If I had to sum up my perception of Hong Kong in one phrase, it would be “a place of extremes constantly juxtaposed”: the ultramodern and the traditional, the fabulously (or perhaps absurdly) wealthy and the poor, the East and the West, the artificial and the natural. And as fast-paced and intense as it can be, there are even places in HK where you can truly slow down and relax. It is an incredibly dense microcosm of the world, and increasingly of China itself. Obviously, for a tourist or traveler, few places in the world are more fascinating and fun than Hong Kong.
In November 2009 my wife and I had a chance to visit HK; it was her first time and my first time in twelve years. First, we took the half-day tour (it actually ended up being a bit longer, which was fine with us), and then we did some exploring on our own. Here are a few photos and video clips that show the many different sides of Hong Kong that we experienced.
Click on any photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.
The first stop on our tour was Man Mo Temple, a charming old Taoist temple in downtown Hong Kong. It lies sheltered amidst tall apartment buildings, almost as if it were worshiping at the feet of modernity. Let’s hope not—modernity could use a little more Taoism, not the other way around. (And by the way, yes, that is the moon up above in the photo on the right, tiny as it looks.)
Literally, there is a thick Taoist atmosphere in the temple, including a tranquil, sunlight-streaked central area with incense coils suspended in midair that my little digital camera couldn’t do justice to. (You can see a somewhat better attempt here.) This little nook is labeled “Hall of Ten Kings.”
From what I saw, there tend to be more tourists at the temple than regular worshipers, but they are usually quiet and respectful and do not spoil the tranquil, meditative atmosphere.
Many visitors to the temple do pray and burn incense, however, regardless of where they may be from.
Right: A closeup of the entrance to the temple, which was built in 1847.
The interior of Man Mo Temple
The ride up to Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram
Afterward, we took the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak, which looms over downtown Hong Kong.
Left: The ride up the peak feels even steeper than it looks in this photo, and it’s a fun trip, especially when the weather is as good as it was on that day. A spectacular view of Hong Kong’s vast cityscape and harbor spreads out beneath you as you climb the mountain.
Right: After you exit the tram, you can sit down at this comfortable cafe and enjoy a drink as you take in the view from the Peak Tower, one of the best city views to be found anywhere in the world.
Left: I’ve seen a million variations of this photo, but it’s nice to have been able to take a pretty decent one myself, even if it’s not very original.
Right: For those who have time to hang out on the mountain, there’s a pleasant path that circles the mountaintop here, starting near the Peak Tower.
The Peak Tower, where the Peak Tram line ends, is (at least to me) an interesting work of modern architecture that augments the natural beauty of the mountain. Not quite Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps, but I like it.
Right: I guess it was inevitable given all the tourists with time and money who visit Victoria Peak, but yes, there is a shopping mall next to the Peak Tower called the Peak Galleria.
Left: If you walk around the area near the Peak Tower, you can enjoy some beautiful views of the rest of Hong Kong Island and the surrounding area. Facing approximately southwest, you can see Cheung Chau (長洲) and part of Lantau Island (大嶼山) in the distance.
Right: These peaks lie to the west of the Peak Tower.
This is the breathtaking view that greets you right outside the Peak Tower at the end of your tram ride up the mountainside: an army of skyscrapers, millions of people, and a long view out across one of the busiest harbors in the world to Kowloon.
At Aberdeen, you can take a relaxing boat ride around the harbor and check out the sampans and boathouses of the local fishermen, whose traditional way of life continues today.
Although fewer fishermen and families actually live full-time on the boats at Aberdeen these days, it is aptly described as a “floating community.” I imagine life here must be profoundly intimate, both with other people and with the elements. Even a glimpse of it caught during a brief boat tour is fascinating.
The harbor at Aberdeen also features the internationally famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant, which is exactly what it sounds like: a restaurant on what appears to be a very large boat.
This video clip shows the essence of Hong Kong: that it is a place of extremes. Large yachts and speedboats owned by the fabulously wealthy float beside small junks and sampans owned by poor fishermen.
The south side of Hong Kong Island is much less developed than downtown Hong Kong on the north side, and when the weather is good, it is a truly beautiful and relaxing place. These photos show tranquil Repulse Bay.
Some of our favorite moments in Hong Kong came after the tour was over and we had time to explore the area on our own—and on our Hong Kong itineraries we give you time to do the same. I’ll share photos of and thoughts about those experiences in my next blog post!
—originally published on our old blog on June 28, 2010