The Gateway to the East is a harbor town that glitters with the lights of international business. But to really understand Hong Kong, you have to meet it halfway.
By Jacqueline Detwiler // Photographs by Lauryn Ishak
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD is a way of life in Hong Kong. Ever since the flrst mainlanders settled the hilly islands in the first and second century, the harbor city has been coveted by dozens of cultures and countries. Its best-known occupants, the British—who lived there for more than 150 years before returning the city to China in 1997—diluted its Eastern heritage with Earl Grey tea, red double-decker buses and Chinese delicacies served with the quintessentially English Worcestershire sauce. But that Western accessibility only makes the small mysteries—the all-but-abandoned temple on a tropical hillside, a traditional songbird market in the middle of a modern city—all the more remarkable.
Hong Kong is more than an international city; it is the original gateway between East and West. A frenetic harbor town that glows throughout the night with beacons of commerce, it literally exists at the end of China and the beginning of the rest of the world—making it the perfect place to explore both.
DAY ONE Waking up in a harbor-view room at the Island Shangri-La Hotel (1), you marvel at Kowloon’s jagged skyline before dressing for a day of walking. Today you’re going to start exploring the neighborhood that most tourists do: Central. One of Hong Kong’s primary business districts, it’s full of aimlessly winding alleys and narrow, rambling staircases.
In one of those alleys, you come upon Gage Street Wet Market (2), an open-air bazaar that off ers all manner of traditional Chinese foods. The stall owners are just as eager to sell you a flsh head as any of the spiky produce in their crates, but you settle on a pink and green dragonfruit and continue up to Lyndhurst Terrace.
Your next stop is Tai Cheung (3), a closet-size bakery that serves savory-sweet dan taat (egg custard tarts) that were beloved by Chris Patten, the final British governor of Hong Kong. The bright yellow tart crumbles easily, so eat carefully as you follow the blue government signs to Man Mo Temple (4). The shrine to Man Cheong and Kwan Ti (the civil and martial gods, respectively) is the main Chinese temple on the island. You pause to watch local women light incense sticks and bow in front of the golden statues, then explore the rest of the smoky, fragrant temple.
You love anything that comes in dumpling form, so for dim sum—a Cantonese specialty—you stop into one of the most famous parlors on the island, the wood-fronted Luk Yu Tea House (5).
Sitting in a booth, you order the har gow (shrimp dumplings), char siu bao (barbecued pork buns), pea shoots in broth and a pot of jasmine tea. This is fairly easy, because Luk Yu, like many restaurants in Hong Kong, has English menus and English- speaking servers.
Everyone you’ve met so far in Hong Kong has praised the view from the top of Victoria Peak, the forested hill that dominates the northwest part of Hong Kong island. So you ride to the top on the historic Peak Tram (6) to see the panorama for yourself. Once you reach the top, however, you break from the masses heading to the Peak Tower mall and turn on Findlay Road to hike back down. Pause a moment at Lion’s Pavilion (7), a pagoda perched atop the misty cliffs overlooking Victoria Harbour, to snap some photos, but then keep walking through the tropical forest that covers the hillside.
By the time you reach the bottom, the sidewalk bars are starting to fill up with stylish locals, so walk a few blocks to Lily and Bloom (8)—a dark, bilevel, New York– style speakeasy in Hotel LFK, complete with a hidden cigar room marked only by a tiny pig’s head—for a champagne-topped daiquiri at the slate bar. Before long, a group of locals you’ve met insists you join them for bone marrow and smoked pork ribs at a table downstairs, and you do, marveling at the exposed-fllament lightbulbs, bare wooden beams and flowerpots on chains on your way down.
By the time you finish, the party at the bar upstairs has gotten raucous. You’d love to stay, and it seems that some of the revelers would like you to as well, but you’ve got a long day tomorrow. You hail one of the red-and-silver taxis back to your hotel and fall into an easy sleep.