Asia’s world city
Date Posted: 07/05/2010
Jeannine Williamson explores Hong Kong and Macau.
For a truly dazzling destination Hong Kong is unbeatable. Asia’s world city combines thousands of years of Chinese tradition with over 150 years of British colonial influence, dizzying skyscrapers and trademark neon lights. Add the former Portuguese colony of Macau to the mix, just 55 minutes away by ferry, and your group can enjoy two very different experiences.
Although it’s home to a population of seven million packed into just 424 square miles, Hong Kong is surprisingly easy to get around. Your chosen tour operator will help you make the most of your time with guided tours and you can explore on your own using very cheap and efficient public transport. It may not be the fastest or most comfortable way to travel, but for a really authentic view of the city hop on board a ‘ding ding’ tram for a flat fare of just 16p.
For another interesting experience local fishermen take visitors on boat rides around the harbour at Aberdeen on chugging sampans. From here, your group members can get close-up views of traditional houseboats and the ornate Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a Hong Kong institution that featured in the James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun
Don’t miss the opportunity to see Victoria Harbour by day and night. The Tsim Sha Tsui promenade is a wonderful place for a leisurely stroll and is home to the Avenue of Stars, paying homage to the Hong Kong film industry through handprints and sculptures. The Symphony of Lights, a spectacular multimedia display named the world’s largest permanent light and sound show by Guinness World Records, takes place daily at 8pm.
GTOs should note that all hotel packages in Hong Kong are sold on a room only basis. If you don’t want to pay to have breakfast in the hotel there are plenty of inexpensive coffee shops and cafes and most have English menus.
Top three sights in Hong Kong
1. Victoria Peak
Take the tram to the top of 396 metre Victoria Peak. With a track gradient of up to 27 degrees there’s literally nothing you can do but sit back until you reach the top! A £4 return ticket includes entry to Sky Terrace offering fantastic views of the cityscape on clear days.
2. Star Ferry
The iconic tub-shaped ferries are a Hong Kong institution and criss-cross Victoria Harbour throughout the day and night, rubbing shoulders with junks and modern vessels. Fares cost less than 20p and an evening trip will give your group members an unforgettable view of the neon-lit cityscape.
3. Man Mo Temple
Dedicated to two deities, the god of literature and the god of war, this incense-filled temple is one of the oldest and most famous in Hong Kong. Inside are two house-shaped chairs, used to carry the gods at procession time.
Neighbouring Macau was Asia’s oldest European enclave before being returned to Chinese rule ten years ago and, with its Portuguese architecture and food, offers groups a totally different range of sights and experiences. It’s only just over eight square miles, but like Hong Kong packs an amazing amount into a small space.
In recent years it has gained a reputation for being one of the world’s biggest gambling Meccas, but behind the 24-hour casinos, high-rise flats (often clad with death-defying bamboo scaffolding) and hotels that occupy every piece of available space by the harbour, there’s a city steeped in history and a place where Mediterranean cultures live side by side with the Chinese way of life, plus tranquil green parks.
Macau has many museums, including the Grand Prix Museum celebrating the international motor sport event that takes place every November, Wine Museum, Maritime Museum and fascinating Museum of Macau, in part of the fortress that dominated the inner harbour in the 17th century. New attractions include the glitzy City of Dreams, with hotels, theatres and a huge shopping complex.
Macau is surprisingly green and your group can take a peaceful stroll though parks such as the Chinese Garden of Lou Lim Ioc where locals go through Tai Chi exercises and give impromptu musical performances.
Joined to south east China at its northern tip, the peninsula of Macau also includes the neighbouring islands of Taipa and Coloane, connected by bridges. These give a real impression of what Macau used to be like and itineraries should definitely include a visit to Taipa’s museum set in beautiful 1920s colonial houses on the waterfront.
Top three sights in Macau
1. The historic centre
The UNESCO-listed historic centre, including the landmark ruined facade of St Paul’s Cathedral, A-Ma Temple, section of the old city walls and beautiful squares, should be top of any sightseeing itinerary.
Coloane, Macau’s southernmost island accessed by a bridge, is home to beautiful architecture that shows Macau as it used to be. In sleepy Coloane village, make sure you stop by at Lord Stow’s bakery, founded by Englishman Andrew Stow and famous for its delicious Portuguese-style egg tarts.
3. Macau Tower
The 338 metre-high, Macau Tower is the world’s only tower where you can climb right to the top; and, if any members of your group are feeling particularly brave, on or off the edge for a ‘skywalk’ or bungee jump.
Hong Kong and Macau essentials
Eat: From posh nosh at Michelin-starred eateries to cheap and cheerful noodle bars where the locals go for lunch, Hong Kong caters to every taste. Dim sum, normally steamed in bamboo baskets, are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner and just about every time in between and include meat, fish and vegetarian options. If your group members aren’t confident about eating with chopsticks, virtually every cafe and restaurant will provide knives and forks.
When you fancy a break from Chinese food - although western cuisine and fast food is widely available - Macau is the place to go. Portuguese restaurants abound, serving a wonderful array of dishes such as spicy sausages, cod fish and rich desserts that originated in convents. And if you like prawns - which are giant-sized compared with ours - you will find them in every guise on every menu.
Drink: Tea is traditionally served with Chinese meals but beer is widely available along with wine, although the latter can be expensive. If your group is flagging during a sightseeing trip head to one of Hong Kong’s many teahouses for a reviving cuppa. The tea menu will include brews that claim to help everything from hair loss to hangovers and all sorts of other ailments. In Macau try vinho verde, a fresh and tasty ‘green’ wine made in the north of Portugal.
Buy: Hong Kong has plenty of western-style malls, but the most atmospheric way to shop is in the open-air markets and themed streets, such as Jade Market, Ladies’ Market and Temple Street Night Market. Don’t be afraid to haggle! Stanley Market, is an excellent place for your group members to stock up on souvenirs and gifts and it’s great fun to browse through the curios and assorted Chairman Mao statues, watches and eclectic memorabilia in Cat Street.
Some of the best places to shop in Macau are the Red Market and around historic Senado Square. It’s fascinating to browse along packed stalls selling virtually every conceivable item - although the live snakes are not for the squeamish.
Go: Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with distinct seasons. Avoid hot and humid July to September when temperatures can exceed 31 degrees celsius. Springtime can be chilly and winter is cool, dry and sometimes overcast. The best time to visit is September to December when there’s plenty of sunshine and refreshing breezes.
Flight time: 12hr from London. Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic all fly non-stop to Hong Kong.
Time difference: GMT + 8hr.
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar and the Macau Pataca. The Pataca is linked to the Hong Kong Dollar, which is accepted as currency in Macau and has virtually the same exchange rate.
Language: Cantonese Chinese and English are Hong Kong’s two official languages and in Macau Chinese and Portuguese are used, with English widely spoken.
Health: As a precaution against swine flu, visitors to Hong Kong currently have to sign a declaration of good health when they arrive at the airport and may have their temperatures screened at tourist attractions.
Red tape: No visa required for British citizens.
Hong Kong Tourism Board:
Macau Government Tourist Office: