As I write this blog, I am sitting in my stateroom aboard the Sapphire Princess, which is docked in Kowloon Bay. The skyline of Hong Kong beckons just across the waterway from my balcony. Archeologists predict the presence of human activity along the winding shoreline of Hong Kong as early as 5,000 years ago. Today, the skyline is punctuated with over 8,000 skyscrapers, twice as many as Chicago and New York City, stretching from the horizon up into the clouds. Indeed, Hong Kong currently has more buildings with over 14 floors than any other country globally.
Hong Kong means “Fragrant Harbor,” which is the name given by the Portuguese. The area is composed of over 200 islands, including the main island of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Lantau and Macau.
On our first day, we took a full-day tour to Macau, which the Portuguese “discovered” in the 1600’s. The area is a blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures, and now boasts the Las Vegas of the Far East, with casinos familiar to Americans, like The MGM Grand, Venetian, and Wynn. Whereas Hong Kong has a population of over seven million, Macau has relatively fewer people, but seems just as congested, with a population of 600,000. This former colony features an ancient temple honoring Mazu (the sacred sea goddess), a Portuguese relic of a church façade from 1602, a sky tower (where we had lunch on the 60th floor) offering stunning views, and an impressive cultural museum. Located across the Pear River estuary, we boarded a hydrofoil jet boat to get there in a quick and comfortable (air-conditioned) one hour.
At night, Hong Kong seems to come to life with illumination reflecting from the buildings’ lights onto the water and the clouds. We attended the Symphony of Lights show on Victoria Harbor, which is centrally located and separates Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. A highlight was the Chinese boats with their sails illuminated in red. We also stopped by The Peninsula Hotel, with a Rolls Royce waiting out front for the guests lucky enough to make the property their temporary home. You can go there for high tea.
The Temple Street Night Market is alive with lights, smells, sounds and crowds of people eating and shopping for souvenirs, such as local art and handicrafts. Be sure to visit this market for a taste of the local culture. The Stanley Market, conversely, is more of a blend of tourists and American and European expats shopping for produce, clothing, shoes, cameras, toys and other trinkets. You can have your name written in Chinese by a local artist, or you may choose to purchase a strand of black pearls or maybe a jade bracelet.
The next morning, we ascended the Victoria Peak, which features and indoor, air-conditioned shopping mall at the top. Accessed via one of the world’s oldest funicular railways, this peak (located 1,805 feet above sea level) offers panoramic views of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon Peninsula.
Another highlight of our visit was the Aberdeen Fishing Village, where we got an up-close and personal look at the fishing boats as we glided past in our own boat, decorated with Chinese lanterns and piloted by a delightful older woman who seemed to navigate the waters with an expertise demonstrating her tenure. If you’re hungry you can try the giant, ornamental floating restaurant.
The region serves up a delectable assortment of dishes influenced by Cantonese, Hunanese, Pekingese, and Sichuan palettes. Add a dash of variety and partake in the traditional Chinese tradition by dining on dim sum, the Cantonese phrase for a snack. Dim sum is served in individual bite sized portions in steamer baskets from a cart or on a buffet. Popular local dishes include delightful dumplings and steamed buns, spring rolls, barbecued pork, fresh oysters and lobsters.
Hong Kong is known as Asia’s “world city,” and the cityscape is undoubtedly stunning. The expansive skyline continues to offer travelers a cornucopia of delights. With so much history and natural wonder to explore, it’s no wonder that Hong Kong remains one of Asia’s top tourist destinations. Last year, some 43 million people visited, with 37 million of them coming from mainland China.