A November 2004 trip
to Hong Kong by billmoy
Quote: Hong Kong contains many extremely crowded and energized places, but there also are some quaint and quiet spots to get away from the madness.
Go to the top of “The Peak” on the first clear day (or night) you are in Hong Kong. If you are there for several days, try to go up both in the daytime and the nighttime to appreciate the dramatic panoramic views under both conditions. The steep ride on the Peak Tram (one of a wide variety of transportation modes in Hong Kong) is a joy ride in itself.
If you want a decent lookout that is free, visit the viewing gallery on the 43rd floor of the iconic Bank of China Tower, designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. Sure, you are not outdoors, as you would be at Victoria Peak, but looking through the glass you will get to enjoy some nice views of central Hong Kong. The Pei skyscraper may be taller, but my favorite modern building here is the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank by British architect Norman Foster (he also designed the slickly enormous Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island). Enjoy the ride up the long escalator to its main lobby for a peek inside the atrium, though this is as far as you can go as a visitor.
Take the Star Ferry at least once between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It churns across Victoria Harbour day and night and affords brilliant views of the twinkling skyscrapers on each side. The ferry is dirt cheap for the upper level, and though one may sneer at the thought of riding on the even cheaper lower level, the angles for dramatic photographs tend to be a bit better there, as you are closer to the surface of the water.
An impressive laser show takes place along Victoria Harbour every evening starting at 8pm. Since “A Symphony of Lights” highlights many buildings on the Hong Kong side, the best place to view the show is along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Kowloon, right around the Avenue of Stars. It is intended as a multimedia extravaganza with light and sound, but the audio features useless narrative declarations about how exciting and vibrant Hong Kong is (shouldn’t this be obvious?). The nightly narration rotates amongst English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, so perhaps go on a non-English night for less audio distraction.
Get an Octopus Card when you arrive into Hong Kong. It is good for almost every form of major public transportation (trains, buses, ferries, subway, trams, and even the Peak Tram) as well as many stores (7-Eleven, to name one). This handy card is like a debit card, and you can “rent” one from many notable transportation points, including the airport. It is valuable because it seems that every single transportation mode has a distinct price, and you would be juggling coins like mad if you did not have this card. Just remember to return the card before leaving Hong Kong to retrieve your deposit, minus a reasonable service fee that comes in at under US.
Try to visit The Center (in Central, of course) and pick up some excellent brochures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, located in its lower level. The Center, a tall skyscraper with a reflective steel and glass exterior, also has a convenient little post office.
Most hydrofoils to Macau leave from the Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan on the Hong Kong side. Macau has a tiny tourism office (also with good brochures) hidden within one of the buildings of this complex.
It is fun to try all the modes of transportation in Hong Kong. The ferries are perhaps the most enjoyable way to travel, and the upper level front seats on double-decker buses provide some excitement. The trams (not the Peak Tram) are dirt cheap (and dirt slow), but a ride on the upper level gives you some cool views along the northern edge of Hong Kong Island. The KCR is like the suburban railroad system, taking locals to the New Territories and into mainland China. The longest escalator in the world (about a half-mile long, it is a 20-minute glide) connects the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong Island to Central.
The ridiculously efficient MTR (Mass Transit Rail) subways are crowded day and night with spoiled passengers. During rush hours, you may see a few extra employees near the train entrances sporting white gloves to give that extra gentle push to fill the cars up, similar to the more famous staff in Japanese subways.
Vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road as a reflection of the British influence. Many recorded announcements in English are done with a British accent (most notably on the subways).
The Hyatt Regency Hong Kong is a fine hotel located in the heart of the bustle that is Nathan Road in Kowloon. This building dates back to 1964, so it has a rather mainstream design, albeit with the usual class of the Hyatt chain.
Amongst the zillions of neon Chinese signs hanging in seemingly random fashion along Nathan Road, somehow it is still easy to locate the Hyatt. It helps that the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station is situated basically outside of its main entrance. The hotel is about halfway between the harbor and Kowloon Park. Once you walk in, you first have to navigate through its shopping arcade, although I did no real shopping in these three levels of storefronts.
