- Al was here: 5 days in April 2010 and 2 days in March 2016.
- Number of days needed: between 2 and 3.
- My score: I’m rating it 4/5 because almost everyone I know say it’s a 3, but for some reason I do like it and I’d even rate it 5.
Visited by many as it is a frequent destination of aerial stopovers and appreciated by few, Hong Kong is the oldest of the modern Asian mega-cities. Comparisons to the renewed Shanghai, Singapore or Tokyo among others usually leave it in bad place, although this is a custom that I do not share; that the other cities have done their homework well should not go against one with all kinds of comforts, skyscrapers as impressive as those of the previous ones, good weather most of the year and a unique diversity and westernization in Asia.
And it is that Hong Kong has returned to formally belong to China only from July 1, 1997. Historically, it became part of the empire at the same time as the rest of the territory, in 221 BC by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang; changed its jurisdiction from of one region to that of another for centuries without pain or glory, when in the XVI the Portuguese were interested in it as a strategic commercial port; Its use was denied to them, but they were allowed to trade from neighboring Macau. Shortly thereafter, due to the increase in smuggling and piracy, existing restrictive measures were tightened: the empire wanted to control all foreign trade and did not allow private trade; since it was impossible for them to control all ports, and that of Macao had a flourishing trade thanks to the Portuguese agreements, that in Hong Kong was practically disabled, and its territory impoverished and almost uninhabited. In the seventeenth century, with piracy and smuggling more or less under control, ports were reopened and trade with foreigners was allowed, and a century later, the British empire was the one with the strongest position, being especially interested in tea; in exchange it exported to China manufactured products and opium cultivated in British India (the United States and France also managed to introduce opium in the country), to that authorities opposed. This leads to the First Opium War, when Chinese government forbids it and expels the British from Hong Kong, and so, the by then all-powerful British empire says “no way” and conquer by force Hong Kong Island to by that time decadent Chinese empire, to be able to continue selling drugs to the peasants, workers and fishermen, turning it into a British colony; even more, the peace agreement forced China to allow the British trade in 5 other ports, including Canton and Shanghai, and to compensate the British for “war expenses” with 21 million US dollars in 1842.
At this time the infrastructure and quality of life in the island improve, what favors some noble and wealthy Chinese flee the country towards the new colony, but of course, Chinese had not been very happy with the agreement, so the Second Opium War occurs… and China also loses Kwoloon. In successive years, Hong Kong prospers at a fulminating rate, and that is when it already begins to displease other powerful nations, especially Russia, France and Germany, who start saying things like “so nasty is what you have done, please do return it or we’ll get angry about you”. Pressed on many fronts, Britain agrees to return the territory to China in exchange for the surrounding territories being rented for 99 years and a 50-year progressive political-socio-economic regime change is guaranteed.
And so, today Hong Kong is the least Chinese place in China:
- The pioneer of glass skyscrapers and shopping centers in the country has interesting architectural examples in Hong Kong Island, including the Bank of China, the International Finance Center or the strange HSBC Building; the highest is however in Kwoloon, the recent International Commerce Center. There is no shortage of skyscrapers in this sparse of buildable land city, where Hongkongers live huddled together in ridiculously small apartments. All of them pales before the view from Victoria Peak, one of the most impressive urban viewpoints that have been built and one of its greatest attractions.
- The view of the Island’s skyline from Kwoloon is another of its great attractive sites, with a night light and sound show (usual on the other hand in each large Chinese city with skyscrapers) and a walk of fame where we will find the photogenic statue of Bruce Lee.
- The Big Sitting Buddha of Tian Tan, on Lantau Island, is a magnificent bronze statue 34 meters high, located on the top of a hill far from civilization (roads and cableway apart) and adjacent to the colorful Po Lin temple; It truly deserves a visit no matter how many Buddhas we have seen before, for the statue itself, but above all for its location.
- But perhaps what impresses most is its variety in all aspects. Traditional restaurants are mixed with other international restaurants of all sizes and prices. The old markets alternate with chains such as H&M or Zara, and people literally queue to enter in the first-tier firms stores. Super luxury hotels just a few hundred meters from the spooky and famous Chungking Mansions, home to more than 120 different nationalities and an adventure itself for backpackers because it is almost the only cheap accommodation in the city. Small temples in traditional style with its large incense sticks or theme parks of the kind of Disneyland. And when we move several kilometers away from the center in any direction, the city disappears to make way for open field, in the whole non-urbanized area of the New Territories, which has multiple hiking routes, one of them over 100 km.
Hong Kong has everything and at the same time it is in a certain way unique. If you have already seen Shanghai, Tokyo and Singapore, you can skip it; If not, maybe you should start here.
WHAT TO SEE
- THE BEST OF HONG KONG: ONE-DAY ITINERARY IN KWOLOON AND HONG KONG ISLAND; VICTORIA PEAK
- THE BIG BUDDHA OF LANTAU
- PENG CHAU
- ONE DAY EXCURSION: MACAU
- WHEN TO GO
- HOW TO GET THERE
- HOW TO MOVE AROUND
- WHERE TO GO SHOPPING, EATING AND SLEEPING; THE DREADFUL CHUNKING MANSIONS
- DANGERS AND PROBLEMS