What to do when you find yourself with a layover in Hong Kong? How about a walk through historic neighborhoods to chase away the jet lag? The Hong Kong Tourism website provides several different itineraries and downloadable maps that cover most of the neighborhoods along the waterfront, including the Central & Western Districts and Wan Chai maps.
Hong Kong, a thriving center of commerce where 7 million people cram into 426 square miles, was reclaimed by China in 1997 but is still a melting pot with people from around the world mingling together. Gleaming high rises and blinking neon signs tout some of the biggest names in business.
Using the historic double-decker trams that run along the waterfront, including downtown and the Western District, a bargain at HK$2/person, one can combine the tram with two walking tours and a ferry ride to create an individualized tour.
In the Western District almost every shop is crammed to the rafters with innumerable varieties of dried fish, creating a distinctive odor that signals when you’ve reached this area.
Proceeding along Wing Lok Street to Des Voeux Road and down Ko Shing Street one passes through neighborhoods specializing in shops carrying specific wares, from ginseng and bird’s nests used to ensure longevity and energy, an exotic assortment of dried fish, and finally, a dizzying variety of dried herbs used in the flourishing medicinal trade.
Heading toward the Taoist Man Mo Temple, a fascinating glimpse into the traditional past is provided in this small temple, almost overshadowed by the urban structures surrounding it. The gods of literature, Man, and war, Mo, are honored here, the calligraphy brush and the sword respected side by side. Thick clouds of incense drift down from huge cones of incense suspended from ceiling, enveloping visitors in an aromatic embrace.
An unusual and well-known feature of Hong Kong is the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest covered escalator in the world at 800 meters long. It connects downtown to the Mid-Levels area where many high-rise residences are located. The escalators run downhill from 6 am – 10 am, then uphill for the rest of the day until midnight. A 20 minute ride up the steep escalators allows one to observe the many shops and cafés located across a narrow sidewalk from the escalators. A short deviation from the walking tour involves riding all the way to the top where a helpful map posted near the exit of the escalator and signs direct visitors toward the zoo and Peak Tram.
The Peak Tram, located across the street from the zoo, provides transportation up an exceedingly inclined hill, ranging from a gradient of 4 to 27 degrees, for HK$49. The reward at the top of the 1.4 km funicular railway was a beautiful, panoramic view of the harbor, the city, Kowloon and, from the other side, surprising views to the south of wide swaths of green belt, beaches and expansive vistas of the South China Sea.
Descending via the Peak Tram and traveling toward Des Voeux Road to catch the trolley to Wan Chai it’s possible to pick up the Wan Chai District walking tour. This bustling, crowded neighborhood is described as an endless series of reclamation projects, starting with the creation of the neighborhood, which used to stand in Hong Kong Harbor water.
The tiny Hung Shing Temple can be difficult to pick out as it, like the Man Mo Temple, is enchantingly out of place wedged in between apartments on the busy street, built around a large boulder.
Taking a walking tour provides a sense of accomplishment and independence, while allowing exploration of well known and lesser known sights of this thriving metropolitan city.
Several airlines fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong, some direct and some with 1 or more stops, including United, Continental and American. A check of prices at Kayak.com showed tickets starting at $1545 per person. A non-stop flight involves about 14 hours of flying time.