The Hyatt has 723 guest rooms, with a dignified interior decor that is an improvement over its bland exteriors. The public spaces are attractively furnished without appearing cluttered. The Hyatt is geared towards the business traveler, so its features include a business center, numerous meeting rooms, room service, and several restaurants for those who just do not have the time to eat out at the great range of local restaurants.
Our spacious guest room had two comfortable double beds and plenty of space for a large wooden writing table, though neither my friend nor I conducted any business upon it. It was, however, pleasant to sit at the table and act like a big shot in the office chair. We did receive a nice complementary fruit basket after checking into our room, a wonderful and unexpected surprise indeed. The walls featured calm colors like light gold and cream. The contemporary design could place this hotel anywhere, so look out the window to be sure that you are still in Hong Kong. It can certainly be very noisy on Nathan Road, but the only noise in our room was from the television when it was on. Besides the fine standard rooms, there are even larger Regency Club rooms, along with some plush suites.
One interesting note about the Hyatt is that its design was supposedly influenced by feng shui experts, and you could almost say that it supports its very own feng shui concierge on its main level. Something must be working out right in that always-sensitive area, as the Hyatt is certainly successful in what it has been offering to its guests in Hong Kong for many years.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 7, 2006
Hyatt Regency Hong Kong
67 Nathan Rd.
852 2311 1234
Hotel | "Ibis North Point"
At first glance, the Ibis seems locationally challenged. It is in North Point, a very active Chinese neighborhood a few miles east of Central. This apparent negative can actually be a positive, as North Point has great access to many areas of Hong Kong and has a cheaper cost of living than in Central. There is not a whole lot to see in North Point, but it is an excellent area to live and exist.
Except for the fact that it is not in Central, the Ibis is actually strategically located facing a bus depot (with one of the airport buses starting from here) and a small ferry terminal, and near the North Point subway stop, as well as numerous bus and tram lines. Even if your flight arrives near midnight, the bus will drop you off and you will be struck by the sight of the slender high-rise. Take one of the two elevators from the ground level to the lobby next level up (or walk up--the lifts can be slow in coming) and check in. I was staying for a full week, which allowed for an astonishing discount rate averaging less than $50 a night. Part of the French Accor hotel chain, the Ibis has 31 floors and 210 rooms.
The winning item for me in the room was the large window with a sprawling view of the Victoria Harbour. My minimally furnished room was otherwise decent enough. My double bed may have been tight for a couple but roomy for a single. Though the mattress was smooth, it was the firmest, stiffest one I have ever slept upon, so I did not linger in bed when my alarm woke me every morning! The room did have its own safe, small refrigerator, coffeemaker, and blow dryer, though this left little space for what amounted to a small closet rod for hanging clothes. The bathroom, with its shower stall, was awfully tight (I seemed to bruise myself daily while toweling off). The small TV was ensconced within the wall, but I was more enraptured by the picture window panorama night and day.
The Ibis felt more like an apartment building than a hotel for me. I did not go to the lobby level unless I really needed to. A couple of computers are set up here, so you can surf the Web for a fee, and those who are distraught over not staying closer to Central can purchase a beverage here. There is a restaurant on two, but I found the neighborhood to have plenty of inexpensive dining options to choose from. The free newspaper delivery (in English or Chinese) was somewhat erratic.
The Ibis is not exactly the most comfortable hotel, and it is a bit removed from the heart of the tourist action. Still, if the price is right and if you get a coveted harbor view, this is a good home station in North Point.
Hotel Ibis North Point
138 Java Rd.
(852) 2588 1111
Hotel | "Ramada Hotel Kowloon"
The Ramada Hotel Kowloon is located in a nondescript glass tower along busy Chatham Road (of course, all the Hong Kong streets seem busy), parallel to the more famous Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. This moderately priced property consists of 18 floors and 205 guest rooms. Step onto the small red carpet and through the glass doors into its main floor lobby, which is not particularly memorable. The information I have pegs this property from 1988, though it has an unassuming appearance that seems older than that.
