Hong Kong's newest tourist attraction, a 25-minute cable-car ride over the rugged green hills of Lantau Island, says a lot about this former British colony. Ngong Ping 360 (www.np360.com.hk) demonstrates Hong Kong's fascination with travel and technology; the skyrail's hilltop terminus, an ersatz Chinese village, plays to local passions for eating, shopping and taking pictures. From there, it is a short walk to the Po Lin monastery's 112-foot-tall bronze statue of Buddha seated on a lotus throne, an expression of Hong Kong's fundamental Chineseness. This crazy mix of commerce and culture plus sublime modern architecture, great food, nonstop nightlife and amazing views makes Hong Kong,one of the world's biggest tourist draws.
1) FERRY THROUGH HISTORY
Make your way down the swaying gangplank and board a Star Ferry, the humble vessel that has been plying Victoria Harbor for more than a century. The upper deck (2.20 Hong Kong dollars, or about 29 cents at 7.97 Hong Kong dollars to the US dollar) has great views of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, while the lower deck (1.70 Hong Kong dollars) provides an additional glimpse of the boiler room. From the Tsim Sha Tsui terminal in Kowloon, walk past the copy watch hawkers of fake Rolexes, to the Hong Kong Museum of History (100 Chatham Road South; 852-2724-9042; www.lcsd.gov.hk/ce/museum/history). The museum is a testament to Hong Kong's determination not just to survive (see the extraordinary film scenes of typhoons, the Japanese occupation and Red Guard campaigns), but also to prosper (behold a replica of an old street lined with a pawn shop, tea house, post office, bank, grocery store and Chinese pharmacy).
2) WASHROOMS WITH A VIEW
Felix, the Philippe Starck-designed aerie atop the Peninsula Hotel (Salisbury Road; 852-2315-3188; www.hongkong.peninsula.com), is justifiably popular with tourists, with its Starck-ly white d¨¦cor and washrooms with spectacular views (especially when facing the urinals). But a hipper local crowd drinks nearby at Aqua, a bar and restaurant complex high in an office building (1 Peking Road; 852-3427-2288; www.aqua.com.hk). Snag a comfy sofa and place your Aquatini (Ketel One vodka, lychee liqueur, Chambord and gold leaves, 108 Hong Kong dollars) on a glowing blue table.
3) CHINESE CHIC
With its striking lighting and floor-to-ceiling harbor views, the restaurant Hutong bears no resemblance to those old, smelly Beijing alleys of the same name (part of the Aqua restaurant group, on the 28th floor at 1 Peking Road, one flight below Aqua; 852-3428-8342). Try the crispy de-boned lamb rib (248 Hong Kong dollars) or the soft-shell crabs in a mound of Sichuan peppers (230 Hong Kong dollars), washed down, if you are splurging, with a bottle of Australia's famed Penfolds Grange shiraz (5,480 Hong Kong dollars).
4) TOWERS OF BEER
Though there are street signs pointing to Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon, this bar-filled promenade is still hard to find. But the street's bright little lounges and clubs are worth the effort, especially if you want to order a three-liter tower of Carlsberg (278 Hong Kong dollars) at Big Tree Pub (No. 4-5; 852-2721-1686), smoke a tobacco-filled bubble pipe (100 Hong Kong dollars) at Merhaba (No. 12; 852-2367-2263) or boogie to live cover-band music at the appropriately named All Night Long (No. 9; 852-2367-9487). (Hint: take the escalator or stairs from Kimberley Road.)
5) DEPLOY YOUR CASH
Do what Hong-Kongers do: Shop. By sticking to the network of elevated walkways in the central business district, you can hit just about every luxury brand on the planet ¡ª Armani to Zegna ¡ª without letting your Jimmy Choos touch the street. But frankly, you can get this stuff elsewhere. More fun is to poke around Shanghai Tang (12 Pedder Street; 852-2525-7333; www.shanghaitang.com) for cool renditions of traditional Chinese clothing (sweaters and cheongsam dresses) or housewares (wine coasters and picture frames). Then look for bargains in mandarin-style jackets in ¡°the lanes,¡± the narrow passageways between Des Voeux Road and Queen's Road Central. Pop down into Sam Wo Handbags Company (basement of 41-47 Queen's Road Central; 852-2524-1807) for a huge selection of fashionable wallets and bags.
