By Dr Kent/Flickr

Hong Kong is a vibrant & exotic locale with a rich and varied
history. Although it has become synonymous with shopping &
stopovers, visitors soon discover that the former British colony offers
so much more.

Something happens to people when they
arrive in Hong Kong. All those previously lethargic sloths you shared
the plane with become suddenly animated. As if activated by remote
control, the easy-going crowd that lazily sauntered on to the plane
decides to disembark in a desperate clamber. It is rush hour before you
even clear customs. One of the first signs you will see is a huge
banner proclaiming ‘ Relax. Train will arrive in three minutes.‘
Welcome to Hong Kong, city of life, and one of the most energetic places in the world.

Many Asian cities have developed along similar timescales, encountered
the same waves of growth and bust, and tend to resemble one another.
Hong Kong had a head start on the rest of the region, the former
British colony booming as the only gateway to the vast, untapped
resources of China.
A motley crew of fishing junks and an assortment of paddy fields
blossomed into one of the major cities of the Far East, in only a few
generations. Today Hong Kong harbour bristles with
Kowloon at night

sky-scrapingsuccess, and even with the economic wobbles since the 1997 handover
the skyline changes noticeably every year. Hong Kong is tiny by
international standards, a crowded jumbled city with layer upon layer
of development and urban clutter, mostly squashed around that
incredible harbour. In an effort to stop some of it falling in, land
has been reclaimed. A core of land only a few square metres across may
have office space, hotel rooms, a shopping plaza, a car park, and an
underground railway line, all stacked on top of each other. Given its
history as a trading outpost it is not surprising that the territory
remains an international business centre, and you will see plenty of
suits nipping back and fourth. But there is an optimistic spring in
their steps, not the depressed plod you find elsewhere.

For tourists, Hong Kong is a major travel hub
and it is a traditional jumping off spot for shopaholics. There can be
few places with more ships per square metre than Hong Kong – they are
absolutely everywhere. And everyone is at it. Where do Hong Kongers
find room to stash it all in their compressed flats? For visitors, Tsim Sha Tsui is often the first port of call, but try diving
into vibrant Causeway Bay
for brand-named goods and shopping plazas. The malls of Central and
Pacific Place in Admiralty are lined with fancy upmarket apparel. At
the other end of the scale are the grungy street markets and bargains
of counterfeit capital Mongkok. For arty types, the shops of Cat Street
in Sheung Wan offer a treasure trove of quality Chinese antiques.


Floating Restaurants, HK Island

When it comes to restaurants little
needs to be said – the dining is predictably excellent. Yet it can also
be very cheap and whatever your budget the food is good. The Cantonese
may be a tolerant bunch, but not when it comes to poor cuisine. Hotel
restaurants are right up there, their menus bulging with world-class
culinary indulgences. The hotels
themselves are a reflection of Hong Kong – modern, compact, energetic
and efficient – with service just a bit too rushed. Expect staff to be
hurried and doing several things at once. Be warned that rooms in the
territory tend to be half the size of those in other cities. Some can
be comically small with not enough room to swing a spring roll, let
alone a cat.

Hong Kong is a place that loses nothing with the seasons, but it can get uncomfortably humid in the summer months, and
the monsoons between July and September can put a damper on things. September through April is the time to come although
it can get a tad chilly in January and February.

Po Lin Monastery, Lantao Island

The touristy circuit is fairly limited
but it is best to submerge yourself in many enjoyable low-key
diversions, all of which are close at hand. Museums are generally
educational and presentable. Incense wafts through the temples that
provide interesting pockets of culture among the modern progress. And
then there is the pungent whiff of various unidentifiable shriveled
roots and creatures in the traditional medicine shops and wet markets.
Hong Kong is an intriguing place to absorb. There is just so much going