Hong Kong Faux non-vegetarian cuisine, Disneyland, street-side shopping, and a meeting with pandas — there's so much to do here, writes SHALINI SHAH
Hong Kong is a city of contrasts — natural beauty and efficient man-made infrastructure, and glitzy international fashion labels alongside low-key but popular local boutiques and elbow-nudging street markets, happily co-exist.
Then, there are the hills and the sea, traces of British colonial legacy besides Chinese governance, and a cuisine that loves Chinese as much as Japanese and French. Hong Kong is a something-for-everyone place that allows one to find a few things of interest, or, as in our case, many.
Chinese cuisine, mostly non-vegetarian, has found a middle-path. Lunch, on the first day, was at a Chinese vegetarian (!) place called Miu Fat Chai. When, to the chagrin of a predominantly vegetarian group, dishes with pork, beef, fish, chicken and goose are piled on our table, Vivienne, from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, laughs and clarifies quickly that the goose, pork and company are nothing more than clever inventions made of very vegetarian ingredients such as tofu, and even sweet potato!
December, especially, is a good time to visit Disneyland Hong Kong — ‘Sparkling Christmas — A Winter Wonderland', which is on till a few days after New Year, has features such as ‘Let it Snow Parade' (outdoor artificial snow that feels as good as the real thing), ‘Lights of Winter' and, of course, the ‘Disney in the Stars' fireworks show over the Sleeping Beauty Castle (marked by a collective roar from seven-, 17- and 70-year-olds alike).
Tip: Don't forget to use the hologram viewer that you get while entering the park, highly recommended when you're seeing ‘Sparkling Castle Lights', ‘Lights of Winter' or the Christmas tree lights on Main Street. Through it, every source of illumination takes on a 3D heart-shaped halo; very fairytale-ish.
While cable car rides are no novelty, the one that stretches 5.7 km and includes cars with transparent floors is. Ngong Ping 360 includes a cable car ride that begins at Tung Chung and takes you right up to the giant Tian Tan Buddha statue before bringing you back.
A recent addition, launched in April this year, each ‘Crystal cabin' has a single piece of tempered glass for a bottom, has been built according to European standards, and can accommodate 10. While seeing your shoes resting on the treetops far below can be a little unnerving, the 25-minute experience will stay with you much longer.
Ready to ‘Scream'?
The Peak Tram is the best way to reach The Peak Tower, which houses shops, restaurants and, yes, Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. The tram proceeds up a slope of four to 27 degrees, a gradient that seems steeper when you notice the adjacent skyscrapers jutting out in weird angles. While the wax museum has its share of celebrities you'd love being photographed with — from Jackie Chan to Michelle Yeoh, Johnny Depp, Shakespeare and Barack Obama — it is ‘Scream' that you need to experience. We, a bunch of five grown-ups, sceptical over the ability of pan-caked staffers, sound effects and crimson-stained sets to scare us, ate giant humble pie.
While the Peak Tower has several eating options, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is easily the most popular. Tom Hanks' “Forrest Gump” forms the core theme of the place, and everything — from the table cards to framed quotes on the walls — go accordingly.
A red “Stop Forrest Stop” vehicle registration plate on the table means a signal for the waiters to stop by at your table. Turn over, and the blue “Run Forrest Run” means “We're fine”.
Time to shop
While finding high-end designer goods in Hong Kong is hardly a problem, it's the street markets that have all the charm. Mong Kok is particularly well-known for its street markets, where your satisfaction levels are directly proportionate to your ability to quote one-third of the price the shopkeeper quotes. In Ladies' Market, you can get everything from Anna Sui, Burberry and Louis Vuitton replicas to fancy boots, curios and silk kimonos and tunics. Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is a good place to be in this season. About 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour take part in a light-sound-laser show ‘Symphony of Lights', as part of Hong Kong WinterFest 2009, a series of activities that goes on up to January 3.
Temple Street resembles one large-open air restaurant, with the entire stretch closed to traffic and studded with tables and chairs flung by the restaurants on either side.
The other half is a street market. No reservations are possible, and a seat usually means a wait. Our moment of pride —when the locals next table summon the waiter, point to our plates and speak the Cantonese for “same thing”!
While in Hong Kong, don't forget to meet An An and Jia Jia. The two giant pandas at Ocean Park are the park's biggest attractions, and they meet thousands every day. In fact, Jia Jia is the world's third oldest giant panda living under human care. On the day of our visit, while An An eats shoots and leaves with a stare-as-much-as-you-can indifference, Ji Jia is relatively shy.