Hong Kong: Big vistas and even bigger ambitions

The region has long been a thriving hub, but it's still looking to the future, says Tom Peck

When Batman flew by helicopter over Hong Kong harbour five years ago, he made minor movie history. Film aficionados will know that the scene from The Dark Knight was the first in a major feature film to be shot with an IMAX camera. The director, Christopher Nolan, chose it for one reason – the pictures it captures are simply enormous.

It was a wise decision. A single glance doesn't really do Hong Kong's iconic panorama justice, but by taking to the skies, the Caped Crusader was being a bit of a wimp. In 1881, a Scottish railwayman called Alexander Findlay Smith became convinced of the possibility of building a funicular railway up the impossibly steep Victoria Peak, the island's highest mountain. Now, his engineering is Hong Kong's most popular attraction.

The Peak Tram, as it has become known, has its Lower Terminus on Garden Road (00 852 2522 0922; thepeak.com.hk/en; return HK$40/£3.50). It takes around five minutes to travel the 1,400 metres to the top, gaining more than 400 metres in height as it does so. Suddenly, the entire city spreads out before you like a tablecloth thrown over the earth.

Rows of gleaming metal towers shoot from beside the calm waters of the harbour up to the rolling forested hills – indeed it's the kind of vista that does demand an IMAX lens to take it in.

After experiencing this overview, take the tram back down and from the terminus in Central – Hong Kong's glistening business district – head up Garden Road until you reach the Bank of China Tower whose triangular glass panels make it stand out from the crowd. This is Downtown – the belly of the beast, but its historical centre too. Turn left on to Queens Road Central, left again on to D'Aguilar Street, and then take your first right on to Stanley Street. The sound of greedy slurping indicates your arrival in one of the last vestiges of Hong Kong's once thriving street food scene. Not so long ago, you'd find hundreds of dai pai dong in Hong Kong, but today only 28 official open-air food stalls remain.

The words translate as "big licence"; after the Second World War, special street food licences – with larger badges than usual – were given out in haste to the struggling families of deceased soldiers or civil servants so that they could earn a living. But almost all have since fallen victim to air-conditioned progress. However, several stalls serve authentic dim sum, which roughly means "a little bit from the heart". Sing Kee, at Nos 9 & 10 is the busiest, and with good reason. The service is a little brisk, but the food is authentic. Cuttlefish is popular, as are fish-skin dumplings. There's also eggs with shrimp for the less adventurous.

Carry on west to where Stanley Street crosses Cochrane Street and take the Mid-Levels Escalator up to Hollywood Road, right at the top. These 800-metre-long, covered escalators, opened in 1993, are now an important commuter route which tackles Hong Kong's hilly terrain and bustling traffic. From 6am to 10am, they run downhill, after which point they are switched in the other direction.

Head west along Hollywood Road as it, and the surrounding streets, transform into a long stretch of stalls and antique shops, some cheap and cheerful, many eye-wateringly expensive. A few hundred metres further on, you'll find the largest of Hong Kong's Man Mo Taoist Temples that honour two of the many hundreds of gods: War and Literature. Here the two figures sit side by side, one brandishing a pen, the other a sword. Behind the red and gold doors, the air is alive with incense smoke. As recently as 100 years ago, it is maintained that when disputes could not be solved by British law, they would be settled here using a curious game of chance involving chicken's blood and pieces of yellow paper.

A little further along Hollywood Road, turn right and take the stairs down to Queens Road Central. Turn left on to the escalators down to Connaught Road and then turn right to Hong Kong Central Station. This might seem an unusual location for a bite to eat, but it contains the third and newest branch of a Hong Kong institution, Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong Station Podium Level 1, IFC Mall; 00 852 2332 3078; timhowan.com). The original (in nearby Kowloon) is the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. A di m sum meal, including the signature barbecue pork buns, can be bought for around £5.

Come out of the other end of Hong Kong Central Station and walk along the harbour front at Lung Wo Road to Hong Kong's Exhibition Centre, a little low-rise blob framed by the skyscrapers that surround it. From 23-26 May it will be hosting, for the first time, Art Basel. More than 250 galleries from 35 countries will be exhibiting at the contemporary art show, and leading artists will be involved in panel discussions.

Where the world's riches go, high-end art follows, and China is now the world's second-largest market. Hong Kong might just be embarking on the most exciting chapter in its history.

Fresh cuts

Art Basel is at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive (00 852 2824 2381; artbasel.com) from 23-26 May. Other galleries throughout the city are also taking part. Tickets HK$250 (£21).

Rula Bula (58-62 D'Aguilar Street; 00 852 2179 5225; rulabula.com.hk) deals in "molecular cocktails" and DJs of world renown. An abbreviation from the Irish expression "Ri Ra agus Rúla Búla", meaning "uproar and commotion", it is the latest in a long line of offerings to the Hong Kong social scene from expatriate Irishman Cathal Kiely.

Enomod (1-5 Elgin Street; 00 852 2555 6065; facebook.com/enomod) is a new Mediterranean "social dining experience". Cheeses, cold cuts, delicate tapas-style fish dishes and wine by the carafe set among seven different areas – including charcuterie counter, lounge area, communal dining tables and draught wine corner.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770; virgin-atlantic.com) flies daily from Heathrow to Hong Kong. Returns start at £659. Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; cathaypacific.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787) also fly Heathrow-Hong Kong. Many connecting flights are available.

Staying there

The Marco Polo Hotel, 13 Canton Road, Harbour City, Kowloon (00 852 2113 0088; marcopolohotels.com). Double rooms, with spectacular views over Hong Kong harbour, start at HK$1,700 (£144), without breakfast.

More information

Hong Kong Tourist Board: discoverhongkong.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...