01/05/2012 07:52 am ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

48 Hours Photographing Hong Kong (PHOTOS)

After my most recent trip there, it occurred to me that unlike many of its Western counterparts, Hong Kong doesn't have a nickname. It deserves one. The "Gateway to Asia," perhaps? That would work for Americans, both North and South, who arrive from eastward. "Asia 101" would be more ecumenical, at least if you associate "101" with college survey courses, which, come to think of it, non-Americans probably don't.

Regardless of your preferred moniker, Hong Kong is a great place to start your next Asian trip. Featuring first-world living standards (think: clean streets, smog-controlled cars and the like), a large number of English-speakers (thanks, colonialism!) and familiar Western touches (thanks again, colonialism!), Hong Kong provides a soft entry into Asia, whether you're heading north, to still-much-less-developed mainland China, or south, to travel-trendy but still impoverished Southeast Asia.

Yet to dismiss it merely as a smooth passageway would be a mistake -- the city is a destination in its own right, with world-class cuisine, tax-free shopping and a tortuous, fascinating history, the evidence of which can still be found on seemingly every other corner. And, most alluring, the dramatic topography, reminiscent of San Francisco and Cape Town but still unique: mountain, skyline, harbor, skyline again.

Together it all helps make the Gateway to Asia one of the most enticing -- and photogenic -- cities in the world.

48 Hours in Hong Kong