The Peninsula Hotel is not just an HK landmark, it is the pinnacle of opulence and comfort when it comes to welcoming the rich and famous to the territory. The Peninsula was opened in the 1920s by the Kadoorie family and was quickly the place to stay for the wealthy. This is not just a monument to the rich, but also an integral part of Hong Kong history. It was on the third floor of the hotel that, in 1941, the British surrendered to the Japanese after a crushing seige of the territory. The hotel was restored to its former glory after the War, and it quickly became the site of a luxury shopping arcade and a spot to indulge in the British traditions of a bygone era. It has been featured in numerous movies, include the Man with the Golden Gun, and is today a point of reference for residents and visitors alike. Try afternoon tea in the lobby for a taste of Colonial HK.
I was thinking of putting this tip into the shopping section, but, first, I greatly dislike the setup of the shopping tips, and second and more importantly, Harbour City is as much a tourist attraction as it is a shopping centre. This complex is a massive collection of stores and restaurants. Of course, there are plenty of locations around the world where you find hundreds of stores, many of them high end. What makes Harbour City unique is the sheer size of Louis Vuitton, Prada, D&G and other luxury brand's stores. The square footage is easily comparable to that of a department store in Canada or the United States. This is unlikely to be a tourist attraction for anyone who find commercialism to be painful or annoying, but it is still a fun means of experiencing the hedonism that is HK. Also, there's a great bookstore on the third floor that has an incredible collection of architecture and art books from all over the world.
Chungking Mansions takes euphemism to a new height. The term mansion is a translation of the Chinese tang, and clearly someone got a bit carried away with the connotations of this Chinese term. In reality, Chungking Mansions are three apartment buildings that offer short and long-term housing at very low rates. They are inhabited largely by migrants from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, although there are also some other nationalities represented. If you're not staying here as a guest, you might still decide to come on in to see what is truly a Hong Kong establishment. The ground floor of this and other "mansions" is a small shopping complex, with money changers and plenty of booths selling cell cards and long distance phone cards. There are also plenty of sari and shalwar kameez shops, Indian and Pakistani food stalls and, occasionally, electronics or shoe shops. The shopping area is undoubtedly sleazy, but that's why people come to visit. This is a microcosm of the flip-side of Hong Kong's good fortune: thousands, if not millions of people who flock to the city for the chance at entrepreneurial opportunity. It's a great lesson in Hong Kong society, and a stop that shouldn't be missed on any tour of the territory.
The Hong Kong Public Pier is not exactly a tourist attraction in and of itself, but it should be. This is a place where small private crafts are able to dock when they go between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I imagine that it was quite popular at one time, but with the subway connection between the two sections of the city, and the availability of relatively cheap ferries, there are few passenger boats that come here. Nevertheless, visitors should serious consider visiting this part of Tsim Sha Tsui, because it affords some spectacular views of the Harbour and of Hong Kong Island. On a nice day
The Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, or the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower, as it is colloquially known, is a Hong Kong landmark that predates much of the surround buildings and harbour. Built between 1913 and 1915, the Clock was part of the Kowloon-Canton railway, and operated continuously from the 1920s until the present, except during the hardships of Japanese occupation. The Tower is constructed from red brick and granite, which gives it a uniquely British feel, a great contrast to the grey concrete of the Cultural Centre and the Museum of Art, both of which were completed in the 1980s. The Railway Station no longer stands near the Tower, as it was moved to Hung Hom (the eastern section of Kowloon) after this section was reclaimed from the sea. You can't go into the Clock Tower, but it nevertheless provides a great subject for pictures, particularly because of the the spectacular views of the Harbour and the pier.
The completion of the massive 80's cultural complex on the southern edge of Tsim Sha Tsui, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre provides a venue for numerous musical, theatrical and artistic events. The complex has a concert hall, a studio and an exhibition gallery, although I would imagine that the last venue provides space only for less famous exhibitions, as the Centre is right across from the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which has more exhibition space. I'm sure that the acoustics and seating in the Cultural Centre are both impressive and allow for wonderful shows, but the exterior of the building leaves much to be desired. Indeed, the entire complex is a reminder of the architectural atrocities of the 1980s, and leave one wondering if this is a gathering space for those who love the arts or a bunker for those escaping Philistines. In either way, I'm sure that it draws people more for the artists it features than for any sort of architectural appeal.
As a place that has attracted migrants and merchants of all extractions for almost two centuries, Hong Kong has a truly diverse and vibrant demographic. In addition to the blend of Christianity and Chinese beliefs that arose during British colonization, the territory has a considerable Muslim community. It was originally comprised of Muslim Indians brought by the British to Hong Kong as labourers, but today includes a fair number of Indonesians, Malaysians and Muslim Africans, all of whom are attracted to the territory because of the work and business opportunities. In order to service the community, the Kowloon Mosque was built in the 1980s at the edge of Kowloon Park, overlooking the bustling commercial section of Nathan Road. The Mosque is more of an Indo-Pakistani design than anything else, and the interior has the cool but intricate trappings of something from the subcontinent (rather than the rich design of a Turkish mosque or the austerity of something from the Arabian Peninsula). Crowds can gather outside of the building before prayer times, especially during the month of Ramadan, as well as during Friday prayers. Crowds also attract those looking for zakat (alms), including Uyghurs soliciting for the preservation of Muslim sites in one of the PRC's troubled regions.
