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Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong

Hong Kong will draw you in, dazzle your senses and have you begging for more. It's fast, vibrant and cutting edge.

Hong Kong is a metropolis in the truest sense of the word. Of the 7 million people inhabiting this city most are Chinese but many Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, Europeans and many other nationalities call Hong Kong their home and they've all managed to add their own flavour to the Hong Kong milieu.

In 1997 the British returned Hong Kong to China under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework in which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high level of autonomy for 50 years. As an Oriental city governed by Occidentals, its history has given it a distinctive mix of East and West. The past and the present are side by side in the incense-filled temples, the towering skyscrapers and the densely populated urban areas while in the outlying islands nature continues her hold over a slower pace of life.

Hong Kong covers an area a little more than 1,000km² and is divided into Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories and the outlying islands. Hong Kong Island is home to one of the most impressive and recognisable skylines in the world. In Central, the buildings appear to stretch the sky and on the ground there seems to be an infinite amount of people bustling through their day. Hong Kong Island is actually very hilly and it feels like mountain climbing walking from Central to the residential mid levels area. Luckily the world's longest escalator (800m) has been constructed here. The Central Escalator starts at the crossing of Queens Road Central and Queen Victoria Street and has its terminus all the way up at Conduit Road. Use it after 10am though, before then it heads down. The ride is free. On the way it passes the Soho area, restaurants and food markets are cramped in between high-rises. The frenetic pace of the north side of the island gives way to beaches and leisurely retreats.

Kowloon, which faces Hong Kong across the harbour at the tip of the peninsula, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The buildings here aren't as glitzy as on the island but nonetheless, it's a very dynamic commercial area. In the area of Tsim Sha Tsui, there are almost as many camera stores facing the street as there are people in Hong Kong. Inside the buildings, the shopping centres run continuously; check out Harbour City that has its southern entrance by the Star Ferry terminal. If shopping is your poison, then watch out for an overdose; it won't get better than Nathan Road, full of action with restaurants, shops and bars. There are many lively markets in Kowloon, some of the best are near the Prince Edward MTR station at the northern end of Nathan Road, the Yuen Po Street Bird Market, the Flower Market and Temple Street Night Market to name a few.

Amidst all the heady shopping it's easy to forget that Hong Kong is also rich in cultural experiences. As a reminder to explore beyond the malls and boutiques, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre is a good place to begin with a worthwhile historical section and contemporary art section. Also check the local listings for special performances at the centre. The Museum of History on Chatham Road offers glimpses into pre-skyscraper Hong Kong when it was still nothing but barren rock.

A nice respite from the busy streets is visiting the New Territories and its outlying islands. Many visitors are surprised that there's more to Hong Kong than the island and Kowloon. The rural areas and nature reserves are a world away from the glam and glitter of urban Hong Kong. This is also Hong Kong's spiritual side; there are plenty of monasteries and temples to explore. Not far from Tsuen Wan is a beautiful Taoist temple, the Yuen Yuen Institute. Nearby is Hong Kong's highest mountain, the Big Misty Mountain. At 957m it's a manageable climb and you're rewarded with a grand view. Another intriguing monastery is the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. Next to the temple is the Tian Tan Buddha this Buddha's claim to fame is its size: it's the world's largest outdoor bronze Buddha statue. There's a great view of the surrounding hills after climbing the stairs to reach the Buddha.

Like most major metropolises, people in Hong Kong seem to live in hyper-speed; they're always on the go and it's easy to get caught up in the rush. It's a good idea to slow down and remember you're on holiday. Relax and take it all in from a distance before you attack the streets of Central on Hong Kong Island. From the Kowloon side of the harbor the whole skyline is laid out before you, ready to be photographed. The Opera Hall, where the handover ceremony was held is on the left and on the right is the brand new 415mhigh International Finance Center, it's easy to spot  it dwarfs every other building in sight so far. In between, the buildings rise to the sky shoulder to shoulder. Some of the architectural wonders include the Bank of China Tower designed by I.M. Pei. The building consists of four triangular glass and aluminum towers of varying heights that emerge from a granite podium. There is a small sky deck open to the public on the 42nd floor that gives a view of the northwest side of Hong Kong. Just next to the Bank of China Tower, by Statue Square, is the home of the HSBC. Designed by the famous architect Norman Foster, it's a glass and steel wonder with a 52m high atrium.

To view it all from different angle, take the Star Ferry across the harbor and get on the Peak Tram on Garden Road to Victoria Peak. The tram makes it precarious way up the steep hills that are the backdrop of Hong Kong's skyline. On a clear day the view from the 552m high Victoria Peak is striking. And when you're ready, take the plunge into the streets and experience the glass and steel giants up close. If you're still up for more skyscraper spotting then do the whole trip one more time at night when the sky is illuminated by the many high rises.

Memorable Experience
Marveling at the skyline of Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon ferry pier and Victoria Peak.
Exploring the outlying islands with beautiful beaches and village life.
Experiencing commercial Hong Kong from the local food markets to Kowloon's countless shopping centers.
Eating dim sum in a typical busy Hong Kong restaurant.

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