The ever evolving Hong Kong
This Asian city never stands still. Hermione Eyre provides a guide for new and returning visitors to an ever-changing destination
Sunday 15 March 2009
The "Manhattan of Asia" is in constant flux, with old colonial buildings coming down, skyscrapers shrouded in bamboo scaffolding shooting up, and building sites stretching the city out on to tiny patches of newly reclaimed harbour land.
Since the 1997 handover, the influence of motherland China has grown ever stronger; meanwhile, the fashion-conscious cosmopolitan bar and boutique scene continues to turn over quickly. So busy is this city that they've started individually numbering the precious urban trees.
The vibe is distinctively Chinese, but not intimidatingly so – you'll get the authentic chicken broth but without the feet or beak, so to speak. As a gentle introduction to Sino culture it is an enduringly popular destination with Western visitors.
Forthcoming celebrations include the traditional spectacle of the Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place this year on 28 May, and the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival – featuring the cream of new Asian cinema, with English subtitles – which will feature screenings at venues including the Cultural Centre from 22 March to 13 April.
Don't miss ...
... The "symphony of lights" laser display beamed from the tower tops nightly at 8pm. See it in style aboard a three-sailed junk, such as the Aqua Luna (aqualuna.com.hk), gently pitching up and down the harbour;
... Hong Kong's famous street markets. Not the touristy Stanley Market, but the original ones on the Kowloon side – the flower market, ladies' market, jade market, night market and even the bird market;
... The Hong Kong Museum of History (lcsd.gov.hk), one of the best of its kind, with a clear, comprehensive permanent exhibition;
... A ride on the Peak Tram (thepeak.com.hk). When you get to the top of the mountain, you'll find not only a spectacular view but also a mini-shopping mall;
... A trip from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry (starferry.com.hk);
... A ride on the Ngong Ping Cable Car (np360.com.hk), a 25-minute journey offering fantastic panoramic views and which takes visitors from Tung Chung to Lantau island to see the huge Tian Tan bronze Buddha as well as Po Lin monastery and Ngong Ping nature park;
... A free t'ai chi class by the harbour – in the Sculpture Court in front of the Museum of Art, Tsim Sha Tsui – 8-9am weekdays (not Tuesday) with the venerable William Ng, who, at 72, is still demonstrating moves such as "Grasping the bird's tail".
Not an area that's emerging, so much as re-emerging. Hollywood Road, one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong and the backbone of the Central district, is having a bohemian renaissance. Young artists and designers, such as Stephanie Sin and Cecilia Yau, have studios in this area, alongside a mixture of old-school tea houses, such as Lin Heung on Wellington Street, pop-up shops and popular bars including Dragon-i on Wyndham Street. There's a small-scale, old-fashioned boutique feel, with the trendy jostling against the traditional. It's a welcome contrast to the huge, impersonal malls.
Glimpse the future of Chinese retail at the newest temple to shopping, on the Kowloon side, in Tsim Sha Tsui. This hugely ambitious mall is themed around the five natural elements – ornamented with themed sculptures accordingly – and stocked with big-name international brands.
It's newly safe to bathe here since shark nets have been installed – as they have at many of the city's outlying beaches. Leave the urban heat behind and head for the posh residential enclave of Repulse Bay (note Lord Foster's mysterious "lily" tower, still ominously wrapped in its cladding, years after completion) or venture further along the coast to more secluded spots, such as the Dragon's Back or Shek O Beach, which is also now fitted with shark nets.
The bar of the moment, created by Hong Kong entrepreneur and socialite Bonnie Gokson. Casually glamorous, it has a baby grand and a spacious roof terrace boasting an incredible panorama. The sophisticated menu reaches from patisserie to Poilâne; from Wagyu beef to fruit vinegar drinks as an after-dinner tonic.
William Tang, fashion designer
"Go shopping in Central. Start with Joyce on Queen's Road Central, which was one of the first international boutiques to open in Hong Kong and still has exquisite choices.
"Stop off at young designer Ranee K's atelier on Gough Street – she's amazing – and then end up at the beautiful Man Mo Buddhist temple at the bottom of Hollywood Road, where devotional incense sticks are constantly burning."
How to get there
Hermione Eyre travelled to Hong Kong with Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747; virginatlantic.com), which flies to the city twice daily, with return fares starting at £376. She stayed at the Mandarin Oriental (0800 2828 3838; mandarin oriental.com/hongkong) which offers doubles from £310 per night.
Hong Kong Tourism Board (discoverhongkong.com).
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