Lee Cobaj spends a day exploring Hong Kong’s natural and architectural charms
It’s the Hong Kong money shot; a forest of skyscrapers spilling down lush green slopes onto a shimmering waterfront. On the other side of the harbour lies the Kowloon Peninsula, the 108-storey International Commerce Centre standing sentry at its tip. Today, the skies are so fine, so bright and so clear, we can see all the way to the jagged mountains of the New Territories and the fanning Tsing Ma Bridge, linking Hong Kong to Lantau Island and the airport. It’s an astonishing sight, perfectly capturing Hong Kong’s energy and dynamism in a single dramatic shot. But what’s even more astonishing is that we have this amazing view all to ourselves.
Dominating the island with its 1,811ft rise, Victoria Peak might be one of Hong Kong’s most visited attractions — millions of people glide up to the summit on the 130-year-old Peak Tram funicular every year, yet here, just a five minute walk from the top, it’s utterly serene. Rather than hop on the tram back down to town, my father and I (former and current residents) have taken one of Hong Kong’s many marvellous hiking trails, this one winding from Victoria Peak to the high-rises and street markets of Wan Chai.
We start our 90-minute traverse by descending onto spindly Findlay Path, tucked away on the eastern end of the Peak Tower. It snakes steeply downwards towards Barker Road and its prim Victorian tram station. When these quiet paths were originally laid, it was for coolies to haul Brits up to their summer homes in sedan chairs — outrageously, from 1904 to 1947, Chinese and non-Europeans were barred from living on the Peak. Now, it’s home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate; Teslas, Aston Martins and Bugatti Veyrons abound, and entry into its exclusive confines is reserved for the 1%.
From the station (where you can get super snaps of the Peak Tram framed against the cityscape), we veer right and carry on along leafy Barker Road, where Jack Ma, founder of Ali Baba, the world’s biggest online shopping site, has a home. It’s reputed to have cost him HK$1.5bn — about £150m — a record recently broken by a £201m sale in the neighbourhood. It’s the Hong Kong equivalent of strolling through Beverly Hills. As we amble downhill, amid jaw-dropping city views, we catch glimpses of a neoclassical facade, a minimalist rooftop terrace and rambling gardens — owning a lawn mower is an even bigger status symbol than owning a Ferrari in Hong Kong. A cheerful dog-walker stops to chat as she passes with her beagle pup, which I’m pretty sure is wearing a real Louis Vuitton gold-studded collar. Her bodyguard, I assume, a beefy man wearing shades and a black bomber jacket, shadows her while we speak.
As we round the next corner, taking in views of the sinewy harbour and the old Kai Tak Airport, the 19th-century Victoria Hospital Maternity Ward is our signal to turn left and drop down onto the Central Green Trail, a near vertical country path plummeting for a mile or so into town. From brilliant blue skies, we’re plunged into cool, thick clumps of bamboo, waves of ivy and a shroud of ficus and camphor trees, a reminder that glitzy Hong Kong is also a forested subtropical island. Butterflies dance in the dappled light, there’s nothing but the sound of birdsong in the air, and every now and then the syringe-like Bank of China building pricks through the greenery.
Before long, the burr and beeps of traffic herald our arrival on May Road, where we’re back at eye-level with fancy city-centre apartment blocks. From here, we head eastwards to Bowen Road, which segues into Bowen Drive, a shady thoroughfare populated mainly by joggers and elderly power walkers. The yellow top of the circular 64-storey Hopewell Centre acts as a beacon leading us into Wan Chai and 15 minutes later we’re back in the thick of it, surrounded by thousands of busy locals, passing Hung Shing Temple, built in 1847, and fancy homewares stores selling silk cushions, candles and elegant vases.
Having worked up an appetite and some very wobbly thighs, we end our little tour on Tin Lok Lane at the wonderful Dim Dim Sum feasting on prawn dumpling, beef and orange peel meatballs and syrupy ma lai gao cake. Trams, trails, views, history, hiking, architecture, shopping and dim sum — Hong Kong had delivered in spades, and it was barely even lunchtime. Just think what you could do with a whole week in this ridiculously exciting city.