By Candice Marcus
Hong Kong is synonymous with shopping. So, like many who venture to the bustling international city, I was looking forward to trawling the never-ending malls and markets. Like the city itself, the shops are plentiful; they are brimming with possibility and can easily lead to a complete sensory overload. You can literally walk for miles just sampling a little of what this buyer’s haven has to offer. It’s like an explosion of consumerism that sprawls around a backdrop of rich culture and fabulous food … quite a combination.
There seems to be a market for everything. The flower markets are beautiful, but you can also take a wander through the pet markets for your fix of fluffy puppies, kittens, bunnies and everything in between (though where one would adequately house these animals in such a crammed city remains a mystery). There are also plenty of authentic food markets to captivate your senses complete with weird and wonderful delights one might never want to actually sample – like a dried whole lizard on a stick. Delicious.
And speaking of delicious, this city has so much to offer in the way of fabulous cuisine, from fine dining to cheap street-side morsels and everything in between. Yum Cha or Dim Sum is a must. The flavour and quality of these little dumplings, buns and miniature delicacies is next to none. There are also plenty of great noodle houses that make their own noodles and have an amazing amount of choice on their menus. Surprisingly, some of the most exquisite restaurants are actually found inside some of the more upmarket malls. And compared to Australia or Britain, the price of fine dining in Hong Kong is very affordable.
But obviously, there is so much more to discover about this enormous city than the inside of a mall. Simply being in the centre of this overgrown metropolis is an experience in itself. The closely-packed skyscrapers seem like they extend for miles, the streets are crammed with people from all walks of life and the bustling harbour is a constant hive of activity. Yet best of all, within the glorious chaos of this sprawling city, you can escape to the most exquisite wonderland of greenery and peace. The city’s parks and gardens are breathtaking, and it’s here where you can slow down and really appreciate the beauty of this place.
The detail and effort that has gone into designing these inner city retreats is awe-inspiring. Of these, the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden are probably the most extraordinary. There’s enough tranquillity and beauty within this place to calm and centre even the most chaotic mind – which is essential when you’ve been battling the busy streets and crowded markets all day. There’s also an incredible beauty to seeing high rise apartments and mountains framing the impeccably manicured trees of this quiet oasis. The lotus ponds and temples here are also amazing and one could easily spend the best part of a day experiencing all that this sanctuary has to offer.
Hong Kong Park, located right in the centre of the city, is also magical. It has an aviary, a greenhouse and a dedicated Thai Chi Garden. Here weddings and graduation photos are permitted and there’s almost as much activity inside these green walls as there is on the busy streets, but it’s captivating. Here even people-watching is immensely enjoyable. Everyone from tourists to businessmen and women to wedding parties and young families continually enjoy this amazing garden.
The beauty of this city even lies in the most unexpected places; within its crowded high-rises, polluted waterways and busy smelly streets. The best way to appreciate the sheer scale of this densely populated city is to get a vantage point. The Peak, located on the highest mountain of Hong Kong Island, is one of the most popular drawcards. The long queues of fellow tourists are well worth enduring. Once the special tram takes you up an unnervingly steep climb to the top of The Peak (and you wait in yet another line) you can bask in the glory of this iconic panoramic view. And it’s every bit as glorious as the movies have us believe.
One of the most exciting things about this city is its endless possibilities. You can simply wander through and let your senses guide you to amazing places that might not have been on your list of tourist must-dos. The amazing architecture is worth admiring, but sometimes it’s the less than aesthetically pleasing aspects of a city that give you the greatest appreciation for it. The rundown apartment blocks in the less affluent districts that look like they should’ve been condemned years ago are a reminder of just how crowded and competitive this place is. With every new shiny development that gets squeezed into this crammed city and for every fabulously wealthy resident in a luxury car there would be so many others neglected and barely holding themselves together.
It’s the contrasts found within great cities that capture me most. Great wealth and immense poverty … the polluted air and waterways and the immaculate glistening shopping centres … the chaos and endless crowds of busy streets and the tranquil exquisite gardens … and the way I felt so out of my depth yet so at home in this enormous wonderland.