Monthly Archives: April 2016

When you visit in Hong Kong

Jostle elbows with the breakfast crowd to secure a seat at a local cha chaan teng for a hearty early morning tea-set meal. These ubiquitous Hong Kong diners – translated literally as “tea restaurants” – are a staple of local dining culture and can be found on every block of every district in this bustling city. Items on the menu such as French toast, macaroni and ham, and scrambled eggs hardly sound like a Chinese specialty, but these Western dishes have a distinctly Asian flair to them that has been satisfying local palates since cha chaan teng culture exploded onto the scene in the 1950s. Don’t leave without trying lai cha, or Hong Kong-style milk tea, which mixes super-strength black tea with evaporated milk and sugar in a smooth, creamy combination. These cheap and somewhat cheerful eateries – the mood often depends on your waiter’s – typically have an English menu available. If not, take a scan around the room and you’ll quickly find out which sets are the most popular.

Spend the morning strolling through Sheung Wan

Art galleries, curios, traditional medicine shops and temples – this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood fuses the old with the new, never failing to provide an unexpected surprise around the corner. Start along the section of Des Voeux road known as Dried Seafood Street for a peek into traditional stores and stalls selling edible and medicinal ingredients such as “wind-dried sausage,” salted fish, blackened century eggs, flattened dried duck and fat choy – a stringy black moss that looks suspiciously like hair and is popular choice during the Chinese New Year. Head on up towards Upper Lascar Row, known as Cat Street, with its antique shops and stalls selling bric-a-brac and second hand items. A few steps away you’ll find the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. Dating back to 1847, this historic monument transports you to another place and time altogether with its smoky incense coils and elaborate altars.

Up and away on the world’s longest escalator, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

Taxis on a crowded street in Sheung Wan. Photo by Bevis Chin/Flickr.

From there, make your way over to the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, famously known for being the longest outdoor escalator in the world. Linking the city’s financial hub, Central, with the posh residential neighborhood along the mountainside, this extensive covered walkway will take you up and over narrow streets on a tour of restaurants, bars and shops in the area. Continue all the way to the top until you reach Jamia Mosque, the city’s oldest mosque dating back to 1890. Directly opposite you’ll spy the inconspicuous sign for Rednaxela Terrace, a misprint of Alexander Terrace, due to some kind of transcription error by a sleepy colonial era clerk.

Have a dim sum lunch, like a local

The Mid-Levels escalator takes pedestrians from the harbor up the mountainside. Photo by liangjinjian/Flickr.

No trip to the city would be complete without sampling traditional yum cha or dim sum, so make a beeline for Tim Ho Wan at IFC Mall in Central – one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Fast, delicious and busy, try to go outside of standard lunch and dinner hours to avoid the long queue.

Take in the sensational skyline from the Peak

Har gau, shrimp, is a traditional dim sum flavor.

At this point, you should now be too full to walk. Good! You did it in true Hong Kong style. Next, hop onto the Peak Tram and take in the stunning harbor views as this funny little funicular winds its way up the impossibly steep mountainside. The breathtaking skyline view from the Peak never fails to impress, but a stroll around the Lugard Road and Harlech Road circuit offers just as many stunning vantage points and only half the tourists. For a bit of an adventure through the lush tropical vegetation, opt for the hike back down the hillside along the paved Old Peak Road.

The Hong Kong Peak Tram has been climbing Victoria Peak since 1888.
Experience the Fragrant Harbour from the Star Ferry

For more than 120 years the Star Ferry has been shuttling commuters back and forth between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and still remains the most affordable way to cross the harbor. The best seats on these pretty green and white, open-air ferries can be found along the sides of the top deck, affording spectacular panoramic views of towering skyscrapers. The crossing only takes about 10 minutes, but, with tickets costing only HK$2.5, visitors can ride it back and forth a few times if they really can’t get enough of the harbor.

Keep it low key and local with a dai pai dong dinner

The Star Ferry has been crossing Victoria Harbour since 1888, like the Peak Tram.

Although only two dozen officially licensed dai pai dong still exist in the city, the word is now used more generically to mean open-air food stalls characterized by their folding tables, questionable cleanliness and roadside ambiance. Some have even moved indoors into cooked food centers found in every district, offering the luxuries of air-con and potentially improved hygiene. Tuck into seafood and Tsing Tao beers at one of the lively restaurants along theTemple Street Night Market in Jordan.

Created in Antarctica

In a landmark deal reached Friday, 24 countries helped establish the largest marine reserve in the world, located in Antarctica.

At 600,000 square miles of ocean—almost the size of Alaska—this enormous reserve will completely ban commercial fishing, and only 28 percent of the reserve will be used for research, the New York Times reported.

