A global city of stunning scale and verve, Hong Kong dazzles at first sight: After all, its cityscape lays claim to more skyscrapers than anywhere else! There are plenty of vantage points to take in the skyline, including the Peak (Hong Kong’s rooftop) and the Avenue of Stars, which also offers a slew of monuments to the city’s famous film industry—a life-size bronze of Bruce Lee among them. Enjoy an intimate tour of Hong Kong culture at the Temple Street Night Market, gape at the ornate status of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, or journey to the foot of the iconic Clock Tower. Whether you’re visiting one of the countless street stalls or a high-end eatery, the flavors of Hong Kong—a mishmash of Asian and Western influences—will keep you coming back for more!
Although the people of Hong Kong are primarily ethnic Chinese, many have adopted western ways. British culture has had a strong influence on the country due to the fact that the country was under British rule until 1997. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and English are both recognized as official languages.
The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra are appreciated by locals and visitors alike. There are also two major dance companies to entertain lovers of the arts.
Hong Kong has contributed to the film industry through some of its more famous residents. John Woo is a film producer and director whose body of work includes films such as Face/Off, Broken Arrow and Mission: Impossible 2 where his use of highly stylized choreography can be seen. Chow Yun-Fat is a Hong Kong actor who is probably best known in the West for his role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though he also collaborated in several films with the aforementioned director John Woo. Jackie Chan is another well-known Hong Kong actor known for action films such as Rush Hour and The Karate Kid as well as later comedies such as Shanghai Noon.
Due to its British influence soccer, rugby and horse racing are popular sports in Hong Kong. For such a densely populated country, Hong Kong surprisingly offers a fair number of golf courses, though they do get crowded, so visitors wanting to play some holes should call in advance. Because forty percent of Hong Kong’s space is devoted to parks, opportunities abound for hiking enthusiasts. There are trails to suit every difficulty level and time span. For a more leisurely activity, locals enjoy the table game of Mahjong and practicing Tai Chi. Pass by any open public space or downtown park in the morning and you are sure to see people practicing the slow graceful movements of this mental and physical discipline. Visitors are usually welcome to join in.
Hong Kong has a serious food culture; a popular greeting is “Sik tzo fan may?” which translates as, “Have you eaten?” Hong Kong’s food stalls and street markets are a true food experience. Visitors can sample all the regional Chinese cuisines, from Sichuan, Hunan and Chiu Chow, at the stalls and street markets.
Naturally the cuisine has been influenced by mainland Chinese cooking styles, particularly Cantonese, however nearby countries such as Thailand, India and Malaysia have all contributed to the evolution of local dishes.
Due to the freshness of ingredients, not as many spices are necessary for flavoring dishes as in some countries. Local chefs often prefer preparing food using steaming methods over cooking with oil. Fittingly, seafood dishes are particularly good because of Hong Kong’s water access. Many restaurants will have tanks where diners may select their own seafood. Abalone is a popular seafood choice of the Hong Kong locals.
Dim sum restaurants bustle with diners who take their food seriously. Diners simply point at what they want as trolleys loaded with steaming food circle the restaurant. Roast pork, roast pork buns and rice clay pots are some of the most common dishes of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong desserts tend to be lighter and less sweet than desserts in the United States and many are based on fruit as a prime ingredient. Egg tarts, consisting of a pastry crust filled with egg custard, are a particular favorite of locals and are thought to be an adaptation of English custard tarts, though the Hong Kong egg tarts are served hot rather than at room temperature. Another popular pastry is called sweetheart cake, or wife cake, and contains five spice powder. Visitors to the country should ask locals about the different legends surrounding this tasty treat.
Tea is a popular beverage in Hong Kong just like it is on the Chinese mainland. However, in addition to standard tea, many drink Hong Kong style ‘milk tea’, a black tea made with condensed or evaporated milk which originated from the time of British colonial rule over Hong Kong. Milk tea combined with coffee is called ‘yuan yang’.
Hong Kong is located in the southern part of China and is divided into four major areas which include Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and the Outlying Islands like Lamma Island. It is a dense and cosmopolitan city with a population of over 7 million spread over HK Island, Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and over 260 outlying islands.
Hong Kong city is very compact, so combined with its excellent public transportation system it’s easy for visitors to get around. Walking is another good option as many of the attractions of Hong Kong are located in the Central district.
Initially Hong Kong was used by the British to trade opium for other commodities. The area known today as Hong Kong was a series of small Chinese fishing villages until Great Britain claimed the territory in 1842 during the Opium Wars. The British were given a 99-year lease on the territory and its outlying islands. Hong Kong continued to be a trading center and was thriving as a business and cultural center throughout the early 20th century until WWII when the Japanese drove the British away and took control of the territory in 1941. Hong Kong suffered enormously under Japanese control with nearly half of the civilian population dying from food shortages and disease.
At the end of the war, the British resumed control and many mainland Chinese companies relocated there when China became a communist nation. Manufacturing thrived under the capitalist philosophy of the territory in contrast to China and its increasing isolation. In 1997 Hong Kong returned to China as a Special Administrative Region. This creates a unique situation for Hong Kong in which they have their own form of government, courts and trade although they are not an independent country. This is known as the ‘one country, two systems’ principle. Today the area is known less for manufacturing; instead it has become a service based economy particularly in the banking and finance sectors.