Hong Kong is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. It was a British colony succeeded by a 99-year lease until 1997 when it was transferred to China, but retained an independent administrative, financial and customs management. It is a highly developed region, one of the most important economic and commercial centers of the planet. The country’s small 1,100-square-mile area, which includes Hong Kong island, the Kowloon Peninsula and some smaller islands, live around 7.5 million people, making it one of the most densely populated on the planet. Traffic conditions are well tolerated as 90% of the population commutes with highly organized and convenient means of transport. The area is characterized by subtropical climate, with high heat and humidity in summer, frequent thunderstorms and hurricanes and mild winters.
Hong Kong’s citizens enjoy one of the highest per capita income, but the social inequalities are high. In a city built vertically, behind the shiny skyscrapers that number more than any other city in the world, the working class people lives in squeezed blocks of flats.
Respectfulness, manners, and friendliness are characteristics shaped on Hong Kong’s citizens since colonial times, without losing their identity or local cultures.
The limited area of Hong Kong extends on the homonymous island, the Kowloon Peninsula, Lantau Island and some smaller ones.
Despite its limited area, Hong Kong is not only composed of skyscrapers and dense building blocks, but 70% of land is occupied by natural environment.
Two sides of the iconic asian metropolis
This densely populated small piece of land can be explored in a few days. Α convenient bus and subway system (MTR) makes moving around easy for citizens and visitors. By choosing the bus to travel from the international airport, you have the opportunity to experience a first glimpse of the spectacular city structure with skyscrapers rising up towards the Asian sky, upon a coastline composed by the green shallow waters of the South China Sea. A complex system of roads and bridges connects the islands and suburbs with no intense traffic. From Lantau Island which hosts the airport, we head to the Kowloon district, the main urban area, built on the peninsula adjoined with mainland China. The pattern of buildings made of uniform box-flats that make up residencies and workplaces, is breathtaking. One of the suburbs in Kowloon is Mong Kok, which houses old and new residential and commercial buildings and is the most densely populated area on planet according to the Guinness book, with 340,000 inhabitants per square mile. Surprisingly it doesn’t give me the feeling of being more crowded than other Asian capitals and especially compared to the chaotic Dhaka in Bangladesh, where I was a few weeks ago. However, the heat and humidity are comparable.
Another suburb named Shim Sha Tsui, is located in the southern part of the peninsula, where you can find international brands’ stores with usually enormous prices. A Hong Kong particularity is that luxury areas are close to the poor neighbourhoods, making the contrasts substantially comparable. In a nearby area is the “Ladies’ market” and the famous “Temple Street” night market, both retaining the traditional vibe of Asian street bazaars.
On the opposite shore is Hong Kong Island with Victoria Harbor, one of the most iconic urban horizons on the planet, a spectacular composition of glass and metal. The two shores are connected by bridges and also by underwater tunnels, but the most scenic experience is the ten-minute journey with the traditional Star Ferries ships aged from half to one century or more. The fare is very cheap, even more than the other transport means, but those boats also make 60′ afternoon cruises at an unreasonably high price.
The highest point on the island is the 550m high, Victoria Peak, which is a most visited place for tourists, transferred by a stunningly steep tram ride, to enjoy the view from top. A relatively less visited but very impressive route can be reached on the island of Lantau with a cable car leading to a mountain top, where is a giant Buddha statue and Po Lin Monastery. The scenery is amazing and against the perception that Hong Kong is only occupied by skyscrapers, as 70% of its land is made up of rainforest. From the height of the cable car, is visible the bridge connecting to Macau, a 55-km-long construction wonder that consists of suspension bridges, undersea tunnels and artificial islands, holding the position of the longest open-sea fixed link on earth.
Apart from the Monastery of the Peak and the Big Buddha, there are several Buddhist temples in various parts of the territory, such as the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden with the homonymous temple. The architectural interest of the city is endless, not only in modern constructions but also in the monster buildings of the squeezed working-class apartments. One of the most famous is the Montane Mansion, in Quarry Bay area, although buildings of this dramatic image are everywhere in the city. In the slum neighbourhoods of small shops and open air markets one can come across the other side of Hong Kong, the people of labor work, those who do not enjoy the goods of this economic paradise.
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