HONG KONG -- Rickshaws here are long gone, but perceptions take
longer to change.
Visitors, for example, might view Hong Kong as a city of
skyscrapers and shopping.
This is the familiar perception of Hong Kong -- a place where
you buy a custom-tailored suit, shop 'til you drop at quaint
outdoor markets or glitzy indoor malls, and gaze at ubiquitous
skyscrapers with clothing hung out to dry because Chinese think the
practice brings good luck.
Hong Kong also is known for Aberdeen Bay, which boasts the world's
largest floating restaurant and an area where people still live on
sampans (flat-bottomed skiffs), or Victoria Peak, best known for
its view of the sparkling harbor.
In July 1997, the British handed this teeming and tightly packed
area, approaching a population of 7 million, back to China. Since
then, after an exodus by some westerners, it's been business as
Hong Kong welcomed 10.7 million visitors in 1999, an 11.5%
increase compared with 1998, according to the Hong Kong Tourist
Association. Visitors from the U.S. numbered 802,705, an increase
The 1999 figures represent the highest number since the record
11.7 million visitors recorded in 1996, the association said.
Most visitors make their way to the typical tourist stops, but
there are other lesser-known sites to consider.
Hong Kong's oldest and most famous temple, for example, is Man
Mo, dating to 1847. It was the backdrop for the 1960 film, "The
World of Suzie Wong," starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan.
But travelers, facing a sea of choices among historical places
of worship, might want to know about the more out-of-the-way Wong
Tai Sin Temple on the Kowloon Peninsula, not far from the Central
District of Hong Kong.
For local residents, it's the most popular temple. Three million
people per year visit the site, in large part because word of mouth
says it's the place most likely to answer prayers.
Most worshippers are seeking information about their future.
Many people light sticks and make offerings of oranges.
In an enclosed area beneath the temple, there are more than 100
fortune-tellers. A sign tells visitors who among them speaks
English. Be aware that most fortune-tellers charge by the
Locals highly recommended teller No. 82, a Mrs. Lam (she spends
much of her time in Canada).
Also on the Kowloon Peninsula is the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden,
founded in 1997. It's a wonderful walk with different courtyards
flanked on one side by trees and on the other by more than 70 bird
Birds are popular pets among the Chinese; each bird's value
depends on its singing ability and its plumage.
The garden is a gathering place, mostly for retired Chinese who
show off their favorite caged birds, some of which cost thousands
A huge variety of birds are on sale here, as well as everything
related to birds' care and feeding, including bags of live
grasshoppers and worms.
From here, you can smell the fragrant Flower Market, which is
next door. Specialty shops and sidewalk displays showcase exotic
blooms and plants from all over the world. Baskets, plant hangers
and dried flowers are for sale.
Not far from the flowers is the Gold Fish market at Tung Choi
Street. The Chinese believe fish bring good luck and peace; here
you find hundreds of varieties of iridescent tropical fish and
various aquarium supplies.
Visitors might also want to visit sparsely populated Lantau
Island before it gets busy; it is the site of the proposed new
Lantau, Hong Kong's largest island, is lush, with mountains that
contain remote and isolated beaches, small villages, temples and
monasteries. It is best known for its giant outdoor Buddha and
vegetarian meals served at the Po Lin Monastery.
Tourists with shopping on their minds are visiting Lantau more
often these days, and the island's Temple Street Market offers the
exotic flavors found in Hong Kong.
(The market used to be called Men's Street because it only sold
The area, popular with locals, is particularly crowded at
Named for the street where it's located, Temple Street has
countless stalls offering inexpensive clothing, food, jewelry and
But it has much more than shopping. If you stick your head into
some of the doorways, you'll find various forms of entertainment,
even rock 'n' roll. There are palm readers and singers at the
northern end of the market.
Musicians play in alleyways where groups set up their own
stages. And visitors will hear the clack of counters as locals play
Roadside food stalls offer clams, shrimp, mussels and crab. They
are also good for a bowl of snake soup, if tourists are so
For additional information, visit the Hong Kong Tourist
Association's Web site at www.hkta.org or use the fax-on-demand service at (888)
567-HKTA. For brochures, call (800) 282-HKTA.