Having developed a love of Bruce Lee films, I had always been curious about the city-island where the famed martial artist had grown up. Since my early teens, I had eagerly watched Hong Kong action films with my family, enthralled by the elegant fight scenes and terrible English subtitles (“I laugh at your monkey-like stupidity!” “Watch me throw a bullet at you!”). Bruce Lee in particular was mesmerizing in action, taking down fighting legends like Chuck Norris and making kung fu look as easy as chewing gum (I’ve tried it – it’s not!). Because of my early obsession with the Chinese star, coupled with my desire to see where my own family had been born and raised, I had put Hong Kong at the top of my list of potential travel destinations. And finally, last June, I had the opportunity to visit this exciting place, famous for its delicious food, nighttime entertainment, great shopping, and – most importantly – Bruce Lee.
I came with the main purpose of visiting my uncle, aunt, and two cousins, whom I had never met before, but I was also intent on having some good-quality grub and seeing some of the popular tourist attractions. So on my first day in the city, I decided to do a walking tour of HK’s Central and Sheung Wan area. This area is the financial and retail centre of Hong Kong, where skyscrapers, shopping malls, and corporate suits can be found in abundance. I was armed with the nineteen maps that my uncle and cousins had given me for when I would inevitably get hopelessly lost, four bottles of water to counteract the sweltering June heat, and good running shoes to deal with HK’s ridiculously hilly terrain. Ready to go!
I spent the day pushing through the crowds in the trendy Causeway Bay neighbourhood near where I was staying, learning about Chinese history at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum, and meandering through the narrow alleyways of Lan Kwai Fong and Soho, where hip youngsters flock to eat, drink, and people-watch (and clearly I am NOT one of these people, as I just used the words “hip” and “youngster” in a non-ironic sentence). Here, I also rode the coolest invention ever – the Central Escalator.
Okay, this is the shallow and indecisive person’s best friend! A series of elevated moving walkways that ascend an 800-metre hill from bustling Central HK to the residential Mid-Levels, the Central Escalator works its way up in between restaurants, bars, and shops. If going out for the night, one can easily glance into each venue during the ascension, make superficial judgments as to the quality of the food / atmosphere / clientele, and then quickly decide which location is most worthy of their attendance before exiting the walkway. Genius!
That evening was spent watching the Symphony of Lights at Victoria Harbour with my uncle. This is a synchronized laser and multimedia display lasting fourteen minutes and accompanied by music. Incorporating fourty-four buildings and presenting five themes celebrating Hong Kong’s energy, spirit, and diversity, this spectacle runs every night at 8 pm, and it has won the Guinness World Record for longest permanent light and sound show. Although it was entertaining, and definitely one of the most unique exterior multimedia displays I had ever seen, the cheesy eighties electronic music that accompanied the show was a little too much for me. I mean, you’d think that a city with such highly developed technology and an acute awareness of trends could find better music for this world-famous spectacle. I felt like I was listening to an old-school video game for most of the show.
The next day, I made the journey to nearby Lantau Island to see the famed “Big Buddha.” Taking the Ngong Ping Skyrail, which is a fancier way of saying “nauseatingly high cable car,” I was afforded beautiful views of the lush green landscape below. After climbing approximately nine billion stairs, I reached the spectacular and aptly named “Big Buddha,” face sweating and legs shaking. I was passed by a group of eager schoolchildren who raced enthusiastically by me to reach the top way ahead of me. I bought a popsicle to console myself from the searing shame of having been bested by eight-year-olds.
The Tian Tan Buddha is a massive bronze Buddha Amoghasiddhi and was completed in 1993. Weighing roughly 250 metric tons, this enormous statue was the tallest outdoor seated Buddha until 2007. I spent a long time marvelling at its beauty and walking the grounds of the nearby Po Lin Monastery before making my way to the Tai O traditional fishing village. This place was charming and quiet, and a wonderful respite from the hordes of tourists charging up and down the steps leading to the Buddha’s platform.
Here I wandered through alleys and shops reminiscent of times past. I was also convinced by a local to take a short river cruise to see the famous Chinese white dolphins, which I was absolutely convinced was a hoax. To me, “Hong Kong” and “exotic marine life” do not seem like they could be compatible in the same sentence. Kind of like “Korea” and “spacious” or “Christine” and “graceful.” So imagine my great surprise when we killed the motor and lo and behold, several white dolphins poked their tiny heads above the surface of the water!
