History and Culture on a Hong Kong Stop-Over

On a two-day stop-over on her way home from New Zealand, Laura Bleakley explores the history and culture of the of one of the Far East’s most alluring and exciting destinations

Arriving in Hong Kong and being told my suitcase had not come with me was certainly not what I wanted to hear after flying all day and night from Auckland, New Zealand.

However, I was informed that my suitcase would be brought directly to my hotel room by lunch- time the next day and I actually began to see the positive side of receiving a personal delivery service and not having to carry my own case!

Luckily, we were staying on Lantau Island which is also the part of Hong Kong we had flown in to. The bus journey to the hotel took us through winding roads to our lovely Silvermine Beach Hotel. Due to renovations going on, we were upgraded, and the hotel’s rooms and facilities plus close location to the ferry port mean I would recommend this as an ideal place to stay for anyone travelling to Hong Kong who appreciates being away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Hong Kong is made up of four main areas; Kowloon, the New Territories, Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island. Staying on Lantau meant we had to take a ferry to reach the main cosmopolitan centre on Hong Kong Island. The journey took approximately 45 minutes on the ferry and on approaching Hong Kong Island, the main thing that struck us was the famous and expansive skyline. Huge skyscrapers and numerous buildings meant it was not difficult to see how Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

One of the first stops on our day of sightseeing brought us to The Expo Promenade (also known as Golden Bauhinia Square) outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the Wan Chai waterfront. Here we were educated on the most significant occasion in Hong Kong’s history with this area marking the return of the former British colony to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the establishment of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong (HKSAR). The people of the PRC offered the Golden Bauhinia sculpture as a gift to mark the widespread joy of the Chinese at the return of the territory to the Motherland after more than 150 years. The Reunification Monument bearing inscriptions of President Jiang Zemin’s calligraphy stands close by. An official daily flag raising ceremony takes place daily, except the first of each month, from 7:50 – 8:03 am.

Hong Kong is a mecca of designer shops and large upmarket shopping centres with few stores matching our limited backpacker budget. Venturing into the back streets allowed us to experience a very different scene with cheap markets and food stalls and an intriguing aroma of smells. There was truly a feel of east meeting west when darkness fell and we visited Hong Kong’s “SoHo”, the area “South of Hollywood Road”. In this area, there was a vast selection of eateries to choose from with diverse cuisine from all corners of the world! There was definitely something to appeal to all taste buds.

We rushed from our meal to witness the Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest permanent light and sound show which takes place at 8 pm every evening. This nightly spectacle combines interactive lights of 44 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with musical effects to showcase the vibrancy and glamorous night vista of Victoria Harbour. The show comprises five major themes in a fifteen minute show and aims to take spectators on a unique journey celebrating the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong. It really allows for an appreciation of the impressive skyline, particularly if you take an underground train and watch from across the water in Kowloon.

The trendy location of Lan Kwai Fong with its neon lit streets and real buzz of clubs, bars and restaurants is a must see and was the perfect way to end the night.

Kowloon’s Harbourside is home to the Avenue of Stars. It is Hong Kong’s monument to its stars of the golden screen and includes a statue of Bruce Lee as well as hand prints from Jackie Chan and other famous Asian stars. It is also here that you can see the impressive Olympic rings lit up.

Due to our base in Lantau Island, we chose to spend one day at Hong Kong Disneyland as it was located on the same island. The entry fee for an adult is HK $350 and although the resort is similar to Disneyland Paris, it was easy to get to and is definitely worth a visit.

Our weather throughout the trip saw sunny skies and pleasantly warm temperatures. After research I have discovered that travelling between September and December is the best time to enjoy the city due to low humidity and greater predictability over the weather. At other times of the year, the city hosts some of the world’s most extreme weather and can really change in a short space of time.

Hong Kong was merely a stopover for us on our return home from New Zealand and we only spent two days here; one sightseeing and the other at Disneyland. There was an abundance of things we did not get the chance to see or do and you could easily spend longer exploring what Hong Kong has to offer from its history and culture to its wide range of food and shops.