CHINA  |  Hong Kong, China Travel Guide
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Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island, a small, spectacular mountainous island, remains at the heart of Hong Kong’s economy. It has a plethora of attractions, both manmade and natural, foremost among them the looming hulk of Victoria Peak. There is of course plenty to see within the downtown areas of Central, Admiralty, Wanchai and Causeway Bay, while to the west Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town afford a more traditional flavor. Over on the other side of the island beaches, markets and a theme park await.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak looms 1,800 feet over Hong Kong and has long been home to many of the city’s wealthiest residents. Its name is taken from the British Queen, from the time when having a house on the Peak was very much “the done thing” in order to escape the teeming heat and hustle below. Although powers have changed hands and the property market has flattened out, Victoria Peak remains an exclusive residential area and land prices are still some of the highest in the world. Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of the Hong Kong elite to ascend to the summit of the Peak and if there’s only one thing you do in Hong Kong it should probably be this. Six million visitors take to the Peak annually but, despite the crowds, the outstanding views north over Hong Kong’s forest of skyscrapers and the bustling harbor to Kowloon in the distance are unmissable. Just make sure you pick a clear(ish) day, or you might see nothing at all!

The Victoria Peak Tram

You can take a taxi or bus #15 from Exchange Square all the way to the top of the Peak, but the historic tram makes for a much more dramatic and memorable journey. The tram is actually a funicular railway and was first constructed in 1888 as commuter transport. Before the tram, residents used to ascend the Peak in sedan chairs carried by two coolies. After its construction, the tram initially had three classes – first class was reserved for government officials and Peak residents, second was for policemen and soldiers and third was for servants.

Originally steam-powered, the tram is now electric and runs up and down the mountain at seemingly impossible angles. The cost is HK$30 round-trip or HK$20 one-way for the 10-minute journey. Trams run every 10-15 minutes between 7 am and midnight. Try to get seats at the front on the righthand side for the journey up. Bus number #15C runs from the Star Ferry terminal to the bottom station, or you can take the MTR to Central and walk there in about 10 minutes. If the heat isn’t too much for you, there’s also the option of walking up the entire way, but you’ll need plenty of water and at least an hour. You’re probably better off saving your energy for the walk around the top or back down the Peak.

On Victoria Peak

Although you’ll generally find the clearest skies in the morning, my favorite time to visit is mid- to late afternoon, which allows you enough time for a walk around the circuit or up to the highest point in the warm glow of afternoon light. After that you can sit and watch the sunset before taking dinner on the terrace at Café Deco (see p. 560; reserve a table before you set out on the walk). Try to choose a clear day to ascend the Peak, but if this isn’t possible and clouds obscure the view, it’s worth sticking around for a while as you may get a breathtaking few moments of respite.

Once at the top there are two major buildings, the Peak Galleria and the Peak Tower, which contain more cafés, restaurants, shops and attractions than some small towns. Fortunately, they also offer viewing decks with incredible vistas. You don’t need to worry about taking supplies with you as there is everything from atmospheric restaurants to Burger King, McDonalds, Haagen Dazs and even a supermarket and an ATM at the top. The distinctive Peak Tower was built in 1996 and is both loved and hated for its unusual design, which has been compared to a giant wok straddling Victoria Gap. The Peak Tower’s observation decks were closed for renovation at the time of writing, but you’ll find equally jawdropping views from the platforms at the top of the Galleria, which tend to be a bit quieter. The Galleria also has viewing decks with more natural views south over to Lamma Island.

If there aren’t any views or you have kids, you could visit Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks Museum or Ripley’s Believe It or Not which has a bizarre collection of oddities, including a 20- foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower made from toothpicks! Both are found in the Peak Tower.

Last updated December 4, 2010
Posted in   China  |  Hong Kong
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