Hong Kong is frequently described as a place where East meets West, blending ancient traditions with the western cosmopolitan influences. On one street corner, there may be traditional Chinese shops selling Chinese herbal medicine, Buddhist paraphernalia or bowls of synthetic shark fin soup. But around the next, one may find theaters showing the latest Hollywood blockbuster, an English-style pub, or a McDonald's,
Hong Kong, which means "Fragrant harbor", was a crown colony of the United Kingdom from 1842 until the transfer of its sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997. The former colony is divided into four main areas - Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, the New Territories, and the Outlying Islands. The city itself is centered around Victoria Harbour. The main business district is Central, on Hong Kong Island. East of Central lies the Admiralty commercial district; Wan Chai, known for restaurants and clubs; then Causeway Bay, a major shopping area. Towering above it all is the Peak, Hong Kong's premier scenic outlook and residential district. In Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui (on the southern tip), Jordan and Yau Ma Tei are busy hotel and shopping areas, while Mong Kok is a bustling residential and another shopping area.
No visitor to Hong Kong should miss the longest escalator in the world, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System. The Statue square at Central derives its name from the various effigies of British royalty on display here that were spirited away by the Japanese during the occupation. Only one statue actually remains, a bronze effigy of Sir Thomas Jackson, a particularly successful Victorian chief manager of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank. The colonnaded and domed neoclassical building on the east side of Statue Square was once the old Supreme Court, built in 1912 as the seat of the Legislative Council (Legco).
St. John's Cathedral, an Anglican church consecrated in 1849, is one of the very few colonial structures still standing in Central. Criticized for blighting the colony's landscape when it was first erected, St John's is now lost in the forest of skyscrapers that make up Central. A short walk from Central, along Hollywood Rd, is a temple, one of the oldest and most famous in Hong Kong, the Man Mo Temple. A short distance west of Cat St, next to Hollywood Road Park, is Possession St., a historic landmark without a marker, the spot where the British first landed in 1841. A short walk from here to Morrison St is Western Market, an Edwardian-style bldg built in 1906 as the Harbour Office, another historic landmark, and now converted into an elegant shopping place for Chinese arts and crafts.
A day's trip to the New Territories close to the Szenchen border of China via the Kowloon-Canton Railway led us to Tai Po. The Tai Po district is one of the oldest settlements in HK, and gained fame as a market town and the home of the Tangs, one of the territory's original clans. A visit to Lam Tsuen where we found the wishing tree, a huge but slowly dying banyan tree, led us to the Tin Hau temple, dedicated to the Goddess of Heaven, and to the HK Railway Museum. The museum is housed in the former Tai Po Market train station, built in 1913 in traditional Chinese style. Exhibits, including a narrow-gauge steam locomotive dating back to 1911, detail the history of the development of rail transport in the territory.
The street-long outdoor wet market in Tai Po is a stone's throw from the Museum, one of the busiest and most interesting markets in the New Territories. Towards the northern end of the same street is the double-hall Man Mo Temple, founded in the late 19th century and is dedicated to the gods of literature and of war.
From Taiwo station, the next train stop is Fanling. "Fanling" literally means ridge of powder, and the place was named after a holy rock found here, which according to legend brings rains. Just outside the station is a cluster of beautiful structures, the Fung Yin Seen Koon Taoist temple built in 1929. From here, we took the next train stop to Sheung Shui, close to the Chinese border at Shenzhen, to visit the cultural gem of HK, Tai Fu Tai Mansion, a fine example of traditional Chinese dwellings of the scholar-gentry class. This ancient mansion was probably built in 1865 in the reign of the Qing Dynasty, as the residence of Man Chung-luen whose ancestors had settled in San Tin since the 15th century.
The best thing about being in Hong Kong is getting smothered by the confluences and contradictions of a Chinese city with multi-Asian and Western elements. A couple of blocks northeast of the Jade Market is a temple dedicated to Tin Hau, the goddess of seafarers. The Tin Hau temple complex along famous Nathan Road houses an altar dedicated to Shing Wong, the god of the city, and to To Tei, the earth god, and a row of fortune-tellers. Not very far is the famous night market at Temple St., and Jade Market at Shanghai St.