Travel - China Quartet (Cities) 2
Quartet of Two: But What a Duo!
Hong Kong and Macau: very special cases, both both outside of China and inside China at one and the same time.
These two cities, former colonies of European former powers, are so interesting, and so appealing to tourists, that they deserve a quartet of their own. There's nothing like them in the rest of the world.
Again, this series is not intended to replace a 300 page guidebook, but simply to whet your appetite. So let's press on.
The incredible Hong Kong.
Although most tourists stick to areas on either side of busy Hong Kong Harbour, there are other interesting parts. The area beyond can be divided --very roughly -- into two main parts: a) southern HK island; and b) the New Territories (including Lamma, Lantau, and Cheung Chau islands).
Let's start with a):
Harbour Area. Start by taking the Star Ferry that runs between Kowloon side and HK side. An old-fashioned experience at an old-fashioned pittance which gives the broad view of the HK experience. It doesn't take long. It's best when it's not overcast, but that's getting rarer.
Kowloon side. Mainly Tsim Sha Tsui (including East), though you can take the underground further north to Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei or Kowloon Tong and wander around as well. TST has Nathan Road, where touts from the Indian subcontinent annoy you, and Kowloon Park, a pleasant, large, well-populated urban park. Wandering around the busy streets is a frequent thing to do, but one can visit a number of museums, one on science, another on history. For something completely different, find HK's Intellectual Property Rights Museum of the Customs and Excise Dept. Over 300 examples of pirated products sold in HK since the 1970s. Includes mock-ups of piracy operations and displays on DVDs/CDs, toys, luxury goods, even liquor.
HK side. The busy central district, sensibly known as Central, is full of expensive stores and hotels, but can be walked for free. More interesting is to take the tram to The Peak, make your way quickly through the tourist shops (though you might want to pause for a bite to eat), and onto the walking paths, where the view can be enjoyed at your leisure -- if the air is clear. You can return by tram or walk down. Central and companion Admiralty are by no means the only bustling areas. You can also explore Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo (nightlife), Mid-levels (residential, but has world's longest escalator), Wan Chai (Suzie Wong gone, replaced by Convention and Exhibition Centre), Causeway Bay (Japanese department stores and Victoria Park), and Happy Valley (racetrack).
Southern HK island. Aberdeen and Stanley, former fishing villages, are now mainly residential highrise housing projects, but attractive for the junks and sampans in the harbour. Aberdeen has a huge floating, touristed Cantonese restaurant. It is also near Deep Water Bay and Ocean Park aquarium and amusement area. Stanley is known for its many discount markets vending everything under the sun. There's also a beach and some new restaurants along its promenade.
Now b): New Territories. Large by HK standards, not easy to explore, off the beaten HK track. (Included in the NT are HK's islands, including Lamma, Lantau and Cheung Chau, but not HK island). It might be good to concentrate your explorations -- for example on the Tseun Wan district at the NT's center, which includes several small islands, such as Ma Wan (and its water park). Start with Sam Tung Uk Museum, a Hakka walled village made into a museum. Behind Tsuen Wan town is Shin Mun which was originally a pineapple-growing valley, now a reservoir. Tai Mo Shan, HK's tallest mountain is also there. Once famous for "cloud tea," which grew wild, it is now a "country park" and is good for hiking.
Lamma island. Third largest of HK's islands, but only 6000 people. No cars, no roads, houses limited to three storeys. Yung Shue Wan is the village in the north near where Chow Yun-fat, the actor, grew up; Sok Kwu Wan (seafood restaurants) is in the east. The southern part has very few people and is accessible mainly by boat.
Lantau island. Home of the airport and of Disneyland, but despite this Lantau is an interesting place to explore. Houses on stilts, for example, a giant Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Sunset Peak, and seafood. Half the island is parkland, including good trails such as Lantau Trail, with campsites and youth hostels. The island's best-known and longest beach is Cheung Sha.
Cheung Chau. The Praya is a waterfront promenade which occupies some time, as does the village itself. Most head for the beaches, others head to a Taoist temple dedicated to the sea god -- Pak Tai Temple from 1783, contains statues of two generals, Favourable Wind Ear and Thousand Miles Eye, hear-all and see-all. Tung Wan and smaller Kwun Yam beach possess shark nets and lifeguards. Also windsurfing and kayaking. Ignore the large power plant on nearby Lamma. In late April or May -- depending -- join thousands at the Bun Festival parade of people dressed up to scare aware evil spirits responsible for a plague, children who "float" on hidden wires, a tower of buns and the competition to snatch them from the top.
Despite what your are thinking:
Actually, the best things in Macau are its museums, particularly the Museum of Macau which is entered by going underground at the Monte Fortress. Naturally, the history of Macau is exhibited (bottom floor), but of even greater interest is a display which compares the respective development of European and Chinese civilization when Portugal first came here.
More history on the second level, but this with lots of attention to festivals, ceremonies, even local industries. There's a recreation of an old street for this purpose. Third level, the one floor that is not underground, is dedicated to plans for the future of Macau.
The fort itself is also of interest, constructed under the supervision of Jesuits about the same time as St. Paul's Church and destroyed by the same fire.
St. Paul's Church is only a facade now, at the top of hill, though it is also a symbol of old Macau. It was destroyed by fire in 1835, in its 233rd year.
Other museums worth taking in are the Museum of Art, the Grand Prix Museum, the Wine Museum, and the Pawnshop Museum. Most interesting though is the Maritime Museum which depicts the life of the port of Macau in history, with plenty of stuff about the exotic sea-going vessels here and the nautical equipment used. Fittingly, there's also a look under the sea -- a small aquarium.
(There is yet another museum on Taipa, one of Macau's two outlying islands; the other, Coloane, is better known for its beaches and its pirates).
Two temples: one to A Ma (Goddess of Seafarers) and one to Kun Ian Tong (where, oddly enough, the first US-China treaty was signed, in 1844).
Macau Tower. About 60 stories tall, built around the change from centuries 20 to 21. There's the mandatory revolving restaurant, and the observation deck has in part a glass floor, but for the truly adventuresome you can rent a harness and walk on the outside rampart, or even bungee jump -- recommended before lunch, not after.
Apparently there are also games of chance to be found here in Macau, a city of just over a half million.
Part of a series
Pictures, pictures, pictures
Series within series, actually. Food & Cooking, for example, then -- within that -- series on vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat, etc. Books, too. Ideas, too. Travel, too. Click on "featured lenses" at the top of the right-hand column, under my profile, for the complete list. Key virtues:. pictures, clear step-by-step text. Delicious -- whether foods or ideas! All items in all of the series can be found, organized by floor, at Lee White's Department Store. Happy shopping! -- everything is for free!