When planning a visit to Hong Kong, a common question is usually asked – where to stay – Hong Kong Island or Kowloon? First time visitors often head right to Kowloon (the peninsula area connected with China’s mainland) because of its easy access from the cruise ship terminal. Hong Kong Island, which lies just south across Victoria Harbour, is the city’s economic center with a bit of soul. It features a mix of sites from soaring towers to stylish Soho. Thanks to several tunnels and bridges and the Star Ferry connecting the two areas, it’s even easier than ever to crisscross from one to the other and explore both locations in one trip.
Hong Kong Island’s Central District is know for its tightly packed financial hub. It’s heavy on international banks, but light on historical buildings. For gallery hopping or antique browsing, visit Lan Kwai Fong and Soho. Sheung Wan is more traditional but still hip, while Wan Chai beckons visitors to its nightlife and shopping mecca, Causeway Bay. By contrast, the island’s more serene, and less inhabited southern coast, is ringed with harbors and sandy beaches.
CENTRAL, WESTERN AND THE PEAK
Star Ferry: A fifteen-minute journey on this iconic ferry across Victoria Harbor is a great way to take a photo op of the city skyline and surrounding mountain view. Tip: go in the evening to catch the nightly multimedia, Symphony of Lights Laser Show.
Lan Kwai Fong and Soho: These trendy areas are known for their stylish galleries and eclectic boutiques, modern cuisine, and chic drinking spots lined up on Hollywood Road.
Mid-levels Escalator: Take a ride on this unique people mover, which runs between the Central and Western Districts (it was completed in 1993 at a cost of HK$245 million). With 20 separate sections covering 800 meters (2,625 feet) it’s undoubtedly the world’s longest outdoor escalator system. Designed to ease the jam-packed traffic below, it begins at 100 Queen’s Road Center.
Ladder Street: You won’t need to hit the gym if you take a climb up this 19th century street, named for its steep stone steps that zigzag from Caine Road to Hollywood and Queen’s Roads.
Man Mo Temple: This Taoist temple with its dramatic curling incense dangling from the ceiling is one of the city’s oldest temples. Dedicated to the gods of war and literature, it was built in 1847 during the colonial era. Wander through the otherworldly, smoke-filled rooms and shake prayer-sticks from a bamboo container and have your fortune read by the resident soothsayers.
Hong Kong Park: Although almost exclusively manmade, this eight-hectre park is worth a visit. Wander through the Aviary, home to over 90 different species of birds, stop in the Museum of Tea Ware, or check out the t’ai chi practitioners early in the morning.
Sheung Wan: Crossing into this neighborhood brings you into the more traditional and residential areas of Hong Kong Island. Stop on Man Wa Lane to see the chop-makers — craftsmen who create Chinese character name stamps from blocks of stone that serve as a signature on official documents. Since it only takes about an hour (and they will translate the names into Chinese for you), they make a great souvenir or gift.
Des Vouex Road West: Known as the center of Chinese medicine trade in Hong Kong, this area is where all manner of herbs, ancient remedies, dried extracts, and animal parts can be purchased. Nearby streets Wing Lok and Ko Shing specialize in ancient Chinese tonic foods, ginseng, and bird’s nest, believed to hold the key to a longer life, increased energy, and a glowing complexion – who wouldn’t want that!
Peak Tram: This almost vertical ride takes you straight up to Victoria Peak, the highest point on the island. Built 125 years ago, it’s Asia’s oldest funicular. An eight-minute trip rewards you with amazing views of Kowloon and Victoria Harbor and on a clear day, a glimpse of mainland China. Walk the nature paths and then wander through Victoria Peak Gardens.
WAN CHAI AND CAUSEWAY BAY
Causeway Bay: Not far from the metropolitan center of Wan Chai (located on the northern shore of the island) is one of Hong Kong’s most impressive shopping complexes, Causeway Bay — a place to dine and shop late into the night. Nearby is the area’s own bustling “Times Square,” a mega mall with 14 floors of international shops, restaurants, and a cinema.
Happy Valley Racecourse: The first horse race was held here in 1846 and it continues to be a main attraction and home to the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Its vast stands can accommodate over 55,000 spectators. Stop by the complex’s Hong Kong Racing Museum for some historical perspective and pick up a few tips on famous trainers, jockeys, and horses.
THE SOUTH SIDE
Aberdeen: A harbor with an urban feel, its surrounding waters are filled with hundreds of wooden fishing boats, junks (ancient Chinese sailing ships), sampans (flat bottomed wooden boats), and yachts all bobbing in the natural typhoon shelter. Once a quaint fishing village, it has evolved into a high-rise filled town. Take a half-hour Sampan Tour from Aberdeen Promenade to get a close up view of life on the water. If you have time, stop for lunch at the famous floating restaurant Jumbo, which resembles an ornately decorated Imperial Palace.
Stanley Market: On the southern coastline of Hong Kong Island is this lively open-air market offering traditional handicrafts and locally made clothes and accessories at bargain prices. Maybe it’s a bit touristy, but it’s a great place to pick up last minute gifts and knick-knacks at reasonable prices. (My kids can never resist an opportunity to haggle!)
Stay tuned for my article on Kowloon. Header image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
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