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Articles > Asia > China > Hong Kong > Hong Kong - From a Barren Rock to a Bustling Metropolis

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Hong Kong - From a Barren Rock to a Bustling Metropolis
Over 150 years ago, Hong Kong was described as a "barren rock." Today, it's a dynamic, 21st century city that has gone from British Colony to one of the world's must-visit tourist destinations. Its colonial charm is still to be found in the historic mansions dotted around The Peak and quaint customs like firing the Noon Day Gun, yet this is an international city proud of its Chinese heritage and Cantonese gusto.

After the handover from Great Britain in June 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. While some things have changed, you'll marvel at this melting pot of east meets west.

Where else can you gaze in awe at a Manhattan-style skyline filled with iconic modern architecture by IM Pei and Norman Foster, and just a few streets away, bargain your heart out for silk and jade at a local laneway market. That's Hong Kong for you. It's fast, efficient, entrepreneurial, yet truly Chinese at heart.

Location Is Everything

Situated at the south-eastern tip of China on The South China Sea, Hong Kong is actually just one island out of a group of 263. Most visitors spend their time on Hong Kong itself, the popular Kowloon Peninsula and the more rural New Territories. Take a ferry trip to one of the outlying islands such as Lamma, Lantau or Cheung Chau and see how lush and green the scenery is. Hong Kong offers the nature lover wonderful treks across mountains tops and amazing scenery, so when you've had enough retail therapy, head for the hills.

When It Comes To A Serious Shopping Experience, Hong Kong Has It All

What hasn't been said about shopping in Hong Kong! Right across the Island, you'll discover that retail must have been invented here. In Central, slick designer shopping malls such as Landmark and Prince's Building, cater to expensive tastes. A who's who of labels, brands and temptations that will entice your credit card time and time again. In contrast, there are street markets like Li Yuen East and Li Yuen West, not forgetting factory outlets where you can go bargain spotting at great prices.

Wan Chai – Wan Chai's streets are steeped in history and you can happily spend an afternoon exploring the shops and the "wet" market. (It sells food, fruit, flowers, fish, meat – quite different from a US supermarket experience.) Spring Garden Lane between Queen's Road East and Johnston Road, is a good place to pick up clothes at very competitive prices. The market stalls sell products originally meant for export, meaning quality and price are very competitive.

Causeway Bay – This has become known locally as "Little Japan" because of the major Japanese department stores in the area. It is hip and young, with stores specializing in shoes, electrical appliances and fashion. Don't miss the small street market called Jardine's Bazaar, filled with low-cost fashion and accessories.

Stanley Market – Jump on a bus or take a taxi to Stanley, famous for its warren of stalls, shops and restaurants. (The ride along Repulse Bay Road is spectacular with superb views across the sea to outlying islands.) Here you'll find paintings, curios, cashmere, silks and ceramics, along with cut-price fashion. Open from around 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily.

Hungry For More. A World Of Exquisite, Mouth Watering Dining Options

As you would expect, good Chinese restaurants are found everywhere in Hong Kong. Some of the best can be found in major hotels and shopping complexes. Most specialize in one or more of the following: Cantonese, Chiu Chow, Hunan, Szechuan, Peking, Shanghainese or Chinese Vegetarian.

If you're hungry for a taste of home, you can find just about everything - from American-style burgers to homemade Italian pasta. Day and night, Hong Kong's gourmet delights are plentiful - whether you want to pick up a snack or get dressed up and hit the clubs of Lan Kwai Fong, it's all waiting for you.

Now let's check out what's new in Hong Kong in 2006.

A Symphony Of Light

As if Hong Kong wasn't colorful enough, at nights it's electrifying. This new multimedia show creates an all-round vision of lights, laser beams and searchlights, performing an unforgettable spectacle synchronised to music and narration that celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong.

Already named the "World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" by Guinness World Records, it has been expanded to involve 33 key buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour. If you are in Hong Kong during a festival, special pyrotechnic displays launched from the middle of the harbour add extra sparkle to the show.

Take A Journey Of Enlightenment

Ride the stunning 5.7 km cable car ride up the side of a mountain on Lantau Island to a culturally themed village next to the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. The Ngong Ping Skyrail travels from Tung Chung adjacent to the airport over spectacular countryside offering panoramic views, across the South China Sea, the mountains and monastery. This is planned to open in mid 2006.

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Located next to the internationally recognised Mai Po Marshes bird sanctuary, this huge park is designed to demonstrate the diversity of Hong Kong's wetland ecosystem. You can get closer to nature through integrated themed education and recreation facilities, with audio visual shows, interactive demos and wetland simulations.

Hong Kong Hotels To Match Every Budget

Hong Kong is one of the world's top ten travel destinations. You'll find every type of accommodation – from lavish 5 star international names to smaller hotels. Book online and see what special rates you can find. Web sites have dozens of choices, in all the shopping and nightlife districts.

Hong Kong is easy to get around with safe public transport, a reliable subway, trams and ferries, so you're never far from a bargain or for that matter, a memorable time.

I'll leave the last word to Noel Coward.

Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit
Deplores this stupid habit.
In Hong Kong, they strike a gong
And fire off a noonday gun...

by Noel Coward
About the Author
Matthew Lawson heads up www.hotel.com.au in Australia and is a reluctant traveler.
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