Hong Kong means "fragrant harbor," and the narrow body of water which separates Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon Peninsula is known as Victoria Harbor, one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. This harbor is Hong Kong's most famous tourist attractions and the city ranks as the best skyline in the world: Four of the 15 tallest skyscrapers in the world are here.
As this is the Chinese Year of the Dragon, we're told that all will be strong, sure and robust. Strength and confidence is the atmosphere that one feels in Hong Kong and it is, indeed, a cultural gem, a living museum that encompasses 5,000 years of history. Along every street, down every lane, you're sure to find the true flavors of the city, from world-class hotels, restaurants and shopping to traditional old markets exploding with brilliant colors and unique goods that, at times, border on the outrageous and strange. Looking to buy a pet bird or snake, anyone?
On my visit, I tried to explore as many facets of this gem as possible.
A Peek at the Peak
This is one of Hong Kong's most popular attractions as it offers two thrills in one. First, getting to The Peak was an unforgettable trip via the Peak Tram which has been in operation since 1888. There's nothing in the world quite like it. Pulled by steel cables, it climbs 1,224 feet on an incline so steep that the buildings we passed looked like they were leaning at a 45 degree angle. Then, reaching the top and peering down -- vertigo aside -- we were awe-struck by the postcard-perfect views over the entire city, the harbor and the mountains beyond.
Every night at 8 p.m., the city puts on what the Guinness Book of World Records calls the largest and most spectacular light and multimedia show in the world. The Symphony of Lights is choreographed perfectly to music and plays on some 40 mile-high skyscrapers on both sides of Victoria Harbor. The facades of the buildings are decked out in lights that, at the flick of a switch, glow in a myriad of colors and totally depict Hong Kong's dynamic pulse. We saw this show from a boat bobbing in the harbor. Another terrific vantage point: the Avenue of the Stars where, in addition to the light show, one can wander among plaques, hand prints and statues honoring celebrities from the silver screen.
One evening we headed to Lan Kwai Fong, the city's most famous bar and club district. Several years ago this was an unremarkable neighborhood but today it's emerged as the most popular entertainment area on the Island. We found a happening scene of young movers and shakers, Chinese and foreign, spilling out of doorways and looking like they were in a fashion shoot, the gals in stilettos and minis, the metrosexual guys in tailored suits. My friends and I squeezed into a tiny, closet-sized bar and sat on one another's laps on a small sofa while drinking creamy, brightly colored drinks that contained we know not what. But who cares: They were good!
A Gourmet Paradise
Thanks to its diverse mix of cultures, Hong Kong has developed a much-deserved reputation as one of the world's top dining cities. Excellent Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous throughout the city but many other cultures and tastes are equally well-represented.
Since its opening in 2003, Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hotel is one of Hong Kong's and Asia's most sought-after dining experiences. This restaurant features contemporary French cuisine inspired by one of the world's most celebrated chefs. Ducasse says "my inspiration comes from observing how people are living and then invent the food that corresponds." His cuisine comes directly from this philosophy that a restaurant should reflect society and its perpetual evolution. In this, Spoon succeeds admirably.
Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel commands spectacular harbor views from its fourth-floor location, serving contemporary Cantonese cuisine at its best. The only Chinese restaurant in the world with three Michelin stars, it is hushed, exclusive and headed by the only Chinese chef to ever receive this prestigious accolade, Executive Chef Chan Yan Tak. Suggestion: try the Australian winter black truffles, a rare and very special delicacy.
Top Deck, situated on the top level of the renowned Jumbo Floating Restaurant, opened in 2005 as a restaurant and entertainment venue offering an experience that encapsulates Hong Kong lifestyle: casual, fun and internationally appealing. The restaurant focuses on sushi, oyster bars and fresh seafood as well as Thai, Indian, Japanese and Italian dishes.
One of the finest and oldest traditional-style temples, Man Mo, built in 1848 during the early years of British rule, is a stunning architectural structure which aptly reflects its historical roots. During the 1900s, it's said that the locals came here to solve disputes. Today, though no longer used for this purpose, believers come for a number of other reasons.
Upon entering the temple, I found the air thick with aromatic smoke and was told to look up at the ceiling. My guide explained that the huge bell-shaped coils of incense hanging from the ceiling are burned by devotees in hopes of attracting the attention of the gods and that the incense is food for the spirits that have gone before. Asked if I wanted to know what my future held, my response was a quick "Of course!"
I was led to one of the bamboo cylinders found throughout the temple and told to shake out a fortune stick. The stick was then translated for me: "You will meet a tall, dark, stranger..." Just kidding, nothing quite that exciting but all good, just the same.
Let there be no doubt, Hong Kong is a world-class city at the crossroads of a new Asia, embracing the past, the future, the traditional and the avant-garde, thereby creating a rich tapestry of one-of-a-kind, memorable experiences. With its myriad of offerings and certainly now, in the Year of the Dragon, the Big Lychee is beginning to look and feel an awful lot like the Big Apple. And that, in the words of a famous lifestyle guru, is a good thing.
Year of the Dragon Festive Celebrations
The Year of the Dragon is also being celebrated at Ngong Ping 360 now through February 5. It will be decked out with dragon-themed Chinese New Year decorations in festive colors to welcome the new year. Ngong Ping Village will also be filled with live entertainment including a golden dragon parade and lion dance. Spin the Wheel of Fortune to dispel bad luck and encourage good fortune in the New Territories at the Che Kng Temple in Sha Tin now through February 7.
If You Go and for New Year Information: