Barefoot Abroad in Hong Kong
The bustling city of Hong Kong was just a collection of fishing villages when claimed by Britain in 1842 following the First Opium War with China. This failed attempt by the Qing Dynasty to stop the British trading in opium led to Hong Kong being ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking that year. The Kowloon Peninsula was handed over in 1860 and a 99-year lease on the New Territories, comprising the area north of Kowloon up to the Shenzhen River plus 235 outlying islands, was granted in 1898.
Under the unique principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July 1997 as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. This arrangement allows Hong Kong to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, retaining its capitalist system, independent judiciary and rule of law, free trade and freedom of speech.
With a population of more than 7 million, Hong Kong is situated on the southeast coast of China at the mouth of the Pearl River facing the South China Sea. Covering an area of 1,104 square kilometres (425 square miles), the territory is made up of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. At the core is Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island from Kowloon and beyond that, the New Territories that runs up to the boundary with Mainland China. As well as making up the bulk of Hong Kong’s land mass, the New Territories include Lantau where the airport is located.
Hong Kong’s magnificent harbour has been the key to its development as a trading port and entrepôt for China, progressing through an industrial era to become a leading financial and services centre in Asia. The unique blend of eastern and western influences matched by diverse attractions and stunning countryside, has also made Hong Kong Asia’s prime tourist destination.
Despite its dense urban environment, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s total area is countryside, including about 40% designated as country parks and special areas that are all easily accessible.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate with distinct seasons. Typhoon season is May to November. When a typhoon is approaching, warnings are broadcast on TV and radio, and signals indicate its significance, the latest position and expected movement of the centre of the tropical cyclone, information on the wind strength, rainfall and sea level in the territory. When typhoon signal 8 is hoisted, businesses and shops close down and flights may be cancelled.
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect spoken by over 88% of the people in Hong Kong. However, English is widely used in the Government and by the legal, professional and business sectors as well as tourist areas. Most taxi drivers and salespeople are able to communicate in English.
Hong Kong is a multicultural and secular city with a multiracial population living in harmony. Tolerance for the customs and traditions of all religions and ethnic groups is part of the city’s cosmopolitan philosophy. People are free to openly worship according to their own beliefs.
The legal tender is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$), which is linked to the US dollar at a rate of about 7.80 HKD to 1 USD, although exchange rates may fluctuate slightly. Interestingly, Hong Kong banknotes are issued by three banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China), and vary in design and colour for each denomination.
Smoking is prohibited in all indoor public places, including restaurants, karaoke bars, shopping centres and bars. The smoking ban is also implemented on public transport carriers, public transport facilities and in both indoor and outdoor areas of some premises such as public beaches and swimming pools, escalators, the Hong Kong Wetland Park. Any person caught smoking or carrying a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe in designated no smoking areas will be liable to a fixed penalty of HK$1,500.
Some of the most popular tourist attractions include: The Peak, looking down from which you will be amazed by the spectacular view of the world- famous Victoria Harbour; the Giant Buddha at Lantau Island beside the Po Lin Monastery, the world’s tallest,outdoor, seated bronze Buddha; Ocean Park at the southern part of Hong Kong Island, which provides an exciting mix of entertainment, education and conservation facilities; Repulse Bay at the southern part of Hong Kong Island, famous for its wide and wave-lapped beach, is popular with locals and visitors alike; and A Symphony of Lights, awarded the World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show by Guinness World Records, staged on both sides of the Victoria Harbour, starting at 8:00pm every night.
More recently, Hong Kong has welcomed Disneyland, the first Disney theme park in China; Hong Kong Wetland Park, located at Tin Shui Wai, a world-class conservation, education and tourism facility; andNgong Ping 360, comprising the 5.7 km Ngong Ping ropeway, a 25-minute cable car ride which offers a spectacular view of the beautiful landscape of Lantau Island, and the cultural and religious themed Ngong Ping Village.
Hong Kong provides a vibrant nightlife. Do not fight the temptation to join the party. Things to do include taking a luxury night cruise over Victoria Harbor; visiting pubs, bars, nightclubs; or strolling in the bubbling streets with the locals.