Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are divided both physically and psychologically by Victoria Harbour. On Hong Kong Island, the central city stretches only a few kilometers south into the island before mountains rise up, but the city goes several more kilometers north into Kowloon. In the main districts and neighborhoods, luxury boutiques are a stone's throw away from old hawker stalls, and a modern, high-tech horse-racing track is just around the corner from a temple housing more than 10,000 buddhas.
The Kowloon Peninsula is the extension of mainland China just across the harbor from the Central District, bounded in the north by the string of mountains that give Kowloon its poetic name: gau lung (nine dragons). The southernmost part of Kowloon, called Tsim Sha Tsui, is where landmarks such as the Star Ferry Pier and the elegant Peninsula Hotel stand proudly. It's where Nathan Road, Kowloon's dense and busy shopping street, begins; the famous Kansu Street Jade Market is on this side of the harbor as well.
Kowloon Star Ferry Pier. The pier is a convenient starting point for any tour of the peninsula, and the ferry itself is the most scenic ride in town. To the right of the ferry pier is the Victoria Clock Tower, which dates from 1915 and is all that remains of the old Kowloon-Canton Railway Station. At the foot of Canton Rd. Admission charged.
Chi Lin Nunnery. Not a single nail was used to build this nunnery, which dates from 1934. Instead, traditional Tang Dynasty architectural techniques involving wooden dowels and bracket work hold its 228,000 pieces of timber together. Most of the 15 cedar halls house altars to bodhisattvas (those who have reached enlightenment)-bronze plaques explain each one. Courtyards and gardens, where frangipani flowers scent the air, run beside the nunnery. The gardens are filled with bonsai trees and artful rockeries. Nature is also present inside: the various halls and galleries all look onto two courtyards filled with geometric lotus ponds and manicured bushes. Be sure to keep looking up-the latticework ceilings and complicated beam systems are among the most beautiful parts of the building. Combine Chi Lin Nunnery with a visit to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, only one MTR stop or a short taxi ride away. 5 Chi Lin Dr., Diamond Hill, Eastern Kowloon.
Hong Kong Museum of Art. An extensive collection of Chinese art is packed inside this boxy tiled building on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Kowloon. The collections contain a heady mix of Qing ceramics, 2,000-year-old calligraphic scrolls, and contemporary canvases. It's all well organized into thematic galleries with clear, if uninspired, explanations. Hong Kong's biggest visiting exhibitions are usually held here too. The museum is a few minutes' walk from the Star Ferry and Tsim Sha Tsui MTR stop. Guided tours are available in English. 10 Salisbury Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui. Admission charged.
Promenade. The harbor-front promenade, which has been turned into an Avenue of Stars of Hong Kong cinema, is a great place for a stroll. Along the harbor.
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. Here the territory's three major religions-Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism-are all celebrated under the same roof. Start at the incense-wreathed main courtyard, where the noise of many people shaking out chim (sticks with fortunes written on them) forms a constant rhythmic background. After wandering the halls, take time out in the Good Wish Garden-a peaceful riot of rockery-at the back of the complex. At the base of the complex is a small arcade where soothsayers and palm readers are happy to interpret Wong Tai Sin's predictions for a small fee. At the base of the ramp to the Confucian Hall, look up behind the temple for a view of Lion Rock, a mountain in the shape of a sleeping lion. If you feel like acquiring a household altar of your own, head for Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei, the Kowloon district north of Tsim Sha Tsui, where religious shops abound. Wong Tai Sin Rd., Wong Tai Sin, Eastern Kowloon. Admission charged.
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. This neighborhood park, where bird-owning residents can meet and "walk" their caged pets, also includes some 70 stalls to be used by those who lost trade when the famous Hong Lok Street songbird stalls were demolished in a revitalization project in the late nineties. Various kinds of feathered creatures are for sale, but you can also purchase the picturesque, empty carved cages. Access the main entrance from Boundary Street, a short walk from the Prince Edward MTR station. Yuen Po St., Mong Kok.
Hong Kong Island
Just 78 square km (30 square miles), Hong Kong Island is where the action is, from high finance to nightlife to luxury shopping. The office towers and opulent shopping centers of Hong Kong's core business district occupy one of the most expensive stretches of land on Earth. The Central District also houses nearly every major investment and commercial bank, fashion designer, and luxury-goods boutique the world has yet produced. Further removed, the Western District is gradually becoming more like Central, but it still retains a traditional feel. Wanchai is the city's fabled nightlife district, now home to popular clubs and restaurants.
Man Mo Temple. No one knows exactly when Hong Kong Island's oldest temple was built-the consensus is sometime around the arrival of the British in 1841. The temple is dedicated to the Taoist gods of literature and of war: Man, who wears green, and Mo, dressed in red. The temple bell, cast in Canton in 1847, and the drum next to it are sounded to attract the gods' attention when a prayer is being offered. Hollywood Rd. at Ladder St., Sheung Wan, Western.
