Hong Kong has long towered over its neighbours in the Asian subcontinent, with a formidable reputation as a world-class destination for business and luxury. Yet, it’s also a city of dazzling contrasts. Working them like a local is the best way to enjoy this harbour city.
Fifty shades of grey, remix
The central business district of Hong Kong is filled with glitzy, razor-sharp, glass-fronted skyscrapers that will entrance you in a myopic glare of uber-luxurious shops, extravagant restaurants and the hum of iconic big banks. Your feet needn’t even touch the ground. Air-conditioned elevated walkways connect the International Finance Centre (IFC) to several other equally luxurious malls in Central, the Hong Kong-Macau ferry pier, Sheung Wan, all the way to SoHo. Admire the disciplined flow of bespoke suits, briefcases, killer heels and fifty shades of grey that professional etiquette seems to demand here, as you swan in and out of premium spaces.
Develop those street-food skills
You’ll wish you spoke at least a smattering of Cantonese when it’s lunchtime — immersing in the heady street-food scene is the best way to experience the buzz of the city. Tiny eateries dot the by-lanes off commercial districts, while Michelin-starred restaurants tower in blue-hued skyscrapers. You can’t go wrong if you visit the aggressively old-fashioned Lin Heung Tea House in Central. Find an empty seat at a shared table, and brandish your tally card for stamps every time you pantomime a request for lotus seed paste buns or chicken feet from one of the trolley ladies.
Walk the busiest street in the world
Once the headquarters of the infamous Hong Kong triads (read: the underworld), Tai Yuen street, in Mong Kok, is estimated to be the most densely populated area on the planet, with 130,000 people squeezed in for every square kilometre. Jostle for bargain items, the latest fake handbags, knock-off clothing, tourist tat, electronics, Chinese-themed gifts, watches and pretty much anything. Then, follow your nose just up the road on Tung Choi to find the Goldfish Market, and gawk at every manner of fish, amphibian and reptile in transparent tanks.
Tai-Tai teatime rituals
The ubiquitous green tea rituals maintain their place in Hong Kong. A Chinese meal entitles you to a cup of tea that can be so diluted it tastes like flavoured water. Whereas the local Hong Kong milk tea shows British influences, it’s a mix of strong Ceylon tea with other teas and milk. Soak in the colonial past of Hong Kong with an upmarket high tea along with the informal luxury brand ambassadors, or wives and mistresses of rich businessmen known as Tai Tais, at the Peninsula, in Kowloon.
Honeymoon for one
Not a fan of the traditional Chinese desserts of sweet beans, sweet soup or durian ice cream? Honeymoon Dessert, with over 160 styles of hot and cold fusion desserts, is a pleasant surprise. There are several chain outlets, although the closest to Central is on Des Voeux Road. It’s always mango season in this happy place, so order a Thai black glutinous rice with mango in coconut juice or a mango pomelo dessert with green tea ice cream and take it from there.
Bling in your eye
Prepare to be blinded by the flickering storefronts, lit-up advertising hoardings and general hullabaloo of the consumerist Mecca that is Causeway Bay. It’s a pretty compact area, but it will take Herculean willpower to not succumb to its many temptations. Luxury brands jostle for elbow space with mid-range and affordable shopping, but for a real head rush, try getting in on the chaotic bargaining at the ever-changing Jardine’s Crescent street market.
You can’t visit a harbour like Hong Kong and not head out to the water. A must-visit is the Star Ferry Pier, in Tsim Sha Tsui, with a ticket to Kowloon. Whip out your camera and take pictures of one of the world’s most photographed harbours. Once in Kowloon, stand at the Avenue of Stars and watch the sophisticated Symphony of Lights show at 8 pm.
Top of the world time-outs
Take the historic tram ride from Central to Hong Kong’s No 1 tourist attraction, Victoria Peak, for a sensational view of the island. Hong Kong is of the tiniest territories in the world, yet its sprawling country parks (it’s reserved 40 per cent of its total land area) are easily accessible. Try an hour-long invigorating trail walk from the Peak to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir. Also, don’t miss the eight-hectare green park right in the heart of crowded Central: Hong Kong Park’s rainforest-themed aviary beats its other attractions hands down. Duck into the aviary, and get transported into a jungle where over 80 varieties of colourful birds flutter and roost.
Eyes wide shut
Do go to Alchemy in Central, which stands out in a city full of fashionable restaurants with its 850-square-feet of pitch-darkness. Visually impaired waiters guide your hands to your plates and your mind on to a unique sensory experience, as you eat a three-course gourmet meal, featuring a range of temperatures, tastes and textures.
Catch the drama of the extravagant skyline with the millions of lights that give this city’s night sky perpetual phosphorescence. Swing by to the CitySuper deli, in IFC mall, with a maki roll and some saké. Sink into one of the many public sofas and chairs outside the restaurant and enjoy the view.