There aren’t many cities that bridge entire worlds, but Hong Kong is one of them—a densely populated portal that connects Western and Eastern cultures. These days, its frenzy of growth can barely keep up with the people who want to inhabit, and visit, this glittering city—which is by turns innovative and ancient, intriguingly modern yet enduringly mystical.
The city’s topography is dramatically steep—so vertical that building on Hong Kong’s slopes isn’t practical. So that means skyscrapers: Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest concentrations of them. And then there’s the widening of the city—the expansion of Hong Kong’s boundaries into Victoria Harbor (shown here) through ambitious land reclamation projects.
The people, seven million of them, are seemingly everywhere, thronging the streets, filling the double-decker buses, and browsing the interconnecting luxury malls of the city’s Central district.
In fact, with all this growth, the city has become a modern art gallery—one need only glance upward for a free architectural show. Here, the Lippo Centre building shows off its collection of obtruding windows, which architect Paul Rudolf designed to counter the severity of the typical smooth-sided skyscraper.
One thing to know about Hong Kong: weekend brunch is taken very seriously, as is eating out in general. For the Hong Kong visitor, tapping into the dining scene is as easy as staying at one of the city’s luxury hotels, such as the legendary Peninsula Hong Kong, shown here. The hotel’s afternoon tea is an institution that draws queues to its classic setting (hotel guests don’t have to wait).
In fact, the Peninsula is considered to be the city’s first luxury hotel, and it affords a peerless sense of arrival, from its to-die-for Kowloon-waterfront views to the gorgeously tiled, Roman-style swimming pool.
But Hong Kong also reveals something more spiritual to me: a palpable interest in finding balance and peace of mind amid the spell of glamorous chaos. I see the quest for serenity in the herb shops that line Kowloon’s Nathan Road and Wing Lok Street, and in the 88 postures of tai chi that are practiced in the city’s parks—and taught at premium hotels by masters such as William Ng, shown here.
A visit to the Tian Tan Buddha at the top of Lantau Island has a similar effect on me. After slowly circling this giant Buddha statue on the peak of Muyu Mountain, I feel my pulse slow—as if he’s about to offer me the secret of serenity.
The Tian Tan Buddha is part of Po Lin (“Precious Lotus”) Monastery, which was initially established by three monks in 1906.
An oasis of Buddhist spiritual tradition, the monastery is reachable by a cable car once you get to Lantau Island (located a few miles west from Hong Kong Island). The monastery includes several halls, including the Da Xiong Bao Dian (the Great Hall of Treasure), where you’ll find Buddha shrines—Sakyamuni, Dipamkarara, and Maitreya.
WHERE TO STAY
The Peninsula Hong Kong: Take tai chi classes adjacent to the gorgeously tiled, Roman-style swimming pool.
The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong: It’s so ornate, and so improbably high, it elicits a sense of awe from even the most experienced luxury travelers.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong: Its position in the middle of the Central district can’t be beat, with great access to shopping.
Article written by Drew Limsky, Photos by Justin Guariglia