Beginning Dec. 1, 2017, the reserve will remain a conservation area for the next 35 years in what is being hailed as a hard-won victory for environmentalists and animal conservationists. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an intergovernmental body, made the decision unanimously.

“This is a major step in marine conservation not just for the Antarctic but internationally,” Evan Bloom, head of the U.S. delegation, told the Times.

The sanctuary is decades in the making as both China and Russia long lobbied against the idea, because both countries had interests in fishing and deep-sea mining. But after China agreed to the project last year and Russia came around just this week, the reserve was ready to launch.

The refuge is situated in the Ross Sea, a body of water often referred to as “the Last Ocean” for its remote location and lack of human contact. With water chockfull of nutrients, krill and plankton, the Ross Sea abounds with seals, penguins, whales and fish, according to National Geographic.

“This is important not just for the incredible diversity of life that it will protect, but also for the contribution it makes to building the resilience of the world’s ocean in the face of climate change,” Chris Johnson, WWF-Australia’s ocean science manager, told the Guardian.

Best Temples In Hong Kong

Ditch the shopping malls and skyscrapers and delve into the city’s rich cultural heritage with a visit to one of Hong Kong’s top five temples. Nowhere is better to learn all there is to know about the hopes, dreams, fears and superstitions of this city’s industrious urbanites – especially true during Chinese New Year and important lunar calendar festival dates. While some places of worship have been given a glossy new makeover, many of Hong Kong’s oldest temples have been serving as important community gathering points for hundreds of years.

5. Lam Tsuen Tin Hau Temple and Wishing Trees

This quaint collection of villages in Tai Po has been drawing visitors to its Tin Hau Temple and two wishing trees for hundreds of years. Traditionally, festival goers would write their wishes on joss paper and tie it to an orange, which was then tossed up towards one of the banyan tree’s highest boughs – the higher the branch the better the odds of your wish coming true! As the practice became more popular, authorities stepped in to help preserve the trees and visitors are now encouraged to tie wishes to wooden racks nearby instead. Steps away you’ll find a small Tin Hau temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, which can typically be found in any ancient fishing community in Hong Kong or along the Chinese coastline. Sit down with a fortune teller here if you want to find out about that wish.

4. Man Mo Temple

Stepping into the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road is like entering another world, a realm inhabited by the venerable deities of Man (God of Literature) and Mo (God of War) who are worshiped here. Rays of sunlight cut through the rising smoke of giant incense coils hanging low from the ceiling and down onto the altars of the 10 judges of the underworld. Make sure to take in all the details – the lines of descending green Shekwan roof tiles represent bamboo and longevity, while the antique sedan chairs inside were used to carry statues of the gods during festival processions.

3. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

Although calling itself a monastery, the name is a bit of a misnomer as there are no resident monks at this eclectic Sha Tin temple. Follow the steep winding path up the hillside, flanked by 500 life-sized Arhand statues to reach the main complex and its 9-story pagoda. Here you’ll supposedly find more than 13,000 Buddha statues – but at this point, who’s counting? – and a few bodhisattvas on horseback for good measure. The main attraction, however, is the preserved body of Yuet Kai, the monastery’s supremely devout founder. Embalmed in lacquer, plastered with gold leaf and dressed in robes, the upright body currently sits on display in a glass case inside the main monastery building.

2. Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

A look inside the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha TIn. Photo by by Justin Gaurav Murgai/Flickr.

At Diamond Hill, only one subway stop away from the Wong Tai Sin temple, you’ll find the peaceful and serene Chi Lin Nunnery. In stark contrast to its colorful and brash Taoist neighbor, the Buddhist nunnery exudes calm and tranquility with smooth stone balustrades, lotus ponds and stunning wooden architecture. Inspired by Japanese and Tang Dynasty temples, the elegant series of halls and walkways were constructed without the use of nails, using a complex design of counterweights and dowels. Across the road, the Nan Lian Garden is a scenic oasis amid towering high-rise apartments looming up along the hillside. A relaxing stroll past ancient bonsai trees, koi ponds and meticulously landscaped gardens is the perfect antidote for those needing some time out from the hustle and bustle of the city.

1. Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple

 With its bold, red pillars and ornamental latticework, Wong Tai Sin displays all the qualities of the archetypal Taoist Chinese temple. Colorful and noisy, worshipers come year round to pray for good fortune and divine guidance from the “Great Immortal Wong.” Crowds flock here during the Chinese New Year to offer incense, make wishes and visit fortune tellers in hopes of an auspicious and prosperous year to come. Visiting the temple during this time may be interesting from a cultural perspective, but it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Throngs of people push their way through the winding temple complex in a cloud of smoky incense towards the main altar and gather around stalls selling charms and amulets of all shapes and sizes. It is certainly a once in a lifetime experience, but alternatively, an early morning weekday visit will serve just fine.