Highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a microcosm of Asia in many respects...it is a symbol of the prosperity that the East is experiencing right now, but amidst the towering skyscrapers and glitzy shopping centers, you can turn a corner and feel you are in the midst of "real China". 

We were fortunate enough to stay at the glitzy Ritz Carlton Hong Kong which occupies the 102nd - 118th floor of the International Commerce Center on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. I will dedicate a separate post to this beautiful hotel - it is now in my top five favorite hotels! Our room was on the 115th floor overlooking the harbor and Hong Kong Island. As many of you know, I was concerned that this might bother me. It turned out that I loved it! Our room had a wall of windows with sweeping views and there was a window seat that stretched across the entire window. Every waking moment that we were in the room, that is where you could find me...most often with my phone in my hand taking yet another photo. These are a few of my faves...

Night view from 115th floor
The clouds lifting over Hong Kong Island...
I love how the sunlight was coming through the clouds and hitting the water...
One "must see" in Hong Kong is "The Peak".  We hired a guide for half a day to show us the sights, including his "secret, uncrowded" spot at the Peak. Unfortunately for us, it was raining that day so this is what we saw:
Instead of this...
Photo taken by our guide, Jamie
But, it didn't matter to us because we had the best view in town right from our hotel room!
Jamie of J3 Tours has lived in Hong Kong for nearly 40 years (he is originally from the UK) so he knows a thing or two about the city! He recommended we take a taxi to the top of the Peak to avoid the lines (and showed us his "secret spot") and then enjoy the nearly vertical descent of the Peak Tram!  
The Peak Tram has been running continuously since 1888. Again, quite a contrast to Hong Kong's modern metro system!
On to another gem of Hong Kong...the Star Ferry. Also running since 1888, the Star Ferry was the only way to get from the island to the mainland until the first tunnel was built in 1972. Now, it is a charming way to cross the harbor - it is a major tourist attraction but many residents still use it as pubic transportation.

One of the last Chinese Junks left in Hong Kong...it is now a dinner cruise!
Jamie is very into the correlation of numerology (which is HUGE in Chinese culture) and the license plates of cars. We, very serendipitously, discovered the Holy Grail of license plates - FOUR eights which represents "quadruple fortune" (Did you know the Beijing Olympics began on 08/08/08 at 8:08pm?)

In the "Central" district, you are surrounded by skyscrapers. The building below is where our son, Carter, worked. It is called the Koala building. Can you see why?
The famous "Bank of China" building by architect, IM Pei
Continuing our study of contrasts...this is a shopping mall attached to our hotel...if we saw one Cartier (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rolex - you name the luxury brand) we saw ten while we were in Hong Kong.

And these are a few scenes from various shops we saw when walking around in the Sheung Wan district...

Maybe I was a Buddhist monk in a previous life...my favorite aspect of our entire trip was our visits to Buddhist temples, including Man Mo Temple dedicated to both literature and war...another intriguing contrast.
The cone shaped things hanging from the ceiling are actually incense - you light the bottom and it burns in a spiral all the way to the top.
We almost missed the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in the Diamond Hill neighborhood and I am SO happy we didn't.  They are pretty far off the beaten path, but well worth the taxi fare.

We were disappointed that the "Garden Pavilion of Absolute Perfection" (don't you love that name?) was being renovated and was covered completely in draping...

What we didn't see:
But that just gives a reason to go back!

The rest of the Nan Lian Garden was just stunning...

After watching the events surrounding "Occupy Central" unfold over the course of the fall, we definitely wanted a first hand view of the protest site in the Admiralty district. It is amazing they have been allowed to disrupt a major thoroughfare for such a long time. The road you see below is the equivalent of the West Side Highway in New York City.  

Umbrella Man has become the symbol of the movement
Five days is barely enough time to scratch the surface of a city as dynamic as Hong Kong, but we covered a lot of ground in our short time there. 
It is truly hard to believe that in less than two weeks, Carter will be arriving back in the States after his five months in Hong Kong (and recent travels to  Cambodia, Vietnam and the Chinese Mainland).  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to visit him while he was studying in Hong Kong!
Tips for Hong Kong
 Make sure you purchase an "Octopus Card" - it is an incredibly efficient system to pay for public transportation and it even works at Starbucks and 7-11 (yes, they have many of both in Hong Kong).
The metro is incredibly clean, efficient and easy to use. When crossing the harbor, it makes most sense to use the metro, as taxi fare can increase dramatically due to the tolls at the tunnel. If you are staying on the Kowloon side or Hong Kong Island, taxi fares are very reasonable.
Don't worry about what you are going to eat...the food is delicious! Make sure you experience some authentic food, particularly Dim Sum and Guandong Barbeque. For less adventurous eaters, you can find cuisine from pretty much any place in the world all over the city, including cheeseburgers!

They say the national pastime in Hong Kong is waiting in line...be prepared to wait in certain places, but learn ways to avoid the lines whenever possible (email me and I will share the "secret" Peak viewing spot!)