Hong Kong tourism brochure offers number of walking itineraries

HONG KONG -- From the bustling streets of Central to the green open spaces of the New Territories, one of the best ways to explore Hong Kong's mix of old and new is on foot.

For visitors who want an up-close look at daily life in the city, the Hong Kong Tourism Board publishes a Hong Kong Walks brochure with several suggested walking tours.

The walks detailed in the brochure lead visitors through some of Hong Kong's well-known and not-so-well-known areas: the converging cultures of the Central and Western districts; the bustling markets of Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok; the island retreat of Cheung Chau; the wild corners of Lamma Island; the picturesque Peak to Pokfulam walk, and the serene Tai Tam Reservoirs which lie in the city's shadow.

This year's brochure contains two new walking tours: the Sha Tin Walk and the Back Streets of Central by the Mid-Levels Escalator.

The Sha Tin Walk takes participants into an area of the New Territories originally known as Lek Yuen, or "the source of clear water," a reference to the Sing Mun River.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), many farmers settled here, and eventually the area became the site of more than 50 villages, the most famous of which was named Sha Tin.

When the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898, a surveyor asked a villager the name of the area and was told it was called Sha Tin. Since then, the name has been used to describe the entire Lek Yuen area.

In 1970, the government began building satellite towns in the New Territories to provide housing for the fast-growing population of Hong Kong.

Sha Tin was the first new town developed, and much of it was built on land reclaimed from the sea. It is now home to about 584,000 people, and although indisputably modern, it also contains many sites of historical interest.

The walking tour leads participants to temples; to the former home of a wealthy 19th century resident; to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which contains 12 galleries of permanent and temporary exhibitions; to lush Sha Tin Park; past Sha Tin Town Hall, home to many free cultural performances; to the New Town Plaza for shopping, recreation and entertainment, and for those with energy to spare, up the 400 steps to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, home to 12,800 Buddha statues.

The Back Streets of Central by the Mid-Levels Escalator is quite a different kind of "walk." The "world's longest covered, outdoor people mover" is part commuter escalator, part sightseeing ride.

These elevated escalators, moving walkways and the stairs that link them, snake through some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

They also provide leisurely views of busy markets, lively neighborhoods, antiques shops, old temples, cobbled streets and the city's trendy bars and cafes.

Opened in 1994, the Mid-Levels Escalator is 2,624 feet in length and links Central's office district to the Mid-Levels' apartments.

It takes about 20 minutes to travel from one end of the escalator to the other, but with 29 entry and exit points along the route that enable passengers to hop on and off as they please, the trip usually takes much longer.

The escalator runs downhill from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and uphill from 10:20 a.m. until midnight.

Throughout the Mid-Level district, visitors can shop for a variety of goods -- from clothing and antiques to buttons and freshly baked egg tarts at 32 Lyndhurst Terrace. The latter was a favorite of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten.

When a more substantial meal is in order, many of the cuisines of the world can be found in the chic area known as SoHo (South of Hollywood Road).

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