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Feb
23

Discovering Hong Kong

A Hong Kong I Never Knew Existed

Hong Kong Skyline

Hong Kong Skyline

I’m going to be honest. Hong Kong has never really held any allure for me. I have always equated it with mass consumerism, a highly hierarchical society and far too many haves in a land of have-nots. A rush to buy, to get it cheap, to get it now, that’s what I have always thought when people went on about just how wonderful it is, how beautiful, magical, whatever. I was just happy I never had to go.

And then, of course, as luck would have it, I had to go. My husband was working on a film and he basically threatened me with far worse than divorce if I did not come with him on this long lonely trip east. I tried to download new stuff on his Ipod, I bought him a blanket, even booked him a his and her massage, all in the hope that he’d let me off the hook, but no matter what I did, he would not.   He kept those two  cheap tickets to Hong Kong in his wallet, ready to show everyone that he got them for just $794 each. People just kept telling us how lucky we were.  Crazy, I know.

And now I’m here. In Hong Kong. From the moment you exit the plane, the shiny glitz, the bright lights of the airport hit you in technicolor.  It feels like I’ve entered a highly stylized thriller. The day is cloudy, on one side fog creeps up impossibly high buildings, there is no space between them, Mirrored strange geometric skyscrapers reflect the color of the water, even pick up the ancient junks that rock back and forth against the dark green hills of the 262 islands that make up Hong Kong. Hong Kong is actually a collection of 262 islands, divided into four main areas: Hong Kong Island; Kowloon and the New Territories (located on the peninsula attached to the China mainland); and the Outlying Islands.

Hong Kong Harbor

Hong Kong Harbor

And then just as I think it’s all urban , in the distance I see an empty untouched garden with a small red temple, a nunnery, taking up no room at all. “I want to go there.” I say to myself.

Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery

Our hotel is extravagant beyond words. In fact the moment the doors open, I feel like I never want to leave. Perfection, space, order it’s all here. They’ve managed to offer a way of life within the massive walls here that is almost storybook. We’re staying at the Peninsula. Yes, I know extravagant, but paid for by the company, this is why you grow up by the way so that you can enjoy such perks.

The Peninsula

This is not America, here there are no lines, no rude concierge treating you like an annoying fly he wants to bat away. Here you’re given tea, you are taken care of like they’ve been waiting for you for hours. This hotel, the oldest and most luxurious s of all Hong Kong hotels,  is on Kowloon and has a view of Hong Kong Island from nearly every massive window. While sitting in the massive lounge you feel almost as if you’re on a boat. Looking through the windows, you know there’s a whole world out there, but you don’t want to leave the one you’re in.

Your Dinner View From The Peninsula

There are more restaurants to choose from, not nearly enough nights to do it in. It looks like every big name out there has a restaurant here in Hong Kong. Just here at our hotel there’s Felix, designed by Phillipe Stark that has views of Hong Kong Harbor with it’s dizzying light show set against Victoria Peak. You cannot understand how carefully crafted these experiences are though until you see them. Within the hotels, there is not a single detail left unconsidered. Here everything is an experience to take full advantage of. It feels almost like you’ve entered a play, a perfectly designed set.

Our first morning, after breakfast in bed, looking our over the harbor, we decide to take a swim in the pool that literally looks like a Roman bath but on the top floor of the hotel with unobstructed views. Then there’s the whole fitness center with top of the line equipment.

Top Floor Pool and Spa

Finally it was time to go out. I had a list of places I was supposed to go to. I was to report back to my husband at six p.m. when he was done with work and we panned to meet back in the lobby of our perfect hotel I never wanted to leave.

The good news here is that everyone speaks English, so it’s quite easy to get around. The hotel is in a neighborhood called Tsim Sha Tsui, a busy hotel and shopping district. In fact, Nathan Rd.’s Golden Mile is located here, named for the shops that line the street.