Our guest room was a rather tight little accommodation with two twin beds. My bed seemed stiff to me, so this certainly was not one of those plush beds touted by so many of the major hotel chains nowadays. As it was, I did have two decent nights of sleep flopped out on this bed. Other than these fairly minor quibbles, our room seemed fine. Amenities include a hair dryer, minibar, and shoe-shine sponge. We even had extremely cheap-looking white plastic slippers that we could wear around the room. Hey, they were functional enough.
You can dine in the hotel, but there are so many places to eat in this bustling area that you have to be really lazy to be eating in. There are seemingly swarms of people day and night passing by the hotel, with loads of neon-enhanced stores, trinket shops, and dining establishments in the vicinity. Just walking around the colorful streets is an eye-opening experience for any visitor.
If you are staying anywhere in this area, you are well situated to the wonderfully complex public transportation web of Hong Kong. For those who are taking the train to Guangzhou on the mainland, the property is not too far from the Kowloon-Canton Railway station. Also nearby are the Coliseum and a couple of museums.
The Ramada Hotel Kowloon may seem mediocre or perfectly swell depending on the size of your wallet and what your expectations are. If you think the nearby street overpass entrance is annoying, you will not be enthralled by the Ramada. If you appreciate the value of the overpass in helping you navigate the busy area, then the Ramada is a decently priced value that is certainly a step up from the legendary squalor of the nearby Chungking Mansions.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 7, 2006
308 Des Voeux Road West
Restaurant | "Tsui Wah Restaurant"
Tsui Wah is a large and popular restaurant in the SoHo area of Central that proclaims itself as “The Best Cafe Restaurant.” While I would not go quite that far, it is a good spot for a fast, tasty, and inexpensive meal early or late. You can’t miss the massive signs outside the restaurant. Then again, there are lots of massive signs in the busy and bustling SoHo area.
The proverbial poultry hang in the display window to entice diners to come in. The interior of the restaurant has a very basic and straightforward design to it, and the same can be said for the level of service and the quality of the food. The bilingual menu is very extensive, although it is pockmarked with the usual helpings of misspellings and typos. Listings include breakfasts, daily specials, Western-style items, drinks, and even slight nods to Malaysian and Japanese dishes. To top it off, they also serve spaghetti, prawn balls, and Hainan chicken (apparently a specialty here). I do not understand the appeal of a bowl of porridge (many Chinese, including my dear grandma, love this goop the way Americans like oatmeal), and I would not order Russian borscht at a Chinese restaurant, but you can get that here, too. What, no meatloaf?
I came for dinner one evening and it took just a few minutes for a table to clear up for me. I ordered a dish with beef, pineapple, and white rice. This is a very standard Cantonese meal, and I enjoyed my average-size portion here. My dinner was good but not great, there were no surprises, and the food was prepared quickly and efficiently.
If you do not want to spend all of your precious time in Hong Kong waiting for gourmet food, then Tsui Wah is a good place for a culinary pit stop.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board should be congratulated for conducting a variety of tours of this magnificent metropolis. The main office of the HKTB is located in the lower level of a glassy high-rise boldly labeled as The Center. Besides having loads of colorful and informative brochures, you can sign up for a free tour, many of which begin here.
These tours are quite popular and can fill up in a hurry, so try to join up a few days ahead if at all possible. You can always try to drop in on the day of the tour to see if they can squeeze you in. I wanted to take the Saturday morning architecture tour and was told the list was all filled up 3 days beforehand. I took a chance and showed up that Saturday morning. The usual number of guests for this tour is 15, so I was fortunate that they allowed a few extra stragglers like me to tag along. First I had to pay a deposit for the headset that would allow me to hear the tour guide in the Hong Kong traffic. Our guide was Dennis, a young architect who was soft-spoken but dryly informative, if not necessarily sharply opinionated, on the variety of architecture that we would experience on this nearly 3-hour tour. You do not necessarily have to possess a worldly knowledge or interest in architecture, but it definitely enhances your overall enjoyment of the tour if you do. At least try to keep up with the commentary and follow along with the entire group.
The little bilingual map is a nice keepsake as well as an excellent point-by-point summary of the walking tour, which takes us to see the buildings in a fairly chronological order. We were introduced to many of the British Empire buildings, which are historically significant and architecturally conservative. The slow ride on a segment of the Central Mid-Levels Escalator is part of the impressive transportation network that envelops Hong Kong. The architecture tour picks up steam with visits to the great modern banking towers, Pei’s Bank of China Tower and Foster’s Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. A brief rest stop in one of the modern office buildings breaks the tour in two. A group can easily lose focus during such an outing, but Dennis did a fine job in keeping everyone moving along at a steady pace.
