Hong Kong, like other major players in the region, has made its fortune on the drug trade. Opium was the name of the game back then, everyone wanted a piece of that trade. Hong Kong means “The Scented Port” in Cantonese. They say it comes from the smell of sandalwood incense. I believe it was the smell of sweet, sweet opiates that caused the “peaceful colonization” by the British Empire. They came, planted a flag in the ground and said: “This is ours now”. I thought it takes more to colonize a piece of land, but apparently not. They left eventually, but Hong Kong remained one of the most “English” cities in Asia. Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour (named after Queen Victoria) have become iconic parts of this city. The tram that takes tourists to the summit is an unforgettable experience on its own. Those carts have seen better days and ascend the hill at a thrilling angle. Add the rusty rails to the equation and it becomes a scenario for a cool movie. Will you arrive safely or will you get stuck halfway through the climb?
Once (or if) you make it to the top then you’re in for the most epic view of Hong Kong, and a large part of the coast if the weather provides. There’s also a shopping mall and Madame Tussauds Museum of Wax Figures, which always reminds me of London. You may notice a thing or two when you’re up there: apartment complexes similar to the concrete monstrosities of Eastern Europe. People live like sardines in a can in so-called “coffin” or “cage” homes. Think of a regular condo split into a number of closet-like spaces where people live like Harry Potter. Those can cost close to $300 month (that’s US dollars). Most people in Hong Kong cannot afford to pay rent for a normal apartment. That extends as far as cemetery plots, they rent those out only for 6 years. Your spot of eternal rest is about to expire? Too bad, cremation time!
This city is going through a real estate crisis. Therefore it is a pleasant surprise that they left an enormous and uninhabited forest, which is surrounding the city, untouched. A metropolis such as Hong Kong needs green lunges after all. The tricky part is that no one in Hong Kong owns any property, apart from the St. John's Cathedral, which is still a part of the United Kingdom. Every inch of land belongs to the government, which leases it out to developers. That happens during auctions and it’s ridiculous; like $2 billion for a piece of land at the harbour. It allows Hong Kong to remain a tax haven and attract big companies while getting revenue from the leases, but what about the people? It’s probably the Eastern European kid in me, but ignorant people taking Instagram photos at Choi Hung Estate piss me off. The building looks nice with its colourful balconies but I doubt the tourists realize how living alongside 10 people in one apartment feels like. That’s why locals spend so much time outside. Who would want to come back to a home like that? It puts “most densely populated” in a new light, because it’s obviously not always a good thing.
Enough of this negative talk; take a trip to the Po Lin Monastery to re-establish your Zen. You can take a cable cart from Hong Kong; the ones with glass floors are especially exciting. The monastery is located on Lantau Island and the ride takes about 25 minutes. Once you arrive on the spot, the enormous bronze statue of the Tian Tan Buddha will greet you. It can get crowded since it’s a pilgrimage site. But the monks are awesome and you can even taste a bit of their ascetic cuisine. Lamma Island is yet another tourist staple. It’s tiny with a couple of charming fishing villages and great seafood restaurants. Rent a bike and spend the day exploring. There’s one route you can take around the island and a loop shouldn’t take more than 3 hours.
When it comes to food, drinks and other fun stuff in Hong Kong, it comes down to two areas. Kowloon, which is best described as a huge Chinatown. But is it still Chinatown when you’re in China? I don’t think so. Either way, it is one of the most colourful and spiritual parts of Hong Kong. There’s also the Mong Kok market, open long after sunset and where you can buy anything there if look hard enough. Kowloon was all over the mainstream media, due to the infamous Kowloon Walled City. It was one of those cities within cities, a closed of enclave ran by the Triads. All kinds of urban myths about drug laboratories, prostitution, murder, and aliens are linked to this enigmatic place. The government levelled the entire block and built a park on top of the ruins, probably for the better.
Central, on the other hand, is more in the lines of the modern, western cities. Its main hub SoHo is yet another similarity to London’s bohemian culture. Not only by name it’s like a beehive during weekends. Three out of five top-rated restaurants are located in this very district. Visit Lung King Heen at 8 Finance St for, arguably, the best Dim Sum dumplings in the world. They also serve the most expensive banquet menu in the world ($7000 per person). Make sure to visit Luk Yu Tea House (http://www.lukyuteahouse.com/), praised for its delicious authentic food and an old school atmosphere. Ho Lee Fook (https://www.holeefook.com.hk/) is also an extremely popular dining venue in the city, thanks to its modern approach to Cantonese cuisine and a funny name. Relax around the harbour area where locals and tourists hang out watching mesmerizing light shows.