552 metres above sea level. The train seems to go almost straight up at points. From the top the view of the city below and the harbour is breath-taking, but the views are spectacular in every direction. An entire multi-story complex crowns the peak to cater to visitors and the main viewing section is on the roof of a large shopping mall. It’s worth making this trip twice, once during the day and a second time at night when the lights of the harbour below are stunning. Should you feel particularly energetic, the actual peak is a ten minute walk west from the viewing platform.
In contrast is a visit to the Fisherman’s Harbour in Aberdeen Water Village. Comfortable sampans are for hire and the trip takes you into the heart of the harbour between lanes of moored boats and past the enormous, elaborately decorated, Chinese floating restaurant, Jumbo. The few remaining fisherman of Hong Kong live here, rarely setting set foot on land which they believe to be bad luck.
A must is a visit to Stanley Market, a large open-air marketplace, on the south side of Hong Kong Island to shop among hundreds of stalls, souvenir shops and antique stores. It has become well known for its bargains in clothing – particularly silk garments and traditional Chinese dress – as well as toys, ornaments, luggage, souvenirs, and Chinese arts and crafts. It is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike. People are drawn here by the cheap goods that would usually fetch a much higher price elsewhere. The trip to Stanley Market also gives some insight into the natural beauty of the island. The HK Special Administrative Region is a collection of islands, the biggest being Hong Kong itself, and Lantau. The largest city of the mainland section is Kowloon just across the harbour from Hong Kong City.
Hong Kong is best visited in from October to January when the weather is clear and sunny. The summer months of June, July and August can tax your endurance with their combination of heat and rain. By September the air is sticky and humid and typhoons are a possibility.
Macau is a welcome change after the frenetic pace of its sister city. It too is a SAR (Special Administrative Region of The People’s Republic of China). It was colonised by the Portuguese and was the first European settlement in the Far East. In 1999, Portugal agreed that it revert to China under a special agreement that the Chinese Socialist system will not be practiced in Macau, and that it will have complete autonomy in all matters except foreign and defence affairs for the next fifty years. The British reached a similar agreement with respect to Hong Kong in 1997. Macau consists of three main islands, Macau itself, Taipa and Coloanne.
Unlike Hong Kong with its frenetic modernity, Macau appears in love with its past. In spite of its billing as the Las Vegas of the East (there are dozens of casinos) it is laidback and relaxed. Macau maintains a romantic atmosphere long lost in much of Hong Kong. A stroll down its narrow cobbled alleys, past grand baroque churches and through open plazas fringed by Mediterranean-style cafes is a delight. The character of the city is not purely Portuguese, but Portuguese with a lively fusion of Chinese as well. The main street of Macau is Avenida de Almeida Ribiero, more commonly known as San Ma Lo (New Street). A walking tour of the city centre best starts from Leal Senado Square just off the main street. The square is resplendent with restored colonial terraces and balustraded balconies. Following your nose will lead you past countless shops selling all sorts of things; clothing, bamboo bird cages, jade, and exquisite Chinese porcelain. In tiny corners artisans carve camphorwood chests and family shrines. Food stalls offer various delicacies. When you feel a little hungry, try a delicious Portuguese egg custard at one of the stands.
Eventually you will arrive at the magnificent Ruinas de Igreja San Paulo (Church of St. Paul) a Jesuit church built in the 17th Century. A majestic stairway leads to the façade which is all that now remains of the church. It is most impressive when floodlit at night and a centrepiece of Macau. Walking is the best way to discover Macau’s many delights.
Taipa is the second of the islands but offers little except casinos and a racetrack. Particularly charming, however, is the third island of Coloanne, a very different sort of place of woods, fields and a fishing village of small shipyards and narrow twisting lanes. It is ideal for hiking, swimming and a quiet day away from the crowds. Coloanne Island has a colourful history. It was the lair of pirates as recently as 1910, but now it dozes in the shade of Macau and Taipa.
A visit to both Macau and Hong Kong is easily done at the same time. In fact flying to Macau first is an excellent option. Hong Kong is easily accessible from Macau since there are 150 water crossings a day. Between the two, there is something for all tastes. These sister cities across the Zhujiang Kou from each other are, indeed, a double delight.
This article has been edited for Expat Go