The year 2017 marks the end of 156 years of British colonial rule and the British empire in Asia, when Hong Kong’s sovereignty shifted from the UK to China. A visit to this subtropical archipelago this year; seemed just the correct thing to do.
Our Jet Airways plane seemed to be landing in the middle of the sea as it reached Hong Kong. The HK International Airport is located on the island of Chek Lap Kok, built on reclaimed land and was amazingly huge, efficient, clean, welcoming inspite of it being one of world’s busiest passenger airports.
We collected our luggage and boarded a shuttle train to the main city, more than an hour away. Dawn was breaking, as we soaked in the scenic beauty of Hong Kong through the windows of the speeding train. The confluence of sea and mountains was amazing.
The comfortable 10-seater bus was waiting to take us to our hotel in Mongkok (Kowloon East). Although we hadn’t slept too well in the flight, we quickly freshened up in our room and set off to check out the city.
Free shuttle buses run from the hotel to important shopping places in the city, every half hour, making life easy. The metro is very efficient too. The place is a shopper’s delight and we had our shopping list ready from Day 1. Apart from the branded items, a lot of interesting knick knacks can be picked up from the Temple Street Night Market.
This small but ultra modern city comprises of a continuous sky line of elegant tall buildings with sea, bays, mountains in the background. Although its urban centre is densely populated, the civic sense is well maintained. Familiar eating joints such as Pizza Hut are everywhere and so are Seven Elevens, for basic takeaways. The whole city is well lit in the night and it feels perfectly safe to walk around in the streets.
Harbour City – The largest shopping mall in Hong Kong
The next morning saw us headed towards the MTR which would take us to Harbour City — an upmarket place. Lifts take you down to the platform and to the huge network of the underground metro. We bought our multi-purpose Octopus Cards, which can be used in trains, Seven Elevens etc. The smooth ride dropped us at Harbour City and a short walk through the street lined with notable brand shops, brought us to the huge complex, consisting of three malls – Ocean Terminal, Ocean Centre and Gateway Arcade. With almost 450 shops to browse in, it can easily take you the whole day here. Club it with the huge food hall and the innumerable restaurants serving delectable cuisine and your holiday already starts getting memorable.
In between shopping, we relaxed with coffee at a restaurant over looking the harbour.
Scenic city view from Victoria Peak
Hong Kong looks marvelous from any ‘Top’- the islands; some densely inhabited within concrete, some completely covered with foliage, so many tiny ones in the middle of the sea, wanting to stay close to the parent island, all look so beckoning.
To get a 360 degree view of Hong Kong, ‘The Peak’ definitely should be in your bucket list. Victoria Peak is a landmark of the island.It is the highest peak at 552 meters. From the top, one gets a beautiful view of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
To get the feel of both day and night time, we chose the evening for our visit. We boarded the MTR to Central and reached the base after a 10 minute walk. Tickets for the Peak Tram, which departs every 10-15 minutes, are available at the base for 3.60 USD, one way. The historic funicular railway is a delight in itself. As it passes near the buildings, they appear to be tilted. It can be quite scary if you are not prepared for it. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping the train didn’t roll back all the way down; specially when it stopped half way up the impossible incline!
Fascinating Madame Tussauds Hong Kong
Madame Tussauds Hong Kong is on the second level and we spent an hour here taking pictures with our favorite stars.
Spectacular views from Sky Terrace 428
The Sky Terrace 428 is located three escalators up. We needed to buy tickets worth 6.20 USD to have access to the viewing platform. Unfortunately, the weather had changed while we were busy in Madame Tussauds and it had started raining. Also, it had become dark so we missed the view of city in daylight. It was so windy at the top that we were almost threatened to get blown off the terrace. The view of the brightly lit up city below was breathtaking but we could hardly stand to admire it.
Do remember to take an extra piece of clothing as it can get really cold up there.
