• Oversized sticks of incense burn in tribute before lacquered-wood statues of the gods of literature and war.
  • Hollywood stars and Kpop boy bands greet visitors to Madame Tussauds.
  • The High Island Reservoir and East Dam are part of the Unesco-listed Hong Kong Global Geopark.
  • The alleys of Hollywood Road are adorned with appealing graffiti, while Ladder Street vendors tour fancy costumes.
  • The classic double-decker tram is a great way to see the city.

A whip round Hong Kong

World August 02, 2017 01:00

By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
The Nation

3,872 Viewed

Thais Living in the city serve as guides for compatriots paying a visit



HONG KONG retailers are luring visitors with a tremendous array of brand-name goods in the annual summer shop-till-you-drop sales, but the city has plenty of other attractions on offer. Spending more time sightseeing and less time shopping might just keep the tourists from going home bankrupt. 

The special administrative region at the tip of the Pearl River Delta was of course under colonial rule for more than a century. The British navy parked at what became known as Possession Point in January 1841 and then, in 1898, China’s rulers were coerced into granting a 99-year “lease” on the sprawling trading post. 

The Peak Tower spoils visitors with its majestic views of the sea and skyline, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon district. 

That expired in 1997, and the great “hand-over” that year – from British back to Chinese possession – was cause for celebration on the mainland and nervous apprehension among democratically minded citizens. 

Low taxes and wide-open trade made Hong Kong one of the world’s leading financial centres – development was booming from the 1950s on – so there was a lot riding on the transfer of ownership.

Vicky Loud, who’s Thai and also holds Hong Kong citizenship and makes a living showing Thai tourists around the city, points out that 99 years of British rule gave Hong Kong a decidedly Western cultural bias. 

“The island was completely unoccupied until traders from India settled here,” she says. “Today the inhabitants are generally categorised as the Punti, who grow rice, the Tanka fishermen, the Hoklo migrants from Guangdong, and the Hakka people who live in remote villages.”

The alleys of Hollywood Road are adorned with appealing graffiti, while Ladder Street vendors tour fancy costumes.

Those four groupings hardly reflect the city’s startlingly cosmopolitan makeup, though. Rather than just farmers and fishermen, this is a city of seven million people whose housing market has been deemed the world’s most expensive for seven consecutive years.

The two-hour flight from Bangkok lands us in Hong Kong in time for lunch, which turns out to be a grand banquet of classic Cantonese dim sum and other delicacies at Above & Beyond, a lofty restaurant at the Hotel Icon. 

The alleys of Hollywood Road are adorned with appealing graffiti, while Ladder Street vendors tour fancy costumes.

Malee Thamrangkul, Vicky’s sister and partner in their guided-tours business, tells us that the practice of making dim sum is great for stress relief. 

“Dim sum means ‘touch your heart’,” she explains. “In the old days it was made with leftovers from the previous day’s supper. They wrapped everything in thin flour pancakes and had them for breakfast. 

“It’s a form of art, really, and when paired with tea, the aroma of the tea improves the appetite and relaxes you ready for the day’s work.”

The sisters lead us on an afternoon walk through Old Town Central, where the mingling of East and West, ancient traditions and modern innovations, can’t fail to impress. 

Venerable temples stand alongside huge skyscrapers and hip restaurants. Shophouses from another era have funky street art on the walls – even some cool depictions of colonial times.

Sheung Wan is where the history of modern Hong Kong began in the 1840s. The spot where the British flag was raised at Possession Point – originally right on the waterfront – is now the typically Chinese Hollywood Road Park. 

Man Mo Temple is home to the gods of literature and war, who seem to get along just fine.

Nearby is Man Mo Temple, erected sometime between 1847 and 1862 and beautifully refined in its Chinese architecture and craftsmanship. Visitors admire the old bronze bell and a sedan chair, the granite pillars and handsome doorframes, and the marvellously engraved wooden plaques.

Oversized sticks of incense burn in tribute before lacquered-wood statues of the gods of literature and war – the first holding a calligrapher’s brush and the other a lance. A statue of Bao Kong sitting next to them offers up crystal eyes and a promise to extract you from your legal troubles. 

Within a short walk is a building once known as the Police Married Quarters, but that was 20 years ago and the police officers and their spouses are long gone. The compound was carefully conserved while being refurbished as an open space for artists. Now known simply as “PMQ”, the building is filled with studios, galleries, fashion boutiques and cafes. 

The former Police Married Quarters is now just PMQ and a beehive of artistic activity.

The graffiti in the neighbourhood is well worth pausing by for pictures. You can see Bruce Lee, cartoon characters, striking urban vignettes and much more. The vendors on Ladder Street also catch the eye with fancy costumes and party accessories on sale.

Getting walk-weary, we stop at the Kung Lee Herbal Tea Shop, founded in the 1940s. It’s a classic Chinese teahouse and still run by the same family. Their sugarcane juice, pudding and “five flowers tea” are healthy and wonderfully refreshing. 

A city tour isn’t complete without a ride on a open-top upper deck tram. The Tram Oramic Tour chugs along six different routes from Causeway Bay to the Western Market. We enjoy a one-hour trip past Times Square, the racecourse, the former parliament and the Sheung Wan Market, famous for top-quality dried food. 

The Tram Oramic Tour is a great way to see the city – aboard a classic open-top upper deck tram. 

And then everything went vertical. Another tram carries us up to the Peak Tower. This Swiss-built conveyance has been in operation since 1888 and was originally reserved for the British governor and other residents of the Peak. 

From 396 metres above sea level, you get an astonishing view of the city at your feet and in Kowloon on the other side of bustling Victoria Harbour. 

The Peak Tower has a Madame Tussauds museum with Wolverine guarding the entrance. Its 11 display halls are populated by more than 100 lifelike wax celebrities. Get your picture taken with Queen Elizabeth II, Kendall Jenner, David Beckham, Lee Jong Suk or Hello Kitty.

Our last day is spent at the High Island Reservoir and East Dam in outlying Sai Kung, another place with enchanting views, in this case featuring lovely lakes and rolling hills. The dam is part of the Unesco-listed Hong Kong Global Geopark that stretches across 50 square kilometres.

The High Island Reservoir and East Dam are part of the Unescolisted Hong Kong Global Geopark. 

“Sai Kung is a popular weekend destination for Hong Kong families,” says guide Lo Wing Sun. “It has a lake where you can spend the whole day kayaking.” 

Volcanic activity 140 million years ago sculpted the landscape, Lo says. “Human settlements here date back at least 5,000 years ago, to the Stone Age.”

A lot of that rust-coloured volcanic rock went into the dam when construction began in 1971, strong enough to hold back the reservoir that provides 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s drinking water. 

>> The writer travelled courtesy of KTC Card and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

  

YOUR CHANCE TO VISIT

>> Anytime this year, KTC credit cardholders can win a package tour in the “Hong Kong Best Experiences” campaign by booking airfare, hotels and tours via the KTC World Travel Service or by buying Hong Kong Disney passes at KTC Touch.

>> Find out more details at (02) 123 5050 or visit www.ktcworld.co.th and www.DiscoverHongkong.com.