Exploring the Parks of Hong Kong
I loved my time in Hong Kong; the food and culture offers so much to experience and explore. It is a trip worth re-visiting but not just for the tastes, the national parks and scenery there are stunning. Here’s an article I wrote for the Toronto Star about the tranquility of Hong Kong.
HONG KONG—This city holds a secret and it’s only those who seek it out that find it. The millions of Korean and Japanese tourists who come each year know. While the food, culture and shopping play a role in their visit, those activities are tangential to the central draw.
In this city, glass skyscrapers and broad apartment buildings house families in the thousands who battle each other for their piece of sunlight.
But if you choose to, you can escape the concrete and glass for a Hong Kong that is serene, and you don’t have to leave the city to do it.
Hong Kong is a mecca for tourists who would rather climb a mountain, not upgrade their iPhones.
“We have 23 national parks with dozens of hiking grounds,” my guide, Rosanna Shun, points out. “About 3 million Korean and Japanese come because of the hiking.”
Despite Hong Kong’s massive growth and continued modern development 70 per cent of the 1,000 square-kilometers it covers remain rural. Among them, the national Geopark in the Northeast New Territories,where you can learn about local volcanic rock and the 100-km. MacLehose Trail.
At the LockCha Tea House in Hong Kong Park, Maria Chan Sin-man has spent the last 15 minutes making enough tea to fill three of the thimble-sized traditional cups. She was rushing. Typically, the assistant director tells me, the process would take an hour.
“You have to take your time,” she explains as she pours the hot water in a circular motion into our cups. “It has always been that way.”
The process of washing the leaves, then the cups and discarding the first brew in favour of a more flavour-filled second brew is beautiful to watch and somehow flavours the enjoyment of the tea. It’s a nod to the kind of leisure most of us tourists aren’t used to. In the park’s gorgeous green space, it’s easier to give in to it and relax.
For a stark contrast to the green tranquillity, you need only catch one of the green 16-seater minibuses for the 30-minute ride from Central to Stanley. Wind your way past golden sands and palm trees as you decide between beaches such as Repulse Bay and Chung Hom Kok.
Locals, who know better, aren’t at the markets in the city haggling for trinkets, but gather at one of the barbecues on the side of the beach, icy drinks in hand, watching their kids build sand castles while searing fish and steaks on the grill. Hours later, long after swimming spirits have cooled, groups of friends gather around flickering fire pits enjoying the evening.
Nature’s scope and proximity to the city might explain the way that Hong Kong manages to have the fervor of New York City, yet maintain a feeling of calm. Here, they seem to have found the balance between work-required busy-ness and leisurely quiet.
On the slow, 25-minute Ngong Ping 360 cable car climb up to visit the Big Buddha on the island of Lantau, idle chatter dims. Tourists lean back and watch the world through the windows of the slightly swaying carriage. (If they are in the crystal car, they will gaze through the glass bottom beneath their feet.) Hong Kong Kite birds swoop and soar in the distance high above lush mountainsides.
Once you’ve passed the shops and shows of the makeshift village at the top, stroll the Wisdom Path to the Po Lin Monastery at the feet of the iconic statue to maintain the sense of serenity.
The mist that covers and uncovers the Big Buddha makes it a place where tourists and locals alike tend to sit quietly while small children run amongst the stone statues, which stand for the signs of Chinese astrology.
Back in Hong Kong, board the Aqua Luna, a traditional Chinese junk with flowing red sails, near the ferry terminal. Get comfortable on the well-cushioned wicker benches and set sail on a harbour tour. Although everyone boards excitedly chattering and clutching their electronic devices, within moments many have their shoes are off, couples are leaning deeper into each other and a quiet settles across the deck, broken only by the lilting voice of a waiter offering something cool to drink.
Looking back at the towering skyline from the slow bob of an ancient ship, you’ll be struck by the blend of beauty and modernity that is Hong Kong.
Just the Facts
Arriving: Cathay Pacific offers direct non-stop flights from Vancouver and Toronto. Its new Premium Economy option offers a step up from economy, extra baggage allowance and priority boarding. Canadian passport holders do not require a Visa for stays up to 90 days.
Dining: From traditional fare to dim sum to fusion cuisine and everything in between; there is no shortage of restaurants at which to enjoy a great meal. We shared some highlights here.
Sleeping: The new Crowne Plaza Kowloon East, is about 30 minutes outside of Central, connected to three malls and offers more space than some competitors. Rooms start at about $130.
Shopping: You’ll find souvenirs at markets throughout the city. Locals suggest you avoid Nathan Street for electronics. Opt for reputable dealers such as King Dragon Camera, 33 Mody Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, instead.
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