A symphony in lights
With its magnificent skyline, Hong Kong makes New York look like a village
You don't have to search for anything at the Ladies Market. Nifty trinkets to take back home fall almost literally in your lap from Hong Kong's lively street stalls.
Tiny remote-controlled cars in a can, pink- orange-, white- or green-coloured wigs, Bruce Lee posters, bath towels with the image of Hello Kitty, USB sticks camouflaged as Super Mario or Tom & Jerry, shining silk clothes decorated with Chinese ornaments, neon-coloured cellphone holders, or wrist watches - a shopper's eyes gets no rest from seeing all the goods being displayed.
Just one street further on, one brightly-lit shop is lined up after the other. Virtually endless are the many colourful signs in Chinese lettering hanging over the street.
"Anyone paying what's on the price tag has only himself to blame," says tour guide Wing Lau, pointing out that bargaining belongs to Hong Kong's market scene.
The huge metropolis on the South China Sea offers a seemingly endless variety of wares. Throughout the city there are many colourful, traditional markets, as well as small shops and gleaming shopping centres such as the "1881 Heritage" - the former headquarters of the Naval Police.
There is scarcely a street in Kowloon, or on Hong Kong Island, where something is not for sale, be it Chinese herbs, fresh fish in plastic cooling bags, expensive polo shirts or golden watches.
Such a wealth of goods is meant not just for the more than 30 million annual visitors to the former British colony but also for the locals.
"Shopping is part of our culture," notes Mandy Soh, marketing manager of the Icon Hotel. For many residents, going for a shopping stroll through the streets after work is simply a way of life. Tour guide Wing adds with a smile, "Many holidays are only used an excuse so that people can go shopping again."
But all the noise and excitement notwithstanding, there are also many spots for some peace and quiet, among them Hong Kong Park in the Central District. Here, the splashing sound of a fountain keeps the traffic noise at bay. And it would be almost quiet except for the excited happy noise of the kids making their way through the park in their school uniforms after school.
Colourful fish swim in the large, artificial pond and the vegetation is lush and green. But you can't forget the huge city around you. Beyond the trees, glass-covered skyscrapers rise up into the blue sky.
Places to escape the bustle are offered by the many Buddhist and Taoist temples, such as the Man-Mo Temple on Hollywood Road on Hong Kong Island.
You enter another world when you pass through the richly decorated red-gold portal. Inside the dimly lit room, globes hang from the ceiling with red pieces of paper attached to them. On these, visitors have written their wishes.
"If a wish comes true, then you must return and give thanks," Wing explains. The red pieces of paper are sold at a counter in one corner of the large main room of the temple. For a small donation, one can also obtain joss sticks to light and then place in the large, sand-filled golden basins. The air is heavy with the bitter-spicy scent of the joss sticks.
Hong Kong's impressiveness is not just due to all the shop windows or the quiet oases but also the skyline that one never tires of looking at. Since construction space in the hilly terrain is scarce, buildings go in one direction - the vertical. In Hong Kong, a 12-story building looks tiny.
"The largest building is the International Congress Centre," Wing says, pointing out the 484-metre, 108-story-tall skyscraper covered in mirrored glass.
The Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong covers more than 1,100 square kilometres, spread among more than 260 islands. Of the 7 million inhabitants, most live in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. At night the city is mesmerising with its shoreline of skyscrapers. New York City seems almost like a village by comparison.
The panorama is particularly spectacular from atop the 552-metre-high Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. You get there via an old mountain cable car. Since 1881 the red tram has been slowly climbing the 45-degree slope to the top of the mountain. There, visitors have a breathtaking view of the skyscrapers and the green hills around Victoria Harbour.
Despite its huge size, Hong Kong makes it easy for visitors to get around. Language barriers are not a problem since almost all the local residents speak fluent English, while street signs and directional guides are almost always in two languages.
Hong Kong also has a well-developed public transport network, with tourists able to choose between subways, buses, trains, ferries, taxis and even the narrow streetcars, which are called "Ding Ding" because of their warning bells. Here too, the signs and maps are in two languages.
As for nourishment, there are an estimated 6,000 restaurants. Wing observes that "the best restaurants are in the hotels". But many good spots to eat can be found hidden in the shopping centres.
There is Harlan's for example, which above all is devoted to Italian cuisine. The restaurant is located in shopping centre The One on Nathan Road in Kowloon. From its terrace, customers have a good view of the laser show that takes place every night above the skyline of Hong Kong Island.
Foreign visitors should also try the Chinese cuisine.
"You should at least just once try out the dim sum," Wing advises, referring to the popular bite-sized morsels of food in steamed buns offered in many restaurants. "Each restaurant has come up with its own unique speciality," she points out.