If you’ve got one week and a yearning to experience something new and exciting, book your tickets for Hong Kong and Macau. Sangeetha Sampath did just that and one whirlwind week later, she has a lot to share with you.
The crackling voice of the flight attendant over the flight’s PA system woke me up. I blinked sleepily, looked out the window and sat up with a jolt. Millions of lights set the night below me, ablaze. I had once read an article in which pilots were quizzed on which city had the prettiest night aerial view. Hong Kong featured prominently in many of the responses. Now I knew why. And from my perch, high above, the pulsating lights of Hong Kong promised kilowatts of fun.
Hong Kong comprises the Kowloon peninsula and 263 islands, most notable of which is Hong Kong Island. Formerly, a British territory, it is now a Special Administrative Region of China. The best time to visit is Spring (March—May) and Autumn (September—November).
#1 Must-Do: Catch the billion-dollar view from Victoria Peak
Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Sydney has the Opera House and Hong Kong has the view from Victoria Peak—a panorama of the city’s spectacular skyline, framed by one of the finest harbours in the world, and mountains in the distance. But the fun begins even before you reach the Peak. The Peak Tram, a 120-year old funicular railway, takes you from the base to the top. Mostly, at angles that remind you of 10-grade geometry class.
Tip: Sundown is the best time to visit—watching one of the best skylines in the world light up as dusk falls will be one of the highlights of your trip.
Also-Do: Take a junk around the harbour
Junks are traditional Chinese fishing boats. You can charter one and see the coastline and the skyline of Hong Kong really up close. If you are pressed for time, just hop on to the Star Ferry that travels between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (around 10 minutes).
#2 Must-Do: Get starry-eyed at the Avenue of the Stars
Located on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, Avenue of the Stars is Hong Kong’s answer to LA’s Sunset Boulevard. If you are a HK film buff, you can spend your time looking at actors’ handprints. But if, like me, you don’t know who Fong Yim Fun or Raymond Chow are, find a bench and soak in one of the most photographed views in the world, that of the Hong Kong island. At night, the multi-coloured lights of the building and a laser show give the place an ethereal vibe.
Also-Do: A Feng Shui Tour
Some buildings on Hong Kong Island are worth their weight in gold because of their impeccable Feng Shui. The HSBC building is a prime example, with mountains at the back, and an uninterrupted view of the water in the front. A Feng Shui tour is a great way to learn more about Hong Kong’s stunning buildings and architecture.
#3 Must-Do: Pay your respects to the Tian Tan Buddha
The largest outdoor sitting Buddha sits in Hong Kong, at Lantau Island. Start by taking the 25-minute cable car ride up (take the glass-bottomed one for added drama) to the Ngong Ping Plateau. The view from the cable car is simply breath-taking—verdant hills and turquoise blue waters. It’s a side of Hong Kong that rarely makes it on to postcards and fridge magnets, and you’ll seriously wonder why. Once you reach Ngong Ping, it’s only about 260 steps up to see the Buddha (if you can tear yourself away from the restaurants and shopping, that is).
Also-Do: Live it up old-style in Tai-O
Tai-O on Lantau Island is a charming, idyllic fishing village. It’s Hong Kong of yore and the skyline here is almost entirely made up of homes on stilts.
#4 Must-Do: Shop and Play—The Markets and Theme Parks
Here’s something the guidebooks never tell you—if you’re going to Hong Kong, pack light. Because you’re going to be doing a lot of shopping at Ladies Market, the Temple Street night market and Stanley market. And here’s something else the guide books don’t tell you—theme parks are fun, even if you don’t have a child in tow. Hong Kong boasts of two world-class theme parks: Ocean World and Disneyland. You can happily spend a whole day indulging or alternatively, discovering the child in you.
Also-Do: Add adventure to your holiday
Hong Kong offers over 200 tropical islands on which to hike, trek, sail, kayak and rock climb. And with everyone else shopping on the main islands, there’ll be no one else to elbow you off the trails.
Macau, like Hong Kong, is also a Special Administrative Region of China. It is only 50 minutes via Turbojet (high-speed ferries running between HK and Macau), yet with its Portuguese heritage, it is distinctly different. A 2-day detour or even a day-trip to Macau is highly recommended.
#1 Must-Do: Walk around in Macau
It’s not called the ‘Monte Carlo of the Orient’ for nothing. There are plenty of James Bond-esque casinos where you can part with your money. You can also wander through the hotels housing casinos, especially the Italian-inspired Venetian, which is particularly beautiful.
But if you’d rather spend your money elsewhere, head over to Senado Square. This cobble stone square, houses several shops and restaurants. A short walk up from the Square will lead to the Sao Paulo Cathedral. Other popular landmarks include the 17th-century Guia Fortress, and the A-Ma Temple.
Also-Do: Discover Portuguese heritage
Behind the golden façade, lies a place not unlike Goa. Macau’s Portuguese heritage is quite evident, especially in the architecture and cuisine. Leave the casinos behind and take a taxi to the neighbouring island of Taipa. Make an afternoon savouring African Chicken, a mainstay of Macanese cuisine, and then wander around, discovering the lanes of the city—some bustling with shops, and some sleepy and quiet, and quite reminiscent of Panjim.
WHERE TO STAY
Most travelers stay in Kowloon or on Hong Kong Island. The former is more budget-friendly and you’ll find everything from fancy hotels to cheap, backpacker accommodations. But the latter is where all the action is, in terms of sight-seeing.
WHAT TO EAT
From traditional hawker-style, street carts to tea houses hidden in quiet lanes (mostly frequented by residents); from fancy, Michelin starred restaurants to places that serve vegetarians, Vietnamese, Amercian-style, Italian and even Indian, Hong Kong’s food scene offers up all kinds of cuisines and a range of budgets to suit every pocket.
Hong Kong has one of the best underground systems in the world, and it is also really easy to navigate. It’s also fairly cheap. Get yourself a tourist MTR card and you are all set!
Sangeetha Sampath has three recurring dreams: One: To visit every state in India. Two: To fill her passport with stamps. And three: That instead of 30 days annual leave, her generous company has given her 1 year (paid!) leave.
But then she wakes up and realises she has to go work as the Creative Director of an advertising agency in Bangalore. Long days indeed.
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