Lee Cobaj grew up in Hong Kong and returned to her childhood home two years ago after a three-year stint living in Thailand. Here's her guide
24 Hours in Hong Kong
It’s Asia’s most alluring city, an exciting whirlwind of ultra-modern architecture, temples and trams, glitzy malls and noisy street markets, squeezed between bird-filled mountains and a shimmering harbour. Add to that a fascinating history, tons of cultural clout, top shopping, rambling countryside, pretty beaches, quaint outlying islands and world-beating eating, and you have more than enough to keep you on the go for weeks, never mind 24 hours. And there is no better time of year to visit than now, when the humidity drops allowing for sunny blue sky days and refreshingly cool evenings.
8am: Hit the Peak
For a gasp-inducing introduction to the city, take a ride to the highest point on Hong Kong Island on the 130-year-old Peak Tram. The views at the summit are sensational, but to avoid sharing them with the tour groups that swarm up after breakfast, get to the Cotton Tree Drive terminus for 8am or earlier (it opens at 7am).
10am: Heart of the city
Walk 45-minutes downhill, via Old Peak Road, through sub-tropical rainforest and concrete jungle towards Caine Road, where you can hop on the Mid-Levels escalator (the world’s longest outdoor walkway system). Step off at Hollywood Road and stroll along to atmospheric Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong’s oldest Taoist temples, filled with fruit-covered alters, fearsome gods and enormous curls of beehive incense. Afterwards, scout out the side streets for graffiti, including works from world-renown artists such as Vhils, Invader and home-grown talent Bao.
Noon: Do dim sum
For a traditional Hong Kong dim-sum experience, queue for a table at Luk Yu Tea House (Stanley Street). Settle in amid the original 1930s interiors – all wooden alcoves, swirling fans, stained glass and art-deco flourishes – and fill up on roasted duck meat and chestnut pies, steamed shrimp dumplings and pan-fried Wu Xi carrot cake, all washed down with fragrant jasmine tea.
1.30pm: Shop ‘til you drop
Cross the harbour on the speedy, clean, super-efficient MTR subway system, and alight at Mong Kok, where you can shop up a storm at a number of cacophonous street markets. Bargain hunters should start at the clamorous Ladies Market, packed with more than 100 stalls selling everything from i ching fortunetelling sticks to embroidered silk pyjamas to Hello Kitty suitcases to disco ball-shaped blue tooth speakers. For niche buys and top photography ops, visit the Goldfish Market, Flower Market, Jade Market, Shanghai Street for tradition kitchenwares (bamboo steamer baskets, wooden chopping boards, giant meat cleavers) and Sneaker Street for branded sports shoes, including hard-to-find limited editions.
4pm: Tea time
Afternoon tea is almost as much of a Hong Kong institution as morning tai chi and late-night mah-jong, and nowhere does it better than The Peninsula. The grande dame is also one of the city’s most popular spots, so you unless you are staying at the hotel, you will need to stand in line to get your hands on those dainty cucumber sandwiches, buttery egg tarts and freshly baked raisin scones served on silver trays by white gloved waiters to the strains of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony – it’s worth the wait.
6pm: Sail away
You are now perfectly placed for a stroll along the Kowloon waterfront and a ride on the Star Ferry, which has been shuttling commuters across the harbour for more than a century. Land reclamation has reduced the journey time to a mere nine minutes – but what a memorable nine minutes they are. Time your ride back to Hong Kong Island for sundown to see that magnificent cityscape blaze into light, as the sun sinks into the South China Sea. A one-way fare costs just 3.40 Hong Kong dollars (Dh1.60), making it arguably one of the best-value tourist attractions in the world.
8pm: Light up
The nightly Symphony of Lights show, when 40 of Hong Kong’s waterfront skyscrapers flash, flicker and shimmer in a kaleidoscope of neon, has just been revamped for the first time in 15 years, with a new coloured searchlights, funky LED panels, high-powered fan lasers and a fresh soundtrack from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Panoramic views are guaranteed from the harbourfront Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai – but so are the crowds. For a more intimate atmosphere and astonishing up-close views, head to the sophisticated roof terrace at Sevva.
An array of hip new restaurants arrive in Hong Kong every week, but the New Punjab Club on Wyndham Street in Central is the one everyone is currently talking about. The bijoux eatery has been set-up by Pakistani Hong Konger Syed Asim Hussain, and features tongue-in-cheek colonial decor – flocked wallpaper, surrealist Indian artworks and a handsome Sikh doorman decked out in the full regalia – alongside a tandoor-tastic menu from chef Palash Mitra, formerly of the Michelin-starred Gymkhana in London. Needless to say, you will need to book in advance.
Midnight: Bed down
New hotel The Fleming is a fabulous boutique abode with a buzzing location in Wan Chai. Sporting a stylish subtly-done Star Ferry theme – white walls, forest green tiles, polished cherry woods, glints of brass – it offers 66 good-sized rooms (for Hong Kong), impeccable service and an excellent in-house Italian restaurant. Double rooms cost from 1,549 Hong Kong dollars, (Dh705), including breakfast.
For more information, visit www.discoverhongkong.com