This architecture tour concludes at the officiously titled Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery next to the City Hall, with cool display models depicting the always-growing metropolis plus potential expansion plans.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 7, 2006
Architecture Tour of Hong Kong
99 Queen's Road
Although I am more of a fan of the nearby Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation tower by Norman Foster, the Bank of China Tower kind of grows on you as the years pass. Designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei and completed in 1989, the 74-story skyscraper has a distinctive faceted exterior that sings when compared to some of its rather bland neighboring shafts.
This landmark tower rises sharply on its site and dominates the landscape, which is exactly the emphatic statement that the client wanted to announce to the world. The main floor plan is a square that is divided into four triangular sections. As the tower rises, the triangular sections drop off one by one until it reaches its spire with only one of these shafts. The very top concludes with a set of antennae. The overall design has been compared to a bamboo shaft. The exterior carries through with the triangular motif, though the patterns look merely laid upon the surface rather than the structurally splendid exterior of Foster’s HSBC. The three-sided shapes and a reasonable attempt at shaping the tower save the exterior from being a banal glass tower.
The interiors are lavishly surfaced with glossy and expensive materials, so you should be impressed by this if not by their average architectural design. Rounded arches do not seem to mesh with the dominating triangular design motif. Thanks to its prominent location near the Victoria Harbour, the tower possesses a free viewing gallery on the 43rd floor. You will enjoy the panoramic views of Central Hong Kong, and in a sense, this is a sneak peek of what to expect at the Victoria Peak lookouts if you have not visited there yet. Take a free brochure and look over the building models on display in the gallery.
The outdoor plaza spaces are frankly overwhelmed by the skyscraper, but have a look at the rock gardens, fish ponds, and other Oriental landscaping that attempt to soften the screeching transition from horizontal to vertical.
Bank of China Tower
1 Garden Road
Attraction | "Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Tour"
The Hong Kong Dolphinwatch tour offers a unique opportunity to see some of the dwindling population of pink dolphins (or Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins). This organization has been conducting noninvasive tours since 1995 to promote awareness of their conservation.
The 4-hour eco-tour is offered three or four times a week with extra runs during peak times. Try to reserve ahead of time, since these tours are relatively small in order to disturb the dolphins as little as possible. There are two meeting points, one in Central (Mandarin Oriental Hotel) and one in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon Hotel). Our tour guide gathered the first group at the Mandarin Oriental at 8:30am. Oddly, we had to walk about 3 blocks to meet the tour bus. After going through the tunnel linking Central with Kowloon, our bus reached the Kowloon Hotel about 9am. The second group was all Japanese tourists, so the second guide joining us spoke both English and Japanese. Currently the Mandarin Oriental is under rehab, so the Central meeting point is at the main entrance of City Hall facing Queen’s Pier.
We traveled over the Tsing Ma Bridge connecting Kowloon to Lantau Island, passing the site of the new Disney theme park. Our two guides passed out free postcards and a fact sheet. Their narration summarizes the plight of the pink dolphins, which find their natural habitat shrinking due to pollution, overfishing, increasing boat traffic, and continued land reclamation projects in the region. The airport at Chek Lap Kok is just south of their waters, so one can only imagine the impact on the dolphins. The guides effectively blended in offbeat anecdotes about dolphin survivors like Ringo, and the possibility of flotsam making this a “Refrigerator-Watch tour.”
Along the north shore of Lantau we boarded the boat. The cookies and beverages are complementary, and so were the occasionally rough seas on this hazy but sunny Friday morning (a bit windier than average I was told). The decks are slippery with saltwater, so hang on tight. We sailed past the airport and saw the New Territories in the background. The passengers gathered on deck with great anticipation when we heard “nine o’clock,” so we staked out our positions on the port side. The company offers a free “go again” guarantee tour if no dolphins are sighted (only 3% of their tours have been dolphin-free), but we were all happy to see pink dolphins (including a baby dolphin) appearing in the waters during the next 30 minutes. There is no swimming with or feeding of the dolphins, but you are allowed to take photos.
