- A melding of Eastern tradition and Western modernity that creates an intense buzz of nonstop, neon-fueled activity
- Some of the world's best hotels, along with famous shops for clothes and antiques
- British colonial architecture, Chinese temples and glass-encased high rises, all surrounded by water and lush peaks.
Is it China or not? Despite the communist flag fluttering overhead, that's not an easy question to answer. Sure, Hong Kong is officially a Special Administrative Region for the motherland, but Mao is little more than a ghostly outline; westernization is so entrenched that it's part of the city's DNA. Indeed, this melding of East and West is one factor that catapulted Hong Kong to world prominence in the first place (immense wealth and a fast pace didn't hurt either). Today, it's a city where Alain Ducasse's SPOON happily coexists with Cantonese hot spot Yan Toh Heen in the InterContinental Hotel, and where gorgeous colonial-era buildings quickly melt into neon-lined streets and back-alley temples. Hong Kong loves its contradictions and its independence — and it shows.
To be seen
- Central District. Hong Kong's business and financial nerve center is built up with highrise hotels, designer shops and architectural stars like I.M. Pei's Bank of China Tower. Among the giant monoliths, you'll find Lan Kwai Fong, a hot area for nightlife.
- Tsim Sha Tsui. In this heavily trafficked Kowloon neighborhood, posh shops line famous Nathan Road, hotels like the fabled Peninsula stand proud, and restaurants operate in a flurry of activity. It may be the tourist area, but it's still worth a visit.
- SoHo. Eating and drinking are the stars of Hong Kong's SoHo (as in South of Hollywood Road). Hip bars, quaint restaurants and cutting-edge cafes blanket the area, along with requisite galleries and shops.
- Causeway Bay. Boutiques line this busy shopping area, but you'll mostly want to come to explore Victoria Park, on the area's eastern perimeter.
- Stanley. Skip the discount markets on the quiet south side of Hong Kong Island and head to the waterfront, where the number of fine restaurants is exploding.
For the VIP
- Airport transfers in a car are so pedestrian. Instead, fly from the airport in the Peninsula Hong Kong's helicopter, which choppers you — of course — to the hotel's rooftop.
- You'll need a concierge to book you a hard-to-get reservation at the famous Szechuan restaurant Da Ping Huo on Hollywood Road. Then, find a driver who knows where it is -- there's no sign.
- Get a custom-made suit from legendary Hong Kong tailor A-Man Hing Cheong, on property at the Mandarin Oriental. Or get in line behind the likes of Bill Clinton, David Bowie and Prince Charles for your fitting at Sam's Tailor.
Symphony of Lights. The laser light show that's bounced off of 33 buildings at 8 p.m. every night is only worthwhile as a visual accessory to a drink at a rooftop venue.
Western District. Hollywood Road's antique shops rightly get plenty of play, but don't get bogged down there. The narrow streets off the tourist track abound in souklike shops selling Chinese herbs and medicines, along with other curiosities unique to Hong Kong.
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. Passionate about birds, the Chinese come here to buy and sell songbirds, making for an amusingly odd experience. These creatures travel in handmade cages, are pampered with live crickets and are even taken out for walks. It's Hong Kong at its eccentric best.
When to go
October through December. Summers can be hot and rainy, though it's still a good time. Hong Kong during Chinese New Year is overly crowded.