Temple Street and the area around it was so called because, when Kowloon began to develop as an entrepot and trading hub under British rule, the Chinese migrants who came to the area set up temples for worship close to where they lived and worked. Of course, the commercial nature of the district largely overran any other usage of the land, and the various temples were soon crowded in by markets and businesses, but this particular temple has been preserved and remains in operation even today. In order to be respectful to those who come to worship, photography in the temple is not permitted, but visitors are allowed to enter the temple and admire the beautiful red and gold decorations put up by the caretakers and worshippers. The temple is a place to revere the god to which it is dedicated and, until 1955, it was also used as a study hall for monks. When I visited, it was under renovations, making it a bit difficult to get good pictures of the exterior, but it is still a great place to visit to get a sense of the continuity of Chinese identity in perhaps the most cosmopolitan city on the planet.
I spent 3 hours in the Hong Kong Museum of Art and could have spent more. The museum has an amazing collection of Chinese art through the ages, from the bronze age through the Tang, Yuan, Ming and Xing dynasties. There are 5 floors and a basement level. The museum's invaluable permanent collection is displayed in five galleries, while the other two galleries are dedicated to special exhibitions. Ceramics, sculptures and figurines, paintings and gold artefacts are all special, varied and captivating. There are extensive English explanations in all galleries.
During my visit there was an exhibition of the 20th century painter Wu Guanzhong, each and every work of art a true masterpiece.
The museum's location, at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui, offers magnificent vistas of the Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island through the huge glass walls.
Aviaries seem to be very popular in Hong Kong - I'm not sure if this is because songbirds are generally popular in Asian culture. In any case, they provide an neat attraction that is not very common in North America or Europe and one that is educational at the same time. Many of the birds in the aviaries are fairly exotic, with a number of birds from Indonesia or other South-East Asian countries. It is a bit sad to see them in their cages (which are fairly large, but still not as large as the jungles they once enjoyed). Explanations of the different birds are quite good, and those who are interested in the various species and learning about their habits and habitats can gain quite a lot from them. Photography here is a bit difficult, though, as the wire from the cages makes it difficult to get good shots of the birds.
It may seem odd that Chinese gardens would be a particular attraction in Hong Kong or Kowloon, but the fact that much of the city was built up by the British or according to British tastes means that the use of Chinese architectural styles or philosophies in some of the parks is a special treat. In Kowloon Park, it provides a neat contrast to the manicured hedges and carefully planted rows of flowers in the rest of the park. The sweep of the roofs and the combination of natural and manmade beauty are an interesting break from the rest of the park and indeed the city.
I had always though that Hong Kong was a warm city, but not particularly green or lush. How wrong I had been. In truth, HK is insanely humid during the summer, and that means that a large variety of trees and shrubs can thrive in the city, despite its high pollution levels. You can get a good idea of this variety by visiting Kowloon Park, in the centre of Kowloon, to the west of Nathan Road. The park seems like a massive green space in the centre of the city (probably because of the density of the urban space) and it provides a nice escape from the concrete and hectic pace of the rest of Kowloon. There are numerous ponds, walkways, trees and sculpted gardens to enjoy and no shortage of park benches to sit on, relax and eat whatever you've purchased at one of the nearby bakeries. A trip to the park in the morning also allows you to watch the people practicing Tai Chi, which can be quite an interesting experience.
The Hong Kong Museum of Art is located in an unfortunately unappealing building right on the waterfront. It is part of a complex that includes the Cultural Centre and the Space Museum, and that provides breathtaking views out onto the harbour and across to Hong Kong Island. Inside the Museum of Art, however, you will find an interesting if not impressive collection of Chinese Art, from the beginning of Chinese civilization up to modern artists. The collection of the Museum is not huge, but it does give visitors a considerable overview of the development of painting and sculpture in Hong Kong. There are also special exhibits in some of the halls. The one on display when I came to the Museum was the collection of a modern Chinese artist. It is an interesting view into an arts scene that is not well publicized in the West, but the explanations are generally geared to those with an interest in Chinese art, so don't expect to learn a whole lot from the experience. One thing to note is that the HKMA, as all museums in Hong Kong, is free on Wednesdays.
The HK Museum of History is a spectacular institution that is worth a visit by anyone who comes to HK. The building that houses the museum is not really all that special. In fact, it is sort of an ugly remnant of the eighties, which might be one reason to scare off potential visitors. Inside the museum, however, you will find an incredibly detailed account of the history of Hong Kong, from pre-history up to the handover. The museum is truly spectacular for its lifesize depictions of life throughout the ages in Hong Kong, especially one it gets to the period after 1000AD. There are models of the living conditions of HK's four main ethnic groups, as well as recreations of parts of Hong Kong at the start of British colonization. There is particular care taken to explain the impacts of different phenomena on all parts of Hong Kong society. For example, the various revolutions in China from 1900 onward are examined in detail from the point of view of their effects on HK history. There are also special exhibits included in the museum. The one I went to was a history of the qi pao, or sleeveless dress worn by Chinese women.
Temple Street was once known for its temples, which attracted the residents of the area and beyond. People would visit the area to pay homage to their ancestors and pray for good health or good fortune. Of course, whenever there is a mass of people who gather for any reason, shops and restaurants spring up. The temples of Temple Street may be gone, but the markets remain, and they become most active once the sun has gone down. The night markets are not traditional markets where you can experience Chinese culture as it has been for centuries. They are, however, a prime example of the entrepreneurial spirit and joie de vivre that makes Hong Kong what it is today. You can purchase pretty much anything here, although there is a strong bias towards knick-knacks, cheap textiles and knock-off everything. If you are looking for anything related to a cell phone, this is the place to get it. The markets can get quite crowded, so it's a good idea to watch your bags and belongs, especially if you're distracted by a potential purchase. Still, there's not much to be afraid about, and it is a great experience that any visitor should have.