Victoria Peak and the Victoria Peak Tram. Whatever the time, whatever the weather, be it your first visit or your 50th, this is Hong Kong's one unmissable sight. Spread below you is a glittering forest of skyscrapers; beyond them the harbor and-on a clear day-Kowloon's eight mountains. At the top you enter the Peak Tower, a mall full of restaurants and shops; there's a viewing platform on the roof. Outside the Tower, another mall faces you. Well-signed nature walks around the Peak are wonderful respites from the commercialism.
Soaring 550 meters (1,805 feet) above sea level, the peak looks over Central and beyond. The steep funicular tracks up to the peak start at the Peak Tram Terminus, near St. John's Cathedral on Garden Road. At the Lower Terminus, the Peak Tram Historical Gallery displays a replica of the first-generation Peak Tram carriage. On the way up, grab a seat on the right-hand side for the best views of the harbor and mountains. The trams, which look like old-fashioned trolley cars, are hauled the whole way in seven minutes by cables attached to electric motors. En route to the Upper Terminus, 396 meters (1,300 feet) above sea level, the cars pass four intermediate stations, with track gradients varying from 4 to 27 degrees.
Before buying a return ticket down on the tram, consider taking one of the beautiful low-impact trails back to Central. Buses also go down. You'll be treated to spectacular views in all directions on the Hong Kong Trail, an easygoing 40- to 60-minute paved path that begins and ends at the Peak Tram Upper Terminus. Bus 15C, usually, but not always, a red double-decker with an open top, shuttles you between the Peak Tram Lower Terminal and Central Bus Terminal near the Star Ferry Pier, every 15 to 20 minutes Tram between Garden Rd. and Cotton Tree Dr., Central. Admission charged.
The island's most famous resident is Tian Tan Buddha, the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha. He sits on the Ngong Ping plateau, beside the Po Lin Monastery, a onetime haven of peace. You can still find stillness at the nearby Wisdom Path, a short hillside walk lined by massive wooden tablets inscribed with parts of a Buddhist sutra (prayer). Ngong Ping is also home to a religious theme park, Ngong Ping Village, with interactive exhibits on the Buddha, as well as gift shops and restaurants.
This Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China is on the western bank of the Pearl River Delta, less than an hour from Hong Kong by hydrofoil. Most people visit Macau to gamble, eat cheap seafood, and shop without crowds. But don't overlook its timeless charms and unique culture, born from centuries of both Portuguese and Chinese influence.
Ruínas de São Paulo (Ruins of St. Paul's Church). Only the magnificent, towering facade, with its intricate carvings and bronze statues, remains from the original Church of Mater Dei, built between 1602 and 1640 and destroyed by fire in 1835. The church, an adjacent college, and Mount Fortress, all Jesuit constructions, once formed East Asia's first western-style university. The ruins are now the widely adopted symbol of Macau, a tourist attraction with snack bars and antiques and other shops at the foot of the site. The small Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt tucked behind the facade of São Paulo holds statues, crucifixes, and the bones of Japanese and Vietnamese martyrs. There are also some intriguing Asian interpretations of Christian images, including samurai angels and a Chinese Virgin and Child. Top end of Rua de São Paulo, Downtown.
Macau Tower Convention & Entertainment Centre. Rising above peaceful San Van Lake, the 335-meter (1,100-foot) freestanding tower recalls Sky Tower, a similar structure in New Zealand-and it should, as both were designed by New Zealand architect Gordon Moller. The Macau Tower offers a variety of thrills, including the Mast Climb, which challenges the daring and strong of heart and body with a two-hour climb on steel rungs 105 meters (344 feet) up the tower's mast for incomparable views of Macau and China. Other thrills include the Skywalk X, an open-air stroll around the tower's exterior-without handrails; the SkyJump, an assisted, decelerated 233-meter (765-foot) descent; and the world's highest bungee jump. More subdued attractions inside the tower are a mainstream movie theater and a revolving lunch, high tea, and dinner buffet at the 360-degree Café. Largo da Torre de Macau, Downtown. Admission charged.
After horse-racing and rugby, the favorite sport in Hong Kong is probably shopping. You'll find more of the exclusive designer stores on Hong Kong Island, particularly in Central, while more of the interesting street markets are in Kowloon.
Street bazaars and markets embody some of the best things about Hong Kong shopping-bargains, local color, and an almost audible buzz of excitement. Famous Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row, between Central and Western, Hong Kong Island) is now full of small, high-quality Chinese antiques shops, but in the street outside you'll still see plenty of hawkers selling inexpensive jewelry, opium pipes, Mao buttons, and assorted paraphernalia.
Hollywood Road and Wyndham Street, which are actually one long lane running from Central to Western on Hong Kong Island, are undeniably the best places for poking about in shops and stalls selling antiques from many Asian countries. Treasures are hidden away among a jumble of old family curio shops, sidewalk junk stalls, slick new display windows, and dilapidated warehouses. You will also find great furniture here.