© Lonely Planet Publications 522 Hong Kong Like a shot of adrenaline, Hong Kong quickens the pulse. The vistas alone stir the blood: skyscrapers march up steep jungle-clad slopes by day and blaze neon by night across a harbour forever crisscrossed by freighters and motor junks. Above streets teeming with people and traffic, sleek luxury boutiques and five-star hotels stand next to ageing tenement blocks and traditional Chinese shops. The very acme of luxury can be yours in this billionaires’ playground, although enjoying the city need not cost the earth. Many of its best features are free, or almost. A HK$2 ride across the harbour must be the best-value cruise in the world. A meander through a local neighbourhood market, or a hair-raising bus ride, offer similarly cheap thrills. Believe it or not, you can also escape the crowds in this tiny city state. Just head for one of its many national parks. This is also a city that lives to eat, offering its discerning diners the very best of China and beyond in inexpensive food markets, street stalls and restaurants too numerous to count. HONG KONG Hong Kong, above all, rewards those who grab experience by the scruff of the neck, who try that bowl of shredded jellyfish, who consume conspicuously, who join the shouting punters at Happy Valley as the winner thunders to the finish line. It rewards those with a sense of adventure, who’ll explore centuries-old temples in half-deserted walled villages or stroll surf-beaten beaches far from neon and steel. It is also a city that lays its riches at your feet. The fantastic and seamless transport system, together with widely spoken English, make Hong Kong a forgiving place to begin your Chinese odyssey. HIGHLIGHTS Ride the historic Peak Tram (p536) up Victoria Peak, enjoy the views and walk down Soak up the glittering skyline as you cross Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry (p558) Take the dramatic cable car to the top of Lantau Island to view the Big Buddha (p541) SoHo & Lan Kwai Fong Star Ferry Hike across the car-free haven of Lamma Big Buddha Peak island (p541) then reward yourself with a Tram seafood lunch Lamma Island Feast your senses in SoHo (p548) and Lan Kwai Fong (p552), the buzzing bar and restaurant area TELEPHONE CODE: 852 POPULATION: 7 MILLION www.discoverhongkong.com lonelyplanet.com H O N G K O N G • • H i s t o r y 523 HISTORY Until European traders started importing HONG KONG PRIMER opium into the country, Hong Kong really was It’s worth noting that, partly owing to its an obscure backwater in the Chinese empire. British colonial past, Hong Kong’s political The British, with a virtually inexhaustible sup- and economic systems are still significantly ply from the poppy fields of Bengal, developed different from those of mainland China. See the trade aggressively and by the start of the p951 for information on money, p954 for 19th century traded this ‘foreign mud’ for telephone services and p957 for visas. Prices almost every Chinese commodity. in this chapter are quoted in Hong Kong China’s attempts to stamp out the opium dollars (HK$). trade, including confiscating and destroy- ing one huge shipment, gave the British the pretext they needed for military action. Two On 1 July 1997, in pouring rain outside gunboats were sent in and promptly destroyed the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition a Chinese fleet of 29 ships. A British naval Centre, the British era ended. At the time of landing party hoisted the Union flag on the handover, Hong Kong’s population was Hong Kong Island in 1841, and the Treaty just under seven million. of Nanking, which brought an end to the so- In the years that followed, Hong Kong called First Opium War, ceded the island to weathered several major storms. The Asian the British crown ‘in perpetuity’. financial crisis of 1997 sparked a seven-year At the end of the Second Opium War in economic downturn that burst Hong Kong’s 1860, Britain took possession of the Kowloon property bubble. Together with the outbreak Peninsula, and in July 1898 a 99-year lease was of the deadly SARS virus and general mistrust granted for the New Territories. of the government, by 2003 Hong Kong was almost as low as anyone could remember. HONG KONG Through the 20th century Hong Kong grew in fits and starts. Waves of refugees fled China Help came from an unlikely source. during times of turmoil for Hong Kong. Trade Despite a huge protest against the Hong flourished along with Hong Kong’s vibrant Kong government’s attempt to ram through British expat social life until the Japanese army Běijīng-inspired antisubversion legislation, crashed the party in 1941. China acted to help Hong Kong’s flagging By the end of the war Hong Kong’s popula- economy by sharply increasing the number tion had fallen from 1.6 million to 610,000. of mainland tourists allowed to visit the city, But trouble in China soon swelled the num- who arrived and began spending big. bers again as refugees from the communist At the latter end of the decade, Hong victory in 1949 swelled Hong Kong’s popula- Kong’s formerly booming stock and prop- tion beyond two million. A UN trade embargo erty markets were teetering once again as on China during the Korean War enabled the world economy slumped and China’s Hong Kong to reinvent itself as one of the seemingly unstoppable growth stuttered. Sir world’s most dynamic manufacturing and Donald Tsang was, however, enjoying greater financial-services centres. acclaim for his leadership of the government Hong Kongers proved expert at making than his oft-criticised predecessor, Tung Chee money and wise enough to invest some of Hwa. Better political representation for the it in improving the city. Housing improved people, let alone full suffrage, looks as far away with the development of high-rise ‘New as ever though. Towns’, while the superefficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR; see p559) was built to help get CLIMATE everyone around. Hong Kong rarely gets especially cold, but it But with so much at stake the 1997 question would be worth packing something at least a was worrying Hong Kongers. In 1984 Britain little bit warm between November and March. had agreed to cede what would become the Between May and mid-September tempera- Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong tures in the mid-30s combined with stifling Kong to China in 1997, on the condition it humidity can turn you into a walking sweat would retain its free-market economy as well machine. This time is also the wettest, ac- as its social and legal systems for 50 years. counting for about 80% of the annual rainfall – China called it ‘One country, two systems’. partly due to regular typhoons.