6) MY LITTLE DUMPLINGS
Plenty of restaurants serve dim sum for lunch, though rarely after 3 PM You can have non-greasy spring rolls with shredded chicken at the elegant Lei Garden restaurant (third floor, 1 IFC Mall; 852-2295-0238), or sample delicious vegetable dumplings at the authentically unpretentious Wang Fuh Dumpling (65 Wellington Street; 852-2121-8089). But for the best experience, take a number and wait in line at the immense City Hall Maxim's Palace (second floor, City Hall Low Block; 852-2521-1303; www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/CityHall/restaurants1.html), where the patrons are as loud as the red-and-gold d?cor. Carts are stacked with baskets of har gow (shrimp and bamboo-shoot dumplings) and char siu bao (barbequed pork buns), or buckets of fresh tofu (dishes 25 to 50 Hong Kong dollars each). In between servings, you can admire the harbor view or look for a wedding party: City Hall has a popular marriage registry.
7) ART WALK
Take the Mid-Levels Escalator, a half-mile of moving stairways that connect the skyscrapers of Central with the apartment buildings midway up Victoria Peak. Get off at Hollywood Road, Hong Kong's antiques district. For cheap souvenirs, try the open-air vendors on Cat Street, just off Hollywood Road near the historic, incense-filled Man Mo Temple. For serious Chinese antiquities, visit Lam & Company (44 Hollywood Road; 852-2543-8877, www.lamantiquities.com) and Empyrean (70 Hollywood Road; 852-2559-7338; empyrean-antiques.com). For contemporary art, go to the galleries Shoeni (27 Hollywood Road; 852-2542-3143; www.schoeni.com.hk), Plum Blossoms (1 Hollywood Road; 852-2521-2189; www.plumblossoms.com) and Hanart TZ Gallery (second floor, 5 Queen's Road; 852-2526-9019; www.hanart.com).
8) VICTORIA PEAK
Since the 1880s, the Peak Tram (www.thepeak.com.hk) has carried wide-eyed passengers from Central to Victoria Peak, 1,300 feet high in the middle of Hong Kong Island. Board at the station behind St. John's Building (33 Garden Road), and watch the buildings go by at seemingly right angles during the steep ascent (33 Hong Kong dollars round trip).
9) COLONIAL CUISINE
Before the Peak Tram was built, the Peak Lookout site was a rest stop for men carrying rich Britons in sedan chairs from sweltering Central to their cooler Peak homes. It has since been turned into a colonial-style restaurant (121 Peak Road; 852-2849-1000; www.thepeaklookout.com.hk), known as much for its views as for its food. Book a table outdoors, with a view of the southern side of the island, and start with the giant combination platter: Thai spring roll, fried soft-shell crab, salmon on Indian nan bread, Mexican chicken quesadillas, for 318 Hong Kong dollars. That will give you an idea of this charming restaurant's international menu (there are hamburgers and sushi, too). Figure about 800 Hong Kong dollars for two, with a bottle of Australian chardonnay.
10) DO THE BARS EVER CLOSE?
Order a beer at any one of Lan Kwai Fong's dozens of lively bars. You will have lots of company in Central Hong Kong's best-known bar area, as tourists, expatriates and locals meet, talk and drink more beer (from 40 Hong Kong dollars and up). Since most of the establishments open onto the sidewalk (the streets are closed to most traffic), you can easily find music and a crowd to your liking.
11) SHOPPING, PART 2
From Central, hop on a double-decker bus (No. 6, 6X or 66) to the former fishing village of Stanley (about 8 Hong Kong dollars one way). The ride will take you from the commercial district, over the hills (or through a tunnel), to the South Side, a residential area with splendid beaches, Riviera-style corniches and wide-open views of the South China Sea. At the end of the line, in Stanley Market, you'll find an easy-to-navigate warren of shops, many offering what appear to be the same pashmina scarves, silk ties and paintings of Hong Kong's harbor. But a closer look will reveal great shopping: the stores on Old Stanley Street for childrens' clothes, Tong's for table linens (55-57 Stanley Street; 852-2813-0337) and Sun & Moon for sportswear (18 A-B, Stanley Main Street; 852-2813-2723). Don't miss two of the nonshopping sights in Stanley: the Murray Building, a colonial treasure that was dismantled on the other side of the island and rebuilt here in 2000, and the Tin Hau temple, built in 1767 and dedicated to the deity who protects seafarers.
(New York Times April 11, 2007)