Hong Kong:
Always ready for its closeup

It was showtime, and laser beams flashed frenetically from the tallest skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s skyline.

Towers outlined in multicoloured neon pulsed with the beat. On the water, Chinese junks with crimson sails bobbed gently, while the iconic Star Ferry sped imperturbably through the light show, carrying passengers across Victoria Harbour as it has since 1888.

Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city – yes, even more than New York –and it shows off every night with a music and lights party called A Symphony of Lights, which we had chanced upon. It was my husband’s and my first evening of a long-anticipated vacation here, and what a way to be introduced to Hong Kong.

Later, we discovered there might be only one thing Hong Kong does better than throw a party – and that is provide endless opportunities for the Louboutin-heeled to shop till they drop. On Canton Road where our hotel was located, luxury clothing shops and jewelry boutiques beckoned seductively. Bespoke tailors hustled us at street corners, promising quality tailor-made suits at bargain prices. Even at the airport, we saw Givenchy and Versace and 40 more high-end designer stores, all in Terminal 1!

But it’s just as easy to go downmarket at the night markets, and this was more ourspeed. At the Temple Street Night Market we scooted from kiosk to kiosk – set up on long, narrow streets – to buy souvenirs such as brocade jewelry bags and ornamental chopstick sets for just a few dollars. We capped our low-rent shopping spree with a supper of savoury roast duck and Tsingtao beer from a market hawker, sitting on plastic chairs at a table just feet from a street where taxis inched their way through crowds of shoppers.

A hop-on, hop-off bus tour is one of the best ways to see a new city – especially so here, where the traffic and masses of people were so overwhelming. We were never really clear on whether pedestrians had the right of way, so no car rental for us here! Instead, our Big Bus driver took us all over Hong Kong in air-conditioned comfort, fromthe the neon shopping nirvana of Causeway Bay, where rents rival those of NYC’s Fifth Avenue; to Aberdeen Harbour, where we took a ride on a lantern-festooned sampan as it chugged through a floating village of colourful junks still inhabited by fishermen.

Our Big Bus also took us to Ocean Park, a massive marine mammal park, animal theme park, and amusement park all in one. It’s worth seeing just because it’s Asia’s largest theme park, with a panda village and even a dolphin habitat. And the rides! My inner daredevil didn’t budge as we passed the floorless Hair Raiser roller coaster, but itdid emerge for the cable car ride that transported me over the shimmery blue South China Sea to the park’s summit.

Being Disney aficionados, we couldn’t resist visiting Hong Kong Disneyland, where we experienced the best of a hybrid theme world: We dodged blaster fire at Hyperspace Mountain, as Space Mountain is called here, and then went for dim sum and had our photo taken with the anime characters wandering along Main Street USA. And there’s one thing you can be sure of: There aren’t too many kiosks anywhere else serving smoked squid.

Nothing could top the magnificent bronze Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island for reinforcing that we were in Asia. You’ll get a workout climbing the 268 steps to reach the 34-metre-high statue, but it’s worth it to see the Big Buddha up close, its face impassive but its hands held in a gesture representing generosity and the removal of affliction. Unlike other statues that face south, this buddha faces north so it can watch over the Chinese people.

There are a number of ways to get to the Big Buddha but the fastest and most scenic is via the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, a superb attraction all on its own. 

The aerial ride is 25 minutes long, nearly six kilometres in length and changes directions three times as it travels high over Tung Chung Bay. Splurge and book a Crystal Cabin with aglass floor if you can. At one point we saw a path below snaking through the lush foliage and several brave souls who were hiking up to the statue, unfazed by 32C temperatures and 90-per-cent humidity. Showoffs!

Hong Kong is always “on,” but its star wattage shines brightest from up high. We headed to Victoria Peak for the showstopping view we’d been promised, travelling there on the fabled Peak Tram. From the 360-degree viewing platform that’s 428 metres above sea level, Hong Kong’s towers appeared even more vertiginous; its harbour, with boats and cruise ships white dots on blue, even more exotic.

Once again, Hong Kong had come through for us. In a city that’s always ready for its closeup, would we expect anything else?


Check out my Instagram, @JuanitaNg.

If you go:

Big Bus Hong Kong: Some packages include aharbour cruise and a sampan ride at Aberdeen Harbour.
Ngong Ping 360The Ngong Ping 360 experience includes the cable car ride, Ngong Ping Village, and a Walking With Buddha multimedia attraction.
⇝ Ocean Park: www.oceanpark.com.hk
⇝ Hong Kong Disneyland: www.hongkongdisneyland.com
⇝ Trip-planning: Hong Kong Tourism Board