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Hong Kong - Hong Kong SAR, PRC
Nearly seven million people are crammed into the mere 1,100 square kilometers that make up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Not just a city of skyscrapers, there is also lush countryside and small rural communities.
Hong Kong Island
Victoria Peak is the highest point on the island with world-famous views north over the city as well as over the greener southern slopes down to the South China Sea. Clinging onto the northern slopes of the Peak are the prestigious Mid-levels, full of tightly packed, towering blocks of flats. The Mid-levels' steep slopes are best negotiated using the Peak Tram or the Mid-levels Escalator.
Colonial history and modern architecture vie for attention in Central, the city's vibrant financial hub. At the end of the business day, offices empty as the multitude of international eateries and bars in Lan Kwai Fong and Soho fill with revelers. Almost an extension of Central, Admiralty plays host to the glitzy Pacific Place shopping and hotel complex. For a little rest, Hong Kong Park is a must.
The old districts of Western and Sheung Wan, with Des Voeux Road West and Western Market in their midst, portray a more traditional scene with shops selling anything and everything Chinese.
Wanchai is busy, even after the demise of Suzie Wong. The restaurant and club scene centers around Lockhart Road. The Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts caters to more cerebral entertainment while the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, the site of the 1997 handover ceremony of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, sees more trade fairs and rock concerts.
Happy Valley is home to the Happy Valley Racecourse, with the Queen Elizabeth Stadium nearby. Just across Leighton Hill there is the Hong Kong Stadium, venue of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and other sporting events. Causeway Bay is where Hong Kongers go to shop. Beyond the shopping malls there is Victoria Park, the Tin Hau Temple, and the daily boom of the Noon Day Gun. Further along the coast is the Eastern District. Although largely residential, it holds a few surprises.
The south side of Hong Kong Island is a complete contrast to the concrete jungle of the northern shores. Country parks, fishing villages, markets and beaches offer an altogether more relaxed atmosphere.
Kowloon is flanked to the north by verdant hills forming nine peaks, hence its name, which literally means "nine dragons". At the very tip of the Kowloon peninsula lies Tsim Sha Tsui, a tourist magnet with Nathan Road as its focal point. Running between the Clock Tower and Tsim Sha Tsui East is the Waterfront Promenade, with views of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island that are every photographer's dream.
Yaumatei's rural heritage is still evident in its name, which means "place of sesame plants." Although sesame plants are scarce here these days, Yaumatei with its old Tin Hau Temple and Jade Market, is still steeped in tradition. Famous for being one of the world's most densely populated urban areas, Mongkok is also the place for markets of all sorts. The streets are packed with locals and tourists alike, buying anything from clothes and computer goods to flowers and birds.
Beyond these districts Kowloon becomes more residential. Noteworthy are the Kowloon Walled City, the Festival Walk mega-shopping complex, the similarly mega Wong Tai Sin Temple and the fishing village at Lei Yue Mun.
Although the New Territories actually account for almost 3/4 of the Hong Kong SAR region, only about a third of the population lives here, mainly in high-rise new-towns.
Once a small village famous for incense cultivation, Shatin is now a prime example of such a new-town. Aside from rather dull architecture, Shatin is home to the Shatin Racecourse. The Tsang Tai Uk walled village, Che Kung Temple and Man Fat Monastery also ensure that Shatin is far from becoming a cultural desert. Lion Rock provides panoramic views over both Shatin and Kowloon, while Amah Rock is a popular picnicking spot. Tai Po still has a thriving market area with the much-loved Man Mo Temple in its midst. Not far away in Lam Tsuen is the Wishing Tree, its branches heavy with wishes written on colorful paper. Fanling is where the last governor of Hong Kong had his country residence and also where the last tiger of Hong Kong was sighted in the 1950s. Still there is the Fung Ying Sin Koon. Also in the area are the ancestral halls of Tang Chung Ling and Liu Man Shek Tong, as well as the Lok Ma Chau Lookout Point with its views across into mainland China.
Yuen Long is close to the Tai Fu Tai Mansion, the walled villages of Kat Hing Wai and Shui Tau, and the Mai Po Marshes. At the foot of Tai Mo Shan lies Tsuen Wan, the springboard to the western New Territories.
More than 200 outlying islands belong to the Hong Kong SAR, but only a small number are inhabited. Amongst the forested hills and hiking trails of Lantau, the territory's biggest island, there is the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery. Lamma, Hong Kong's third largest island, is home to a large western population. The two main villages are filled with cafes and seafood restaurants. Cheung Chau still has a lively Chinese community with many traditions. Trails cover the island and seafood restaurants line the pier. Peng Chau is small and peaceful. Dining at one of the Western-style open-air restaurants with views over to Lantau is very popular, especially among tourists.