Can a place suffer from multiple personality disorder? Hong Kong not only has multiple personalities but flaunts it too, and people have loved the variety and vibrancy of this country.
The face of Hong Kong has the evident features and looks of a Cantonese Chinese while retaining sprinkles of freckles from its ex-British influence.
Most people tend to recognize Asians from the Far-East as people with small, almond shaped eyes and divide them into just two broad categories — the Chinese and the Japanese. However, there are many people in the Far-East and elsewhere who share those definitive eyes but differ broadly in their ethnicity and languages. For instance, the differences between the Mandarin and Cantonese languages are as vast as the anomalies of American to British English, or of Portuguese to Spanish. As a matter of fact, Hong Kong people humorously call the Cantonese-Mandarin difference as "the chicken talking to the duck" as they cannot understand each other.
Self proclaimed Asia's world City, it is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and Vancouver. Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China's increasingly affluent mainland population.
Nothing but more than a harbor city, HeÅ«ng Góng in Cantonese means Fragrant Harbor, the traveler weary of its crowded streets may be tempted to describe it as Hong Kongcrete. Yet, this territory with its cloudy mountains and rocky islands is mostly a rural landscape. Much of the countryside is classified as Country Park and, although seven million people are never far away, it is possible to find pockets of wilderness that will reward the more intrepid tourist.
James Bond of Hong Kong
The urban area of Hong Kong Islands is the place the British colonizers took as their own and so if you are looking for evidence of the territory's colonial past, then this is a good place to start. Victoria was once the colony's capital but has been rebranded with a more descriptive name, Central.
Seek a glimpse of Government House which was formerly home to 25 British governors and the ex-Chief Executive ‘Bow Tie’, Sir Donald Tsang. It is now the residence of the man they call 689 (based on the number of votes he received). When the Brits left, it seems they didn’t actually do so without leaving behind traces. If not the glamor of British James Bond 007, the fascination of at least being known by a three digit number in itself fetches dramatized movie-like phenomena, moreover, in a Cantonese political situation, fits perfectly.
Hip district of Soho
Leading up from Central is the Escalator and the Peak Tram. The famous escalator passes through the hip district of Soho and takes you into the residential neighborhood - Mid-Levels because it is neither up nor down the mountain. Up top is The Peak where foreign diplomats and business tycoons compete for the best views of the harbor from some of the most expensive homes to be found anywhere.
For hikers, nature lovers and other adventurous folks: go up walking the Old Peak Road which is steep at times, but from the gardens it can be conquered all the way to the Peak in about 30 minutes.
Attractions to Repulse Bay
The southern side of the island is an up-market residential area with views across the South China Sea. Nothing like its name, Repulse Bay, the island's best beaches here make way for a more relaxed pace of life than on the bustling harbor side of the island. Wan Chai and Causeway Bay are the most visited neighborhoods on the northern side of the island.
The Ocean Park here grew up with many local Hong Kong people. With roller coasters and large aquariums altogether, it is still packed on weekends with families and tourists. The cable-car is an icon. For many, the chance to see Hong Kong's pandas is a deciding factor.
Offbeat is often ignored
The New Territories, so named when the British took more land from China in 1898, lie north of Kowloon. Often ignored by travelers who have little time to spare, the New Territories offers a diverse landscape that takes time to get to know. Mountainous country parks overlook New Towns that have a clinical form of modernity that has attracted many to move here from mainland China.
Exploring this offbeat place, you will not find many idyllic villages, but once you get over the stray dogs and the ramshackle buildings it is doubtless to find something surprising enough to cause you to reach for your camera.
Disneyland and Pirates's Den
The outlying islands like Lantau hosts some of the territory's most idyllic beaches as well as major attractions such as Disneyland and the Ngong Ping cable car. Other islands include Lamma, well known for its seafood, and Cheung Chau, a small island that used to be a pirates' den, but now attracts seafood aficionados, windsurfers and sunbathing day trippers.
Kowloon: a 'slice of life' of Hongkongers
Get over with the fair amount of disdain, either in word or in the lack of space for Kowloon, once you get there. It has a matching array of places to shop, eat and sleep and is a live witness of the go about of Hongkongers' daily activities, which is fascinating in its own right.
Tsim Sha Tsui, the tip of the peninsula, is Kowloon's main tourist drag and has a mix of backpacker and high-end hotels. Further north, Mong Kok has a huge choice of shops and markets in an area of less than a square kilometer.
It somehow managed to escape some of the British colonial influence and what is more to this place is how its peculiarly densely populated places with even more densely priced real estate's settings peaked up to set world records thanks to their panoramic views of Victoria Harbor. To get the best views of Hong Kong, leave the island and head for the opposite Kowloon waterfront.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty
When to visit: October-December has the least rainfall, less chance of a typhoon (almost non-existent after October), less humid and more sunshine.
The cultural activities in the autumn lasts till the end of the year. Some of the festivals include H.K. Arts Festival, Man Literary Festival, H.K. International Film Festival and the weekend of H.K. Rugby Sevens.
Christmas visit is beautiful; major buildings facing the harbor and downtown areas are decorated in Christmas lights to add to the festive spirit.
'The more the merrier' does sit well to this already crowded place because it tends to get very difficult to find a table in a restaurant during these festive holidays.
The horse racing season (September-July) takes place twice weekly. One good tip: bring your passport and get in at the tourist rate of just HK$1.
Good News: most visitors do not need to obtain visas in advance.
MÌ€h'gÅi: Just one Cantonese word that will go a very long way in Hong Kong. Learn this word and you can use it to say please, thank you and excuse me. MÌ€h'gÅi rhymes with boy and should be said with a cheery high tone rising at the end. Give it a go.
How to do Hong Kong on a Budget
Cheap Eats: For a food fanatic, eating is a pretty big part of travelling. An expensive city paired with little budget would not mean much fun at all. For breakfast, you might plan on heading straight for McDonalds for coffee and muffins every day but not if you end up getting a room that has a fridge in it. Stock up on water, snacks, juice, yoghurt, crackers and Laughing Cow cheese, pastries, instant coffee sachets and stuff for breakfast from Marketplace, in iSquare just off Nathan Road. This saves a lot of money, and it gets really relaxing to be able to have breakfast in the room when you wake up. For dinner, Pasiano, a popular pizza chain gets you a giant delicious pizza and a drink for HK$55.
The night markets have lots of cheap, authentic food, and there are tiny little restaurants scattered around selling bowls of noodles for a few dollars. Hong Kong is also home to the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant, a dim sum place.
Cheap Accommodation: If you are on a backpacker budget, arriving in Hong Kong can be a little off-putting.
Do your research early. Given the astronomical prices, start to peruse a few hostel websites. Beware of the websites mentioning mansions with cheap prices. Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansions on Nathan Road are definitely not mansions, first of all. They are big high-rises which are home to all the cheap accommodation, lots of currency exchanges and other little businesses.
Book your chosen accommodation for, say, two nights, and then try your luck bargaining when you need to extend. This often leads to a far lower price than what is advertised.
Hong Kong Metro is delicate on a small pocket plus it is a sure shot way to witness the fashion sense of Hongkongers. Allowing yourself a great time on travel without spending a fortune is the sign of a smart traveler.