TALES FROM THE HARBOUR

Gustasp and Jeroo Irani explore Hong Kong through its bustling markets, fun-filled ferry rides and sumptuous cuisine

Standing at The Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, we felt as if we were trapped in a time warp. The island city of towering skyscrapers, with its stunning harbour, did not look any different from when we had seen it two decades ago. Yet, at that moment, it throbbed with the promise of endless possibilities. And as the twilight gave way to a moonlit night, shining on the urban canvas below us, Hong Kong started to sparkle and glow like the backdrop of a futuristic Hollywood movie.

We had been in the heart of this seemingly lifelike movie set the previous evening, when we watched the magical Symphony of Lights multimedia show over Victoria Harbour. Piercing, pencil-like colourful lasers traced patterns across the sky to a soundtrack performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Iconic high-rises on both sides of the harbour worked in unison with myriad searchlights, lasers and LED screens, transforming the city skyline into an audiovisual feast. A traditional Chinese junk boat, with its red sails unfurled, glided gracefully to the hi-tech extravaganza.

Earlier in the day, during our morning stroll through a city park, we came across locals engaged in the practice of the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi. As we moved around the city through the day, we visited some shops that offered exotic ingredients and others that were stacked with herbal medicines. At sundown, we sipped tall drinks and savoured exotic local fare from sidewalk stalls, listened to musicians singing Chinese operas at open-air street theatres and hunted for bargains in lively night markets.

One of the many joys Hong Kong offers is the historic Star Ferry boat ride (in service since 1888) between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon along a busy waterway, weaving between other ferries and junk boats, a capsule of the past that can be experienced in the present.

The following day, we rode over the deep blue waters of the South China Sea in a cable car to reach Hong Kong’s Ocean Park (spread over an area of more than 915,000 sq m), where king penguins,  long-tusked Pacific walruses and spotted seals entertained visitors. We continued with the dose of fun and laughter at one of the most popular attractions in the area: Hong Kong Disneyland. We came across little girls dressed as their favourite Disney princesses, met Chewbacca and R2-D2 from the Star Wars enterprise and took a thrilling tour of Iron Man’s Stark Tower. One of the highlights of the theme park, which is peppered with fantasy rides, is a spectacular theatrical production of The Lion King. The day culminated with a delightful street parade featuring some of Disney’s most-loved characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck, followed by brilliant fireworks that sprinkled the sky behind Sleeping Beauty’s castle with stardust.

To visit Hong Kong and not taste its culinary magic would be a crying shame. Trying dim sums, the local favourite, is a must! Savour this delicacy at one of the many eateries that dot the city, ranging from elegant fine dining affairs to sidewalk stalls. With as many as 150 varieties on any restaurant menu and 2,000 across Hong Kong, you will be spoilt for choice.

On the final day of our stay, we trailed beyond the hills of Kowloon to the New Territories, a vast area with peaceful, century-old villages, ancient temples and fields. We visited the villages of Shui Tau and Shui Mei, where clan-based village culture of Hong Kong is believed to have originated. There, we learnt about the fascinating evolution of local rural life, before arriving at the enchanting Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees, where local villagers lit joss sticks and incense paper in the hope that their wishes will come true.

At nightfall, we followed the neon lights blinking across the sky and reached the trendy little neighbourhood of Lan Kwai Fong, home to over 90 restaurants. Perched on high stools in one of the many cafés that spilled onto the street, we overheard our neighbours discussing English league football and American baseball. It was a reminder that while Hong Kong takes care to uphold and preserve its heritage, this former British colony is an international city too. And that’s quintessential Hong Kong, where the past and present accommodate each other and happily co-exist in a setting that’s timeless.

The authors are veteran travel writers and the views expressed in the article are their own

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