Walking out onto the street, the first thing you notice is just how dwarfed you feel by it all. There are more skyscrapers here than in any other place in the world, 8,000 with more than fourteen floors! Here, everything is stacked on top of each other.  And so many stores. Streets here have themes there’s the Ladies Market where you can buy the best fakes in the world, a great place to buy Christmas presents. There’s Temple Street Market for souvenirs, Flower Market and wait for it, the Goldfish Market, where fish in bags line the street, the Bird Market, birds everywhere and the Jade Market, fakes everywhere.

All of this makes me crave nature. And so I am off on what I want to do most, discover the incredible beauty of the nature here and leave the rest behind. The first place I want to go is the peak. The tram rises 1,300 feet above sea level via one of the oldest rail passages on Hong Kong. As you rise, the air begins to smell greener, plants become more lush. In this old red train, you feel like you’re in colonial China. At the top, I take a table at Tien Yi, overlooking the harbor. Here at the top, eating sautéed mushrooms from a  perfectly carved miniature pumpkin and drinking a glass of wine there is a calm that pervades.

Peak Tram

Hiking trails circle the Peak and I walk throughout before returning to the city. I while away the afternoon at the Botanical gardens and visit the Chin Lin Nunnery before returning for tea at the Peninsula.

That night, my husband surprises me with two tickets on the Symphony of lights harbor night cruise. I am no fan of light shows, and I have to admit places like Las Vegas make me feel less than comfortable, but here, these lights on the water while sitting on an old Chinese junk is an experience to remember. It perfectly combines what Hong Kong is all about. The glitz, glamour, the garish and the old. The light show here is the greatest in the world.

We sleep in complete luxury under a perfect duvet. The next day we forgo the gym and instead climb the 268 steps the see the 112 foot Big Buddha on Lantau Island. Near Po Lin Monastery, this large Buddha completed in the early 1990’s is a reminder of the need for calm in this hectic world.

And then we see pink dolphins. Yes, pink, really pink dolphins. These dolphins, found between Hong Kong and Macau, are pinker than the Boto dolphins in the Amazon River in South America and live around Lantau Island in the Pearl River Delta, between Hong Kong and Macau. There are close to one thousand of these humpback dolphins, and they are really bright pink.

Pink Dolphin

Sadly, they are threatened by pollution and it is unknown how long they will last, the good news is that 96% of trips have successful sightings. If no dolphins are seen, passengers are entitled to take another dolphin cruise at no extra cost.

Spending an entire day out of the commercial center has made me realize that there is far more nature here than I thought.  Did you know that forty percent of Hong Kong’s total area is actually parks and nature reserves. It’s not until you rise above it, or take a boat away from it that you see countless hiking trails, like the 62-mile MacLehose Trail, that snakes its way over the mountains and islands. I was so happy to get away from all the shops, leave the heels and put on some Nikes and run this trail with its monkeys and Chinese porcupines.

Tai Long Wan Beach

Tai Long Wan Beach

On our last day, we sampled the beaches. Here everyone talks of Repulse bay with its gentle sloping sand, its calm water. It feels almost like a tropical vacation, it’s beautiful and so convenient when you need a break from the mad vibe of this city. But on a day like Sunday, it’s so nice to go further. On the recommendation of our concierge we jumped in a cab and headed to Deep Water Bay for a beachside lunch before heading out for our last sunset on Tai Long Wan in the New Territories. Here the sand is so white and the water is crystal-clear water. Watching the sun set over the South China Sea is not a bad way to end the kind of Hong Kong day that I never knew existed. Take my advice, log onto www.bt-store.com, check the weather,  go when it’s warm. You cannot miss the beach here. Pack your bathing suit, tennis shoes and your hottest heels and grab two cheap tickets to Hong Kong and see for yourself just how beautiful this city really is.

All you need do is drag a phoneys sticker on top of an incoming message bubble and voila, it will look like that’s the message try these out that was sent, as can also be seen in the screenshots above

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