A Handy Travel Guide to Hong Kong - Published in the Deccan Herald on 6th October, 2018

The Hong Kong Diaries 

There are some nice things about Hong Kong that get lost in the rhetoric of the tourist brochures.
 Like the landing at Hong Kong airport on Chek Lap Kok Island that was reclaimed from the sea, especially to construct the airport. As the plane descends, the vast sea, dotted with smaller mounds of lush greenery, appears. You wait for the sea to disappear, because are not airports found in urban environs?  But the sea, surrounded by verdant hills, remains in view till touchdown and even thereafter!  It is a nice sight. Or take the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Gardens. Spread over 3.5 hectares in the heart of a densely populated city, here is an oasis of aesthetics and calm. With flowing water, trees, rocks and wooden structures landscaped according to Feng Shui traditions, the Gardens validate the fact that 40% of Hong Kong's area consists of forests and National Park. What is particularly nice is that, the structures are held together, not by nails, but by an ingenious interlocking system carved into the wood. 

Of course, the attractions from the tourist brochures are nice too! Like Disneyland, the primary reason why many tourists visit Hong Kong. Disneyland is nice for obvious reasons. Ocean Park is nice too, thanks to the Giant Pandas. The sight of these playful, gentle giants lumbering up and down, in an air conditioned enclosure that mimics their high altitude habitats, melts even the most cynical! Ocean Park also has a cable car, penguins, dolphins and amusement rides. The penguins make you squeal but the amusement rides are not unique!  
Ngong Ping Village is another tourist brochure star.  It is accessed by a 25 minute cable car ride that travels high above the water, offering sweeping views of the endless South China Sea, the Hong Kong airport and the lush greenery of Hong Kong’s largest National Park.  One of the top 10 cable car rides in the world, it is more  enjoyable, albeit scary,  when done in the crystal cabin with a see-through toughened glass floor! You get off the cable car at Ngong Ping village to, what in Hong Kong, is a very rare sight - cows and bulls roaming freely, grazing away! It is a lovely change to see them alive and not on plates! Apart from the opulent but serene Po Lin monastery with a room full of Golden Bodhisattvas, the other major draw is the 112 foot high, Beijing-facing Big Buddha. Made with over 250 tonnes of bronze, the awesome Big Buddha leaves one feeling small, both on the temporal and spiritual planes. If you can spare a day, Ngong Ping also offers a beautiful sunrise at Lantau Peak, a cultural immersion at a Chinese fishing village and exquisitely calligraphed Buddhist Sutras on the Twelve Pillars on Wisdom Path. 
Then there is Victoria's Peak, the erstwhile residence of the British who first came to Hong Kong. It retains the colonial whiff even today and is the costliest piece of real estate in Hong Kong, housing the uber rich. You can reach the summit of Victoria Peak by riding the oldest funicular in the world, the iconic 108 year-old Peak Tram or you can take the bus to the Peak. While both offer breathtaking views and the illusion of the skyscrapers leaning forward as they ascend, the air-conditioned bus is much cheaper than the tram. But then, there are those that like a ride on a piece of history and even those who trek the scenic 7.5 kilometre trail up to the Peak.
 The Hong Kong shopping scene is another great crowd puller. From Times Square to Sogo, the iconic malls of Hong Kong showcase every international label, from Armani, Gucciand Versace to De Beers, Rolex and Cartier. Mall visits are really quite convenient, thanks to an arrangement between the bigger malls and the Hong Kong metro rail (MTR) by which, metro stations are located at the basement of the malls. The chic malls eat up your hours and if you don't watch out, your savings as well! The Smart Alec window-shops till kingdom come and then buys identical fare that serves equally well, from Ladies Market, Fashion Street, Sneakers Street, Jade Street, Apliu Street and the lanes of Causeway Bay, for a fraction of the price! Bargaining is expected and the initial price quoted is an exponential multiple of what it is finally sold for.

For the scholarly, there is the Hong Kong Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum and the Space Museum. The Hong Kong Museum of Natural History with excellent displays, descriptions and detail is highly recommended. For the gourmands, Hong Kong offers the most authentic of Asian cuisine, from eel fried rice to noodle broth with squid, pork and what have you, both at the swishy, Michelin-starred restaurants and at the numerous eateries lining every street.  For vegetarians, strong of heart, there is the newest trend of vegan restaurants that recreate non-vegetarian delicacies with mock meat and purely vegetarian ingredients. For the rest of us there is Saravana Bhavan, Sangeetha, Sharma’s and Branto. 
Hong Kong is the most visited city in the world. It has retained this distinction for the last 10 years, despite being one of the most expensive cities. Excursions, amusement parks, trekking trails, shopping, gastronomic adventures - Hong Kong has them all neatly packaged and efficiently dispensed, both for the moneyed tourist and for the backpacker. However, at its heart, lies the juxtaposition of urban realities with the beauty of nature, the old with the new and the uber rich with the common aggregate, all within 2974 square kilometres.  
 Indian nationals do not need a visa but they need to complete a pre-arrival registration which is valid for six months. This can be done online and grants a 14-day stay in Hong Kong each time. Extensions are not possible unless you leave Hong Kong and re-enter.
Pick up an Octopus card as soon as you land in Hong Kong airport. It is the most preferred mode of payment in most places in Hong Kong and almost mandatory in the MTR and the buses.
The Hong Kong MTR, one of the best in the world, is the fastest, most economical and comfortable way of getting around Hong Kong.  The bus network is slower and less extensive but, nevertheless, connects all popular areas and sights. Red taxis and Ubers are expensive.
Hong Kong is prone to typhoons. The typhoon season runs from May to September, peaking from July onwards. When strong winds and typhoon warning are in force, many tourist attractions do not operate rides and ferry services are suspended. Plan your day after checking the Hong Kong Observatory website.
 Cathay Pacific runs direct flights from the major Indian metro cities to Hong Kong. Jet Airways and Air India fly via Delhi and Bombay.
Accommodation options range from youth hostels to AirBnB, service apartments and two star to seven star hotels. Some service apartments lease out only for a month or longer. 

No comments

Post a Comment

© Of Places and People | All rights reserved.