Hong Kong is an astoundingly modern city distinguished by its rainforest climate and soaring palms. Everything about it is larger than life, from the glass-covered central banking district (CBD) to the opulent botanical gardens hidden just seconds away. A beautiful contrast of East and West, Hong Kong delivered everything I expected from it and more.
We arrived at our hostel in one of the busiest districts of the city, near Victoria Harbour. The Museum of Art is located on the harbour, and this was our first port of call. Our short walk there took us along one of the busiest streets in Hong Kong, Nathan Road, which boasts several shopping centres, hotels and restaurant overlooking the harbour as well as an array of museums.
A video installation charting the modernisation of China and Hong Kong during the twentieth century greeted us at the entrance; we were then plunged into darkness and led around a maze of screens depicting different places, people and periods in time. Before even having visited the city, we were allowed to witness virtually its development and see how it compares to today.
The back wall of the museum itself is a also work of art. Constructed of monumental plates of glass, it offers a uniquely unobstructed and peaceful view of the harbour and the masses of skyscrapers on its other side. In sharp contrast to this wall of modernity, the upper floors exhibit traditional Eastern prints, sculpture and paintings. A cheap ticket, traditional art and an insight into how this magnificent city came to fruition are all reasons why I cannot recommend enough visiting the Museum of Art.
Although there are many modes of transport in the city centre, the subway is quick and cost-effective. After taking the subway into the city, we took the tram to Victoria Peak. On the way up, the tram climbs a mountainside on what is essentially a vertical track; it is not for the faint-hearted. But at the top you get an incredible 360-degree view of the city, mountains and sea ports. We took the journey up in the late afternoon to ensure we saw the city in daylight, sunset and darkness all in one trip. It is possible to get one way tickets or if you are really keen you can hike up and back down at no cost at all.
Atop the mountain there is a shopping centre packed with restaurants, bars and shops. We ate dinner and drank cocktails in what was a surprisingly reasonably priced restaurant on the top level and were able to watch the city while we ate.
After taking the tram back down to earth we wandered through the financial and shopping districts, totally transformed by the night. The sheer size of the buildings is difficult to comprehend and even more so to describe. Unlike the typical white lights of a big city, Hong Kong is unashamedly colourful. Each building taller, brighter, more glacial than the last. We then returned to the harbour to see it in its rainbow of lights, reflecting toward us across the river.
The botanical gardens are located in the middle of the city, a steep climb away from the CBD. The Hong Kong climate is tropical and once in the gardens, surrounded by bounds of greenery and primate enclosures, you feel a world away from the bustling city outside. The giveaway is in the skyscrapers creeping into sight over the trees and the colossal concrete columns supporting the above highways. The tension between tradition and modernity is prominent in Hong Kong, but they seem to have found their equilibrium. The contrast between these opposite elements is what makes the city so interesting – and the botanical gardens such a good stop.
Our afternoon consisted of a short trip to Disneyland, and it did not disappoint. There was a Level 8 typhoon passing through, so outdoor attractions were closed at the park. This was my first experience at a Disney resort, so the weather did not dampen my excitement. I had no idea what the park would be like and I was amazed by everything about it. The park is a relatively cheap day out and easy to get to if you want to escape the bustle of the city for a few hours. The details of everything from the restaurants to the stores was so meticulous, and I found it refreshing not to have to behave like an adult for a few hours.
That evening we went to the Ladies’ and Temple Street Markets. Stock varies from fresh fish to suitcases, and the market stalls line streets upon streets. Patience, an ability to haggle and learning to say ‘no’ are three essential skills for maneuvering the markets.
These markets also exhibit the stark constant between modernity and tradition in the city. Traditional silk dresses and fans can be purchased from one stall; the next sells cases for phones and laptops. Supporting local people and families is, for me at least, one of the most important parts of visiting areas of the world that are still developing. It could be very easy to be fooled by the seemingly booming city centre, but as I found out from visiting the less developed parts of the city if you merely scratch the surface the rich-poor divide is more than evident. The modernised parts of the city are full of young, prospering businessmen and women passing designer stores on their way to their office buildings. A few streets away, people can be seen searching through trash cans or piles. I feel it is extremely important to see past the glittering skyline of this city to what is sometimes hidden away from view.
Our last morning was spent at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in ShaTin, which is located atop a steep hill but is more than worth the climb. The entire path upwards is lined on either side with Buddha sculptures, each bathed in gold leaf with a different ex- pression than those around it.
Once at the top there are tens of buildings and mausoleums surrounded by and filled with even more figures. The architecture is astounding; curvature and exotic shapes make up the colourful religious buildings.
Meanwhile, monks can be respectfully observed in prayer and executing their daily tasks. This small spiritual sanctuary borders main roads and corporate buildings. As with other sites, the culture dichotomy is all too present.
Religion and worship are clearly important to many Hong Kong residents, and seeing a part of their culture that did not centre on consumerism or materiality was refreshing.
The City, like the temples, helps a visitor understand the many dimensions of the local culture as well as of its inhabitants, and our visit there was a beautiful end to our trip.
This article is based upon a post published on the author’s travel blog. To read more, go to: www.caitlinjeanrussell.com.