Souvenirs are sold on board while the boat sails back to Lantau to conclude the 90 minutes on the water. From the dock the bus takes us a short distance to Tung Chung, which is an alternate drop-off for those who want to see more of Lantau. Otherwise, the bus will roll you back to either Kowloon or Central.
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch
Unit 1528A, Star House, 3 Salisbury Road
+852 2984 1414
The Hong Kong Space Museum is a fun place for an educational family outing. While I would not make this a must-see attraction during your visit in Hong Kong, it is a worthwhile place to check out if you happen to be in this area.
Located near the Star Ferry Pier, the museum is part of the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and shares this turf with other landmarks like the Clock Tower from the old Kowloon-Canton Railway station, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, and the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The large egg shape tells you that you have arrived at the Space Museum. This is the exterior shell of the Space Theatre. Unfortunately this veneer is a bit worn from the elements (the museum opened in 1980), but its massive scale makes it still an impressive sight. The Sky Shows on the IMAX 23-meter hemispherical screen under the dome are certainly impressive as well. Similar to those in major planetariums, the star projector is used to create the image of a night sky with over 8,000 stars. With all the neon and lights in the night skies of Hong Kong, this is your best chance to “see” stars other than the celebrity plaques at the nearby Avenue of Stars.
The Hall of Space Science houses the colorful space age displays, including the 1962 Mercury space capsule, plus rocket models and spacesuits. There are also simulators if you want to achieve the interactive experience of a moon walk or a hang glider. The displays of the Hall of Astronomy are a bit drier but more educational in content. Old telescopes and models of the solar system are featured here.
The museum also contains a Lecture Hall and a small gift shop. The Hong Kong Space Museum has very late hours, while it is open during the mornings only on weekends. It is closed on Tuesdays, but there is free admission to the Exhibition Hall on Wednesdays. Since the museum does not close until 9pm, you can always make it here for a casual evening visit and mix it in with other events (fireworks show, dinner, shopping, etc.).
Hong Kong Space Museum
10 Salisbury Road
+852 2721 0226
Attraction | "Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation"
The headquarters of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is my favorite skyscraper in Hong Kong, and Norman Foster’s architectural masterpiece facing the south side of Statue Square is still holding up well since its completion in 1985. Foster subsequently designed the humongous Hong Kong International Airport amongst his numerous projects worldwide.
The nearby Bank of China has taken away some of the notoriety away from the slightly older HSBC thanks to its taller and more distinctive shaft, but I firmly believe Foster’s innovative tower of glass, aluminum, and steel is still a better work of architecture. It was a very technologically advanced design, and therefore it was the most expensive skyscraper constructed for its time, with estimated costs at about 1 billion US dollars. It was worth it in my opinion, as its muscular exterior design is majestic without being overly melodramatic. The triangular suspension trusses look vaguely like coat hangers, and indeed they provide structural support that allows the loads of floors to “hang” from them. The exterior is lit up like a candy cane with red-and-white lighting during the holidays, so perhaps this seasonal flashiness can be excused as it vies for attention in the ever-expanding skyline. The futuristic appearance of the tower tops off with some bizarre shapes, which should not detract from the brilliance of the overall design.
The skyscraper has 52 floors and rises to a height of nearly 587 feet. The base of the tower is an open plaza, with lengthy escalators leading to the main banking hall above. Security frowns upon too much loitering, but visitors are provided with color pamphlets and are allowed to take photos of certain areas. The 170-foot-high central atrium rises majestically above the banking hall and plaza, and the structural X-bracings do make their mark on the open-plan offices surrounding the atrium. Great emphasis was placed on natural light, noise reduction, and temperature control in order to create a better working environment for the bank’s employees.
The bank used to sell attractive and inexpensive sets of postcards depicting the glorious features of the building, but unfortunately they do not have any more. Take a rest near the ferocious lion statues that guard the front of the plaza, as they had guarded the previous HSBC for many years. If passing by on a Sunday, you may run into lots of Filipino maids hanging out in the plaza during their off day.
Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Headquarters
1 Queen's Road Central
Attraction | "Life in North Point"
Growing up in a Chinese-American home in Chicago, my parents enjoyed listening to Chinese opera records. As the years progressed, they moved on to cassettes and then to videos. I am no expert of Chinese opera, but I have always wanted to experience a live performance. The Sunbeam Theatre (423 King’s Road at Shu Kuk Street), one of the most notable opera theaters in Hong Kong, is located two blocks from my hotel. Located in the nondescript Kiu Fai Building, the box office sells tickets for day-of-performance as well as for advance shows. The vestibule comes to life during performances with colorful posters, flowers embellishing photos of the performers, and a small shop. The theater has one level of seats, which get pricier the closer you are to the stage. The yellow curtain went up and the brash opera begins. Even if you know nothing about Chinese opera, it is a great spectacle with screechy singing and dialogue, outlandish costumes, and a bang-a-gong orchestra. It was interesting to see the old ladies migrate forward to more desirable empty seats at the first intermission! Even though there is a bit of chatter in the audience, and you can bring in your own snacks, it is still an appreciative, laid-back audience. The performance I attended was nearly three hours long, but there were several intermissions sprinkled in the mix to keep you fresh.
The little north-south street between the Ibis and the Sunbeam (Shu Kuk Street) was my personal cornucopia of Chinese riches. The KaKa Cake Shop served waves of cheap, fresh and tasty treats, so I bought my breakfast here every morning. I have eaten BBQ pork buns and egg custard tarts my entire life, and these are the best I have ever tasted because they are so fresh and warm. The Guangdong Restaurant has the quintessential ducks hanging at the window, and it is loaded with local diners. I enjoyed their BBQ pork chow mein because it is cheap (barely over 3 US dollars) and prepared the way my father used to cook it. Dessert choices include a Hui Lau Shan smoothie loaded with fruit and jelly chunks, fresh fruit from a market stall, and mango pudding from KaKa. If you are feeling adventurous, check out one of the herbal shops for medicinal soup mix or preserved ginger. Shops and stalls peddle clothing with inexpensive prices. There are also “western” outlets like 7-Eleven and Wellcome supermarket.
North Point is a good secondary transportation hub, with a bus depot (including the A11 Citybus to the airport), subway stop, ferry terminal, and tram line.
The Lippo Centre was designed by architect Paul Rudolph and completed in 1987. Its two glassy towers break out of the box by having external forms which create a repetitive interlocking pattern. As most people like to give nicknames to big buildings, some have called this the “koala” towers as these exterior shapes look vaguely like koala bears clinging onto tree trunks. Well, it helps to have a vivid imagination.
Cesar Pelli has been a busy architect in Hong Kong in recent years. Cheung Kong Centre is a fairly dry rectangular shaft of 62 stories completed in 1999. Its clean modern design cleanses the architectural palette as it stands between the flashier Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and Bank of China towers. Pelli gets to show off a bit more with his design of Two International Financial Centre tower. Completed in 2003, IFC Two tops the Hong Kong skyline at 88 stories and 415 meters in height and miniaturizes the earlier IFC One and its 38 floors. The gently tapering profile of IFC Two does not offer a signature look but at least it has a reasonably attractive design, a quality that is not a mandatory goal for such a huge skyscraper.
Moving eastward to the Wan Chai area, the large expansion wing of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre juts out onto Victoria Harbour and dominates this part of the landscape horizontally. Designed by the architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill and completed in 1997, this slick complex has been described as a stingray and a giant cockroach (quite a Rorschach test!). Have a stroll around the exterior for spectacular views of this metropolis that is Hong Kong. Have a glance at the Reunification Monument column and the golden Forever Blooming Bauhinia sculpture along with busloads of tourists from mainland China.
The behemoth Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok is way out on Lantau Island, and is definitely a different beast than the former airport that was tucked into Kowloon. British architect Norman Foster designed this high-tech facility, an engineering feat that is impressive in scale, design and efficiency. Its pleasing rhythmic design lessens the impact of its sheer sprawl to make the flying experience just a bit better since opening in 1998.
