With its balmy December weather, iconic skyline, rich cultural tapestry, thriving culinary scene, and vibrant nightlife, this bustling island-megalopolis presents a world of holiday experiences to suit almost every vacationer.
By SATARUPA PAUL
I’m an out-and-out city girl and few things excite me more than soaking in the pulsating energy of a bustling metropolis. But when I made my way to Hong Kong for a vacation, little did I know that I would be enveloped by this destination’s intoxicating vibe almost as soon as I stepped out of their airport! Yes, it’s as instantly
palpable as that.
A cool breeze ruffled my hair as I craned my neck out of the cab’s window and took in the landscape. Wide-eyed wonder marked my face as I stared at the seemingly endless row of gravity-defying skyscrapers. Rising high above the South China Sea, the awe-inspiring skyline is undoubtedly Hong Kong’s best-known feature and among one of the most enthralling sights in the world!
No surprise then that I used my first evening there to seek out possibly the best vantage points to view the cityscape in all its glory—the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. In the fading glow of twilight, this inviting promenade was a treat in itself. But come 8 pm, a mesmerising nightly extravaganza presented a truly dazzling mise en scène as I witnessed the world’s largest permanent light and sound show: the Symphony of Lights, illuminating over 40 participating skyscrapers on either side of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour for 14 minutes each night! This synchronised musical orchestration of laser displays and pyrotechnic fireworks was a highlight of my trip. Hong Kong and I were off to a good start!
Hidden Hubs of Culture
Over the next few days, I discovered that in the shadow of all the glass and glitz hide lively old neighbourhoods with unique personalities shaped over time. And so, I decided to explore one of the island’s oldest and most dynamic districts—Old Town Central, best seen on foot. Here, century-old temples stand alongside concept fashion stores, traditional teahouses share space with modern art galleries, and captivating street art adorns winding alleyways. I began my tour from Possession Street, where British soldiers first landed in 1841. Today, it features a Chinese-style garden with hip restaurants and stores. Walking up the steep, cobbled pathways brought me to the Man Mo Temple, a 155-year-old Chinese shrine nestled amidst towering modern buildings.
A fine example of vernacular Chinese architecture, it’s exquisitely decorated with ceramic figurines, granite and wood carvings, and colourful murals. Inside, countless burning incense spirals hung from the ceiling, as worshippers prayed silently and rows of lanterns illuminated their wishes scribbled on red swathes of paper. The aura was one of intense tranquillity. Utterly soothing.
Tearing myself away from this quiet haven, I strolled over to the contrasting vibe of Hollywood Road, a bustling hub of contemporary art galleries and designer boutiques. Here I found one of the city’s most Instagrammed locations—a mural of old townhouses painted on a bright blue store wall. To ensure I’m not riddled by FOMO later, I, too, joined the queue of tourists waiting for a photo-op!
My last pit stop was Upper Lascar Row—a quaint street market packed with rows of shops selling traditional Chinese artwork, delicate handcrafted souvenirs, wind chimes, antiques, and more.
On a Joyride
The next morning, I was in the mood for a more relaxing way to start the day. And so, I hopped onto the hour-long TramOramic Tour from the Western Market Terminus. Conducted aboard a 1920s-style open-top, double-decker tram, it’s a great way to see the sights of Hong Kong. As we drove through the busy streets, winding through the heritage, business, and shopping districts of the metropolis, an audio guide gave an engaging lowdown of its history and major landmarks.
The tour ended at Causeway Bay, a shopper’s paradise if there ever were one! A buzzing retail hub, replete with luxury malls, designer boutiques, a multitude of restaurants and cafés, and busy street markets, the vibe here is vibrantly energetic. No wonder I ended up spending the afternoon indulging in some dedicated retail therapy.
As dusk approached, arms laden with bags, I headed to Tai Kwun, a unique heritage and arts centre located in the renovated Central Police Station Compound, comprising the former police barracks, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison. Eight designated storytelling spaces narrate its 175 years of history, while museum-standard galleries showcase contemporary art exhibitions all year long. The former prison yard and parade ground now serve as a cultural venue for theatre, music, dance, and film performances. Surrounding this are upscale retail spaces offering curated selections of books, apparels, and gifts. Sadly, I could only window shop glumly, having emptied my wallet earlier.
A Feast for the Senses
Tai Kwun is also home to several fine dining establishments, and it was here I had my first tryst with Hong Kong’s exceptionally lavish dining scene, which includes numerous multi-Michelin Star names. So far, I had sampled the local culinary delights, indulging in the city’s most delectable delicacies. One night, I polished off the best clay pot rice at Hing Kee on Temple Street—a legendary eatery that’s been serving the traditional dish for over 43 years, with a choice of 60-odd toppings, from cured meats, sausages, and meat patty to foie gras and eels. Another morning, I visited the neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, home to eateries serving local delicacies at throwaway prices. Several of these are Michelin-recommended, including the famous Tim Ho Wan, the ‘Most Affordable Michelin-Star Restaurant in the World’. While there are several branches in Hong Kong, as well as at 12 international destinations, this is the original outpost still run by the very humble founder-chef Mak Kwai Pui, who greeted me warmly. It had taken me two hours in a queue to secure a seat at his packed restaurant! Shrimp dumplings, baked buns with barbecue pork, steamed beef balls, pan-fried radish cakes, and more from the simple menu of 20-odd items rolled in one by one. It was a feast unlike any!
With little room left for dessert, I made my way to another nearby Michelin-renowned gem, Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong, which serves silky tofu puddings and fermented bean curd. Hong Kong was
feeding me well!
Fine dining in the city, however, meant dressing up in my glamourous best and savouring innovative, modern re-creations of world cuisines. In Tai Kwun, Madame Fù was reminiscent of a classy Parisian café, with six stately rooms artfully designed around specific themes and two sprawling verandahs featuring ornate lanterns fashioned out of Hermès scarves. The highly sought-after venue didn’t fail to impress with its contemporary Cantonese menu and rich selection of fine wine. Not too far away, at the kappo-style Nagamoto, an ever-changing Japanese menu highlighted the essence of the season with a twist. And in the same neighbourhood, I headed for tongue tingling Sichuan food to the Grand Majestic Sichuan, which boasts snazzy supper club-style interiors and a menu full of fiery delights, such as bang bang ji (spicy chicken in Sichuan style), spicy pork wontons, and gong bao prawns.
Drink, Dance, Repeat
Hong Kong’s nightlife proved to be as eclectic as its cusine, and my first stop was the swanky cocktail lounge, Dragonfly, in Tai Kwun. Walking into this space was akin to stepping into a wonderland—more than 120 turquoise stained-glass lamps hung from the ceiling, the walls featured 500 cast-iron dragonflies, and a bronze dragonfly statue guarded the bar, offering an exclusive selection of cocktails.
Another night, I headed to The Illusionist, the hottest new destination, with futuristic high-tech décor and some of the best house DJs. And visiting Dragon-i, located within The Centrium in Central district, was like ticking off a bucket-list experience! With an impressive sound system, a fine selection of cocktails and wines, and regular appearances from top-tier DJs including the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Cedric Gervais, and Kryder, it attracts a high-end crowd, making it one of the most prestigious clubs in Hong Kong.
After all this revelry, returning to my high-storey hotel room—essential to the experience here—I’d look out of the windows at the magical city one last time before turning in. There was no denying it. Hong Kong had cast an enchanting spell on me!