollar notes
– but in the flesh (or steel) it is monumental. Opened in
1986, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation embody the fashion
for atriums in global architecture and an escalator ride into the
belly of the building, into its towering air-conditioned interior,
is a must. It has no central core – bridge engineering techniques
secure the walls and its infrastructure is located on the outside
– so all eleven floors of the central atrium are open and
International planned to tower over the neighbouring Hongkong and
Shanghai Bank Building, today the Bank of China Tower is Hong Kong’s
‘national’ monument. The Chinese-American architect,
I M Pei, established Beijing’s triumphalist intentions into
an ascending, gracefully irregular pinnacle, the design style of
which inspire lively discussion among connoisseurs of feng shui.
The triangular and hexagonal structural logic requires some time
of puzzled scrutiny. Visitors can climb to the 43rd of its 74 storeys
for an especially stunning view of Central.
Transport: MTR Central station, exit K.
and Shanghai Bank Building
Des Voeux Road, Statue Square
Tel: 2822 1111. Fax: 2868 1646.
Web site: www.hsbc.com.hk
Opening hours: Monday–Friday 09:00–16:30, Sat
Bank of China Tower
2a Des Voeux Road, 1 Garden Road
Tel: 2826 6888. Fax: 2810 5963.
Web site: www.bochk.com/en/index.htm
Opening hours: Monday–Friday 09:30–21:30,
Sat and Sun 09:30–23:30.
A miniature hill station during colonial times, Victoria Peak is
stratospheric in its social exclusiveness and its rents. Groundlings
can still visit, however, climbing by the vertiginous Peak Tram
– a funicular in use since 1888, which seems more like the
Space Shuttle. On top of the hill is the Peak Tower – a slightly
unusual viewing platform with displays and other facilities –
and the Peak Galleria shopping arcade. The amusements and shops
vary from the appealing to the unbelievably tacky, although there
are at least many restaurants and bars to satisfy visitors. Dinner
at Café Deco, in the Peak Galleria, is not to be missed Hong
Kong experience – the view below in central Hong Kong and
across the water to Kowloon is awesome, day or night. Hikers can
climb the real peak, some 140m (459ft) above the tram terminus,
with views over Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the outlying islands.
Garden Road (Lower Peak Tram Terminus)
Tel: 2840 7654; fax: 2849 6237 (Peak Tram).
Web site: www.thepeak.com.hk
Transport: Peak Tram from Garden Road; bus
from Exchange Square; shuttle bus from Star Ferry terminal.
Opening hours: Daily 0700–2400 (Peak Tram).
Admission: HK$20 (Peak Tram); concessions available.
Formerly a market – this four-storey redbrick Edwardian building
built in 1906 and occupying an entire block at the western end of
Central – reopened in 1991, as a shopping centre with small
shops, souvenir stands and curio sellers. Ground-floor shops offer
on-of-a kind goods rather than chain store merchandise, while the
first floor emulates the old ‘Cloth Alley’, offering
silks and fabrics of all kinds. There is also a dim sum restaurant
and an antique-shop café.
Tel: 2543 6878. Fax: 2543 6931.
Transport: MTR Sheung Wan, exit B or C; bus or tram along
Des Voeux Road to Sheung Wan.
The mother of all retail plazas, Times Square is a gigantic temple
to Hong Kong’s number one deity, Mammon. The huge complex
houses nine floors of shops and has an amazing exterior with a huge
display screen and electronic clock – the location of the
big millennium countdown in 2000. At the weekend, the hosts of sacrifices
climbing the escalator, to be swallowed up in the belly of this
humongous idol, demonstrate precisely what the Asian economic miracle
was all about. Recession has not overtly blunted the shopping craze
and there are ever more shops and restaurants under this huge pile.
Times Square, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2118 8900. Fax: 2506 2022.
MTR Causeway Bay; bus or tram along Hennessey Road to Causeway Bay.
Opening hours: Daily 10:00–22:00.
Flagstaff House Museum of
Located in the lovely Hong Kong Park and overlooking the ultramodern
mania of Central, Flagstaff House. Built in 1846 this is the oldest
surviving colonial building and is the former residence of the colonial
Commander-in-Chief. Today it houses a fine museum of tea ware, seals
and other ceramics.
Cotton Tree Drive, Hong Kong
Tel: 2869 0690. Fax: 2810 0021.
Transport: MTR Admiralty, exit F, then up escalator through
Pacific Place; bus or tram along Queensway to Pacific Place.
Opening hours: Thursday–Tuesday 10:00–17:00.