Big Budha / Po Lin Monastery
Next morning we were back in the MTR and got off at the station, Tung Chung. A short walk from the station to the cable car, would take us to this remote Po Lin Monastery to see the 26.4 metres, bronze Buddha, sitting serenely atop a lotus, facing North towards Mainland China.
An escalator took us up to the booking counter for the cables. To enjoy the breathtaking view from all directions, we opted for a glass-bottomed cable car. The price is one and a half times more but we thought it would be fun to be able to look directly down at the trees over which we pass. But it wasn’t that great. The view from either side was equally absorbing.
The cable car crossed over a few hillocks and one can see practically the whole city, the sea and the airport with aeroplanes standing in an orderly manner.
One cant get enough of the scenery — we looked to the right excitedly and to then to the left and it seemed we just couldn’t get enough of it. Enterprising hitch hikers reach here on foot. We could see it from our glass bottomed cable car.
The clean streets on both sides are lined with shops and restaurants where one can browse and relax for a while. In the distance one can see steps (268) leading up to the Buddha.
The spellbinding view of the sea and mountains from here make the climb worth the effort. As we made our way back in the cable car, a feeling of serenity enveloped us.
Hong Kong Disneyland – Fun place for younger kids
Nothing could stop the kids and the ‘Big kid’ (Father) from making a straight lunge towards the Disney train which would take us straight to the magical world of cartoon characters transporting us back to our childhood. The Disney train, with Mickey Mouse windows, was the cutest train, with the cleanest and most comfortable sofa for sitting.
The short ride took us to the beautiful, amazing wonderland and the weather decided to play along making the whole trip memorable. We had booked our tickets online which saved our time of standing in queues. The tickets for entry are priced at around USD $55.
Disneyland is divided into seven magical worlds – Adventureland, Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, Toy Story Land, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street,U.S.A. The place is full of exciting activities. It’s huge, so wear comfortable footwear and be prepared to walk. There are many restaurants, shops and one can even stay here overnight if you haven’t had your fill of fun.
The Disney Parade, for approx half hour, is of course, a ‘must-watch’. The colourful parade is accompanied with music and dancing. The day parade has its own charm while the night one too, comes alive with fire crackers. All lit up as the sun sets.
Ocean Park – The largest Hong Kong theme park
We had reserved almost a full day for one of the world’s most beautiful theme parks and the largest in Asia, located on Wong Chuk Hang Road. We took the luxury, double decker Hop-on hop-off bus straight to Ocean Park. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to wait in lines for the rides.
The place seemed to be packed with people of all age groups. And why would it not be? With theme parks, nature and parks, zoos and aquariums, water and amusement parks; theres something for everyone. You can see some amazing Asian animals, like the Giant Pandas, Red Pandas, Asian Otters etc .
The other main attractions were the Aqua City, Whiskers Harbour, Marine World, Adventure Land and the recently added Rain Forest, Thrill Mountain and Polar Adventure.
The park has two main parts, one situated on a mountain and one on low land. The cable that takes you up to the mountain, gives you spectacular views of Hong Kong and the sea.
You can also access the place by escalators (Hong Kong’s second largest outdoor escalator). We loved travelling on it.
We were exhausted by the end of the day, more because of the wait in queues. There were queues even outside fast food counters. The place holds you spell bound with the sheer number of activities.
We collected our family photo as a beautiful reminder of this fun-filled place.
We ended our fantastic trip by watching the world’s largest permanent light and sound show on the harbour – Symphony of Lights. At 8 pm, 44 buildings erupt in coloured lights accompanied by music, for 13 minutes.
If you have a day to spare in Hong Kong and some currency left, do visit Macau, which is just 63 kms away and you can get visa on arrival. Frequent ferries go every half hour from Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. You can come back late in the night. The ferry ride is exciting in itself.
Macau is beautiful and is famed for the casinos. Visiting the infamous Venetian Hotel is a ‘must’ here.
Also read: India’s Tropical Haven — Andaman and Nicobar Islands