There are few sights as gorgeous as the approach to Hong Kong International Airport against the morning sunrise. Nestled among the several islands that constitute Hong Kong, the morning vistas that shroud one of the largest megalopolises in the world is as beautiful as anything one can see. And yet, for all the calm that stays over the great city in the morning, nothing can prepare you for the activity that the city wakes up to as soon as the sun is well up in the sky. Like an infant waking from the cradle, the sun breathes life into the giant city.
Hong Kong City
A tourist’s paradise with dozens of places to visit, and even more things to do at a place where the sky is the limit. Hong Kong is of course famously, a shopper’s dream, which contrary to persistent myth is one of the cheaper destinations in the world. Whether one is looking for branded, luxury items or cheap knockoffs at throwaway prices, places like Causeway Bay (self-titled as the Olympic Games of shopping) and Apliu Street Flea Market have lots to offer to enthusiastic shoppers. Even those who are not naturally acclimatized to shopping are free to do all the ‘touristy’ stuff that comes with visiting new places. There is Victoria’s Peak, a hilltop that offers a breathtaking aerial view of the city below (A visit only to be made by tram ride), Repulse Bay beach (A beach with a Jaws-like reputation) and for the rest, a chance to take a click with celebrities from across the world at Madame Tussauds.
And then, there is Disneyland, the singularly most dazzlingly exciting place to visit in all of Hong Kong. It is natural for adults to feel hesitant about visiting a place they may deem as ‘kiddy.’ However, Disneyland Hong Kong is much more than adolescent heaven and most importantly, brings out the kid in each and every one of us. The magic of Disneyland lies not in the dozens of rides strewn across the theme park, but in the many theme shows that happen like clockwork, every couple of hours. Whether it is a stage show on the Lion King or a 3-D screening of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck’s wizardry at magic or even a Toy Story-themed shooting game, Disneyland has enough to keep both children and adults satiated. And then finally, there is nothing more ‘wow’ than partaking in the firecracker show over the Sleeping Beauty castle, with the bright lights flashing on the faces of those who stand below in fascination.
Tourists, most of them at least, do not keep to Hong Kong City while visiting because many consider it just another part of the larger Hong Kong metropolis. Therefore, as it has become custom by the tourist practice, Hong Kong today includes two more places worth visiting, Shenzhen and Macau.
Shenzhen, although an almost a twin city of Hong Kong, technically is in Mainland China (Which is why YouTube and Facebook go for a toss here). It is however, only an hour’s ride from Hong Kong. Shenzhen itself is a shopping treat (Nothing on HKC, of course), but unlike the HKC, it is made more difficult by the fact that hardly anyone in Shenzhen (store clerks and ware sellers) is adept at communicating in English. Also, for a people oblivious to the need to communicate properly with foreign tourists, they are quite stubborn about selling stuff at bargain prices.
That said however, shopping enthusiasts are free to visit the Jewellery museum, which offers a rare collection of gemstones from pearls to jade to red diamonds. There is also ‘Wonders of the World,’ a theme park in Shenzhen which houses life-size replicas of the major monuments in the world. So, the next time you want to fool someone of having visited landmarks from across the world, visit this theme park.
Like Hong Kong, Macau too is one of the Special Administrative Regions or SARs, under Chinese rule. And yet, over half a decade after Portuguese rule, the town still gives off a very European vibe, with cobbled streets and rough frescoes greeting visitors in all directions, which is why for a tourist, Macau is more European than Chinese. Over the day, the town primarily finds visitors to the ruins of St. Paul’s Church and the Macau tower, where one can always pump their adrenaline by seeking out sky-walking or sky-jumping activities. However, the town roars into life after six in the evening, which is when the legendary casinos of the island-town come into being. It is said, that the entire revenue of the island is generated by casinos, which is a fact not worth arguing considering the thousands who arrive on ferries every evening. In fact, stores and malls across Macau close before 8 in the evening so that every tourist and local can find their way to the dozen casinos on the island.
It is as if the island becomes another being at night, with its quiet streets and people giving way to neon ‘peoplescapes’ and rabid gambling. However, do make sure to carry your passport at all times. Casinos are prohibited to all below 18, and the guards outside never miss a trick. Also, make sure to dress well while in Macau. Apparently, every citizen gets a small share of the island’s revenue and every foreigner who marries a local is awarded citizenship. So, you never know.
Best Time To Visit: The greater Hong Kong area is a popular destination all year round however, one must be careful as to avoid the monsoons whenever possible.
Currency: Even the currencies are different. Where the Hong Kong Dollar is used in HKC, the Yuan prevails in Shenzhen and the Macanese Pataca in Macau. However, the marginal difference in exchange rates shouldn’t be of concern.
Also, visa rules vary for each of the places mentioned above. Whereas HKC and Macau provide visas on arrival up to a period of 7 days, Shenzhen requires documentation, a formality best entrusted to tour package operators.
Take time to visit greater Hong Kong. It will remind you of the city, Mumbai could have been, or the metropolis it still could become in the near future. For all its neon landscapes and its high-rising skyline, it has not let go of its indigeneity, a fact, none best illustrated by its often eclectic taste in cuisine. It is fun, arresting and even enlightening and educating (After all, Indians learn faster when they are fined $100 for littering abroad). Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau, are places anyone is unlikely to ever forget; it is in fact, an experience of a lifetime.
By- Jibin Mathew George