Hong Kong’s urban districts are surrounded by lush rural landscape. // © 2014 Thinkstock / stevecimages
In the idyllic cove of Long Ke Wan, gentle waves washed over sparkling sand as I floated in the clear water. I may as well have been in a commercial for a secluded beach destination — but in fact, I was only an hour away from the financial district of Hong Kong.
I had been walking the MacLehose Trail, a 62-mile path that traverses rural Hong Kong, threading together eight nature reserves. You read correctly — rural, in a city best known for its skyscrapers and dense apartment buildings. Despite its urban reputation, much of Hong Kong remains lush, with more than 200 islands that are barely inhabited. If you want to commune with nature, there are plenty of opportunities.
But visitors don’t have to veer far from the city for a memorable stroll. Walk through the tranquil Hong Kong Country Park, 20 acres of prime downtown greenery where you might see fluttering songbirds or the elderly practicing tai chi. Amble about the financial district of Central, explore the British colonial architecture on Garden Road and watch the skyscrapers soar from crowded Queen’s Road into the hazy sky.
For the quintessential Hong Kong experience, hop on the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System — the longest of its kind in the world — made up of 20-plus covered escalators and moving sidewalks stretching half a mile. It takes about 20 minutes to travel the entire length of this iconic landmark, though visitors should make stops in between to explore the surrounding areas. The residential Mid-Levels neighborhood, with its mix of ex-pats and locals, has emerged as a trendy enclave with one-of-a-kind boutiques and cafes. SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) and its northerly neighbor NoHo are cornucopias of dining and nightlife, especially around Elgin, Shelley and Saunton streets. If you get lost, look for the walkway system to find your way back.
Tsim Sha Tsui, the southern cape of the Kowloon peninsula on the other side of the harbor, is a playground for grown-ups, with a dense concentration of hotels, restaurants and shops. Join the crush of locals and tourists on neon-tinted Nathan Road to reach the harbor, where a 1921 clock tower marks the spot where the historic Kowloon Rail station used to stand. Except for the granite and red brick tower, the colonial vestiges are replaced by the futuristic Space Museum and Museum of Art. Catch a breeze on Avenue of Stars, the waterside promenade honoring Asian film stars. (Best photo op: next to the bronze statue of a shirtless Bruce Lee.) At the end of your Tsim Sha Tsui walk, treat yourself to an afternoon tea at the InterContinental Hong Kong, with a sweeping view of the waterfront’s skyline: a popular pastime among locals celebrating a special occasion.
And if you feel like shopping, skip the malls and experience Hong Kong’s rowdy past by heading to the Temple Street Night Market, where tiny stalls sell souvenirs of varying degrees of kitsch. There are also dozens of fortune tellers who will read your palm for about $13.
I did all of these walks and, whenever I got tired, Hong Kong’s efficient public transit was always there to whisk me away, even from the rural MacLehose Trail. I found it was a great way to explore this iconic city, not to mention work up an appetite for a delicious dinner.
Arrive in Hong Kong ready to pound the pavement by flying Cathay Pacific, which flies nonstop from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto and New York. The Hong Kong-based airline recently added a fourth daily service from LAX. (www.cathaypacific.com)