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Unexpected Hong Kong: 6 Surprising Highlights

Published February 4th, 2016

Hong Kong is the Manhattan of Asia. There's the similarity of a high-rise-packed skyline, sure, but the parallels run much deeper.

Diverse cultural pockets, inner-city precincts bursting with personality, highlights in the most unexpected places and the food, oh the food...

If you've ever fallen in love with big cities like New York, Tokyo and Berlin, your next date should be with Hong Kong, but it won't be just any fleeting fancy.

You can rightly expect to dig your chopsticks into some incredible dishes and give your plastic a workout on Sneaker Street, but here are half a dozen things about Hong Kong that might surprise you.

1. Old Hong Kong is alive and well

 It's rare to see Colonial-era architecture like that of The Pawn (Image: Ashton Rigg)

It's been less than two decades since Hong Kong was a British colony. Historically speaking, this is a blink in time. A rich blend of cultures has created the bedrock of Hong Kong, but these days it's loudly and proudly Chinese.

From the Tin Hau Temple in the fishing village of Tai Po, which dates back to the Qing dynasty, to the Colonial tenement house-cum-sleek modern restaurant The Pawn, whatever you consider to be 'old' Hong Kong, look closely and you'll find it.

2. There are many ways to say 'thank you'

 Time to brush up on your Cantonese? (Image: Ashton Rigg)

The majority of Hongkongers (yes, Hongkongers) speak Cantonese, but you'll hear Mandarin and Hakka if you've a finely attuned ear. Given this medley of language, there are plenty of ways to mind your Ps and Qs.

In Cantonese, use m̀hgòi (mm-goi) to thank someone for a service and dòjeh (doh-zeh) to say thank you for a gift. A subtle way to thank someone for tea is to gently tap the table twice.

3. Tea is taken seriously and often

 Tea master Annie brews some blooming Calendula tea (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Oolong and jasmine and green, oh my! Be prepared to make time for tea in Hong Kong. The influence of two strong tea-drinking cultures – Chinese and British – has made Hong Kong an epicentre of the leafy beverage.

Get initiated with a tea 101 class at the Linong Tea House in Ngong Ping Village on Lantau Island, where a tea master will go through the ritual of washing, brewing and pouring tea, including the beautiful and detoxifying blooming flower tea.


 

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4. There's a booming craft brewery scene

 'Fighting bowls' at Tung Po are to be consumed in one go (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Take a seat at Tung Po – a manic hawker-market-style seafood restaurant – and your 'fighting bowls' will quickly be filled with Blue Girl Beer. The easy-drinking lager is common, but it's not exactly local.

Head to the camouflaged rooftop bar Fu Lu Shou (using the nightly pass-code from Facebook) and work your way through their menu of local beers, or make a special effort to hunt down a boutique Moonzen Beer, crafted by a husband-wife team in their Hong Kong apartment.

5. Belief in Buddhism is widespread

 Tian Tan Buddha sits proud over Ngong Ping Village (Image: Ashton Rigg)

From the 'Big Buddha' (Tian Tan Buddha) on Lantau Island weighing in at 250 tonnes to the gilded Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, the peaceful belief system of Buddhism is widely embraced by about 21 per cent of the Hong Kong population.

A short but testing trek uphill to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery will see you cheered on by rows of golden statues – each wearing a different expression – before rewarding you with sweeping views across the New Territories.

6. Concrete jungle meets actual jungle

 Skyscrapers creep up the side of Victoria Peak (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Hong Kong is smaller than Hobart in size with a population greater than that of Sydney and Brisbane combined. Beyond Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories are more than 200 outlying islands with mountainous and often lush terrain.

You can take a gander at where the green meets the grey at Victoria Peak. Be prepared to line up for the Peak Tram – an enduring icon of Hong Kong's British past – for panoramic views from the highest, greenest point in the city.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg