Futuristic skyscrapers set against a shimmering harbor; the chimes from double decker trams zipping through traffic; the smell of roast geese hanging by shop windows: Hong Kong makes a first impression like no other place on Earth. The business and financial hub proudly flaunts—and deserves—the title of “Asia’s World City.” The former British Crown Colony is prime for an urban adventure; from the neon-lit streets of Mongkok to the humble fishing villages in Tai O, you will never run out of sights to discover in one of Asia’s most lovable cities.
Hong Kong is considered Asia’s most cosmopolitan city, and everyone seems to be in a rush—dashing off to work in some soaring high rise, hurrying to catch a tram or a subway, speed-shopping through the countless shopping malls, hastening to make a date at one of the myriad glassed-in restaurants and chic cocktail bars. Beyond the 21st century cacophony and the accelerated tempo, however, the savvy visitor can find glimpses of old-world tranquility: incense-wreathed Taoist temples; polished hotel lobbies serving afternoon tea in the English style; rustic remote walking trails; graceful tai-chi practitioners in tidy city parks. When you visit Hong Kong, you’ll notice that its relatively small size—the city “only” holds seven million people—superb public transportation system, inexpensive taxis, and bilingual signage make it a breeze to navigate.
Situated on the mouth of the Pearl River Delta on China’s southwestern coast, Hong Kong is a city that has a remarkable mix of Eastern and Western influences. The handover of this territory from Britain to China was in 1997, but the centuries of British rule still have a lasting legacy, tangible in everything from the grand period architecture to the local passion of horse-racing. Even the name of Hong Kong’s centerpiece, the iconic Victoria Harbor, harks back to another era, and today, there is an international flavor to the destination that sets it apart from other Chinese cities. The culinary scene, the nightlife, and shopping are all world-class.
Hong Kong’s culture is a melting pot of customs and traditions, influenced by thousands of years of immigration. Wherever you look in the city, there is a story to be told that will take you back centuries: whether it’s in the traditional Chinese festivals, cultural arts, or family-run restaurants. Hong Kong culture is underpinned by the Cantonese dialect and people: early immigrants from the southern Guangdong region of China established Cantonese as Hong Kong’s main language, bringing with them a strong cultural influence that’s evident in the city’s food, music and festivals. For an artistic expression of this culture you only need watch some Cantonese opera: an elaborate art form that involves the singing of Guangdong melodies as well as a mix of martial arts, acrobatics, acting and incredible costumes.
Everywhere you step in Hong Kong, you’d be hard-pressed to miss signs of the city’s unique fusion of East and West – a complex multicultural vibe that makes it such a unique and easy-to-navigate travel destination. Hong Kong’s Chinese and British make-up runs through its fabric: it’s in the very stone of its preserved buildings and the old-fashioned street signs, on the racks of local fashion designers and the tables of the best restaurateurs. From this cultural fusion—these leftovers from the past—emerges a new, modern Hong Kong.
In this lightning-paced cosmopolitan that is Hong Kong, it can be easy to overlook the city’s rural roots. Back before the city’s financial institutions dominated downtown, before industry reimagined the city, Hong Kong was a series of markets, of small communities subsisting on the land, living inside walled villages. If you travel up into the New Territories you’ll discover that traditional life still exists behind these walls. You don’t need to travel far away from the heart of downtown Hong Kong to discover a part of the region that will make you feel as if you’ve ventured back in time, to an era when communities lived inside walled villages, where life revolved around an ancestral hall and when family decisions were made by the collective. Life inside a walled village had a very separate feel that you can still find in some of the region’s northerly pockets, such as Fanling, Sheung Shui and Yuen Long. These communities are by no means frozen in time, but you’ll find ancient traditions and a more modest way of life still exist behind these old walls.
Before Hong Kong became the world-famous free trade port it is today, it was throughout its history a maritime base for pirates, a resource for Chinese traders, a home for traditional fishing villages, and a colonial staging post. Standing on the piers of Victoria Harbor today, you’ll be dazzled by the brilliance of the high-rise commercial centers dominating the skyline. However if you cast your mind’s eye back over the last thousand-odd years (and use a little imagination), you’d see trading ships stockpiled with porcelain sheltering in the harbor; fleets of notorious Chinese pirates chasing their prey; tea clippers racing onwards to London with a haul of tea leaves; or British naval vessels building their defenses.
Hong Kong is one of the most talked-about dining destinations in the world: it’s where celebrity chefs from across the globe compete to showcase their talent—and where food lovers flock to be the first to tuck in. But as densely packed as this city is with Michelin-starred restaurants and venues you’ll queue all night for, it also excels in something you’ll struggle to find anywhere else in the world—rich, local gems steeped in tradition, and humble, neighborhood family favorites.
No visitor can leave Hong Kong without first going for some dim sum—the city’s unofficial pastime. Interwoven into the DNA of the locals, you’ll see restaurants packed from morning right through ‘til teatime with big groups sat at large round tables for yum cha (this term, meaning “to drink tea,” is interchangeable with dim sum). Although this age-old tradition is most closely associated with the people of Guangdong, the culture of the noisy teahouse—think fluttering birds in cages, trolleys stacked with steaming bamboo boxes—is firmly rooted in Hong Kong’s heritage. For another uniquely Hong Kong experience, a meal must be had at an outdoor, street-side dai pai dong. Grab a seat on a wooden stool by a rickety folding table at these limited-license mom-and-pop stalls and order everything from wok-kissed seafood to fried rice and noodles.
If you walk down any street in Hong Kong, it won’t take you long to spot manifestations of the city’s deeply spiritual nature. You’ll find places of worship quietly nestled down busy streets; shop fronts adorned with offerings to the gods to ensure good luck and fortune; and worshippers burning paper offerings and joss sticks on the side of the road. These religious customs and long-held traditions (or you could say, superstitions) permeate the city’s modern facade. At the same time as Hong Kong is underpinned by some of these spiritual traditions, it’s also not defined by one sole religion: this multicultural city is home to Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, Muslims, Catholics and more besides.
Hong Kong’s important relationship with its harbor is still evident today in the sheer number of temples devoted to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea. Fishermen and sailors throughout the centuries have worshipped her for protection, which is why you’ll often find a Tin Hau temple right beside the waterfront. The oldest and largest of these is Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay, Sai Kung, which was built in 1266 and is now a Grade I historical building. The temple’s origin makes for a great story: during the Song Dynasty, two brothers from Fujian were earning a living in Kowloon by shipping salt to the mainland. On one such trip, their boat was hit by strong winds and they were swept overboard. Crying for help from Tin Hau, they beached up at Joss House Bay. Here they built a temple to honor the goddess (although this was then later rebuilt by their descendants). During the Tin Hau Festival, tens of thousands of worshippers flock to the temple to shake their joss sticks here.
Spanning some 18,000 square meters, Wong Tai Sin Temple is one of the major attractions in Hong Kong. It’s dedicated to the Great Immortal Wong, who gave this district its name, and has a reputation far and wide for answering people’s prayers. Worshippers will flock here for a practice called kau cim—the shaking of bamboo fortune sticks. Shake a bamboo cylinder containing fortune sticks until one falls out. This stick is then exchanged for a piece of paper containing a parable, which is then interpreted by a soothsayer, some of whom can speak English and also Putonghua. Opposite the temple, you can also visit the Wong Tai Sin Fortune Telling and Oblation Arcade and have your fortune told.
Asia’s world city punches well above its weight class when it comes to do. If there is only one thing you can do in Hong Kong, go to ‘The Peak’. The highest point on Hong Kong Island, this has been the city’s most exclusive neighborhood since colonial times — back then it was the cooler air that attracted the rich and famous; in the post air-conditioning era, the views of one of the world’s most spectacular cityscapes keep them coming. That view is also what makes ‘The Peak’ one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. By day your eyes stretch across sparkling skyscrapers and Victoria Harbor all the way to the green hills of the New Territories. In early evening, this panorama melts into pink and orange before reincarnating as a dazzling galaxy of light, shimmering beneath you. And if you listen carefully enough, you can hear Asia’s world city humming below.
Hong Kong is a destination that should be on everybody’s ‘bucket list’. The city is called many things, not least of all a country in and of itself. As the world’s most vertical and arguably futuristic city with high-tech transportation, it’s a fascinating place to explore.
Best Time to Go?
Owing to a subtropical climate, Hong Kong’s sweltering summer months are sauna-like, and there are frequent monsoons and typhoons during that time of year. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 84°F, and January is the coldest month, with an average high of 61°F. Prime timing for a trip falls around mid-October to late December, when temperatures are still mild and Chinese tourists swarming in for the week-long national holiday have left.
Best of All – There has never better been a better time to visit Hong Kong!
AirlinePros partner, Hong Kong Airlines (HX) offers non-stop service from its first U.S. hub, Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), with San Francisco and New York to follow in 2018. Flights are operated on its brand new fleet of Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Hong Kong Airlines is a full-service airline firmly rooted in Hong Kong. From ground operation to inflight service, the airline is committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience with a unique flair of its home base.