Ocean Park is designed especially for kids, although adults will certainly enjoy visiting, too. At first glance it appears to be just a big amusement park, with its plethora of rides, games, mascots, and fun food. Look closer and you will notice an emphasis on wildlife conservation, with an estimable animal population on this sprawling complex along the south coast of Hong Kong Island. A mix of entertainment and education is the key to its flourishing success since opening in 1976.
Ocean Park is so large that a cable car connects the two areas (Headland and Lowland) separated by a ridge. There are so many things to see and do, but I made a beeline to the cable car for an exciting introductory journey above the grounds. Enjoy the futuristic vision of colorful bead-like pods coasting over treetops and near the blue Deep Water Bay. There are plenty of thrill rides, but this slow people-mover provided a scenic buzz for me.
The Lowland features a habitat with two panda bears (named An-An and Jia-Jia) lying about and a Dolphin University for up-close dolphin experiences. You can also see birds, butterflies, and goldfish in their respective pavilions. Otherwise, there are kid-friendly rides and activities, and you are bound to run into Whiskers or one of his other mascot friends.
The Headland features rides like the Dragon roller coaster and the Abyss freefall. More animal encounters include the impressive Shark Aquarium, the colorful Atoll Reef, the feeding of the seals at the Pacific Pier, the Flamingo Pond, and the Aviary. Precious peaceful moments can be attained in the Japanese Garden and along some of the lovely paths with superb views of the natural landscape, or what is left of it. The Middle Kingdom injects some historical displays within brightly colored recreations of Chinese temples and pagodas.
There is plenty of walking to do at Ocean Park, so one must refuel at one of the numerous food outlets and shops sprinkled amongst the grounds. For real meals, check out the buffet and the splendid views at the Seaview Cafe, or the dim sum at the Middle Kingdom Restaurant. From one of the stands I ordered a surprisingly appetizing lunch of chicken and rice, accompanied by a tangy tomato sauce.
Ocean Park faces stiff competition with the new Disney theme park, which opened at Lantau Island late in 2005, but I feel that Ocean Park will retain its fair share of the business thanks to its unique “something for everyone” variety of rides, animals, and educational fun. There are a good number of buses that will take you here, and usually these are breathtaking scenic rides over and around Hong Kong Island while riding one of these buses.
Ocean Park Road Aberdeen
Hong Kong 4000039
+852 2552 0291
Attraction | "Victoria Peak and Peak Tram"
Each tramcar on this funicular railway can carry 120 passengers, including a good many standing. The lower terminal is 28 meters above sea level, while the upper terminal is 396 meters above sea level. The track is 1.365 meters long with a gradient ranging between 4 to 27 degrees, so you will really feel like you are going uphill (or downhill). Look out the windows and see the spectacular views of Hong Kong at some wacky angles. There are some intermediate stops for locals, but you want to go to the top.
The views from Victoria Peak are simply smashing. The upper tram terminal is a bit off from the actual summit, which is an easy hike away from here. Most visitors do not bother to go here, as the peak itself has changed radically over the years thanks to an onslaught of new buildings. When I was here years ago, the goal was to walk to the old-fashioned Lions Pavilion lookout that was decorated in a Chinese style. Nowadays the Peak Galleria and the Peak Tower have supplanted the bright red pavilion as the lookouts of choice.
The Peak Tower was designed by noted British architect Terry Farrell. It has the appearance of a space-age anvil, and it is filled with touristy shops, restaurants, and also a Madame Tussauds and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I cannot let these other things distract me from some of the most spectacular urban views in the world. The viewing terrace on Level 5 is fine, but the views are even better in the nearby Peak Galleria. Although the shops are less famous and flashy here, there are distinct north and south terraces offering a variety of brilliant panoramic vistas. If your batteries die out, run into the grocery store here for reasonably priced replacements.
The opening hours of the Peak run from 7am to midnight. Try to enjoy the Peak by day and by night as well. The fireworks shows from here are spectacular, and you will not hear the annoying voiceover narration from up here. Take the Tram up and if you are feeling fit, enjoy a pleasant nature hike downhill in the daytime. There are also a few bus routes to the Peak. The Octopus Card is good for rides on the Peak Tram.
+852 2849 7654