The first 24 hours
Kowloon Traffic in Hong Kong can become notoriously congested but the convenient mass transit rail system (MTR) makes navigation a breeze.
A quick walk through the outlet mall brings you to Tung Chung MTR station.
The Nan Lian Gardens (MTR to Diamond Hill Station, exit C2), with 3.5ha of meticulously maintained gardens, is my first stop. Every plant, pond, timber structure and rock has been placed according to ancient Tang Dynasty style.
Across the road, framed by lush forest and surrounded by highdensity, high-rise buildings is the Chi Lin Nunnery. Music plays as I walk past the memorial tablets of ancient Buddhist sages. There is a separate prayer hall for nuns. This Buddhist nunnery is undeniably beautiful and very quiet.
At Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple (MTR to Wong Tai Sin Station, exit B2) the colourful stalls selling garish red and gold religious tokens are a shock to my senses after the morning’s peace. The place was packed with locals praying.
Mong Kok (MTR to Prince Edward Station) is a maze of side streets, full of life, colour and interesting smells. Proud songbird owners walk through the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden with their birds in ornate bamboo cages. The flower market is a fragrant explosion of colour and the Goldfish Market has to be seen to be believed. The bottoms of glass tanks are a carpet of baby turtles, and plastic bags filled with fish hang outside each shop lining the street. The Chinese believe the more fish they own, the luckier they will be.
Mong Kok is also home to the Jade, Ladies and Temple St night markets, which are best explored late in the afternoon. Hong Kong Island – Central The Star Ferry has been making the trip across Victoria Harbour for more than 120 years. At about $HK2.50 (30¢) it’s good value and a great way to appreciate how tightly packed is the city.
I arrived at the Peninsula Hotel lobby just as afternoon tea was beginning (2pm-6pm daily). As I sampled ribbon sandwiches, a lemon tart with blueberries and cassis sherbet, scones and delicate wafers, it didn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to picture Hong Kong as a former British colony.
Catch the MTR to Central and follow the signs to the Mid-Levels escalator. At 800m, it’s the longest outdoor escalator in the world and riding all 20 to the top takes just under 20 minutes.
If it’s a clear afternoon, make haste to The Peak and the vertiginous Peak Tram. If it’s a hazy day (there are plenty) there’s little point in going up as the harbour and skyline just don’t penetrate the smog. Instead, follow the signs to the free zoo and botanic gardens or explore the many nooks