Hong Kong Travel Info

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					            © Lonely Planet Publications

            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, 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.

                   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
                   Feast your senses in SoHo (p548) and
                   Lan Kwai Fong (p552), the buzzing bar and
                   restaurant area

                 TELEPHONE CODE: 852             POPULATION: 7 MILLION                                                         H O N G K O N G • • H i s t o r y 523

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.

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