The captivating and dynamic metropolis of Hong Kong makes a spectacular pre- or post- cruise stay, says Liz Jarvis.
Vibrant, cosmopolitan and densely-populated, and known throughout the world as a global financial hub, Hong Kong first started showing up in historical records during the Ming Dynasty, around 1,500 years ago. Originally a group of sleepy fishing villages, it was ceded to the British by the Qing dynasty at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. Its strategic location on the Pearl River Delta and South China sea meant the “Fragrant Harbour” was occupied by the Japanese during the Pacific War, after which the British resumed control until 1997, when it was returned to China. There have been a lot of changes since (and a lot of construction), but the spirit of Hong Kong remains the same, with a buzzing arts and culture scene, secret islands and superb cuisine.
At first Hong Kong can seem confusing and a little chaotic, but if you think of it is as three smaller territories – Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and then the
New Territories – it starts to make a more sense and is easier to navigate.
A good place for getting a feel for the city is Victoria Peak. You can catch the Peak Tram up and then hike back down, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the skyline – aim to visit at sunset, when the whole city is bathed in gold and the steel of the buildings looks almost lilac, and quite beautiful. Also recommended is a trip on the Star Ferry from Kowloon, providing more instagrammable views. The tallest Hong Kong skyscrapers all have nicknames (some of them unprintable), including the Koala Tree, the Cat Scratch, the Hong Kong Finger and the Chinese Silver Sword, and it’s fun working out which is which.
There are many beautiful temples in the city, but most famous is the elaborately-decorated Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, home to three religions (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism), which claims to “make every wish come true upon request.”
Nathan Road is where you’ll find the city’s iconic neon signs, but if you’re craving something slightly more tranquil, then Lantau Island is known for its giant bronze statue of Buddha (aka the Big Buddha) and stunning natural beauty including glorious sandy beaches, and is easily reached by public transport.
The Temple Street night market is the most famous, and the best, selling everything from antiques to noodles. Anyone who dislikes seeing caged birds should choose to avoid the Bird Garden; the nearby flower market is much more of a visual treat and smells wonderful.
You’ll find designer stores at Times Square in Causeway Bay. And if you are keen to boost your fortunes by buying jade, you can find some very reasonably-priced jewellery at Chow Tai Fook in Central, and antique jade jewellery along Hollywood Road.
For a more affordable souvenir Man Wa Lane is well-known for its chop-makers – personalised calligraphy stamps carved in jade or stone. It’s also definitely worth visiting Des Voeux Road West, known as “Dried Seafood Street”, just for the colourful multi-sensory experience.
Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise, with one of the highest ratios of restaurants per head in the world, and any visit is the opportunity to try truly authentic and absolutely delicious Chinese food: dim sum, which is completely moreish; char siu – sweet and sticky barbecue pork; wonton noodles; claypot rice; and, of course, a wide variety of seafood.
Afternoon tea at The Peninsula is considered a true Hong Kong tradition (it dates back to the colonial era). For a glamorous pre-dinner cocktail with breathtaking harbour views head to the Blue Bar – they even run a mixology class, where you can learn to shake or stir the cocktails of your choice with their expert team while enjoying freshly-made tapas.
Where to stay
With a superb location and magnificent views of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, the
Four Seasons Hong Kong is simply one of the world’s finest hotels. Rooms are spacious and immaculately appointed, skilfully blending contemporary and traditional Asian styles, with luxurious décor, state-of-the-art technology and marble bathrooms stocked with L’Occitane products. Impressively the hotel has five Michelin stars, awarded to restaurants Caprice and Lung King Heen, but the food at The Lounge is also superb. Stay on the Club Floor and you’ll be able to take advantage of complimentary drinks, including Champagne, cocktails and light bites. Wifi is complimentary. Rooms start at £400 per night.
Cathay Pacific now offers a choice of three routes between the UK and Hong Kong, and onwards to over 190 destinations globally. These include five flights daily from London Heathrow, and daily flights from Gatwick and Manchester. Currently, the Gatwick and Manchester routes feature the new Airbus A350. Fares start at £709 return for economy, and £4,589 return for business.
To find out more about exploring Hong Kong go to discoverhongkong.com. Cruise lines that sail to Hong Kong, include Silversea and Viking.