We list five favourites for a summer break in this island city
1. The tea ceremony
Dazzled by the glass and chrome of the very modern Hong Kong, stepping into the LockCha Tea House is like stepping into an old Chinese picture book. It’s all polished wood, hushed silences, and intricately carved screens. We are here for the tea lesson hosted by the elegantly beautiful Maria. With the gestures of a dancer, she presides over a large table, hands fluttering over an elaborate range of paraphernalia. Her job is to make us understand tea. She takes us through different leaves, sizes of pots, brewing times and procedures, all the while regaling us with anecdotes about her family and their puritan tea habits.
It’s a charming little exercise, washed down with several cups of tea, ranging from green and white to red and Pu-erh. Started by tea master Ip Wing-Chi, LockCha is a great place for a cuppa even without the lesson. You can brew endless cups and order dim sums. You can also buy some tea or pick up some of the stunning earthen tea-ware on display. Find it at K.S. Lo Gallery, Ground Floor, Hong Kong Park, Admiralty.
2. Get really high
From down-to-earth tea, move a little higher and enjoy a beer on the 100th floor of Sky100, Hong Kong’s tallest building at 490 metres. The glass-walled observation deck has a sky café and if you bag a ‘window’ table, you can drink to a spectacular sunset over the island city’s dramatic skyline and Victoria Harbour. The deck also has a fabulous bird’s eye view of a sunken 3D city model, and a Time Tunnel that projects streaming videos of ink drawings of Honk Kong over the years. At #1, Austin Road West, Kowloon.
3. When in Zen
Get your balance back at the Lantau Big Buddha temple. The serenity starts with the 5.7 km Ngong Ping cable car ride that strings you across hills and seas, offering tantalising faraway glimpses of the enormous hilltop Buddha. The sprawling temple complex is filled with chanting, chatter and fragrance from giant incense sticks. I draw a Divining Stick and read my fortune, which says mystically “More input, the Council Potential transfer given to developing in many ways.” Clearly, I am very far from moksha because I don’t understand a word.
The climb up to the bronze Buddha sounds cheesy but ends up being as much about personal peace as about photo ops. Below the temple is the Wisdom Path, an extraordinary series of 38 wooden steles that have verses from the Heart Sutra beautifully engraved on them. A gentle drizzle is falling as we weave through the figure-of-eight in which the wooden menhirs are placed to represent infinity. I didn’t expect a thing from this place and end up finding a lot. It’s a cable car ride away from the MTR Tung Chung station.
4. Eat, shoot and leave
Ocean Park? Me? Really? Well, this one certainly teaches me not to be so snooty. I sleepwalk through aquariums, souvenir shops, and thrill rides, waking up briefly only for the charming penguins. Until, that is, we reach the panda enclosure. There they suddenly are, larger than life, pacing about their leafy corrals, breaking off branches of bamboo, climbing a rock. Huge, beautiful, unreal, they are like giant teddy-bears come to life. Something about these creatures in their precarious captivity, dependent entirely for survival on fickle human whim, makes the visit a deeply poignant experience. Find the gentle giants at Ocean Park, 180 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen.
5. Moving pictures
Hong Kong is as much about long, slow walks as it is about high-rises and swank shops. My favourite walk is, of course, along the delightfully quirky escalator. I could spend a whole day here. A unique commuting solution, the system cuts through a hilly area with 20 escalators and three moving sidewalks to cover in roughly 25 minutes of pedestrian time what could be miles by road.
We get off the stairway frequently, to wander into the winding streets and endlessly beckoning markets at the various levels. Hop into an ancient teahouse for dong lai cha and mouth-watering Hong Kong French toast. Shop for tacky silver rings and Mao memorabilia in Hollywood Road, or wander through the seafood market that gleams with fish, fin and fang. Herbal Medicine Street, Dried Seafood Street, Ginseng Street, Birds’ Nest Street... it’s a heady mix.
Back on the escalator, I peer into invitingly open windows at suited men and women getting foot massages and manicures. You can hop off to check out the vividly red Man Mo Temple, straight out of a Bruce Lee movie set. As the sun sets, end your walk in Soho, the heart of Hong Kong’s pub-hopping zone, its bars and sidewalk cafes buzzing well into the night. The escalator starts at 100 Queens Road, Central at 10:00 am, and ends at Conduit Road.
(The writer was a guest of Hong Kong Tourism Board)