TRAVEL An authentic tourist in Hong Kong
Neon signs, quiet tea houses and an overload of dim sum - Louisa Wilkins travels to this bustling Chinese city-state and discovers it is everything she imagined and more
Despite never having been there before, Hong Kong felt strangely familiar. It's like Dubai, but in Asia. Skyrises, clean streets, snazzy malls filled with Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes. Lots of shopping, lots of cool restaurants and bars. Except instead of shwarmas and homous, it was noodles and dim sum. And instead of beautiful mosques, there were interesting temples to look around. And instead of the creek with dhows and abras, there is Victoria Harbour with ferries and cargo ships. For someone coming from the UAE - and specifically from Dubai - Hong Kong feels a bit like a home away from home, making it an easy step into the Asian experience.
Channeling your inner tourist
When in a new place for the first time, it's pretty hard not to need a map, or a tourist guide or, at the very least, a Lonely Planet to help you make the most of your trip. Yes, it is cool to go off the ‘beaten track' and have some authentic experiences, but is there anything wrong with wanting to see the main attractions, too? After all, would you go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower?
Hong Kong has the perfect balance of tourist attractions and authentic experiences, and no visit to this electric city is complete without sampling a bit of both. So, hush down your cool ‘been-there-done-that' traveller side and make space in your itinerary for some seriously touristy fun. Luckily, one of the great things about Hong Kong is that it is so neatly compact (it's bigger than Umm Al Quwain, but smaller than Fujairah), which means it really is possible to do pretty much everything - touristy and authentic - in a very short space of time.
Be a tourist: The Chinese are famous for their love for tea, and the Hong Kongese are no different. Tea, in various forms, is sold everywhere and is very much a part of the culture. Lok Cha Tea Shop in Shatin offers a Chinese Tea Appreciation Class with a certified tea expert, where you can sample different types of tea - such as white tea, black tea, green tea, and slightly green tea - and learn about the customs and traditions surrounding how to make and serve tea. It's an interesting little session and there is the option to buy tea and tea paraphernalia afterwards. Be warned, tea enthusiasm is no laughing matter here. They put us Brits, with our TV ads of tea-drinking chimps, to shame.
Go authentic: For a true Hong Kong brew, try a cup of ‘milk tea', which is black tea made with condensed milk - strong, creamy and very sweet, and sold for pittance at streetside cafes and restaurants.
Visit a theme park
Be a tourist: In the top spot here is Hong Kong Disneyland, which was built and designed with feng shui principles in mind. Prices start at Dh190 for adults, or Dh135 for children aged three to 11, for a one-day pass. Visit park.hongkongdisneyland.com for details.
Go authentic: People who live in Hong Kong prefer home-grown brand Ocean Park, which is in the process of doubling its repertoire of attractions. One of the new areas, called the Rainforest, will incorporate a water ride and a walk-through rainforest exhibit, depicting an Amazonian adventure. Tickets start at DhXXX XXXX. Visit oceanpark.com.hk for details.
Check out the view
Be a tourist: Hong Kong's International Commerce Centre is the fourth highest building in the world and has an onservation deck on its 100th floor, offering fabulous 360-degree views. Their audio-guides are packed full of information about what's on offer in different areas of Hong Kong, so this is a good place to go on your first day. For details, visit www.sky100.com.hk
Go authentic: OK, so it is really touristy, but the fact that there has been a tram taking people up to the top of The Peak since the 1950s means it's authentic, too. Now, however, The Peak is adorned with a very modern-looking, glass and metal angular building housing shops, restaurants, arcades and Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. For more, visit www.thepeak.com.hk
Be a tourist: Like other Asian destinations, Hong Kong has plenty of markets full of things you never knew you wanted. Stanley market has Chinese imports, such as fake sunglasses, ‘leather' goods and electronic games. Cat Street market has strange antique items, like old pocketwatches and Buddha statues. Temple Street Night market has everything from Jackie Chan playing cards and novelty lighters to clothes and bags.
Go authentic: Like Dubai-ites, the Hong Kongese like to shop. And when they shop, they shop hard. Harbour City mall (harbourcity.com.hk) seems to be one of the best with more than 450 shops, more than 50 restaurants and two cinemas. Not only do they have a lot of the brands we have in the UAE, from Bauhaus to Balenciaga, but they also have plenty of brands we don't have here. And if you're more into music than clothes, the music stores will be a treasure-trove of delights where you can pick up gems not sold in the UAE.
Check out the view
Be a tourist Hong Kong's International Commerce Centre is the fourth highest building in the world and has an observation deck on its 100th floor, offering fabulous 360° views. Their audio-guides are packed full of information about what's on offer in different areas of Hong Kong, so this is a good place to go on your first day. For details, visit www.sky100.com.hk
OK, so it is really touristy, but the fact that there has been a tram taking people up to the top of The Peak since the 1950s means it's authentic, too. Now, however, The Peak is adorned with a very modern-looking, glass and metal angular building housing shops, restaurants, arcades and Madame Tussauds Hong Kong. For more, visit www.thepeak.com.hk