Kong Museum of History
It is somehow appropriate that this go-ahead territory has its history
commemorated in a sleek new building. Opened in late 2000, the new
museum building, located next to the Hong Kong Science Museum in
Kowloon, contains exhibits depicting the region’s history
from prehistoric times, including some amazing period sets. There
are traditional costumes, a large collection of period photographs,
replicas of old village homes and an entire street, circa 1881,
with a Chinese medicine store. There are also many temporary exhibitions.
100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: 2724 9042. Fax: 2724 9090.
Transport: MTR Tsim Sha Tsiu, then walk via
Cameron Road; minibus no 1 from Kowloon Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsiu
to Science Museum Road.
Opening hours: Mon,
Wed–Sat 10:00–18:00, Sun 10:00–17:00.
HK$10 (concessions available).
Tai Sin Temple
An elaborate traditional temple in the heart of Kowloon, Wong Tai
Sin Temple mixes Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist traditions. Wong
Tai Sin himself was a Zhejiang shepherd/alchemist who reportedly
concocted a marvelous cure-all. His statue in the main building
was erected in 1915. The building is amazingly colourful with its
red pillars, golden ceiling and decorated latticework, although
not especially distinguished. Much more fascinating are the fortune-tellers
in their arcade of booths and the hoards of of worshippers. This
is also Hong Kong’s most popular temple for Chinese New Year
Tai Sin Road, Kowloon
Tel: 2327 8141. Fax: 2351 5640.
MTR Wong Tai Sin, exit B3, then follow signs.
hours: Daily 07:00–17:30.
Free; donations welcome.
Street Bird Garden
Rearing caged songbirds is a time-honoured Chinese passion and the
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is Hong Kong’s shrine to this obsession.
There are approxiamtely 70 stalls, each with its own chorus, with
ornate cages and cage furniture offering added interest. And while
conditions in the average Hong Kong poultry market would give an
animal welfare activist a heart attack, the birds here are pampered
and cosseted, even fed honey nectar. Just north of the Bird Garden,
there is also a nice flower market and a goldfish market, closer
to the MTR station in Tung Choi Street.
Edward Road West, Kowloon
MTR Prince Edward, exit B1 or B2, then follow signs.
hours: Daily 07:00–20:00.
The white and green, or heavily branded, tub-shaped ferries are
a familiar Hong Kong sight and, as such, a symbol of the city. More
importantly however, is the fact that their decks provide incredible
views, day or night, of the waterfronts of Hong Kong Island and
Kowloon – not to mention the heavy ocean traffic surging through
the shipping lanes. The boats themselves are made of cast-iron to
delight schoolboys of all ages.
Central, Tsim Sha
Tsui, Wan Chai and Hung Hom Star Ferry terminals
Tel: 2367 7065. Fax: 2118 6028.
Web site: www.starferry.com.hk
Transport: Star Ferry docks are termini for
bus and minibus routes, a only a short walk from MTR stations.
Operating hours: Daily 06:30–23:30.
HK$1.70 (lower deck); HK$2.10 (upper deck); concessions available.
Not just an ordinary escalator, the Mid-Levels Escalator is the
longest in the world at 800m (2622ft) and was built as a commuter
aid for this upmarket residential hillside. The city fathers reportedly
scoffed at the cost of twin stairways, so there is only one escalator,
going downhill in the morning and uphill thereafter, until midnight.
It provides a fine (and free) view of the fashionable Soho streets
and is a superb venue for people-watching by passengers and café
Central Market (corner of Queens
Road and Jubilee Street) to Conduit Road
Bus or minibus to Queen’s Road.
Daily 07:00–10:30 (downhill), 10:30–24:00 (uphill).
Yes, the noonday gun is still here – as immortalised by Noel
Coward – and it is still fired daily at noon. Really a Hotchkiss
three-pounder, the gun is mounted in its own miniature, park-like
enclosure above the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, off Gloucester
Road and opposite the Excelsior Hotel. It cab be reached by an underpass
near the World Trade Centre
Gloucester Road, Causeway
Transport: MTR Causeway Bay,
exit D3, then a short walk past World Trade Centre to Excelsior
Operating hours: Noon (of course).
Sha Tsui Promenade
Providing another excellent view of the spectacular Victoria Harbour
and Hong Kong Island waterfront, this esplanade is an evening favourite
of Hong Kong couples, and provides a romantic backdrop. However,
day or night, the view is amazing. The colonial-era Clock Tower
at the western end of the promenade, by the Star Ferry piers, makes
an appealing historic terminus, while Harbour City with the huge
cruise liners is another lovely prospect just to the west.
Star Ferry Terminal to Hung Hom
MTR Tsim Sha Tsui; Star Ferry to Kowloon.
Daily 24 hours.