The following day, I woke up early to see the picturesque Chi Lin Nunnery. A quiet and peaceful Buddhist temple complex, this Tang-style architectural wonder was built completely without the use of nails and is located in the Kowloon neighbourhood.
After basking in the solemn beauty of this temple, I made my way down south to Stanley, where I spent the day walking along the coast and breathing in the refreshing sea air. The highlight of this neighbourhood, in my opinion, is the lively Stanley Market, where one can find Bruce Lee paraphernalia galore. This is THE place to go if you want Bruce Lee posters, watches, T-shirts, and more. I was in Bruce Lee fan-heaven! I will neither confirm nor deny this, but a Bruce Lee bobblehead may have been purchased.
That evening, I ascended Hong Kong’s highest point, known simply as “The Peak.” The wonderfully rickety Peak Tram whisks you up the steep hill, offering passengers a view of HK’s impossibly inclined apartment buildings rising ominously from the depths of the canyon below. Unfortunately, it was raining and foggy, so the view was slightly obscured, but it was nevertheless worth the ear-popping journey to the top!
It was my last full day in the city, so I wanted to make good use of the short time remaining. I headed first to the Flower Market, which assaults the eye with a plethora of vivid colours. This place is a botanist’s dream, as it boasts an incredible variety of flora. As well, you can buy any number of cute and colourful garden accessories, ranging from large stone frogs to the very necessary clay garden gnome. The overall effect of the Flower Market was so cute and charming that I was half expecting little Munchkins to pop out of the shrubbery and tell me to follow the yellow brick road.
The nearby Yuen Po Street Bird Garden was a much sadder affair. These feathered critters are valued for their beauty and their song, so the more colourful and melodious the bird, the higher the price. While it was fun to wander through the market and look at the diverse songbirds for sale, I also had that scene from E.T. in mind, where Elliot opens the jars and dumps all the trapped frogs out of the classroom window, freeing them from future dissection. I have to admit, I was definitely tempted to heroically rip open the doors of all those imprisoning bamboo cages, while shouting, “Fly away! Be free!”
In the afternoon, I hit up the extremely underrated Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which sits atop Po Fook Hill, overlooking the city. There are actually many more than ten thousand Buddha statues and miniature figurines, although *only* a few dozen life size ones. Several hundred stairs lead up to the monastery, and it was a swelteringly hot summer day when I attempted the climb. As each step became agonizingly more difficult, I began to wonder why it was that I so frequently decided to spend my summer vacations in stiflingly hot tropical countries. After finally reaching the last painful step, huffing and puffing vigorously, I realized that the completion of this task must mark the difference between those who are fit to endure the hardships and discipline of monkhood, and those who are not. You can guess which category I would fall into…
Nevertheless, at the entrance of the monastery, I was nearly blinded by the sight of glistening, golden, larger-than-life Buddhas staring down at me from all sides. I had reached the religious equivalent of Bill Gates’ bank vault. Surprisingly, there were almost no other visitors here – or maybe it’s not that surprising, considering you had to be a triathlete or a monk just to make it up those stairs! – so I spent a couple of hours wandering alone through the serene grounds of this temple, gazing up at the breathtakingly tall, nine-storey red pagoda and photographing the numerous golden Buddhas, each one unique from the others.
On my way down, I saw a group of those infamous long-tailed macaques of which my experiences in Bali and Malaysia have taught me to be wary. Descending the stairs at the pace of a ninety-five-year-old arthritic woman and cautiously keeping the aggressive primates far to my right, I attempted to be as inconspicuous as possible. Then, one particularly audacious macaque, which had clambered sacrilegiously to the top of one of the Buddha statues, snarled territorially at me, and that’s when I decided to run down the rest of the way, despite the pain shooting into my exhausted knees and calves. I am SO over irritable monkeys…
All in all, Hong Kong was a superb place to visit, as the city offers great food, beautiful sights, a unique vibe, and a wide variety of entertainment options for visitors. So, despite the overbearing heat and contracting a bad bout of bed bug bites all over my body, I would definitely recommend going for a visit. If the giant golden Buddhas, rare white dolphins, fantastic night markets, and outdoor escalator aren’t tantalizing enough to lure you here, then maybe the thought of owning a Bruce Lee bobblehead will do the trick?
Here are more photos from my trip. Enjoy!