Gateway: Asia

Hong Kong. I don’t think I can quite sum up in words just how fascinating this eclectic city is. With its storied past, it is a place of contradictions, and much like every big city, character.

The city is a teeming metropolis that can feel cozy at times. On the surface its rush, rush, rush. Yet in the side streets and alleys you encounter a far calmer environment. One minute you can be standing in the bustling financial center (aptly named “Central”), admiring the truly stunning architecture that surrounds you and a mere ten minutes later you can be on top of the world at Victoria Peak, hiking through wilderness and experiencing jaw dropping views of the city, courtesy a funicular called The Peak Tram.

Peak Tram

The Peak Tram

Hong Kong Island Skyline

Hong Kong Island, as seen from Victoria Peak

Sunset From Victoria Peak

Sunset from Victoria Peak, facing the south side of Hong Kong Island

This is a flashy new city that works so efficiently that it puts New York to shame. It is stunningly clean, there are no homeless people, the metro doesn’t smell like urine and you can get cell reception and WiFi everywhere…even in the metro underground and even while the train is moving!

Much like New York, Hong Kong is a city of islands. The two most important for visitors would be Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, both of which are home to some of the most famous sights in the city. But, as in any city, I’ve noticed that it is very important to escape the touristy areas, like Central or Kowloon’s Nathan Road, because if you didn’t, it would seem like you never left the U.S.!

This is, by far, the most Western friendly Asian city I’ve been to, which is probably a holdover from Hong Kong’s British past. Nearly everyone speaks English. Nearly every sign is in both Cantonese and English. All the familiar brands are here…7-11, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King…you name it! As such, I’d definitely call Hong Kong a great gateway city to Asia for a first time visitor. It certainly is just a short hope from China, where I’ll be heading later today.

Speaking of China, what I find especially fascinating is that, while Hong Kong is technically part of China, it really isn’t. They maintain a border crossing, their own government, their own laws, heck even their own currency!

My goal in traveling is not to try and cram in a whole lot of tourist sites. Especially in cities, my preference is to wander and see what life is like. From the picturesque and trendy Soho to the bustling streets of Kowloon, I got my fair share in my 3 days in Hong Kong.

Street in Soho

A Street in Soho

Clock Tower at East Tsim Sha Tsui

A Clock Tower at East Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

But despite my wandering, the true highlight of Hong Kong for me was the astounding architecture! Enormous skyscrapers make up the skyline of Hong Kong Island’s Central district, with nearly every major bank in the world having a building. For an architecture buff like myself, the incredibly unique buildings were a sight to behold!

The Lippo Center

The Lippo Center

Bank of China Building

The iconic Bank of China Building

Perhaps one of the best ways to experience this architecture (aside from taking a seat in the serene Hong Kong Park) is to make your way to the Kowloon neighborhood of East Tsim Sha Tsui via the extremely scenic (and easy!) Star Ferry to view the rather cheesy nightly “Symphony of Lights,” where many of the buildings put on a large scale light show set to music. If nothing else, the view of Hong Kong Island at night is just incredible!

Hong Kong Island Skyline at Night

The Hong Kong Skyline at Night, as seen from East Tsim Sha Tsui

While in Hong Kong, I had my first experience CouchSurfing, which proved to be a fantastic choice! I stayed with a Hong Kong native who resided in the Hong Kong Island neighborhood of Tai Hang. Though he worked by day, by night he introduced me to some fascinating areas I would have never seen on my own, like the happening Causeway Bay!

I like Hong Kong…I really do. So much so that I would definitely consider moving here. But I’m also ready to head off on the next phase of my journey. In just a couple of hours I’ll be aboard a train bound for the Chinese mainland! Next stop…the Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou!

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6 Responses to Gateway: Asia

  1. Christopher February 26, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Aaron – the photos are amazing – it looks like you taking in every bit of the experience. Good for you.

    By the way – I’ve heard from Peter – he is back and doing well.

    Be safe.


    • Aaron March 1, 2010 at 3:39 am #

      Glad you like the photos! They keep getting better as the scenery gets more and more spectacular (as it is here in Yangshuo)! Glad to hear Peter is back and had a good trip and I hope you’re doing well!

  2. Connie November 11, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    Hi Aaron, I’m on my way to HK in a month or so and your post is getting me very excited! And GREAT tips! I can’t wait to explore HK!

    • Aaron November 11, 2010 at 12:38 am #

      Thanks Connie! Enjoy HK! It’s really an amazing place (and an awful lot like NYC…but not…). Where are you heading after HK?

      • Connie November 11, 2010 at 12:39 am #

        Not sure yet. Maybe back to China and then Laos?

        • Aaron November 11, 2010 at 12:42 am #

          Both really awesome countries (that couldn’t be more different from each other)! HK was my starting point and then I headed into China and ultimately into Laos. Enjoy!!

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